Inside the Jewish Hospital That Received A $400,000 Donation From The Iranian Government

At the Dr. Sapir Hospital and Charity Center in Tehran, a strong Jewish history. Read More

By / February 12, 2014

Last week, the New York Times reported that the Iranian government had donated $400,000 to Tehran’s only Jewish hospital, the Dr. Sapir Hospital and Charity Center. The news—delivered in person by Hossein Fereydoon, brother of President Hassan Rouhani—was a source of much skeptical bemusement/eye-rolling on Twitter, and elicited this doubtful reaction from Stephanie Butnick at Tablet:

I don’t mean to look a gift horse in the mouth, but the unexpected donation, which appears to have been given with little warning or context, raises a few questions. Is this part of Rouhani’s skillful charm offensive—a generous gesture of goodwill to a religious minority could potentially go a long way in softening the country’s image in the eyes of the West—or a genuine attempt at cultural change within the country?

The “charm offensive,” in case you were wondering, is not an invasion of militant beauty queens (if only!), but this thing the Iranian government is doing right now to woo world powers and end sanctions. In a romantic-comedy it’d be a montage scene with a peppy soundtrack culminating in a happy disarmament for everyone, in real life it kind of falls flat when you execute poets for blasphemy.

Disturbing (and unsurprising) dictatorial hypocrisies aside, there’s a really nice piece about the history and current status of the hospital in The New York Times:

Named after a Jewish doctor who died in 1921 while trying to cure patients during a typhus epidemic raging through Tehran, the hospital started out as a clinic where all Iranians could come for medical care at vastly reduced rates. For more than 50 years it has been a meeting point for Iranian Jews and Muslims and the most prominent Jewish charity in the capital.

Situated across the street from a Shiite seminary, the Dr. Sapir Hospital and Charity Center continues to offer affordable treatment. Says Mohammad Mirghanin, a seminary student who has sought treatment at the hospital: “They might have a different religion, but they are fellow Iranians. I do not see why I should not go to the Jewish hospital.”

This sentiment was reiterated by the hospital’s Muslim managing director, Khoddad Asnashahri, who told the reporter, “here all people can come, no matter what religion, color or race.” Ninety-six percent of the patients and most of the staff are not Jewish.

Remarkably—despite the vicissitudes of revolution, war, and emigration—the Jewish character of the hospital has remained intact. The charm offensive blunders on, but the beneficiary of the Rouhani’s latest act of generosity, it seems, is a worthy recipient.

Read the full piece here.