Society of Jewish Intellectuals and Islamic Revolution of Iran

Interview with Haroun Yashayaei, One of the Founders

Interviewed and compiled by Mohammad Mehdi Moosakhan
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


Despite the presence of different classes of people during the Islamic Revolution, very little research has been done so far on the presence of religious minorities in this important event. The article "The Revolution’s Forgotten Sons and Daughters: The Jewish Community in Tehran During the 1979 Revolution" by Lior Sternfeld is one of the few studies that deals with activities of Iranian Jews in the 1979 Revolution. In order to clarify some aspects of this article, we decided to have an interview with Haroun (Parviz) Yashayaei, one of the founders of the “Society of Iranian Jewish Intellectuals” in 1979. Mr. Yashayaei, a well-known figure in the cinema, accepted the invitation with openness, and while he was very busy, welcomed us in his office (Pakhshiran Company) and answered the raised questions in a heartfelt conversation. The following text is result of our interview (Engelab-e Eslami (Islamic Revolution) News Agency, with him in such an atmosphere. I would like to thank Ms. Samira Kazemi-Fard for coordinating this visit. For more than a decade, she has been working hard to preserve culture of Pahlevani and Zoorkhaneh rituals and to commemorate Jahan Pahlevan (“The World Champion”) Gholamreza Takhti. For this reason, during a few last years she has had honor of receiving the third degree badge, making her the first woman in Iranian sports history to receive the sport badge.

At the beginning, please say what happened to you and a few others at the outset of Iranian people's protests in 1979 that decided to establish "Society of Iranian Jewish Intellectuals"?

The fact is that the few who formed core of "Society of Jewish Intellectuals" were those who had come out of prison with political taste and sense, that is they were Jewish political prisoners like me or our friends. We all had the experience of being familiar with our Muslim friends who were involved in the political struggle and know each other, so we knew Muslims fighters when we were all liberated. In public space, we also had consultation and communication with Muslim and non-Muslim friends. Moreover, other friends and I were student activists during the years 1960-63, which was culmination of student struggles at Tehran University, and I was a member of the university committee for a time (in the struggle of 1960 to June 5, 1963); that is, I was familiar with the intellectual and political streams, and national struggles.

Which party stream did the university committee belong to?

It was nearly affiliated with no party. The student movement in those years was really a pervasive one; of course, in those years, political currents came out of the student struggles, but in the early years it was just a student movement. The main characteristic of the student movement was its anti-authoritarianism struggle with the Shah. After formation of the Second National Front, the student movement became inclined to the National Front led by Dr. Mossadegh. The most important political movement in the years 1960 to 1963 was the Second National Front, which later the Freedom Movement derived of it. The Tudeh Party had a small organization and had attracted a number of sympathizers among students, but no organization entirely dominated over the student movement, and the movement was merely a student organization and had its major influence in those years.

Who did contribute in establishing the "Society of Iranian Jewish Intellectuals" except for you?

There were dears Mr. Aziz Daneshrad, Yaghoub Barkhordar, Dr. Kamran Broukhim, Dr. Houshang Melamed, Engineer Fereydoon Tooba and Dr. Manouchehr Eliasi. After events of 8 September (Black Friday, 1978) in Tehran, we joined the political struggle led by Ayatollah Khomeini.

Had you all experienced detention or imprisonment?

Not all of us; I was arrested during activities of the year 1963, engineer Daneshrad had been arrested much earlier than me, and had been imprisoned for a longer time. Engineer Tooba was released from prison during the revolution, and others had no experience of detention or imprisonment.

Because of working with Tudeh Party?

