Month: December 2006

Last Afghan Jew’s tale mirrors community’s story

Zablon Simintov, the last Jew in Afghanistan, is still haunted beyond the grave by the second last Jew, with whom he bickered constantly. And as this piece from the (Canadian) Gazette shows, on the shoulders of the last Jew rests the particularly tricky task of protecting what is left of Jewish community assets from theft and encroachment. (With thanks: Albert)

“In a way, Simintov’s personal history mirrors that of his people, whose 800-year history in Afghanistan seems destined to end with him.

“At the turn of the 19th Century the community was at its height. The population swelled to 40,000 as Persian Jews seeking refuge from the forced conversions in neighbouring Iran flooded over the border to settle in Afghanistan.

“It was only the creation of Israel in 1948, that convinced them to move again.

“When the exodus was over, the Jewish population numbered just 5,000. And it shrunk again with the Soviet invasion in 1979, when thousands fled the ensuing violence and repression. Indeed, Simintov even left the country for a six-year hiatus in Israel and Turkmenistan where he met and married his wife Elena. She now lives in Holon, Israel, with the couple’s two daughters.

“But despite the blood ties and his sorry situation in Kabul, Simintov has no plans to return to Israel.

“He cryptically insists: “I don’t have anything to go back to.”

“I have problems,” he says.

“One of those problems, it seems, is the issue of the synagogue’s Torah, its sacred scroll, which was confiscated by a Taliban official years ago and still has not been returned. (…)

“They should cut his hand off,” he says of the official who confiscated the Torah. It is the Taliban punishment for theft and apt in this case, he thinks.

“In the meantime, Simintov spends most of his days and nights alone. He continues to have an easy relationship with neighbours such as Nasir and he says many others in the Islamic Republic have accepted the Jewish presence in their midst without hesitation.

“We are simple people, no one says anything to each other,” Nasir says. “We are free with him.”

“The Jewish legacy in Kabul’s crowded streets tells another story, however.

“Simintov looks after the last remaining section of the city’s Jewish cemetery.

“It is on a hillside in the city’s south end and he has to pay a family of four brothers to occupy the land for him. They, alone, stand guard against its disappearance. The brothers have erected a tall wall around the plot of land, in hopes of fending off gradual encroachment by the Muslim residents of the neighbourhood who already have taken over most of the original burial ground.

“It sometimes seems a futile measure, since more than a decade ago most of the tombstones were bulldozed when the Afghan government tried to clear the land of housing, but Simintov either thinks it is sufficient, or doesn’t want to ruffle feathers.”

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Life is normal for Iran’s Jews, says leader

Harun Yashayaie, the leader of Iran’s Jewish community, adds his voice to those condemning last weeks’ Holocaust denial conference in Iran. So far, he tells the German magazine Spiegel, the Jewish community has not suffered as a result. (With thanks: Albert)

SPIEGEL: Are you afraid that President Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israeli agitation will trigger a wave of anti-Semitism in Iran?

Yashayaie : I don’t want to rule out that possibility, but so far we haven’t noticed anything. The president keeps stressing that his rhetorical attacks are aimed at Israel and not against Jews in Iran. So far, life has been totally normal for the 25,000 members of our community. In Tehran alone we have 26 synagogues, as well as Jewish primary and secondary schools.

SPIEGEL: But you also try to avoid being recognizable as Jews in public. For example, you don’t wear the yarmulke, the traditional skullcap.

Yashayaie : Iranian Jews do not traditionally wear the yarmulke. And officially there is no discrimination. As Iranians, we even fullfil our compulsory military duty.

SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, you are excluded from holding political office.

Yashayaie : We Iranian Jews have never aspired to a career in politics* or the military.

Read interview in full

*Meanwhile in Beverley Hills, CA, three Iranian Jews are standing for election to the city council (with thanks: Albert)

The antidote to Holocaust denial in the Arab world

Just this week, about 60 ‘scholars’ from around the world gathered for a conference on Arab soil to debate the veracity of the Holocaust, and to call for more “proof” on the subject. Had Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, been invited, he might have told them to simply look outside, Rachel Silverman writes. (With thanks:Lily)

 

According to Satloff’s new book, Among the Righteous, not only did the Holocaust play out in Arab countries like Morocco, Tunisia and Libya, but Arabs themselves were involved — both as rescuers and perpetrators.

Speaking Monday night at the Jewish Community Services Building in Philadelphia, Satloff framed his 11-country, four-year search into this story as a potential antidote to the trend of Holocaust denial and trivialization in the Arab world.

What’s more, Satloff’s lecture — jointly sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Center for Israel and Overseas, the Middle East Forum, the Gershman Y and the National Museum of American Jewish History — even attempted to put a positive spin on Arab involvement in the Holocaust.

As the scholar writes: “If I could tell the story of a single Arab who saved a single Jew during the Holocaust, then perhaps I could make Arabs see the Holocaust as a source of pride, worthy of remembering, not just something to avoid or deny.”

To begin this undertaking, Satloff said that he had to dispel the notion that the Holocaust was strictly a European phenomenon.

