Int: Today is the 18th May 2015, and we are here to interview Esperance David. Hello Esperance.
Int: Could you begin and tell us when you were born?
ED: The 7th of May, 1929. (laughter).
Int: Where were you born? And what was your name at birth?
ED: I was born in Baghdad, and my name was Esperance Ovadia.
Int: And what language did you speak?
ED: Arabic, Jewish Arabic.
Int: Is that different?
ED: Yeah, well not very different. It’s kind of, well, botched up Jewish Arabic. A pidgin Arabic if you like.
Int: Can you tell us a little bit about your family life in Baghdad? Did you have brothers and sisters?
ED: I have three brothers and one sister.
Int: What did your father do?
ED: My Dad was an auditing accountant. He worked in the financial office in the Ministry of Finance, in Baghdad. That’s in Iraq of course.
Int: When he was at work did he speak the Jewish Arabic, or could he?
ED: No, no, because they were not Jewish. The state was Muslim, Arab Muslim. It’s not a different language, but the Jewish Arabic has got a bit of a quirk in it, you know. They understand it, and we understand their language, but there are sometimes terms and expressions, and even the accents, sometimes are a bit different.
Int: Tell us about your family life. Was it fun to grow up in Baghdad?
ED: It was fun, it was good. We made our own fun. We lived in a community. They were mostly Jewish in our area, but there were some Arab Muslims there, but we lived together. There was no hiding, but we did not really mix with them. My Dad happened to be working with them, but the schools we went to were Jewish schools. The Alliance Israelite Universaire, that’s a universal[international] Jewish school. They have them in France and in other places as well. But ours was established in Baghdad by someone who was well off in the family, and very well known. Yes, it was a very nice, excellent school.
Int: Was that the common way that things were done? That Jewish children went into Jewish schools?
ED: They were private schools, and there were some who really were very, kind of not really affluent, not poor, but they were not in the bracket where they can afford private Jewish schools. There were some other schools. This wasn’t the only one. The one we went to, and my family, was one of the best. It was a public school in terms of the English schools. Public, not in state school, it was a private school.
Int: Did you have Jewish studies in the school? Did you learn Hebrew?
ED: We learnt the alphabet,we were kind of allowed, but very reluctantly to really learn at school. And at my school we learnt a little bit, nothing to speak. Just we learnt the alphabet, and we learnt to read one or two paragraphs from the Seder books, and things like that. We went to shul, the service was conducted in Hebrew, and we were allowed that. But very kind of reluctantly we were allowed to do these things, and we always had to kind of look behind our shoulders, [that] kind of thing.
We did have a lot of incidents. I suppose like here, when it is high festivals, we were known ‘these are the Jewish people’, going to the synagogue and we were looked down upon [by the Arabs]. But sometimes they were a bit nasty, but not physically, you know.
Int: You mean like name calling and such stuff?
ED: Name calling, yes, and they didn’t do name calling but they were kind of hostile a bit to the idea, but they didn’t do anything. But occasionally they did create problems in the synagogue,people coming [in]. You know, being aggressive, creating a fight if you like, and making life a bit uncomfortable.
Int: Was this organised by the government or was this just individuals?
ED: For sure it was very much the [Muslim] community. It was not organised, just the Muslim public you know.
Int: So that must have been something that marred your childhood a little. Did it? Were you very conscious of that as a young person?
ED: Yes, yes. But not, I mean, we didn’t live with it consciously, we lived our own life, but that was there. I mean we knew it was there. For example; if I walked to school, which is about a twenty minutes’ walk, and it’s very early in the morning, I would go along the river. There were little vendors, they were only teenagers. I must have been something like nine years old at that time, and I would just have to look away, pretending that I’m not seeing them. But they would pass snide remarks and would give very kind of rude, obscene gestures, and that’s terrifying for a nine year old. But I would hoof it and just get out of that place.
Int: So that would be 1938 time?
Int: So while things were happening in Europe. Did you know what was happening in Europe?
ED: Oh yes. Oh yes. We did. I mean not as a child, I was not bothered by that. My Dad is a very good reader and he knew what it was, and we always listened to the radio. And then they [The Arabs] became very anti Jewish at that time, and very pro fascist Hitler.
Int: So you felt the difference because of what was happening in Europe?
ED: Oh yes, oh yes. Absolutely, absolutely. We were more cautious really. We didn’t, we lived very carefully and tried not to create anything. But otherwise we lived our life just as normal as we could. We didn’t allow it to kind of stop us doing things. We had clubs,The community was more maybe like here for us, a lot of family you know, aunties and uncles, and cousins, so we didn’t need anyone from outside if you like.
Int: I remember you told me your Father was limited in his work because of his background, because he was Jewish.
ED: No he wasn’t limited in his work, not at all. He was quite exploited really. He worked in an office, a quite responsible job. His boss was a Muslim Arab from the government, and he did all the work, and his salary was very kind of low compared, when he was doing the work, but he wasn’t paid. And a colleague of m his, used to say while smoking a cigarette, “Well you do all the work and we enjoy it” kind of thing. And he didn’t mind doing all the work because he was good at it. He just got on with it, and that’s it. But it was very difficult when the pay was very low. The same people in the same office I should imagine had much more pay really.
Int: So you come from a Sephardic background.
Int: So we have a traditional Friday night. So what do you have on a Friday night?
ED: We are Jews you know! Well back home we did. I live here it’s different for me.
Int: Yeah, so what sort of things…you’d have on a Friday night?
ED: Yes, you’d get the family around, and my Dad used to have the glass of wine. And he said the Kiddush, you know, eating chicken and all this kind of thing, and candles, My Mum used the candles. And you don’t buy the candles like you do here. We had kind of a little bowl with water and oil, the real old fashioned thing. And things that my Mum used to make, like a kind of a little stick, with cotton wool, and dip it in the oil and light it until the oil finished, and there is water underneath and that’s it, very old things, yeah.
Int: Traditions. Had your parents lived there many many years? Your grandparents and before that. Had they lived in Baghdad for long?
ED: Yes, I knew my grandparents. They were all from Baghdad. Yes, I go as far as my granddad. Beyond that I don’t really know. I just heard about them you know. Like my Dad’s father, he used to write. So for him in the shul, handwriting, he was very good.
Int: What about the size of the community? It must have been a very large community. Do you have any idea how big it was?
ED: I wouldn’t say we lived in ghettos, but you can tell in Newton Mearns [Glasgow] there’s a lot of Jews here. And where we were in Batawiin there were a lot of Jewish people there. But not exclusively. It’s not like a ghetto; there were a lot of nice homes for Arabs to live there as well. But they kept to themselves, and we kept to ourseves.
Int: And what types of youth club did you go to?
ED: Well at that time I was too busy studying. I was an eight / nine year old if I remember. And the clubs arrived much later. Social clubs, they would meet and they would blether, and they would gossip and discuss things. Mostly it was the men, but then the women started joining too.
Int: Were they Zionistic?
ED: No. Oh don’t mention that word in Baghdad. It’s enough to be Jewish. If they call you a Zionist, you know.
We had soldiers from the Haganah, [they were ]Polish soldiers, and we did have underground classes, and my Dad used to cringe and get upset because if they [the Muslims]knew, [ that would be difficult as the Polish soldiers] were Zionists. This what they did and they taught us the Hebrew and that wasn’t really in the open.