Not all, but Engineer Daneshrad was one of leaders of Tudeh Party, but after his release from prison he cut off his relationship with the Party. Other friends had also jailed for one, two, three or six months for their activity in the student movement. I dare argue that, along with other political movements, the student movement was a social driving force, meaning that this movement was center of all political activities until 1963. After suppression of the struggle by the royal regime, the struggle inevitably took on another form, and secrecy activities was started, and guerrilla groups such as The People's Mojahedin Organization and the People's Fedai guerrillas emerged after the year 1963 because the regime had suppressed all student and political activities. We, as 5 to 6 former Jewish activists, decided to join the movement with start of the protests in 1978 and 1979. Our friends had been already acquainted with Ayatollah Taleghani in prison, and especially that Mr. Taleghani's spirit was that he would welcomed non-Muslims; others would not welcome. With spread of the revolutionary movement, we went to Mr. Taleghani's house on December 29, 1978, and announced that we were ready to take part in the liberating struggle of the Iranian nation and want to establish "Society of Iranian Jewish intellectuals". It should be noted that a significant part of the Jewish community opposed our practice because there were so many opportunities available to the Jews during the Shah reign. Anyway, our view was a struggle one, and part of the Jewish community’s view was not the same. It was clear that at least some people in the Jewish community did not believe in the revolution during end of August 1978 to January 1979, but after the revolution was established, they felt that we had been right and we found a popular base gradually and the intellectual society became a driving force among the Jewish community and our relationship with the Jewish community increased and they accepted us. Before that we were a group that was under attack, saying that they are Communists, they are hireling, etc.

How was the meeting held in Ayatollah Taleghani's house?

We went to Mr. Taleghani's house on December 23, 1979. Imam Khomeini was in Paris at the time. Mr. Taleghani contacted Paris there, explaining that some of the Jews whom I know and were in prison with us are here and express their solidarity with the Iranian people. Imam insisted that it should not be oral and that they should write a declaration. We immediately wrote declaration of “Society of Iranian Jewish Intellectuals” and gave it to the press, and the Society of Iranian Jewish intellectuals was publicly formed on December 25. The text of the notice was as follows:

"Along with the genuine movement of the Iranian people, the intellectuals of the Jewish community of Iran, once again participating actively in this movement, declare their solidarity with the Iranian people. Since hypocrites and puppets of colonialism, including the Zionists, are seeking to extend colonial dominance over the oppressed nations of the World once again by splitting ranks of the Iranian nation, and have recently tried to represent characteristics of the Iranian national movement reverse through extensive propaganda and consider it as a reactionary movement; therefore, intellectuals of the Jewish community of Iran, with full faith in authenticity of Iranian people struggles and importance of role of the clergy in these struggles, came to Ayatollah Taleghani’s house on Saturday, December 23, 1978 and once again declared its solidarity with Iranian nation before him and reminded that the Jewish community of Iran has been and will be at all stages of the struggle with the Iranian people. Jewish intellectuals see themselves in direction of the Iranian people struggle. Ayatollah Taleghani said that religious minorities are our compatriot brothers and encouraged Iranian Jews to take part actively in the national struggle and to work with other Iranian brothers."

With firm conviction in victory of the Iranian national movement

Iranian Jewish intellectuals; December 25, 1978

One point mentioned in that article was that during the revolution, those who were injured were taken to "Doctor Sapir Hospital" and treated by the doctors of that hospital.

I was then in board of trustees of the hospital. At that time, one place with many events and clashes was Chahar Rah Sarcheshmeh (further down Baharestan Square); especially on November 4, 1978 when a collision occurred in front of Tehran University and another clash occurred around Sarcheshmeh, with many injured.[1] As the hospital was owned by the Jews, it was not considered by the government to be the focus of opposition, so many injured were transferred to Dr. Sapir Hospital and treated. Role and importance of the hospital was clear; as Mr. Khomeini later thanked the hospital management in a letter through Hajji Mahmoud Manian. In these circumstances, positioning of the revolution leader Ayatollah Khomeini was very important, and that’s why representatives on the part of the Jewish community went to Paris and visited Imam Khomeini.

Who did go to Paris?

One of them I remember was Mr. David Alliance. After this meeting and presence of some of our friends who had gone to Paris, Imam Khomeini made a famous speech that was very important, saying that religious minorities and not only Jews but all religious minorities are our citizens and have citizenship rights and will not be violated; the speech that, of course, made us our activity much stronger.

Another incident that occurred in Sarcheshmeh was on December 1 or the first night of Muharram[2] when Pahlavi government troops fired on demonstrators and some were injured and martyred. Were the injured taken to Dr. Sapir Hospital?

