‘Memories’ honoured

new Breaking news. The Jewish Book Council in the USA has just sent us the following: 

Dear Tony & Mira,

Congratulations!  On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Jewish Book Council, I am happy to inform you that, out of our many submissions, your book:

Memories of Eden


Violette Shamash; Mira and Tony Rocca, eds. 

has been selected as a finalist of the 


in the category of

Sephardic Culture


This book was selected after careful analysis by a panel of three judges who are all authorities in their field. The judges encountered a great deal of difficulty in making their decisions this year. Several categories offered many viable candidates, which made the selection even harder. It is gratifying to know there is a wide range of Jewish content books available. Your book now joins the ranks of the hundreds of well-respected, classic Jewish books that have been National Jewish Book Award finalists. The National Jewish Book Awards, now in its 58th year, is the longest-running program of its kind in North America. 

We recognize and appreciate your editorial decision to publish a book of such high quality; one that enlarges the whole enterprise of Jewish scholarship and contributes to informed living, understanding, and entertainment for the entire English-reading world.

Sincerely yours,

Mimi Frank



• The presentation of the National Jewish Book Awards will be at a gala ceremony, open to the public, at 7:30pm on Thursday, March 5th, at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York City

Warm wishes from a correspondent

So far this year our travels to promote the book have taken us to events in London, Tel Aviv and Montreal. Towards the end of October we are planning a big trip to the USA and Canada again, with San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, New York and Toronto on the itinerary so far. More later as details firm up.

While the purpose of these events is to bring ‘Memories’ to the attention of a broader audience and sell books, one unexpected spinoff has been the way they have resulted in broken links being restored between people who have lost contact with one another. Most particularly, in Mira’s case, meeting up with long-lost relatives and friends whom she hasn’t seen since childhood. It’s a lovely surprise, greatly satisfying.

Mira has consequently acquired a whole new bunch of correspondents writing about family connections and the family tree. We have been particularly touched by an email this week from someone (who may or may not be a distant relation: she’s still trying to work it out) whose reaction to the book has been precisely what Violette was hoping for. She wrote with the younger generation in mind to make them aware of the bygone era which was so very different from the perception of the Middle East that is current today.

The message is from Elliot, a 30-year-old Londoner of Iraqi-Jewish extraction who has asked us to withold his surname. Here is an edited version.

Many thanks for the publication of ‘Memories of Eden,’ which I finished reading last week. I was so impressed that I’ve since ordered three more copies, to give to family and friends.

To me at least, it’s hard to underestimate the importance of the book.

In addition to being a pleasure to read, and an enlightening window to another world another time, ‘Memories of Eden’ gives a disarming human perspective to a forgotten chapter in an ongoing saga, the twists and turns of which continue to decide the fate of the world today.

As with all good books though, it just tells great stories well, which, through their good humour and humanity, challenge our preconceptions of other people and the way the world works.

Particularly with my generation, there’s little awareness about the way our grandparents lived, the food they ate or the language they spoke. That world would seem so ‘Arab’ to us, and as British Jews, we associate being ‘Arab’ with an image of a backward enemy — a character in a reconstructed narrative played out on the daily news.

Likewise, amongst young British Muslims or British Arabs, there’s almost no knowledge that Jews and their grandparents once lived peacefully together in the Middle East — that there wasn’t always a divided ‘them and us’, just as it wasn’t always Shia against Sunni.

This is made all the more prescient to me through my partner’s family, who are Syrian Muslims. Between our own group of friends, all with a link to the Middle East, we founded a small and fleeting ‘Arab-Jewish’ organization called Yalla!, which made the Guardian news during the 2006 war in Lebanon.

So why am I writing all this?

Firstly – to thank you both and your late mother for a beautifully written and enlightening book. Secondly, as someone constantly reminded of my relatively unknown heritage by my own appearance, to reach out and make contact for contact’s sake.

Thanks again.

All the best,

Elliot M

Thank you, Elliot.

London event

We’d like to draw everyone’s attention to something unusual taking place in London this Sunday, 22 June: a celebration of Jewish-Iraqi culture that is shaping up to be something both remarkable and unique.

The flyer explains it all. Well, nearly all. The organisers invited us to attend to give a talk about Memories of Eden. Naturally, we were delighted — but there was no way that Tony could make it from our home in the South of France as he has just had a hip replaced and is hopping around on crutches. Mira is going, however, and will be appearing on the platform alongside our old friend and mentor, Professor Shmuel Moreh from the Hebrew University.

So please give support, everybody!

Place: Ohel David Eastern Synagogue, 4-14 Broadwalk Lane, off Golders Green Rd, London, NW11 8HD. Nearest Tube: Golders Green on the Northern Line

Time: Registration – from 09:00 for the morning session which will finish at 13:00
– from 15:00 for the afternoon session which will finish at 19:00

Price: to include refreshments & traditional snacks: £20 per session

Reservations (advised as space is limited): halahel2008@gmail.com or 0207 244 0222