New York fashion mogul Elie Tahari, is one of the many very successful individuals in the world hailing from an Iranian Jewish heritage. Even though he was born in Israel and came to New York 35 years ago without a penny to his name, Tahari now 55, commands a $500-million sportswear empire. In a recent interview with the online fashion magazine, Portfolio.com he revealed the reasoning behind his family leaving Iran in the 1950’s after the late Shah of Iran was temporarily deposed:
“My father had a fabric store, and he used to sell fabrics, and uh, one of the reasons he left Iran was because of persecution. They burned the store down. Yes, a lot of anti-Jewish sentiment the shah kept at bay as long as he could. But as soon as, you know, the shah died or had left Iran, a lot of Jews fled” said Tahari.
While many people are well aware of the mass exodus of Jews from Iran in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s because of Iran’s radical fundamentalist Islamic regime, others are unaware of the small migrations of Iranian Jews to Israel during the 1950’s. Despite the significant environment of religious tolerance that was fostered under the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran between 1925 and 1979, Jews in Iran still encountered anti-Semitism and discrimination from the Muslim majority. I personally have relatives who immigrated to Israel in the 1950’s for this exact reason, since they were fed up with being harassed by close minded intolerant Muslims. Leaving Iran and making new roots in Israel at that time was not easy because Israel was a new nation that was not developed. At the same time many Jewish families in Iran had attained substantial prosperity through trade and commerce. So there was less of an incentive for Jews to leave the country in 1950’s and 1960’s.
Today we see the children of those Iranian Jewish immigrants flourishing in Israel; with Moshe Katsav the former Israeli President, or Shaul Mofaz the Israeli Minister of Transportation, or Dan Halutz the former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff, or Eitan Ben Eliahu the former Israel Air Force chief. It simply amazes me that despite the intolerance and hardship Jews endured in Iran and in leaving behind livelihoods in the 1950’s or 1970’s, they have still managed to thrive in all aspects of life. Whether it be business, science, medicine, law, government, art, or even comedy—Jews of Iranian heritage seemed to have risen above the hardships to succeed in a substantial way.
Elie Tahari’s story along with the stories of Jews from Iranian heritage are heart warming but need to be kept alive for future generations to appreciate their history.