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The articles in this issue have been divided up into the following categories







The Sassoon's Return Visit to Baghdad

A Diary by Mozelle Sassoon

In September 1910 Mrs Farha Sassoon and her children undertook a trip from Bombay to Baghdad via Basrah.

On the voyage to Basrah, they were joined by Sir William Willcocks in Karachi, who built the Asswan Dam in Egypt.

On the way to Baghdad, they stopped at Ezair to visit the Shrine of Ezra the Scribe (Ezra Ha-Sofer).

Flora’s daughter, Mozelle Sassoon (1884-1921) kept a detailed diary of the whole journey, which continues:-

Tuesday, 27 September –

Before entering Baghdad we saw the bridge of boats which opens and closes to let river traffic through. As we were going in the balam, we passed Aunt Hannah’s house and saw her on the veranda with several members of her family, and her daughter Rebecca Daniel was looking through her binoculars. Lynch’s Baghdad agent took us through two narrow lanes to our house, rented from Mr Fatoohi for £55 for two months. It seems that Mr Fatoohi went to Bombay for a change, and in his absence his son spent all their money in building this huge palace in very grand style. The drawing-room ceiling and the bedroom walls and doorways were elaborately decorated and coloured glass decorations were used in the verandas. The house costs £5,000 that made the poor father lose his reason.

Soon after we arrived, Hakham Nessim Ben Abu-Reuben arrived and the latter brought a tray with 12 cones of sugar of which we are told it is the rule to take one or two only and return the rest with one or two plates of sweets or other dainties. Aunt Hannah came soon after and lots of other visitors kept on coming the whole morning; among them Abdel Kader Pasha al-Khetheiry. He sent us a big Mosul earthenware chatty (Hebb) for purifying and cooling the water.

In the afternoon visited us Chief Rabbi David Papu, Hakham Moshe Shamash, Hakham Abraham Hillel, Hakham Yitshaq Abraham Mjaled. It was a wonderful group; they are all so handsome and all have snowy white hair, as well as Hakham Ezra Dangoor Hayyu and Hakham Yaacob Yoseph Hayeem and others. David Basoos has sent Ezekiel Saltoun to be our buyer of provisions (meswaqchi) and shohet for us. Mr Langridge, Lynch’s agent, says one watchman will be quite enough and he will act as a servant, as Baghdad is quite safe and he can sleep at night.

Wednesday, 28 September –

A few visitors came very early. Among them Hakham Sasson Smooha Hayyu, a previous Chief Rabbi and Saleh Elyshaa. Meir Somekh, only surviving brother of Moreno (Stayee) Hakham Abdullah Somekh also called.

Thursday, 29 September –

We went to Midrash Talmud Torah School to examine three classes in Hebrew dictation and grammar. Hakham Ezekiel of the Alliance School looks after it all. The Chief Rabbi who presided at the examination was there as well as Hakham Sasson Smouha. Then we went on the balcony (Tarma) and saw the boys assembled in the courtyard, and David took a snapshot of them. They sang Turkish and Arabic songs and Hakham Ezra Dangoor made a Meshabairakh and Mamma promised them Turkish £20 for a poultry dinner for the boys. The children were all in new khaki suits given by the Wali,costing T£50 and we saw some suits being made there.


Today Hakham Abraham Dangoor and Hakham Ezra Cohen called.

At 6.30 we ordered a landau and drove to Bab-el-Shargee. Mr Saul E. M. Hayeem came as a guide. It was a drive through narrow lanes and bazaars, across awful roads full of holes and ditches, and dust was like a fog around us. Bab-el-Shargee (South Gate) is a big plain with some trees in the distance – and forms the Hyde Park or Bois of Baghdad. On the return journey we drove through Menahem Salman Daniel’s bazaar – he used to let it and the government arranged with him that if he died without leaving any children that they would take it. He was the husband of Rebecca, Aunt Hanna’s daughter. After he died in 1891 the bazaar was taken over by the government. After that we passed the Serai by an asphalt road, and many cafés, which are brightly lit up. Nearly everyman in Baghdad spends the evenings at the cafés. We had innumerable visitors again today. Abdel-Kader Pasha invited David to go for a drive with him tonight, so he met him near the café and went for a drive in the same hired landau that we had, and ended off at his house, where there were singing and dancing in the drawing room, by Jewish actresses
and Mohamedean actors.

