Tag: Iranian Jews in Israel

Persian-Israelis defy ban to reach out to Iranians

Persian Jews in Israel have been keeping channels open with people in Iran, as demonstrated by a Voice of America  documentary series made in 2017. Now the series has  been posted online. This week, i24 News reports that a delegation of American Iranians are visiting Israel to demonstrate their solidarity:  (with thanks – Lily)


Broadcaster Menashe Amir surrounded by Persian memorabilia in his Israeli home

Amid long-standing and deepening tensions between Israel and Iran, some prominent Israelis with Persian roots have engaged in little-publicized contacts with Iran’s people and advocated for reviving the historic friendship between the two Mideast powers.

These Israelis are part of the world’s only Persian diaspora community located in a country that Iran’s Islamist rulers have banned their citizens from contacting. They spoke about their barrier-breaking conversations with Iran’s people and hopes for reconciliation as part of VOA’s Persians of Israel documentary series that was filmed in 2017 and published online Friday.

The Israelis featured in the series include veteran journalist Menashe Amir, who has been broadcasting to Iran in Farsi via radio and online for six decades; Rita, one of Israel’s most successful pop stars; Dorit Rabinyan, a novelist who has won international acclaim for writing about romances of young Persian women and a taboo-breaking Jewish-Muslim couple; and Dan Halutz, who led Israel’s military during two of its most challenging operations of the 2000s.

See i24 News Clip »

How the Banais from Shiraz became the voice of Israeli culture

The Banai family, now the subject of an exhibition in the Tower of David museum, is a phenomenon in Israel. The saga goes back to 1881, when Rahamim Bana came to Jerusalem from Shiraz, Persia, and settled outside the walls of the Old City. His son, Eliyahu Yaakov Bana, his grandchildren, and  his great-grandchildren created a legacy of talent. The Algemeiner has the story by Simone Masha. 

Retired judge Yitzhak Banai and his wife, Simcha, their son Eviatar Banai, music historian Yoav Kutner, exhibition curator Tal Kobo, Gavri Banai, and Eilat Lieber, museum director, pose for a photo at the Tower of David Museum. (Photo: Ricky Rachman) 

 Every generation of Israelis has its own Banai — sometimes more than one. Their very names — Ya’acov, Yossi, Chaim, Gavri, Yuval, Orna, Meir, Ehud, Eviatar, Uri — evoke every period of Jerusalem’s modern history, ever since the city developed from a backwater of the Ottoman Empire into the capital of the State of Israel. 

 “The soundtrack of my childhood was the radio comedy skits of the HaGashash HaHiver trio with Gavriel Banai, and the routines of Yossi Banai and Rivka Michaeli interspersed between Hebrew songs and classical music,” says Tal Kobo, curator of the exhibition. These skits, first composed in the early 1960s, became the iconic components of popular Israeli culture. The idioms and expressions they created have long been integrated into modern spoken Hebrew. 

 In the 1980s and early 1990s, the rock group Mashina took center stage. Founded by Yuval Banai, the group symbolized everything that was atypical, rebellious, and exciting at the time, with a pinch of international flavor. In the same era, Yuval’s cousin Ehud Banai offered another facet of Israeli identity, crystallized in the album “Ehud Banai and the Refugees.

And all the while, the radio continued to play Israeli classics — Yossi Banai singing the French chansons of Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens.

By the late 1990s, it was Orna Banai who had the entire country laughing with her character “Limor” in the satirical television show Only in Israel.The late Meir Banai developed his own soulful musical style then, while Eviatar Banai can now often be heard at any nearby Zappa Music Club. 

When Yossi Banai wrote, “I’m making a bridge out of memories,” he was referring to his own. But the Banai family’s creative efforts form a bridge to the collective memory of Israeli culture.

Their personal family story mirrors the development of Jerusalem and the development of Israel, and the exhibition shows the coalescing of the community and Hebrew culture in the land of Israel as a process. It is the story of one family’s cultural and physical journey — how they settled outside the Old City of Jerusalem, later moving to huts on the land that is today “Yemin Moshe,” out into the new area of Nachlaot adjacent to the Machane Yehuda open-air market, and then out further afield. 

