Wayne State University
Unwitting Zionists examines the Jewish community in the northern Kurdistan town of Zakho from the end of the Ottoman period until the disappearance of the community through aliyah by 1951. Because of its remote location, Zakho was far removed from the influence of the Jewish religious leadership in Iraq and preserved many of its religious traditions independently, becoming known as “Jerusalem of Kurdistan,” the most important Jewish community in the region. Author Haya Gavish argues that when the community was exposed to Zionism, it began to open up to external influences and activity. Originally published in Hebrew, Unwitting Zionists uses personal memoirs, historical records, and interviews to investigate the duality between Jewish tradition and Zionism among Zakho’s Jews.
Gavish consults a variety of sources to examine the changes undergone by the Jewish community as a result of its religious affiliation with Eretz-Israel, its exposure to Zionist efforts, and its eventual immigration to Israel. Because relatively little written documentation about Zakho exists, Gavish relies heavily on folkloristic sources like personal recollections and traditional stories, including extensive material from her own fieldwork with an economically and demographically diverse group of men and women from Zakho. She analyzes this firsthand information within a historical framework to reconstruct a communal reality and lifestyle that was virtually unknown to anyone outside of the community.
Gavish also addresses the relative merits of personal memoirs, optimal interviewer-interviewee relationships, and the problem of relying on the interviewees’ memories in her study. Biographical details of the interviewees are included for additional background. Folklore, oral history, anthropology, and Israeli studies scholars, as well as anyone wanting to learn more about religion, community, and nationality in the Middle East will appreciate Unwitting Zionists.
Haya Gavish is lecturer in Hebrew language and literature at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Jerusalem.