Purim still resonates with the Jews of Iran

Today Jews around the world celebrate the feast of Purim – when the Jewess Esther saves her people from destruction by the evil Haman – but the lessons of Purim still resonate especially with the Jews of Iran.

For Haaretz Esther Solomon interviews author Farideh Goldin, whose book is a corrective to the romanticisation of Jewish life in her native Iran (with thanks: Albert).

“The Book of Esther is set in Persia, and the themes of disguising one’s identity, a minority’s uneasy coexistence within a majority culture, and the latent and actual threat to life by hostile authorities are historical tropes that have been repeated throughout the history of the Iranian Jewish community.

“Until the breakup of the Jewish community following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the festival was celebrated there with particular devotion: the fast of Esther was widely observed, children burned effigies of Haman and set off firecrackers and women made halva ornamented with images from the Megillah, the Scroll of Esther.(…)

“Although nostalgia for the old country is a key part of many exiles’ lives, “Wedding Song” is an articulate corrective to overly-romanticized depictions of life in Iran. Goldin describes the pervasive nature of anti-Semitism in the street and in school, the fear of the jude-koshi (pogrom) aimed at the mehaleh and the fear of isolation living outside it. Thirteen Iranian Jews were arrested in early 1999 in Shiraz, Goldin’s hometown, accused of spying for the “Zionist regime” and of “world arrogance,” (the standard Iranian regime term for Israel) and at least 17 Jews have been executed since the Revolution in 1979, most accused of spying for Israel and the United States.

“Goldin proclaims: “Enough humiliation, enough humbling of the body and the soul … [we can live] without the chain of prejudice around our necks. We have managed to rebuild our stories, our history – and all done in exile.”

“Goldin recounts in the interview that even during the apparently halcyon days for Jews of the Shah’s regime in the 1970s, the fear of anti-Semitic attack was not far away. During the Yom Kippur War, Farideh’s family desperately sought news of Israel’s fate. The Persian broadcasts from Kol Israel were sometimes inaudible:

“We tried to get the regular Iranian station. The happy voice announced that Israel was on the verge of extinction. I remember feeling nauseous. My father looked like a ghost. The women hit themselves on the head. We knew very well how our existence and well-being were connected to that of Israel’s … we finally managed to hear the BBC and to realize that Israel was not quite finished.

“My father met with the other elders of the Jewish community, trying to figure out what to do. Should the children go to school the day after? What if we were harassed and harmed? Would our lives become harsh, would they harm us, calling us Zionists? The Jewish community, it was decided by the elders, had to fast again and gather at the synagogues, praying, as we had done during the Purim story. Those were frightening days.”

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