Iranian Jewish Culure
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Agha Yeghoutiel
Philanthropists and Community Leaders

Agha Yeghoutiel


 

 

 

Agha Yeghoutiel is recorded in the annals of the Jews of Kashan as an erudite and philanthropic figure. What follows is a brief account extracted from the reports related by some former students at the Agha Yeghoutiel School of Kashan, as well as those recounted by the third generation of his family’s descendants. — 7Dorim

 

Agha Yeghoutiel was born in 1841 C.E., 1221 of the Persian Calendar, henceforth P.C., to Es-hagh Ben Moshe “Isaac Ben Moses” and Sara Hai, in the city of Kashan, Iran. Not much is known about him, besides that he had three brothers and a sister, namely, Abba, Yaghoub “Jacob”, Asher and Sara. Years later, tragically, the four brothers did not bear any children from their marriages. However, their sister Sara did bear two children, whose descendants today comprise the Reyhani, Masjedi, Asherian and Roshan families. The four brothers were without children, yet they were determined to leave lasting names behind in the Jewish community. Therefore, they decided to donate of their time and wealth to serve the public, each devoting himself to a philanthropic cause, something that the Jewish community of Kashan needed the most.

Agha Yeghoutiel, the eldest of the four brothers, had been active for years in philanthropic causes, and he was more or less familiar with the existing shortcomings of the society of Kashan. Thus, he stepped forward to found a new school in order to decrease the cultural deficiencies of the Kashani society down to a minimum. He went on to personally oversee the construction phase of the project, from the outset to its completion.

Another brother, Agha Abba, built a public bath exclusively for the Jewish people, for at the time, Jews were not permitted to use the public baths of the other sectors of the society.

The third brother, Agha Yaghoub “Jacob”, endowed his best farmland to the Jewish community, so that according to his wishes, the harvest, or the profit gained from the sale thereof, would be distributed among the impoverished members of the community.

And the fourth brother, Agha Asher, reconstructed the Sipak of Asher, which he endowed to the community. The sipak was a steep corridor with a staircase dug into the ground, which allowed the public to access the underground streams of fresh drinkable water.

 

Up until then, there had been no schools for little children in the city of Kashan, and only a select few of the well-to-do families would have their children acquire literacy in the traditional schools known as maktab. Therefore, the founding of the Agha Yeghoutiel School was regarded as a new movement with positive consequences, a transforming project which was from the outset embraced widely by the society. Nevertheless, there were a handful of individuals who opposed this movement, but thanks to Agha Yeghoutiel’s farsighted and insightful policies — he employed the traditional teachers of the maktabs called the mullahs to teach at the new school — they changed their minds, and the protests were thus brought to an end.

Before long, mindful of the girls’ education, Agha Yeghoutiel bought a house next to the school, merged the two buildings, expanded the number of the classrooms, and thence allowed both the girls and the boys to benefit from the educational facilities provided by the school. The move largely transformed the educational system of Kashan. For the first time, little girls and boys were studying in a single school under one roof. By the 1930’s C.E., 1310’s P.C., the girls and the boys of the elementary school numbered more than 450, and an experienced, well-equipped and committed faculty, composed of Iranian and French teachers, made it possible to teach the Hebrew and French languages, besides Persian, and to let nurture the students’ gifts at an admirable level. The success of the project drove a number of non-Jewish children each year to join the Jewish kids at the Agha Yeghoutiel School.

Sadly, in 1925 C.E., 1304 P.C., merely four years after founding the girl’s school, while he was staying in Tehran, Agha Yeghoutiel, the founder of the school in Kashan which bears his name, passed away.

 

The school first opened in 1911 C.E., 1290 P.C., while Agha Yeghoutiel was still alive to see his dream come true, and Sheikh Ziae was appointed as its first Principal. Following Agha Yeghoutiel’s death, the school, then placed under the umbrella of the Alliance Israélite Universelle educational system, persisted for a few years under the oversight of this institution. However, as differences emerged between the Alliance “Ettehad” institution and the Regent of the school, all responsibilities for the school were transferred to the Jewish Association of Kashan, the Regents of the school, and its faculty. At that point, Monsieur Shalom was placed at the helm of the school, and thereafter, several teachers who had been educated in France joined the faculty.

