The Jews of Iran: Beyond the RhetoricPosted: February 23, 2009
I was pleased to read two particularly intelligent Iran-related op-eds in the NY Times today: one by columnist Roger Cohen on the Iranian Jewish community and another by Iranian journalist Ali Reza Eshraghi on the importance of engaging diplomatically with Ahmadinejad.
From Cohen’s piece:
Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran — its sophistication and culture — than all the inflammatory rhetoric.
That may be because I’m a Jew and have seldom been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran. Or perhaps I was impressed that the fury over Gaza, trumpeted on posters and Iranian TV, never spilled over into insults or violence toward Jews. Or perhaps it’s because I’m convinced the “Mad Mullah” caricature of Iran and likening of any compromise with it to Munich 1938 — a position popular in some American Jewish circles — is misleading and dangerous.
Cohen’s report is very much in line with my own experience. When I attended an interfaith delegation to Iran this past November, we spent considerable time with the Jewish community – and among the many surprising impressions we received was their obvious sense of comfort and safety living as Jews under an Islamic regime.
American Jews are invariably astounded when I tell them that I myself wore a kippah publicly throughout Iran without a moment’s nervousness. (Once we were approached and asked by an Iranian man if we were Jewish – he turned out to be a Jew himself and he promptly invited us to his shul for Shabbat). I’m not being facetious when I say that in retrospect, I realize I actually felt safer as a Jew walking the streets Tehran than I often do in Israel – the only place in the world, frankly, where Jewish lives are under constant threat.
I took the picture above, by the way, at the Jewish community center in Shiraz. Just another assumption-busting Jewish Iranian image: the obligatory Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamanei hanging on the wall above a classic Jewish quote from Pirkei Avot in Hebrew and Farsi: “Every assembly that is for the sake of heaven will endure.”
(To those who live in the Chicagoland area: I’ll be speaking about my experiences in Iran tomorrow evening, Tuesday, February 24, 7:00 at the Chicago Chapter of the American Friends Service Committee