An orthodox anti-Zionist in Iran

Yakov Rabkin is a professor at Montreal University. An apologist for the Iranian regime, it is no wonder that  the Iranians love his book about Jewish opposition to Zionism and that his travelogue in Iran was posted on the anti-Zionist blog Mondoweiss. Nonetheless, Rabkin’s account is worth reading for its description of Iranian Judaism from an orthodox perspective. (With thanks: Andrew)


 A tank drawn on a wall in Palestine St in Tehran is accompanied by the slogan ‘Israel will be omitted from the world’. The author claims that the quote’s meaning has been mistranslated and manipulated.

In Isfahan I often heard that the city had been
founded by Jews exiled from the Holy Land in the First Exile. The city used to
be called Dar al-Yahud. No wonder that I went to explore the old Jewish
quarter Jubaré. As I wandered, I saw a small Star of David hand-painted on a
gate. I pushed it and found myself in front of two elderly women. I tried to
explain to them that I was Jewish but they remained in doubt. I tried to speak
with them in Hebrew, again no avail. Finally, I uttered Torah tsiva lanu
Moshe
, and they joyfully responded morasha kehilat Yaakov. This is
traditionally the first verse of the Torah taught to a child: “Moshe commanded
us the Torah, the inheritance of the community of Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 33:4)
The contact was made, and they promptly put me on Skype with a relative who
spoke Hebrew. Apparently, she was in Israel but insisted she was in America. 

 

Soon a young man with a kipa showed up in the
street. I uttered tefilat minha, “afternoon prayer”, and he led
me to a synagogue clearly marked in Hebrew and Persian above the front door.
The synagogue was small and cozy, at least a century old. It was decorated with
quotes from the Psalms, parts of prayer. Men sat in one corner and women in the
other. I was invited to lead the services, and was afterward treated to fruit
and cookies in memory of a deceased congregant, whose anniversary happened on
that day. 

 A synagogue in Iran (photos: Yakov Rabkin)

When we left the synagogue, a familiar scene took
place, even though I did not understand what was being said. It was Thursday
night, and several people argued who would invite me for the Sabbath meals. I
gave up all attempts to influence the events, and it was only on Friday night
that I was actually led to the home of the parents of the young man with the
kipa, who inhabit a spacious home not far from Palestine Square where the main
synagogue is located.

Besides the young man and his parents, there were
two of his sisters as well as a man who spoke English since he had spent a few
years in Queens. We all sat on the carpet, making a Kiddush, partaking of fruit
and vegetables prior to breaking bread in order to augment the number of
blessings. We ate mostly with hands. 

After a while I was asked to say a few
words of Torah, and, inspired by a weekly broadcast from Akadem, I spoke about
the two names of the tabernacle, mishkan and mikdash, which teach
us about the pitfalls of excessive closeness and possessiveness. The man from
Queens interpreted, and the “audience” applauded. They applauded again when I
told them that before a public lecture in Tehran, in response the Islamic
invocation bismillah, “in the name of God”, I said in Hebrew be-ezrat
ha-shem ve-yeshuato
, “with the aid of God and his salvation”. The
atmosphere was joyful throughout the evening, and I left close to midnight to
walk to my hotel.  On the way, I crossed the park Hasht behesht, full
of couples and groups of teenagers visibly having a good time. 

The next morning I walked to Jubaré in search of
the synagogue where my host for the second meal was to meet me. I got lost and
walked into another synagogue, where nine men were anxiously awaiting the tenth
one. Under the circumstances I had to stay. The floor was covered with
blankets, rather than carpets, and the synagogue looked poorer. An old man
asked me to lead the services, and once again, here I was reciting prayers
before members of the oldest community in the world. It was moving to pray in
the minuscule synagogue, surrounded by verses and old ornaments. 

After the services, the old man who was commanded
respect in the synagogue took his bicycle and headed home. Then I saw another
Jew on a bicycle, which I had never seen among observant Jews. I would later
find that Ben Ish Hai (1832-1909), a major authority in Jewish law from
Baghdad, authorized the use of the bicycle under certain conditions.

