Jews had been residing in Persia since around 727 BCE, having arrived in the region as slaves after being captured by the Assyrian and Babylonian kings. According to one Jewish legend, the first Jew to enter Persia was Sarah bat Asher, grand daughter of the Patriarch Joseph. The biblical books of Isaiah, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, and Esther contain references to the life and experiences of Jews in Persia and accounts of their relations with the Persian kings. In the book of Ezra, the Persian kings are credited with permitting and enabling the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple; its reconstruction was effected “according to the decree of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia” (Ezra 6:14). This great event in Jewish history took place in the late sixth-century BCE, by which time there was a well-established and influential Jewish community in Persia.
Jews in ancient Persia mostly lived in their own communities. Persian Jews lived in the ancient (and until the mid-20th century still extant) communities not only of Iran, but also the Armenian, Georgian, Iraqi, Bukharan, and Mountain Jewish communities. Some of the communities have been isolated from other Jewish communities, to the extent that their classification as “Persian Jews” is a matter of linguistic or geographical convenience rather than actual historical relationship with one another. Scholars believe that during the peak of the Persian Empire, Jews may have comprised as much as 20% of the population.
According to Encyclopædia Britannica: “The Jews trace their heritage in Iran to the Babylonian Exile of the 6th century BC and, like the Armenians, have retained their ethnic, linguistic, and religious identity.” But the Library of Congress’s country study on Iran states that “Over the centuries the Jews of Iran became physically, culturally, and linguistically indistinguishable from the non-Jewish population. The overwhelming majority of Jews speak Persian as their mother language, and a tiny minority, Kurdish.”
Arrive in Tehran,Check in to hotel. proceed to 30 Tir Street, known as “The Street of Religions.” This incredible place honors the bond betweem the diverse array of religious scholars who live together peacefully in Iran. A Zoroastrian Fire temple, a Jewish synagogue, and several Christian churches belonging to different denominations are all evidence of this unique cooperative existence. You will also visit the Haïm Synagogue, which served as the initial shelter of the exiled Polish Jews during World War II and the Iraqi Jews who fled that nation in the 1950s. This synagogue, included among the national Iranian treasures, is supervised by the Cultural Heritage Organization of Iran. Next, visit Golestan Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as Tehran grand Bazaar. Spend the night in Tehran.
Walking along the Jewish Quarter, in addition to visiting the active synagogues of the Oudlajan neighborhood, Mullah Hannisa and Hadash (the first Jewish synagogue), we will study the history of the life of the Jews in Iran, and visit the old baths of the Sulaimaniyah (the first modern Jewish bath). We will depict what is not there today, and we will try to blur the image of the Jews neighborhood altogether. We will chat with the guests from the Iranian Association of Iranian Jews and we will complete the information and image of our minds. Spend the night in Tehran.
Early Breakfast at the hotel. This morning, transfer to the airport for the flight to Ahvaz. Upon arrival, continue by coach to Shush. Shush – Jews know it best as Shushan – was also the capital city of one of the largest ancient civilizations, the “Elamite civilization”, which dates back 3,500 years. Its history is intertwined not only with our Queen Esther but the great Biblical prophet, Daniel. Visit the well-kept Daniel’s Shrine, which the people of Iran, Jews and non-Jews alike, consider a place for pilgrimage and prayers. This silver shrine boasts a door coated with real gold, the most beautiful mirror works, and an endless array of people (both Jewish and Muslim) who approach this site with hearts full of faith. You will also visit Apadana Palace, belonging to Darus the Great, and the fascinating Shush Archeology Castle. Next, see the incredible Chogha Zanbil Ziggurat – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here is the temple of Inshushinak, the Sun God in ancient Elamite civilization lore. Later, continue to Shushtar and visit the Water Mills that are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These amazing hydraulic structures were built 1,700 years ago, during Persia’s Sassanid Dynasty. Spend the night in hotel.
Breakfast at the hotel. Later, proceed north to Tuyserkan, and pay respects at the Tomb of Habbakuk, the Jewish Prophet. In Farsi, this site is known as “Hazrat-eHabakkuk,” – and it is one of the most important shrines for Iranian Jews and Muslims alike. Prophet Habakkuk was the guard of the First Temple in Jerusalem. After the destruction of the temple, he was taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar and exiled to Babylon. Soon after, he was invited to Persia by none other than Cyrus The Great. The Habakkuk Shrine, like that of Daniel, is the symbol of coexistence and companionship of Iran’s Muslims and Jews. This elegant tomb was built during the golden era of brick architecture in Iran — the Seljuks (11th century CE). It is arguably the most significant site in the region, and located in the main entrance square to the city. You will see the green cloths knotted on the windows and handles of the shrine by the Muslims – these are put there in order to make wishes. Continue to Hamadan, the ancient capital city of the Biblical Midianite civilization (known in the Torah as “Akhmasa”), and dating back over 3000 years. Once the competitor of Mesopotamia in grandeur, Hamadan is one of the largest areas where the Persian Jews settled. Among these prominent Jews is the well-known and popular Khajeh Rashideddin Fazlollah Hamadan, who was a medieval scholar and historian. Spend the night in hotel.
