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, modern-day Iran, is one of the oldest in the Diaspora, and its historical roots reach back to the 6th century B.C.E., the time of the First Temple. Their history in the pre-Islamic period is intertwined with that of the Jews of neighboring Babylon. Cyrus, the first of the Archemid dynasty, conquered Babylon in 539 B.C.E. and permitted the Jewish exiles to return to the Land of Israel, bringing the First Exile to an end. The Jewish colonies were scattered from centers in Babylon to Persian provinces and cities such as Hamadan and Susa. The books of Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel give a favorable description of the relationship of the Jews to the court of the Achaemids at Susa. Under the Sassanid dynasty (226-642 C.E.), the Jewish population in Persia grew considerably and spread throughout the region; nevertheless, Jews suffered intermittent oppression and persecution. The invasion by Arab Muslims in 642 C.E. terminated the independence of Persia, installed Islam as the state religion, and made a deep impact on the Jews by changing their sociopolitical status. Throughout the 19th century, Jews were persecuted and discriminated against. Sometimes whole communities were forced to convert. During the 19th century, there was considerable emigration to the Land of Israel, and the Zionist movement spread throughout the community. Under the Phalevi Dynasty, established in 1925, the country was secularized and oriented toward the West. This greatly benefited the Jews, who were emancipated and played an important role in the economy and in cultural life. On the eve of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, 80,000 Jews lived in Iran. In the wake of the upheaval, tens of thousands of Jews, especially the wealthy, left the country, leaving behind vast amounts of property. The Council of the Jewish Community, which was established after World War II, is the representative body of the community. The Jews also have a representative in parliament who is obligated by law to support Iranian foreign policy and its Anti-Zionist position. Despite the official distinction between "Jews," "Zionists," and "Israel," the most common accusation the Jews encounter is that of maintaining contacts with Zionists. The Jewish community does enjoy a measure of religious freedom but is faced with constant suspicion of cooperating with the Zionist state and with "imperialistic America" — both such activities are punishable by death. Jews who apply for a passport to travel abroad must do so in a special bureau and are immediately put under surveillance. The government does not generally allow all members of a family to travel abroad at the same time to prevent Jewish emigration. Again, the Jews live under the status of dhimmi, with the restrictions im posed on religious minorities. Jewish leaders fear government reprisals if they draw attention to official mistreatment of their community. Iran's official government-controlled media often issues anti-Semitic propaganda. A prime example is the government's publishing of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious Czarist forgery, in 1994 and 1999.2 Jews also suffer varying degrees of officially sanctioned
discrimination, particularly accommodations.3
The Islamization of the country has brought about strict control over Jewish educational institutions. Before the revolution, there were some 20 Jewish schools functioning throughout the country. In recent years, most of these have been closed down. In the remaining schools, Jewish principals have been replaced by Muslims. In Teheran there are still three schools in which Jewish pupils constitute a majority. The curriculum is Islamic, and Persian is forbidden as the language of instruction for Jewish studies. Special Hebrew lessons are conducted on Fridays by the Orthodox Otzar ha-Torah organization, which is responsible for Jewish religious education. Saturday is no longer officially recognized as the Jewish sabbath, and Jewish pupils are compelled to attend school on that day. There are three synagogues in Teheran, but since 1994, there has been no rabbi in Iran, and the bet din does not function. 