ii. THE JEWISH PERSIAN COMMUNITY
Definition and background. Jews of Persian origin and their descendants who live in the State of Israel and constitute an integral and active part of its general population. As a convenient but rather too broad and loosely defined ethno-cultural and demographic notion, the designation “Jewish Persian Community in Israel” refers to diverse and considerably different groups of Persian and Neo-Aramaic speaking Jews of Persia who immigrated to Palestine-Israel from a large number of highly scattered urban, provincial, and rural communities and settlements across Persia. The latter emigrants and immigrants settled in Ottoman and British-controlled Palestine (roughly ever since the 1820s until the termination of the British Mandate in Palestine in 1948) and in much larger numbers ever since the establishment of the State of Israel and its declaration of independence on 14 May 1948. Because of numerous objective obstacles, chief among them lack of documentation, absence of comprehensive research on the subject and difficulties in devising sound criteria required for defining and estimating the size of this community, at this stage of research one cannot provide any definitive figures as to the number of Persian Jews and their descendants who presently live in the State of Israel. However, on the basis of the available information and estimates regarding the numbers of those who immigrated from Persia before and after Israel’s establishment, and taking into account the number of those who were born to families in which either one or both of the parents were born in Persia, it appears that the number of Jews of Persian extraction in Israel today may cautiously be put at some 200 to 250 thousand souls. The latter estimate is indeed provided by some scholars and community activists of Persian descent who are closely involved in the lives of Persian Jews in Israel (Menashri, p. 6). The estimated figure of some 250 thousand Jews of Persian extraction living currently in Israel would roughly represent 3.7 percent of Israel’s total population of 6.7 million, and about 4.8 percent of the country’s Jewish population of 5.1 million counted in 2003 (Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract, no. 55, 2004, tables 2-10). In terms of their sheer numbers, Jews of Persian origin and their descendants living presently in Israel constitute by far the largest concentration of Persian Jews living either in or outside Persia’s borders. Moreover, in terms of their relative size within Israel’s multi-ethnic and increasingly multi-cultural population, and when compared with the other main groups of Jewish immigrants from the Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa in Israel, Jews of Persian origin constitute the fourth-largest immigrant group after the Jews of Morocco, Iraq, and Yemen (Peres, p. 47). Nevertheless, despite the importance of the Jewish Persian community both in the recent and contemporary history of Persian Jewry as well as in the context of Israel’s own genesis and transformation in the course of the last decades, the annals, experiences and the present condition of Persian Jews living in Israel have remained largely neglected and uninvestigated. The generally poor state of available sources and documentation on the one hand and the dearth of systematic research and broader academic and public interest on the subject on the other hand stand in sharp contrast to the state and level of research and publication (particularly in the Hebrew language) devoted over the past years to Israel’s other Middle Eastern and North African immigrant communities. With the exception of some very few in-depth studies, articles and surveys of general nature that deal with partial and mostly isolated subjects related to the general history of Jewish Persian immigration to Israel (see particularly Netzer, Mizrahi, Levy, Ha-Cohen, Klein, Menashri, and Yeroushalmi), some of the most basic areas and aspects of general history, society, economy, community, family, education, culture, and ethnicity among the Jews of Persian origin in Israel still await systematic data collection and examination. Owing to the latter gaps in information and perspective, the present article and the diverse data and observations contained in it run the risk of being incomplete and as such tentative.
Early migrations and community until 1917. The biblical land of Israel and its sacred sites, ccupying an exalted position in the religious beliefs and messianic yearnings of Persian Jews, have always attracted Jews of Persian origin throughout their documented history. The religious and spiritual bonds of Persian Jews to the land they deemed as the cradle of their ancestral religion and ethnic identity were historically preserved and nurtured by means of a variety of sources, practices, and channels. Chief among the latter were: (1) The diverse sources of Jewish religion, liturgy, annual cycle and commemorative holidays (particularly the ninth of the Hebrew month of Āv, on which day, according to Jewish tradition, both the First and the Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed in 586 BCE and 70 CE, respectively); (2) the literary and religious writings of the Persian-speaking Jews themselves, in which both the biblical and post-biblical land of Israel as well as the events, memories and legends associated with them in Jewish writings are extensively treated (Moreen, pp. 123-36; Yeroushalmi, 1995, pp. 34-38, 134-36); (3) visits to Persia’s scattered Jewish communities and settlements by rabbis and emissaries from the main centers and institutions of religious learning in Palestine. The latter visits, which fulfilled a variety of religious and inter-communal needs (documented mainly in the course of the 16th-20th cents.) contributed considerably to the maintenance of ongoing contact between the Jewish centers in Palestine and the Jewish communities in various parts of Persia (Yaʿari, 1977, pp. 4, 12, 21, 265-66, 381-85). The earliest written record attesting to the migration of some Jewish sectarians (Karaites) from the northeastern Persian town of Dāmḡān (q.v.) to Jerusalem dates from the end of the 9th century (Yaʿari, 1943, pp. 56-59; Netzer, 1981, p. 281). We also know of several Persian Jews who made pilgrimage to Jerusalem and to other holy sites and localities in Palestine in the course of the 16th century (Netzer, 2002, p. 365). In addition to Jerusalem, the capital of ancient Israel and the site of its ruined temple, Jews from various communities in Persia made journeys and pilgrimages also to tombs and holy sites in the Ottoman-controlled cities of Safed and Tiberias (in Upper Galilee) and Hebron (Ar. al-Ḵalil), formerly called Qeriat Arbaʿ (Judges, 1:10-15), the first capital of King David (2 Samuel 2:4), located 30 km to the south of Jerusalem. These four Palestinian cities and towns, known among the Jews of Palestine and diaspora by the Hebrew title of “Arbaʿ Arasot” or (The Four Lands), and their respective sacred sites, tombs, synagogues and local institutions of religious learning and charity enjoyed a considerable aura and veneration among the Jews across Persia. A few of those who made these expensive and highly hazardous pilgrimages in pre-modern times, are known to have settled in the various Jewish communities of Ottoman-controlled Palestine (conquered by the Ottomans in 1517). We know specifically of Persian Jews who settled in Safed and Jerusalem in the course of the 16th-18th centuries (Netzer, 1981, pp. 282-86), although dearth of information and documentation prevents us from forming any clear view of all those who settled in Palestine during those years. On the basis of the scanty available evidence and in the light of what we know about the plights, poverty, and harsh living conditions that prevailed in the Jewish settlements of Palestine in the course of the 17th-18th centuries (Dubnow, IV, pp. 1710-14), it is reasonable to assume that the number of Persian Jews who migrated to Palestine during those years was negligible. All the available sources of information, which grow considerably and progressively in the course of the 19th century and onward, clearly indicate that a significant process of Jewish migration from Persia to Ottoman Palestine began during the last two decades of the 19th century. The latter trend, so it appears, grew gradually and steadily during the years 1892-1917, and increased further following the actual termination of the Ottoman rule in Palestine (October 1917) and during the three decades of de facto British control of the land (1917-48).
