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Yahoudi Bazar (Jewish Bazar), Kermanshah, Iran

Bazaars are a must-see for any tourist in the Middle East. As dawn fills the Yahoudi bazaar of Kermanshah, Iran each morning, shop owners slide their metal doors upward, revealing the multitude of colorful products that will soon be displayed in the bazaar's thoroughfare. The ambiance of the market flourishes most when shoppers begin to fill its endless, maze-like lanes. People move through the crows, each with their individual struggle to finish their shopping trip. Each shopper contributes to the genuine portrait of Kermanshah as the city's diverse population joining together in a mundane setting, bringing with them an intense energy and fascinating syncretic culture that any visitor of the region should immerse themselves in. 

Description

The Bazaar: The name Yahoudi means "from the Tribe of Judah" in Hebrew [1], and is one of the few clues that historians rely on when forming a conclusion about a Jewish presence in this Iranian bazaar. The other notable clue deals with the proximity and the time period in which Barookh house was established in relation to the bazaar.

The Jewish merchant Khaja Barookh erected his home in the old district of a Kermanshah Jewish neighborhood during the Qajar period [2]. This period is defined by the rule of the Qajar dynasty in Iran, which began with the crowning of Agha Moḥammad in 1796 and came to an end with a coup d’état in 1921. This coup triggered the downfall of Aḥmad Shāh, who was officially deposed by the national consultative assembly in 1925 [3]. Barookh's home has retained landmark status due to its traditional Iranian architecture and the inclusion of its private bathroom-- an exceptionally unique room for its time period [4]. More importantly to Jewish historians though, is the possibility that Barookh himself conducted his trading endeavors within the bazaar. The market's establishment has also been traced to the Qajar period, making the bazaar one of the oldest shopping hubs in Iran [5]. Kermanshah's optimal location on a commercial route between Iran and Iraq [6] would have made the city an ideal spot for a merchant's residence, and the bazaar the perfect spot for a merchant's work. 

Because the a drastic portion of the Jewish community of Kermanshah left Iran following the 1948 declaration of the state of Israel, only twenty Jewish families resided in the city by the late twentieth century [7]. Today, the Jewish community has no means of filling a bustling bazaar; if at one point this bazaar was laden with Judaica products that were delivered by Jewish merchants such as Barookh, this is no longer the case. The name "Yahoudi" only diminishes in relevance year by year, alongside the community. Today visitors will find only products useful to the city's overwhelming Muslim majority, such as traditional Iranian shoes called giveh, developed for the mountainous terrain of Kermanshah [8]. 

 

Jewish Community of Kermanshah: In the far western Iranian city of Kermanshah, the first evidence of Jewish residents is from the tenth century, reported by the Babylonian-Jewish historian Nathan ha-Bavli. The Jewish community was always a small minority in a pool of Muslim residents. The community reached its population peak with 300 families in the mid-19th century [9]. Other population estimates have not been so generous, such as Ephraim Neumark’s conclusion in the 1880’s, that the entirety of the community consisted of only 250 members [10].

The Jewish community’s experience was nuanced. On one hand, they seemed to be a group struggling to survive as a small minority. An inordinate number of Jews lived in crushing poverty that trapped them in the bottom rung of society. On the other hand, Rabbi David D’Beth Hillel’s travelogue discusses the city’s three synagogues and the achievements of select community members, such as H. Hakim Aqajan, who was a "learned physician” and a “teacher well-versed in Talmud.” This information shows us a window into a small, yet traditionally and spiritually tenacious community that had capable leaders to spearhead success. Unfortunately, the likelihood of the latter image of a thriving Jewish community faded over time. By the late 19th century, the burdens of the community became too heavy for some; seventy community members chose to shed this burden through publicly converting to Islam. To make matters worse, these individuals belonged to the family of Hakim Nasir, one of the few prominent and financially successful Jews in Kermanshah [11].

The French Alliance Israelite schools reached Kermanshah in 1904 with the purpose of empowering the community through education, instead, became responsible for reporting bouts of anti-Semitism and persecution in the city to its European allies, and providing support to the community when these tragedies occurred. Perhaps the aid of the Alliance Israelite schools was most appreciated in 1909, when the Muslim community accused the Jewish community of blood libel, leading to the demolition of 130 Jewish homes. Over a thousand disenfranchised Jews were now faced with the task of re-establishing their lives, which had already been burdened by poverty [12].

These cases of anti-Semitism likely drove the Zionist spirit and politics of the Kermanshah Jews. Kermanshah lent the Iranian Zionist movement with revolutionary thinkers such as Shemu’el Yehezkel Haim and Moshe Hay Isaac Kohen Yazdi. These men’s powerful ideologies prompted potent, tangible alterations to Kermanshah’s Jewish population once WWII ended [13]. The declaration of the state of Israel immediately shrunk the community from approximately 2,864 members in 1948 to approximately twenty families by the late 20th century [14].

 

Kermanshah, Iran

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