And throughout this time, their artistic contributions in theater, song, and satire reflect each pivotal point in Israel’s history.

“People think of me as a prince in Israel, but my grandfather sold vegetables in the Machane Yehuda market,” singer Yuval Banai remarked in an February 2019 interview with Sagi Ben-Nun

Actor Uri Banai remains quite conscious of the singularity of the Banai success story across the generations. 

“It is interesting how a traditional family like this — where the father is a vegetable seller, the mother a housewife with seven kids — a hardscrabble religious family, helped found the Machane Yehuda market and became the topic of some of Israel’s best trivia questions. Every crossword puzzle includes at least one of us,” he said to Adi Greenberger in an article.’This Is Our Song,’ a line from a popular song by Ehud Banai, is also the Hebrew name of the exhibition,” says Kobo. “It serves as a metaphor of how the historical story of the Banai family and the Banai opus became a common soundtrack of Israeli culture. “

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Israelis cheer football teams of Muslim countries

Israelis have been cheering the teams of their ancestral countries  in the World Cup, Al-Monitor reports:

Fans of the Iranian soccer team leaped out of their
seats cheering wildly and waving Iranian flags when Saeid Ezatolahi
thumped the ball into the back of the net in Wednesday’s World Cup game
against Spain, tying the game 1-1 and leaving Iran a chance to advance. A
moment later, groans of disappointment spread as the goal was

The scene during a televised match in a cafe in Jerusalem (photo: Ilan Ben Zion)

This scene did not take place in Tehran or at the
stadium in Kazan, Russia. It was in a bar in Jerusalem, where the fans
were mostly Israelis expressing their shock and disappointment at Iran’s

Geopolitics set aside, many Israeli Jews are rooting for Muslim
countries in this year’s World Cup, including Israel’s archrival Iran.
The Israeli national team has only competed in one World Cup, in 1970,
leaving local soccer fans to root for other teams when the quadrennial
event rolls around.

This year, Iran and four Arab states — Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco
and Egypt — are competing in the World Cup in Russia. This rare showing
of countries from the Muslim world, from which a large percentage of
Israelis immigrated in the 20th century, has prompted many in Israel to
cheer on the teams of their ancestral countries. As of 2011, Israel was
home to 141,000 Jews of Iranian descent, 492,000 Jews of Moroccan
descent, 134,000 of Tunisian and Algerian descent, and 57,000 of
Egyptian origin, according to figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Read article in  full 

By contrast a man draped in an Israeli flag was pursued by Tunisian fans in Moscow shouting ‘Palestine’. The story that Moroccan fans tried to snatch an Israeli flag has proved false. JTA story here.

‘Baba Joon’ : struggles of stubborn Iranian Jews

Israeli director Yuval Delshad’s award-winning film Baba Joon is playing to packed houses at film festivals. It stars an Iranian Muslim, Navid Negahban, playing a turkey farmer who is hoping his son Moti will take over the business. Report by Orly Minazad in LA Weekly.

Navid Negahban plays an old-school Jewish-Iranian trying to navigate religious and cultural divides

Baba Joon — which means “daddy dearest” — is the first film to
shine a light on the struggle of Jewish Iranians to build a new home
following the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Outside of L.A., Israel
boasts one of the world’s largest Iranian Jewish populations.

important as the film is for exploring the culture of a marginalized
minority, it also hit a lot of nerves for its cynical portrayal of
die-hard Judaism (where a blessing of good fortune and happiness is
literally for sale to the highest bidder) and for its depiction of the
stereotypical, old-school, belt-whipping Middle Eastern father.

Nonetheless, Baba Joon
has earned five Academy Ophir Awards (Israeli Oscars) including best
picture and is Israel’s best submission in the foreign-language category
for the 2016 Oscars, a major achievement for an Iranian-Israeli film
considering the recent and continuous conflict between Israel and Iran
(and pretty much all surrounding countries).

“One of the things that I like
about this film is that it went above and beyond all prejudice,”
Negahban says. “We had such a diverse group of people working with us,
Arabs and Israelis. We really became a family.”

Delshad, a distant
relative of Jimmy Delshad, former mayor of Beverly Hills, was somewhat
inspired by his own experience when writing this story about three
generations of stubborn Jewish Iranian men trying to navigate domestic
life through cultural and religious divides.

