Jewish and Persian Connections Mission

In response to statements emanating from the Middle East regarding nuclear threat to both the Jewish and Persian peoples, we seek to project an alternative voice on Jewish- Persian relations that disseminates knowledge about the historical and cultural ties between these two peoples, fosters friendship and openings for creative exchange, and contributes to the identity of adults and children of mixed Jewish and Persian ancestry.

Seeking Your Personal Stories and Intellectual Contributions!

Please submit your personal writings on the following topics:
a) Relationships between Persians and Jews
b) Raising a Persian Jewish child
C) Historical and/or current affairs between Persians and Jews/ Iran and Israel
D) Current Debate: Is the current conflict between Iran and Israel inherently tied into the Israeli- Palestinian conflict?

All submissions welcome including poetry, links and other recommendations. Please email any submissions to Authors are responsible for providing respectful, factually accurate, and fully citated submissions as a pre-requisite for inclusion. Articles should be a minimum of 2 paragraphs in length up to a maximum of 10 pages. Please use proper citation when referencing another writer or speaker. Assume no specific religious knowledge and explain all references to any religions. Translate all non-English words used, including Farsi, Hebrew, Arabic, Ladino or Yiddish. Writers wishing to anonymously post may use their first name only. Please send all submissions to All information outside of your submission will remain strictly confidential including your email and contact information. Thank you for your contributions!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Jewish Music in Iran

Jewish Music in Iran

An Iranian Man in Tehran playing a well known Jewish song

Musical Diplomacy at Work - Arab, Jewish and Persian musicians Team up for Performances in Chicago, Washington and Casablanca.

Brett Zongker.Associated Press. Los Angeles Times. 08/11/07(

WASHINGTON -- An ensemble of musicians usually separated by oceans and thousands of miles will perform together later this month for the first time, having until now composed music layer by layer, with sound files exchanged over the Internet.

Their goal: Show how the arts can bridge diverse cultures -- even among people who have never met in person before coming together on stage.

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A singer and instrumentalist from Afghanistan, a guitarist from Iran, a bass player from Ethiopia and drummers from Morocco are all part of the ensemble. They will accompany American Jewish tenor Alberto Mizrahi; Moroccan singer Haj Youness, who is Muslim and serves as dean of the Casablanca Conservatory of Music; and American keyboard and harmonica legend Howard Levy.

Performances are scheduled for Aug. 25 and Aug. 26 in Chicago's Lincoln Park, Aug. 27 at the Kennedy Center in Washington and later this fall in Casablanca, Morocco.

"It's just a delicious space of creativity," said Wendy Sternberg, an advocate of diplomacy through arts who organized the events as director of the Chicago-based nonprofit Genesis at the Crossroads.

"I'm very interested in not only showing that Arab and Jewish and Persian musicians can share the same stage but they can actually work together and create new art," she said. "In doing that, they make a statement that's really profound about how the world can be transformed through people collaborating."

Some experts in conflict resolution advocate interfaith dialogue or political symposiums, but Sternberg says the arts have a unique power to connect with and inspire core human values.

For the third year, Sternberg's organization is producing the outdoor food, art and music festival known as Hamsa-Fest in Chicago's Lincoln Park, named for an expression of luck from the Arabic root word for the number five (similar to the word "Hamesh" in Hebrew.)

This is the first time Genesis at the Crossroads has an ensemble that will tour around the world to promote diplomacy through the arts. The Casablanca show, still awaiting a specific date, is slated to be broadcast internationally by public radio, XM Satellite Radio and by Arab TV outlet Al Jazeera.

"What we're trying to do really is to say, in spite of our differences, that our historical sameness and music itself is a binding force between peoples," Mizrahi said. "And once musicians sit down, there is no Arab and Jew and Christian or whatever. There's just musicians."

As one of the lead performers, Mizrahi is promising a unique world sound, with the combined influences of a "jazz harmonica pianist," a Jewish cantor and jazz-influenced Middle Eastern music.

At least six different languages will be heard, including Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish and French.

Each soloist will be given moments for improvisation, Mizrahi said.

"All of a sudden you can be on a magic carpet, flying from New York from the Lower East Side to Morocco and then back over to Jerusalem and then out to jazz clubs out there in Chicago," he said. "It's going to be a travel experience in music."

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thousands march in Iran opposition protests

Nasser Karimi. Yahoo News/ Associated Press. 09/18/09.

TEHRAN, Iran – Hard-liners attacked senior pro-reform leaders in the streets as tens of thousands marched in competing mass demonstrations by the opposition and government supporters. Opposition protesters, chanting "death to the dictator," hurled stones and bricks in clashes with security forces firing tear gas.

The opposition held its first major street protests since mid-July, with marchers decked out in green — the reform movement's color — waving V-for-victory signs on major boulevards in the capital.

In some cases on several blocks away, larger crowds marched in government-sponsored rallies marking an annual anti-Israel commemoration, waving pictures of Iran's supreme leader and president and placards denouncing the Jewish state.

