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Portrait of Rabin Yaghoubi wearing a tallit, tefillin as well as a kippah. In his hands he holds a prayer book.

A Persian bar mitzvah in Hamburg

Video recording of Rabin Yaghoubi’s bar mitzvah, 1984, donated by Rabin Yaghoubi, 2018

In fall 1984, Rita and Abdi Yaghoubi invited friends and relatives to their son Rabin’s bar mitzvah in Hamburg. In 2018 Rabin Yaghoubi presented the Jewish Museum Berlin with various objects that document this important event in his life: a video recording, an engraved kiddush cup, an invitation card, and a portrait photograph.

The first part of the amateur video shows Rabin Yaghoubi putting on tefillin and reading his parashah, or weekly Torah portion. The footage was taken in the small prayer room of the Hamburg synagogue – not on the day of his bar mitzvah, but on the Thursday before. This was necessary because bar mitzvahs take place on Shabbat and filming is prohibited on that day. The video is almost two hours long, and the second part shows a boisterous celebration. Members of the family from Hamburg, London, Milan, and New York address the bar mitzvah boy personally in Farsi. A Persian bar mitzvah? Not a rarity in Hamburg at the time.

A unique community

The Yaghoubi family belonged to a group of Jewish immigrants unique in Germany. Already in the 1950s, the first Jews arrived in the German port city from Iran. Two decades later, there were almost three hundred Persian Jews in Hamburg, most of them young families. They made up one-quarter of the local Jewish community, which was dominated by Holocaust survivors and returnees of German and Eastern European descent.

Like many of the Persian Jews who opened businesses in the free port of Hamburg just a few years after the Holocaust, Abdi Yaghoubi was a successful importer of Persian carpets. The couple’s children were born and grew up in Hamburg, but left the city to study abroad. In the late 1990s, the Yaghoubis emigrated themselves, settling in the United States. In fact, the majority of Persian Jews had already left Hamburg by then, finding new homes mostly in the Persian Jewish diaspora communities in Israel and the United States.

Period atmosphere and ephemerality

Rabin Yaghousbi’s donation has expanded our collection to include several objects that shine a light on a largely unknown aspect of Jewish life after 1945. They provide a glimpse not only of local history and tradition but also of immigration and transnational networks. With the help of the family film, all these topics can be analyzed.

Amateur films have tremendous value as a medium of cultural historical documentation. After all, they capture intangible and ephemeral cultural heritage. Collecting, preserving, studying, and presenting private audiovisual material will remain one of our museum’s most important tasks in the future.

Tamar Lewinsky, collections curator

Citation recommendation:

Tamar Lewinsky (2021), A Persian bar mitzvah in Hamburg . Video recording of Rabin Yaghoubi’s bar mitzvah, 1984, donated by Rabin Yaghoubi, 2018 .
URL: www.jmberlin.de/en/node/8339

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