Oh Hear the
Story of Mahaheh Palace
The Farsi Poem translated into English Prose
Let me take you to the “Palace”
Oh, how sweet was the air of Sarechal, the Palace of Mahaleh and all its beauty. At that time, there were no coolers or radios, nor videos, nor the type of opportunities available today. There were no TVs, no cassette players, and no cars. The food of the day was terrid, soup of bread and dough (yogurt drink). The Mahaleh was located near the Shah’s mansion and surrounded by small old-style “shopping centers.” From there, one could get to Gozar-re Masjed-e Hose (one of the narrow streets near a mosque) and Mast-bandi (where yogurt was made), and then go to Raste-ye Bazaz-ha (where cloths were sold) and from there to Meydun-e Ghandi (Ghandi Square). This led to Tekiye-he Reza Gholi Khan (a famous street where many Jews dwelled, mostly former villagers). Many stores filled with goods; at one end, “Super-e” Seyed Ali Baghal (akin to a mini “super”), and at the other end Roghan Keshi-ye Seyed Ali Naghal (sesame oil producer). There was also a spring, then Khiyaban-e Cyrus (Cyrus St.), free of microbes and of viruses.
On the Schools
There were two schools at the time where the kids of the Mahaleh learned. One was Alliance and the other Mirza Nourollah, both with capable instructors. Nourollah later became Sedaghat, and its administrator, Mirza Janilous-e Hakim, was a man of great wisdom. The administrators of Alliance were Lardo, Nassi and Kohenka, all of good fortune.
Regarding the Rabbis
Let me describe the more famous mollahs (special rabbis or wise men who had gained deep respect in the community for their study and interpretation of the Torah) that I can recall for my friends. Mollah Abraham and Mollah Shalom were like judges, accepted widely by the community. Hakham Yaghoub, Hakham Haim Moreh, and Mollah Davoud-e Shadi uniquely served the community. Mollah Yousef-e Yazdi and Mollah Aghajouny were deeply spiritual and learned. Benyamin Ayousef and Pinchas-e Aghel led prayers and gave d’var Torahs (communal explanations of Jewish texts) with a sense of humor. Benyamin Ayousef and his prayers, what excitement he created! Hakham Yedidiya and Hakham Ouriel regularly shared talks that found a place in people’s hearts. What fame did Asher Mordekha-ye Azariya possess! He was always calm and transparent, like the ocean’s waters. Wherever Yeshayai was invited, he created waves with his songs and his playing of instruments. Mollah Rahamim and Agha Jan Mollah were both elders, highly devoted to teffilah (prayer).
Of the famous doctors, allow me to name them one by one. There were Dr. Ahoub, Loghman-e Nehorai, Hakham Rabi Moshe, Hakham Nahoray, Dr. Boghrati, Major Amir Khan, Dr. Albu, Dr. Meir Khan Khan, Dr. Massih and Dr. Morteza-ye Moallem, all knowledgeable, wise, and full of experience. Others included Dr. Nejat and Dr. Farajollah-e Bina, eye doctors with such purity and knowledge.*
* Later there was also Dr. Sedaghatpour, not mentioned in this poem, whose office was in Mahaleh. His son is now a doctor in New Jersey.
Allow me to put down what I remember of the synagogues, dear friends… Kenissa-ye Ezra Yaghoub, Mollah Hanina, Elisafan and Hadash all shined like jewels. Others were Yaghoub Khalu and Haim Mollah. These six synagogues were designed and used according to God’s will. Later on, Hassan Abad was added, newly built, magnificent, stunning.
Let’s talk of the singers, famous and joyful...Yahya Zar Panje (literally golden fingered) increased joy, Ney Davoud lifted the spirit. Along with Yousef Khan and Moussa Khan, who were both well-known musicians, Bakhshi was full of energy. There were two expert violinists, Habib Ney Davoud and Ayoub-e Rabi, talented as musicians and teachers, and two deft drum players, one Ezra and one Bemouni. Shimon the skilled poust-tarash (hide dresser) and capable zarb-gir (drummer) deftly placed animal skins on drums. Then there was a woman singer named Bibi who had a lovely, engaging voice.
