Israel-BirthdayRachelle was born to Kedourie and Rosa Ani on Feb 23rd, 1922 in an upper class neighborhood in the southern port city of Basra. Her father, Kedourie Ani, was a notable tea merchant involved in the lucrative trade circuit between India and Great Britain.

Her first encounters with the food of the Iraqi Jewish people were in her family’s kitchen. Her mother, Rosa, was a fine and capable cook, specializing in vegetarian dishes due to her and her husband’s adherence to theosophy. But Rachelle’s lasting impression was the family’s cook who would amaze her with his skills in preparing meals.

young_SAt the age of 17 Rachelle introduced to 32 year old Salim Somekh, an official at the port of Basra and the man her parents selected for her husband. Her mother considered him to be a fine selection due of his fine name and solid occupation.

Salim and Rachelle married in 1939 and moved into apartments supplied to port officials. His mother joined them in the new flat and would be the major influence in Rachelle’s culinary education. They would have two children in the coming years, a daughter in 1941 named Carmella and a son in 1946 named Sasson.

IrakFebruary39_SIn 1948, the creation of the state of Israel and subsequent war in Palestine set into motion the disintegration of the community of Iraqi Jews. Nearly overnight, Jews were stripped of many of their basic rights as Iraqis and barred from conducting and participating in the country’s commerce.

Salim Somekh was caught in these whirlwinds. As an Assistant Traffic Manager at the port of Basra he enjoyed a prominent and visible position. In June 1948, a month after the war was over, he was arrested along with 5 other Jews and charged with being a communist and a zionist. Despite evidence that he was in a Baghdad hospital the day he was accused of being at a rally supporting the state of Israel, Salim was found guilty and sentenced to five years hard labor in a desert prison.

IMG_2739Rachelle faced a situation where she was with two children, a husband in prison and a social and political situation that was becoming increasingly tense. She and Salim agreed that she should emigrate with the children to Israel where her parents had emigrated a few years before.

Upon arriving in Israel, Rachelle and the children were split up. She went to live with her parents in Jerusalem and the kids were sent separately to boarding schools to be taught Hebrew. Within a year, though, they were reunited in an apartment in Tel Aviv.. Salim joined them in 1953 after being released from prison.

IsraeltelAvivBeach_SSince then, Rachelle has lived in the center of Tel Aviv. She has survived as both the last generation of Iraqi Jew and the first generation of Israeli, refining and mastering the dishes of a community that existed among the Tigris and Euphrates for over 2,500 years.