Life was good for the Jews of Persia living under the protection and generosity of Shah Reza Pahlavi, just as it had been under the previous ruler, and the ruler before that, down through the centuries. Jews had occupied the highest levels of government, industry and academia in Persia since antiquity. They were among the proudest
As happened so many times in Jewish history, the door closed shut and the Jews couldn't leave.
standard-bearers of the Persian nation. There was never any reason for them to gaze into the future and think otherwise. Their great-grandchildren would live peaceably in Persia just as their great-grandparents had. Life would go on.
Then one day the Shah climbed aboard his plane, flew off into the horizon and never returned. It all happened so fast. Too fast, it seemed, for the Jews of Persia to fully grasp that with the abdication of Reza Pahlavi, life in Persia had changed forever. Now they were living in the Islamic Republic of Iran, under Muslim clerics whose purpose in life was to create a Koran-based theocracy.
Some Jews saw the writing on the wall and fled immediately, usually with the help of the El Al planes that the Israeli government dispatched within days of the fall of the Shah. But the planes still left Tehran half empty. The mass exodus to Israel never materialized. The Begin government and the Jewish Agency were perplexed: Didn't these Jews realize they could be in danger? Didn't they know that Israel was there to rescue them and bring them home to the freedom to the Jewish State?
The answer was "no" on both counts. The Jews of Persia, some 80,000 strong, had always resisted the calls from Israel, even though every Muslim country from North Africa to Iraq had witnessed its Jews embark en masse to Israel. Iran was the lone holdout. But why should Persian Jews move to Israel when they could just take a round-trip flight from Tehran to Tel Aviv anytime? Such was the mentality of the Persians, pre-1979.
Yet, as happened so many times in Jewish history, the door closed shut and the Jews couldn't leave even if they wanted to. And now they wanted to. The Islamic Revolution had begun, and although the Jews could never be a part of it, they would still live in the Islamic Republic of Iran - the Ayatollah Khomeini said so. They would not be persecuted or imprisoned, and they could go about their business as a "protected" minority class. Those high-level military and government jobs couldn't be held by Jews anymore though, nor could other "sensitive areas" like banking.
Then came the war with Iraq. Every able-bodied male was needed at the front lines. And that included the Jews, expected to charge the infidel Iraqis under the banner of... Allah. Hundreds, then thousands, of Jews fled Iran any way they could. By the 1990s, with the war over and an aura of stability in the country, the 30,000 remaining Jews settled in for the long haul. They were still Persians, after all.
And the Islamic government made life nicer for them. Synagogues could function as before. Jewish property would be respected. Jews could gain admittance to universities; Jewish faculty had secure jobs. Kosher shops were open. Jewish rituals and festivities would be unhindered; the police would even tolerate the mixed dancing and
There are still eleven synagogues left in Tehran.
liquor at such events. Sure, cinemas, night clubs and the like were shut down, but that was to ensure morality for the whole country. Jewish schools could operate, but under the supervision of the state, which meant that Jewish students would have to go to school on Saturday, as the state mandated.
And all that talk about eliminating the Zionist entity, well, that's still official state policy, but so long as the Jews never complained about it they'd be fine. Besides, by their own admission, they're Persians first. And by the way, there are still eleven synagogues left in Tehran.
The Jews of Iran, complacent in their totalitarian society as obedient submissive servants to their ayatollah masters, may soon be confronted with a shock greater than the abdication of the Shah. And that will occur when the first jets or missiles bearing the Star of David cross into Iranian airspace. Then they'll have to run for their lives to the nearest border. If they make it that far.
The Jewish presence in Iran is coming to an end. How it ends will largely depend on whether these Jews wake up in time and leave Iran. Any way they can.