The film shifts back
and forth between Hebrew and Persian (cast members often had no idea
what the others were saying), sprinkled with some English and chock full
of proverbs (“if a branch doesn’t bend in a storm, it breaks” or “they
pet the horse with one hand and pull the tail with the other”) — the
preferred communication device for Iranians.

plays Yizkhak, a turkey farmer who hopes his son, Moti, will take over
the business the same way he did from his father, who moved the farm
from Iran to Israel. Moti, played by talented 14-year-old first-time
actor Asher Avrahami, has no intention of doing so.

“When I chose Navid, for me he was the anchor,” Delshad says. “I knew that I’m set. I built the family around him.”

story is male-dominated; the sole female role is Yitzkhak’s wife,
Sarah, played by Iranian-British actress Viss Elliot Safavi. “I think
it’s more interesting that she didn’t have a sisterhood,” says Safavi,
who, as Sarah, is a seemingly quiet wife busying herself with the task
of mending broken egos and actual broken backs.

Safavi even grew
out her eyebrows for Negahban to pluck in a very intimate and eerily
erotic scene. (Just imagine Abu Nazir aiming a sharp pointy object at
your eye over and over again.)

The plot centers around a visit
from the dapper American uncle (and prodigal son) Darius, after which
all hell — and some turkeys — break loose. Darius is the uncle you want
to get drunk with at family get-togethers. He’s funny, charismatic and
quick to reveal dark family secrets and exhume years of buried rage.

love the positive teachings of all faiths, but we know about some of
the problems blind faith creates,” says David Diaan, who plays Darius.
“One of the things I think Yuval did masterfully was [express] his
criticism of that kind of religious practice.”

Read article in full

Israeli artists create virtual Iranian embassy

A plot of land lies vacant in Tel Aviv: it was intended in the 1970s for the Iranian embassy to Israel – before the Ayatollahs’ regime declared that the annihilation of Israel was its strategic goal. Now a group of Israeli artists are trying to make the Iranian embassy into more than a pipe-dream. NPR reports:

Israeli artist Matan Pincus sits in the ‘Iranian embassy in Jerusalem’ (Photo: Daniel Estrin)

Everything in Baradarian’s shop seems to remind him of the world he
left behind. Take pistachios: The U.S. bans the import of Iranian
pistachios; Israel does, too. So, the pistachios in Baradarian’s shop
come from California.

He says the California variety is second-rate.

that sanctions on Iran are set to be lifted, maybe Iranian pistachios
will eventually make their way back onto the market,” he says. Even so,
he adds, that would not make the nuclear deal with Iran worth it.

“Pistachios won’t solve the problem,” he says. “Iran says it wants to destroy us.”

There’s a paradox here: Iran is hostile to the Jewish state, but it also is home to an ancient Jewish community.

Baradarian keeps in touch with his relatives in Iran on the phone
and on the Internet. Jews in Iran can travel discreetly, via a third
country, to visit relatives in Israel. Some even pack specialty Iranian
tea blends to sell to Baradarian.

Small numbers of Iranian Jews
are still moving to Israel each year. In an ideal world, they could be a
good bridge between Israel and Iran. But an Israeli government
spokesman refused to discuss immigration statistics, so as not to anger
the Iranian government and endanger Iran’s Jewish community.

Penhasi, a Jewish immigrant in Israel who runs an online magazine in
Farsi, says he has readers back in Iran. But he says Iranian
regime-affiliated websites have posted his photo and accused him of
being an Israeli spy.

“I am a simple citizen, Iranian-Israeli
citizen,” Penhasi says. “I love my country, I love this country. I hope
to see peace between the two nations. That’s all.”

between Iran and Israel weren’t always this bad. During the rule of the
Shah in the 1970s, Iran purchased a plot of land in an upscale Tel Aviv
district to build a new embassy. Then came the 1979 Iranian Revolution,
and diplomatic ties broke off.

That land still belongs to Iran.
Today, there’s a small playground and benches, but Israel won’t let
anything be built — in case Iran ever renews ties with Israel and builds
its embassy.

Read article in full


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