'We still love Iran'

In spite of it all, youn

Despite the Islamic republic's continuing threats against Israel, young Iranian Jews who made aliya in recent months still pine for their birth country and struggle to adjust to their new lives here, The Jerusalem Post heard last week. "We never really wanted to come to Israel. Our parents made us come, and we still love Iran," said 18-year-old M., who made aliya with his siblings and mother just over a year ago. "We left behind our friends and because we had to leave in secret, we could not say good-bye to them. We came here and had to start all over again here. It hasn't been easy." The four youngsters, who cannot be identified for fear of retribution against family members still in Iran, are learning Hebrew and finishing high school at Boys Town Jerusalem, a live-in yeshiva in the Bayit Vagan neighborhood that offers them mainstream schooling, religious studies and vocational training. While the four young men appreciate their newfound freedoms living in a Western, Jewish democracy, they eagerly pointed out that relations in their former communities between Jews and Muslims were, on the whole, harmonious. "There was anti-Semitism, of course," said A., the 17-year-old brother of M. Their father stayed behind to close up the family business in Yazd, which today has more than 500,000 people, and just 60 Jews. A. said his family never lived in fear, and he and his brother studied in the same school as their Muslim neighbors. "Everyone knew we were Jews," said M. "Sometimes the teachers trusted us even more than the other students just because we were Jews. They felt we would not lie to them." "It's probably more dangerous here," one of the four boys quipped. "In Israel, we are surrounded by Arabs who don't like us," explained the youngest, 16-year-old B., who arrived with his family from Shiraz in 2008. "Over there we were never scared of our neighbors, but here there are terrorist attacks." B. added that in Shiraz, a city that once bustled with Jewish life, as well as in Teheran, most young Jews do not want to leave, preferring instead to rebuild Jewish life in a country that once boasted a community of 80,000. Many Jews left Iran following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and today only about 25,000 remain. However, it is still the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside of Israel. "Jews have freedoms in Iran," opined M. "The Muslims are not allowed to drink alcohol, but we can; they are not allowed to have mixed [male and female] wedding celebrations, but the Jews can. It was only after I came here that I was told men and women cannot celebrate together at Jewish weddings." "If I was in Iran right now, I would already be at university," continued M., whose father made him leave so that he would not have to perform military service in Iran. "I came here and now I am two years behind. I spent my first year learning Hebrew and now I'm catching up with my studies." As well as eventually making it to university, M. said he wouldn't mind joining the IDF. "There are definitely more opportunities for us here," admitted B., whose Hebrew is fluent after only a year here. "There is no democracy in Iran and it was only during the recent elections that people started to hold demonstrations against the regime." On a more reflective note, he added: "There was not much difference between all the candidates' views towards the Jews, none of them really likes the Jews." Although it was emotionally difficult for the four to leave the place of their childhood, all of them said that physically, getting to Israel was no big deal. "We took a flight to Turkey and from there the Jewish Agency helped us make aliya," said N., the newest of the four immigrants, who arrived here eight months ago from Rafsanjan, a city of some 135,000 inhabitants and around 50 Jews. The four said they had to be very discrete about their immigration plans and since leaving have had very little contact with their old friends. "The government has the freedom to do whatever it wants," said M. "They listen to our phone conversations [with people in Iran] and they know everything about us even though we are no longer living there." "The Jews live fairly peacefully in Iran, but the government has a real problem with Zionism and with Israel. Once someone moves to Israel it really puts the rest of the family in Iran in danger," he said. "When we lived there we had to say all the time that we hated Israel and our community leaders had to back the government." Even though the four made aliya with one or both of their parents, Boys Town has taken them in and provides them with free education, food and accommodation for most of the week. Funded by the state and by foreign donors, Boys Town Jerusalem was founded in 1949 to provide boys from disadvantaged backgrounds with a more positive future. Today, the yeshiva also offers courses in computer science and electronics and is used as a training school by the IDF.•