by Hana Levi Julian
(IsraelNN.com) Ten Iranian Jewish families â€“ 40 Iranian Jews in all — began new lives Tuesday night when they came home to Israel. â€œHow they were brought to Israel and information about who they are is classified information,â€ Jewish Agency spokesman Michael Jankelovitch said in an exclusive interview with Israel National News.
â€œThis is a new initiative,â€ said Jankelovitch, â€œa joint project of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the Jewish Agency for Israel.â€
A total of 200 Iranian Jews made Aliyah (immigrated to Israel) this year, triple the number from just a year ago, when only 65 Jews made Aliyah to Israel from Iran. According to Jankelovitch, the majority of the Jews who left Iran permanently this year came to Israel.
One million dollars â€“ fully half of the budget for this yearâ€™s project, came from the Fellowship, said Jankelovitch, adding that the entire sum has been exhausted. â€œThe organization is now embarking on a new campaign to raise funds to continue the work for 2008,â€ he added.
A Silent Nightmare
Their lives are at stake…Learning the Hebrew language has been banned. There are no more Jewish day schools have been closed down – all of them.
Why Iranian Jews, and why now?
â€œBecause their lives are at stake,â€ answered Jankelovitz simply. â€œThey are in a unique situation because of the regime. There are increased cases of discrimination. Learning the Hebrew language has been banned. Jewish day schools have been closed down â€“ all of them. There are no more Jewish day schools in Iran,â€ he said.
Jewish children have to go to school on Shabbat, and on all Jewish holidays including Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.
â€œThey come with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a small suitcase with almost no money at all,â€ said Jankelovitch. â€œTheir money is worthless because of the exchange rate. People live in a beautiful house which they sell and it is not even worth $10,000.â€
In order to balance that hardship, each new immigrant from Iran, including the children, receives a grant of $10,000. A family of five thus receives a total of $50,000 with which to begin their new lives in addition to the usual basket of new immigrant benefits received by everyone else who comes to make Israel their home.
Leaving ‘Takes Guts’
Although there is no problem leaving Iran permanently to live elsewhere, emigrants cannot travel directly to Israel, said Jankelovitch. Nor is America an option at this point due to the political situation. The U.S. has imposed strict sanctions against Iran in the hopes of forcing the Islamic Republic to abandon its headlong rush toward development of what both the U.S. and Israel suspect is a nuclear weapon which could be aimed at the Jewish State.
Despite the growing hardships, however, there are still 28,000 Iranian Jews who have remained in the Islamic Republic.
â€œPeople are afraid of the unknown,â€ Jankelovitch told Israel National News bluntly. â€œLeaving the town you know, friends and neighbors, takes guts.â€ Every effort is being made to convince those left behind to leave while they still can.
â€œAll the information for an Iranian Jew who wants to know about making Aliyah is available online, in Farsi,â€ he said. (The website created for this purpose is at http://www.israel-iran.org) â€œThere is a free flow of information,â€ he added. â€œIran is not a backward, third world country. There is word of mouth, people can go to internet cafes.â€
There is no fear of being “tracked down” for accessing information about moving to Israel, he said. â€œWe hope more, many more will come next year. Israel wants Iranian Jews to come home.â€