Yes. Whatever happened in that area (from Naser Khosrow Street to Chahar Rah Sarcheshmeh), people would not be taken to Sina Hospital or Torfeh Hospital because the hospitals were government-run and people were afraid the hospitals hand over the injured to SAVAK. But because they knew Dr. Sapir hospital (meaning they knew us) the injured were usually brought to the hospital, we also treated those who were in better situation and discharged them soon, and some who had severe injuries and needed to be hospitalized, we recorded their hospitalization date two or three days before the event so that if government officials came they would not be able to take them. As far as I can remember, the hospitalized injured were no more a few persons. Fortunately, the agents did not visit, but this was done at Dr. Sapir Hospital. After victory of the revolution, a bouquet of flowers was sent from Ayatollah Taleghani and appreciated the hospital cooperation during the revolution because it had been very much reflected.

What was Ayatollah Taleghani cooperation with Dr. Sapir Hospital?

His son, Mehdi, would come to the hospital and provided the situation so that the wounded whom were treated to be escaped as soon as possible in order not to be caught by the agents. A trust was formed during the critical days of the revolution between people and Dr. Sapir Hospital that has had and have a lasting meaning in lives of Iranian Jews.

On February 10 and 11, when the fighting was very severe, did they bring the injured there again?

In addition to treating the injured, February 10 and 11 were those days when the hospital became a center that would help other hospitals, such as blood donation, medicine and other things that needed to be sent to other hospitals. Because of these activities Ms. Azam Taleghani (who was a representative in the first period of Majles-e Showrā-ye Eslāmī (the Islamic Consultative Assembly) gave a detailed speech at one of the sessions on the role of "Society of Iranian Jewish intellectuals" and "Dr. Sapir Hospital" during the revolution.

After the revolution, you and Society of Iranian Jewish intellectuals had a meeting with Imam Khomeini. What about that meeting?

Yes, of course we went as representatives of the Iranian Jewish community. At the meeting, which took place on May 14, 1979, core of the intellectual society including me, Engineer Daneshrad and Dr. Broukhim, and three Jewish clergymen, Hakham Uriel Davidi, Hakham Yedidia Shofet and Abdullah Zargarian presented. At that meeting, Imam made a very famous speech, which is really a manifesto, namely, that he declared, "Citizenship rights is one thing and religious law is another, citizenship rights are universal rights; that is, citizenship right is for everyone with every religion. Being an Iranian is a universal right, but religious minorities, with regard to religious issues, have certain conditions that the law specifies them.” The next issue he emphasized was:" We separate the Jewish community from the Zionist;" he remarked this point with emphasis that the Iranian Jewish community is separate from theirs and that we are one nation and that we are all Iranians. This was a very well and informed speech that, in my opinion, no document is not as much as important on citizenship and individual rights.

In 1981, Saddam's Army war against Iran started. How did you and the society of Jewish intellectuals react to the war?

In principle, we invited young Jews to go and introduce themselves voluntarily and not refuse to go to war, and we also asked families to help behind the front because the fact was that we could do help more behind the front. How much was our population so that we could send human force to the front? Of course we were able to dispatch human force from Shiraz, Tehran, Isfahan and from the Western cities (Kermanshah, Kamyaran, Sanandaj, etc.), but their number was not remarkable. But we made some good and significant contributions to the front. No minority community did behind the front aids as much as the Jewish community, such as purchasing equipment, cars, field baths and ambulances, and so on that their documents are available. Most important is list of Jewish martyrs who were martyred along with other Iranians in defense of their homeland.

The article states that during the revolution a series of lectures were held in some synagogues because of the day's conditions, and various people, including Hedayatullah Matin-Daftari, grandson of Dr. Mossadegh, were invited to come and speak. What was the matter?

I do not think that Matin-Daftari had come there, because I knew Matin-Daftari that had formed the National Democratic Front after the revolution. Matin-Daftari had never come to the synagogues to speak. I know all the events of those years. Of course, there was communication with different people and I would go to their office, but I don't think that they had come to the synagogues.

Could anyone come to synagogue or other places and talk?

Yes, clergy were usually invited.

After the Revolution or during the Revolution 1979?

After the revolution, officials and elders of the Islamic Republic were invited by the Society of Jewish Intellectual and in “the Jewish Youth House”. This house had weekly meetings.

Where was it?