Friday, 30 September –

We got up very early and were ready to go to Yehoshua Kohen Gadole (Joshua the High Priest). We had to cross the river by balam, as the bridge was open to let the Hamidiya, (the boat we came on) to get through on its return journey. On the other side (Hathak-el-Sob) two landaus were awaiting us. We drove to the Shrine accompanied by Saul Hayeem through a dusty barren desert – just a quarter hour’s drive. This building is quite small. We took off our shoes and went inside and we hooked on the tomb the covering that we brought with us and put as well the bells on each corner. We lit candles and David and Saul Hayeem read the Kaddish and David read the Hashkaba for Papa. We could only read Shama’a-na Yehushua around the dome; the rest was all effaced and the whole place was spoilt when the Turks took possession of it in 1891; but now the new Wali is going to give it back to them. On our way back, we passed Zobeida, Haroun-el-Rashid’s favourite wife’s tomb, which is pineapple shaped.

When we got back we found that D. Bassouses had sent us jeradeq and Shabbath bread.

Saturday, 1 October –

We got up early. David went before us to the Great Synagogue, where the service began at 5.30 and we got there at 6.30 accompanied by Ezekiel Saltoun, our steward, who had already finished his prayers at an earlier Synagogue. We were conducted up to the ladies’ gallery behind the Tebah, where we had seats arranged for us by Mrs David Basoos. All the ladies were covered with their Ezzegh and Khwili and it was impossible to make them up; they all sit on the floor, and it is such a tight fit. They all crowded around us, and in the afternoon a visitor told us that it was not only to see us, but to study the latest fashions also. The gentlemen prayed in the open courtyard, without any roof, which they generally use in the summer, and behind is the covered Synagogue, which is used during the winter or when the service is going to be late and it will be sunny. The service was conducted by Hakham Ezra Dangoor himself, his Hazzanouth is considered the best in the country. The Synagogue was simply packed. There were 26 Hekhaloth. David was called up to the Sefer, (Saleh Elishaa Sassoon gave his turn to him, as he always read it) and made a Meshabairakh of T £2 and they did the Hashkaba for dear Papa Solomon David Sassoon. Prayers were over at 7.15. Here the Hazzan reads the whole Parasha – only the Maftir is read by the Olé and all the Congregation join in the Haftara so that the principal reader’s voice is not heard.

On our way back Mrs Basoos insisted on our stopping at her house for a few minutes. They showed us their Sirdab, where people spend the day during the great heat. It is a cellar. Sirdab is a compound Persian word meaning "cold water", it being the practice in these parts to keep cold water stored in cellars. Then we went to Aunt Hannah’s house where we saw the white Luzina tray and a pair of anklets which was sent to her grand-daughter by her fiancé on the occasion of their engagement.

It was a tremendous tray. I am sure it must have measured a few yards round and the Luzina was about 1/2 foot thick. We tried to move it a little but could not; it was such a deadweight, composed of sugar and almonds with cardamom. They tell us such a tray costs from T£4 to T£5 and if a bride does not receive it, she feels hurt. It is then distributed and the friends and relations are thereby informed of the engagement. We then came home to breakfast, and soon after the influx of visitors began. More came after lunch. Mrs Semha Sasson Somekh of Amarah stayed on for tea and Habdala. After prayers Hakham Nessim Ben Abu Reuben stayed to dinner.

We slept on the roof for the first time. It was delightful and the stars looked beautiful. So we tried the Sardab and the roof on the same day. I had always wondered what sleeping on the roof was like.

The young ladies here do a lot of embroidery (broderie anglaise and raised embroidery chiefly) and also embroider by machine,

Sunday 2nd October –

After breakfast at 8 we went in two landaus to Muadham by such a dusty, shaking, bone-breaking drive through an immense desert. On our return we passed Uweina, which is the place where the milk come from, where they farm the cows, and we drove through Abu Sifein where the poorest Jews live, and Henouni, the shopping area. We got back at noon very tired.

After lunch Hakham Yaacob and Hakham Yoshua did the Hettara for us.

At 6.15 Abdel Qader Pasha took us to the Wali Nazem Pasha, Turkish governor of Baghdad. We ushered ourselves into his presence on the Terrace. The Wali speaks only Turkish and French and the Arabic was translated by Abdel-Qader Pasha. The Wali is about 60 and has been only 5 months in Baghdad. He showed us the plans made by a French architect, Goddard, for a new gate for the Serai and other improvements thereabouts.

Monday, 3rd October – Eve of Rosh Hashana

At 5.30 we all went to the Great Synagogue where we sat by ourselves in a Hekhal on a side. The prayers were read very quickly and not word by word as in Bombay.

At home we read Mishna before dinner. Mrs Basoos sent us holy-day bread and Saleh Elishaa Benjamin Sassoon sent us apple jam for Yehi Rasson and two bottles of old kiddush wine which we used tonight.

