Thursday, October 9, 2008

Yom Kippur in Persia

Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. On this day Jews dedicate themselves to a period of fasting and reflection in an effort to atone for sins committed over the past year. This is the one date that the vast majority of Jews observe regardless of their denomination or degree of Judaic devotion. They repent from all around the world. Even in Iran.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is home to the Middle East's second largest Jewish community with an estimated 25,000 Jews currently living within its borders. It is difficult to imagine how Jews are able to openly practice their religion, let alone survive, in President Ahmadinejad's environment of Holocaust denial and enmity toward Israel. The fact that Iran has dozens of synagogues and even a Jewish member in the Iranian Parliament should not be mistaken for complete tolerance; the hardline press can be violently anti-semitic. So why do Jews remain in Persia under such potentially hostile conditions? Ciamak Morsathegh tackled this question a few years ago when speaking to the BBC: "We are Iranian and we have been living in Iran for more than 3,000 years....I am not going to leave - I will stay in Iran under any conditions." Apparently for some patriotism still trumps religion. (Many prominent members of our own society could learn much from these words).

Just south, in the Persian Gulf, resides another Jew in a predominately Muslim nation that is proud of her country. Believe it or not, but Houda Nonoo is Bahrain's ambassador to the United States. (back to homepage)

(photo credit: