The Revolution’s Forgotten Sons and Daughters: The Jewish Community in Tehran during the 1979 Revolution

Lior Sternfeld. Iranian Studies. Volume 47, Issue 6. 2014.

The 1979 revolution in Iran was one of the most popular revolutions of the twentieth century. It was supported by all the classes of Iranian society, and crossed social strata, positions, and religious affiliations. A lot is known about the participation of different parts, such as students, urban professionals, religious leaders, bazaaris, and leftists, yet little is known about the participation of Jews in the revolutionary movements. This article sheds light on a little-known event in the life of the Jewish Iranian community and seeks to tell the story of different segments of the Jewish community during the tremulous years of the “Islamic Revolution.” This article examines two main arenas in which the Jews facilitated the revolution—the Society of Jewish Iranian Intellectuals, and the Sapir Charity Hospital in Tehran—and seeks to draw attention to the minorities’ contribution to the most important national revolution in Iran.

During the anti-shah upheavals in 1978, the protestors wounded in clashes while calling for the establishment of an Islamic Republic found sanctuary in a rather surprising place: most of them fled to the Sapir Hospital (Bimarestan-e Sapir), the Jewish hospital in Tehran. The participants in the demonstrations knew that, unlike the government hospitals, the Jewish hospital would treat them well, and, above all, would not turn them over to the shah’s notorious secret service, SAVAK (Sazman-e Ettela’at va Amniyat-e Keshvar). This apparatus became widely known thanks to the close collaboration the hospital’s higher ranks had with Ayatollah Sayyed Mahmud Taleqani. Taleqani, who functioned during that time as Khomeini’s representative in Iran, was one of the most prominent and popular leaders of the revolutionary movements. Together they operated rescue teams for the protestors and succeeded in taking a meaningful part in Iran’s most significant moment in the twentieth century. The revolution was supported by most classes of Iranian society and crossed boundaries of social status, wealth, and religious affiliations. Much is known about the participation of different groups, such as students, urban professionals, religious leaders, bazaaris, and leftists, but little is known about the participation of Jews and other religious minorities in the revolutionary movements. What, then, was the part the minorities played in the revolutionary movements? This article sheds light on a little-known story in the life of the Jewish Iranian community, by telling the story of groups of Tehrani Jews during the troubled years of the “Islamic Revolution.” This article brings forth the voices of some of the participants, and tries to reflect on what they remember from the actual events. By cross-referencing to other sources, it is hoped to provide a more nuanced narrative of the Jewish involvement in the revolution.

The common narrative holds that the Pahlavi era was the golden era for religious minorities in Iran, including Jews. Iranian nationalism at that time revolved around cultural roots, language, ethnicity, and western-style secularism, which at least in theory allowed non-Muslim Iranians full membership in the national project. The Jewish community did indeed flourish under the Pahlavi regime. Many Jews became high-ranking bureaucrats, industrialists, and merchants, amassed wealth, and climbed the social ladder. They were overrepresented in universities and professional organizations and allowed to practice their faith openly. They also maintained many communal institutions such as schools, synagogues, newspapers, and hospitals. Nevertheless, it was the earlier constitutional revolution that had created a civic basis for participation that enabled the minorities a certain degree of assimilation.

David Menashri, a prominent scholar of Iran and Iranian Jewry, notes:

[Jews] were overrepresented among the country’s student population and university faculty body, among medical doctors and other professionals. Although there were people of low income among them, the vast majority could be defined as middle class, or upper middle class. Some became very rich, taking full advantage of the freedom granted to them to reform programs, and the growing oil income.

In his 1985 research, David Sitton provided agreeable numbers, that appeared repeatedly later on: “in 1979 2 of the 18 members of the Royal Academy of Sciences, 80 of the 4,000 university lecturers, and 600 of the 10,000 physicians in Iran were Jews … the overwhelming majority of Jews were middle class, 10 percent were wealthy and another 10 percent were impoverished.”