My host easily found me since everyone knows each
other in Jubaré. I was hosted for lunch by a family: the parents and a son in
his 30s. Trained as an engineer, he sells clothes at a relative’s store,
earning significantly more than he would in his profession. Later I met a
mathematician who was selling carpets in the city’s famous bazaar. These are
signs of demodernization, partly caused by Western sanctions meant to stop the
non-existing nuclear weapons program in Iran. 

The burly head of the family, with a few teeth
missing in his mouth, spoke some French, since he had once studied at the
Alliance school in his neighborhood. He was hospitable, albeit not always
punctilious of the Sabbath observance, and his wife had to discipline him from
time to time. A one-gallon whiskey bottle full of homemade wine dominated the
table full of meats, stews and vegetables. The host told me that the bottle was
a vestige of pre-revolutionary times.

 The lunch was copious, and included, to
my surprise, Salade Olivier, which, thanks to Russian influence, became
quite popular in Iran. By then I knew that hosts often offer their guests
spacious shalvar, cotton pants that one uses to sit at the meal and, if
needed, to take a nap afterwards. This turned out to be the case, and after the
nap I changed back to my clothes and went out to explore the city. Returning to
the neighborhood, I was greeted Shabbat shalom by a Jew who had keys to
a few more synagogues, which he kindly showed to me. They are open only on
Shabbat. 

Friends in Isfahan introduced me to Mr. Sasson,
artist, architect and owner of the gallery where we met him.  He is also
the only Jew to work as an official building assessor in the city. As one
enters the gallery, one sees an ornate picture of Jerusalem with the biblical
verse in Hebrew “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget her
cunning” (Psalm 137:5). He remains committed to Judaic practice and mentioned
that he had seen me in the synagogue.  His son teaches Iranian music. An
amiable refined man, Sasson extended me a warm welcome and patiently answered
all of my questions about the Jewish community, gave me advice about travel in
the country as well as a few contacts. 

He has taken part in over 40 exhibits,
traveled around the world, while his gallery is situated on the ground floor of
the house that used to belong to his parents, a few hundred meters from the
main synagogue. Like several intellectuals I have met, he resigned from his
position of professor of architecture during the years of Ahmadinejad, when
universities reportedly experienced a sharp decline. At the same time, he
believes Khomeini did a lot of good to the Jews, repeatedly referring to them
as equal and “pure” Iranians. 

Several non-Jewish Iranians, including business
people, mentioned to me that Jews have an excellent reputation for honesty and
reliability. Their word is as good as a written contract. This image appears at
variance with the European image of the Jew, often considered “cheap”,
“dishonest” and “rapacious”. One Jewish businessman, a carpet dealer, came to
see me in the hotel and spoke with me in Hebrew without lowering his voice or
feeling otherwise uncomfortable. He effusively greeted me shalom as he
was leaving and was not in the least embarrassed to do so. In fact, Iranian salam
often sounds very much like Israeli shalom. 

I met Sion Mahgerefte,  the head of the Jewish
community of Isfahan, in the lobby of Hotel Kowsar, one of the most prestigious
in the city. The New Year decorations were splendid, and we found a quiet
corner nearby. A friend interpreted as he spoke only Persian. He told me that
most Jews work in the clothing industry, usually in retail. There are a few
professionals and intellectuals but most earn a living in business, often
inherited from father to son. Sion has a company of safety equipment (helmets
etc) but his children study to be professionals. 

Read article in full 

In
Isfahan I often heard that the city had been founded by Jews exiled
from the Holy Land in the First Exile. The city used to be called Dar al-Yahud. No
wonder that I went to explore the old Jewish quarter Jubaré. As I
wandered, I saw a small Star of David hand-painted on a gate. I pushed
it and found myself in front of two elderly women. I tried to explain to
them that I was Jewish but they remained in doubt. I tried to speak
with them in Hebrew, again no avail. Finally, I uttered Torah tsiva lanu Moshe, and they joyfully responded morasha kehilat Yaakov. This
is traditionally the first verse of the Torah taught to a child: “Moshe
commanded us the Torah, the inheritance of the community of Jacob.”
(Deuteronomy 33:4)
The contact was made, and they promptly put me on Skype with a relative
who spoke Hebrew. Apparently, she was in Israel but insisted she was in
America.

