A Minyan Enters Tehran

Guest post by Cascadian, a Jews in the Woodser who is presently on a Fellowship of Reconciliation trip to Iran. We’ll be guest posting much of his trip correspondence as he relates his first-hand impressions of the country the Jews presently love to hate. (His first paragraph is so noteworthy because last time he entered Israel, security held him for something like 12 hours.)

Last night, around 3 am in Tehran, I was accepted through passport security at the airport. The hassles didn’t turn out to be much; we didn’t get our bags searched, not even fingerprinted. The officer who was in charge of the x-ray machine wasn’t even looking at the screen as our bags filtered through.
 
As the plane landed, women covered their heads, many halfheartedly. The line of acceptability has been effectively challenged and blurred by the generation of modern women in Tehran; for some the hijab is halfway back on their heads, revealing plenty of hair, clearly stating “I’m just doing this ‘cus I have to.” This next to a handful of women, who are authentically observing the religious tradition.

We were met at the airport by the Iranian organizer of our trip along with our bus driver, and a man from an interreligious dialogue organization here in Tehran. We cheered as we made it through the doors and out to our waiting 26-passenger bus– with ONLYGOD written in big letter on the windshield. The bus seems like the Iranian equivalent of a hippie bus.
 
I came with a group of 14 people, intent on visiting Iran, and exploring the people and culture in a quick 10 days through the lens of “Interfaith Peace Dialogue.” Ten of us are Jewish, two of whom are rabbis, plus another in rabbinical school. It’s the largest group of Jews ever to be hosted in Iran in recent history, which is particularly significant since Iran has the second largest population of Jews in the middle east (somewhere around 20 thousand), and the ability to create these types of exchanges are vital to maintaining the integrity of the fabric of our cultures.
 
What a trip! So far, I’ve mostly spent time getting to know the other participants: activists from CodePink, AJWS/Teva, AFSC, Brit Tzedek/Rabbis for Human Rights, many more. We have the leader of an order of Franciscan monks with us. One guy is pushing within the conservative movement to have anti-war ideas accepted (small gov’t.) And the executive director of the organization who organized the trip: the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
 
We’ve engaged in some text study, comparing Muslim and Jewish writings relating to the necessity of engaging in social justice. We usually start meals with a variety of prayers. We incorporate Quaker-inspired silence in many situations.
 
It’s a strange time to be in Iran, especially as a Jew. With ramped up hostility pointing in Iran’s direction from Israel, with the Jewish lobby pushing the presidential candidates to prove their fidelity to the jewish people by claiming hawkish positions on Iran, with Ahmadinejad speaking with groups in the United States. At one event, a CodePink organizer asked the Iranian president why they couldn’t get visas, and several days later they were packed and heading on planes to Iran to network and build a peace alongside Iranian women.
 
Before leaving the FOR headquarters in Nyack, NY, a couple of other delegates helped me to ritually cut my peyos, which I do before going to Palestine, and which I decided to do for coming to Iran as well. I’ve switched my “settler kipah” (big American one) for a smaller, more modest and colorful one that stays on my head with a bobby pin. And so far, I’ve decided to wear it inside the hotel where our group is staying, and keep it in my back-pocket in general public.
 
As far as safety goes out here, it’s slightly bewildering, and I have a weak sense of what is, and is not, acceptable. For the most part, I’ve been struck by how versatile, modern, middle class, intellectual many people are here. People strike me as open-minded, possessing subtle understandings of the world, and hoping to be met with similar openness.
 
What’s this? Shabbat is calling! I must go.
For the World, Shabbat shalom,

[Cascadian]

Filed under Bleeding Hearts, Iran, Travel

9 Responses to “A Minyan Enters Tehran”

  1. Cascadian, I look forward to hearing more about this amazing trip. Thanks for sharing with us!


    feygele · November 28th, 2008 at 11:18 am
  2. “the country the Jews presently love to hate”

    You make it sound as if Jews just chose a target for hate and Iran is “IT.” Iran is the country whose leadership Jews presently fears, due to the numerous threats by said leadership.


    LB · November 28th, 2008 at 10:32 pm
  3. But do you have the courage to speak up against Iran’s oppression of Bahais? The Bahai faith is the largest minority faith in Iran, but its holy sites and cemeteries are being destroyed, and its followers aren’t even allowed to attend university.


    Little Human · November 29th, 2008 at 7:32 pm
  4. What’s with the brutal oppression of minorities, the reckless killing of teenagers according to ‘sharia’ law, the state-funded terrorism against other countries?

    [Editor's note: The final sentence of this comment has been deleted. Jewschool's editorial committee reminds commentors that our code of conduct prohibits ad hominem attacks. We can't catch every minor incident, but extreme cases will definitely be removed.]


    david · November 30th, 2008 at 9:52 am
  5. sounds like youre dreaming. did you forget to mention that the iranian president, in addition to “talking to groups in the united states” is still threatening the state of israel and denying the holocaust?
    im all for cross cultural understanding, but don’t forget who you’re dealing with in the government there and how they are using you and other groups in the united states to pretend they are interested in dialogue…this post comes off as quite naive.
    and, while you’re there, try to figure out why jews are still slowly leaking out of iran and ending up in israel. try to really find out if things are as wonderful as they are made out to be by the government for the jewish minority.


    tommy · November 30th, 2008 at 12:57 pm
  6. Little Human, david and tommy have committed a classical Jewish prejudice regarding Iran: they have confused Iranians with Ahmadinejad, religious orthodoxy with everday worshippers, and a government administration with taxpayers. Because Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier and regional warmongerer could never — NEVER — implicate all Iranians.

    Really, the last couple commentors have underscored the very purpose of Cascadian’s amazing and incredibly brave trip. Against a Jewish mythos which claims that Jews will lynched in the streets, Cascadian is taking a potentially life-threatening chance doing what most Jews would never do: see if for themselves. It behooves us to hear everything about his trip, simply to honor the risks he may (or may not) be taking in cross-cultural dialogue.

    To LB — by “love to hate” I’m commenting on the seeming excitment that Jews enjoy at having an easily-identifiable source of anti-Semitism against which to justify all our paranoia. Pointing fingers would seem to be our people’s central past time.


    Kung Fu Jew · November 30th, 2008 at 9:35 pm
  7. [...] want to paraphrase what I said to commentors in the initial installment of guest poster Cascadian’s travelogue to Iran. Immediately, comments appeared committing a classic Jewish prejudice regarding Iran: because [...]


    Shabbat at a Tehran synagogue; a conversation with an Ayatollah | Jewschool · November 30th, 2008 at 9:57 pm
  8. I’ve committed a what now? I didn’t come here to be insulted; I’ve got other places for that, and let me tell you, their insults are much classier.

    Did you even read my post? I’m not blaming the Iranian people for anything, but I do think if you’re going to ruminate on how lovely Iran treats the Jews, you could spare a thought for the many more Iranian Bahai who wish they were treated so well.


    Little Human · December 1st, 2008 at 6:36 am
  9. You’re equivocating again. At no point did Cascadian or KFJ refer to Iran as “lovely”.

    The treatment of non-”people of the book” including Zoroastrians and Mandeans in any Muslim country is always cause for alarm.


    B.BarNavi · December 1st, 2008 at 2:01 pm

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