According to various accounts, and particularly on the basis of oral testimonies and memoirs written by the descendants of Persian emigrants who had settled in Palestine prior to the 1880s (Ha-Cohen, pp. 47-51; Mizrahi, 1959, pp. 200-201; Levy, 1976, p. 18), several families from Persia’s larger Jewish communities (among them those of Yazd, Shiraz, and Isfahan) migrated and settled in a number of Jewish settlements in Palestine during the first decades of the 19th century. Among the latter emigrants were some who settled in Tiberias and Hebron and even in other small settlements such as Šeḵem (Ar. Nablus), located in Samaria (Ha-Cohen, p. 47), but the largest known group of Persian emigrants who settled in Palestine during the 1840s-1860s lived in the town of Safed. They consisted of some fifty to sixty families (Levy, 1976, p. 18), many of whom, much like the vast majority of the Persian emigrants who settled in Palestine in the course of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century, were extremely poor. In Safed of the 1840s-1860s, however, they enjoyed the local patronage and support of a wealthy Jewish Persian merchant by the name of Yiṣḥāq Šālom Cohen, commonly known by his nickname as Abū Geršon. An enterprising merchant, land-owner and banker, Abū Geršon (b. ca. 1810 d. 13 April 1896) is said to have been born in Yazd (or, according to a family tradition, in Shiraz), and while a youngster, emigrated with his family to Palestine. He settled in Safed and soon amassed a large fortune, and by virtue of his influence and connections both with Ottoman officials and Persian dignitaries, was appointed, in about 1858, as Persian consul in Safed (Levy, 1976, pp. 17-18; Netzer, 1982, pp. 332-34; Tidhar, XII, p. 4102). Many among the Persian emigrants in Safed were employed and supported by Abū Geršon and his many descendants. His third son, by the name of Raphael, also served as Persian consul in Safed at the beginning of the 20th century (Levy, 1976, p. 19). A communal leader and a devout Jew, Abu Geršon is said to have urged and encouraged Jews of Persia to emigrate to Palestine (Mizrahi, 1959, p. 201). The Persian emigrants who arrived in rather small numbers during the 1820s-70s, as well as those who began arriving in larger numbers during the 1880s-1910s, were, according to all evidence, driven by diverse personal, communal, and religious motivations and impulses. Religious, messianic and Jewish national yearnings undoubtedly played an important role in the decision of these emigrants throughout the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century (Kashani, pp. 39-40), yet all the available and so far little studied primary sources at our disposal indicate that wide-ranging plights, insecurities, and deeply rooted discriminations that affected the lives of the vast majority of Persia’s Jewish communities and settlements throughout the 19th century and the first years of the 20th century also contributed to the flight and migration of Persian Jews from their centuries-old native communities in Persia (Fischel, pp. 119-24). A variety of primary and secondary sources (chief among them the 19th-century Jewish press of Europe, the writings of the Persian Jews themselves, and the accounts of Christian missionaries who conducted evangelical activity among the Jewish communities of Persia during the 1820s-1910s) evidence that Persian Jews abandoned their communities in substantial numbers and migrated or fled to countries and territories adjacent to or far beyond Persia’s borders. Afghanistan, Turkistan, Bukhara, and the Ottoman-controlled cities of Baghdad and Basra as well as the British colonies of India were among the main destinations to which tens of hundreds of Persian Jews migrated in the course of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century (Wolff, p. 83; the Hebrew weekly Hamaggid, Lyck, Prussia, 12 January 1876, pp. 12-13; Yehoshua-Raz, pp. 110-11; Yeroushalmi, 2003, pp. 97-98). The emigration of the Persian Jews to Ottoman-controlled Palestine appears to have been part of the larger migratory trends and impulses among the Jewish communities of Persia during the 19th century and first two decades of the 20th century. Diverse local distresses and legal and socio-economic inequalities and discriminations on the one hand, and hopes for improving one’s personal and family living conditions and prospects abroad on the other, were intermingled with religious yearning and together formed the major driving forces that led growing numbers of Persian Jews to abandon their native settlements and towns and set out on the long journey to Ottoman Palestine.
These emigrants used three routes to travel from Persia to Palestine in the course of the 19th century (roughly through the 1940s). First, the western overland route that led to Iraq, mainly Baghdad, and from there, through the Syrian Desert, to Damascus, where it turned southward to Palestine. Second, the northern route, which connected northwestern Persia (via the Caspian port of Anzali, q.v., and through the Black Sea) to the Ottoman territories in the west and from there to Greater Syria and Palestine. Third was the southern route, which was inaugurated with the opening of the Suez Canal in November 1869 (Klein, pp. 98-99), connecting the ports of the Persian Gulf (esp. Bušehr) with Egypt and the Mediterranean sea-ports of Palestine. It provided a safer and relatively more convenient and affordable means of traveling, thereby contributing significantly to the expansion of Jewish migration from Persia to Palestine in the course of the 1880s-1940s. This was particularly so with respect to the Jewish communities and settlements in Persia’s southern provinces, particularly those of the province of Fārs, mainly Shiraz and its adjacent towns and settlements. Indeed, the growing migration of Jews from Shiraz and other localities in southern Persia (among them Jahrom and Bušehr) during the 1880s-90s marks an important turning point in the history of Jewish migration and emigration to Palestine. These emigrants of Shiraz, estimated at some 500 to 1,000 souls by 1892 (Mizrahi, 1959, p. 202), constituted the largest group of Persian emigrants that arrived and settled in Palestine prior to the beginning of World War I in 1914. Moreover, despite Ottoman restrictions imposed on Jewish traffic and emigration to Palestine, particularly the law of 1887, which required each emigrant family to provide proof that it was capable of supporting itself economically, and an earlier law (enacted in 1882), which allowed for organized groups of up to 200-250 Jewish emigrants to settle in all districts of Palestine with the exception of the district of Jerusalem (Netzer, 1981, pp. 289-90; Lipman, pp. 200-202), the vast majority of these emigrants succeeded in settling in Jerusalem. The Persian emigrant community in Jerusalem constituted the largest concentration of Persian Jews throughout Palestine, and until 1917 (other much smaller numbers were found in Safed, Tiberias, Jaffa and in some of the newly founded Jewish colonies in the Mediterranean coastal plain), it played a major role in attracting additional families and semi-organized groups of newcomers from Persia’s various urban and provincial communities. Despite a temporary slow-down in emigration during 1909-17 (caused, inter alia, by prospects of change inside Persia following the Constitutional Revolution, q.v., in 1906, educational and communal improvements resulting from the activities of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in Persia’s larger Jewish communities, and harsh security and economic conditions in Palestine during World War I), tens of additional families, mainly from Mashad, Tehran, Kāšān, Yazd, Isfahan, Shiraz, Jahrom, and Lār had arrived and settled predominantly in Jerusalem (Mizrahi, 1959, pp. 200-216). By the end of the Ottoman rule in Palestine in 1917, the number of Persian Jews living in Jerusalem was estimated at 1509 souls (Ben-Arieh, p. 407). The emigration of Persian Jews to Palestine