Soon a young man with a kipa showed up in the street. I uttered tefilat minha, “afternoon prayer”, and
he led me to a synagogue clearly marked in Hebrew and Persian above the
front door. The synagogue was small and cozy, at least a century old.
It was decorated with quotes from the Psalms, parts of prayer. Men sat
in one corner and women in the other. I was invited to lead the
services, and was afterward treated to fruit and cookies in memory of a
deceased congregant, whose anniversary happened on that day.

When we left the synagogue, a
familiar scene took place, even though I did not understand what was
being said. It was Thursday night, and several people argued who would
invite me for the Sabbath meals. I gave up all attempts to influence the
events, and it was only on Friday night that I was actually led to the
home of the parents of the young man with the kipa, who inhabit a
spacious home not far from Palestine Square where the main synagogue is
located
.

Besides the young man and his
parents, there were two of his sisters as well as a man who spoke
English since he had spent a few years in Queens. We all sat on the
carpet, making a Kiddush, partaking of fruit and vegetables prior to
breaking bread in order to augment the number of blessings. We ate
mostly with hands. After a while I was asked to say a few words of
Torah, and, inspired by a weekly broadcast from Akadem, I spoke about
the two names of the tabernacle, mishkan and mikdash, which
teach us about the pitfalls of excessive closeness and possessiveness.
The man from Queens interpreted, and the “audience” applauded. They
applauded again when I told them that before a public lecture in Tehran,
in response the Islamic invocation bismillah, “in the name of God”, I said in Hebrew be-ezrat ha-shem ve-yeshuato, “with the aid of God and his salvation”. The atmosphere was joyful throughout the evening, and I left close to midnight to walk to my hotel.  On the way, I crossed the park Hasht behesht, full of couples and groups of teenagers visibly having a good time.

The next morning I walked to
Jubaré in search of the synagogue where my host for the second meal was
to meet me. I got lost and walked into another synagogue, where nine men
were anxiously awaiting the tenth one. Under the circumstances I had to
stay. The floor was covered with blankets, rather than carpets, and the
synagogue looked poorer. An old man asked me to lead the services, and
once again, here I was reciting prayers before members of the oldest
community in the world. It was moving to pray in the minuscule
synagogue, surrounded by verses and old ornaments.

After the services, the old man
who was commanded respect in the synagogue took his bicycle and headed
home. Then I saw another Jew on a bicycle, which I had never seen among
observant Jews. I would later find that Ben Ish Hai (1832-1909), a major
authority in Jewish law from Baghdad, authorized the use of the bicycle
under certain conditions.

My host easily found me since
everyone knows each other in Jubaré. I was hosted for lunch by a family:
the parents and a son in his 30s. Trained as an engineer, he sells
clothes at a relative’s store, earning significantly more than he would
in his profession. Later I met a mathematician who was selling carpets
in the city’s famous bazaar. These are signs of demodernization, partly
caused by Western sanctions meant to stop the non-existing nuclear
weapons program in Iran.

The burly head of the family,
with a few teeth missing in his mouth, spoke some French, since he had
once studied at the Alliance school in his neighborhood. He was
hospitable, albeit not always punctilious of the Sabbath observance, and
his wife had to discipline him from time to time. A one-gallon whiskey
bottle full of homemade wine dominated the table full of meats, stews
and vegetables. The host told me that the bottle was a vestige of
pre-revolutionary times. The lunch was copious, and included, to my
surprise, Salade Olivier, which, thanks to Russian influence, became quite popular in Iran. By then I knew that hosts often offer their guests spacious shalvar,
cotton pants that one uses to sit at the meal and, if needed, to take a
nap afterwards. This turned out to be the case, and after the nap I
changed back to my clothes and went out to explore the city. Returning
to the neighborhood, I was greeted Shabbat shalom by a Jew who had keys to a few more synagogues, which he kindly showed to me. They are open only on Shabbat.

