Iran is home to the largest Jewish population in the Middle East, outside of Israel. At its peak in the twentieth century, the population numbered around 100,000; today about 25,000 Jews live in Iran. Between Iran and Zion offers the first history of this vibrant community over the course of the last century, from the 1905 Constitutional Revolution through the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Over this period, Iranian Jews grew from a peripheral community into a prominent one that has made clear impacts on daily life in Iran.
Drawing on interviews, newspapers, family stories, autobiographies, and previously untapped archives, Lior B. Sternfeld analyzes how Iranian Jews contributed to Iranian nation-building projects, first under the Pahlavi monarchs and then in the post-revolutionary Islamic Republic. He considers the shifting reactions to Zionism over time, in particular to religious Zionism in the early 1900s and political Zionism after the creation of the state of Israel. And he investigates the various groups that constituted the Iranian Jewish community, notably the Jewish communists who became prominent activists in the left-wing circles in the 1950s and the revolutionary Jewish organization that participated in the 1979 Revolution. The result is a rich account of the vital role of Jews in the social and political fabric of twentieth-century Iran.
About the author
Lior B. Sternfeld is Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies at Penn State.
"Lior Sternfeld has given us a highly nuanced and perceptive study of not only the Jewish community in Iran but also the Jewish community's integral relationship with the larger Iranian nation. The book is especially insightful on the position of the Jewish community in the 1979 Islamic Revolution."
—Ervand Abrahamian, City University of New York
"Between Iran and Zion is an exciting reconstruction of modern Jewish life in Iran. Lior Sternfeld unearths mesmerizing and previously untold stories to ask important questions about Jewish identities and offer hope for a better future to the peoples of the region, Jews and Muslims alike."
—Orit Bashkin, University of Chicago
"Between Iran and Zion offers a compelling history of Iranian Jews in the twentieth century. Lior Sternfeld proves himself an honest and judicious storyteller with this sobering account of a people caught between their historic homeland and a symbolic call for 'return.'"
—Hamid Dabashi, Columbia University
"Sternfeld's strength lies in his ability to successfully situate Iran's Jews within the broader context of Iranian history...Between Iran and Zion is highly recommended not only for readers interested in an original and nuanced examination of Iranian Jewish life between the early 1940s and the early 1980s, but also for those seeking an understanding of the greater Iranian society during this time. It is an excellent demonstration that minority communities cannot be studied in a vacuum."
—Daniella Farah, H-Nationalism
"To the best of my knowledge,Between Iran and Zionis the first utterly successful attempt to liberate the historiography of twentieth-century Iranian Jews from its conceptual and institutional straitjackets. Hence, it provides exciting, novel and thought-provoking insights and findings regarding the modern history of Jews in Iran."
—Haggai Ram, The Tel Aviv Review of Books
"Between Iran and Zion is an important contribution to the current post-Zionist debate on the status and history of Middle Eastern Jews. More importantly, it brings forth the history of Iranian Jews outside of the context of Israeli society and tries to determine its legacy within the Iranian context. I would recommend the book to everyone interested in understanding the complexity and development of Iranian society as a whole between the early 1940s and the early 1980s."
—Alessandra Cecolin, International Journal of Middle East Studies