Jews of Iran caught ‘between hammer and devil’

On October 3rd Yedioth Ahronoth published an article in Hebrew by Ariela Ringel Hoffman entitled “Between the Hammer and the Devil” about the current situation of Jews in Iran. Jews do not want to leave, but feel they are sitting on top of a powder keg: ( with thanks Daled Amos, via Israpundit)

Some highlights of the article:

  • According to Hoffman, between the years 2000 and 2007–approximately 1,200 Jews arrived from Iran. In 2000: 384, 2001: 207, and year by year the numbers have diminished. However, while 65 Jews arrived from Iran in 2006, thus far this year 77 have arrived.
  • This is despite The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, of which Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein is president, which guarantees a grant of $10,000 to each Iranian Jew who comes to Israel. Efforts are being made to put together a package of incentives to entice them further.
  • Yossi Shraga, Director of Middle East immigration at the Jewish Agency, there are between 25,000 and 28,000 Jews now living in Iran–though the Iranians themselves put the number much higher: 100,000. Either way, averaging 100 Jews from Iran per year is a minuscule amount.
  • Hoffman describes the situation as a conflict between fear of life in Iran and the ability to adapt and lead a normal life there; between the worry of leaving everything behind and the desire to lead a new life in Israel.
  • According to Jeff Kaye, an official of the Jewish Agency, there good reason to worry about the fate of the Jews of Iran–the same reasons that pushed Israel to bring Jews out of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq to Israel or the US exist also in Iran.
  • One Iranian Jew interviewed by Hoffman said that Jews in Iran know they are sitting on a powder keg–at least half of them think that either Israel or the US will attack Iran’s nuclear reactors. And when they do, the Jews of Iran will pay the price. Even without encouragement from the government, the Iranians on the street will take it out on the Jews.
  • Another Iranian Jew tells Hoffman that it was not the threat of war that brought him to Israel, but the desire to live as a Jew. “There, it is difficult to keep Mitzvot, to keep Kosher, to pray and to learn about Judasim. On Shabbat the children have to go to school–everything there is more difficult.
  • He continues, saying that it is the Israeli government that Iran hates–and not the Israelis themselves. He believes that things are better than they were 10 years ago–when there was a water fountain in the marketplace in Tehran with 2 faucets: one for Muslims and one for Jews. If a Jew dared to drink from the faucet for Muslims he would be beaten up. Today it is different.
  • Another Iranian Jew shows Hoffman his passport. On the last page–as will all Iranian passports–it reads:
  • Another Iranian Jew describes how most of his friends at the university were Muslims–some of whom expressed the wish to visit Israel. He draws a distinction between the Iranian on the street and those in the university, where instructors openly question Iran’s need for a nuclear reactor. He believes that Anti-Semitism is something encountered only on the street, where calling someone a Jew is the equivalent to someone in Israel calling someone a Nazi. Yet he admits that Jews cannot hold government posts.
  • Hoffman reports that the economic situation of Jews in Iran is good relative to the rest of the population, and has in fact improved during the last few years–even while the poverty level has increased.
  • In Iran, the Internet is censured. Soon after a new site pops up, the authorities find out about it and it is blocked. Likewise, families watch CNN–until the government comes around and takes down their TV antenna. In previous years there was a punishment too, but no more. One of her interviewees tells Hoffman that he has a friend, a lawyer, who was involved in the compensation when 60 died from an explosion–but the explosion was never reported on the news.
  • Despite the small size of the Jewish community in Iran and the difficulty in finding a shidduch, intermarriage is relatively rare.
  • In Iran, serving in the army is mandatory. Many Jews avoid service by paying someone off–something that is not limited to the Jews alone. One who ended up serving in the army recounts how the Iranians who served were religious and treated him like someone impure, and gave him the hardest jobs. Though service is for 24 months, after 20 months he got disgusted and deserted.

Hoffman concludes:

The problem is that the Iranian Jews don’t want to leave, I say to him [Yossi Shraga]. That is true, he says–they may not say it, but that does not free us. This is similar to the situation the Jews faced in Europe before the rise of the Nazis. Jews have the tendency, says Shraga, to believe that everything will turn out all right. But back then, there was no Jewish state, no government. Today there is, and we will not be able to forgive ourselves if something happens.

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