In his infamous 1983 letter to me responding to my pleas to help Ethiopian Jews, the late Chabad-Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote:
Equally, your claims regarding scholarships and other projects you
mention in your letter are not logical and they do not fit in with the
activities and duties of Chabad-Lubavitch institutions or
Of course, this was complete bullshit. Chabad had long been involved in using these same methods to save Iranian Jews. (So, to be clear, had Satmar.) But Chabad’s operation had come to a halt early in 1982. And it was no state secret. Iranian Jews saved this way were very evident in Crown Heights and LA, and they didn’t hide how they were saved. Many had moved from the US to Israel, as well.
Many of you questioned me on this point, claiming Chabad had not used student visas to save Iraninan Jews. Well, just to keep the record clear, here is why you were so very wrong:
One late afternoon in October 1978, Hertzel Illulian, a Chabad student from Brooklyn, was silently praying mincha outside the Intercontinental Hotel in Tehran. He took three steps back after reciting the Amidah, the service’s central prayer, and found himself surrounded by a wall of men, secret police dressed in street clothes.
They threatened to cart him off to jail, eventually dismissing him and taking a local Iranian Jew instead.
This was a period of massive unrest in Iran, as pro-Ayatollah Khomeini supporters engaged in often violent street demonstrations against the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who had imposed martial law and whose tanks and troops patrolled the streets. But Illulian, then 19, didn’t feel scared.
"I was courageous," he said. "I had the purpose to save Jewish children."
He was an official Chabad student shaliach, or emissary, working on behalf of [Chabad’s] Brooklyn-based National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, and armed with the coveted blessing of Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneersohn. This was the beginning of his now-legendary mission to help transport about 3,000 young Jewish Persians, most ranging in age from 12 to 19, using I-20 student visas, from an increasingly dangerous Iran to safety in the United States.…
Illulian, who was raised in Milan, Italy, by parents born in Tehran, has a bona fide track record in this area. It was his idea to bring almost 3,000 young people out of Iran, working tirelessly from 1978 to about 1982 to accomplish it.
Sholem Hecht, rabbi of the Sephardic Jewish Congregation and Center in Queens, N.Y., who accompanied Illulian on his first trip to Tehran and assisted in the rescue, said, "There’s no question he played a very special role in the history of Iranian Jews in America."
The Rebbe lied. Ethiopian Jews died. Period. End of story.