4 Following the overthrow of the shah and the declaration of an Islamic state in 1979, Iran severed relations with Israel. The country has subsequently supported many of the Islamic terrorist organizations that target Jews and Israelis, particularly the Lebanon-based, Hezbollah. Nevertheless, Iran's Jewish community is the largest in the Middle East outside Israel. On the eve of Passover in 1999, 13 Jews from Shiraz and Isfahan in southern Iran were arrested and accused of spying for Israel and the United States. Those arrested include a rabbi, a ritual slaughterer and teachers. In September 2000, an Iranian appeals court upheld a decision to imprison ten of the thirteen Jews accused of spying for Israel. In the appeals court, ten of the accused were found guilty of cooperating with Israel and were given prison terms ranging from two to nine years. Three of the accused were found innocent in the first trial.5 In March 2001, one of the imprisoned Jews was released, a second was freed in January 2002, the remaining eight were set free in late October 2002. The last five apparently were released on furlough for an indefinite period, leaving them vulnerable to future arrest. Three others were reportedly pardoned by Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.6 At least 13 Jews have been executed in Iran since the Islamic revolution 19 years ago, most of them for either religious reasons or their connection to Israel. For example, in May 1998, Jewish businessman Ruhollah Kakhodah-Zadeh was hanged in prison without a public charge or legal proceeding, apparently for assisting Jews to emigrate.7 Today, Iran's Jewish population is the second largest in the Middle East, after Israel. Reports vary as to the condition and treatment of the small, tight-knit community, and the population of Iranian Jews can only be estimated due to the community’s isolation from world Jewry
IRAN: Life of Jews Living in Iran Iran remains home to Jewish enclave. By Barbara Demick TEHRAN - The Jewish women in the back rows of the synagogue wear long garments in the traditional Iranian style, but instead of chadors, their heads are covered with cheerful, flowered scarves. The boys in their skullcaps, with Hebrew prayer books tucked under their arms, scamper down the aisles to grab the best spots near the lush, turquoise Persian carpet of the altar. This is Friday night, Shabbat - Iranian style, and the synagogue in an affluent neighborhood of North Tehran is filled to capacity with more than 400 worshipers. It is one of the many paradoxes of the Islamic Republic of Iran that this most virulent antiIsraeli country supports by far the largest Jewish population of any Muslim country. While Jewish communities in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria have all but vanished, Iran is home to 25,000 - some here say 35,000 - Jews. The Jewish population is less than half the number that lived here before the Islamic revolution of 1979. But the Jews have tried to compensate for their diminishing numbers by adopting a new religious fervor. ''The funny thing is that before the Islamic revolution, you would see maybe 20 old men in the synagogue,'' whispers Nahit Eliyason, 48, as she climbs over four other women to find one of the few vacant seats. ''Now the place is full. You can barely find a seat.'' Parvis Yashaya, a film producer who heads Tehran's Jewish community, adds: ''We are smaller, but we are stronger in some ways.'' Tehran has 11 functioning synagogues, many of them with Hebrew schools. It has two kosher restaurants, and a Jewish hospital, an old-age home and a cemetery. There is a Jewish representative in the Iranian parliament. There is a Jewish library with 20,000 titles, its reading room decorated with a photograph of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini protection Iran's Jewish community is confronted by contradictions. Many of the prayers uttered in synagogue, for instance, refer to the desire to see Jerusalem again. Yet there is no postal service or telephone contact with Israel, and any Iranian who dares travel to Israel faces imprisonment and passport confiscation. ''We are Jews, not Zionists. We are a religious community, not a political one,'' Yashaya said. Before the revolution, Jews were well-represented among Iran's business elite, holding key posts in the oil industry, banking and law, as well as in the traditional bazaar. The wave of anti-Israeli sentiment that swept Iran during the revolution, as well as large-scale confiscations of private wealth, sent thousands of the more affluent Jews fleeing to the United States or Israel. Those remaining lived in fear of pogroms, or massacres. But Khomeini met with the Jewish community upon his return from exile in Paris and issued a ''fatwa'' decreeing that the Jews were to be protected. Similar edicts also protect Iran's tiny Christian minority.
