Sunday, December 23, 2007

Jews who stay in Iran 'playing a dangerous game'

Following disappointing results, an international group of Christians and Jews are about to abandon their scheme to pay $10,000 to individual Jews who leave Iran for Israel. Karmel Melamed reports in The Jewish Journal of LA:

"Following the revelation in October that $10,000 per person was being offered by a Chicago-based Christian-Jewish nonprofit to encourage Jews to leave Iran and immigrate to Israel, organizers of the project in Israel and the United States admitted to being disappointed with the lack of response to their efforts.

The offer will end this month at the conclusion of the one-year project.

Begun in January by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), which has offices in Chicago and Jerusalem, the program offers funding through the Jewish Agency in Israel, which spearheaded it. IFCJ officials reported that of the 20,000 Jews still living in Iran, only 125 have accepted the funds."

Karmel Melamed follows up with a second article attributing the failure of the Fellowship's initiative to lure Iranian Jews out to too much wealth, and too much history:

"Imagine you have a large home, luxury cars, maids and butlers, real estate holdings, a multi-million dollar business and of course a substantial fortune in your bank accounts. Then imagine one day, you just simply walking away from that entire lifestyle and start your life again from nothing in a new country where you know no one and do not speak the language. This was the very sad reality thousands of Jews living in Iran faced in the late 1970's and early 1980's when they there forced to leave everything they owned behind. For many of us Jews living in the tranquility of the U.S. today, such harsh realities Iranian Jews had to endure is beyond all comprehension. It is even more difficult for us to understand why there are nearly 20,000 Jews still living in Iran despite that regime's past hostility to Jews and calls for Israel's destruction. I'd like to shed some light on the history and close ties Jews have had with Iran that may be a factor in their decisions not to leave that country.

"This week my story in the L.A. Jewish Journal reflects on the lack of interest on the part of Jews still living in Iran to leave that country despite efforts by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), to lure them out with offers of $10,000 to every Jew immigrating to Israel from Iran. When I chatted with the IFCJ's founder and president Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, he expressed his frustration at the fact that not many Jews in Iran were willing to take up the offer:"

"If there is an attack by either the United States or Israel on Iran, it seems clear to me that even the Iranian Jews know it would be too late at that point for them to get out or not be persecuted. In my opinion, they are playing a very dangerous game of not committing to come out to Israel. I think there are some stereotypes [in the greater American Jewish community] that these [Iranian Jewish] people are rich; that they'll only come to Israel to be rich -- when in fact, these people come out with nothing because of the inflation. And their money is worthless when they leave Iran. But the $10,000 has been enough to tip the scales for them to make the move, because it will help them get on their feet in Israel."

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