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How Mashadi Jews preserved their culture after forcibly being converted in Persia (modern day Iran) in 1839

The story of the 1839 forced conversion of the Jews of Mashad to Islam is one of the darker episodes in the history of Persia.  The vast majority of their descendants have fled to the West, where Jews no longer need to practise in secret, or arrange marriages between their children to preserve their Judaism. In researching this profile of Mashadi Jews in Britain for Jewish Renaissance, Michelle Huberman stumbles upon the Cinderella-like tale of Vicky Cohen, who broke with tradition and married a US serviceman.


Once a month – at the top of Kinloss synagogue in Finchley – a group of senior ladies gather together around wooden tables to play cards, eat cake and talk about the old times. But their memories are not stories of East End market stalls, meeting boys on Commercial Road, but life as secret Jews living in Persia as Muslims.

Not that many of these ladies can remember Mashad in the north-east of Iran, as most came as children to Stamford Hill in the 1920s – but their parents passed on their personal memories – which all families have imprinted in their DNA. As was often the case, the men came first – trading mostly in rugs and diamonds – and once they had settled they called for their wives and children. The Mashadi community were very different from their Jewish neighbours – most of whom were Ashkenazi who had fled Latvia and Lithuania in the 1880s and had now moved up from the East End to Stamford Hill. These families had experienced a totally different life and stuck together within their community and initially


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