I’m cur­rent­ly in the mid­dle of Ariel Sabars mem­oir My Father’s Par­adise: A Son’s Search for his Jew­ish Past in Kur­dish Iraq and am fas­ci­nat­ed by the his­to­ry of the Jews and Mus­lims in Zakho, who lived along­side one anoth­er in moun­tain­side vil­lages for near­ly 2,700 years. The two com­mu­ni­ties lived, more or less, peace­ful­ly along­side one anoth­er dur­ing that time, and the Kur­dish Jews were sub­ject­ed to almost none of the anti-Semi­tism that Jews in oth­er regions of the world were forced to com­bat. As Sabar explains:

Seclu­sion bred fra­ter­ni­ty… In impor­tant ways, they were Kurds first and Mus­lims, Chris­tians, or Jews sec­ond. Mus­lims sent Jews bread and milk as gifts after Passover… They sent their Jew­ish neigh­bors hot tea dur­ing the Sab­bath, when Jews were for­bid­den to light fires … And the Jews paid back the respect, for­go­ing cig­a­rettes, for instance, dur­ing the holy month of Ramadan, when Mus­lims may not smoke.

Sabar crafts an intrigu­ing por­tray­al of this excep­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, blend­ing his family’s per­son­al his­to­ry with the larg­er his­to­ry of the region, inter­spers­ing sto­ries and anec­dotes of the peo­ple who have lived there.

(If you’re inter­est­ed in more titles about Iraqi Jews, you may enjoy these new titles: Iraq’s Last Jews: Sto­ries of Dai­ly Life, Upheaval, and Escape from Mod­ern Baby­lon (Tamar Morad, Den­nis Shasha, Robert Shasha, eds.) and Mem­o­ries of Eden: A Jour­ney Through Jew­ish Bagh­dad (Vio­lette Shamash))

And, con­ve­nient­ly anoth­er book that focus­es on rela­tion­ships between Mus­lims and Jews has found its way to my desk. This stun­ning book of pho­tog­ra­phy, Besa: Mus­lims Who Saved Jews in World War II, by Nor­man H. Ger­sh­man, tells the sto­ry of Alban­ian Mus­lims and Besa, a code of hon­or deeply root­ed in Albanain cul­ture and incor­po­rat­ed into the faith of Alban­ian Mus­lims. Besa dic­tates a moral behav­ior so absolute that non­ad­her­ence brings shame and dis­hon­or to one’s fam­i­ly. Ger­sh­man has col­lect­ed the sto­ries of Mus­lims in Alba­nia and Koso­vo, who shel­tered both Jews from their own cities, but also thou­sands of Jews flee­ing oth­er Euro­pean coun­tries. Each sto­ry is accom­pa­nied by Gershman’s gor­geous pho­tographs, reveal­ing a hid­den peri­od in his­to­ry, and the com­pas­sion of ordi­nary people.

The sto­ries in Besa will be the sub­ject of a full-length doc­u­men­tary, God’s House, cur­rent­ly in pro­duc­tion. To view the trail­er, click here.

Orig­i­nal­ly from Lan­cast­er, Penn­syl­va­nia, Nao­mi is the CEO of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil. She grad­u­at­ed from Emory Uni­ver­si­ty with degrees in Eng­lish and Art His­to­ry and, in addi­tion, stud­ied at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don. Pri­or to her role as exec­u­tive direc­tor, Nao­mi served as the found­ing edi­tor of the JBC web­site and blog and man­ag­ing edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World. In addi­tion, she has over­seen JBC’s dig­i­tal ini­tia­tives, and also devel­oped the JBC’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series and Unpack­ing the Book: Jew­ish Writ­ers in Conversation.