While much has been written about other groups’ activities during the Islamic Revolution, little has been written about the activities of the Jewish community. As Haggai Ram explains, Jewish Iranian history has been continuously written from within the Zionist paradigm. Much of the scholarship regarding Iranian Jewry was written by Israelis, or Jews of Iranian descent with a connection to Israel, with some notable exceptions. Some wrote from their personal experience, and most did not write in Iran. While this scholarship provides important information about some aspects of Jewish life in Iran, it often looks at the community as an isolated entity in the Iranian sphere that came in contact with no one (with the exception of pogroms), affected no one, and was influenced by no one. Therefore, much of the scholarly work is embedded within Zionist perceptions, which is manifested through the belief that “the Jewish state is the only place where non-European Jews could escape a bitter fate.” Because of this, at times they fail to acknowledge facts and stories that do not comply with the Jewish Zionist paradigm of history. This study is not attempting to overturn the meta-narrative regarding the Iranian revolution by attributing the event to Jewish involvement; rather it seeks to reveal an angle that has thus far developed.

The existing scholarship about the Jewish community in Iran has consistently portrayed a socially and culturally integrated community that mostly refrained from political activism during the golden age of Mohammad Reza Shah. These conclusions rely heavily on anecdotal evidence provided by Iranian Jews themselves: “We did not have time or interest to deal with politics. Politics could harm our existence in Iran, and so we avoided doing it,” says Cyrus, an Iranian-Jewish businessman. There are only a handful of academic books and articles that suggest Jewish involvement in the Iranian political sphere, and this involvement was usually portrayed as being in support of the monarchy and the broader Jewish community. However, Jewish individuals and organizations were involved in the revolutionary events of 1977-79 as well, most importantly the Association of Jewish Iranian Intellectuals (Jame‘eh-ye rowshanfekran-e kalimi-ye Iran—AJII) and the Sapir Hospital (Bimarestan-e Sapir).

As far as sources are concerned regarding the Association of Jewish Iranian Intellectuals and the Jewish Charity hospital in Tehran, my research is based on interviews with high-ranking hospital officials, newspaper articles, and interviews with the family of Dr. Sapir, who established the hospital. AJII’s newspaper Tamuz, whose publication began in July 1979, contains a wealth of historical information largely untapped by scholars. Tamuz was printed in Tehran but also touched on matters concerning Jewish issues elsewhere. Many intellectuals contributed to Tamuz, including prominent non-Jewish figures, and while the core of the Association of Jewish Iranian Intellectuals was Marxist, the editorial staff made an effort to relate traditional Jewish values to those of the revolution. The newspaper covered Jewish holidays and put them in a revolutionary and all-Iranian context. The aim was to create content that would unite the different Jewish communities in Iran and generate a basis for dialogue with the nascent Islamic Iranian identity.

The Center of Iranian Jewish Oral History has published numerous scholarly works on the historical Iranian Jewish community, but few of those articles deal with the period 1977-79. David Menashri’s article in Esther’s Children discusses some of the key figures on the Jewish political scene that were involved in the Iranian revolution. He explains that at the time of the revolution, the Jewish community was closely associated with the shah’s regime. He cites a struggle over the leadership of the community between the old guard and a “group of young intellectuals with generally antimonarchical and leftist tendencies,” namely the Association of Jewish Iranian Intellectuals.

In the same collection, Shirin Daghighian argues that the first collaborations between the Jews and the leftist movements in Iran started in the wake of Reza Shah’s growing sympathies towards Nazi Germany: “A common enemy and identity between the plight of Jews and Marxists thus provided the logistics for these Jewish intellectuals’ affinity with the ideologies of the leftist movement in Iran.” According to Daghighian, Marxism competed successfully with the diverse ideologies flourishing in Iran and was relevant for Jews, Zionism, and Iranian nationalism. “Jewish Iranian intellectuals,” she adds, “for the most part, gravitated towards the leftist movement.” Daghighian stresses the anti-Zionist stance adopted by Jewish intellectuals, which was well-received by their Muslim counterparts. It should be mentioned, however, that there was no “organized left” until the establishment of the Tudeh party in 1941.

