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JewishJournal.com

November 8, 2007

Kidnapped Iranian Jew’s family finds closure

http://www.jewishjournal.com/community_briefs/article/kidnapped_iranian_jews_family_finds_closure_20071109

Kaveh Lahijani, left, and Rabbi Eli Goorevitch. Photo by Karmel Melamed

Kaveh Lahijani, left, and Rabbi Eli Goorevitch. Photo by Karmel Melamed

On a spring morning in 1980, following the turbulent Islamic revolution in Iran, Isaac Lahijani, an affluent Jewish architect and real estate developer, said goodbye to his wife, Farzaneh, and his children, and left his home in Tehran for another routine day at work.

Soon after, he was kidnapped and held for ransom by unknown armed thugs of the newly-formed Iranian government.

For 26 years there was no word of Lahijani's fate. His wife and three children say they wept for weeks and months, unable to hold a memorial for him because they had no information about his whereabouts. The Lahijani family continued living in grief until this September, when Farzaneh Lahijani was finally given an official letter from the Iranian government telling her of her husband's death.

"After agonizing searching and denials from the Iranian authorities telling my mother to go and come for 26 years, she found out from a two-sentence letter that they indeed have killed my father and that they want to pay restitution for his blood," said Kaveh Lahijani, the 45-year-old son of Isaac Lahijani.

The timing of the letter's arrival was indeed unique for Kaveh Lahijani, who is a member of the Laguna Beach Chabad and had long been planning to dedicate a new Torah to the synagogue in memory of his father.

"In Judaism, you cannot do anything in memory of someone when you don't know if they are alive or not," Laguna Beach Chabad Rabbi Eli Goorevitch explained. "So the letter from Iran was perfect timing for us because Kaveh wanted to keep his father's memory alive with this Torah dedication."

Lahijani said he had planned the dedication for the past year, but was unable to locate an appropriate time to do so because of schedule conflicts. As it turned out, the only time available -- Sept. 9 -- was Isaac Lahijani's birthday.

"The fact that we dedicated the Torah on his birthday when we couldn't have done it on any other day was a sign for me that he was with us and supporting us," said Lahijani, a Laguna Beach resident. "It was just one of many amazing things that have happened where I know my father is with me."

Kaveh Lahijani and other members of his family said they were uncomfortable with sharing the exact details of Isaac Lahijani's kidnapping, because of the years of suffering they have had to endure. However, Kaveh Lahijani said shortly after the kidnapping occurred, his family received a ransom note and a tape recording of his father's voice asking for the ransom to be paid.

"We paid the ransom but never saw him. Instead we got another letter demanding that we pay more in ransom," he said. "Then my mother received news that my father was being held in Evin Prison, but she was not permitted to visit him. Since then we have not received any information from the government about my father -- until now."

Evin Prison is a maximum-security facility allegedly used by the Iranian government to house and torture political dissidents, student protesters, journalists and anyone else believed to pose a threat to the Iranian regime, said Frank Nikbakht, a local Iranian Jewish activist.

Last September, Iranian Jewish families in the United States and Israel filed suit against Iran's former president, Mohammad Khatami, in U.S. Federal Court over the kidnapping, imprisonment and disappearance of 12 Iranian Jews who sought to escape Iran between 1994 and 1997. Iranian government officials have repeatedly denied holding these missing Iranian Jews in custody and claim they were killed by border smugglers while trying to flee the country.

According to a 2004 report prepared by Nikbakht, the Jewish community still in Iran lives in constant fear for its security amid threats from terrorist Islamic factions. Since 1979, at least 14 Jews have been murdered or assassinated by the regime's agents, at least two Jews have died while in custody and 11 Jews have been officially executed by the regime.

Kaveh Lahijani said that while he and his siblings are content with having closure regarding the fate of their father, his mother, who resides in Iran, has refused to accept the government's explanation and will press on with her own investigation.

Representatives at the Iranian Mission to the United Nations did not return calls for comment.

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