Activists campaign against visit of anti-Semitic Iranian comedian

Posted on Jewish Journal By: Karmel Melamed March 11, 2015 After local Iranian-Jewish community activists received information in February that Akbar Abdi, an Iranian Muslim comedian notorious for his anti-Semitism, would be traveling to the United States from Iran to perform Farsi language shows in Southern California, they launched a grass-roots campaign to have the U.S. Department of State revoke the comedian’s visa. “What I have learned of U.S. Jewish history is that the Jewish community has always steadfastly condemned any kind of anti-Semitism and xenophobia,” said George Haroonian, the L.A.-area Iranian-Jewish activist spearheading the campaign. Abdi, who is in his late 50s, is very popular in Iran for his roles in comedy films, some with direct anti-Semitic themes, which span nearly four decades. He is also well known outside of Iran because his films have been broadcast on Farsi-language satellite TV by the Iranian state-run television network. Perhaps the most widely seen evidence of Abdi’s anti-Semitism can be found in a YouTube video from 2013 in which he is shown receiving a film award from Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and praising Ahmadinejad for “his courageous United Nation’s speech in the Johood’s own house.” The Farsi word Johood is a derogatory term for Jews, which has been used in Iran for centuries to humiliate and threaten people of the Jewish faith. “The term Johood is a painful reminder of persecution, beatings, looting, exiles and even massacres Jews faced throughout Iranian history,” said Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian-Jewish activist and head of the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran. “The average Iranian Jew may even experience physical pain when hearing this term, which is akin to the N word [for] African-American people.” ADVERTISEMENT In Abdi’s films, he frequently uses the term Johood, and in one he openly mocks persecuted Jews escaping from anti-Semites in Iran by saying “God didn’t even make me a lowly Johood, so I could get a visa to leave this country.” The management of the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, which initially had agreed to host Abdi for a Los Angeles performance at the end of February, said it canceled his show after being notified by local Iranian-Jewish activists about the comedian’s strong anti-Semitic statements. Activists said they don’t know how many tickets were sold for Abdi’s performance, but they had sent out alerts to Iranian Jews through synagogues and emails as well as on social media imploring potential ticket-buyers to boycott his show. The community activists contacted by the Journal also said they do not know what, if any, other Southern California venues had scheduled Abdi to perform, as the tour’s promoters stopped publicizing his events in the Persian-language media after the Ebell Theatre cancellation. It’s also unknown who was promoting the tour, although activists believe the backers could be someone or a government agency connected with the Iranian regime, which is known for actively promoting anti-Semitic films and television programs. A spokesperson at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., contacted by the Journal for comment about the status of Abdi’s entry visa, stated in an email that “because of visa confidentiality restrictions under section 222(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Department of State cannot discuss individual visa applications.” Calls to members of Congress representing various Southern California districts regarding Abdi’s potential for obtaining a visa also went unreturned. Several local Iranian-Jewish activists said they were shocked that Abdi might be allowed into the U.S. “Abdi’s hate speech has no place in America,” said Sam Yebri, president of the L.A.-based Iranian-Jewish group 30 Years After. “Such pure, unadulterated anti-Semitism is the reason why Jews escaped the bigotry of the Islamic Republic of Iran for the tolerance and diversity of America.” Local Jewish groups, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, have offered their support for Southern California Iranian Jews who have been pushing the Obama administration to bar Abdi from entering the country. “Considering the anti-Semitic nature of the Iranian regime and the fact that it often uses cultural entities to further such policies, we would expect U.S. authorities to fully vet requests for visas from such individuals,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center. “Can a comedian actually do harm to an entire community through his words? Ask French Jewry about Dieudonné [M’Bala M’Bala].” Leaders at the San Francisco-based nonprofit JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), too, have joined forces with Iranian-Jewish activists in L.A. by posting an online petition calling for the U.S. State Department to revoke Abdi’s entry visa. “Our organization was created to raise awareness to the consequences of anti-Semitism in North Africa and the Middle East, so we are concerned to see anti-Semitic elements supported by the Iranian regime given a public platform to enter and perform here in the USA,” JIMENA officials said in an email to the Journal. “Our goal is to raise [and] heighten awareness and mobilize the public to protest Akbar Abdi’s entry and potential performances in Los Angeles.” Haroonian said his group, Concerned Jewish-Americans from the Middle East, was poised to reach as many outlets as possible to expose Abdi’s anti-Semitism because a large segment of Southern California’s non-Jewish Iranians often have been insensitive to the Farsi language hate speech targeted toward Jews. He added that some older Iranian Jews suggested ignoring Abdi altogether. “There are a few Iranian Jews who have suggested it is best to ignore this man, so as not to ‘jeopardize the Jewish community in Iran,’ but I flatly reject that mentality,” Haroonian said. “If we came to this country, it was to have the freedom to defend our rights and not to be quiet.” Nikbakht believes Abdi’s hatred of Jews is a byproduct of the Iranian regime’s openly anti-Semitic policies, and that the regime has encouraged others to help advance its message of hate. “The Iranian Intelligence Ministry as well as the Ershad, or Ministry of Indoctrination [Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance], has been approaching many screenwriters, actors and others for years to produce anti-Semitic products,” Nikbakht said. “The ongoing case of the Iranian annual Holocaust Cartoons Contest on the [International} Holocaust Remembrance Day is just an example of the regime’s hatred of Jews.” Representatives at the Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations did not return calls for comment. 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Jewish Journal By: Karmel Melamed March 11, 2015 After local Iranian-Jewish community activists received information in February that Akbar Abdi, an Iranian Muslim comedian notorious for his anti-Semitism, would be traveling to the United States from Iran to perform Farsi language shows in Southern California, they launched a grass-roots campaign to have the U.S. Department […]

