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David Sabih left the security of his home in Baghdad, Iraq in 1950 after he witnessed a public hanging of a Jewish man convicted of being a Zionist in Baghdad. He reached Israel with assistance from the Joint Distribution Committee and shares his journey from Baghdad to Bat Yam to New York.

David Sabih (b. 1934) is from an affluent neighborhood in Baghdad. His last name means ‘early morning’ in Arabic. His father was a lawyer who represented prominent figures in Baghdad. His father’s career as a lawyer allowed the Sabihs to live an abundant life; his mother was a housewife, and the family lived with three house-servants. His neighbors were predominantly Muslim, and he attended a Jesuit private school alongside other children – Jews, Christians and Muslims – from wealthy families. The family was well respected and faced no discrimination whatsoever, but David sensed fear when visiting a Jewish neighbourhood. Admittedly, he led a sheltered life and was not too aware of anti-Jewish sentiment and poverty of the Jewish communities in Iraq. 

Although, David grew up in an observant home, he did not affiliate to any Jewish organizations, and was apathetic of his Mizrahi identity. A traumatic experience changed David and his identity forever. 
 A Jewish man accused of providing arms to Zionists was hung in public; David saw the body hanging on his way to school. The exposure of the persecution of Jewish people in Iraq propelled David to reach out to the Joint Distribution Committee and migrate to Israel. David and a team of ten individuals attempted to cross the border in Iran on their way to Israel, but were arrested and sent back to Baghdad. David was released from jail after his father bribed officers. Subsequently, his father arranged David’s trip to Tehran himself, so that David could join the camp for Jewish immigrants under the supervision of the Joint Distribution Committee. In 1950, David finally arrived in Israel and lived with his uncle in Bat Yam, where he felt tremendous comfort. 

His parents in Baghdad helped other Jews in Iraq move to Israel, but David is not aware of details. David graduated from high school and trained at Technion all within his first three years in Israel. In 1955, David moved to the United States of America to further his education in engineering. 

All his family and the live-in servants left Iraq, except for his father. David and his family are uncertain of his father’s passing in the 1980s. With no desire to return to Iraq and not much connection with other Iraqi Jews in America, David still acknowledges his deep-rooted moral and ethical values stemming from Judaism. David passed his principled moral code of respect for others on to his children.

This interview was filmed and donated to "Seeing the Voices" by JIMENA U.S.A. (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa)

David Sabih

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