The Story Of Malka Babad
“I am the youngest of seven brothers and sisters – Hadassah, Miryam, Isaac, Naomi, Abraham, Shoshana, and myself.
My mother, Chana Kasus, arrived from Morocco when she was three years old, in 1912. Her family wanted to settle at the holiest site, next to the Temple and as such, moved to the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem. She was a single child to her parents, who protected her. She learned every day in a school outside of the Quarter.
My father, Shaul, was born in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. My grandfather, Yehoshua Sharbani, came from Iraq in 1890 wishing to establish a Yeshiva (center for Jewish learning). He established the Yeshiva Porat Yosef. All of my grandfather’s children were students at the Yeshiva. They lived, studied, and worked there. My grandfather oversaw all of the writing and would travel to the Jewish-Iraqi community in Turkey to sell them Torahs. Our entire family lived together until the family grew and it became crowded in the Yeshiva. Eventually, we left to live outside of the Yeshiva. We were seven children, so we left to live in a house with two rooms. Today, there is a religious school there. Only Jews of Ashkenazi (Jews of European descent) Jews lived there. We were the only Sephardi family (Jews of Spanish descent).
Our home was relatively nice and spacious. My mother was a feminist and turned it into a sort of community center. We had a radio in our home. Our home was a very open place, and everyone would come over. We were a large family, in which everyone was involved. My grandmother lived on Chabad Beit El Street, but everyone was very well connected.
One time, I was sent to bring laundry pins. There were established friendships among the neighborhood, but it was not entirely cohesive. My grandmother who came from Morocco was surprised by the strict religious practices; she was not familiar with what was permitted and what was forbidden, according to the religion. When Moroccans meet one another, they kiss and hug. Among religious Iraqis, that is not the case. But the communities slowly began to integrate.
In the Jewish Quarter, there were several great families, it was a good neighborhood, like the Kibbutzim of the past. People didn’t have much but everyone shared with one another.
When we wanted water, we would go and stand in line at the Arab well. Ali would distribute buckets according to the number we requested. Everyone was sucked out of the well.
We would use the water several times to conserve it. For example, we washed dishes into a bucket and used this water to clean the bathroom floor. We showered into a tub and saved that water to scrub the floor. We didn’t shower every day. On Thursdays, the girls would shower. We would go with our mother to the bath house and wash up for the Sabbath. The boys would go on Fridays. On a weekday, we would only wash half our bodies. That was considered natural and normal.
We studied in a school in the Jewish Quarter – “The School for Girls B”. There was also a school for boys. Religious and secular students studied together. Hadassah Beryl, the principal, pushed for everyone to attend the school.
Life alongside the Arabs was quite fine. The siege on the Old City of Jerusalem began in 1948. That was when the Arab riots against the Jews began. Groups of students came to try and help us but they did not succeed. The Jews did not move from the Jewish Quarter and closed the Yafo gate – no entrance and no exit. It was only permitted to bring in food. My father was a Mohel and was invited to perform a circumcision outside the walls of the Old City. That is how he ended up outside the walls and unable to return. My mother was just recovering from surgery in the hospital and also was unable to return. Thus, the seven of us remained alone in our home. Our grandparents from Chabad Street came and stayed with us.
When the shelling and gunshots began, they called up everyone to enlist and help. My sister, Naomi, prepared bandages and medicine. We rolled bandages and Naomi wanted to bring them to the wounded.
There was not enough food. Every family received one loaf of bread when the vehicle came from outside the walls to deliver. There was an allowance given out according to the number of children. Even in the neighborhood of Katamon there was no food while before the siege we were given baskets of food.
I was not willing to surrender. Every day, my father stood outside the gate. Those who entered were only those who brought food. My father would send in messages with them. One day a messenger came and brought out my sister Shoshana and I in a bread truck. My father took us to close relatives in the city center.
When the Jewish Quarter vacated, we moved to Katamon. It happened on a Friday. All the men were taken as prisoners, and the women and children were transferred to Katamon where we received beautiful apartments. They told us to enter, but there was fear on the streets so we did not want to enter. We preferred to stay together as multiple families in a single apartment.
My parents continued to live there all their lives.
After the Six Day War, there was a tender for those who wished to return to live in the Jewish Quarter. My parents, like most of the Quarter’s residents, were reminded of the violent protests against the Jews and did not wish to return. My husband, who was not there at the time and therefore still wished for us to return, registered us and paid a down payment. We waited until we would be able to build a new house, as we did not wish to return to a house that would need renovations or a house that had once belonged to an Arab family. We returned to live in the Jewish Quarter at 1977. Five of my children were born there.”