Jewish cemetery around Esther’s tomb is now a park

Land around the Naavi, the shrine of Esther and Mordechai in Hamadan,Iran, was traditionally used as a Jewish cemetery. In recent years the Iranian authorities have turned  the old burial ground into a park. As the last Jewish burial took place in 1982,  a 40-year old moratorium on the newest section is about to expire, causing Frank Nikbakht, who was born in Hamadan, to worry that it too will be taken over. Karmel Melamed interviews him in Israel National News: 

Exterior of the tomb of Moredechai and Esther in Hamadan

According to Maurice Motamed, a member of the board of directors of the Tehran Jewish Association – officially the organization responsible for all Iranian Jews, the Hamedan municipal authorities began contacting the Jewish leadership about their “need” to take over the city’s Jewish cemetery in 1985 and 1986 at the height of the Iran-Iraq war and the revolutionary Islamic fervor sweeping the country. 

During several months of shuttling between Tehran and Hamedan, the Jews lost their case and the Hamedan city officials decided to convert the last Jewish cemetery into a public park, in a country and region with huge unused and available land! 

Jewish cemeteries in Iran, usually were purchased land and had actual deeds, and that is how the Tehran Jewish cemetery was saved from the same fate just in return for offering its unused section to the city of Tehran during the “moderate” Khatami government and his popular Tehran mayor, Karbas-chi, following President Rafsanjani’s fly-over of the Jewish cemetery!

 Melamed: Can you share with us what happened to the old Jewish cemetery in Hamedan located near the Esther and Mordechai shrine under the current Iranian regime? 

 The Hamedan Jewish cemetery did not have a deed and so was easy to take over. Unlike  in the old days, this time there was no compensation, either in cash or in kind, but at least they agreed to leave the new graves which according to Jewish law were considered sacred for 40 years, to remain untouched. The older graves were covered by dirt and planted over and are now forming the main part of the new public park called “Park-eh Laleh”, about 800 meters away from the Naavi in a straight line. 

The remains of the deceased have been left in place. The more recent graves were originally separated from the park by a fence, but recent pictures show many gravestones in place with the public using them as seats or walking over them.

 One can presume that as time passes and the 40-year limit expires, the remaining graves will also be removed or covered. As far as pictures have shown, the last grave in this last cemetery dates back to 1982.

 A recent visitor who had asked some young Iranians in the “park” about who these gravestones with strange writings had belonged to, was told the these were some Chinese who used to live in Hamedan!

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