Death of doctor known as 'healer of the poor' in Iraq means only three Jews left

With the death of 61-year-old Thafer Fuad Elyahou, only three Jews remain in Iraq, and the tragic end of a historic community is in sight

Dan Verbin ,


Twenty-six hundred years of Jewish history in Iraq is nearing its tragic end with the death of 61-year-old Thafer Fuad Elyahou, an orthopedic surgeon known as "the healer of the poor." Elyahou was a well known presence at the Wasiti hospital in Baghdad. His death from a hearth attack means that there are only three Jews currently left in Iraq.

Edwin Shuker, who was born in Baghdad but now lives in London, posted a notice about Elyahou's death on Facebook.

"Elyahou worked under the most challenging of conditions, especially during the long years of war and sanctions. He continued to treat patients in the State hospitals knowing that many of them were not able to pay towards the treatment but always received each and everyone, with a broad smile and a warm welcome," Shuker wrote.

"His modesty was legendary and he will be sorely missed," Shuker said.

The death of Elyahou has raised questions about tending to the affairs of the tiny community and its remaining assets, which include cemeteries, shrines and synagogues.

Only six months earlier, community leader and mentor Sit Marcelle passed away.

"It will rapidly lead to the total extinction of a presence that lasted 2,600 years," wrote Shuker.

Elyahou tended to Sit Marcelle for many years during which she was housebound with health issues, visiting her every day.

"It was always a delight to meet up with Thafer. We last met in 2019 at a magnificent wedding of a mutual friend's daughter. He was lively and youthful looking," Shuker stated.

The Iraqi Jewish community has ancient origins, going back to the Babylonian exile after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE.

In 1948, the community consisted of 150,000 Jews. One quarter of the population of Baghdad was Jewish. Life for Jews in Iraq began to become precarious in the early 1940s when the Farhud pogrom took place. In 1948, the rocky situation deteriorated badly. Most Jews left Iraq by the early 1950s, with many going to Israel.