Postcard from... Hamadan


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The small tomb of Esther and Mordechai doesn’t get many Jewish pilgrims these days.

Their final resting place is in Hamadan, a city two hours drive west of the Iranian capital, Tehran.

Iran is Israel’s biggest enemy, and the holocaust denial of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad only worsened the country’s image in the minds of Jews around the world.

Yet Iran has the biggest Jewish community in the region, outside Israel, and they have a parliamentary seat reserved for one of their representatives as the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ruhollah Khomeini, said the religious minority should be protected.

That hasn’t stopped their numbers dwindling in Hamadan. The keeper of the 13th-century tomb tells me there are now just five Jewish families left in the city. He still opens the gates for tourists once in a while, showing them around the tiny building which bears ancient Aramaic writing on its walls along with Hebrew.

Along with a small donation he asks for one gift. He collects pens from around the world.

I hand him one and tell him it’s from Britain. But then he turns it over and sees the words “Welcome to Iran” printed on it. Oops – I have left my British pen somewhere and picked up the hotel freebie instead. He hands it back to me, unimpressed.