Friends in Isfahan introduced me to Mr. Sasson, artist, architect and owner of the gallery where we met him.  He
is also the only Jew to work as an official building assessor in the
city. As one enters the gallery, one sees an ornate picture of Jerusalem
with the biblical verse in Hebrew “
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget her cunning” (Psalm 137:5). He remains committed to Judaic practice and mentioned that he had seen me in the synagogue.  His son teaches Iranian music. An
amiable refined man, Sasson extended me a warm welcome and patiently
answered all of my questions about the Jewish community, gave me advice
about travel in the country as well as a few contacts. He has taken part
in over 40 exhibits, traveled around the world, while his gallery is
situated on the ground floor of the house that used to belong to his
parents, a few hundred meters from the main synagogue. Like several
intellectuals I have met, he resigned from his position of professor of
architecture during the years of Ahmadinejad, when universities
reportedly experienced a sharp decline.
At the
same time, he believes Khomeini did a lot of good to the Jews,
repeatedly referring to them as equal and “pure” Iranians.

Several non-Jewish Iranians,
including business people, mentioned to me that Jews have an excellent
reputation for honesty and reliability. Their word is as good as a
written contract. This image appears at variance with the European image
of the Jew, often considered “cheap”, “dishonest” and “rapacious”. One
Jewish businessman, a carpet dealer, came to see me in the hotel and
spoke with me in Hebrew without lowering his voice or feeling otherwise
uncomfortable. He effusively greeted me shalom as he was leaving and was not in the least embarrassed to do so. In fact, Iranian salam often sounds very much like Israeli shalom.

I met Sion Mahgerefte,  the
head of the Jewish community of Isfahan, in the lobby of Hotel Kowsar,
one of the most prestigious in the city. The New Year decorations were
splendid, and we found a quiet corner nearby. A friend interpreted as he
spoke only Persian. He told me that most Jews work in the clothing
industry, usually in retail. There are a few professionals and
intellectuals but most earn a living in business, often inherited from
father to son. Sion has a company of safety equipment (helmets etc) but
his children study to be professionals. 

– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2017/02/jews-iran-travelogue/#sthash.OzraomEQ.dpuf

In
Isfahan I often heard that the city had been founded by Jews exiled
from the Holy Land in the First Exile. The city used to be called Dar al-Yahud. No
wonder that I went to explore the old Jewish quarter Jubaré. As I
wandered, I saw a small Star of David hand-painted on a gate. I pushed
it and found myself in front of two elderly women. I tried to explain to
them that I was Jewish but they remained in doubt. I tried to speak
with them in Hebrew, again no avail. Finally, I uttered Torah tsiva lanu Moshe, and they joyfully responded morasha kehilat Yaakov. This
is traditionally the first verse of the Torah taught to a child: “Moshe
commanded us the Torah, the inheritance of the community of Jacob.”
(Deuteronomy 33:4)
The contact was made, and they promptly put me on Skype with a relative
who spoke Hebrew. Apparently, she was in Israel but insisted she was in
America.

Soon a young man with a kipa showed up in the street. I uttered tefilat minha, “afternoon prayer”, and
he led me to a synagogue clearly marked in Hebrew and Persian above the
front door. The synagogue was small and cozy, at least a century old.
It was decorated with quotes from the Psalms, parts of prayer. Men sat
in one corner and women in the other. I was invited to lead the
services, and was afterward treated to fruit and cookies in memory of a
deceased congregant, whose anniversary happened on that day.

When we left the synagogue, a
familiar scene took place, even though I did not understand what was
being said. It was Thursday night, and several people argued who would
invite me for the Sabbath meals. I gave up all attempts to influence the
events, and it was only on Friday night that I was actually led to the
home of the parents of the young man with the kipa, who inhabit a
spacious home not far from Palestine Square where the main synagogue is
located
.