during the 19th century until 1917, and to a large extent until Israel’s independence in 1948, was carried out in a sporadic manner and lacked any central organization or coordination. Single families and at times semi-organized groups consisting of a handful of extended families from the same town or settlement in Persia were ordinarily stirred and led by a local charismatic rabbi or some other well-respected figure in the community to emigrate. They would then liquidate their possessions and embark on the journey to Palestine bearing the entire expenses of the journey, which would last three to four months, by land, or some five-six months, by ship, the latter through the Persian Gulf to India and from there to Egypt and Palestine. Lack of central organization and absence of external financial and welfare support weighed heavily on the vast majority of these emigrants. The considerable expenses and fees of travel and the physical hardships and threats in the course of the journey (e.g., widespread illness, malnutrition, assaults by robbers, etc.) ordinarily exhausted the limited resources of these emigrants even before they arrived and began their existential struggles in Palestine (Ha-Cohen, pp. 48-49; Mizrahi, 1959, pp. 214-15). A notable exception to the latter mostly poor or impoverished arriving emigrants were the wealthy Jewish merchants of Mashad, descendants of Jews who had been forcibly converted to Shiʿite Islam in 1839 (Levy, 1985, p. 135). Returning openly to Judaism, the latter emigrants settled in a prosperous and newly built neighborhood of Jerusalem during the years 1901-03 and onward. The latter Jews of Mashadi origin, together with some very few well-to-do merchants and businessmen from other Persian towns (among them Bušehr and Yazd), formed the rather small group of affluent Persian Jews in Palestine until 1917. According to all evidence, the overwhelming majority of the Persian emigrants and their children in Jerusalem, who according to another source numbered 1760 souls in 1916 (Levy, 1985, p. 137), were steeped in poverty. They grappled with a wide range of physical, communal, and socio-cultural hardships and distresses. Not least among the latter difficulties were the language barriers, as these emigrants during the 1880s-1920s did not speak any of the three main languages of Arabic, Ladino (or Judaeo-Spanish), and Yiddish, which served as the main languages of communication, business, and social intercourse among the diverse ethno-religious and national denominations in Ottoman Jerusalem and in other parts of Palestine.
All but a few of these emigrants lived in the newly built neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and to the west of the walls of the Old City as of the 1860s. The first of such neighborhoods built and occupied by the Persian emigrants, called Ševet Ṣedeq (located nearby the city’s present-day down-town market of Mahaneh Yehudā), was an overcrowded shanty town consisting of shabby rooms made of sheets of tin and empty wood-boxes erected on an uninhabited plot of land. Eventually the emigrants, aided by some well-to-do Persian donors, managed to buy a plot of land (to the west of Ševet Ṣedeq) and, in 1900, laid the foundations for a new neighborhood for the Persian emigrants, named Neveh Šalom (Ha-Cohen, pp. 89-90). In both neighborhoods, however, the emigrants faced many hardships, including diseases, poor sanitary conditions, lack of insulation in hot summers and without protection against cold in winter. Most of them had not received any modern professional training, and the vast majority of them in the 1880s-1920s (and a large number of those who arrived in the 1930s-1940s) eked out a living by means of various physical and menial labors. Many among these first-generation emigrants worked as construction-workers, builders, masons, water-drawers and peddlers (Ben-Arieh, p. 407; Ha-Cohen, p. 37). Others were occupied as retailers and shop-keepers, vegetable-sellers, butchers, bakers, as well as buyers and sellers of used clothes, etc. (Levy, 1985, p. 137). Some of the children of these emigrants acquired vocational education in the school of the Alliance Israélite in the city during the 1890s-1910s and onward. These young emigrants and their older family members, who were mostly from Shiraz and trained as shoemakers, carpenters, blacksmiths, masons, and particularly as builders, were among the main builders and craftsmen who built some of the new neighborhoods, public buildings, and hospitals in the western part of the city. These buildings, together with the aforementioned Persian neighborhoods, which were converted subsequently into permanent stone houses, as well as a number of synagogues and communal buildings constructed during this period in those neighborhoods, are today among the more attractive architectural and historical sites of western Jerusalem (Shalev-Khalifa, pp. 252-56, 263-69). The wealthy Jews of Mashad built a number of luxurious homes for their own families as well as a large rental building and other communal endowments for the use of the needy members of their community. The latter residential and communal buildings, built during the years 1900-1905, were located in the quarter of the very affluent Persian-speaking Jews of Bukhara. Known until today as the Bukharan Quarter, the latter neighborhood was the most modern and luxurious Jewish quarter built outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem during the last decade of the 19th century (Kroyanker, pp. 125-28).
The communal lives and internal organization of the Persian emigrants during the 1880-1917 (and to a large extent until the establishment of the State of Israel) centered mainly around synagogues and their affiliated bodies. Between the years 1894 and 1913 these emigrants built six synagogues in the midst of their Jerusalem neighborhoods (Netzer, 1891, p. 293). These syna-gogues, which were headed by Persian-speaking rabbis, were assisted by volunteering functionaries and were supported mainly by well-to-do Persian donors from Jerusalem and from the Jewish communities inside Persia. Most of these synagogues were hard pressed, but, despite their limited material resources and the fact that they received little support from the local Jewish institutions and authorities, they did their best to attend to the diverse needs of the Persian emigrants in the areas of religion, education and social services. As early as 1900, a welfare and educational society by the name of “the Society for the Lovers of Zion” was founded by the Persian-speaking Jews of Jerusalem (Ha-Cohen, pp. 48-49). By 1906, they had established two traditional religious schools for the Persian-speaking children in the city, in which some 80 children were enrolled by 1907. Another society, named “the Association for Peace and Fellowship,” was founded by some young descendants of the Jewish emigrants from Bušehr, with a view to provide educational and welfare assistance to the growing community (Netzer, 1981, p. 292). These and some other similar communal and organizational activities of the emigrants, however, did not succeed in turning the community of the Persian-speaking Jews in and outside Jerusalem into an independent and officially recognized ethnic community vis-à-vis the Ottoman and local Jewish authorities and institutions. For many years to come (roughly until 1948), the community of Persian Jews in Jerusalem remained subordinated to the jurisdiction of the Committee of the Sephardic Community in Jerusalem, which was the recognized representative organization of Jews of Middle-Eastern and North-African extraction in Jerusalem. Moreover, despite the different communal bodies and functions that were established by the Persian emigrants in Jerusalem and in the few other towns and colonies of Palestine during the years 1882-1917, by and large the community did not possess the material, organizational, and human resources and connections to cope with the diverse needs and distresses of its predominantly poor population.