 The Agha Yeghoutiel School of Kashan, School year 1936-37 C.E., 1315-16 P.C.Since its birth in the 1910’s until 1979 C.E. — the 1290’s until 1358 P.C. — a total of 10 Principals were put in charge of this educational unit, three of whom were not Jewish and who went on to serve for years. These Principles included: Sheikh Ziae, Monsieur Shalom, Es‑hagh “Isaac” Benfill, Seyyed Fatemi, Monsieur Hania Melamed, Seyyed Ziae, Agha Eliahu “Elijah” Khosh‑Lessan, Monsieur Benaroche, Sulaiman “Solomon” Daneshvar, and finally, Taghi Ha’eri, who went on to remain in charge for more than 30 years as the Principal of the Agha Yeghoutiel School.

 

The faculty of the school included: 1) Maryam Khanom, 2) Keshvar Khanom, 3) Bibi Jan, 4) Ms. Oheb Mashiach “Messiah” Moreh, 5) Arastoo “Aristotle” Jalil, 6) Yochanan Yazdi, 7) Ehsan Nassir, 8) Moravej, 9) Ms. Akrami, 10) Ms. Sheybani, 11) Es‑hagh “Isaac” Nikpour, 12) Ms. Ajnassian, 13) Ebrahim “Abraham” Nourani, and a number of others.

Years later, Sir David Alliance, a former student of the school in the 1940’s C.E., 1320’s P.C., would always help and encourage the school to maintain its cultural activities through his financial support for the institution. On that note, in the 1950’s C.E., 1330’s P.C., when the Jews of Kashan needed a high school for the girls, another caring member of the Jewish community of Kashan, Asher Setareh, stepped forward to help solve the problem. He, who like Agha Yeghoutiel before him was deprived of children, had a house of his next to the Agha Yeghoutiel School renovated, and he placed it at the disposal of the Regents of the school to establish the Junior High School for the Girls.

After World War II, the Jewish population from across Iran began to move to the capital in an intensifying wave of immigration; and the Jews of Kashan would not be an exception. They too wished to seek better incomes, enjoy more freedoms, and benefit from better cultural and educational facilities. By the end of the 1950’s C.E., 1330’s P.C., a large number of the Jews of Kashan, especially its younger generation, had left for Tehran. As a result, by each passing year, the number of Jewish students who got enrolled in the Agha Yeghoutiel School decreased, while on the other hand, the number of its gentile students increased.

As the 1960-61 C.E., 1939-1940 P.C. school-year began, the number of the Jewish students of the Agha Yeghoutiel School did not reach the required quorum, and thus, the school was fully placed under the umbrella of the Kashan Office of Education. A few years later, even as only a handful of Jewish students were studying there, the Agha Yeghoutiel Alliance “Ettehad” School of Kashan ceased work after 70 years of cultural activity, due to structural abrasion, a lack of attention, a lack of financial support, and for it was located in a non-residential neighborhood; and it was confiscated by the government.

 

Agha Yeghoutiel was regarded as one of the well-reputed businessmen of Kashan. Ever since a young man, he constantly traveled to and from Tehran on business, and thanks to his intelligence and insight, he managed to rise fast in his career. Later, as the Hebra of Tehran, the predecessor of the Tehran Jewish Association, was established, he was chosen to serve as a member of the Hebra. In 1898 C.E., 1277 P.C., the first Ettehad “Alliance” School of Iran was founded in Tehran, followed in 1900 C.E., 1279 P.C. by other branches in Hamedan and Isfahan. Agha Yeghoutiel was so fascinated by the function and organization of this educational institution, which was deemed to belong especially to the Jewish people, that he decided without hesitation to establish a school similar to the Alliance “Ettehad” in his hometown of Kashan.

For long, he corresponded with the Alliance of France, asking for their cooperation to open an Alliance school in the city of Kashan. However, by 1901 C.E., 1280 P.C., his best efforts had led to no avail, and thus, he decided to found a school in Kashan from his own budget. Finally, in 1907 C.E., 1286 P.C., Agha Yeghoutiel, aided by two of his brothers, Mullah Abba and Agha Yaghoub “Jacob”, succeeded to complete the building of the school as a Jewish religious and scientific educational center, located in the Pāgh-Pāl neighborhood of the city — and thus, he realized his old dream.

