“Exodus” from Iran, Chabad saves 1200 Students from Iran

Spring, 1978. Two Talmudic students travel to Iran to meet with the leaders of the Jewish community there. The goal was to find ways of bringing Jewish books and services, kashrus supervision and teachers to Iran; and to help bring its Jewish population closer to their Jewish heritage by raising their level of observance.

Immediately upon arrival, the two emissaries got to work in Iran. They set up kosher catering facilities for the Jewish community, increased the hours of Torah study in the Jewish schools, and strengthened the level of Kosher supervision for the slaughter house in Teheran.

While there, in August of 1978, they became aware of the grassroots movement of protest against the policies of the Shah and the growing support for Ayatola Khomeini. As the frequent street demonstrations grew more violent, it was suggested that they should not travel to certain cities, because there was danger on the highways and the outlying cities were extremely dangerous.

In Teheran they met several high school and university students who expressed interest in coming to the United States on student visas to pursue their Jewish and secular studies, and they prepared the necessary paperwork.

Soon after, one of the Talmudic students, Rabbi Hertzel Ilulian, returned to Teheran during the holiday of Sukot to organize the first group of young men and women.

Because of the growing tension and fear in the community, it became evident that many more students would be interested in coming to the U.S. to study. The young emissaries therefore began to organize a system under which a large number of I-20 student visas could be issued.

While Hertzel was back in Iran, during October and November, serious rioting broke out and he was in actual physical danger. At that time, November of 1978, he was successful in returning to the United States with the first group of students. He also brought an additional list of students who requested I-20’s. Work soon began in earnest to arrange these visas and to make arrangements with the facilities and schools that would accept these students upon their arrival.

Rabbi Jacob J. Hecht of the National Committee for the Furtheracnce of Jewish Education received phone calls in the wee hours of the morning. Rabbi Dovid Shofet of Teheran? would report that during the rioting there was an overwhelming fear that the young men would be kidnapped to be conscripted into the army of the revolution and that young Jewish women would be violated in the streets. He pleaded with Rabbi Hecht to send as many 1-20’s as possible. This was no longer a question of emigration for the sake of studying, it was literally a question of saving lives.

Through the efforts of the NCFJE, over 1500 students were brought to the United States under Operation Exodus in 1978 and 1979.

13 Comments

  • 2. Chananya wrote:

    Nice to see this story. Recently, the Misnagdishe periodicals are taking credit for all this work, and not a peep can be heard from Lubavitch. A shame no one can set the record straight.

    • 3. Parsi wrote:

      Chabad was not alone – the number of sponsors needed for all of the Jews who wanted to leave was more than Chabad alone could have handled at the time.

      However, I don’t think any of the misnagdim other than R’ Neuberger from Ner Israel did very much.

      Satmar was also involved (Rav-Tov).

  • 7. Yossi wrote:

    I spoke to the Jew who worked in the embassy that was responsible for issuing the visas. He’s very proud if, despite it being very, very risky.

  • 8. MERSEDEH ROFEIM wrote:

    I WAS ONE OF THE FIRST GROUP OF YOUNG PEOPLE THAT WENT TO ITALY AND THEN CAME TO USA AND I WAS 10 YEARS OLD ONE OF THE YOUNGEST PEOPLE THAT MADE IT TO CROWN HIGHTS THANKS TO RABBIE LUBAVITCH AND RABBIE HEACHT AND RABBIE ILULIAN. I LIVED IN CROWN HIGHTS TILL I GRADUATED FROM HIGH SCHOOL AND I MUST SAY THANK YOU TO ALL ALSO MY 2 FAMILY FIRST GOLDMAN FAMILY AND THEN BOYMELGREEN. THEY SAVED MY LIFE AND GAVE ME A CHANCE TO HAVE A NORMAL LIFE. THERE IS NO BODY LIKE THE LUBAVITCH MOVEMENT. THEY ARE THE REAL THING.THANK YOU, MERSEDEH.

  • 9. Wow wrote:

    The Rebbe really cared for every Jew. May the Shluchim who went there be blessed ad bli dai. May their families have all the brochos. I have heard stories of rabbi raichik a”h and rabbi Illulian ad mea ve’esrim and they are truly great ppl. Beautiful article. Thanks for sharing.

  • 10. Toby lieder wrote:

    We were married just 1 year and were asked to adopt a little girl of 11 yrs old called Elana
    She lived with us for about one year
    Till her mother came to join her
    I remember she came with just one small woven basket in her hand with nuts and some toy that’s it
    She didn’t speak or understand one word in English wow! I will always be grateful to jj Hecht for giving us the opportunity to be part of this great mitzva
    I wonder whaat happened to Elana today I’d you are reding this please contact me!

  • 12. R. D. P. wrote:

    May Hashem Almighty bless Harav Hertzel Illulian i remember when he came from Milan Italy with A big shinning smile in those european elegant suits, i remember when he risked his life and flew to get the kids out, today many of those children are successful businessman who support Israel, jewish education around the world, and many of them Rabbis who have built their own communities around the world. G-D Bless Rabbi Illulian

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