Gold Coins Depicting Iranian Shah Bahram V, often referred to as Bahramgur – “Bahram the Hunter”
Shushandukht (c. 380-430 CE) was born in Persia, the daughter of the Resh Galuta (Exilarch), a title reserved for the chief rabbi and official leader of the Jews in the diaspora during this time period. Little is known of her early life. She went on to marry the Sasanian king Yazdegerd I, and gave him two sons, Shapur IV and Bahram V (c. 406-438 CE). Yazdegerd and Shapur were assassinated, triggering a brief civil war that ended with Bahram successfully taking the throne. Bahram V went on to reign for nearly two decades as Iran’s Shah. In that time, he held off the advancing Eastern Roman Empire and conquered Armenia. Later, a massive invasion by the feared Huns nearly destroyed his empire. However, he caught the Huns unaware in a surprise night attack, decimating their force, and bringing peace to the entire region. Bahram presided over a period of great Persian wealth. Coins with Bahram’s portrait have been found across Asia. Not surprisingly, Bahram V became one of the most legendary kings in Asian history, and is an important figure not just in Iran, but in Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India, and even in Islamic literature (despite the fact that the Muslims tried pretty hard to erase pre-Islamic Iranian history). Bahram V is the hero of many ancient Persian legends. One of these was translated into English under the title The Three Princes of Serendip – giving rise to the word “serendipity”. In the famous Persian epic Shahnameh, he is the king that slays two lions with his bare hands. Meanwhile, his mother Shushandukht used her position to assist the Jews of Iran (where the vast majority of the world’s Jews lived at the time). She established large and prosperous Jewish neighbourhoods in Esfahan, Susa, Hamadan, and Shushtar. During this period, the Jewish Exilarch sat on the Shah’s court. Many scholars believe that the ‘Tomb of Esther and Mordechai’ in modern-day Iran is actually the tomb of Shushandukht.
Words of the Week
It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has. – Hippocrates
Tomb of Esther and Mordechai (or Shushandukht) in present-day Hamadan, Iran (Credit: Philippe Chavin)
Yechiel “Hilik” Magnus (b. 1949) was born in Sweden to a German-Polish-Jewish family that moved to Israel while he was still an infant. Magnus grew up in the Holy Land, and served in the IDF as an elite paratrooper, as well as with the special forces, and later with the Mossad. After his military career, he worked as the director of nature conservation in Israel’s southern regions. During an Israeli-Japanese cultural project, Magnus found a new passion in traveling to the Far East, and toured the region extensively. Due to his intense military and intelligence training, Magnus was soon involved in a number of rescue missions to save Israeli backpackers trapped in Asia. By 1994, he turned this into a full-time job, creating an international search and rescue team that works with insurance companies and worried parents. He has helped bring thousands of families back together, earning the nickname of Israel’s “national rescuer”. These missions have included saving people from natural disasters, accidents, druggings, hostage situations, and even freeing Israelis from prison. Several years ago, he tracked down the body of a young man missing for over a month in Brazil. Most recently, he journeyed to Nepal to help those trapped in the snowstorm that killed dozens. His expertise makes him sought out by various governments and organizations all over the world. He is the first man Israeli parents call when their children abroad are in trouble. Soon, it won’t be just Israeli parents, as Magnus has grown his search and rescue team, and intends on offering these services to any family in need of assistance. Despite being in his mid-60s, Magnus still leads even the most difficult of missions.
Words of the Week
Climb mountains not so the world can see you, but so you can see the world. – David McCullough Jr.
The Khazars (c. 650-1016 CE) A perplexing people with unknown origins who rose to European and Asian dominance, the Khazars are most famous for their national conversion to Judaism. Speculated to have begun as a Turkic break-away kingdom, the Khazars spread quickly to encompass the entire Caucasus region, southern Russia and parts of Eastern Europe. In the 700s, the Khazars waged a series of wars against the superpower Arab Caliphate, which historians agree prevented Europe from becoming an Islamic continent. Around 740 CE, King Bulan, feeling a lack of spirituality in his warrior life, invited representatives of the major religions. He found truth in Judaism and converted. Keeping with the Jewish way, he did not impose his new lifestyle on anyone. Nonetheless, the nobility slowly followed suit and by 860 CE, so had most of the kingdom. The Khazars dominated world trade, controlling much of the Silk Road. The silver coins that they minted (called Yarmaqs) are commonly found in places like China and England, and in 1999 a large reserve of these coins was found in Sweden, bearing the inscription “Moses is the Prophet of God”. Sadly, the kingdom declined after a series of revolts, was then overrun by the Rus, and destroyed by the Mongols.
Words of the Week
Stay away – to the ultimate degree – from “holy wars.” Not because we lack the means of prevailing or because of timorousness, but because we must consecrate all our strength exclusively to strengthening our own structure, the edifice of Torah and mitzvot performed in holiness and purity – Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch