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Iranian women are stars at Jewish gathering

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BUDAPEST, June 11 (JTA) — Some 130 participants came from 20 countries to this year’s European conference of the International Council of Jewish Women, but it was two women in particular — both from Tehran — who became the center of attention.

The first Iranian women to receive official clearance to attend the conference, Marian Yashavali and Farah Davar Panah, told fellow delegates that they are able to live comfortably both as Jews and as women in Iran, albeit with some restrictions.

Yashavali, a member of the board of directors of the Iranian Jewish Community, said that there has been “a lot of progress for women in general” since the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

“They are encouraged to come out of their homes and take up administrative or business positions,” she said.

Yashavali, Panah and their families lead Jewish lives and keep kosher homes.

In so-called Jewish salons, or clubs, Iranian Jews hold family celebrations and can dress and keep Jewish traditions as they wish. But, Yashavali said, “on the streets, we must dress in the traditional Muslim way, and in the universities our girls must dress in long black dresses.”

There are some 18,000 Jews in Tehran. There also are 20 synagogues, all of which are full during the Jewish holidays.

Another 12,000 or so Jews live elsewhere in Iran, mainly in Isfahan and Shiraz.

The biggest problem, Yashavali said, is that Jewish schools cannot be closed on the Sabbath, but must adhere to Muslim tradition and close on Friday.

There are 10 Jewish schools in Tehran, but Yashavali said her two children attend non-Jewish schools because the schools are too far from her house.

The husbands of both women work in private companies, as Jews often have problems getting jobs in state- owned businesses, they said.

Another restriction is the ban on correspondence with relatives in Israel, though Jews can receive incoming phone calls from Israel.

Asked if they feel hostility from Iranian neighbors when clashes are reported between Israelis and Palestinians, both women say they’ve experienced neither personal attacks nor backlashes against the Jewish community in general.

Conference participants issued an official statement extending sympathy to families of the Israeli victims of recent Mideast violence, and reaffirming their solidarity with Israel.

“We embrace them in our midst and reassure them that they are not alone,” the statement said of the victims’ families. “We also call for a renewed and sincere effort to end the conflict in the Middle East, thereby alleviating the suffering of all people in the area.”

Iris Ambor, of the Israeli Embassy in Budapest, said, “If we do care enough, we can all make a difference. In times like this, we need to overcome our daily arguments, our disagreements and be united for the well-being of our communities and our support for Israel.”

In addition to pledging their support for Israel, delegates discussed ways of bridging the gap between Orthodox and non-Orthodox women, and between Jewish and non-Jewish women.

“Our differences are not a consequence of our religion, but are rather due to disagreement between genders,” June Jacobs, president of the council, told JTA.

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