Eliz Sanasarian suggests a narrative different than Daghighian’s. She underscores the changes that occurred in Jewish Iranian identity during the reign of Muhammad Reza Shah. She finds that Jews underwent a rapid “Iranianization” process under the shah that reduced the appeal of Zionism and Judaism and presented opportunities for Jews to advance socially.

Amnon Netzer was one of the only historians to deal in depth with the political trends in the Iranian Jewish community. In much of his research he traced organizations and societies that deviated from the will of the Jewish establishment. Especially telling is his writing on the Association of Jewish Iranian Intellectuals.

A few memoirs of political activists contribute to our understanding of the political dimension of Jewish life in Iran as well. However, they are incomplete and often lack a general historical context. The Center for Iranian Jewish Oral History has conducted and collected numerous interviews with leaders of the Jewish community over the years. These interviews shed some light on the complexity of the Jewish politics but refrain from presenting “subversive” narratives.

Revolutionary Jewish Organization: Jame‘eh-ye rowshanfekran-e kalimi-ye Iran

During the protests of the 1970s, while Tudeh party activity had been outlawed, two Jewish activists, Harun Parviz Yesha’ya and ‘Aziz Daneshrad, were jailed for anti-monarchy activity. After serving their time, they turned to political activity within the Jewish community. Loyal to their leftist tendencies and religious identity, they gathered a dozen like-minded comrades and established the most significant Jewish organization in late 1970s Iran: the AJII. This organization’s significance is threefold. First, it organized the Jews under a Jewish ethnic banner to engage in revolutionary activity. Second, in 1978 it challenged the old guard leadership of the community, which was mostly identified with the shah’s regime and had connections with Zionist organizations, and managed to gain control of the Jewish establishment. And third, its weekly publication Tamuz, named after the Hebrew month of July, rapidly became a magazine with a high circulation that aspired to be a bridge between the Jewish community and the Iranian people. As mentioned before, there were overlaps in some of the individuals’ affiliations, and so the “association” became the main venue for leftist Jewish activists.

In an article celebrating the third anniversary of AJII, a Tamuz editorial outlined the contribution of the organization to the Jewish involvement in the revolution:

From the beginning of the year 1357 [1978] a group of the Iranian Jews has participated in the great movement against imperialism and dictatorship. From the very beginning we tried to collaborate with the revolutionaries, especially the Muslim clerics in different levels, and we have done this work ever since. And at last in the month of Shahrivar 1357 [August 1978] a Jewish group joined the protest for the first time under an Iranian-Jewish banner, and this group, in the month of Azar 1357 [November 1978], met with the late Ayatollah Taleqani, and announced the[ir] common goals.

Indeed, the AJII was formed to show Jewish discontent with the monarchial regime. They attempted to engage with subversive activity by collaborating with Muslim-Iranian activists (most notably with Ayatollah Taleqani): “We formed this group in order to show the rest of the people in Iran that we Jews were not woven from a different fabric of society than other Iranians, but that we also supported [the new government’s professed] goals for democracy and freedom,” says Sa‘id Banayan, one of the association’s founding fathers. The AJII became the most vocal supporter of the revolution among the Jewish community. Hushang, a prominent figure in the AJII and the Jewish community during the revolution, added: “AJII was the most important Jewish organization during the revolution. At the core of it were left-leaning intellectuals and students, and later many other Jews joined in.” The organization was established in March 1978. Its inception came when the revolutionary events were already unfolding, and immediately this group began collaborating with other rebelling factions. Initially, the Jewish community did not welcome the new AJII leadership and tried to prevent them from gaining influence in the Anjoman, the traditional community organization. However, after the elections for the Anjoman’s council in March 1978, the new AJII leadership succeeded in establishing a “revolutionary” committee to run Jewish affairs. Some AJII members had served time in the shah’s prisons during previous turmoil where they had become acquainted with other political dissidents who were later involved in the revolutionary movements. The most significant relationship was with Khomeini’s close ally, the popular thinker and a chief ideologist of the revolution, Ayatollah Sayyed Mahmud Taleqani.