From 1917 to 1948. The Balfour Declaration, which was a British declaration of sympathy with Zionist aspirations, marked a new chapter in the history of Jewish migration from Persia to Palestine. In the form of a letter signed and dated 2 November 1917, the British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930) officially announced to Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild (1868-1937) that “His Majesty’s [i.e., the British] Government view with favour the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object” (Stein, p. V). Similar to many other Jewish communities across the world, the latter declaration soon aroused national and religious aspirations among the Jews of Persia and led to the establishment of Zionist associations, first in Tehran (in 1918) and thereafter in Persia’s other larger Jewish communities. Among their other Jewish nationalist-oriented activities in the various communities, which included the instruction of modern Hebrew, the Zionist bodies and activists were engaged in encouraging emigration from Persia to Palestine as well as in raising funds and donations for various Jewish colonization, settlement, and development projects in Palestine. The Zionist associations in Persia were also engaged in collecting funds in order to provide assistance to those Persian Jews who had already settled in Palestine as well as to those who were planning to emigrate (Mizrahi, 1971, p. 584; Netzer, 1994, pp. 662-63). Shortly after the Balfour Declaration, the Persian community in Jerusalem elected the “General Committee of the Community of Persian Jews in Jerusalem,” (Voʿad kelali la-ʿadat Yehudei Paras be-Yerušalayim) to serve as a representative body of Persian Jewry in Palestine and to act as a liaison with outside Jewish and governmental institutions and authorities (Mizrahi, 1959, pp. 221-22). Among the Committee’s other main objectives were administering the assets and properties of the community, procuring funds and loans for housing, tending to the educational and general welfare of the Persian emigrant community, and raising the public standing and profile of Persian Jews in Jerusalem and other parts of Palestine (Levy, 1985, pp. 138-39). The Committee was active among the old and new emigrants who continued to arrive in larger numbers; it was also assisted in its endeavours by a small number of other communal welfare and cultural bodies that were set up and run mainly by the younger generation of Persian emigrants in Jerusalem during the 1920s-30s.
The Balfour Declaration, the termination of Ottoman rule in Palestine (Jerusalem was conquered by British troops on 9 December 1917), and the institution of the British Mandate for Palestine, ratified by the League of Nations in April 1920, led to a considerable expansion in the activities, investments, and enterprises of the Jewish national institutions in Palestine. These changes and developments were conducive to a significant growth in the volume of emigration from Persia during the three decades of de-facto British control in Palestine. According to official figures published in 1949 by the State of Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, some 3,632 Jews from Persia emigrated to Mandatory Palestine during the years 1917-48 (Statistical Abstract, no. 2, 1950-51, p. 27; Sicron, II, p. 27). On the basis of other sources, however, it appears that the numbers were considerably higher (Mizrahi, 1971, pp. 549-50). Owing to emigration and natural growth, the number of Jews of Persian origin in Palestine is said to have reached 7,275 in 1926 and some 16,000 souls in 1935 (Netzer, 1994, pp. 663-64). Although we do not possess reliable figures and documentation on the number of Persian emigrants and their descendants living in Palestine on the eve of Israel’s independence, based on various estimates and conjectures, their numbers are put at some twenty to thirty thousand souls in May 1948 (Netzer, 1994, p. 664; Yeroushalmi, 2001, p. 9). Out of an estimated population of some 20,000 to 30,000 Persian emigrants in 1948, about 18,000 lived in Jerusalem, and the rest, which according to all accounts constituted a very small minority (Levy, 1985, p. 134), lived in the old and some of the newly established Jewish colonies and towns along the Mediterranean coastal plain, including Jaffa, Tel-Aviv, Petah-Tiqva, Rehovot, Haifa, etc. (Hed Hamizrah, 29 April 1949, p. 11). Their synagogues and communal associations provided assistance and services in the areas of housing, welfare, education, and religion, but they lacked the means to provide solutions for the old and newly arriving emigrants. Some of the emigrants who arrived and settled in Jerusalem during the 1930s and onward received financial and other forms of social and welfare assistance from the local Jewish organizations and authorities (Levy, 1985, p. 134), but the vast majority of the old and new emigrants during the years 1917-48 were poor, and many had to support large families. A good number of Persian families and individuals (e.g., mainly merchants and businessmen from Mashad, Hamadān, Tehran, Yazd, Isfahan, and Bušehr) who emigrated to Palestine and particularly to Jerusalem in the third and fourth decades of the 20th century, enjoyed substantial financial means, while some others had received modern education at the Alliance (q.v.) and state institutions in Persia (mainly in Hamadān and Tehran), but the great majority, particularly women, had no modern education or professional and technical training and belonged to the lower socio-economic, educational, and professional strata of the Jewish population in Palestine. Given the predominantly modern and European-dominated nature of the Jewish national institutions and structures that were laid in Palestine during the formative years of the British Mandate, the traditional and pre-modern qualifications of the vast majority of Persian emigrants had significant implications with respect to their general condition and standing. Much like the Persian emigrants during the 1880s-1920s, the bulk of the emigrants who arrived during the 1930s-1948 made a living as unskilled or semi-skilled laborers. Many were occupied as construction workers, road-pavers, and porters as well as carpenters, blacksmiths and shoe-makers. Another large group among them worked as peddlers, vegetable vendors, and traders of fabric and used clothes. Among them were found numerous retailers, shop-keepers, and small merchants as well as a few trained artisans (e.g., weavers, printers, and metal casters) and dozens of elementary school teachers, clerks, and policemen (Tahon, p. 205; Levy, 1985, p. 137).
