A brief video introduction to Iran’s Jewish community (yes, really!)

September 6, 2013

When Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif sent out tweets this week wishing "all Jews" a happy Rosh Hashanah, particularly the ones in Iran, it was big news for a few reasons.

First off, they were tweeting, though Twitter is officially banned in the country. Second, this is the first time in 10 years that an Iranian leader has reached out to the country's thousands of Jews, since then-President Mohammed Khatami visited a Tehran synagogue in 2003. Third, although Jews and Israel are obviously far from synonymous, previous Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad frequently conflated and maligned both, so it's certainly possible to see this as at least rolling back that anti-Israeli rhetoric.

And then there's the other reason the tweets got so much attention: It seemed to take some people by surprise that, yes, Iran has Jews, maybe as many as 20,000 or 25,000. There's not a whole lot written about them, but they seem to be much better off than many Americans might assume, given the anti-Semitic rhetoric from not just Ahmadinejad but many hard-line Iranians during the annual Quds Day event in Tehran.

The above video is a brief introduction to what's left of Iran's Jewish community (most of them left after the 1979 revolution), how they got there and how they're doing. For a bit more on life for Iranian Jews under Ahmadinejad, read this 2009 column by the New York Times' Roger Cohen.

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Max Fisher | September 6, 2013