The AJII saw indifference, separatism, and corruption as the main obstacles to advancement within the Jewish community. In order to win the hearts and minds of the Jews, the association invested in many activities that correlated with their ideals; as mentioned above, that was the beginning of Tamuz as a weekly publication. The association sponsored activities with Muslim activists during the revolution and established a lecture series hosted in local synagogues featuring presentations by secular Muslim advocates of the revolution and high-ranking clerics that were deeply involved in the revolution. For example, Hedayatollah Matin-Daftari, one of the National Front’s leaders, came to talk about the importance for Jews to integrate into the revolution and participate in building a new Iranian society.

The official AJII bylaws are contained in a fascinating document. The text reflects hybrid identities that were, in many ways, unique to Iran. Sentiments of nationalism, radical socialism, all mixed with Muslim and Jewish religiosity. Some of the articles in the AJII bylaws express this approach. Article 3, for example, reads: “[We encourage] active participation in the social life of the Iranian people, and the creation of a Jewish society that will struggle shoulder to shoulder with our Iranian brothers for the ultimate victory of the revolution and the building of a free and progressive Iran.” Article 4: “efforts to preserve the fruits of the revolution of the Iranian people in regards of the social and personal rights and including those of the Iranian Jews in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Article 5: “war against imperialism, and any form of colonialism, including Zionism, and revealing the relationship between Zionism and world’s imperialism. War against any sort of racial discrimination, racism, and anti-Semitism.” Article 6: “adopting to the new reality in Iran, by enjoying all the opportunities to have better conditions to religious and cultural life and welfare of the Iranian Jews.”

Sapir Charity Hospital, the Revolution, and Ayatollah Taleqani

One of the revolution’s most astonishing—and untold—stories is that of the Jewish charity hospital in Tehran, Dr. Sapir Hospital. Sapir Hospital was crucial to the lives of several revolutionaries. At that time, there were only a handful of governmental hospitals in Tehran, the University of Tehran Hospital and the Imperial Medical Center being the most prominent among them. In 1978, when the pace of the demonstrations rose and grew increasingly violent, wounded protestors turned to Tehran’s hospitals to receive treatment. But there they risked being turned away or handed over to SAVAK. This was less likely at the Sapir Hospital, which came to serve as a sanctuary of sorts.

The hospital’s values and mission originated in the life and death of a Jewish physician, Dr. Ruhollah Sapir. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Dr. Sapir worked as a physician in one of Tehran’s government hospitals. The story goes that one day he saw a pregnant Jewish patient treated badly and insulted for her faith and decided to open his own hospital where no one would ever be turned away or discriminated against for any reason. Sapir opened a small clinic in a side room in one of the synagogues in the Mahalleh, the Jewish quarter, and started seeing patients for free. He sustained himself and his operations through family funds and contributions from Jewish donors. He named the hospital after Cyrus the Great, Kurosh-e Kabir, known in the Jewish tradition as the Persian monarch who liberated the Jews.

The hospital admitted growing numbers of patients and subsequently moved to a larger building. Dr. Sapir repeatedly announced to all that this was not exclusively a Jewish hospital, and indeed many Muslim patients came there to receive free treatment. In the early 1940s, typhus appeared in Iran, and Sapir was infected and died. After his death, his hospital was run by the Jewish community, which preserved Sapir’s legacy, offering good quality care indiscriminately and free of charge. The sign at the entrance to the hospital captured its philosophy. In two languages, Hebrew and Persian, the guest is welcomed with the biblical verse: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (“Ve’ahavta le’reacha kamocha”; “hamnow‘at ra mesl-e khodet dust bedar”). This legacy proved crucial during the events of 1977-79.