The commemoration, known as Quds Day, is a major political occasion for the government — a day for it to show its anti-Israeli credentials and its support for the Palestinians. Quds is the Arabic word for Jerusalem. During a speech for the rallies, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad railed against Israel and the West, questioning whether the Holocaust occurred and calling it a pretext for occupying Arab land.

But the opposition was determined to turn the day into a show of its survival and continued strength despite a fierce three-month-old crackdown against it since the disputed June 12 presidential election.

Top opposition leaders joined the protests, in direct defiance of commands by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who barred anti-government demonstrations on Quds Day. That could provoke an escalation in the crackdown: hard-line clerics have been demanding the past week that any leader backing the protests should be arrested.

Several tens of thousands joined the opposition marches, witnesses said — far smaller than the masses that turned out in the Quds Day rallies, which were helped by government organizing. Police and security forces, along with pro-government Basij militiamen, fanned out along main squares and avenues and in many cases tried to keep nearby opposition protesters away from the Quds Day rallies to prevent clashes, witnesses said.

Opposition supporters poured onto main boulevards and squares, wearing green T-shirts and wristbands and waving green banners and balloons. They waved pictures of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and denounced Ahmadinejad, chanting "death to the dictator."

Others chanted, "Not Gaza, not Lebanon — our life is for Iran" — a slogan directly challenging the government's support for anti-Israeli Palestinian militants in Gaza and Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrilla. Some shouted for Ahmadinejad's government to resign. Some women marched with their children in tow.

But at one of the several opposition rallies around the city, a group of hard-liners pushed through the crowd and attacked former President Mohamad Khatami, a cleric who is one of the most prominent pro-reform figures, according to a reformist Web site. The report cited witnesses as saying the opposition activists rescued Khatami and quickly repelled the assailants.

Opposition Web sites reported that Khatami fell to the ground, but witnesses said he was only jostled and remained standing.

Hard-liners also tried to attack the main opposition leader, Mousavi, when he joined another march elsewhere in the city, a witness said. Supporters rushed Mousavi into his car when the hard-liners approached, and the vehicle sped away as his supporters pushed the hard-liners back, the witness said. He and other witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government retaliation.

Another pro-reform leader, Mahdi Karroubi, who also ran in the presidential election, also joined protests elsewhere in the city.

In one of the main Tehran squares, Haft-e Tir, security forces weilding batons and firing tear gas tried to break up one of the opposition marched, and were met with protesters throwing stones and bricks, witnesses said. Several policemen were seen being taken away with light injuries. At least 10 protesters were seized by plainclothes security agents in marches around the city, witnesses said.

The pro-government Quds Day rallies were held in cities around the country, and the opposition staged competing rallies in the southern and central cities of Shiraz and Isfahan, witnesses said. In Shiraz, police rushed the protesters with batons, scuffling with them, witnesses said.

The opposition claims that Ahmadinejad won the June election by fraud and that Mousavi is the rightful victor. Hundreds of thousands marched in support of Mousavi in the weeks after the vote, until police, Basij and the elite Revolutionary Guard crushed the protests, arresting hundreds. The opposition says 72 people were killed in the crackdown, thought the government puts the number at 36. The last significant protest was on July 17.

In sheer numbers, the opposition turnout was far smaller than the mass pro-government Quds Day marches — not surprising given the state's freedom to organize the gathering.

Customarily on Quds Day, Iranians gather for pro-Palestinian rallies in various parts of the city, marching through the streets and later converging for the prayer ceremony. The ceremony was established in 1979 by the leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Just hundreds of yards (meters) away from opposition protesters on the main Keshavarz Boulevard, thousands of Ahmadinejad supporters marched carrying huge photographs of the president and Supreme Leader Khamenei. Some in the government-sponsored rally chanted: "Death to those who oppose the supreme leader!"

At the climax of the occasion, Ahmadinejad addressed worshippers before Friday prayers at the Tehran University campus, reiterating his anti-Holocaust rhetoric that has drawn international condemnation since 2005. He questioned whether the "Holocaust was a real event" and saying Israel was created on "a lie and mythical claims."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Israel Radio Show Captivates Iranians

Yaroslav Trofimov. The Wall Street Journal. 6/23/2009 (

JERUSALEM—In his Friday sermon, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reserved special wrath for "Zionist radio" that he said tried to drive a wedge between the Iranian people and the Islamic Republic. Such attention from Iran's supreme leader was music to the ears of Menashe Amir, a bespectacled Iranian-born Israeli who has been broadcasting in Persian from Jerusalem for the past five decades.

"We're listened to in Iran and considered very credible and effective," Mr. Amir says with pride. "We're close to the Iranian people, we know what they want, and we have our sources that give us detailed news about everything that's going on in Iran."

The spread of the Internet and satellite television in Iran over the past decade seemed to eclipse the prominence of Mr. Amir's old-fashioned shortwave broadcasts on Kol Israel, Israel's public radio. But now, as the Web in Iran is either blocked or dramatically slowed and satellite-TV channels are jammed by the government amid spreading unrest, Mr. Amir has suddenly become relevant again.

