In the wake of a recent upsurge in violence that swept across Iran following last month’s presidential elections, a group of Jews and their descendents from the city of Mashad in Iran’s northeast gathered in Jerusalem for the first ever meeting of the Global Mashadi Jewish Federation.
With Mashadi Jews spread all across the globe, but with one of the largest concentrations found in Israel, the meeting at Sheraton Plaza Hotel attracted over 200 people from the Mashadi community. Participants ranged in age from seven month to those well into their late 80’s.
A Jewish demographic with a centuries old history, the Jews of Mashad have faced multiple persecutions and forced conversions in the 19th century that Mashadi leaders say encouraged inseparable bonds between community members that remain today, long after their exile from Iran.
“Our community’s strength was our unity throughout an often difficult past,” said Avi Betzaleli, president of the Central Board of Jewish Mashadi Community in Israel. “Our unity as a congregation has protected us from all crises and only through that have we been able to protect our Jewish culture both in hiding and for the world to see.”
It was suggested at the conference that Bahman Kamali be the first president of the Federation for the upcoming two years, but Kamali declined, saying that he wanted to build the federation from the “bottom up and not the top down.”
Bahman Kamali, proposed to be the Federation’s President and organizer of the program, used his remarks to call on his fellow Mashadi Jews to reaffirm their traditions saying, “It is our commitment to our distinct traditions and way of life that has always sustained us. In the face of the assimilation that has affected world Jewry in large numbers, we must be determined to do all in our power to minimize that trend within our own community.”
The conference was also attended by the president of the Board of Mashadis in Milan, Efri Levy. Levy, the first Mashadi Jew born in Milan, said he is looking forward to bringing the 200 family community in Milan closer together with other Mashadis around the world. “Our youth need to feel connected to other Mashadi youth – developing ways of keeping them linked will be a key goal of our federation.”
With conference attendees coming from a wide variety of international destinations including the US, Germany, Italy, Great Britain and Israel, the day featured sessions in English, Hebrew as well as Farsi, a language spoken by all the emigrants from Mashad and many of their children. “Despite all that separates us from returning to our native Iran and how current events make us feel much more alienated,” said Kamali, “this conference has enabled us to come together once again, and it is that sense of unity that we will always cherish.”