Some of the senior officials in the hospital were involved to some extent in the AJII, sympathized with its causes, and assisted the revolutionaries for various reasons. Gad Naim, who was part of the AJII leadership and a senior administrator in Sapir hospital, Doctor Manuchehr Aliyasi, who was also among the hospital’s senior staff and a AJII sympathizer, and Harun Parviz Yesha’ya, who was among the founders of AJII and Tamuz and became the hospital director after the revolution, were part of the group that facilitated the work of the revolutionaries.

On 8 September 1978, mass demonstrations erupted in Tehran. The shah sent the army to deal with the protesters by shooting live ammunition at the crowd. This event became known as “Black Friday” and coincided with the active involvement of the hospital in the scheme of events. “That Friday the head nurse, Ms. Farangis Hasidim, called me and told me that they are bringing many casualties to the hospital,” recalls Dr. Jalali, one of the senior officials in Sapir Hospital at that time. “I drove to the hospital but the Zhaleh [avenue] was blocked, so I went by foot and there was shooting [ … ] since I was friendly with the ambulance services people, almost ninety percent of the injured people came to Sapir hospital, where we treated all of them in our four surgery rooms.” At this point Dr. Jalali indicates the growing involvement of Ayatollah Taleqani and his personal relationship with him, which proved to be essential later on: “Five months prior to the revolution [Following ‘Black Friday’] I had a building next to my office, I dedicated it to ‘help group of Taleqani,’ Goruh-e emdad-e Taleqani [ … ]. After ‘Black Friday’ he called me and told me how he appreciated all the humanitarian work we did there. And yes, everybody knew about it.”

Goruh-e emdad-e Taleqani became an important means of first response to the wounded protestors in the big cities, especially Tehran. According to the Iranian press there were two first response groups subordinated to Taleqani. They had a relatively large staff of volunteering physicians, nurses, ambulances, and other staff, and their contribution to the continuity of the protests cannot be overrated.

The acquaintance of Taleqani with Jewish leaders in Tehran extends beyond his friendship with Dr. Jalali. Upon Taleqani’s release from prison, a group of prominent Jewish figures went to visit him and stayed in close contact with him until his death in 1979.

On 11 December 1978, one of the largest demonstrations against the shah took place in Tehran. According to the newspapers it was a “demonstration of millions,” and is still known as a milestone in the struggle against the shah’s regime. It was record setting in regard to Jewish participation in the revolution as well; according to some sources, 5,000 Jews participated in these protests. Other estimates were much higher. Hushang, a long-time leftist activist in the Jewish community, was among the organizers of the massive Jewish appearance that day: “According to press reports close to twelve thousand Jews participated in these protests that day,” Hushang says. “The Jewish religious leaders marched in the front row and the rest of the Jews followed them, showing great solidarity with our Iranian compatriots.” The religious leadership sided with the young radical group, and in a sense “legitimized” them. “From the first days of the revolution we had considerable support from religious leaders. Hakham Yedidya Shofet, Hakham Uriel Davidi, Rabbi David Shofet, Hakham Yosef Hamadani Cohen, and others attended and supported [ … ] other key figures were Parviz Yesha’ya, ‘Aziz Daneshrad, Ya‘qub Barkhordar, Hushang Melamed, Dr. Manuchehr Aliyasi, and Ms. Farangis Hasidim, all played a major role,” Hushang says. According to him, the activities of AJII helped to reduce tensions between the Muslim majority and the Jewish minority.

Sapir Hospital’s personnel were also well prepared for the events of ‘Ashura day. “That morning they called me from Madraseh-ye ‘Alavi [a leading opposition institution at the time of the revolution] and asked to keep all the staff and doctors for the day. I received seventy or eighty percent of the injured from all over the city. All of them went either to Sapir, Kurosh-e Kabir as it was called back then, or the Imperial Medical Center, this situation lasted for seventy-two hours,” recalls Dr. Jalali.

In its second issue, Tamuz published a two-page story titled “Sapir Hospital during the Revolution” (Bimarestan-e Sapir dar jarayan-e enqelab) that told the story of the services provided by Sapir Hospital to the revolutionaries: “In the turbulent months of our revolution, Kurosh-e Kabir hospital, which after the revolution was named after Dr. Sapir, became one of the places that, through taking personal risks for the sake of the revolution, treated and facilitated the revolution.” The article cites anecdotes from senior hospital officials, such as the head nurse, Farangis Hasidim, who, speaking about the events of Black Friday and ‘Ashura, said, “This day unfolded in unexpected ways. I went to see a rebel that arrived with a bullet injury in his leg and he was bleeding. I immediately took him to the surgery room. I had not finished treating him, when another patient came in, and every minute more and more injured arrived. For many hours the hospital looked like the frontlines of a war zone.” The hospital staff also had to cope with the shah’s security officers who came to search for rebels in hiding: “One day we heard great noise from the hospitals back yard and I saw myriad of people in uniform and plain clothes [i.e. secret police] looking for rebels [ … ] for twenty-four hours guards circled the hospital, but we did not hand them anyone.”

The hospital was equally prepared for the events of Tasu‘a and ‘Ashura, which occurred on 10-11 December 1978. “During the Tasu‘a and ‘Ashura the entire hospital staff stayed in the hospital for more than twenty-four hours. The hospital’s ambulances cruised the streets to pick wounded protesters and bring them to the hospital to get treatment.”

In late 1978 a delegation of the Jewish community went to Paris to meet the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The tacit purpose of this trip was to ensure the Jews would not be regarded as enemies of the revolution but rather as its supporters. This meeting was the first of many between the Jewish leadership and Khomeini. Shortly after, the hospital received its first recognition from Khomeini: “For this reason [the humanitarian help] Imam Khomeini, before his return to Iran, had sent a letter of gratitude to the director of the hospital, recognizing his help and support for the wounded revolutionaries,” said Dr. Moreh-Sedegh, one of the hospital’s founders. In an interview he described the assistance that was given to the revolutionaries, and confirmed, once again, the story of the shah’s army siege in 1978.

After the installation of the new regime the hospital found itself in the midst of a controversy. “One night after the revolution they called me to tell that a group of people from the regime came and changed the name of the hospital to ‘Khosrow Golesorkhi Hospital.’ A member of the left, Golesorkhi had been executed by the shah. It took us a long time, together with Parviz Yesha’ya to change it back to ‘Dr. Sapir Hospital.’” Simin, Dr. Sapir’s niece, explained how they petitioned the government to have the name changed to Dr. Sapir: “I collected evidence from people that got treatment in the hospital, collected newspaper stories, letters from clerics about the hospital during the revolution, and gave it to them in a big box. After a short discussion they pronounced him a Shahid, and ordered to have the name changed to Dr. Sapir Hospital.” This episode of the name change became significant as it left the hospital management in the hands of the Jewish community and acknowledged the role the hospital had during the revolution.

Post-Revolution Dilemmas (1979-83)

On 13 February 1979, upon Khomeini’s return to Iran, the Jews went en masse to show support for the revolution and to welcome the country’s new leader. Yet if there was any hope for Iranian Jewish-Muslim reconciliation, it was quickly snuffed out. On 9 May 1979 one of the community’s philanthropists and leaders, Habib Elqanian, was executed after being accused of spying for Israel and acting against Islam and the revolution. Many suspected that Elghanian had been framed and feared that a new era of persecution against Iran’s Jewish population had begun. These suspicions did not leave the Jewish supporters of the revolution indifferent, and many felt betrayed by their Muslim compatriots. Three days later, a small delegation, led by Hakham Yedidya Shofet, traveled to Qom to meet Ayatollah Khomeini.