The Jews of Mashad and their descendants and an unknown number of merchants and businessmen from Persia’s larger cities (among them Hamadān, Tehran, Yazd and Bušehr) stood in sharp contrast to the vast majority of Persian Jews living in Jerusalem and in other localities during the British Mandate. The Jews of Mashad, numbering some 1,000 souls in 1946 and an estimated 1,200 in 1948 (Hed Ha-Mizrah, 3 March 1946, p. 14, 29 April 1949, p. 11), constituted the most organized and prosperous concentration of Persian emigrants in Palestine before and after the establishment of the State of Israel. Headed by well-to-do communal leaders and businessmen engaged in international trade (mainly in rugs, precious stones, and finances), they formed (and still continue to form) a closely knit community. Owing to their collective experiences and tribulations as Jews who preserved their religious identity in secret, by and large they avoided marital or close inter-communal ties with the rest of the Persian emigrants. Much like the vast majority of the Persian emigrants and their descendants prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, however, the bulk of the Jews of Mashad, some 900 out of an estimated 1,000 in 1946, lived in Jerusalem, and the remainder in the greater Tel-Aviv area (Hed Ha-Mizrah, 15 March 1946, p. 14).
Immigration since 1948 and its characteristics. The gradual development and strengthening of the Jewish national institutions and settlements under the British Mandate resulted in a significant growth in the size of the Persian emigrant community in Palestine. The establishment of the State of Israel, the international recognition accorded to it by the United Nations on November 29, 1947, and particularly the declaration of its independence on 14 May 1948 caused a profound change in the common attitudes and sentiments of Persian Jews toward the newly established state. Although we do not have accurate figures on the size of Jewish population of Persia in 1948, nor do we possess reliable documentation and research concerning those among them who intended to immigrate to Israel, it has been suggested that out of Persia’s estimated Jewish population of some 90,000-100,000 souls at the time of Israel’s independence, some 60,000 were intending to immigrate to Israel (Ha-Cohen, p. 202). The estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Jews of Iranian origin who lived in Palestine on the eve of Israel’s independence (see above) were joined by an estimated body of some 80–85,000 new immigrants during the years 1948-2004. According to official figures provided by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics and by the Jewish Agency (i.e., the executive body of the World Zionist Organization responsible for immigration), the number of Persian immigrants who arrived in Israel between May 1948 through the end of December 1989 (i.e., the first decade of the Islamic Revolution in Iran) amounted to 74,148 souls (see Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract, no. 46, 1990, p. 180). This figure should be increased by 8,000-10,000, which is a conservative estimate of the number of immigrants who arrived in Israel during 1990-2004 (Yeroushalmi, 2001, p. 15). Out of the above estimated total of some 85,000 Persian immigrants who are reported to have arrived directly from Persia (and some proportionately few from other countries), an unknown number left Israel. They left mainly during the 1950s due to the harsh living conditions that prevailed in Israel during the first years of Israel’s establishment. Most of the latter group, and an unknown number of immigrants in the 1960s-70s, returned to Persia. The average rate of negative immigration among all immigrant groups in Israel during the years 1948-53, which were particularly difficult years, has been estimated at some 7 percent (Sicron, I, p. 30). Taken as a general and rather inaccurate measure, the latter rate would suggest that among the estimated 85,000 Persian immigrants who arrived in Israel during 1948-2004, at least 6,000 left the country. Out of this estimated total of some 80,000 Persian immigrants who arrived and evidently settled in Israel between 1948 and 2004, 38,876 people, or about 49 percent, came during the first twelve years of Israel’s existence (1948-60), among whom 30,756 souls (ca. 79 percent) had come during the first five years (Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract, no. 21, 1970, p. 49; Netzer, 1982, pp. 351-52). Both numerically as well as in terms of the length of their residence in Israel and the extent and depth of their acculturation and absorption in the diverse spheres of life in Israel, these immigrants and their descendants constitute a major and dominant part of the Persian immigrant community in Israel. Together with the descendants of immigrants who settled in Palestine before 1948, they form the two major and highly integrated Israelis of Persian origin in the present-day State of Israel. The majority of the prominent and influential public figures of Persian origin in Israel today, among them the former president of the State of Israel, Mr. Moshe Katsav, the defense minister, Lieutenant-General Shaul Mofaz, the chief of the general military staff, Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz, and some others (see below) belong to the veteran families of immigrants who settled in the pre-state and independent Israel during the 1920s-1960s.
Since the early 1960s until the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran in February 1979, there was an average annual immigration of some 1,000 to 1,500 souls from Persia. The average did not increase in the wake of the Islamic Revolution, which was followed by a major wave of Jewish immigration from Persia to various destinations, chief among them the United States and Europe. The number of immigrants who reportedly arrived from Persia to Israel in the course of the first decade of the Islamic Republic (1979-89) amounted to 8,487 souls, or roughly about 850 people per year, which declined progressively in the course of the 1990s-2004 (e.g., 323 in 1999, 420 in 2000, and 133 in 2003; see Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract, no. 46, 1995, p. 180; no. 47, 1996, p. 150; no. 48, 1997, p. 158; ibid., no. 51, 2000, sec. 5.3; no. 52, 2002, sec. 5.3; no. 55, 2004, sec. 5.3). A salient characteristic of the Persian immigrants to Israel, including both those who arrived prior to 1948 as well as those who settled in the country ever since Israel’s establishment, is the comparatively young age of the immigrants at the time of their immigration. Similar to other immigrant groups from Asia and Africa, and in contrast to immigrants from Europe, North America and other Western communities, about 85 percent of all the Persian immigrants during the massive immigration influx of 1948-53 were less than forty-five years old (Sicron, I, Table 8, p. 48). Among the latter immigrants, about 39 percent were children below the age of fourteen. Moreover, only 3.6 percent of these newcomers were sixty years old and over (Sicron, I, Table 10, p. 49). The large proportion of children, youth, and young adults among these immigrants explains the high degree of adaptability among them to the predominantly new and modern-oriented systems and institutions of education, culture, society and economy in the State of Israel. It appears that a relatively high percentage of children and youngsters among the immigrants characterizes also those who arrived from Persia in the course of the 1960s and 1970s, although, on the basis of a general impression, the average size of a Persian immigrant family in the 1980s-2000 is smaller in comparison to those who arrived in the 1940s-1960s and earlier (Tahon, p. 204).