It was in Moshtagh Street; parallel to the south of Enghelab Street, that narrow street is called Moshtagh Street.

What was the house plan?

There were weekly meetings. I think it started in 1358 SH (1979/1980) and meetings were held there every week on Saturday nights until 1984-1985. Speakers were then invited by the society of Jewish intellectuals. I myself was not very much in favor of the so-called liberals. I also wrote in my book (if it be published Inshallah you will read in detail) that we would invite IRGC’s guys, clergy, and those who were active[3] in field of Iranology and environment to speak at “the Jewish Youth House”.

Wasn’t there any lecture in the synagogues during the revolution?

No, it was not in the synagogues, it was in other places where people were invited, came, and talked. Or at that time we had "the Advancement Center", maybe they came there, but not in the synagogues.

What was "the Advancement Center"?

It belonged to a group of Jewish youth.

Where was their office?

It was in one of the alleys of Yusefabad.

Maybe had people been invited there?

Yes, maybe they were there, but no in the synagogues.

It is mentioned in the article that after victory of the revolution, in February or March, 1979 a group came to Dr. Sapir Hospital which was then called "Cyrus the Great" and wanted to change name of the hospital to Khosrow Golsorkhi Hospital. Who were they?

I don't know really. Those days everywhere was the same that a group with a sign in hand went to change name of a place.

After that incident did you decide to name the hospital Dr. Sapir?

Yes. Of course, the hospital's clinic was called "Dr. Sapir" and the hospital was called "Cyrus the Great". After the early days of the revolution, Cyrus name became sensitive and was told that you should remove Cyrus name, because the clinic was called Dr. Sapir, so we chose the same name for the hospital. The late Dr. Sapir was one of founders of the hospital who during the 1940s (1320s SH) made much effort against typhus, which had spread to the south of Tehran, and eventually died due to the disease.

After the revolution, you published “Tammuz” magazine as news agency of "the Society of Iranian Jewish Intellectuals". Was it weekly or monthly journal? And until when was it published?

Since June 1979, Tammuz was published weekly. After a while it became a two weekly magazine and the last few issues were published in form of a monthly one. In last years, because we as members of the society of Jewish intellectuals worked in board of directors of the Jewish committee, we have had a lot of work and less worked in the magazine. Until the last issue of "Tammuz" was published in 1989 and after that we put an end to this journal.

What was happened finally to "the Society of Iranian Jewish Intellectuals" and the "Jewish Committee" who represented all Iranian Jews?

“The Jewish Committee” was suspended during the first days of the revolution, all members of the committee had left the country, and the committee was no longer active. In fact, from 1978-79 to 1982, the committee’s work was carried out by "the Society of Jewish Intellectuals". Until the committee was re-established in 1982, the board was elected, and public activities of the Jewish community were legally owned by the Jewish society. Our work was political task that we did in “Tammuz” newspaper. As I said, we had a decisive influence during the war, and we made contributions to the fronts. Even our soldiers who went to the front and were martyrs were to defend this country and territory. We as members of the Society of Jewish Intellectual joined the Jewish Committee in 1989 and activities of “the Society of Iranian Jewish Intellectuals” were practically ceased in this year. I became president of the Jewish committee and most of the members of the Jewish committee were the same members of the intellectual society. Of course, of the 12 members of the committee, we were 5, and 7 were other Jews. Since then, “the Jewish Committee”, as the center of Iranian Jewish community, began its legal and religious activities, and I became its chairman until recent years when I was depleted and left it.

Mr. Yashayaie, thank you very much for answering the questions patiently.

The Jewish Community in Tehran During the 1979 Revolution


[1] For story of Sarcheshmeh Event by Yashayaie, see: Yashayaie, Haroun, The Day I Knew My Name, Tehran: Shahab Saqeb Publication, 2017, pp. 31-40.

[2] Islamic Revolution Compilation Unit (adjusted by), Chronology of the Islamic Revolution, Tehran: Sooreh Mehr, 2004, Vol 8, p. 141

[3] Photos of presence of prominent clergymen and figures with the Jewish after the revolution can be found at: Sarshar, Houman, Esther's Children, translated by Mehrnaz Nasrieh, Tehran: Karang Publication, 2005, p. 387

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