Exclusive: Immigrant moves back 'home' to Teheran

"Here [in Israel], everyone is looking out for himself. You can't trust anybody."

ben yehuda st 88 (photo credit: )
ben yehuda st 88
(photo credit: )
Ishak can't wait to get "home" to Teheran. After he immigrated to Israel two years ago, said the short man with dark circles under his eyes, his life became increasingly miserable. Standing and fretting inside his empty shop on Jerusalem's Rehov Ben-Yehuda, Ishak (not his real name), a 51-year-old Jewish-Iranian who is in Israel now only for a final visit, said the jewelry shop he opened here never sold anything, the renters to whom he leased a property did not pay and his heart began to fail him from the stress of monthly mortgage payments and no income. So 10 months ago gray-haired Ishak gave up on the Zionist dream and began to move his family and belongings back to Iran. He filled some of his numerous suitcases and trunks with the Persian carpets, silverware, and home decorations he came here with, and flew to Turkey with his two sons. There they sent their new Israeli passports by express mail back to his daughter in Israel. Then they took out their Islamic Republic of Iran passports and boarded a flight to Teheran. When he arrived, his Muslim friends were incredulous. "I have a lot of Muslim friends and they all knew I'd moved to Israel," he said. "They asked me, 'Why did you come back?'" His Jewish friends in Iran already knew the answer. Despite the declaration last week by Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Israel must be wiped off the map, the Shihab missiles displayed in Teheran with "Israel" painted on them, the broadcasting of anti-Semitic films on national television and the much-publicized trials of 13 Jewish Iranians on spy charges, Ishak insists that life in Iran is far better for Jews than life in Israel. "If you have problems there, people help you - and they know you are Jewish," said Ishak, who has now briefly returned to Israel to sell his shop and leave for good. "But here, everyone is looking out for himself. You can't trust anybody." Ishak is not the only recent immigrant who prefers his Islamic birthplace to his Jewish homeland. Jerusalem's Jaffa Road and Rehov Ben-Yehuda are lined with shopkeepers originally from Iran who say they are desperate to go back - some to visit, some to live. And while most outsiders might believe that routine contact between the citizens of the two sworn enemies is impossible, in fact, not only are the phone lines between Teheran and Tel Aviv used actively, but so also are flight routes via Istanbul. Jewish Iranians travel frequently to Israel. To avoid getting the Iranians in trouble back in their home country, Israeli border authorities do not stamp entry visas into their passports. As with journalists, the entry visa is stamped on a separate slip of paper, which is later thrown away upon exit from the Zionist state. "My parents came for a visit and left two months ago," said Avi, who owns a shoe store on Jaffa Road. But the elderly couple has no intention of moving here. "The Jews there live very well," he explained. "When [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini got in power he said there is a difference between Persian Jews who are from Moussa (Moses) and Zionist Jews." Avi acknowledges that initially Jews were not allowed to travel. "No one was," he said. "But now it's no problem." Summertime is the most popular season for travel but sometimes Iranians come for just a wedding. At Avi's, all the shoe salesmen are Iranian Jews. One of them is expecting his mother-in-law back in Israel from a two-month visit to Teheran. Meanwhile, his wife speaks to her mother regularly. "My mother-in-law buys calling cards there for $10 and they speak one hour." But even more curious is the cooperation of Iranian authorities in allowing Iranian-Israelis who don't have an Iranian passport to visit the country of their birth and roots. "My uncle's cousin had not been in Iran for over 20 years," said David, who runs a gift shop on Rehov Ben-Yehuda with his brother and parents and asked that his last name not be printed because he does not want the Iranian government to know who he is. "He went to the Iranian embassy in Turkey and told them, 'I am Persian and I am now Israeli. I want to go back to Iran. If you give me a passport great, if not that's fine, too. And they gave him one,'" said David, who is considering trying the method. The 30-year-old is afraid to ask and he thinks he won't get one because he left Iran by illegally crossing the border into Pakistan some 15 years ago without a passport. But he, too, is dying to go back to Iran. "I love the country, I don't like the people," stressed the young man dressed in jeans and a black kippa who said he came to Israel because of Zionism. "I thought that here it was good. I thought that all the Jews leave their doors unlocked and no one stole. But the Israeli people are not cultured. They are rude and disrespectful. In Iran people trust each other and when they give their word they keep it. Here you need a lawyer to get anyone to keep their promise." Moussa (also not his real name) is a 42-year-old clothing salesman on Jaffa Road who came to Israel in the 1970s when he was 10. His family members own four shops along the street. Many from his family travel frequently between the two enemy states. "They come and go and do business," he said. Many of the Iranian-Israelis said that after former moderate president Muhammad Khatami got in power in 1997 the government turned a blind eye to the travel. Now some fear that may change since hardline president Ahmadinejad took over in August. "I'm scared," said Moussa. "Especially after what Ahmedinejad said. He's a new leader and he wants to show off like a peacock. We don't know what it will be like now."