The establishment of the State of Israel fundamentally altered and transformed the structure and nature of immigration from Persia. Whereas until 1948 sporadic families and semi-organized groups of immigrants had to rely mostly on themselves and on the limited communal resources of Persian-speaking Jews and philanthropists in and outside Palestine, following the establishment of the State of Israel the physical relocation and the processes of absorption of the vast majority of the Persian immigrants were (and still are) facilitated, and to a large degree directed and implemented, by the state and its affiliated arms and institutions. As such the state took over, replaced, and expanded the roles and services that had hitherto been provided by a few and mostly strapped communal and external Jewish bodies and volunteers. In contrast with the older semi-organized groups of families or extended families (ordinarily from the same settlement or district in Persia) that arrived and settled together in the same community or neighborhood of Persian-speaking Jews until 1948, following the establishment of the State of Israel, immigrant families and individuals originating from diverse locations in Persia and characterized by vastly different linguistic, socio-cultural and occupational histories and backgrounds arrived in Israel as separate individual units and not as part of an organized communal, religious, or ideological framework. For the vast majority of the Persian immigrants ever since 1948, the bonds and resources of the nuclear family have been serving as the most important framework and vehicle with which they deal with the diverse demands and challenges of relocation, acculturation, and absorption into their new environment. Chief among the national goals and policies of the State of Israel, particularly during the first three decades of its existence, were the creation of a melting pot which would assimilate the diverse groups of immigrants and mold them into a new and homogenous state, society, and national culture. One of the main instruments for achieving this goal was to settle the immigrant families from the various countries and cultural backgrounds in ethnically mixed settlements, towns, and housing projects across the country. The considerable geographical diffusion of the immigrants ever since 1948, and the fact that in most parts of Israel today Persian immigrants and their descendants are found in relatively diluted numbers in the midst of Hebrew-speaking multi-ethnic neighborhoods and settlements, account for the fact that, strictly speaking, one cannot speak of a cohesive and distinct community of Persian Jews in Israel. Rather than a community whose members ordinarily reside in the same locality and maintain various degrees of common ties and interests, the Persian immigrants, similar to most other groups of veteran and increasingly assimilated immigrants in Israel today, consist mostly of diffused families of Persian origin and their descendants whose social bonds, economic activities, and cultural and religious affiliations take place predominantly within the frameworks and institutions created over the years within the state of Israel.
Hand-in-hand with the latter family-based (and not communal) pattern of immigration and relocation that has characterized the immigration and absorption processes of the great majority of Persian immigrants ever since 1948, the immigration from Persia brought to Israel also a significant number of organized groups of pioneers, youths and children, particularly during the years 1948-1960s. Since early 1940s there were direct contacts between Persia’s larger Jewish communities, particularly that of Tehran, and the representatives and emissaries of the various Zionist institutions, political movements, and establishments in Mandatory Palestine. Among the latter bodies and ideological currents (mostly of secular socialist orientation), which appealed particularly to the Jewish Persian youth during the 1940s-1950s, was the Jewish socialist Kibbutz movement (Saʿidi, pp. 48-74). Known as the “Halutz” or “Pioneer” movement, the youth socialist branch of the Kibbutz movement was officially established in Persia in 1946, with the aim of educating and preparing groups of Jewish youth in Persia to immigrate to Israel and take part in the Zionist enterprise by settling in the land’s collective and socialist communities, known as kibbutz. Soon after Israel’s declaration of independence, the Halutz movement had some 4,000 young male and female members in Tehran and a similar number of affiliated activists and sympathizers in Persia’s other Jewish communities (Saʿidi, p. 48; Ben-David, pp. 91-97). The first organized group of these young socialist pioneers of Persia, consisting of some forty members, arrived in Israel in 1949 and joined a newly founded kibbutz (by the name of Maʿagan Miḵāel), located some 20 km to the south of Haifa. Other similar groups, estimated at some two dozens or more, arrived subsequently during the first years of the 1950s and settled mostly in kibbutz settlements and some few in agricultural cooperatives in the north, center, and south of Israel. The majority of the latter organized groups of pioneers, whose numbers are estimated at about one thousand or more, joined existing or newly founded collective settlements and none were involved in setting up settlements of their own. Moreover, a large number of the latter Persian settlers soon abandoned their collective settlements and chose to live in other parts, mostly towns and cities, across Israel. In addition to those rather few Persian Jews who still live in various kibbutz settlements, the members of the Halutz movement who immigrated to Israel on their own, as well as those who gave up the collective life-style were, and some still are, active in diverse professions, including business, public and government services, academia, education, welfare, etc. Some are active in non-profit communal organizations which deal exclusively with the needs and interests of Persian immigrants in Israel.
To the groups of young socialist-oriented pioneers and immigrants we should add a relatively large number of teenagers and children who immigrated to Israel within the framework of the Youth Immigration (Hebrew: ʿAliyat Ha-Noʿar) Department of the Jewish Agency. Beginning in 1949 and continuing during the 1950s-1960s, hundreds of Jewish children and youth (both boys and girls) immigrated to Israel. Arriving in Israel in small organized groups without their parents, they received vocational, agricultural or general high-school education within the boarding schools of the Youth Immigration Department. These youths and numerous children of the Persian immigrant families who were sent by their parents to these boarding schools (or to the kibbutz) due to economic or other considerations, were highly adaptable and talented (Yeroushalmi, 2001, pp. 12-13), and, upon the completion of their primary and secondary education, were soon fully integrated into the general fabric of the society. Many of Persian-born children and youths of the 1950s-1960s who went to these schools still are productive in diverse areas and levels of public and economic activities such as (industry, technology, military, business, education, civil services, etc. There were also a significant number of high-school graduates (estimated at a few hundreds) who arrived from Persia as non-immigrants during the 1950s-70s, with the purpose of pursuing their studies at institutions of higher education in Israel. Many among them settled in Israel following the completion of their studies (mostly at the undergraduate level) and joined the academic work-force in various locations across Israel. Finally, we know of several families and individuals of Persian origin who immigrated to Israel not directly from Persia, but from various countries and Jewish communities in Western Europe, North America and elsewhere, mostly since the 1970s. In comparison to the immigrants of the 1940s-60s, these immigrants, and particularly those among them who arrived in Israel after some years of residence, education, and professional careers in the West, are better educated and arrived in Israel with larger economic and material means.
