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by Eileen Khalastchy

WEDDINGS: It used to be the custom for the girl's parents to pay a dowry for their daughter when she gets married. Sometimes the groom used to bargain to get a larger dowry. Although the money was meant for the girl, but in many cases the groom used to take the money to help him in his work.

For the wealthy families the dowry was no problem. But for the not so well off, it used to be very difficult and sometimes it even affected the chance for a girl to get married.

When the Head of the Jewish community found out that the dowry is affecting many girls that couldn't get married because their parents could not afford a dowry, he issued a law forbidding dowries. But if a father wanted to give his daughter a present, that was accepted because it wasn't a dowry. So it was a relief for the poor families.

The Moslems, on the contrary the man gives a dowry to the girl.

In Synagogue they used to have a small table with a nice embroidered tablecloth and on the table they had a white satin bag, hand embroidered with gold where the family and guests after the wedding ceremony, used to put their presents to the bride which used to be mostly gold coin (see illustration).

BABY TALK : Before they used to think that babies were not clever enough to understand normal grownups talk, so they were taught baby talk which it made it more difficult for them to switch back to normal talk - like learning another language eg., Effa = food; matchi = kiss; mayya = water; kekh = dirty; qahhi = sweets etc...

Babies proved to be clever and quicker than grownups in learning and understanding.

BREAST FEEDING : Is not only good for the child to give him immunity, but also good for the mother as it prevents breast cancer. Also strengthens the muscles of the mother's tummy and brings it back to normal. At birth some babies get a rash on their tummy; so it was the custom to thread seven pearls and put it round the baby's wrist like a bracelet to avoid such rash which was called loulou el baten (tummy's pearl).

BIRD'S LANGUAGE : A new language was invented in the olden days among the grownups called "birds' tongue," in order to speak it in front of the children if they didn't want them to understand what they were saying. They used to add the letter "Z" after every letter eg., ezai lezave zeyou which means "I love you." I think this language is completely forgotten now.

HAND FANS : In the long hot summer days in Baghdad, hand fans were used (see illustration). They were made of hand woven straw, some plain and some with different colours. When it used to be very hot sometimes we sprayed the fan with water so it gave a cool breeze when moved.

Earthenware jars (Tenga'ee) were used for drinking water and they were covered with hand-made crochet cover with beads on the edge (see illustration). Rosewater was put in the new jar before putting the water to give a pleasant taste to the water.

It is believed if you are starting special work or a transaction and someone sneezes, they wait for them to sneeze again, otherwise the work or transaction gets postponed to another day. For a single sneeze is not considered a good omen among Moslems.


Cough Syrup : Slice a turnip and spread with brown sugar, cover and leave overnight. The syrup that comes out is good for coughs. Also, boiled turnips are very good for a sore throat, as well as the water in which they were boiled.

Potatoes : You can peel potatoes a day or two in advance of cooking, still keeping them white and crisp. Peel them and put them in a basket and then cover them with water, put slices of bread on top to absorb the starch, and they will stay as fresh and crisp as when you first peeled them.

Peanuts : It may come as a surprise to learn that peanuts are not, in fact, nuts at all but are related to peas and lentils. They are legumes whose edible seeds are produced under the ground, on low growing bushes. That is why they are called ground nuts.

In Baghdad, Jewish women were recognised till the 1930's by their distinctive wrap which hid their European-fashioned dresses. Their attire was more elaborate and different from the wraps of Moslem women. It was hand-woven with silk thread and interwoven with gold thread.


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