MOSCOW — Organizers here of a trip for 15 Iranian Jewish women to Russia say they hope the visit will lead to contacts between the Jewish communities in both countries.
“We have not had any contacts with Iranian Jews,” said Adolph Shayevich, one of Russia’s two chief rabbis. “We have heard various rumors lately, that there is no Jewish community in Iran, that things are bad for Jews there. We are happy to see it for ourselves that this isn’t the whole truth.”
The delegation is made up of the 15 members of a women’s amateur folk dance group that came to Moscow last week to take part in the Light a Candle Jewish children’s arts festival. The trip was a rare group visit abroad for Iranian Jews, who live in an Islamic community virulently opposed to Israel — and they visited Russia, where Jews lived under tight restrictions until the fall of communism.
The Iranians — aged 14 to 30 — came to Russia thanks to diplomatic efforts by Arkady Gaidamak, a Russian Jewish leader and businessman, and with a special permit from the Iranian authorities.
Russia is a major supplier of nuclear technology to Iran, which is currently under strong international pressure to halt its supposed nuclear weapons program.
In addition to general tourist sites, the delegation visited a synagogue and a Jewish day school in Moscow, as well as the Jewish community of Yaroslavl.
The women were expected to be joined by Harun Yeshayaie, chairman of the Iranian Jewish community, but the leader had to cancel his visit at the last minute because of health reasons, according to members of the delegation.
All members of the group live in the capital of Tehran, which is home to 15,000 Jews, the majority of the estimated 25,000 Jews who live in the Islamic Republic.
This is only a fraction of the 100,000-strong community that lived in Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But the Jewish women who visited Russia said their community has a future in Iran — despite the militant anti-Zionism of Tehran’s current political regime.
“After the revolution, problems began for the community,” said Elham Abaei, 30, the leader of the group that came to Russia.
Abaei, who runs the Iranian Jewish community’s Web site, www.iranjewish.com, said the community has adjusted to the political and social climate.
“We can now run cultural and religious but not political activities,” she said, referring to anything related to Israel.
Privately, some women said it is impossible for Jews to enter some sectors of the government, but they said they did not want leave Iran.
Abaei said her parents were too old to leave, and generally those who stay in Iran after all those years feel comfortable there.
“There are no ghettos, you can live your life,” she said.
She said that some Jews “were slightly offended” over the Iranian president’s remarks denying the Holocaust. Still, she added, while some Jews disagree that the Holocaust was a myth, they are inclined to think the number of Jewish Nazi victims may be “an exaggeration.”
The main problem the community has, she said, is a lack of rabbis and teachers of Judaism.