Rosh Hashona 5671 – Tuesday 4th October –

We got up early and went to the Great Synagogue. Grandpapa, Sheikh Sassoon’s Sefer was brought out as Sefer Rishon. It is contained in a beautiful chased silver case "Tiq", much tarnished with age. He dedicated it in the year 1793 and made a condition that it should be brought out first for Kol Nidre and every holy-day including the Festivals and Hol Hamoed and Shabbath Jethro, Beshallah and Weth’hannan and one of the direct descendants from the paternal side is to be called up to the Sefer and lights the Hanukkah in the Synagogue. Our family here have the original document in their keeping and it is signed by the Rabbis of those days. A few years ago, others, among them Sassoon Hayeem Moorad, wanted to do away with this time-honoured right and use their Sefarim, but this document was produced, and Hakham Yosef Hayeem also affixed his signature to it. (They say the scroll got worn out and has been changed). The descendants of Abu Reuben also have a right to sit in the middle Hekhal which is the principal one and where our ancestor Sheikh Sassoon sat. As a rule Saleh E.B. Sassoon exercises these rights, and on this occasion he gave them all to David. When they started the school service, Sasson Moorad and others took his Sefer there. On our return we stopped at Mrs Basoos to give the crowd time to diminish and got home at about 10. David went to the Hathima to Saleh E. D. Sassoon’s, quite near. They began at 11 and it lasted till 2. David came home for lunch and went back. During the afternoon many visitors called and stayed late. We read the Mishna.

Wednesday, 5th October –

We all went to the School Synagogue today, which building was given by Grandpapa Sir Albert and has a wing given by Menahem Saleh Daniel. The gentlemen prayed in the open courtyard, which the children use as a playground. We sat on the veranda near the Chief Rabbi’s wife. We got home at about 9. It seems on Rosh Hashana people do not pay visits, but we had heaps of calls, as they find us so "irresistible, tempting and charming" as Farha’s sister said.

The Wali’s A.D.C. called with the Wali’s card, but stayed only a few minutes as the influx of ladies was so overpowering that he fled!

Thursday, 6th October –

This morning soon after 8 we all went in two landaus to the Bab-el-Wustani to see the Review of the troops in honour of the "Eed" at the end of Ramathan as the Wali’s guests. We went and took our seats in a large tent, lined in red, yellow and blue. They brought sherbet and at about 9.30 we and the others (3 European men, some Arab Sheikhs and some Turks) went to a fenced-off enclosure, in front of which, the infantry, cavalry and the artillery marched past. There were 4000 soldiers among them there being 450 Jewish conscripts. These were all in khaki suits, with the Eguel on their heads, the kerchief arrangement hanging down, protecting their necks from the sun. They did not look well turned out and marched badly. Some of the Arab ponies were very fine, but did not look well-groomed. The band played some monotonous tunes the whole time. Rachel and the others remained outside walking about, and Mamma, David and I returned to the tent after the parade. After a little while the Wali Pasha came to the tent (he had been watching the review on horseback) and shook hands with Mamma and me and salaamed all the gentlemen and then sat down, and the gathering dispersed after a few minutes. After the serving of rose coloured drinks. The Chief Rabbi had also come while the Parade was going on, with his son and when the Wali came he came forward to shake hands, but he only salaamed all round. An Arab Sheikh had been sitting near Mamma and talking to her and he told her that she is "like a queen; she has so much information and knowledge". Sheikh Saadoon, who has come to Baghdad after 30 years, was there and had a seat of honour in the centre of the Assembly. He has two hundred thousand followers under his control and Sheikh Amir el Najd has two lacs (20,000), and they are both very powerful chiefs.

Painting by Renée Dangoor

On our way back we called on Hakham Jacob and his mother (widow of Hakham Yosef Hayeem) at the family mansion near the Henouni and we saw many members of the family there. We asked Hakham Jacob to enquire if the Chief Rabbi was in and from there we went to call on him. He said he had nothing good enough to present to Mamma, so he would give her his photo as a souvenir. He has had it taken in full dress, and then he brought the coat to show us and put it on with his two orders.

Friday, 7th October –

Today we ate Za’arur which look something like cherries, but are very insipid. There is a saying – Ja el za’arur wa kassah el khairat (when za’arur comes it terminates the fruit season).

Today we were all asked for tea at the English Club.

Mrs Lorimer, the British Consul’s wife, who was there, asked Mamma to her bi-monthly garden party tomorrow but we are not going. (I am writing this on the 9th of December, so after two months I cannot remember who dined with us).

