I am a Persian Jew, born in Tehran, Iran. As a young man, I immigrated to the United States where I was educated at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Then, just about the time when I finished graduate school, the Islamic Revolution happened, and I became involved with the Rebbe’s efforts to rescue the Jewish children of Iran. And this is the story I would like to share in brief.
By way of background, I need to point out that there were some 100,000 Jews happily living in Iran under the rule of the Shah. In those days they had a great deal of freedom, both personal and religious (even if there were some restrictions). This was true until the overthrow of the monarchy in January 1979, and the establishment of an Islamic republic under Ayatollah Khomeini.
The Persian Jews did not want to get rid of the Shah; they loved him. He was a peaceful man, a behind-the-scenes friend of the State of Israel, and when the demonstrations against him started in October of 1977 and grew more intense throughout the following year, they got very nervous. If the Shah lost his throne, the Muslim hardliners would attack them, they feared, and so they appealed to people in the United States to at least get their children to safety.
Rabbi Sholom Ber Hecht – the son of Rabbi J.J. Hecht who headed the Rebbe’s educational programs – led a Sephardic synagogue in Queens, and many Persians came to him asking for help. He went to his father, who in turn went to the Rebbe. And the Rebbe gave Rabbi J.J. Hecht the green light to do whatever it took to bring the kids out of Iran.
At that point I became involved and I sat down with Rabbi J.J. Hecht to begin planning. First, we needed to organize proper documentation – the I-20s required by the US government – showing that we accepted all the responsibility for these children and that they would not become a burden on the United States of America. Rabbi Hecht – through the National Committee for Furtherance of Jewish Education of which he was the executive director – guaranteed the financial support of every child, which was about $6,000 per kid (equivalent to about $22,000 today). As well, we got Chabad schools for boys and girls, and also Touro College, to agree to formally accept them as students, which was another requirement of the documentation process. (more…)