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,