My father was born in Iran in the 1930s. Although he left Iran in his late teens and, through the miracle of aliyah, moved to Israel with his many siblings, Iran never left him. It was a deep part of his culture, his tastes, his identity.
He always had Iranian music playing in his bedroom. He loved Iranian food (and even I admit it’s the best-tasting cuisine in the world). He followed the news in Iran with unabashed addiction. And his dream was to return to see his beloved Iran before he died.
He realized that dream once, some ten years ago, when he traveled to his birth city of Isfahan to help inaugurate the building of a synagogue that he had supported. He wanted to go back when the shul was completed. But being very much concerned for his safety I pleaded with him not to even consider it. By this time he was elderly and fragile and the trip became impossible. But when he died in May of 2020 I greatly lamented that he had not been able to fulfill his dream, both because of his health and especially because of the brutality of the world’s most wicked regime.
It now falls to me.
Having heard endless stories about my father’s childhood in Iran—something I discussed in my eulogy for him at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem—I want to see the places he grew up and the influences that shaped his life. I especially want to see the finished synagogue that he helped come to fruition.
Any visit to Iran would be a one-way trip. This is true for almost any American and especially an American Jew.
Obviously, these are all pipe dreams. Any visit to Iran would be a one-way trip. This is true for almost any American and especially an American Jew. But it’s even more true of me, given that I have fought a public battle against the murderous mullahs of the Khamenei regime for many years now, including a steady stream of full page ads in the New York Times calling the world’s attention to the brutality of the regime and their genocidal plans against the Jewish people. Vice-President Mike Pence said it best in Warsaw in February 2019 at a conference I attended. He was emphatic: Iran plans a second holocaust.
Indeed, it was Cory Booker’s pro-Iran vote and his support for Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran that gave the terrorist regime $150 billion dollars that they could use to kill people around the world that led to a bruising public battle with someone who was as close to me as a brother and whom I have known since he was my student president at Oxford beginning in 1992. Even since that vote legitimizing Iran’s nuclear capacity, Cory’s political career has gone in a completely different direction, losing national support amid perceptions of insincerity, and has deeply frayed the close bonds I built between him and the American Jewish community.
But hating the Iran regime doesn’t mean hating the Iranian people.
The recent headlines that crowds in Iran have begun to publicly criticize Khamenei is shocking, especially when you think that something as innocent as that can get you killed. More and more we are seeing the deep disgust that the Iranian people have for their criminal regime. And if they rose up once against the Shah, the mullahs know the people can rise up again against them as well.
So, is it possible that I might see the land my ancestors inhabited for 2000 years, ever since the destruction of the First Temple and the forced expulsion of the Jews to the East?
So, is it possible that I might see the land my ancestors inhabited for 2000 years, ever since the destruction of the First Temple and the forced expulsion of the Jews to the East? Might I finally see the imperial grandeur of the ancient Persian capital of Isfahan, where my father was born and that UNESCO calls one of the most beautiful cities on earth? Might I visit the graves of my ancestors who are buried there?
Might I finally see the snow-capped mountains that surround the modern capital, Tehran, and the building that was once the American Embassy where our personnel were taken hostage in November of 1979, the month of my Bar Mitzvah?
Might I finally get to eat fresh (and of course kosher!) ghormei subzee in Iran rather than having to settle for delicious yet inauthentic American copies?
And most of all, might I actually pray in the synagogue my father helped build in the city of his birth?
Or will the iron grip of Khamenei and his henchmen continue, with their vile acts of stoning women to death and hanging gay people from cranes all while the Biden Administration negotiates with them a potentially second Iran nuclear deal that will once again legitimize, even indirectly, their desire to annihilate Israel and fulfill their demonic plans for the Jewish people?
In the last years of his life Elie Wiesel published a series of full-page ads in the New York Times with me and the World Values Network warning the world about the dangers of the Iran nuclear agreement. And I accompanied Elie and his wife Marion to the speech Binyamin Netanyahu gave to a joint session of Congress in March 2015, where Elie was the only person in the audience singled out by the Prime Minister. The reason of course was that the world’s foremost witness to genocide had a special credibility in alerting the rest of the world to another potential genocide. Just over a year later Elie passed away and his baton was given to his son Elisha who last month, at a ceremony honoring his father at the National Cathedral in Washington, gave a powerful speech equating hatred of Israel with antisemitism.
Others, however, prefer to turn the other cheek to Iran’s promises to annihilate the Jews, dismissing it as empty saber-rattling, even though Iran blew up the JCC in Argentina, funds the murderous rockets of Hezbollah and Hamas, and continues to murder people around the world.
Now, I’m not saying there is anything Joe Biden and Anthony Blinken can do to change Iran that would make it safe for me—or any other American—to visit Iran any time soon. No, the Khamenei is a Hitler-wannabe and so long as he and his henchmen remain in power there is zero hope of any change in the regime.
But what Biden can do is continue to foment unrest in Iran by simply refusing to remove any of the sanctions that have been earned by a government that uses its revenue for murder. A deal with Iran is a deal the devil.
It’s astonishing to me that President Obama, a genius in so many areas, was played the fool by Iran. Did he really believe that giving Iran hegemony in the Middle East would compel the Iranian government to change their demented ways? And does he now know that his Iran deal is be a stain on his legacy, as well as those like Cory who supported it, that will never be erased?
Thus far Biden seems to be treading cautiously with Iran, as if he himself understands how dishonest and untrustworthy these terrorists are. Yet he also seems to need this deal as part of his foreign policy legacy.
He should be reminded that the millions who are part of the American-Iranian diaspora who came to America searching for freedom know this regime, know its brutality, know its barbarity, and have therefore been adamantly opposed to any and all deals with terrorists.
For now my visit to Iran will have to wait.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” has just published “Kosher Hate: How to Fight Antisemitism, Racism, and Bigotry.” Follow him on Instagram @RabbiShmuley.