A group of 40 Iranian Jews have just arrived in Israel as part of an ongoing program to bring the remainder of a once large Jewish population dating back top the time of King Xerxes the Great (known as Achashverosh by Jews). The group, one of the largest in recent immigration efforts, came via an unnamed country due to the sensitivity involved and potential danger to the remaining Iranian Jewish community.
Approximately 25,000 – 30,000 Jews remain in Iran, most of them in the larger cities of Teheran, Shiraz, and Eshfahan. While Jews had a good life there during the reign of the Shah, their lives have become increasingly difficult since the Islamic Revolution of 1978/79; and a few years back a group of 13 Jewish men were arrested and convicted of being spies for Israel, a popular trumped up charge in Arab and Muslim countries. Fortunately, the group was later released, but only after they had been subjected to torture and imprisonment. The election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran has further complicated the delicate game of brinksmanship that Iranian Jews are now forced to play.
The new immigrants are receiving a special grant of $10,000 by some Jewish and Christian Zionist organizations each as well as a government package of Olim or immigration benefits. Jews wishing to leave Iran for life elsewhere are usually free to do so, but must leave virtually all financial resources behind. What they leave is then confiscated by government authorities.
One of the new immigrants, Avraham Dayan, said that he had had seen his son, now living in Israel, for 11 years. “I feel like I’m in heaven” Dayan said has he entered the arrivals terminal at Ben Gurion Airport.
So far this year, around 200 Jews have arrived in Israel from Iran. This group is believed to be the largest group to come together since the deposing of the Shah in 1979. In a recent documentary involving the life of Jews still remaining in what was formerly Persia, it was shown that Jews are allowed to practice their religion under the Shiite Muslim dominated regime, but cannot learn Hebrew or belong to organizations dealing with Israel. Ironically, Israel and Iran once enjoyed cordial relations under Shah Reza Pahlavi, and many large buildings in central Teheran, including many housing government offices, were built by Israeli construction companies such as Solel Boneh. Everything changed when the Ayatollah Khomeini deposed the Shah and declared Iran to be an Islamic republic.
While Iranian Jews are still living more or less normally under the ultra Islamic regime of the Mullahs and Mr. Ahmadinejad, the Jewish State of Israel has been singled out as one that the Iranian president would like to see “wiped off the face of the map. Whether this national feeling will cause additional problems for Iranian Jews is something that could become evident with Iran’s increasing belligerency and its desire to continue with its nuclear fuel enrichment program.
There are at least 50,000 former Iranian Jews presently living in Israel. Other Iranian Jewish communities are found in the USA, mainly in New York Los Angeles, as well as in the U.K.