Jewish and Persian Connections Mission

In response to statements emanating from the Middle East regarding nuclear threat to both the Jewish and Persian peoples, we seek to project an alternative voice on Jewish- Persian relations that disseminates knowledge about the historical and cultural ties between these two peoples, fosters friendship and openings for creative exchange, and contributes to the identity of adults and children of mixed Jewish and Persian ancestry.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Love Story: Israeli, Iranian Soccer Mates

Modi Kreitman. Ynet Accessed July 18, 2007

In middle of FA Cup soccer match, after Iranian midfielder Andranik Teimourian scores goal for Bolton, he is embraced by Israeli teammate Idan Tal

LONDON - It is an image you can see in almost any soccer match: One of the players scores a goal, and his friends pounce on him with aggressive hugs.

Last week, in a match between the Bolton Wanderers and the Doncaster Rovers, was one real, warm, hard to fake embrace: In the 49th minute, shortly after Iranian midfielder Andranik Teimourian scored Bolton’s fourth goal, he was embraced by none other than Idan Tal, the team’s Israeli midfielder, who scored the team’s third goal a few minutes earlier.

The image of number 16, Teimourian, holding number 23, Tal, quickly became a hit in newspapers and websites all over the world; even the “Persian Football” website proudly reported the historic cooperation between the Iranian and the Israeli. But Idan Tal, one of two Israeli players on the team along with defender Tal Ben Haim, does not understand what the fuss is about.

Idan Tal (Photo: Yoed Cohen)

As far as Tal is concerned, it was just another victory bear hug, and there is no significance to the fact that the other half of this embrace comes from a country which wished his own country gone, or at least gone from the Middle East.

“We don’t discuss the tension between Israel and Iran,” he explained to Yedioth Aharonoth. “Other than hugging, hanging out together and showing the world that people can live and work together, we don’t deal with it. On the team bus we prefer talking about Persian food.”

Kosher meals

There are quite a few points of similarity in the stories of Tal and Teimourian: They are both considered creative and aggressive players, they were both considered big stars in their home countries, and they both joined the small club in this northern town near Liverpool last summer.

The connection between them was instantaneous. “When we were told he was signed, it sounded interesting right away,” explains Tal. “I’ve never known any Iranians. When he came to the club I was already staying at the hotel that is attached to the stadium complex, and before we met he met my wife in the lobby. One of the officials introduced him to my wife and to our children, and they started talking. I met him later. The first thing I told myself was that he doesn’t look Iranian.”

What did you tell him when you embraced after the goal?

“We were laughing. We call him ‘Jesus’ on the team, a nickname the manager gave him when he let his hair grow long and he looked like Jesus, so I said ‘congratulations on the goal, Jesus.’ He’s told me that they follow his career excitedly in Iran. I don’t think they have a problem with him playing with Israelis or having contact with us.”

Teimourian, it should be said, is undoubtedly a deep-seated Iranian. He was born in Tehran 23 years ago, and has been considered as one of the great promises of local soccer for a few years. He became a star in Iran while playing for Abumoslem Khorasan soccer club in the city of Mashhad, the country’s second largest city. The club was sponsored in the past by the Iranian military, which was replaced a few years ago by car maker Iran Khodro.

Teimourian’s meteoric rise to stardom caused him to be called into the Iran national squad at an unusually young age. His first international game, incidentally, was against another one of Israel’s “lovers”, Libya.

His success was not obvious: Teimourian is the first Christian player to play for the national team since the Khomeini revolution. When he crossed himself according to Christian custom before an international game, many viewers stared in disbelief. But Teimourian was able to become a part of the national squad, and is now considered the pride of the Armenian community, which has about 200,000 in Iran.

His two goals in Saturday’s FA cup game were his first two goals in England. “He told me that his family called him from Iran,” Tal recalls. “His fiancée still lives in Iran because she is a school teacher, and he said she was crying with joy. I told him a picture of us hugging was published in Israel, and he thought that was very nice. He’s not really into what’s going on between the two countries. It is serious business, but it’s not something we deal with or should deal with.

“We’re good friends off pitch as well. We talk a lot, sometimes we go out together. He told me a lot about Iran’s World Cup games. He’s living here alone, with no family, but he has a few Iranian friends who have lived in the area many years, and they were also very nice to me when I met them.

"I had no opinion about the Iranians other than what I read in the papers, but now I know they are very nice. This is the beauty of Bolton, what makes it different from other Premier League teams: there are so many foreign players here, and we all get along without politics. Tal Ben Haim and I, for example, get kosher meals at the club, and a Muslim from Abu Dhabi who plays for the team gets meat from a Muslim butcher, so everyone is satisfied.”

What does he tell you about Iran?

He tells me more about the country in the family sense: His life there, his family, his fiancée. It was very interesting to hear about daily life there because we normally only hear about the politics. I told him, for example, about Jerusalem, the city where I was born. He was very interested and I told him that if he came to visit I would personally take care of him.”

And if he invites you?

“First of all, Persian food is excellent. So if Andranik invites me to Iran I will be happy, but I don’t think that will happen in the near future.”

Would you agree to participate along with him in a campaign to improve Israeli-Iranian relations?

“Sure. I think he would be willing to pitch in as well. We haven’t talked about it, but I’m sure that if it does something for the good of the relations between the countries, even something small, then why not?”