Just as it radically transformed Muslim society, the revolution changed the Jews. Families that had been secular in the 1970s started keeping kosher and strictly observing rules against driving on Shabbat. They stopped going to restaurants, cafes and cinemas - many such establishments were closed down - and the synagogue perforce became the focal point of their social lives. Jewish school in Shiraz Iranian Jews say they socialize far less with Muslims now than before the revolution. As a whole, they occupy their own separate space within the rigid confines of the Islamic republic, a protected yet precarious niche. Jewish women, like Muslim women, are required by law to keep their heads covered, although most eschew the chador for a simple scarf. But Jews, unlike Muslims, can keep small flasks of home-brewed wine or arrack to drink within the privacy of their homes - in theory, for religious purposes. Some Hebrew schools are coed, and men and women dance with each other at weddings, practices strictly forbidden for Muslims. ''Sometimes I think they are kinder to the Jews than they are to themselves. ... If we are gathered in a house, and the family is having a ceremony with wine or the music is playing too loud, if they find out we are Jews, they don't bother us so much,'' Eliyason said. ''Everywhere in the world there are people who don't like Jews. In England, they draw swastikas on Jewish graves. I don't think that Iran is more dangerous for Jews than other places.'' Some problems exist Testimony from Jews who have left Iran suggests more serious problems than those cited by Jews inside the country. In written testimony to a congressional subcommittee in February 1996, an Iranian Jew complained of being imprisoned for two years on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel. He also said his arrest was preceded by harassment at work and pressure to convert to Islam. Inside Iran, Jews say that they frequently receive alarmed telephone calls and letters from relatives in the United States concerned about their wellbeing, but that they themselves do not feel physically endangered. Their major complaint is the inability to visit family in Israel, and what they say is inadequate funding for Hebrew schools, which are administered by the Iranian Ministry of Education. Although many Jews hold jobs in government ministries or within state-owned firms, they say they are unlikely to rise to top positions. In addition, Iran's strict Islamic law, or ''sharia,'' contains many discriminatory provisions toward non-Muslims. Jews 'part of Iran' Still, Jewish leaders say their community has far stronger roots in Iran than other Middle East Jewish communities, which were virtually eradicated by massive immigration to Israel in the 1940s and 1950s. Esther, the biblical Jewish queen who saved her people from persecution in the fifth century B.C., is reputed to be buried in Hamadan, in western Iran. The grave of the Old Testament prophet Daniel lies in southwestern Iran.
''We are different from the Jews of the diaspora. You see the name 'Persia' in the Old Testament almost as often as the name 'Israel.' The Iranian Jews are very much part of Iran,'' said Gad Naim, 60, who runs the old-age home in Tehran. Iranian Jews trace their history to the reign of Persia's King Cyrus. As the Bible tells it, Cyrus conquered Babylonia in 539 B.C., liberated the Jews from captivity, and raised funds for the rebuilding of their destroyed temple in Jerusalem. The return of the Jews to Jerusalem at that time was accompanied by a large migration to the lands that were then Persia, and now Iran. In Esfahan, an Iranian city fabled for its intricate Persian tile work, the first Persian Jews were settled under the reign of Cyrus. The ancient city was once known as Dar-Al-Yahud (''House of the Jews'' in Farsi), and as late as the 19th century it was the home of 100,000 Jews, according to Elias Haronian, head of Esfahan's Jewish community. Today, the city is a repository of Jewish lore. It has a cemetery with Jewish graves 2,000 years old, stunning synagogues and Jewish mausoleums with tiles to rival those of the mosques - but a population of only 1,500 Jews. What happened to the Jews? Some converted centuries ago. Indeed, in Muslim villages surrounding Esfahan, a distinctive Jewish dialect of Farsi is spoken, and Muslims still follow certain Jewish rituals, such as lighting candles on Fridays. Others left for Tehran, or for California or New York. Some went to Israel. ''It is not that life is so difficult for us, but a minority is a minority... We are like a glass of water in the sea,'' Haronian said. Haronian, a petroleum engineer, worries less about persecution than about the faltering Iranian economy, the lack of job opportunities for his four children, and the shortage of suitable Jewish spouses. ''There are very few Jewish boys here. There are so few of us,'' said his 17-year-old daughter, Shirin. At Esfahan's Hebrew school, students confided that they are deeply torn between a love of their homeland and a desire to escape from the stifling isolation of Iran. The decision to stay or go may rest largely on Mohammad Khatami, a relatively progressive cleric who won a landslide election May 23 as the next president of Iran. Although he is virulently anti-Israel in his public comments, Khatami was considered sympathetic to the Jews during his term as Iran's minister of culture and Islamic guidance. He paid a campaign visit to a social club for Jewish women in Tehran. ''We expect more freedom, an easier life, not just for Jews, for everybody,'' said Farangis Hassidim, an administrator of Tehran's Jewish hospital. Not everyone in the Jewish community favors liberalization of Iranian society. Arizel Levihim, 20, a prospective Hebrew teacher, said Judaism has fared better within the confines of Iran's strictly religious society. ''I believe it is good for women to keep their head covered. I think it is good to restrict relations between boys and girls,'' Levihim said. ''I agree with the ideals of the Islamic republic. These are Jewish values too."