Breakfast at the hotel. Hamadan has always been a significant city – adjacent to Mesopotamia during ancient history and to Baghdad during the Islamic era, it is now one of the popular places in Iran for tourism. Begin the day with a visit to the quiet, spellbinding Tombs of Queen Esther and Mordechai. Next, visit the ancient city of Ecbatana and see the Avicenna Tomb – dedicated to the great Iranian physician and philosopher, as well as the lavish Baba Taher Tomb, which honors one of the greatest Iranian poets. You will also visit the Alavian Dome, dating back to the 11th century, and one of the masterpieces of architecture during the Seljuk dynasty. Next, enjoy the Hamadan Bazaar as well as the beautiful valley of Ganjnameh, where, along the natural splendor, you will see two stone plates of cuneiform writing that date back to the Achaemenian dynasty. Spend the night in hotel.
Breakfast at the hotel. Depart on the journey to Isfahan. En route, visit Kashan, one of the richest cities in Iran. Kashan is justly known for its rugs, rosewater (it is the largest producer in the world), and stately architecture. It has always been the place where the elite – both Jewish and Muslim—have long resided, and was once called Iran’s “Little Jerusalem.” On arrival in Kashan, visit the home of “Mullah Moshe Halevi,” as he is locally known. Rabbi Moshe Halevi, who emigrated from Spain to Persia in the 16th century, is one of the greatest and well-known religious Jewish figures here. You will also visit Tabatabaee House and Agha Bozorg School, both elegant architectural masterpieces. Next, enjoy Fin Garden, a delightful refuge once frequented by the great Jewish poet of Iran, Sarmad Kashani. Imagine accompanying him with a glass of herbal tea beside the stream and leafy groves of this garden. In the late afternoon, continue to the grand city of Isfahan. Spend the night in hotel
Breakfast at the hotel. Today, a walking tour takes you to the Jewish historical places in Isfahan. See the beautiful Molla Marre and Keter Davood (David’s Crown) Synagogues. Then, visit the 16th Century Naqsh-e-Jahan Square. On the sides of this square, three symbols denote religion, government, and economy in the form of three buildings – a mosque, a palace and a bazaar. Next, visit shops that sell aromatic local spices, engraved utensils, and exquisite silk rugs. In the evening, visit the beautiful bridges of Siosepol and Pol-e-Khaju. Spend the night in hotel.
Breakfast at the hotel. This morning, travel to beautiful, legendary Shiraz. En route, stop at the Pir Bakran Village for a visit to the Serah Bat Asher Shrine. Serah was the daughter of Asher (of the twelve tribes of Israel) and the granddaughter of our Jewish Patriarch, Jacob. She was the first person who promised Jacob that Joseph was still alive and –according to the lore — gained eternal life due to Jacob’s gratitude. Continue to Shiraz for Friday night services and Dinner with members of the community. Spend the night in hotel.
Shiraz is the city of poetry, flowers and nightingales, limpid streams and shadows of cypress trees. The poems of Hafez and Saadi reverberate here, along with the aromas of orange blossoms. Shiraz is also one of the most significant areas where the Iranian Jews resided. Enjoy Lunch at one of the most well-known restaurants of Shiraz, where traditional Iranian cuisines are served. Afterwards, visit Eram Garden (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), orangery, and bazaar. You will also visit the tombs of the two best-loved (and world-famous) Iranian poets — Saadi and Hafez. In Saadi’s Tomb, consider his wise quote, ”Humans are the members of the same body; they have been created from the same nature.” Hafez’s Tomb has a unique angle – it is known to Iranians (whether Muslim, Jewish, Christian or Zoroastrian), as a place to meet with the visionary man and beg him to share his glimpses of the future. Spend the night in hotel.
Breakfast at the hotel. This morning, visit Persepolis and Naqsh-e-Rostam. Both are among the most prominent ancient places of the world, and included in the World Heritage Sites of UNESCO. Continue to Pasargad to visit Cyrus the Great’s Tomb. Cyrus is perhaps the most significant non-Jewish figure for the Jews in the world. He released the Jews who were captive in Babylon (among them Habbakuk) and erected the great Jerusalem Temple once again. En route to Yazd, stop in Abarkouh to enjoy a cup of tea beside the oldest tree in Iran – a 4,000 years old cypress! . Spend the night in hotel.
Breakfast at the hotel. Yazd is perhaps the most beautiful jewel in the crown of Iran. It is also where you will find the last remaining traces of the ancient Zoroaster Religion. Begin the day with a visit to Harav Ohr Shraga Shrine, dedicated to one of the most prominent Jewish scholars, who lived in Yazd about 200 years ago. You will also see two synagogues in Yazd. Then, visit the holiest place to the Zoroastrians of Yazd — the Yazd Fire Temple, where the holy fire has still been burning for over 1,400 years. Next, travel the covered, meandering alleys of Yazd until reaching Fahadan Alley,the oldest neighborhood here. Mir Chakhmakh, Masjed Jameh, and Dowlat Abad Garden (UNESCO World Heritage sites) are next; in Mir Chakhmakh Square, visit the most well-known and largest confectionary in Iran to make the memory of Yazd sweeter with its candies and pastries. Dinner. Afterwards, visit a Zoorkhaneh (a traditional gymnasium) to watch men practicing the traditional sport combining rhythm, dance and use of heavy wooden clubs. Spend the night in hotel.
Drive to Qazvin, visiting Caravanserai of Sa’d al-Saltaneh & Sepah street (oldest street of Iran), great mosque of Qazvin then driving to Chaboksar and staying in Gileboom ecolodge.
Breakfast at the hotel, followed by a transfer to the airport. Check-in for the short flight to Tehran’s domestic airport. Upon arrival, drive to the IKA airport. Depart Iran.