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Iranian Jews Leave Their Silent Nightmare, Come Home to Israel

Forty Iranian Jews stepped onto the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport Tuesday night to begin a new life. They escaped a silent nightmare.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 12/25/2007, 11:04 PM

Ten Iranian Jewish families – 40 Iranian Jews in all -- began new lives Tuesday night when they came home to Israel. “How they were brought to Israel and information about who they are is classified information,” Jewish Agency spokesman Michael Jankelovitch said in an exclusive interview with Israel National News.

“This is a new initiative,” said Jankelovitch, “a joint project of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the Jewish Agency for Israel.”

 



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A total of 200 Iranian Jews made Aliyah (immigrated to Israel) this year, triple the number from just a year ago, when only 65 Jews made Aliyah to Israel from Iran.  According to Jankelovitch, the majority of the Jews who left Iran permanently this year came to Israel.

A man greets his relative who just arrived from Iran to Israel, his new home.
(Photo: Flash 90)
A woman greets her relative, who arrived from Iran to live in Israel.
(Flash 90)

One million dollars – fully half of the budget for this year’s project, came from the Fellowship, said Jankelovitch, adding that the entire sum has been exhausted.  “The organization is now embarking on a new campaign to raise funds to continue the work for 2008,” he added.

A Silent Nightmare
Their lives are at stake...Learning the Hebrew language has been banned. There are no more Jewish day schools have been closed down - all of them.

Why Iranian Jews, and why now?

“Because their lives are at stake,” answered Jankelovitz simply. “They are in a unique situation because of the regime. There are increased cases of discrimination. Learning the Hebrew language has been banned. Jewish day schools have been closed down – all of them. There are no more Jewish day schools in Iran,” he said.

Jewish children have to go to school on Shabbat, and on all Jewish holidays including Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

“They come with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a small suitcase with almost no money at all,” said Jankelovitch. “Their money is worthless because of the exchange rate. People live in a beautiful house which they sell and it is not even worth $10,000.” 

In order to balance that hardship, each new immigrant from Iran, including the children, receives a grant of $10,000. A family of five thus receives a total of $50,000 with which to begin their new lives in addition to the usual basket of new immigrant benefits received by everyone else who comes to make Israel their home.

Leaving 'Takes Guts'

Although there is no problem leaving Iran permanently to live elsewhere, emigrants cannot travel directly to Israel, said Jankelovitch. Nor is America an option at this point due to the political situation. The U.S. has imposed strict sanctions against Iran in the hopes of forcing the Islamic Republic to abandon its headlong rush toward development of what both the U.S. and Israel suspect is a nuclear weapon which could be aimed at the Jewish State.

A new immigrant from Iran displays her new and old identity papers.
(Photo: Flash 90)

Despite the growing hardships, however, there are still 28,000 Iranian Jews who have remained in the Islamic Republic.

“People are afraid of the unknown,” Jankelovitch told Israel National News bluntly. “Leaving the town you know, friends and neighbors, takes guts.” Every effort is being made to convince those left behind to leave while they still can.

“All the information for an Iranian Jew who wants to know about making Aliyah is available online, in Farsi,” he said. (The website created for this purpose is at http://www.israel-iran.org) “There is a free flow of information,” he added. “Iran is not a backward, third world country. There is word of mouth, people can go to internet cafes.”

There is no fear of being "tracked down" for accessing information about moving to Israel, he said. “We hope more, many more will come next year. Israel wants Iranian Jews to come home.”