WHAT IRAN’S JEWS SAY
At Palestine Square, opposite a mosque called Al-Aqsa, is a synagogue where Jews of this ancient city gather at dawn. Over the entrance is a banner saying: “Congratulations on the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution from the Jewish community of Esfahan.” The Jews of Iran remove their shoes, wind leather straps around their arms to attach phylacteries and take their places. Soon the sinuous murmur of Hebrew prayer courses through the cluttered synagogue with its lovely rugs and unhappy plants. Soleiman Sedighpoor, an antiques dealer with a store full of treasures, leads the service from a podium under a chandelier. I’d visited the bright-eyed Sedighpoor, 61, the previous day at his dusty little shop. He’d sold me, with some reluctance, a bracelet of mother-of-pearl adorned with Persian miniatures. “The father buys, the son sells,” he muttered, before inviting me to the service. Accepting, I inquired how he felt about the chants of “Death to Israel” — “Marg bar Esraeel” — that punctuate life in Iran. “Let them say ‘Death to Israel,’ ” he said. “I’ve been in this store 43 years and never had a problem. I’ve visited my relatives in Israel, but when I see something like the attack on Gaza, I demonstrate, too, as an Iranian.” The Middle East is an uncomfortable neighborhood for minorities, people whose very existence rebukes warring labels of religious and national identity. Yet perhaps 25,000 Jews live on in Iran, the largest such community, along with Turkey’s, in the Muslim Middle East. There are more than a dozen synagogues in Tehran; here in Esfahan a handful caters to about 1,200 Jews, descendants of an almost 3,000-year-old community. Over the decades since Israel’s creation in 1948, and the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the number of Iranian Jews has dwindled from about 100,000. But the exodus has been far less complete than from Arab countries, where some 800,000 Jews resided when modern Israel came into being. In Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Iraq — countries where more than 485,000 Jews lived before 1948 — fewer than 2,000 remain. The Arab Jew has perished. The Persian Jew has fared better. Of course, Israel’s unfinished cycle of wars has been with Arabs, not Persians, a fact that explains some of the discrepancy. Still a mystery hovers over Iran’s Jews. It’s important to decide what’s more significant: the annihilationist anti-Israel ranting, the Holocaust denial and other Iranian provocations — or the fact of a Jewish community living, working and worshipping in relative tranquillity. 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. I know, if many Jews left Iran, it was for a reason. Hostility exists. The trumped-up charges of spying for Israel against a group of Shiraz Jews in 1999 showed the regime at its worst. Jews elect one representative to Parliament, but can vote for a Muslim if they prefer. A Muslim, however, cannot vote for a Jew. Among minorities, the Bahai — seven of whom were arrested recently on charges of spying for Israel — have suffered brutally harsh treatment. I asked Morris Motamed, once the Jewish member of the Majlis, if he felt he was used, an Iranian quisling. “I don’t,” he replied. “In fact I feel deep tolerance here toward Jews.” He said “Death to Israel” chants bother him, but went on to criticize the “double standards” that allow Israel, Pakistan and India to have a nuclear bomb, but not Iran. Double standards don’t work anymore; the Middle East has become too sophisticated. One way to look at Iran’s scurrilous anti-Israel tirades is as a provocation to focus people on Israel’s bomb, its 41-year occupation of the West Bank, its Hamas denial, its repetitive use of overwhelming force. Iranian language can be vile, but any Middle East peace — and engagement with Tehran — will have to take account of these points. Green Zoneism — the basing of Middle Eastern policy on the construction of imaginary worlds — has led nowhere. Realism about Iran should take account of Esfehan’s ecumenical Palestine Square. At the synagogue, Benhur Shemian, 22, told me Gaza showed Israel’s government was “criminal,” but still he hoped for peace. At the Al-Aqsa mosque, Monteza Foroughi, 72, pointed to the synagogue and said: “They have their prophet; we have ours. And that’s fine.”
