The exhibit includes trunks used to transport the frozen artifacts to the U.S. (David Stuck photo)

Reflections on a Lost History

Exhibit at Jewish Museum preserves Iraqi Jewish heritage

Baltimore Jewish Times
October 18, 2017
By Susan C. Ingram

The meticulously restored historic Iraqi Jewish documents and artifacts on display through Jan. 15 at the Jewish Museum of Maryland are some of the last remnants of the once-thriving Jewish communities of Baghdad. Over the last century, the Jewish population was decimated though pogroms, public executions, forced deportations and mass exodus, falling from about 130,000 following World War II to less than 10 in Baghdad today. Not even enough for a minyan.

But enter “Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage,” an exhibit created by the National Archives and Records Administration with support from the U.S. Department of State, and one feels the unmistakable pulse of religious and communal life. The exhibit contains about two dozen items, including books, calendars, school and organization records, bibles, a Haggadah and fragments of a Torah scroll — just a few of the 2,700 books and tens of thousands of documents rescued from the basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters, the Mukhabarat, in Baghdad in the spring of 2003. That same year, the last synagogue closed.

The long story of Iraqi Jews begins with their expulsion from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzer in the sixth century B.C.E. Through much of their history, Jews, Muslims and Christians lived side by side in relative harmony, and the Jewish community flourished. By 1900, Jews made up about a third of the population of Baghdad, numbering 80,000.

“It was a community that was integrated to a great extent with its neighbors,” said Marvin Pinkert, Jewish Museum of Maryland executive director. “The Jewish schools were the premium schools, not just for the Jewish kids. If you were an affluent member of the Islamic or Christian community, you also sent your kids to the Jewish schools.”

The Jewish population grew another 50,000 by the end of World War II, but the war also brought in a pro-Nazi government whose oppression and harsh treatment of Jews persisted, even after parties changed.

“When the pro-Nazi government took over briefly in 1941, that really turned everything around,” Pinkert said. “But until the 1930s, Iraq was a relatively welcoming place for the Jewish community.”

During the 1940s and 1950s, more than 120,000 Jews left, many through the airlift campaign Operation Ezra and Nehemiah that relocated Jews to Israel. With such a swift and massive exodus over such a short period, synagogues, schools and organizations were shuttered, and their belongings eventually confiscated, many winding up in Hussein’s hands.

In May 2003, a few months after the start of the Iraq War and after Baghdad had been secured by coalition forces, a rumor was circulating that a seventh- century Talmud was hidden away in Hussein’s basement.

Doris Hamburg talks about Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters where the cache was discovered. (Susan C. Ingram photo)

“That would have been pretty extraordinary had there been a seventh-century Talmud,” said Doris Hamburg, former director of preservation programs for the National Archives.

There is currently no surviving Talmud from that period, and since the rumors were fairly reliable, 16 American soldiers from Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha — normally charged with searching for weapons of mass destruction — entered the Mukhabarat even though outside the building lay an unexploded bomb.

“They went into the basement, where it was thought these things might be,” Hamburg explained at last Sunday’s exhibition opening. “They didn’t find [the Talmud]. But they found floating in the water, books and documents pertaining to the Iraqi Jewish community.”

Hamburg said that Harold Rhode, a military analyst, Islamic affairs expert and Orthodox Jew, knew immediately how important this discovery was for the Iraqi Jewish community, a community that by 2003 was almost no more.

“He really was the person who took the lead in finding a way to bring everything together and bring the things out,” Hamburg said.

Rhode secured funding to pump out the 4 feet of fetid water and then remove the piles of waterlogged books and documents, some dating to the 16th century.

The documents and books drying outside the Mukhabarat (Photo courtesy of Harold Rhode)

Much of the cache was laid outside on the ground in an effort to dry the piles of papers and books, but in the hot Iraq weather, mold set in. With advice from the National Archives to freeze the wet items to discourage more mold growth, the trove was loaded into metal trunks and into a freezer truck — quite a feat in the middle of a desert conflict.

Read full article here:



Dr. Deirdre Johnston (right) and JCS memory care coordinator Lynn Huntley use video conferencing to discuss a case for the MIND at Home dementia care study. (Courtesy of Johns Hopkins Medicine)

JCS Partners with Hopkins on Innovative Dementia Study

The Jewish Times
April 28, 2017
By Susan C. Ingram

More than 10 years ago, the late philanthropist LeRoy E. Hoffberger sought to improve the lives of people living at home with dementia and the lives of their caregivers. Together, Hoffberger and Dr. Constantine Lyketsos, director of Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center, brainstormed on what became the MIND at Home: Memory Care Coordination studies. (MIND stands for Maximizing Independence)

Hoffberger, with an interest in aging and Alzheimer’s issues, and Lyketsos, an Alzheimer’s and dementia expert, recognized not only the need for better understanding and treatment of people living with the disorders, but also the growing need for effective home care as baby boomers age.

“It was estimated that 70 percent of the persons in the boomer generation will not be admitted to a nursing home — either they don’t want to or they can’t afford to — but will remain in the community,” Hoffberger said in a 2014 video interview.

Today, more than 5 million people are living with Alz-heimer’s and related dementias in the U.S., according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Most, about 80 percent, live at home and are cared for by about 15 million unpaid, informal caregivers — often spouses or adult children. And while impacts on patients include medical and psychological problems, reduced quality of life and high costs for care, impacts on caregivers can also be severe.

Read the full story here: JCS Partners with Hopkins on Innovative Dementia Study 



I recently began working as a journalist again, when Jewish Times editor Marc Shapiro asked if I’d be interested in freelancing for the Baltimore weekly magazine. I jumped at the chance. I missed being a reporter these past five years and appreciated Marc’s thinking of me when he had some freelance budget to burn. My first assignment was an event that focused on addiction in the Jewish community — a subject that can always use more light and understanding:

Erasing the Stigma
April 6, 2017
By Susan C. Ingram

Shame. Fear. Denial. Silence.

Familiar territory in the life of someone struggling with addiction, as well as for family and friends. In an effort to reduce that stigma and encourage open dialogue, Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Pikesville recently held an addiction education program, “Not in MY Family: Substance Abuse in the Jewish Community.”

Scores packed the school’s Mintzes Theatre the evening of March 29 to remember those lost to addiction and cheer those sharing their stories as recovering addicts. What emerged from those painful, but hopeful stories was the call to pull addiction from the shadows. Shadows that some in attendance said are particularly opaque in the Jewish community.

Read the rest of the story here.



20160522_151842The photo at left is of the last two issues of the Community Times that I worked on, after 13 years with the suburban Baltimore weekly — 11.5 years as a reporter and 1.5 years as editor. They are signed by all the guys in the pressroom who made the paper happen.

When I started at the paper following my 20-year film career, there was a staff of about 10. When I quit in 2012, after years of staff reductions, contraction of our service and delivery areas, and moving from an elegant broadsheet to a tab, there was a staff of one. Me. And the paper, so diminished, was no longer the newspaper that it once was.

Published by the daily Carroll County Times, the Community Times was eventually absorbed by The Sun Media group (owners of the The Baltimore Sun) when CCT was bought by the media conglomerate a few years ago. Somewhere during these permutations, the Community Times electronic archives seem to have disappeared from the internet and are not available through its new website. So, almost none of my (approximately) 1,900 or so stories have survived.

I’m hoping to dig up a few of the more memorable to post here:

Enjoy reading.


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