"Today we have many more listeners inside the country because Iranians are thirsty for any information" about the unrest, the 69-year-old Mr. Amir says. He estimates the Iranian audience for Kol Israel's 85-minute daily show in Persian is between two million and six million people. Independent audience numbers, for obvious reasons, are impossible to come by.

Though semiretired, Mr. Amir has been hosting the show every day since Iran's controversial June 12 elections, narrating news summaries and taking live telephone calls from listeners within Iran. The call-in part of the broadcast, normally a weekly feature, is now on air daily due to the current unrest. Because Iran bans phone and postal links with Israel, Iranian callers dial a special number in Germany; as a precaution, Mr. Amir asks them not to mention their names or hometowns.

On a recent day, as Mr. Amir sat in his tiny studio in Kol Israel's Jerusalem offices, one caller from Iran, his voice trembling with emotion, recounted how "there's blood on the streets and people are being killed like butterflies." Another urged the world to help the protesters—reminding that Persian emperor Cyrus the Great protected and aided the Jews two and a half millennia ago, and asking the Jewish state to repay the favor by supporting Iranian demonstrators today.

Mr. Amir hasn't made any calls to sources inside Iran for decades, he says, fearing his voice would be recognizable to anyone who may be monitoring his contacts' phones. But he and other journalists at the service keep in touch via email and other means of electronic communications with local sources.

He boasts of being able to beat the competition on anything from the latest price of cheese in Tehran to confidential discussions within the Islamic Republic's establishment.

Neatly dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and a tie despite Jerusalem's sweltering heat, Mr. Amir embodies the golden age in Israel's relationship with Iran, the Jewish state's closest regional ally until the shah was overthrown in 1979's Islamic revolution.

"I am 100% Iranian, and I wish the best to Iran. Israel and Iran are natural friends," he says, his studio decorated with posters of Iranian movie stars, a printout of an Iranian flag and a family photograph of Prince Reza Pahlavi, the late shah's exiled son and heir.

"There are still many who remember the period of fruitful cooperation between Israel and Iran, and they want it back," Mr. Amir adds.

Still, Israeli analysts caution, Mr. Amir's vision of renewed Israeli-Iranian friendship is unlikely to materialize in the foreseeable future, even if the protesters, led by former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, somehow gain the upper hand in Tehran.

"The entire population has been raised for the past 30 years with the cultic mantra of "death to Israel," " says Prof. Ze'ev Maghen, a Persian speaker who heads the Middle East Studies department at Israel's Bar Ilan University. "It's almost impossible to conceive of a positive outlook on peace between Israel and Iran."

Born into a Jewish family in Tehran, Mr. Amir worked for Iran's Kayhan newspaper—now the mouthpiece of the Islamic regime—before he moved to Israel in 1960. He is one of some 60,000 such immigrants—a community that still maintains close contact with the estimated 15,000 Jews who remain inside Iran.

The community plans a demonstration of support for Tehran protesters on Tel Aviv's seafront promenade Tuesday. Iranian-born Israelis include Shaul Mofaz, until earlier this year Israel's minister of defense, who is often heard in Mr. Amir's broadcasts.

An institution in Israel, Mr. Amir, who also edits the Israeli foreign ministry's Persian-language Web site, bristles at suggestions that he must be coordinating his programming with Israeli government officials because Kol Israel is a public broadcaster that targets a strategic foe.

"Nobody gives us advice—we're the ones who give advice" to the government, he says indignantly. "We know the Iranian psychology, and can tell exactly what's happened there and what the news means."

Mr. Amir minces no word in expressing his outrage over a statement by Meir Dagan, the chief of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, who told a parliamentary committee last week that the extent of fraud in Iran's contested presidential elections was no worse than what happens in liberal democracies.

"If that's what Mossad really thinks, they don't have any idea of what's going on in Iran," Mr. Amir said.

Kol Israel, of course, isn't the only foreign radio station broadcasting in Persian. The British Broadcasting Corporation, the Voice of America and U.S.-funded Radio Farda also beam into the Islamic Republic. Ayatollah Khamenei, however, on Friday singled out Kol Israel, naming it first in his tirade against alleged foreign interference in Iranian affairs.

"The enemies are trying through their media, which is controlled by dirty Zionists. The Zionist, U.S. and U.K. radio are all trying to say that there was a competition between those who supported and those who didn't support the state," the ayatollah said, insisting that all presidential candidates fully accepted the Islamic Republic and its government system. "Accusing the government of corruption because of Zionist reports is not the right thing."

Ayatollah Khamenei's diatribes are likely to lure new listeners to Mr. Amir's program, Israeli analysts say. "The enemy of my enemy may not be my friend," explains Shmuel Bar, director of studies at the Institute for Policy and Strategy in Herzliya. "But, if the regime is so much against it, you have to listen to it."

Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A6
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