Besides the young man and his
parents, there were two of his sisters as well as a man who spoke
English since he had spent a few years in Queens. We all sat on the
carpet, making a Kiddush, partaking of fruit and vegetables prior to
breaking bread in order to augment the number of blessings. We ate
mostly with hands. After a while I was asked to say a few words of
Torah, and, inspired by a weekly broadcast from Akadem, I spoke about
the two names of the tabernacle, mishkan and mikdash, which
teach us about the pitfalls of excessive closeness and possessiveness.
The man from Queens interpreted, and the “audience” applauded. They
applauded again when I told them that before a public lecture in Tehran,
in response the Islamic invocation bismillah, “in the name of God”, I said in Hebrew be-ezrat ha-shem ve-yeshuato, “with the aid of God and his salvation”. The atmosphere was joyful throughout the evening, and I left close to midnight to walk to my hotel.  On the way, I crossed the park Hasht behesht, full of couples and groups of teenagers visibly having a good time.

The next morning I walked to
Jubaré in search of the synagogue where my host for the second meal was
to meet me. I got lost and walked into another synagogue, where nine men
were anxiously awaiting the tenth one. Under the circumstances I had to
stay. The floor was covered with blankets, rather than carpets, and the
synagogue looked poorer. An old man asked me to lead the services, and
once again, here I was reciting prayers before members of the oldest
community in the world. It was moving to pray in the minuscule
synagogue, surrounded by verses and old ornaments.

After the services, the old man
who was commanded respect in the synagogue took his bicycle and headed
home. Then I saw another Jew on a bicycle, which I had never seen among
observant Jews. I would later find that Ben Ish Hai (1832-1909), a major
authority in Jewish law from Baghdad, authorized the use of the bicycle
under certain conditions.

My host easily found me since
everyone knows each other in Jubaré. I was hosted for lunch by a family:
the parents and a son in his 30s. Trained as an engineer, he sells
clothes at a relative’s store, earning significantly more than he would
in his profession. Later I met a mathematician who was selling carpets
in the city’s famous bazaar. These are signs of demodernization, partly
caused by Western sanctions meant to stop the non-existing nuclear
weapons program in Iran.

The burly head of the family,
with a few teeth missing in his mouth, spoke some French, since he had
once studied at the Alliance school in his neighborhood. He was
hospitable, albeit not always punctilious of the Sabbath observance, and
his wife had to discipline him from time to time. A one-gallon whiskey
bottle full of homemade wine dominated the table full of meats, stews
and vegetables. The host told me that the bottle was a vestige of
pre-revolutionary times. The lunch was copious, and included, to my
surprise, Salade Olivier, which, thanks to Russian influence, became quite popular in Iran. By then I knew that hosts often offer their guests spacious shalvar,
cotton pants that one uses to sit at the meal and, if needed, to take a
nap afterwards. This turned out to be the case, and after the nap I
changed back to my clothes and went out to explore the city. Returning
to the neighborhood, I was greeted Shabbat shalom by a Jew who had keys to a few more synagogues, which he kindly showed to me. They are open only on Shabbat.

Friends in Isfahan introduced me to Mr. Sasson, artist, architect and owner of the gallery where we met him.  He
is also the only Jew to work as an official building assessor in the
city. As one enters the gallery, one sees an ornate picture of Jerusalem
with the biblical verse in Hebrew “
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget her cunning” (Psalm 137:5). He remains committed to Judaic practice and mentioned that he had seen me in the synagogue.  His son teaches Iranian music. An
amiable refined man, Sasson extended me a warm welcome and patiently
answered all of my questions about the Jewish community, gave me advice
about travel in the country as well as a few contacts. He has taken part
in over 40 exhibits, traveled around the world, while his gallery is
situated on the ground floor of the house that used to belong to his
parents, a few hundred meters from the main synagogue. Like several
intellectuals I have met, he resigned from his position of professor of
architecture during the years of Ahmadinejad, when universities
reportedly experienced a sharp decline.
At the
same time, he believes Khomeini did a lot of good to the Jews,
repeatedly referring to them as equal and “pure” Iranians.

Several non-Jewish Iranians,
including business people, mentioned to me that Jews have an excellent
reputation for honesty and reliability. Their word is as good as a
written contract. This image appears at variance with the European image
of the Jew, often considered “cheap”, “dishonest” and “rapacious”. One
Jewish businessman, a carpet dealer, came to see me in the hotel and
spoke with me in Hebrew without lowering his voice or feeling otherwise
uncomfortable. He effusively greeted me shalom as he was leaving and was not in the least embarrassed to do so. In fact, Iranian salam often sounds very much like Israeli shalom.