Jews in Iran Describe a Life of Freedom Despite Anti-Israel Actions by Tehran Michael Theodoulou, Special to The Christian Science Monitor TEHRAN, IRAN— One of the most striking of many murals in Iran's capital, Tehran, is a towering portrait of Fathi Shkaki, a leader of the militant Palestinian group, Islamic Jihad. He was assassinated by Israeli agents in 1995 after he masterminded a series of suicide bombings against Jewish civilians. A slogan beneath his face hails him as a hero of the Islamic revolution in Palestine. Yet, stroll a little farther along Palestine Street and you come to the Abrishami Synagogue, the biggest of 23 synagogues in Tehran. It is regularly attended by some 1,000 worshippers. It comes as a surprise to many visitors to discover that Iran, a country so hostile to Israel and with a reputation for intolerance, is home to a small but vibrant Jewish community that is an officially recognized religious minority under Iran's 1979 Islamic Constitution.
"[Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini didn't mix up our community with Israel and Zionism - he saw us as Iranians," says Haroun Yashyaei, a film producer and chairman of the Central Jewish Community in Iran. Like Iran's Armenian Christians, Jews are tolerated as "people of the book" and allowed to practice their religion freely, provided they do not proselytize. They elect their own deputy to the 270-seat Parliament and enjoy certain rights of selfadministration. Jewish burial and divorce laws are accepted by Islamic courts. Jews are conscripted into the Army. "We are one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world," Mr. Yashyaei says. "When Muslims came to Iran, we had already been here for centuries." "Take it from me, the Jewish community here faces no difficulties. If some people left after the revolution, maybe it's because they were scared," says Farangis Hassidim, a forceful but good-humored woman who is charge of the only Jewish hospital in Iran. She adds: "Our position here is not as bad as people abroad may think. We practice our religion freely, we have all our festivals, we have our own schools and kindergartens." For her, the well-equipped hospital in central Tehran is a model of religious harmony. "We have about 200 staff, 30 percent of them Jewish," she says. "These days, I'd say about 5 percent of our patients are Jewish, the rest are Muslims." A sign outside the hospital reads in Hebrew: "Love thy neighbor as thyself." Nevertheless, many Jews emigrated after the 1979 Islamic revolution to the United States, the favored destination, and to Israel. In just under two decades, their numbers in Iran have dwindled from 100,000 to about 40,000, 25,000 of them in Tehran. The shah, overthrown in 1979, was on good terms with the Jewish state; opposition to it was a cornerstone of Khomeini's revolution. A tight-knit community Like other minorities, many Iranian Jews feared an uncertain future, although their religious rights were enshrined in the Constitution. Nevertheless, Iran's Jewish community remains the largest in the Middle East outside of Israel, and human rights activists confirm that members are not persecuted because of their religion. Since the Islamic revolution, the Jewish community has become more tight-knit and devout, according to worshippers at the Abrishami Synagogue. After prayers, there is a festive atmosphere as families, greeting each other with the Sabbath greeting "Shabbat Shalom," spill out into the courtyard. Savory snacks are handed out as families share gossip and children dart up and down the stairs playing tag. A small portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini is painted on the wall of the stairwell. Privately, there are grumbles about discrimination, much of it of a social or bureaucratic nature. Some complain it is impossible for Jews to get senior positions in Iran Air, the national airline, or in the national oil company. A woman teacher says she has been passed by for promotion several times because she is Jewish and now hopes to emigrate to Los
Angeles. A car-parts dealer says Jews have to wait much longer for travel documents and exit visas. The most pressing complaint is that, despite many petitions to parliament, Jewish schools must open on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. Like so many other Iranians, those at the Abrishami synagogue are relying on the new president, Mohamad Khatami, to support them. "He's a kind man; let's hope he can help us with this schools question," says the parts dealer. Jews also hope for a genuine Middle East peace settlement that would enable a more moderate Iran to recognize Israel, where many Iranian Jews have relatives. That clearly is a long way off, despite hints over the weekend of some kind of people-to-people dialogue. Even Mr. Khatami, with his reputation as a relative moderate, called Israel a "racist, terrorist state" in a recent interview on CNN television. Contacts with the Jewish state are banned, although some visit through third countries, while mail is usually routed through London. Why leave? At an antiques shop in central Tehran, Isaac, the elderly owner, says many Jews who once owned shops along the broad, bustling avenue have left in the past 20 years. He has not seen his sister since she emigrated to Israel 16 years ago, but he has no plans to leave. "The Jewish community has been here for centuries, and this shop has been in the family for more than 50 years," he says, reeling off the famous customers who have visited. "Gen. [Charles] de Gaulle was here. "But look at this," he adds, brandishing an old black-and-white photograph of himself with his arm around curvaceous 1950s film star Gina Lollobrigida, who sports a beehive hairdo. "Really, it's OK here, and it's home," he says.
WEATHERING THE STORM August 1997 The Iranian From "Freedom, within limits" published in February 1997 by "Forward" in New York. See also "Singing the blues" about Iranian Jews in the 19th century. I sat among a group of Iranian soldiers watching "Lebanon, My Love" ("Lobnan eshq-e man") in a movie theater in Shiraz. Of the two general types of Iranian action films -- killing Iraqis and killing Israelis -- it was the latter. People cheered as the Hezbollah members infiltrated into the southern Lebanon security zone and ambushed the Israelis. Every time a Zionist was killed, there would be loud cheers. When the "freedom fighters" approached an unsuspecting Israeli, those around me would shout "kill the Jew!" in anticipation. Despite the vitriol of the movie theaters, 30,000 Jews, down from 85,000 on the eve of the revolution, remain in Iran, and they are relatively unharassed. Every Thursday night, hundreds of Jewish families gather near Tajrish Square in fashionable northern Tehran to exchange the latest gossip or talk business while the teenagers check each other out. Others take a pre-Shabbat break and eat at one of Tehran's two kosher restaurants. Friday nights, the synagogues fill up in Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan and Hamadan (the burial place of Esther and Mordecai of Purim fame). Smaller numbers of Jews live in Kerman, Kashan and Yazd. Things have settled down since the tumultuous times of the Islamic Revolution, when tens of thousands of Jews left for Israel, Western Europe or America. The community has stabilized; new births are keeping up with deaths and emigration. At weddings, the congregants in Tehran or Isfahan will chip in to bring up the rabbi from Shiraz. In the religious atmosphere of the Islamic Republic, intermarriages are not an issue. As long as the Jews keep a low profile, the government does not harass them. Thus, while synagogues thrive, no signs appear on the street to advertise their presence. Sometimes the synagogues are distinguished by faded "Death to Israel" graffiti on the walls, but more often than not a visitor must ask residents where the "Jewish mosque" is. On the Shabbat I was there, over 500 Jews crowded into the synagogue in Abbas Abad, one of Tehran's 15 functioning synagogues (none of which, unlike mosques, receive government subsidies). Two soldiers outside helped with crowd and traffic control as the service let out. Walking to my host's apartment for a home-cooked Shabbat meal (Jewish mothers are the same the world over), they assured me that they considered these soldiers to be more assistance than surveillance. Indeed, outside the smaller synagogues, no guards were present. `Interrogation' Surveillance took a different form, though. Anytime I entered a synagogue for the first time, I would be surrounded by congregants for my "interrogation. " Once assured that I was who I said I was, they would talk to me. "We have no problems under the Islamic Republic," they said. "Things have improved since Imam Khomeini came to power." However, walking home or driving up into the mountains, the story changed. "Life is okay, but we don't like the
government." However, in my travels, I found that this complaint could come just as easily come from a Christian or Moslem. Life for Jews in Iran is by no means free, but Iran's Jews have reached a modus vivendi with the Islamic Republic. In Isfahan, 300 Jews walk into the synagogue on Meidan Felestin (Palestine Square) each Friday to hear announcements from the elected Jewish representative to the national Majlis (parliament) read out after services. While some students at the University of Isfahan chose to live off-campus because of student harassment in the dorms, no one complained of discrimination in university admissions or at the hands of their professors. A handful of Jewish instructors remain in the major universities, although not in the proportions that existed before the revolution. Jewish students worry that the situation might change as the growing movement to "Islamize" the universities -- something the older Moslem professors also privately lament -gathers steam among hardliners. Already the curriculum is subtly changing. One Jewish university student complained about new textbooks and how her teachers fill in the gaps in some of the old ones. Past conspirators, such as those who ousted the 19th-century prime minister Amir Kabir (the only Qajar official in favor with the new regime), have become Jewish in classroom accounts and some textbooks, fulfilling Ayatollah Khomeini's adage that "there are small lies, there are big lies and then there is history. " Many Jewish merchants still work in the Tehran bazaar or along Palestine and Ferdowsi streets in Isfahan. Business is not good, but it is no worse than anywhere else in Iran. As elsewhere in the Middle East, merchants are grouped in areas by profession. Carpet merchants work side by side, as do tailors or auto mechanics. The Jewish and Moslem merchants maintain good relations, and not just because the Moslems want to buy alcohol, which some Jews and Armenians bootleg. Moslems and Jews work for each other, stop by each others' shops for tea and attend each others' weddings. While the bazaaris have traditionally been conservative -- they were prominent backers of Khomeini during the revolution -- many Jews and Moslems feel they are in the same boat, if for no other reason than they are all Iranian. Throughout Iran, the national identity is more important than the religious. After all, Iran has always been more of an empire than a nationstate. As the Shah emphasized -- and the Islamic regime tries to forget -- Iran has not always been predominantly Islamic; the Islamic armies were just one of the many invading forces that subjugated Iran. For most of Iran's history, Moslems, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians lived side by side in peace. Ethnic Mosaic Furthermore, as Saddam Hussein tried to exploit during the Iraq-Iran war, Iran is also an ethnic mosaic comprised of Turks, Persians, Arabs, Armenians and Baluchis. As a result, a sense of "Iranianism" has developed, reducing anti-Semitism in the street even as the government promulgates it for political reasons in the cinema and newspapers. While the anti-Israel plank is perhaps the only unmutable policy of the Islamic Republic, upon which the government relies to bolster its Islamist credentials, for the man on the street, many other worries are closer to home. The government does use its position on the
"usurping and criminal Zionist regime" to justify some degree of official discrimination, however. While Moslems, Christians and Jews are conscripted into the army, Jews and Christians cannot make the military their career, nor can they work for the government. Some older Jews told how they were quietly forced out from quasi-governmental upper management positions in banks and other "sensitive" offices. Also, despite being in the midst of what some Israelis might describe as their greatest enemy, the Jews of Iran do have contact with Israel. At one Shabbat dinner in Isfahan, the pre-meal blessings were interrupted by a phone call from Israel that had been routed through Turkey. Some Iranian Jews have taken the same route, traveling to Israel through Turkey, Greece or Cyprus. However, this route has become dangerous since stamps from any of these three countries can now cause an Iranian Jew's passport to be confiscated, although the routes through Italy or France remain open. After 17 years of life in the Islamic Republic, the Jewish community in Iran has achieved a balance. Theocratic Iran is not totalitarian Syria. The Jews have breathing space and freedom between well-defined limits. Scapegoating for political and religious reasons has been declining. Many young Jews talk of leaving, but many others have the opportunity to emigrate and decided against it. Nevertheless, tension is growing about the future, with President Rafsanjani currently barred by the constitution from serving a third term and the hard-line Majlis- speaker, Nateq Nouri, poised to replace him. After more than 2,000 years of both tolerance and oppression in Iran, the Jewish community looks as if it will weather the storm.