In the spring of 2003, when I got to Baghdad as part of the war effort, there was still one synagogue active in the city's Batween neighborhood. Apart from serving as a prayer hall it served also as nursing home for two old Jews. The Jewish community then numbered 42 people, and there was a group with whom to celebrate the Passover seder.
Last month, when I returned to Baghdad on special assignment for Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's leading daily newspaper, I found no trace of any of it. The synagogue was closed, and I didn't manage to make contact with any of the Jews I'd met then.
I finally managed to track down a phone number for Imad Levy, one of the only Jews left in Baghdad.
After identifying myself as a Jewish journalist and hinted that I was also Israeli (spoke some Hebrew on the phone), he agreed to meet with me.
We met in his house, in a middle class section of town. Imad, a man in his 40's, welcomed me outside his home dryly and shook my hand formally.
Once inside, he hugged me warmly. "I am the head of the Jewish community in Baghdad. Welcome," he told me in passionate Hebrew. "I am also the ritual slaughterer and the cantor. My father lives in Israel, and my brother's family is in Holland.
He told me the Jewish community in Baghdad now stands at 17 people, most of them well past their 75th birthdays. Most of the city's Jews are now in Israel or Europe. Those left don't pray in the synagogue or get together for fear of terrorism.
By profession, Imad is a used car salesman, but he hasn't sold a car in weeks. ""I can't go out on the street," he said. "I am planning to move to Israel."
"When?" I asked.
"After I sell my house or rent it out. But the market is dead. People aren't buying houses in Baghdad buying today.
He doesn't speak to his 85-year-old father, Ezra, in Israel, for security reasons. Every once in a while he calls his brother in Holland. The brother then calls Israel to say hi to their father.
One small favor
Before leaving Imad asks a favor.
"I have a prayer book that I want to take to Israel. But if they catch me with at the border they'll arrest me. But as a journalist, they won't do anything to you. Would you be willing to take it and give it to my father?' Of course I agreed, and we parted with kisses.
When I returned to Israel two weeks ago I found the father, and yesterday I visited him at his home in the Mishan nursing home in Ramat Efal, near Tel Aviv.
He waited for me at the gate. On the way to his room he told me he came from Baghdad two and a half years ago, and that the Jewish Agency made arrangements for him to live at the nursing home.
"Look, this is paradise," he said. "It's too bad my wife never got to see it. She died in Iraq. All I've got left are my two boys, Salah in Holland, and Imad, who you met. I can't call him, he can't call me. I'd love to hear his voice.
Tell him to come, already
At the end of the meeting I held out the prayer book from his son. He took it with shaking hands, saying, "thank you. Really, thank you. Tell me, is Imad okay?"
I told him that his son looks good and that he is planning to come to Israel.
"Yes, yes, he said. I want him to come already. I'll pray for him from this prayer book."