Read article in full

See more on Satloff and his book hereand here

Jerusalem Post article here

L A Jews lambast lone Jewish MP in Iran

Being the lone Jewish MP in the Iranian Parliament ain’t easy. Maurice Motamed did have the courage to publicly condemn President Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial conference. But Motamed’s visit earlier this month to Los Angeles sparked criticism from Iranian Jews living in the US that that he had painted an unduly positive picture of Jewish life in Iran, according to the Jewish Journal (with thanks: Albert).

“Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist and local expert on the treatment of minorities in Iran, claims Motamed’s statements about Jewish life in Iran lack credibility. Motamed “has officially sworn to uphold the interests of Islam and the Islamic Republic upon entering the Islamic Assembly as the Jewish representative, as required by the government’s constitution,” Nikbakht said.

“Nikbakht questioned Motamed’s allegiances based on a 24-page Persian-language report authored and distributed by Motamed at an event held at the Nessah Cultural Center during a visit to Los Angeles in 2002. In the report, Motamed outlined his activities as a member of the Energy Committee in the Iranian Parliament as well as his travels to Russia, where he urged Russian companies and officials to complete Iran’s nuclear reactor at the Bushehr location.

“IAJF (Iranian American Jewish Federation) leaders defended Motamed’s current visit as well as his efforts to protect Jews living under Iran’s fundamentalist regime.

“He is in a very sensitive position and is walking a tight rope in trying to keep our community there safe and sound,” said Solomon Rastegar, vice-chair of the IAJF. “There are people here in Los Angeles with insufficient knowledge about life in Iran who try to attack him so they can gain credible for themselves.”

“Some local Iranian Jewish activists have been had odds with IAJF leaders who have long advocated keeping criticism of Teheran’s regime to a minimum for fear of retributions that might be brought against the roughly 20,000 Jews still living in Iran.

Read article in full

Article in the Jewish Forward

There’s no denying this Iranian Holocaust survivor

In August 1939, Menashe Ezrapour could have escaped the horrors of the Holocaust by boarding a train in the French city of Grenoble, but instead, he chose to stay, ultimately becoming the only known Shoah survivor of Iranian Jewish descent interned in concentration and work camps, reports the Jerusalem Post (with thanks Albert, Lily).

Earlier this year, Ezrapour, 88, was honored at the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills after coming forward for the first time in more than 60 years to publicly share his story of survival, perhaps bringing the local Persian Jewish community closer to the Shoah.

A number of Holocaust experts, including ones from Yad Vashem, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said Ezrapour is probably one of the few – if not the only – Iranian Jewish survivors held captive in the camps.

“To my knowledge, I have not heard of any Iranian Jews being held in camps during the war,” said Aaron Brightbart, head researcher at the Wiesenthal Center.

For the Iranian Jews of Los Angeles, remembering the Shoah has taken on a new, sorrowful resonance following recent statements denying the Holocaust by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Obviously Ezrapour’s story is especially significant .

Upon learning of Ezrapour’s experience, several local Iranian Jewish leaders said his story may personalize the Holocaust for Iranian Jews who in the past may not have been as impacted by its effects as most European Jewry was.

“We have always felt a close bond with the Shoah,” said Dariush Fakheri, co-founder of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana. “This new revelation for the community just makes it so close to a personal experience for us.”

Ezrapour can still recall the names, dates and events surrounding his internment in various camps in southern France.

His life-altering experience began when he and his brother, Edward, left their home in the Iranian city of Hamadan and went to Paris in September 1938 to pursue higher education. In August 1939, they journeyed to Grenoble in southeastern France. Shortly afterward, when war in Europe seemed imminent, they decided to return to Iran.

“As we were preparing to leave, my friend from Baghdad, Maurice, who was an Iraqi Jew, encouraged me to stay,” Ezrapour said.

His brother returned to Iran, but he remained in Grenoble and continued his engineering education at a local university. For the next three years, Ezrapour said that neither France’s German occupiers nor the Vichy government bothered him. However, he was eventually forced to register as a Jew in 1941, in accordance to Vichy laws.

In late 1942, he and several hundred other Jews in the area were rounded up and sent to nearby detention camps. The French police took Ezrapour to a work camp called Uriage. He said the prisoners there were worried that they’d be deported to Germany.

“After one month there, I got permission to return to Grenoble for two days, and I never returned to the camp,” Ezrapour recalled.

He said he stayed in the Grenoble home of a Christian woman for two weeks and used false identification papers to get around. He was ultimately arrested after the woman was tricked by a police officer into revealing his whereabouts.

After 45 days in jail, Ezrapour said he was convicted of using false papers and sentenced to serve 40 more days in the Shapoli work camp. From Shapoli, he and other Jewish prisoners were taken to the infamous Gurs concentration camp, 80 kilometers from the Spanish border.

According to the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Gurs was the first and one of the largest concentration camps in France, with approximately 60,000 prisoners held there from 1939 to 1945. According to the 1993 book, Gurs: An Internment Camp in France, the internees included approximately 23,000 Spanish Republican soldiers who had fled Franco’s Spain in 1939, 7,000 International Brigade volunteers, 120 French resistance members and more than 21,000 Jews from all over Europe.

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