Portland Jewish Book Month
Join us for the second Portland Jewish Book Month: One Book, One Community. We will discuss My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq, by Ariel Sabar, as part of this city-wide celebration of Jewish books. For nearly three thousand years a community of Kurdish Jews were so isolated that they still spoke Aramaic — the language of Jesus. In the 1950s, after the founding of the state of Israel, Yona Sabar and his family emigrated there with the mass exodus of 120,000 Jews from Iraq. Almost overnight, the Kurdish Jews’ exotic culture and language were doomed to extinction.
Yona, who became an esteemed professor at UCLA, dedicated his career to preserving his people’s traditions. But to his first-generation American son Ariel, Yona was a reminder of a strange immigrant heritage on which he had turned his back until he had a son of his own. My Father’s Paradise is Ariel Sabar’s quest to reconcile present and past. Various events for Portland Jewish Book Month will be sponsored around the city and region by six congregations, other libraries, and the Oregon Jewish Museum in November.
Read the book now and participate in all the great events listed here.
Learn more about the novel below in a review by Congregation Neveh Shalom Program Director, Jennifer Greenberg below:
“I am the keeper of my family’s stories. I am the guardian of its honor.” I am the defender of its traditions. As the first-born son of a Kurdish father, these, they tell me, are my duties. And yet even before my birth I resisted.”
So begins the story of a son’s journey to discover his father’s roots, a father who he grew up feeling distant to, even embarrassed by the outdated outfits he wore and his tendency to save a few dollars at dinner by sneaking a glass of Manichivetz from a travel shampoo bottle. In the midst of 1980’s Los Angeles culture, these differences drove the author away from embracing his heritage and his father. This break between father and son lasted until the author had a child of his own, when he began to explore in depth his father’s history and culture.
As Ariel Sabar takes the reader back in time to the Kurdish Iraqi village of Zakho, he paints a vivid picture of the intimate moments in his ancestors’ lives, from a grandmother’s young marriage and stolen first baby to a feverishly religious great-grandfather talking to sprits all night in a dark synagogue. We witness the author’s father, young Yona, growing up in this remote, isolated, and dusty world. We come to understand Kurdish Jewish culture through his eyes. We meet compellingly-portrayed characters who infuse him with traditional values and ethics. Soon we start to see the changing tides of anti-Semitism as the state of Israel comes into being, and we are shown the complex regional differences in attitudes towards Zionism.
Reading this book one travels through time, following a successful family to the new state of Israel, where hardships await in an already heavily-defined cultural hierarchy. Central to the story is Yona Sabar, whose steadfast, humble character and hard working nature, coupled with the luck of being in the right place at the right time on more than one occasion brings him education and opportunity. Yona Sabar, now a UCLA professor of Aramaic and Folklore, takes a path from night school for working children to a full ride at Yale. Through the book the reader roots for him every step of the way.