In this issue, we pair two places with long and important Jewish histories. The pairing seems almost natural—Iraq and Iran share a long border and a contentious relationship, and both places once served as centers of Jewish cultural and intellectual life. The fact that they no longer function as such raises the issue of memory and its companion, forgetting.
The themes of memory and forgetting are prominent throughout this issue. At the same time, the essays carry a political charge, particularly for Jewish Americans, so attuned to Iran's nuclear capacity and its denunciation of the Jewish state along with, although to a lesser extent, the exigencies of Iraq in what is promised to be the final year of the American occupation. Perhaps we even reproduce the political field by including an essay about Israeli policy positions on Iran by Brandon Friedman.
Ultimately, however, issues Jewish rather than political stand at the forefront of this edition. Sergio Della Pergola compares Iranian and Iraqi-Jewish communities from a demographic perspective, and Richard Kalmin writes of how his research on the Persian influence on rabbinic culture led to book awards from AJS as well as the Iranian Ministry of Culture. We met Richard Kalmin at the Jordan Schnitzer book award ceremony in New York this summer, but it seems that his invitation to the Iranian awards ceremony—over which President Ahmadinejad presides—has been delayed.
With incredible precision, the essays of Marina Rustow and Daniel Tsadik reframe discussions about the formation and dissemination of rabbinic writings. Rustow, for example, shows how Jewish migrations from Sura and Pumbedita to Baghdad and then from Baghdad westward entailed the forgetting of rural traditions as well as the continuation of Babylonian practices.
In the modern period, Orit Bashkin analyzes the position of the Iraqi-Arab-Jew caught between the acts of remembering and forgetting. On the one hand, many people in Israel maintain a connection to their Arab pasts; on the other, the immigration necessitated a certain distance from Arab intellectual and political life. Aware of this very tension, Lital Levy presents the Iraqi-Jewish memoir as a vehicle of return to a Baghdad of the past. She goes on to ask to whom this past might be useful. Jenny Gheith tells of the unforeseeable obstacles encountered by the artist Michael Rakowitz as he attempted, in a complex work of art, to import Iraqi dates—a staple of culinary memories—to Brooklyn. Even as the first shipment of dates spoiled during detention in Jordan and Syria, a community grew up around the project.
Shelley Gazin's photographs and essays by Nasrin Rahimieh and Saba Tova Soomekh provide glimpses into the Iranian-Jewish community of Los Angeles. Gazin's photographs cause Rahimieh to recall her Armenian-Iranian school in pre-revolutionary Iran and to realize how little she knew about her Jewish-Iranian classmates' community. Saba Tova Soomekh's ethnographic study of Iranian-Jewish women highlights the processes of remembering and forgetting implicit in the balance of an American-Jewish-Iranian identity.
As the range of articles shows, with Iraq & Iran we have found a topic of relevance to several historical periods and methodologies within Jewish Studies. We hope that you enjoy it.
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
University of Illinois Chicago