If we bomb Iran, what will happen to Iranian Jews?
by Lynn Gottlieb
Jewish history overflows with tales of sorrow. Are we to endure yet another loss, but this time perpetrated by our own foolish hands? Those who think that bombing Iran serves a defensive purpose should reconsider and remember a forgotten people, the 35,000 Jews of Iran. What will happen to them?
In 2009 I had the honor to co-lead two interfaith peace delegations to Iran under the auspices of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence, and The Center for Interfaith Dialogue in Teheran. These two delegations are part of a continuing global effort to cultivate positive relationships between people of faith in areas of potential or existing conflict.
During both visits to Iran, we spent time meeting the Jewish communities in Tehran, Esfahan, and Shiraz. I had the opportunity to visit synagogues during prayer services, eat at a kosher restaurant, meet Jewish students at Hebrew school, and enjoy open conversations with Jewish cultural, political and communal leaders in public Jewish institutions and private homes.
Jewish people have lived continuously in Iran for nearly three thousand years. They are guardians of a rite of ancient pilgrimage to the tombs of Esther and Mordecai, the prophet Daniel and the beloved Serach Bat Asher whose stories are well known to the Jews of the Middle East. Iranian Jews possess a 1,800-year-old Torah in Hamadan and a rich historical memory. They are proud of their religious Persian Jewish identity. The Jewish communities of Iran should be considered a spiritual heritage by people of faith everywhere.
Jews in Israel, the United States, Europe, and elsewhere, should speak up now, before it’s too late and demand that war be taken off the table for the sake of this ancient community that does not want Israel to intervene in their country. Are we to end the life of the ancient Jewish community of Iran by causing instability to be unleashed in their midst? No serious person with experience in the region thinks initiating a war with Iran will bring security to the United States, Israel, or the region. There are many other channels of peacemaking to pursue.
If you ask the Jews of Iran, or, for that matter the vast majority of citizens of Iran, they will tell you to please allow them the freedom to do the work of social change in their own country. Outside military intervention will only make matters worse for everyone. We have lost enough of our ancient diaspora. Let us not endanger the only continuous Middle Eastern Jewish community in the world today. Let us stand up to the propaganda and fear mongering pushing us toward another disaster.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is co-chair of the Palestine Israel Working Group of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and co-founder of the Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence.