By Irwin Levy
We arrive at Tehran’s Immam Khomeni airport in the evening to festive music, tea and sweet treats. No, this isn’t a welcome party for the Peace Delegation, but rather a special greeting station for the many travelers on this holiday of Ashura to commemorate the martyrdom of the 7th century Imam Hossein. Most women are dressed in full black coverings. We meet our lead guide Farid, purchase SIM cards and take our comfortable VIP tourist bus to The Parisian Evin our hotel in North Tehran. Along the highway we pass the immense and brightly lit Mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini with its four grand towers.
Our first morning we rise early, meet our guides Farid and Shahram, hit the road at 6:30 to visit the Youssef Abad Synagogue in the eponymous district that is home to the largest community of Jews in Tehran. To our surprise the congregation is already performing their services for Sukkot - The Feast of the Tabernacles. Only the tallit (prayer shawl) clad men are parading around the bimah all holding their lulu and etrogs. The women watch from their seating section. Our delegation is warmly greeted, seated upstairs in the segregated women’s gallery where we all look down on the ceremony. We stay and chat with Noa a woman congregant who acts as the synagogue’s ambassador to our group. We watch as the Torah is removed from it’s wooden case and the male congregants step to the bimah who each read a few “holy” lines. We are invited into their sukkah which is attractively decorated. We then head back to the hotel for a generous and tasty buffet breakfast.
We leave our hotel on the northern outskirts of Tehran and get a view of the majestic Alborz Mountain Range foothills, Tehran’s ‘north star” that dominates the north skyline. Our route passes the impressive Milad tower, the sixth tallest in the world. We quickly stop to exchange currency and then travel to Sa’d Abad Museum where on the bucolic grounds the last Shah’s summer estate we tour the White Palace that is decorated with the Shah’s extravagant furnishings. During our tour a boy’s third grade school group of about 75 students also is there on a class trip. They are excited to shake hands and exchange greetings with some of us and try out some of their English. We also chat with some senior citizen men relaxing on a bench on the park like grounds. One elder serenades our group with a song.
We travel down an affluent stretch of Valiasr Avenue the longest street in Tehran and all of Iran. Then through central Tehran on Karim Khan Zand Boulevard, passing the Armenian Quarter and the many jewelry shops and the Armenian Church. This takes the group to our next stop, Moses Baba Judiaca antique store where we browse here and other antique shops on Ferdowsi Street. We pass a bakery and share a large traditional Persian flat bread. Then head for a sumptuous buffet lunch and celebrate Jon’s 34th birthday with a surprise cake and Ariel doing a little jig and singing with Amber the CODEPINK birthday song. We board the bus to pop over to the National Museum of Iran and also visit the Islamic Museum next door. After our visit, we stroll over to Melal-e Mottahed a pedestrian street where we find impressive gates dating to 1906 and the the Foreign Ministry headquarters. We also see at the end of the mall the Cossack Quarters building.
We ended our day on the locally popular triple decker pedestrian walkway Tabiat Bridge where we have dinner in the food court. Some of the group have tahchin - a rice cake filled with meat and vegetables — an interesting traditional Iranian dish.