Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Two contrasting tales of Iranian Jews

Moving story of Private Binyamin, who managed to bribe his way out of serving in the Iranian army in order to fulfil his dream of serving in the IDF (with thanks: a reader)

"Pvt. Binyamin, 24, immigrated to Israel on his own from Iran and enlisted into the IDF, and today proudly wears the red beret of the paratroopers.

"He was born in Shiraz in north west Iran (sic) . He was raised on stories about Israel a country where one could wear a kippa and tallis and walk freely he said, adding that from a tender age he knew that one day he would go to Israel.

"Out of a population of millions it is estimated that 25,000 Jews live in Iran today. Binyamin, who left his entire family behind, said he was forced to study in a Moslem school where there were very few other Jews. There at school he learned English and computers but Judaism and Torah studies he learned at the synagogue.

"Like so many other Jews in Iran, he was forced to keep his love for Israel and the Jewish people under wraps, confining discussions on the subject to his own home. His father, who suffers from a long-term illness, prevented the family from fleeing to Israel like many other Jewish families, said Binyamin, adding that his uncle also fled from Iran to Israel by himself 28 years ago.

"In Iran the government has imposed restrictions on certain internet sites and it is illegal to watch mainly foreign network sites that are related to Israel or the United States, he said. However, it was Binyamin’s computer skills that enabled him to bypass the government imposed filters and restrictions.

"The first internet site he ever saw was that of the IDF. Binyamin studied and learned about Israel, Jewish customs and the city of Jerusalem via the internet, and said he even watched Channel Two on the internet but was unable to understand the Hebrew. Only after he arrived in Israel and went to ulpan did he master the Hebrew language.

"In Iran the law requires everyone at the age of 18 to enlist in the army, the government also issues citizens with a passport and driving license in return, he said. Fully aware that he would never serve in the Iranian army he paid a few high ranking officers to issue him a waiver from service on medical grounds.

"After receiving his Israeli identity card two weeks after arriving in Israel, Binyamin began his attempts to enlist in the army. His initial request was rejected. (..)

"Today he is in the preliminary basic training course, suffers from the effects of the sheer physical effort and is still getting used to army style jargon and way of life, but has no regrets whatsoever.

"While he misses his family and admits to the hardships of serving in the army as a lone soldier, Binyamin said: " all I ever wanted was to live a free man in our country (Israel) just like in the Hatikva. Finally I can be proud of the flag, the religion and country without having to hide.”

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Reading between the lines in this propaganda piece about the Jews of Iran in the Pakistan Daily, it is apparent that the Jews suffer from quite a few handicaps, even though the community's new parliamentary representative, Dr Mer-Sadegh, is so anxious to prove his loyalty he claims to share some of President Ahmadinejad's views:
Half of the remaining Iranian Jews live in Tehran, home to 20 synagogues, six Jewish schools, kosher restaurants and butchers, a Jewish library with more than 20,000 books, and a Jewish cemetery. Contrary to outside impressions, they say their daily lives have not worsened since Mr Ahmadi-Nejad took office.
“People expect it to be so bad for us here, but we have our religious freedom,” said Farangis Hassidim, a middle-aged woman attending the synagogue. “That is not to say we have no problems. We have Jewish schools, but the teachers are Muslim, and it is difficult for us to get jobs in government.”
Dr Mer-Sedegh says his main priority as the Jewish MP will be to push to change Iran’s heritage law, which stipulates that if a Jewish person converts to Islam, all his siblings are considered to have converted, too.
At the Tapo kosher restaurant in Felestine (Palestine) Street, Yossef Shoomer says Iranian Jews try to keep a low profile – as must every minority in a religious country.
Indeed, from the outside, one would not notice anything unusual about the restaurant, with its signs advertising Iranian staples such as kebab and rice.
“We don’t need to publicise the restaurant because most Jews know about us,” said Mr Shoomer, whose family has run the restaurant for 25 years.
“Many Muslims also know that we are kosher. Very devout Muslims might not come here, but the rest eat here happily.”
One of the women at the synagogue says she has visited Israel many times, but is always careful to get the frontier stamps on a separate sheet rather than on her passport.
As for Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s inflammatory anti-Israel statements, many Iranian Jews dismiss them as rhetoric. “We just ignore him – and so do many Muslims,” whispers one of the worshippers outside the synagogue.
Dr Mer-Sedegh says the president is anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic, before adding that he shares some of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s views.
“I am in direct opposition to the inhumane behaviour of the Israeli government,” he said. “A lot of things that Israel is doing – killing innocent Palestinians – are not in keeping with Moses’s teaching.”
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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Actually, lots of articles atest to the fact that Iranian jews are not threatened in Iran, see for example "Jews in Iran Describe a Life of Freedom Despite Anti-Israel ...Article by Michael Theodoulou from The Christian Science Monitor http://www.csmonitor.com/durable/1998/02/03/intl/intl.3.html

And furthermore Iranian jews (Shepardic) would not normally wear the kippa except for prayertime anyway.

bataween said...

How do you know? Very religious Jews tend to wear a kippa all the time.

The Christian Science Monitor is hardly the oracle when it comes to Jews.'Freedom' is a bit of an overstatement for 'knowing one's place' under Sharia law. Funny how the arrests of 13 Jews on spying charges are not mentioned.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Bataween, this particular "anonymous" really takes the cake. He is an ignoramus with prejudices who insists on telling Jews about Jewish customs and religious practices. Imagine: "Shepardic"!! How does he know about Jews wearing kippot?? Many of my neighbors are Sefardim who wear kippot most of the time. And of course there are many Ashkenazim here in Jerusalem who wear kippot most of the time.

And then he holds up the CSM as an authority on Jewish affairs!! Of course the 13 Iranian Jews jailed for alleged spying are generally overlooked. I once searched the Amnesty International website and found only one reference to these imprisoned Jews. It was part of a larger item on Iran. So even Amnesty didn't care about these Jews.

Maybe Anonymous could kindly do some studying about Jews and Judaism.