“Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews,” a new exhibit at UCLA’s Fowler Museum, tells the rich history of one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities. The exhibit [video here], which debuted at Tel Aviv’s Beit Hatfutsot, traces a path through 3,000 years of Iranian Jewish history, all the way up to the 25,000 Jews living in Iran today.
Over a hundred objects, including archaeological artifacts, illuminated manuscripts, Judaica and amulets, paintings, and photographs demonstrate the long, complicated, and vibrant history of Iranian Jews. One amazing highlight is from the crypto-Jewish community of Mashhad, whose residents were forced to convert to Islam in the mid-1800s: a pair of miniature phylacteries, or tefillin, designed to fit beneath a man’s Muslim head-covering.
Here in America, where the majority of Jews are of Ashkenazi descent, it’s easy to forget that not all Jews come from shtetls. “Light and Shadows” is a fascinating way to learn about this important facet of the Jewish experience. The exhibit may yet come to other US museums, but plans are unclear. This winter could be a good time to book that trip to LA!