The end of a ‘golden age’: The Jews of Iran

By Helene Cadry

My siblings Janet and Eddy and I were born in the Iranian capital Tehran. The paternal side of our family had lived in Iran for many generations and culturally assimilated into society, as had many Jews living in various other cities such as Shiraz, Mashad, Isfahan.

Helene Cadry (right) pictured with her mother Jacqueline, sister Janet and brother Eddy. Tehran 1950.

Iranian Jewry is one of the oldest Jewish communities, having  settled there about 2,700 years ago, and for the last 1,400 years living under Muslim rule.

On the maternal side, my grandfather was born in Mashad – a city renowned for its forced conversion of Jews to Islam in the early 1800s. He met and married my grandmother in Jerusalem and traveled extensively for business, eventually settling in Shiraz for several years. As the leader of the Jewish community there, my grandfather built a house with a synagogue where the congregation would gather to pray.

Women from Helene’s mother’s side of the family celebrating Purim.

Living in Tehran with my family during the reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi we enjoyed a privileged lifestyle, could integrate freely with other Iranians and be part of a vibrant, productive Jewish community. This was a period often referred to as “The Golden Age for Iranian Jewry”. We lived close to our large and loving extended family with whom we shared many simchas. My siblings and I attended a French school where lessons were conducted in French and Farsi.

As a young man my father traveled extensively, studying Industrial Chemistry at a French University and working for the famous Coty company before returning to Tehran to establish his own successful cosmetics manufacturing business. He predicted that the future of the Jewish community in Iran would not remain “so golden”. We left Tehran for Sydney in 1952, leaving behind the extended family, the majority of whom eventually made new homes in Los Angeles and New York in the 1960s. However, we were blessed to have an addition to our family with the birth of my younger brother and sister – the twins Bobby and Denise in 1958.

Jacques Cadry (Helene’s father) in the Edgecliff showroom of Cadry’s Carpets, which he founded in 1952, with one of his oriental rug repairers.

With the overthrow of Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and subsequent executions of innocent, prominent Jews, my family was grateful for our father’s foresight.

At its peak the Jewish population of Iran was 100,000. It is now estimated to be somewhere between 8500-15,000 – the largest Jewish community in the Middle East (outside of Israel).

Please join me on Monday December 3 at the Sydney Jewish Museum for the annual communal commemoration of the Plight of Jews from Arab Lands and Iran. Details below.

Helene Cadry is on the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies’ organising committee for the annual commemoration of the Plight Jews from Arab Lands and Iran.