The outside of an old Jewish home in Mosul.

Signs of a forgotten Jewish past in Mosul

As Mosul rebuilds, historian Omar Mohammed is trying to preserve the city’s Jewish heritage.

The World

In the rubble of Mosul’s old city, in northern Iraq, there are signs of a forgotten past. 

Imprints of mezuzahs, the small parchment scrolls fixed to the entrances of Jewish homes around the world, can be found in concrete doorways in a neighborhood that used to be called Mahallat al-Yahud, or “the place of the Jews.” Today, much of it is in ruins.

For centuries, a community of Jews thrived in Mosul. In the 1950s, many of them fled the country.

But the city’s Jewish heritage was further obliterated when ISIS took over Mosul in 2014. ISIS, which controlled the city for three years, destroyed religious sites that didn’t fit their strict version of Islam — including the Tomb of Jonah, or Nabi Yunus, the Biblical prophet who landed here after he was believed to have been swallowed by a whale.

Now, as Mosul rebuilds, historian Omar Mohammed is trying to preserve the city’s Jewish history.

Mohammed is best known for creating Mosul Eye, where he secretly published news during the ISIS occupation. Before that, he was a history lecturer at Mosul University.

Mohammed says the city’s Jews have been virtually erased from the history books. So, he set out to find some of them.

In October, Mohammed organized a virtual meeting. It brought together Jews from Mosul living around the world and their descendants.

Mohammed’s plan is to create a virtual museum, with interviews with those who fled and photos from the once-vibrant Jewish community of Mosul. He says he hopes that in the future, he will be able to set up a physical museum in the city: “And then, it will become a widely public space for the people to know that. When you look at Mosul, you know, the Jewish history is an essential part of it.”

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