At the back of the room, three women sit together on a bench, hunched over ancient texts. Scarves cover their hair, as required by Iran’s religious law. Birdsong floats into the cavernous space as the incantations grow louder and more insistent.
This is a synagogue. In Iran.
In a nation that has called for Israel to be wiped off the face of the Earth, the Iranian government allows thousands of Jews to worship in peace and continue their association with the country founded more than 2,500 years ago.
“We have all the facilities we need for our rituals, and we can say our prayers very freely. We never have any problems. I can even tell you that, in many cases, we are more respected than Muslims,” said Nejat Golshirazi, 60, rabbi of the synagogue USA TODAY visited one morning last month. “You saw for yourself we don’t even have any security guards here.”