Saturday, 8th October –

We got up at 5 – and we all went to the Alliance School Synagogue. The service was over at 7.15. After breakfast Mamma, Rachel, David, Diana and I began by calling on Mr and Mrs Menahem Saleh Daniel and Mr and Mrs Sasson Saleh Daniel at their large double riverside mansion. Mr M D has two orders from the Sultan Abdel Hamid and both the brothers are known as Effendia. They have a pretty garden, in which we saw oleanders (defla), roses, carnation trees and violet plants. Mrs Rebecca Daniel is related to us. Menahem Effendi had come to see us some days ago on his return from Hillah and Mamma had a telegram from his son Ezra on Rosh Hashana. He knew us in Bombay in 1900. Mrs Sasson Daniel and her daughter Regina, a schoolgirl are very quiet, as also Mr Sasson Daniel. Mrs Menahem and Mrs Sasson were both in Arabic dresses with caps and scarves round the chin (Fez and Lachag), but the former had an abaya over her head also; it is the first time that I have seen it worn thus. It is customary for ladies of good family to wear an abaya indoors and an izzagh out of doors. She is very particular and when she travelled to Europe and Egypt she had her cook with her and would not even eat the Shehita of several places. Once she went for her son’s health and once for her husband’s. We then went to beit Abu Reuben which has an enormous courtyard and used to be the finest and largest house in Baghdad, but now it is in a sad condition, and quite void of its splendours. Grandpapa, Sheikh Sassoon, the Nassi, lived there over 100 years ago. A few branches of the family are living there now. We had met Meir Somekh on the way and Mamma told him to lunch with us today and he agreed, so today suddenly we discovered lunchtime that he had left after calling, and Mamma was so sorry that she had not told him again (after a few days when we got to know him better he told us he saw the fire in the kitchen and he could not understand and did not like to ask, so would not eat here, so Mamma explained to him that the Goy did it).

Mr and Mrs Yehouda Zelouf and their little girl , Flora, Hakham Sasson Smouha, Mr Elias Elishaa and Mr Saul E. M. Hayeem stayed to lunch here. During the afternoon we had a great many callers. In the evening Diana went for a boat sail with Hougui’s and Moshi’s families. After sunset, Rebecca Menahem Silman called and asked Mamma to dine with her tomorrow evening. Mamma tried to tell her that we could not come, but she would not listen, so accepted.

Sunday, 9th October –

The ex-German Consul called. He was charmed with the house and said he had no idea there was one like it in Baghdad. The headmaster of the Alliance School called and related to us about his Babylon trip. He and 20 or 30 of the school teachers went with, and Mrs Menahem and Mr and Mrs Sasson Daniel as their guests. They went to Babylon and Kifil, the site of Ezekiel’s Shrine. They had a delightful fortnight.

After a boat outing we went to Rebecca at 8 o’clock for a large dinner party, We waited a long time, and we did not know that Rebecca was waiting for us to say that we had rested sufficiently and were ready for dinner. At last we sat down at the table. There were some hired waiters and also a "party cook".

The menu was as follows:- soup, stewed fish (Shebbout), lamb cutlets and green peas, tomato mahashas, home-fed roast geese, rice pillau with raisins and almonds, gombo (okra or bamia) stew and green beans stew and roly poly pudding. Everything except the roast was made of mutton. It was a very long menu. There were several kinds of sweets and preserves and the fruit was very good. The plates were continually changed, even between the fruits. We all walked home after11. They sent a number of lantern bearers with us besides our own men. Mamma told Rebecca it was a beautiful party and she must have taken so much trouble over it. She said she does not do a thing, the servants do everything in her house. The flowers on the table were very pretty.

Monday, 10th October –

Today we made return visits to many relatives and friends. In the afternoon we had more callers at home.

Tuesday, 11th October –

At 8.30 David went to see the Great Synagogue with Saleh Elishaa. He has asked them to allow him to dig under the brickwork to find some old records, which they buried there. They have agreed and he is to build up the mounds again. At 9 Rebecca came over to say that Abdel Jabbar Effendi, the greatest lawyer here, was coming to call and he arrived at 9.30, accompanied by Shaoul Shashoua and Yosef Shemtob. He, Abdel Jabbar is an Armenian. He went to Bombay with Fatoohi our landlord, and before he had been there a week, the Turkish Government wired to him to return at once, as he had no business to leave without orders, because he has a Turkish title!

