A story of Iran for Hanukka

Even though he experienced prejudice and pogroms in his youth, Farideh Goldin’s father always regretted leaving Iran, where he did well under the Shah. But for Farideh it was different. The festival of Hanukka, with its stories of brave Maccabis standing up to the Greeks, does not suit the Jews of Iran so well as that of Purim, where Jews learnt to tread around their rulers to survive. From The Jerusalem Post:

During most of my adult life in Iran, I dreamed of leaving, finding a place where the words “Jew” and “woman” were not derogatory terms. My father, however, loved Iran. He never imagined a day that he would have to abandon the country of his ancestors. We had heated debates in Iran and later in his new home, Israel. Last year, he passed away on the last day of Hanukka, still dreaming of Iran, his views shared by many other Iranian Jews both in Israel and in the United States. Here are my conversations with my father.

Once upon a time, my daughter, after a brief journey, you and I yearned to return to Shiraz. Through the arched gateway adorned with blue tiles, passing underneath the holy book of Koran, we entered our forefathers’ homeland for over 2,500 years. There was a time, my daughter, that your eyes, like mine, sparked with joy to see our city of roses and nightingales, the city of poets and writers.

Once upon a time, my father, winter came, the ground froze, the trees died; ice caps dropped on your city’s mountain tops. I felt the familiar invisible yellow patch on my chest for being the daughter of my mothers’ religion. The holy book nested on top of the gate to Shiraz did not give us, the Jews, security.

My daughter, scant were those who scorned our beliefs. People of Iran were decent and God-fearing. There is always the good and the bad wherever you go. I saw kindness, respect; I was somebody in the land of my fathers.

Don’t forget that an Iranian king, Cyrus the Great, freed us from our bondage in Babylon. Our forefathers remained in Persia because we felt safe under the king’s benevolent rule. Cyrus was a second Moses; Persia, our new Promised Land. We entered its borders as free men and not slaves.

Baba, didn’t you tell me of dark nights of pogroms in the Jewish ghetto of your youth? Returning from his synagogue one rainy Shabbat morning, your white-bearded father, the community rabbi, was beaten bloody for daring to walk outside the walls of the ghetto.

Those were the old days of ignorance and fanaticism, of melee and mayhem – and even in the dark days, the kindness seeped through. A Muslim mullah brought us warm blankets, hot tea, bread and grapes after a long night of bedlam in the ghetto. My daughter, don’t look at the ugliness. We were better off than the European Jewry, where the so called civilized Germany murdered six million of us.

Baba, we were not allowed to become six millions. We suffered in silence. Our history not recorded and publicized, our murdered ancestors die repeatedly in the elimination of their names, their stories and their faces. The Jews of Tabriz, men, women and children, were decimated in the eighth century. The Jews of Mashhad were forced to convert in the 17th century. Baba, don’t help erase the past because you still yearn for your farms and orchards in Shiraz, because after such a long period of emotional and financial despair, you became a prosperous landowner under the shah’s rule.(..)

“Baba, you talk of Queen Esther’s story as our story, of the story of Iranian Jews. You are right, it exemplifies our position in Iranian history, as a people who had to tread gingerly around our rulers as Iranian Jews do today. The king bestowed upon Haman the power to annihilate a powerless people. Esther, even though a queen, approached the king trembling in fear. Baba a part of me prefers the story of Hanukka over Purim. I can’t imagine Iranian Jews being brave enough, like the Maccabees, to rise up against those who try to annihilate us, to assimilate us, to kill our traditions.

“My daughter, Hanukka is not our story as much as Purim is. We conquered and survived through words and not swords. In your adopted country, Hanukka competes with Christmas, a commercial holiday. Don’t forget that you are Persian.

“Baba, I remember you lighting the Hanukka candles in the corner, where no one could see from the outside. You mumbled the prayers so that no one could hear you beyond your family.

“I light my hanukkia by an unobstructed window. Let the candles light, growing more intense every night for eight nights, brightening my house, and the faces of those walking by the window. Let the neighbors and passersby know who I am – a Jew, no longer afraid.”

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