Four pharmacies existed at the time, all were like abodes. Soleiman-e Naghi and Bein-olmelali were two of these. Others were Rahim-e Torbati and Mirza Yaghoub, who was the groom of Naghi, and wonderful in himself.
There were also four banks* on the Sarechal main boulevard—and each had earned great wealth in their time. The first was Mirza Khodadad, a calm, peaceful place. Its guard’s name was Agha Koochal Khan (Mr. Little, an ironic title given to him), who had a lisp, and was large-framed, a great teaser. The others were Yousef Yermyan and Famil-e Afandi, located around the corner from the Masjed and Mast-bandi. The fourth was the famous Dardashti, located at the entrance of Sarechal.
*These “banks” had no offices, no secretaries and no tellers. They were just individuals who lent money from their homes. Their entire recordkeeping consisted of one notebook.
Let me introduce the public bathhouses. Hamom-e Ba Khazineh was a bathhouse with steps leading to a reservoir of water where one could dip into up to the neck (depending on how tall one was, of course). Hakim Mashiach and Hamom-e Eshagh were very special, without peers anywhere in the whole world. A third bathhouse, Hamom-e Sarechal, had water that I could not envision in my dreams.
There were two “bazaars” in Sarechal, one was Ayoub and the other Moshe Mikhael. The former was a source for local buyers and sellers (it had small stores), while the latter was a Mosafer Khaneh (literally “house of travelers,” an inn where travelers spent the night), which was actually more profitable than the stores.
Two chicken-sellers were well known in the Mahaleh, both with easy to recall names. There was Eli Morghi with his basket-filled chickens and his accounting notebook. He was constantly requesting payments. The other, Dakhil, was a tall, hardworking man who was humble, good natured and brave.
God bless the soul of Haim Yalal, an expert winemaker, curative of the heart. Aba Nouni and his competitor Menashe, were two sellers of sangak (long brick-oven baked breads), both quite energetic.
Our Favorite Foods
I had three schoolmates and we would spend much time together. We were regular consumers of Ab-e Alu, a tasty juice of dried plums soaked in water overnight, making them soft and slippery like cherries. We could usually buy 10 dried plums for the price of ten dinar. In order to eat more dried plums and to conserve money, a couple of kids would swallow whole dried plums. When it came to pay, they would ask for dried plums in place of the pits they ate. I, too, was one of the few who would swallow the whole dried plums.
These days no one remembers shahtoot (blackberries) that energized and gave strength. Early in the mornings one could hear the blackberry-seller with a big bowl of blackberries and a measuring cup. Customers would run out of their homes shoeless from their excitement for these berries. Blackberries were cleansers, each individual one looking like a ruby. People do not recall what those blackberries were like as one can no longer find them anymore, except maybe in frozen packages. I remember the mulberries, how tasty, sweet and nutritious they were. They were sold on large trays (usually carried by sellers on their heads, taken from one customer to another) or placed in small boxes. Finding such mulberries today is nearly impossible—especially as they were so large and juicy, picked fresh from the fields. Whoever has eaten Arman’s ice cream will remember this from me: at the time he was famous and had some power among the folks of Sarechal. (Arman’s located at the top of the Mahaleh, was owned by an Armenian, and this is where the name—Arman’s ice cream—came from. All the Jews knew him and he knew them, too).
Of the butchers, there was Shalom, Pinchas, Ata Ollah, Tzion, Khanbaba and Shimon, all gentlemen. On one hand you could see Babai, and on the other hand you could see Shmuel-e Ghassab (literally Shmuel the butcher, as many were known by the work they performed) who would sell meat without keeping count.
Now it is time to talk of the bazaz and kharaz (stores that sold small merchandise such as those related to sewing). Of the cloth sellers I will name friends so that you may also come to know them. Ebrahim Bakhshi and Nourollah Safati sold clothing items typical of villagers (such as buttons, lace, metric measures and beads). Homayoon, Shazdeh, and Shokrollah Golsaz were three friends and partners who talked with one another and were all sincere men. Let me recount the names of the small appliance sellers that I can recall. There were Aflat, a co-worker of Nourollah, Amehti Roghani, and Assaghi. I swear on the Mollah (an expression that one is telling the truth).