The organized groups of pioneers, despite their importance and contribution in the history of Persian immigration and settlement in Israel ever since its establishment, constitute a rather small and non-typical segment among the larger population of Persian immigrants in Israel. Out of the estimated total of some 80,000 immigrants who reportedly arrived and settled in Israel ever since its establishment (see above), the overwhelming majority (over 95 percent) consisted of families and individuals who lacked any communal, ideological, or religious organization or framework at the time of their immigration. This reality, combined with numerous other economic, socio-cultural, and psychological characteristics and limitations among these immigrants, resulted in a high degree of dependency on the part of these immigrants upon the various institutions, projects, and decisions of the state of Israel. This was particularly true with respect to the vast majority of the immigrant families who arrived from Persia and several other Middle Eastern and North African countries during the years 1948-67. The comparatively larger economic means and higher educational and professional qualifications of the Persian immigrants who arrived since the 1970s (hand-in-hand with political, economic, and structural changes inside Israel that have led to increasing economic liberalization and cultural pluralism and decreasing bureaucratic centralization over the last three decades) reduced to some extent the need and dependency of the immigrants on the settlement priorities and decisions of the central government in the important areas of housing, employment, professional training, access to higher education, and so forth. Moreover, because of a variety of historical conditions inside Persia, mainly the absence of state-wide persecution or popular harassment of Jews, freedom of movement and immigration from and into Persia during the years 1948-79 (and actual possibilities for immigration from Persia since the establishment of the Islamic Republic), the Persian immigrants who moved to Israel ordinarily did so out of their own free will. These immigrants, as well as those who settled in Mandatory Palestine, did not perceive themselves as victims, refugees or displaced individuals whose immigration was imposed on them by events or forces beyond their personal control. The latter factors, combined with the existence of close bilateral relations and ongoing traffic between Persia and Israel until 1979, seem to have been of major psychological importance favorably affecting the broader processes of immigration and absorption among the vast majority of the Persian immigrants. These conditions and factors may also explain the generally high degree of positive motivation and optimism demonstrated by these immigrants and their descendants in dealing with the entailing various difficulties, challenges, and opportunities. A fundamental sense of free choice and a perceived ability to control and improve one’s lot through the process of immigration appear as common characteristics among the vast majority of Persian immigrants and their descendants in Israel. Coupled with a number of other cultural and sociological dispositions (among them pragmatism, diligence, compliance, social conformism, as well as loyalty and dedication to the needs and concerns of one’s family members), these factors seem to have further facilitated the general processes of immigration and absorption among these immigrants over the last decades. The same socio-cultural factors also appear to have nurtured a profound sense of belonging and identification among the vast majority of these immigrants with the common goals, causes, and challenges of the Jewish state.
Jews of Persian origin in Israel today. Despite the historical conditions and socio-cultural traits of the Persian Jews that facilitated and enhanced the overall processes of immigration and absorption among these immigrants ever since Israel’s establishment, numerous communal, socio-economic, and educational characteristics among their vast majority placed them in a difficult and disadvantageous position in comparison with some other groups of immigrants from the Muslim countries, and particularly in relation with Jews of European and Western countries who were the principal originators and founders of the State of Israel. First, while the Jewish immigrants from the Arab lands (among them those of Iraq and Yemen) left their countries of residence almost in their entirety and together with their traditional leaderships, the Persian Jews, much like the Jews of Morocco, left Persia without their leadership, which consisted mostly of the elite of the wealthy and well-educated classes, who continued to live and prosper in Persia (Menashri, p. 8). This reality persisted both before and after the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran, in the wake of which the vast majority of the traditional and modern-educated economic and communal leadership of Persian Jewry migrated to North America and Europe and preferred not to settle in Israel. Second, the immigration from Persia during 1948-60, which accounts for some forty thousand souls, or roughly half of all the Persian Jews who have settled in Israel over the years 1948-2004, consisted mostly of Jews from Persia’s scattered provincial towns and rural districts, stretching from Persia’s north and northwest (Western Azerbaijan and Persian Kurdistan) to the smaller towns of central Persia (e.g., Nehāvand, Borujerd, Golpāyagān, and Ḵᵛānsār) and the provinces and districts of Iran’s south (mainly Fārs) and the southwest (Ben-Zvi, pp. 42-43). The immigration during these early years of Israel’s independence brought to the country also large numbers of economically hard-pressed immigrants from Persia’s larger towns and cities (mainly Urmia, Ker-mānšāh, Sanandaj, Hamadān, Tehran, Kāšān, Isfahan, Shiraz, and Yazd). Thus, the vast majority of these immigrants arrived in Israel without significant (and at times no) modern education, professional training, or capital. Although the average educational qualifications and economic resources of the immigrants who arrived in Israel in the 1970s-2004 grew considerably in comparison to those who came during the 1940s-1960s (primarily as a result of the social, educational, and economic improvements in the lives of the Jews inside Persia during those years), nevertheless, for the vast majority of the Persian Jews who moved to Israel ever since its establishment, the immigration required considerable change or adjustment in occupation as well as in general cultural and societal orientations. This was particularly the case with the immigrants in the 1950s-1960s. Owing to a lack of modern education, vocational training, or significant economic resources in a fundamentally modern-oriented and rapidly developing country, the latter newcomers from Persia had to relinquish their old trades and occupations, among them peddling, shop-keeping, and petty trade as well as traditional Jewish-persian occupations such as weaving, dyeing, handling of gold and silver, traditional medicine, etc. (Sicron, I, pp. 75-76). The great majority of these immigrants, including a large number of young adults, youths, and women, had to make a living by taking up physical and semi-skilled jobs in an array of projects and work-places offered by the newly-founded state. Many of them took part in the construction of Israel’s physical infrastructures and facilities, among them roads, public buildings, housing-complexes, factories, as well as afforestation, farming, and settlement projects across the country. Others were employed as laborers in a growing number of public- and private-owned companies, factories, and industrial complexes. Directed by the government, a sizeable number of these families, mainly Neo-Aramaic and Kurdish speaking Jews of Persian Kurdistan, joined agricultural settlements in Galilee, in the north, and in the Negev, in the south (Netzer, 1994, p. 664). This was a major transformation for the Persian Jews, who for centuries had not been engaged in farming and agriculture. Together with some few Persian families who had become farmers in the 1880s-1910s (Klein, pp. 146-47), some second and third generation of the latter Persian agriculturalists are still engaged in modern and advanced agriculture in the agricultural cooperatives (Hebrew: mošav) which their parents had joined or founded in the 1950s (Kanka-Shekalim, pp. 101-4). In the latter capacities, mainly as physical laborers, semi-skilled workers and farmers, these immigrants of the 1948-1960s and their children were part and parcel of the work-force which participated in numerous construction and development projects in the areas of economy and industry, agriculture, settlement, security, etc. during the early and crucial years of Israel’s independence.
The vast majority of the Persian immigrant families during the first decade of Israel’s independence became diffused and housed in a large number of transit camps, settlements, and development towns throughout the country, but, already in the 1950s and increasingly during the 1960s and 1970s, many of these families and their children moved and relocated in towns and outskirts of the larger cities, mainly in the center of the country and along the Mediterranean coastal plain. Together with the large and old concentration of Persian Jews in Jerusalem, they attracted, in the course of the 1960s-1990s, additional family members from Persia and from other parts of Israel. First and second generation Persian Jews are found today in all parts of Israel and in all existing forms and frameworks of settlement and residence, but they are found in comparatively larger numbers in towns and urban areas. In the coastal towns and cities of Hadera and Netanya (to the south of Haifa), in the larger Hasharon area in the center of Israel, and more notably in metropolitan Tel-Aviv and its nearby towns of Ramat-Gan, Holon, Rishon-Letzion, Bat-Yam, and some others, relatively large numbers of veteran and more recent immigrants live and work.