This meeting was widely reported by the Iranian media. It was a successful meeting during which some ground rules regarding the relationship between the Muslim majority and the Jewish minority were established. Khomeini made a distinction between Judaism and Zionism, allegedly ending the widespread speculation that all Jews were undercover Zionist agents. “We consider the Jewish community to be non-Zionist,” heralded the title of the nationally distributed newspaper Ettela‘at.

A detailed article in Ettela‘at reported that a Jewish delegation came to meet the imam in Qom, citing the mutual proclamations of the Jewish leaders and Khomeini. Dr. Jalali was also among those leaders. In his proclamation, Khomeini acknowledged the deep roots of the Jewish community in Iran, underscored the elements of monotheism present in both Judaism and Islam, and distinguished between Zionism and Judaism: “We know that the Iranian Jews are not Zionist. We [and the Jews] together are against Zionism [ … ] they [the Zionists] are not Jews! They are politicians that claim to work in the name of Judaism, but they hate Jews [ … ] the Jews, as the other communities, are part of Iran, and Islam treats them all fairly.”

The following day, Elghanian’s execution and the meeting of the Jewish leaders with Khomeini were still in the headlines of the newspapers. Ettela‘at‘s editorial on 14 May discussed the harm Zionists were doing to the Iranian Jews. “The Zionists are shedding crocodile tears over the Iranian Jews,” the headline of the article announced. “The truth is that the Muslim community in Iran has never had a dispute with its Jewish brothers, and their collaboration during our protest and revolution against the dictatorial regime, is one example of this.” In addition, the author singled out Israel as having double standards, pretending to care for the Jews while profiting politically when they suffer.

The cooperation between the hospital and the AJII was reaffirmed in early 1982. The AJII held weekly meetings open to the public, which often included a guest lecture, on either revolutionary topics or Jewish topics during the Jewish high holidays. In January 1982, the executive board of Sapir Hospital came to participate in the weekly meeting. The next day’s issue of Tamuz reported on the visit, depicting the recent history of the hospital and their plans for the future. Dr. Mansur Sharim, the director of the hospital at that time, said that, as always, Sapir Hospital continued to serve the Iranian people regardless of their faith.

Chaos quickly ensued again with the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war. During the war, the AJII was committed once again to connecting the Jewish community, especially the younger generation, to the ideals of the revolution. They published articles encouraging the community’s youth to engage in political activity or join the combating forces. Relying on the blood-covenant that was established during the revolution, the authors of several articles called on the young Jews to help in the new struggle: “Jewish Iranian youth, before and after 22 Bahman 1357, joined their [Muslim] compatriots in the struggle against the shah’s regime, and in this way sacrificed [members] for the revolution. After the victory of the Islamic revolution and the stabilizing of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Jewish youth has to go again to the field and participate with its Muslim brothers and sisters in the holy war against Iraq.”


The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a popular revolution. It encompassed all strata of Iranian society, regardless of education, religion, vocation, or economic class, excluding the political elite. The Jewish community was mostly divided in its stance towards the revolution. On the one hand, they possessed a great deal of freedom under Pahlavi. On the other hand, many of them were members of the professional unions and truly sympathized with their fellow revolutionaries. The AJII led the way among Jewish revolutionary sympathizers. This point in time became a watershed moment in the Jewish history of Iran. For the first time Jews acted in an organized way to support a national cause which exceeded the narrow goals of the community. Not all of those who aided the revolution did so on ideological grounds. As Doctor Jalali said, many acted in the name of universal humanitarian values and personal relationships.

The contribution of the minorities to the revolution remained somewhat obscured, partly because of desire of the key figures not to attract too much attention to the seemingly vulnerable community in Iran. Nevertheless, they played a part in the Islamic Revolution, and thus Iranian history.