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Late Mr. George Elias member of Jewish drama in Iraq
By Shmuel Moreh

Taken from the website All About Jewish Theatre

The Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq in Israel and the Academic Committee of the Babylonian Heritage Center in Or-Yehuda, announce with sorrow the untimely passing away of the philanthropist, the Late Mr. George Elias, the eminent community leader and supporter of educational, cultural, religious and medical centers in Israel and abroad. Mr. Elias passed away on 4th March 2005 in Hale, Cheshire near Manchester after being for a long time a resident of Hertzilia Pituah in Israel. Mr. Elias was born in Baghdad, Iraq and graduated from the Shammash School in Baghdad, where Jewish teachers from the Holy Land taught Hebrew and sciences between 1927-1933, until they were expelled by the Iraqi government. During these years teachers from Eretz Yisrael, such as Dr. F. Qalai, Zeev Neidarman and Abrahm Rozen taught Modern Hebrew language, established the monthly journal Shemesh, a Student magazine in Hebrew and Hebrew Theatrical troops. Talented students performed in Hebrew several Hebrew plays such as King Ahashverosh, Purim Speil, by Bercovitz, David and Goliath by Yisrael Duschmann, and Yehuda Hamacabi by Longfellow. Other performances included well-known Biblical plays such as Joseph and his Brothers, Queen Esther, and The Binding of Isaac. These plays deepened the ties of the Jews of Iraq with their past and the Zionist activities in Eretz Yisrael, revived their Zionist aspiration and restored their pride in their history and their national ties. The talented young Elias took part in these Hebrew plays. Because of his good looks, strong personality, radio-phonic voice, and charismatic character he was given leading roles in these plays. No other actor of these plays was able to recite his role in these plays. However, we were lucky to be able to record Mr. Elias role in a Hebrew operetta dealing with the revival of Hebrew language and Jewish national home. It was performed several times during the years 1927-1933 on the stage of Shamash school in Baghdad. The dialogue is between a weeping young lady near a tomb, lamenting her destiny (she represents the Jewish people and the Hebrew language) and an angel who is coming to comfort her and to deliver her from her sorrow, predicting the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Mr. Elias, because of his good looks and special voice, played the role of the young lady. The following is an English translation of this short operetta, of which we were unable to verify the title or the author. Students of Shammash School performed me:

Angel: Who are you, poor lady? Who are you, miserable one?
Where have you been until now? When have you been
picked [tender flower], which hand has hurt you? And now
what are you doing here.
Young lady: Alas, I have been deteriorated low! From Zion I am,
My name is Yehuda, and now I am living in the Diaspora!
Angel: You, the daughter of Yehuda! you look like a flower in a
desert, in the mud your flowers are crushed. You are
humiliated, imprisoned, victimized and lonely, and now no
one has mercy towards you! *

The angel continues his dialogue: Wait for your Lord until he will
have mercy upon you! Wait until he will gather all of us in the land of Zion, then he will revive your days of lore when you were young, and to Jerusalem you will return with exultation.

This operetta inspired Jewish drama in Iraq, mainly the opera written by Mr. Nouri Menasheh, teacher of mathematics at Frank Ini School in Baghdad, entitled Despair and Hope. It was composed in 1942 in support of the orphans of the Farhud Pogrom. The opera includes similar scene, of an orphan child weeping beside the tomb of his father. An old man is coming to comfort him after he was deprived of his father-s property by their servant who expelled the child from his home. The plot symbolizes the Farhud massacre and the fate of some families who lost their parents and remained helpless orphans. The old man directs the boy to the orphanage committee for help. This could be seen as a prophetic drama, anticipating the expulsion of the Jews from Iraq and their finding refuge in Israel. *
In 1941 Mr. Elias has narrowly escaped death during the Pogrom of the Farhud against the Jews of Iraq. As a proud Zionist his protest against the persecutions in Iraq, he left to Manchester where he established himself as one of the wealthy textile manufacturers, community leader, and a philanthropist. He left England to Israel, and contributed to the peace treaty with Jordan by establishing textile factories in Amman, helped many academic institutions in England and Israel, and initiated water project in the Galilee. Yehie Zichro barouch.

* The Hebrew text of this operetta and on the theatrical Jewish Activities in Iraq, see: S. Moreh, The development of Jewish Theatre and Cinema in Iraq, in: Studies in the History and Culture of the Jews in Babylonia, ed. Y. Avishur and Z. Yehuda, Or-Yehuda, Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center, 2002, pp. 39-59.

SHMUEL MOREH is Emeritus Professor of Arabic Language and Literature, Institute of Asian and African Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University of Ramat-Gan. Fellow, Center for Near Eastern Studies, UCLA, Visiting Professor of Arabic Literature at UC Berkeley, Center for Near Eastern Studies, UCLA, and the Universities of Bonn (Germany), London University (SOAS), Manchester (UK), Life Member of Clare Hall (Cambridge-England), Helsinki University (Finland), Leiden University (The Neitherlands), Oxford-Yarnton (England), Maryland (USA). He was Israel Prize Laureate in 1999, and has received fellwships and grants from the Israel Acedemy for Scientific Research (Jerusalem), The British Council, The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), The German Israeli Foundation (GIF), The National Center for Scienticic Research (CNRS), France), and Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, Yarnton-Oxford (England).
As Chairman of the Israel-Findland Friendship Association, Prof. Moreh was awarded the Insignia of the Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland in 1986. He is the founder and Chairman of the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq in Israel, Chairman of the Academic Committee of the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center, Or-Yehuda- Israel; Chairman of the International Advicory Committee of al-Jabarti's Project, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
He is the author of Modern Arabic Poetry 1800-1970 (Leiden, Brill, 1975), Studies in Modern Arabic Prose and Poetry (Leiden, 1988), The Jewish Contributio to Nineteenth-Century Arabic Theatre (with P.C. Sadgrove, Manchester-Oxford, 1996), Hatred of Jews and the Farhud in Iraq (eds. S. Moreh and Z. Yehuda)(The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center, 1992). Author of several article in the Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, Brill) and Encyclopadia of Arabic Literature (England), including Arab and Jewish playwrights and theatre. Prof. Moreh is the translator and editor of Al-Jabarti's Chronicle of the First Seven Months of the French Occupation of Egypt (1975), Napoleon in Egypt (1993); The Book of Strangers: Medieval Arabic Graffiti on the Theme of Nostalgia (With Prof. Patricia Crone, 2000). He published several articles in English, Hebrew and Arabic on Arabic Theatre in the Arab World
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