Although Jews of Persian origin and their descendants in present-day Israel are found in diverse areas and levels of professional and economic activity across the country, a proportionately high percentage of those who live in Israel’s larger towns and cities (chief among them Tel-Aviv and its satellite towns and Jerusalem) are engaged in the private sector and make a living in a wide range of small and medium-size businesses. Quite a large number of the Persian-born immigrants and their children are store-owners and shop-keepers (selling clothes and shoes, food products, gifts, souvenirs, jewelry, antiques, and rugs) in the main commercial centers and streets of Israel’s larger towns and cities. Others are engaged in medium-size businesses and commercial enterprises such as manufacturing of clothes, imports and distribution of foreign commodities and products (such as textile and electronic appliances), ownership and management of wedding halls, real-estate, construction companies, etc. The gradual and significant progress of the second and third generation of Persian immigrants in the areas of primary and secondary education, professional training, and college and university education over the last five decades have resulted in considerable improvement in the educational and professional qualifications among the children and descendants of Persian Jews in Israel. The improvements have provided their children with increasingly better and more variegated opportunities in the areas of employment and economic activity, income, housing and general living conditions, in comparison with the generation of their parents and grandparents (Tahon, pp. 207-8; Menashri, pp. 9-10; Yeroushalmi, 2001, pp. 42-45). However, despite these significant improvements, major gaps still remain between the average educational and professional level of Israelis of Western origin and those of Persian and other Middle-Eastern and North-African immigrants and their descendants (Hever, pp. 17-18; Shavit, pp. 115-26). While there are a relatively large number of university and college graduates of Iranian extraction in Israel (among them physicians, engineers, and graduates in the various fields of natural sciences, technology, social sciences, and humanities who have completed their studies both in and outside Israel over the last three decades or so), the percentage of Persian Jews among the academic and research staffs of the Israeli universities and research institutes is very low and far below their relative share in the general population. So is the situation in numerous other areas of professional activity and positions of influence, among them ownership and directorship of large commercial, financial and technological companies, media and telecommunications, journalism, and diverse areas of cultural and intellectual activity grounded in Israel’s fundamentally European and Western-oriented hegemonic culture. A relatively low level of representation characterizes the Persian immigrants and their descendants also in the spheres of public life, national politics, and local government. The number of Persian immigrants and their descendants in the Israeli parliament, as well as in the institutions of local government, also appears to have been below their demographic share over the last five decades (Netzer, 1994, p. 664).
The gradual but consistent progress and integration of Persian Jews and their descendants in the diverse areas of professional, economic, and cultural activities are likely to result in a larger degree of presence and prominence on their part in the various spheres of life in Israel. Indeed, Persian-born immigrants and their children have risen to some very high positions of prominence and public recognition, particularly over the last two decades. Among the more outstanding and nationally known figures of Persian origin in present-day Israel mention should be made particularly of the following: Mr. Moshe Katsav, the former President of the State of Israel (elected in 2000). Born in Yazd in 1945, Mr. Katsav immigrated to Israel with his parents in 1951. Among his numerous elected and appointed positions on behalf of the Likud party, he served as a member of the Israeli Parliament for seven consecutive terms (1977-2000), as minister of labor and welfare (1984-1988), transportation (1988-1992), and tourism, and deputy prime minister (1996-1999). The current defense minister, Lt. General Shaul Mofaz, was born in Isfahan in 1948 and immigrated to Israel with his parents in 1957. Enlisted in the Israeli army in 1966, his long military career peaked with his appointment as deputy chief and chief of the joint military staff (in 1997 and 1998, respectively). As a member of the governing Likud party, General Mofaz joined the Israeli cabinet as minister of defense in November 2002. No less impressive in his military rank and professional career has been Lt. General Dan Halutz, the current chief of the joint military staff. Born in Tel-Aviv in 1948 to a family of mixed Persian-Iraqi background (his father immigrated from Shiraz to the British-controlled Palestine in 1936), Dan Halutz was enlisted in the Israeli army in 1966. Trained as a combat-pilot in the Israeli air force, he pursued his military career in numerous operational and command capacities. He was appointed as commander in chief of the air force (April 2000) and was subsequently promoted to the position of deputy chief of staff (in July 2004) and chief of staff (in June 2005). A rather similar successful military career characterizes also Major General Eitan Ben Eliyahu, a former commander in chief of the Israeli air force (July 1996-April 2000). Born in Jerusalem in 1944 to a family of immigrants from Persia and Macedonia (his father immigrated from Hamadān to Palestine in 1921), he began his military service in 1962. He was trained also as a combat pilot and, following numerous combat and command positions, was promoted to the rank of Major General (April 1995) and served as commander in chief of the air force (July 1996-April 2000). Among the descendants of Iranian-born immigrants in Israel who have occupied prominent official positions over the last two decades reference should also be made to Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi Doro, scholar of Jewish law and the former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel (1993-2003). He was born in Safed in 1941 to parents who had immigrated to Mandatory Palestine from Shiraz; he served as chief Sephardic rabbi of the city of Bat-Yam in 1972 and was appointed to the prestigious position of chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel in 1993. Among the important but nationally less known individuals who made significant contributions in the areas of scholarship and public and communal leadership mention should be made particularly of the late Ezra Sion Melammed (b. Shiraz, 1903; d. Jerusalem, 1994), the distinguished scholar of biblical and rabbinic studies; rabbi, scholar, poet, and Zionist leader, Rabbi Menahem Ha-Levy (b. Hamadān 1884; d. Jerusalem, 1940); and a leader of the Persian community in Jerusalem during the first half of the 20th century, Mr. Raphael Haim Ha-Cohen (b. Shiraz 1883; d. Jerusalem 1954). Among the younger generation of Persian extraction in Israel who have established themselves on a national level we should point particularly to the highly popular singer and performer known by her first name as Rita (b. Tehran 1962), who immigrated to Israel in 1970, and the gifted writer and novelist Dorit Rabinyan (b. Israel in 1972 to Persian parents). The author of the two acclaimed Hebrew novels, entitled The Almonds Alley in Omrijan (pub. in 1994) and Our Weddings (1999), Rabinyan’s novels incorporate Persian and Jewish-Persian cultural and literary elements.
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Originally Published: December 15, 2007
Last Updated: April 5, 2012
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