Oh, how sweet was the air of Sarechal, Haim Davoudi and his scarf and robe. How tasty was the dish of dried plum water! How and when shall I even dream of such things again? Buyers were mostly students who loved dried plums with their hearts and souls.
The Food Vendors
Boy did we enjoy eating Sirabi-ye Kaleh Pacheh (a dish of veal feet cooked with veal tongue and legumes)! Whoever did not partake lost out. How wonderful was Eshagh and his pot of Halim (a thick soup of turkey and wheat, slow cooked and stirred overnight by someone holding watch over the pot). Another dish was Adassi (lentils, also slow cooked in a large carefully watched copper pot). How spicy was the lentil chutney, sour, salty and tasty. Now is the turn of Abram Ash-e Kashki (Abram had been given the title of the special dish of ash cooked by him, made of legumes, rice and various greens, topped by kashk or dry yogurt. Kashk was made of plain yogurt that would be left to dry in the sun, with salt added so that it would not spoil. The remaining thick yogurt would be mixed again with a bit of water and added to cooked ash and various other dishes).
Another food was Ash-e Bilar, a popular dish in the Mahaleh back then. A third dish was Ash-e Reshteh (made of legumes, various greens and flat hand-made wheat noodles. Reshteh, wheat noodles, were made of dough that would be cut into thin, long slices and laid out on a large tray to dry in the sun). Ashe-Reshteh was eaten with Nan-e Bereshteh (a kind of crunchy pita cooked in a tanour or brick oven).
Amram Sabizi-Foroush (a title referring to Amram as seller of greens) and Ahaim Mollah (the letter “A” was generally added to the start of names denoting “Mr.”) were two sellers of greens who were quite friendly and talked often in jest and in a personable manner. Oh, Mr. Haim Eshagh-e Baghal (Baghal referring to a small grocery store that sold various daily necessities), with his very useful items. Oh, Yermy and Davoud-e Anari (Anari referring to the seller of pomegranate, anar), hard working and productive fruit-sellers. Oh, Yaghoub-e Ghahveh-chi, (Ghahve-chi referring to the owner of a coffee shop) in Timcheh Ayoub (Ayoub “bazaar”), his Chelo Abgusht-e Gondi (a dish of chicken soup with meatballs of dried chickpeas, meat and cardamom served on white rice, traditionally eaten by Jews of Iran on Shabbat) was divine. Oh, his Komaj (thick bread, hand-cooked and pita-like) was without a peer, sadly now out of reach.
Many types of snacks were sold at the time (such as nuts, dried fruit, candy, and cookies); How cheap they were, delicious like syrup: almonds, poppy seeds, walnuts, sesame. Zulubia, Bamiye, Masghati, and Senjed (kinds of sweet delicacies); Zulubia and Bamiye (of flour, sugar, water and yogurt); Masghati (of wheat starch and grape juice); Senjed (a sweet dried fruit); toasted almonds, Noghl-e Majoun, Ghotab, Halva Ardeh, Royachi Partab (all various kinds of sweets); Shekar Panir (sweet cheese), ice cream, Faloudeh, Pashmak and Poulak, all could be eaten together at once or one by one; Labu (steamed beets), Labu Tanouri (beets cooked in the brick bread oven), Sibzamini-bandi; Mama Jimjim (sesame with red cane sugar, made into brittle), Yakhni, Golab Shekar Ghandi.
The only refuge for strangers and acquaintances alike was Kanoun-e Khir Khah, an organization that assisted those in need. I pay respect to those who built it. Oh, the doctors, the nurses and guards! Dr. Sapir, Dr. Forouzan, and Dr. Matloub were three doctors who helped the community with their care and their generosity. They were the ones who established the foundation. What a place, without match and so needed. An emergency room, a hospital, and a clinic made up the organization’s facilities. The pure spirits of these public servants! May they be happy and full of charity for eternity. How beautiful is the light of those who have lived in “the Palace.”
Feb. 5, 1992