Iran's Jewish queen defies decay and dissolution.
The Contemporary Shrine
Today, Esther's Tomb has lost some of its former splendor. Iranian authorities, for example, have removed an ornamented gate Gabbay had erected along the sidewalk using a geometric motif common in many mosques. The problem? Part of the classic motif forms a Jewish Star--a fact regime officials apparently considered intolerable (unlike the fence, the Star of David skylight is not visible from street level). Gabbay himself lives in exile, having fled the Islamic Revolution and restarted his architectural practice in Los Angeles, though he dreams of returning to see the site he transformed.
The question of whether the shrine actually marks the resting place of Esther and her uncle remains unanswered, and is perhaps unanswerable. But one 19th-century Christian pilgrim offered her own insight on the effectual significance of the tomb and the 2,700-year-old Persian Jewish community that guards it:
"Beside the tomb of Esther the lowly race she saved have kept loving watch through all the weary ages. More wonderful than any ancient monument are these Jews themselves, lineal descendants, in blood and faith, of the tribes of Israel, and the only vestige of the truly olden time which entirely defies decay and dissolution."
Diarna, "Our Homes" in Judeo-Arabic, is a project dedicated to virtually preserving Mizrahi ("Eastern") Jewish history through the lens of physical location. Satellite imagery, photographs, videos, oral histories, panoramas, and even three-dimensional models, offer a unique digital window onto sites and communities disappearing before our very eyes. To begin your free trip--no passport or airfare required--explore Diarna's website (http://www.diarna.org). Diarna wishes to thank Iranian-Jewish scholar Orly R. Rahimiyan for her careful and helpful reading of this article in draft form.
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