Following a vandalism attack at a synagogue in Shiraz, Iran earlier this week, the Iranian Jewish community is further roiling from unconfirmed reports that several Jews had been arrested on unknown charges.
According to news reports, vandals broke into the Kenisa’eh Hadash (New Synagogue) on Sunday night, desecrated two Torah scrolls and prayer books, and destroyed furnishings. The damage was later discovered by three local Jews who came to pray. Iranian police are said to be investigating the incident. It is not clear who was behind the attack.
In a Persian-language voice note circulating on WhatsApp and obtained by Tablet, an Iranian Jew describes what happened: “They ripped two Torah scrolls to pieces. They ripped all the prayer books, and they broke all the lamps… They ripped two Torah scrolls, and not only did they rip them, they threw them into the toilet.” Israel’s Channel 10 aired blurry footage that purportedly depicts the damage in the synagogue.
On Tuesday, reports began circulating that several Jews had been arrested, though it is not known who they are or on what charges. Because of the precarious position of the Jewish community in Iran, fears of retaliation are running high, making it difficult to confirm these reports.
What is clear is that the Iranian Jewish community in the diaspora is unnerved. Many suspect these incidents are related, but they are not sure how or why—and fear they’re about to be followed by still other disturbances.
A statement released earlier this week by Susan Azizzadeh, the president of the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) in Los Angeles, and Robert Kahen, the president of the IAJF in New York, expressed a “deep concern” over the recent incidents. “In light of these clearly anti-Semitic incidents,” the statement read, “we call upon the authorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran to ensure the protection of all places of worship as well as all members of our community, and to bring the perpetrators of these criminal acts to justice.”
Among a flurry of messages and voice notes circulating around the Iranian Jewish communities in Los Angeles, New York City, and elsewhere, a long comment written in Persian has gone viral. The comment begins by referencing the ancient roots of the Iranian Jewish community, dating back to the times of Ezra the Scribe. It notes that though the Jewish community in Iran has suffered insult under the Islamic Republic, and notes that an attack on a synagogue or religious place is unprecedented under the Islamic regime. The letter concludes by calling for everyone to fast on Thursday [the Fast of 10 Tevet] in honor of the desecrated Torah scrolls and is signed “Farzad, Los Angeles.”
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.