I met Sion Mahgerefte,  the
head of the Jewish community of Isfahan, in the lobby of Hotel Kowsar,
one of the most prestigious in the city. The New Year decorations were
splendid, and we found a quiet corner nearby. A friend interpreted as he
spoke only Persian. He told me that most Jews work in the clothing
industry, usually in retail. There are a few professionals and
intellectuals but most earn a living in business, often inherited from
father to son. Sion has a company of safety equipment (helmets etc) but
his children study to be professionals. 

– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2017/02/jews-iran-travelogue/#sthash.OzraomEQ.dpuf

In
Isfahan I often heard that the city had been founded by Jews exiled
from the Holy Land in the First Exile. The city used to be called Dar al-Yahud. No
wonder that I went to explore the old Jewish quarter Jubaré. As I
wandered, I saw a small Star of David hand-painted on a gate. I pushed
it and found myself in front of two elderly women. I tried to explain to
them that I was Jewish but they remained in doubt. I tried to speak
with them in Hebrew, again no avail. Finally, I uttered Torah tsiva lanu Moshe, and they joyfully responded morasha kehilat Yaakov. This
is traditionally the first verse of the Torah taught to a child: “Moshe
commanded us the Torah, the inheritance of the community of Jacob.”
(Deuteronomy 33:4)
The contact was made, and they promptly put me on Skype with a relative
who spoke Hebrew. Apparently, she was in Israel but insisted she was in
America.

Soon a young man with a kipa showed up in the street. I uttered tefilat minha, “afternoon prayer”, and
he led me to a synagogue clearly marked in Hebrew and Persian above the
front door. The synagogue was small and cozy, at least a century old.
It was decorated with quotes from the Psalms, parts of prayer. Men sat
in one corner and women in the other. I was invited to lead the
services, and was afterward treated to fruit and cookies in memory of a
deceased congregant, whose anniversary happened on that day.

When we left the synagogue, a
familiar scene took place, even though I did not understand what was
being said. It was Thursday night, and several people argued who would
invite me for the Sabbath meals. I gave up all attempts to influence the
events, and it was only on Friday night that I was actually led to the
home of the parents of the young man with the kipa, who inhabit a
spacious home not far from Palestine Square where the main synagogue is
located
.

Besides the young man and his
parents, there were two of his sisters as well as a man who spoke
English since he had spent a few years in Queens. We all sat on the
carpet, making a Kiddush, partaking of fruit and vegetables prior to
breaking bread in order to augment the number of blessings. We ate
mostly with hands. After a while I was asked to say a few words of
Torah, and, inspired by a weekly broadcast from Akadem, I spoke about
the two names of the tabernacle, mishkan and mikdash, which
teach us about the pitfalls of excessive closeness and possessiveness.
The man from Queens interpreted, and the “audience” applauded. They
applauded again when I told them that before a public lecture in Tehran,
in response the Islamic invocation bismillah, “in the name of God”, I said in Hebrew be-ezrat ha-shem ve-yeshuato, “with the aid of God and his salvation”. The atmosphere was joyful throughout the evening, and I left close to midnight to walk to my hotel.  On the way, I crossed the park Hasht behesht, full of couples and groups of teenagers visibly having a good time.

The next morning I walked to
Jubaré in search of the synagogue where my host for the second meal was
to meet me. I got lost and walked into another synagogue, where nine men
were anxiously awaiting the tenth one. Under the circumstances I had to
stay. The floor was covered with blankets, rather than carpets, and the
synagogue looked poorer. An old man asked me to lead the services, and
once again, here I was reciting prayers before members of the oldest
community in the world. It was moving to pray in the minuscule
synagogue, surrounded by verses and old ornaments.

