The nursing staff outside Sapir Hospital
Love thy neighbour as thyself: that was the motto of the Jewish Hospital in Tehran, all the more poignant during Iran's Islamic Revolution. Fascinating article in Haaretz by Leor Sternfeld, a PhD student in Texas researching Iran's social history. (With thanks to Orna for her translation from Hebrew)
The 1979 revolution
in Iran was one of the most popular in the 20th Century. Although it became
"an Islamic Revolution”, it started as a revolution of the masses, including Iran's minorities.
In this respect, the
Jewish community was no exception. The victory of the Islamic factions
overshadowed the participation of other groups. In addition, the animosity
between Iran and Israel resulted in a union of interests and similar narratives
amongst the fighting factions: the Iranian administration refuses to
share the “rights “of the revolution and Israel makes it convenient to
forget the role that the Iranian Jews played during the revolution.
like the one below demonstrate the cooperation of many Jews with Iranian
citizens, it also casts doubt on the familiar assumption about Israel’s unreserved support of the Shah’s dictatorial
In the heart of the
historic Jewish community there is a
Jewish Hospital called Sapir (after the doctor who established it – Dr Ruhalla
Sapir). In the past it was called Cyrus the Great (Koresh Kabir - BIMARSTAN) after the king who was known in Jewish
history to have given the Jews their freedom from Babylonian exile and let them return
At the entrance to
the building there is a big sign, written in Hebrew and Farsi, “Love thy
neighbour as thyself”. That was the motto that guided the hospital staff. It was more poignant during the Revolution. The 1979 Revolution
was in fact the culmination of many demonstrations and skirmishes between
demonstrators and the Shah's army.
The demonstration started in 1978: it
resulted in many injured. It was dangerous to seek hospital treatment:
the hospitals were obliged to report to the secret police (SAVAK) on the arrival
of injured demonstrators who were taken for interrogation, rarely to
emerge. It was not long before it was
acknowledged that the Jewish Hospital did not turn in the injured to the Secret
Police. Therefore more and more demonstrators went to the Jewish Hospital.
In those days Jewish intellectuals formed a small group. Most of them were communists. They
tried to encourage activists from the Jewish community to join the Revolution. The group managed to get elected as the community leadership in March
Two of the activists were in prison
during the Shah’s regime and there they met Ayatolla Sayed Mahmood Talakani, who
became Khomeini’s envoy in Paris. Together the group and Talakani established a
First Aid Unit that drove through Iran’s streets and collected injured
demonstrators and evacuated them to the Hospital.
On Ashura Day (one
of the most important and holiest days in the Shi'ite calendar) in December 1978,
there occurred the largest demonstration against the Shah. The Iranian media called
it “the Demonstration of the Millions” and it is still remembered as one of the
milestones to deposing the Shah. It is estimated that 5,000 – 12,000 Jews took
part (out of 40,000 Jews living in Tehran at the time).
The Hospital was ready
for casualties, 70-80% of the injured were brought to the Jewish hospital, and
the state of emergency took 72 hours. The staff was motivated by humanitarian
reasons. To turn in the injured was against all their principles.
Revolution, the Jewish Intellectual Group established a revolutionary newspaper
called “Tamuz” that was popular everywhere. In its second edition, it published
one two-page article about the hospital’s function during the Revolution.
Prangis Hasisdim was quoted as saying: “we were looking after so many injured, for hours
the hospital resembled a war zone. At one point we heard a loud noise from the
car park when I saw many soldiers looking for demonstrators and
revolutionaries; we were under siege for 24 hours but did not turn in anyone”.
After the Revolution,
the majority of hospitals and schools were nationalised, including the Hospital. Its name was changed from Koresh Kabir to Chosro Golesorchi, after a leftist Iranian
exile who was executed by the Shah’s regime after a well-documented court case.
The Jewish community
and the Doctor’s family decided to fight the decision to change the
Hospital’s name. They lodged a complaint and asked to change the name of the
Hospital to its former name. They were successful and the name was changed to
The Jewish community
was a part of the Iranian social tapestry, its sons and daughters were
represented in the whole political spectrum - from supporters of the monarchy to
The story of the
Hospital shows the range of political activism, from revolutionary activity to
helping out for pure humanitarian reasons. What’s more: the members of the Jewish
community enjoyed extra privileges, being a minority, but they extended a
helping hand to their neighbours, applying the Mitzvah, ”Love thy neighbour as
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