Although the Alliance organization had no role in the creation of this school, after Agha Yeghoutiel’s death, the Regents of the school changed its name to Alliance “Ettehad”, in order to benefit from the cultural and material assistance of the said organization.

In 1926 C.E., 1305 P.C., as Monsieur Leon Benaroche arrived and took over as the Principal of the school on behalf of the Alliance, the school was placed completely under the umbrella of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. But the Alliance did not financially support the Agha Yeghoutiel School, and thus before long, disagreements emerged between Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Regents of the school, so far as in 1931 C.E., 1310 P.C., the relations had grown cold, and communication was severed.

It should be noted that until 1929 C.E., 1308 P.C., the Agha Yeghoutiel “Ettehad” School was run as a mixed school for the girls and the boys. However, once divided, the boys’ school was directed by Monsieur Benaroche, while Madame Benaroche undertook directing the girls’ school.

 

The late Chacham Yedidia Shofet, the religious leader of the Iranian Jewish community from 1951 to 1981 C.E., 1330 to 1360 P.C., relates in his memoirs that in 1911 C.E., 1290 P.C., at the age of 6, he began studying at the Agha Yeghoutiel Elementary. At the age of 18, besides being a member of the Board of Directors of the school, or the Jewish Association of Kashan, he was in charge of the financial affairs, the treasury of the Association, and the clerical work of the school. He further states that several years after its establishment, the school still had no signboards to showcase its name. The Chacham, with his beautiful handwriting, wrote the words “Agha Yeghoutiel School” in Persian on a board, which was subsequently posted above the gate of the school.

Moreover, on the northern wall of the school’s courtyard, an image of the founder of the school was depicted on a tile-work, decorated by the text of the endowment in Persian and Hebrew, as follows: “This humble, Yeghoutiel, the son of the late Es‑hagh ‘Isaac’, with my heart’s content, endow this house and its buildings in their entirety to the respected Jewish people of Kashan. Neither in my life, nor after my death, none of my inheritors has had or shall have any rights to this house. 1329 [of the Arabic Calendar]” — i.e., 1911 C.E., or 1329 P.C.

Years later, the former students of the Agha Yeghoutiel School have continued to remember that benevolent man in loving terms. In 1996 C.E., in a project initiated by Norman “Nourollah” Gabay and friends, fellow former students of the Agha Yeghoutiel School, a commemoration ceremony was organized to honor the invaluable services of that great philanthropist.

During the ceremony, heartfelt tributes were paid to the late founder of the school, and warm gratitude was expressed toward Mr. Taghi Ha’eri, the last Principal of the school. Furthermore, it was decided that a cultural center would be created in the Holy land to be named after Agha Yeghoutiel, to preserve his name and memory for the posterity. The proposed center would consist of a synagogue, a community hall, and a ceremonial hall for large celebrations, as well as a gathering center for the elderly. Finally, in 2005 C.E., by the support of the former students of the Agha Yeghoutiel School, the ambitious commemoration project was completed, and the Agha Yeghoutiel Cultural and Social Center was opened to serve the public.

 

Based on the notes provided by the former students of the Agha Yeghoutiel Alliance “Ettehad” School of Kashan, including Norman “Nourollah” Gabay, Ebrahim “Abraham” Setareh-Shenas, Jacob Setareh-Shenas, etc.

 

 

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The tile-work of the dedication plaque of the school, which bears an image of its founder Agha Yeghoutiel. The artwork is signed by “Master Ali-Akbar Amal, the Tile-Maker.” The year of the dedication is 1329 of the Arabic Calendar, 1911 C.E., 1290 P.C. The text of the dedication expresses the wishes of the founder pertaining to the endowment.

 

 

 The Agha Yeghoutiel School, Kashan, 1920’s C.E., 1300’s P.C. Agha Yeghoutiel is supervising the preparations for the girl’s unit of the School