On this most recent pilgrimage to the synagogue, a small part of me was nervous, but not due to fear; I felt that something was pulling me to go to the synagogue on Shavuot and reaffirm some semblance of a Jewish presence in a very Jewish place, 30 miles from the Islamic State — a symbolic act of spiritual resistance.Related (Jack Crone, Daily Mail): Christian family in ancient Iraqi city of Nineveh prepare to defend 2,700 year-old tomb of Jewish prophet, as ISIS armies advance to just 10 miles away
This 2,500-year-old synagogue is the only Jewish structure still standing in northern Iraq. It is the most prominent and visible reminder still standing of Kurdistan’s 3,000-year-old Jewish history. Yet it is not well known to the Iraqi public. It was a good friend — an expat who had been living in Kurdistan for several years — who first told me about the synagogue’s existence. I went, and was entranced.
Though the synagogue is half rubble and long emptied of its most important articles and artifacts, it is still easy to imagine the site in its original splendor; the building is quite large and once included a second floor, as well as a large courtyard. In the center of the worship area stands an ornate, four-sided gate that is easily opened. Inside the gate is a wooden box covered with multiple layers of green cloth. It is in this place that, according to tradition, the remains of Nahum lie — or used to. Over the centuries, successive attacks on the synagogue led the Jewish communities’ Assyrian Christian neighbors to remove the site’s remains for safekeeping in a nearby church. In any event, what actually lies in the resting place at either site is, at the least, a matter of legitimate historical debate. While there were initial attempts to renovate the synagogue several years ago, nothing substantial has materialized. The structure remains as precarious as ever.
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