The International Society for Sephardic Progress
has awarded Edwin Black the 2004 Doña Gracia Medal
for Best Book of The Year for his book Banking on Baghdad.
The Doña Gracia Medal is awarded annually in January for the
most significant book published during the preceding year that impacts
the Sephardic community. The book awarded is one which the ISFSP feels
would be strongly recommend for members of both the Jewish and non-Jewish
public to read.
Edwin Black's book Banking on Baghdad
has become a catalyst for change, bringing about a more accurate and
inclusive educational curriculum on Holocaust studies. When Holocaust
educators teach about the years 1933-1945, they aim to present a comprehensive
overview. But sadly, a major event that took place during this period,
known as the Farhud-the 1941 Nazi-allied pogrom against Iraqi Jewry,
has been all but forgotten about by historians. The subsequent events
culminating in the expulsion of 120,000 Iraqi Jews-a community with
a precious 2,600 year legacy-has also been forgotten. Edwin Black's
work has made a difference, evoking widespread discussion, by both Jews
and non-Jews, about the events that unfolded in Iraq between the Arabs
and their partnership with Hitler.
Gracia Mendesia (Mendes) Nasi was a 16th century banker who used her
money, power and influence to develop an escape network that saved thousands
of her fellow conversos (forcibly-converted Jews) from the terrors of
the Inquisition. She was born about 1510 in Portugal to the Spanish
family of Benveniste. She lived during the turbulent times after the
expulsion from Spain. Her family remained in Portugal after the 1497
forced conversions to Catholicism and there lived as secret Jews (conversos).
Her name to the outside world became Beatrice de Luna. She had married
Francisco Mendes, one of two brothers that controlled a growing trading
company. The House of Mendes probably began as a company trading precious
objects. However, the boom in spice trading following the Portuguese
explorations lead to a sea route to India, and this led to the Mendes
family becoming important spice traders. When her husband died, her
brother took over the family business, but soon he died. Doña
became the head of this large international enterprise for which she
entertained two specific goals. One was to reach a land where she could
be free of the threat of the Inquisition and practice her Judaism openly.
The other was to help as many of her fellow secretly practicing Jews
(crypto-Jews) reach freedom. Through a series of careful moves she takes
her business and family to Antwerp, Venice, Ferrara (where she declares
her Judaism). In the process she is taken by the Inquisition, accused
of heresy by her own sister and provokes international incidents when,
while she is still in Italy, the Sultan of Turkey places her under his
protection. In Constantinople she helped build synagogues, used her
considerable wealth to help individuals and communities, supported academies
of learning as far away as in newly revived Jewish settlements in Jerusalem,
and sponsored printing presses-which were invaluable in keeping Jewish
books alive. She died in 1568, the 'heart of her people'.