We drove to the Mosque of Sheikh Abdel Qader al Gailani in Bab-el-Sheikh. We walked through the courtyard, but couldn’t get in to see the tomb because of the crowd. Then we visited the Izzagh factory nearby and ordered some abayas and ezzegh, hand loomed of silk and gold thread with various designs. At 5 we all drove to the British Consulate to tea with Mrs Lorimer. There was a difference of 6 hours and 20 minutes between the English time and the Turkish as the Turkish is always 12 at sunset and the English have the sunset today at 5.40. The house is very nice and is only built on three sides of the courtyard, quite modern and on the river. We went upstairs to the drawing room, and to our surprise we found a real English drawing room, such as we had not seen since leaving Bombay. After tea we went onto the verandas, which are very large, then we went on to the roof and were shown the roof room where they used to keep the beddings during the hot daytime sun. They always sleep on the roof and enjoy it. There was an Indian soldier there, who was watching for the sunset, as he dips the flag every day at sundown at the sound of the bugle. The Comet, an Indian marine boat is stationed opposite. Mrs Lorimer said that Sir W. Willcocks had been relating our Basrah experiences to them. In the evening Jacob did the Kapparot for us on the covered veranda near the kitchen. There is a scarcity of white cocks this year and they are very expensive. Poor Meir Eliahou is very ill and the operation does not seem to have done him any good. He is so charitable and has done so much good. During his illness, when they carried him upstairs he gave T£5 mitzvah for every step; there were about 20-24 steps.

Wednesday, 12th October – Kippur’s Eve

One piece of news is that Mr Strauss, the American Ambassador at Constantinople (whom Mamma met at Sir Samuel Montagu’s dinner when we were at the Grosvenor Hotel in June 1906) has abandoned his visit to Russia, having been refused a privilege passport, because he is a Jew, and receiving only the usual authorisation issued to Jewish merchants. They subsequently ordered a special permit, but Mr Strauss declined.

At the Great Synagogue they have a 110 years old Parokhet falling to pieces which has a complete plan of the future third Temple, which they bring out only on Yamim Noraim and Semhat Torah. Hakham Yosef Hayeem A.H. who died last year wanted it copied. I think David is going to buy it. On the eve of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur all the Jews visit the cemeteries after morning prayers and the poor people go to the different houses and beg. On the eve of Rosh Hashana though we distributed money they were so troublesome that today Jacob asked Abdel Qader Pasha to send a soldier to stand at the door.

At 9.30 Mamma, Diana, Rachel and I with Hakham Nessim Ben Abu Reuben (on the box) drove to see the Jewish Cemetery (David had another appointment). We felt very sad to see the shabbiness and struggling state of the whole place. The community go on working their way eastwards, although here is a vast plain westwards, which originally was the site of the old graves, for fear of exhuming any bones. The name is inscribed on the side where the head goes, and is kept covered with a brick, which can be pulled out when they wish to read the name. The graves are covered with bricks and mud; they are afraid to use stones or marbles, because the graves would be demolished and the materials stolen. The poor Jews – how different are the English and the Armenian cemeteries which have high boundary walls and cypress trees.

End of Diary


On one occasion during the visits to Mrs Farha Sassoon, 6 Chief Rabbis, past, present and future sat under one roof. It is noteworthy that the visitors did not appear to having been offered the Masgouf Shabbout fish of which Baghdad is famous.

The Turkish pound was a gold Lira worth at the time 12 Indian Rupees or 18 Shillings. We greatly admire the scope and interesting details in the Diary of Mozelle (1884-1921). David Sassoon wrote his own diary which appeared in Hebrew in a book entitled (Massa’a Babel).


In the short space of 40 years, the following momentous event happened in and around the region:-
The First World War (1914-1918)
The Russian Revolution (1917)
The Balfour Declaration (1917)
The Dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
The Dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire
Iraq given to Arab Rule (1921)
The emergence of 21 Arab countries, under Mandate
The Turkish Republic adopts the Latin alphabet (1923)
The rise of Nazi Germany (1933)
The Second World War (1939-1945)
The Farhud in Iraq, hundreds of Jews killed (1941)
The Holocaust (1942-1945)
The Independence and Partition of India (1947)
The creation of the State of Israel (1948)
The discovery of vast oil reserves in Arab countries
The forced emigration of about a million Jews from Iraq and other Arab countries (1950)

In 1910, the safest way to travel from London to Baghdad would have been by sea to Bombay and from there to Basrah by local steamer and from Basrah to Baghdad by riverboat, totalling 5 weeks
In 1950, regular airlines took only 5 hours from London to Baghdad.


The Expelling of Nazem Pasha - The Wali of Baghdad

In March 1911, Nazem Pasha received an order from Istanbul terminating his appointment as Governor of Baghdad. There was a public outcry against this order and, despite a wave of strikes and hunger strikes in support of the popular Wali, Istanbul refused to rescind the order and he was replaced by a new Governor Yousef Pasha.

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