After the services, the old man
who was commanded respect in the synagogue took his bicycle and headed
home. Then I saw another Jew on a bicycle, which I had never seen among
observant Jews. I would later find that Ben Ish Hai (1832-1909), a major
authority in Jewish law from Baghdad, authorized the use of the bicycle
under certain conditions.

My host easily found me since
everyone knows each other in Jubaré. I was hosted for lunch by a family:
the parents and a son in his 30s. Trained as an engineer, he sells
clothes at a relative’s store, earning significantly more than he would
in his profession. Later I met a mathematician who was selling carpets
in the city’s famous bazaar. These are signs of demodernization, partly
caused by Western sanctions meant to stop the non-existing nuclear
weapons program in Iran.

The burly head of the family,
with a few teeth missing in his mouth, spoke some French, since he had
once studied at the Alliance school in his neighborhood. He was
hospitable, albeit not always punctilious of the Sabbath observance, and
his wife had to discipline him from time to time. A one-gallon whiskey
bottle full of homemade wine dominated the table full of meats, stews
and vegetables. The host told me that the bottle was a vestige of
pre-revolutionary times. The lunch was copious, and included, to my
surprise, Salade Olivier, which, thanks to Russian influence, became quite popular in Iran. By then I knew that hosts often offer their guests spacious shalvar,
cotton pants that one uses to sit at the meal and, if needed, to take a
nap afterwards. This turned out to be the case, and after the nap I
changed back to my clothes and went out to explore the city. Returning
to the neighborhood, I was greeted Shabbat shalom by a Jew who had keys to a few more synagogues, which he kindly showed to me. They are open only on Shabbat.

Friends in Isfahan introduced me to Mr. Sasson, artist, architect and owner of the gallery where we met him.  He
is also the only Jew to work as an official building assessor in the
city. As one enters the gallery, one sees an ornate picture of Jerusalem
with the biblical verse in Hebrew “
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget her cunning” (Psalm 137:5). He remains committed to Judaic practice and mentioned that he had seen me in the synagogue.  His son teaches Iranian music. An
amiable refined man, Sasson extended me a warm welcome and patiently
answered all of my questions about the Jewish community, gave me advice
about travel in the country as well as a few contacts. He has taken part
in over 40 exhibits, traveled around the world, while his gallery is
situated on the ground floor of the house that used to belong to his
parents, a few hundred meters from the main synagogue. Like several
intellectuals I have met, he resigned from his position of professor of
architecture during the years of Ahmadinejad, when universities
reportedly experienced a sharp decline.
At the
same time, he believes Khomeini did a lot of good to the Jews,
repeatedly referring to them as equal and “pure” Iranians.

Several non-Jewish Iranians,
including business people, mentioned to me that Jews have an excellent
reputation for honesty and reliability. Their word is as good as a
written contract. This image appears at variance with the European image
of the Jew, often considered “cheap”, “dishonest” and “rapacious”. One
Jewish businessman, a carpet dealer, came to see me in the hotel and
spoke with me in Hebrew without lowering his voice or feeling otherwise
uncomfortable. He effusively greeted me shalom as he was leaving and was not in the least embarrassed to do so. In fact, Iranian salam often sounds very much like Israeli shalom.

I met Sion Mahgerefte,  the
head of the Jewish community of Isfahan, in the lobby of Hotel Kowsar,
one of the most prestigious in the city. The New Year decorations were
splendid, and we found a quiet corner nearby. A friend interpreted as he
spoke only Persian. He told me that most Jews work in the clothing
industry, usually in retail. There are a few professionals and
intellectuals but most earn a living in business, often inherited from
father to son. Sion has a company of safety equipment (helmets etc) but
his children study to be professionals. 

– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2017/02/jews-iran-travelogue/#sthash.OzraomEQ.dpuf

One Comment

  • "… business, often inherited from father to son…"

    The law in Iran stipulates that a dhimmi who converts to Islam becomes the sole inheritor of his father's estate. This evil, indeed satanic, invention symbolizes more than anything the inferior position of Jews under Islamic sharia law. It also reflects the constant attempts of Islamists to undermine Jewish solidarity and to sow division among Jews, something that Rabkin engages in himself with his venomous hatred of Israel.

    Reply

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.