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Kifil – the Jews of Babel

Not many Israelis have been to Iraq, but the intrepid Tsur Shezaf felt secure enough to reveal his true identity when he visited the tomb of the Biblical prophet Ezekiel in al-Kifl back in 2003. He films a group of boys gawping, “he’s a Jew!”, as if Tsur had arrived from Mars.

It is the most beautiful place Tsur has visited in Iraq. This place of age-old Jewish pilgrimage dates back to 800 AD, but the current building is from Turkish Seljuk times. The market used to be run by Jews for the pilgrims who came to pray at Ezekiel’s shrine. They were housed in the rooms surrounding the courtyard adjoining the shrine. Apparently the shrine was closed to visitors until 2003.

The Hebrew inscriptions are still intact. Above the door to the tomb it says: ” This is the monument of our master Ezekiel the Prophet son of Buzi the priest, may his merit (zekhut) defend us and all Israel. Amen. “

Tsur notes that the room that used to be Ezekiel’s synagogue is being used as a mosque. The Torah scroll was stolen from the cupboard in the wall in 2003 along with various books, around the time of the US invasion of Iraq. But the synagogue still retains its Bima (or Teba, in Sephardi parlance), the raised platform from which the Torah scroll is read. Tsur affirms that a place which has a bima is still considered a synagogue.

The locals still remember the Jews who used to live in al-Kifl. One even remembers the names of some of the families. But the Jews are now all in ‘Palestine’ and will never return.

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