The first time I met Ezra Haddad was in 1947. I had just graduated from the Jewish High School Al-I'idadya, and was recommended by the late principal, Meir Zakaria, to teach in one of the Jewish Community's Primary Schools.
One day I was called by Mr Haddad, the principal of Al-Watanya School, to meet with him in his office. When we got together, his first question was, how old I am? I responded, 17 years old. He said that I shall be teaching many students who are two years younger than me and that I was lucky to be tall. He suggested that I do not tell the students my age, and also to be firm, but a gentleman with the students, as it was my job to educate them and thus increasing their knowledge. At that time I was impressed with Ezra Haddad's personality, knowledge in many aspects of life and his sense of humour.
During the three months of the summer holidays, most of the teachers would come to the Al-Watanya School almost every day for a few hours, not making preparations for the next school year, but rather to listen to Ezra Haddad tell stories and anecdotes about Babylonian Jewry, his visits to Europe and Palestine.
In fact, Ezra Haddad was a great educator, a leader, an historian and a researcher. In addition to the Arabic language, Haddad was in full command of English, Hebrew, French, German, Turkish and Farsi.
Haddad's knowledge about the history and culture of the Iraqi Jewish people during the last two centuries was vast. He was born in Baghdad in the year 1900, from a traditional family with low income. His parents sent him to study Torah and the Talmud with the greatest Rabbis in Baghdad. In 1917, he joined the Teacher's Seminar in the city. A year later he was appointed as a teacher at the Talmud Torah School. A few years later, a new school was founded in the quarter of Abbas Afandi, which was called Al-Watanya, and Ezra Haddad was appointed to be its headmaster. It is interesting to note that amongst the teachers of this school were Anwar Shaool, Murad Michael, Baruch Mizrahi and Eliahou Samra.
During the 1920's, Haddad wrote many articles and studies in the early Iraqi magazines AL-MISBAH and AL-HASSED, which were both owned and edited by Iraqi Jews. He translated to Arabic many articles and books dealing with social, political and historical subjects.
In 1945, he translated from Hebrew to Arabic, the famous book, "The Journey of Benjamin of Tudella", the great Jewish traveller from Spain. The introduction to this book was written by the well-known Iraqi historian, Abbas Al-Azzawi. The book was translated in the genre of Arab travellers' tales from the Middle Ages. The book was welcomed by Arab scholars all over the Arab world.
In 1947, Ezra Haddad published the book, "Chapters From the Bible" to be taught at the Jewish schools in Iraq. He wrote many books, amongst them, "The History of Jews in Iraq and Their Folklore". He also translated to Hebrew part of the book "Ruba-eyat Umar Al-Khayam." It is known that at Haddad's home in Baghdad, he had an extensive and famous private library consisting of Arabic, Hebrew, English, French and Turkish language books.
In 1951, Ezra Haddad immigrated to Israel. Soon, he was active in the political and social life of the country. He was elected to the executive committee of the labour union, the Histadrut, and also to the Congress of the Zionist Movement.
In addition to his public activities, Haddad devoted a lot of his time to his favourite literary pre-occupations. He published a book of short stories from the Iraqi Jewish folklore, and Arabic-Hebrew dictionary, and he also translated to Arabic many articles from Hebrew literature. In 1971, he published his last book in Hebrew, "Milestones, The History of the Jews in Babylon-Iraq", which covered the history from the Babylonian captivity in 597 BCE to the mass exodus to the State of Israel, in 1951 CE.
Ezra Haddad passed away in 1972, leaving us with great memories as an individual, who devoted most of his life to promote education, culture, and Zionism to three generations of Babylonian Jewry.
Dr Ezra Haddad 1900-1972
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