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Daniel in the Lion's Den

As told to Shira Yehudit Djalilmand

Shany Fardian and her family now live peacefully inIsrael. But the tale of her father’s escape fromIranafter the Islamic Revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini is as harrowing as it is miraculous.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

prism of lightI was born in Tehran in the 1960s.I grew up in a comfortable home — I remember our huge garden with exotic flowers and cherry trees and a private swimming pool. Most Iranian Jews during the Shah’s rule were wealthy. We were about 100,000 Jews amongst 40 million Muslims, but the Shah favored Jews so we led good lives.

A few months before the Shah was ousted from power in 1978, he sent the Jews a secret message, warning them to emigrate while they could. Many fled, but plenty of Jews stayed. Some didn’t believe anything would happen; others, like my father, Daniel, couldn’t get hold of ready cash because it was tied up in property.

I was 17 then and had just finished school exams when my father announced our upcoming family vacation toEurope. I packed a small black suitcase and traveled toEnglandwith my parents and seven-year-old sister. My father had to return toIran, but my mother, sister, and I continued toIsrael.

On our expected return date a week later, my father called. He told me the universities inIranwere erupting with violent demonstrations and I was safer inIsrael. My mother and sister returned toIran, leaving me alone inIsraelwith just my suitcase — lonely, miserable, and unable to communicate because I didn’t speak Hebrew.

Four months later, the Shah fell. Khomeini took over amidst rioting on the streets. The people had been fighting for equal rights and more freedom — they didn’t realize that a stricter, less tolerant regime lay ahead.

My sister was attending an expensive, private Jewish school. But the Muslims took over. The girls were forced to wear chadors and chant every morning “Death toAmerica! Death toIsrael!” When my sister came home from school in tears, my father decided enough was enough — it was time to get out.

Unfortunately, it was too late for everyone to go — the government would only allow some family members to leave. The law required a bank guarantee of thousands of dollars to ensure your return — and a family member as extra security. So my father would stay behind, while my mother and sister planned to escape. Even this was fraught with obstacles. On four separate occasions, airport guards refused to let my sister board the plane with my mother. Still, she refused to give up and prepared her fifth attempt.

My mother packed sparingly for the trip, bringing just $200, two bottles of vintage wine, and a valuable diamond ring stuffed inside her stockings. At the airport, she waited in line as each passenger was thoroughly searched. With only four people in front of her, my mother overheard the guard telling the woman being checked, “Take off your stockings!” My mother didn’t know what to do. Her ring was too big to swallow, so she had two choices — run to the bathroom and flush it away, or surrender it to the guard. She didn’t like either option — she didn’t want to lose her ring, but she was terrified of, once again, being denied the opportunity to flee.

My mother prayed. Then, just as the head of security walked past, she pinched my little sister who started to scream! Picture the scene — it’s three o’clock in the morning, and my little sister is standing there in her chador, with red eyes, wailing. The head of security stopped to investigate all the noise. My mother, also wearing her chador, put on her most pitiful expression. Miraculously, the security boss took pity on them and waved them past the body check!

My mother grabbed my sister and raced to the plane before anyone could stop them. She prayed nonstop until the plane took off and left Iranian airspace; then she ripped off their chadors and hugged my sister. My poor little sister had no idea what was going on — first pinches, then hugs? But they were safe!

It was a different story for my father, Daniel. He remained home, alone. Quietly, he sold our luxurious cars and furniture to finance his escape. But it was too dangerous to leave right away, so he waited almost a year. He wasn’t allowed to leave legally, so he had to be smuggled over the mountains via the Turkish border. His cousin Benjamin was in the same situation — his wife and children had left the country, too. Daniel and Benjamin arranged for a group of smugglers to take them on this difficult journey. Even though the trip would take about eight days, they could bring just one small bag with water and biscuits. They told no one. In the middle of the night they were picked up and set off.


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