Purim, Persia & Mashadi Boys

Well it’s the time of year to celebrate Queen Esther. The Jewess who saved Persian Jews from death.

I’ve learned a lot of Jewish history through boyfriends. Having an attraction for dark men from warm Sephardi families, I have gained a lot of knowledge of their cultures. Take Alessandro (not his real name), who was a Mashadi Jew living in Milan. I’d met him on JDate and he kept EasyJet in business flying in on weekends to meet me. What was amazing that he was 45 and unmarried (I discovered why later, but that’s not for this blog). Most Mashadi Jews marry in their teens. If you’re single at 21, you are on the shelf! The matriarchs of these families are busy matchmaking their children from when they are infants.

This all stems back to the city of Mashad in Eastern Iran, and old habits are hard to break. The Jews were given 2 simple choices: conversion or death. The entire Jewish community of Mashad converted to Islam and started new lives as “Jadid-Al-Islam” or “New Moslems.” This new faith was only on the surface and for the eyes of their Moslem neighbors. They had to live double lives; on the surface they were Moslems, but in secret they continued to live their lives as true Jews. They had to adopt Islamic names for themselves and their children. Mohammad, Ali and Hassan are quite common among the older generation of the Mashadi Jews. Many made the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina which awarded them the title of Hadji. Their surnames mostly end with an -off!

They had to protect themselves from intermarriage, so would often marry off their children at very young ages, around nine or ten. If a Muslim suitor approached them for their daughter, they could claim that she was either married or had already been spoken for. This way they kept marriages among themselves.

Today most Mashadi Jews outside of Israel live in New York, Hamburg, London or Milan. They still marry amongst themselves, very often to cousins. They have a very distinctive look – which once you’ve met one, you’ll recognise the rest of the clan. Dark, hairy and quite stocky. Most of them are either rug dealers or diamond merchants.  Unlike the Jews from Tehran who are flashy and like the high life, Mashadi Jews are very down to earth and like just the basics. In Israeli there are loads of jokes about Iranian Jews, they’re stereotyped as very mean – like the Scots are here. When they were translated to me, they had me rolling on the floor in laughter. Feel free anyone to share some here.

Interestingly… I heard Alessandro had recently married a blonde, Ashkenaze girl he’d met on JDate. Obviously breaking the mould.

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Liora said,

    Hi Gina,
    I just came across your blog.
    I was born & raised in Golders Green, but now live in the US. I’m also a mashadi jew (at least my grandparents were all mashadi jews).
    I enjoyed reading about your experiences with a mashadi guy.
    My parents had me going on dates with mashadi boys starting at age 17.
    I wasn’t interested and eventually married a nice, fresh, Ashkenazi American at the ripe old age of 27!
    The only part of your post I take issue with is your physical description of mashadis. We are not “dark, hairy and quite stocky” in general. In fact, most of the mashadis I know (including myself) are fair skinned, not hairy and look almost Chinese.
    Don’t forget that mashad is located in northeastern Iran – we look very different from Tehrani Persians.
    Other than that – great blog.


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