The 2005 documentary, "Jews of Iran," directed by Ramin Farahani, was shown last week at the University of Pennsylvania, USA as part of a program sponsored by the Middle East Center. The Jewish Exponent reports:
"Daniel Tsadik, Ph.D., a fellow at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies who studies Jews in pre-modern Iran, and Orly Rahimiyan, a Ph.D. candidate in the Middle Eastern Department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and a Fulbright scholar at Penn, led the discussion after the film.
"The Jewish settlement in Iran dates back to the Babylonian exile, more than 2,700 years ago, explained Rahimiyan, and now numbers about 25,000 -- a drastic drop, according to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, from the 1948 Jewish population in Iran of between 100,000 and 125,000.
"The Jews of Iran have been segregated, socially and religiously. They were pushed to the fringes of society, noted Rahimiyan, kept in isolated neighborhoods and subject to a poll tax.
Yet despite these divisions and difficulties, much of the Jewish population strongly identifies with Iranian culture and heritage. "These people -- some of them at least -- really love Iran," said Tsadik. They speak Persian, and they identify themselves as Iranian.
"Tsadik knows these strong cultural ties of Iranian Jews firsthand -- from his own family. "For my father," he noted, "Iran is his country of milk and honey." He added that even those who've left still teach their children to speak the language and appreciate the culture.
"On one hand, the Jews love Iran, but certain circumstances force them out," he added. With the rise of the Islamic Republic in 1979, two-thirds of Jews fled the country. While many Iranian Jews had prospered economically through the years, the nation after the Shah -- where Islamic fanaticism took over -- caused fear and concern among those who stayed. The others wound up settling in American metropolitan centers like New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. They also managed to immigrate -- in fits and starts -- to Israel, where an active Persian community remains."
'The Jews of Iran' will be shown in London on 19 June.