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The Neve Shalom Synagogue Massacre in Turkey

avatar by Sarah Moosazadeh


Mizrah Babazadeh was a man of the Torah, and lived for attending shul. Photo: Provided.

More than 450 people were scheduled to attend a bar mitzvah at Istanbul’s Neve Shalom Synagogue on September 6, 1986 — but the congregants’ prayers were short-lived.

On that day, terrorists working with Palestinian militant Abu Nidal, opened fire with automatic weapons inside the synagogue, killing 22 people.

Among the casualties were three Persian Jews, including one of my relatives — Rebbe Mizrah Babazadeh.

I first heard about the Neve Shalom Synagogue massacre from my father, when I was an adult — but I wondered why he hadn’t mentioned it before. I also wanted to know how I could get in touch with his relatives, in order to learn and share Mizrah Babazadeh’s story. These questions were soon answered when I attended my cousin’s wedding in New York.

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As it turned out, Babazadeh’s granddaughter, Elenor, was seated at the same table as my father. Minutes later, I found myself exchanging numbers with her, in the hopes of interviewing her mother — Esther, one of Babazadeh’s nine children, and his eldest daughter.

Days later, I was able to conduct that interview. Although 31 years had passed since Babazadeh’s murder, his daughter’s memory of him and his death remained unscathed.

Born in Tehran in 1904, Babazadeh moved to Paris when he turned 16;  he continued his studies there, and assumed a position as a hair dresser while maintaining a religious lifestyle. Known as “Monsieur Jean,” Babazadeh loved his profession until, according to Broukhim, a man entered his shop one day and inquired why he was working on women’s hair if he considered himself religious.

Babazadeh quit his profession, and decided to return to Iran — where he settled in Hamadan, and taught French at the Alliance Israelite Universelle.

While in school, Babazadeh was introduced to Mahboubeh Moosazadeh, whom he married; they welcomed nine children together, including two boys and seven girls. To help support his family, Babazadeh began exporting Persian rugs and antiques.

After the Iranian revolution, Babazadeh moved to Israel — until his oldest son, who was living in Geneva at the time, asked him to join him for a trip to Istanbul. The following morning, Babazadeh rose to attend services at Neve Shalom, despite apparently having revelations concerning his death the night before.

The last time that Broukhim saw her father was at the airport, shortly before dropping him off. She spoke with him that night, and said that she was “very sad and upset” when he began discussing his inheritance for each child with her. “I began yelling, ‘Why are you sharing this with me?’ However, being the kind-natured person that he was, my father gently made me promise him to not get upset, and [to] accept fate.”

Ever since Babazadeh’s murder at Neve Shalom, Broukhim and her siblings have continued to keep their father’s memory alive. For instance, they ignited a flame in 1986 in honor of Babazadeh at the Simon Wisenthal Center in West Los Angeles, in order to help preserve his legacy.

“What took place at Neve Shalom was … [something] that people should never forget,” Broukhim said. “It stands as a reminder that hatred still exists today around the world against Jews, and that we must not turn a blind eye.”

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