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Wake Up, America! Learn from the Iranian-Jewish Tragedy in Iran

Posted on Jewish Journal By: Karmel Melamed May 2, 2015 During the last few weeks, many of my friends from the Ashkenazi community have asked why countless Iranian Jews living in the U.S. such as myself are opposed to the current efforts by the Obama administration to renew ties, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the current nuclear deal to officially grant the regime nuclear capabilities. The reasons why we oppose a radical Islamic regime like Iran from having nuclear weapons capabilities are numerous, but I believe if American Jews and even non-Jews fully understood our painful experiences of living under and escaping this evil regime, then they too would never trust such a regime with the capabilities to create weapons of mass destruction. In all honesty, I do not speak for the roughly 70,000 Iranian Jews living in Southern California and in New York. I am merely a journalist who for nearly two decades has been covering Iranian Jewry in the U.S. and has had my ear to a community that still has not fully overcome the trauma and tremendous hardships in Iran after the 1979 revolution. I feel compelled to briefly share our community’s stories and experiences in Iran as religious minorities in the hopes that anyone who values life and liberty in America will finally wake up and realize that the ayatollahs in Iran can never be trusted. Over the past 36 years, some of our friends in the Ashkenazi community have slowly discovered our agonizing experiences of fleeing or leaving Iran after the 1979 revolution. But because of remaining language and cultural barriers in the Iranian-Jewish community, our Ashkenazi brethren have not fully realized the depth of our wounds suffered at the hands of the ayatollahs ruling Iran with iron fists. From 1925 to 1979, under the Pahlavi kings, Iran’s Jews and other religious minorities were able to enter society as productive and educated citizens, prospering and living in relative peace within the Muslim majority society. In my opinion, the real nightmare for Iran’s Jews began in May 1979, when our community’s beloved leader, Haji Habib Elghanian was executed by the current Iranian regime on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel and the United States. After the Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Iran, Elghanian returned to the country from the U.S. because of his concerns for the safety of the nearly 80,000 Jews who lived in Iran. Sadly, the new radical Islamic leaders in Iran promptly arrested Elghanian, gave him a brief sham trial and executed him by a firing squad for being “an enemy of the state.” The news of his execution sent shock waves across Iran’s Jewish community, in which many could not believe that such a prominent community leader was suddenly executed for no reason. Elghanian’s execution sparked a mass exodus of Jews out of Iran, many of whom were largely scrambling to sell their successful businesses and numerous assets in Iran at near bargain prices in order to escape this new totalitarian radical regime in Iran. Some even fled Iran leaving behind millions in assets and properties. The vast majority of the Jews of Iran at that time realized that if this new Islamic regime had no value for the life of one of their leaders, then their own lives were in imminent jeopardy. Yet Elghanian’s execution was only the first of many more Jewish arrests, executions and killings under the Iranian regime’s new rule. Life in Iran under Khomeini’s radical Islamic regime left Jews and other recognized religious minorities as second-class citizens. Other religions such as the Baha’i faith were not officially recognized by the Iranian regime; Baha’is had zero legal rights or protections. The new Islamic regime gradually took control of or expropriated Jewish schools, institutions, Jewish private businesses and Jewish properties under the pretext of the regime seeking to give back to Iran’s “underprivileged” class. In the public sector under the regime’s radical Islamic laws, Jews in Iran since 1979 and up to today face laws exposing them to constant persecution, discrimination, humiliation and even surveillance, their activities closely monitored by the Iranian intelligence service. Jews and other religious minorities have limited rights in practicing their religion, cannot build new houses of worship and are restricted from participating in many business and social activities. For example, Jews are prohibited from teaching their religion to their children if the education will prevent their children from converting to Shia Islam in the future. Jewish schools in Iran cannot be shut down for the Sabbath, and the teaching of the Hebrew language to young Jews is strictly prohibited by the Iranian regime, except for learning certain prayers. Likewise, Jews and other religious minorities are barred from all military positions or any high positions of authority in Iran — including in their own Jewish schools. In addition, employment discrimination in the public and private sectors against Jews and other religious minorities is commonplace in Iran and not legally prohibited. Moreover, civil laws in Iran today generally prevent Jews and other religious minorities from gaining any form of “superiority” over Muslims — even in the case where non-Muslims in Iran cannot own or build buildings taller than buildings owned by their Muslim neighbors! The laws of inheritance in Iran today are even more discriminatory against Jews and other religious minorities. According to an April 2001 religious edict issued by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, any religious minority who converts to Islam can claim the entire inheritance of their deceased parent, spouse or relative, while their non-Muslim relatives will receive nothing. A Muslim woman who marries a Jew or other non-Muslim faces the death penalty; any Muslim who converts out of their faith also faces death by the regime. Even in matters of civil law in which a person’s family is entitled to a monetary compensation or “blood value” for intentional or accidental killing a non-Muslim, there is discrimination in Iran. According to the Iranian regime’s civil code, the official “blood value” or life of a Jew, Christian or Zoroastrian is worth only one-eighth that of a Muslim. Therefore, the family of the non-Muslim who is killed may obtain only one-eighth of the monetary compensation from the killer. Also, while religious minorities in Iran such as Jews are granted a member of parliament, that person is merely a figurehead for Western media propaganda, and has no actual authority or voice on behalf of each religious minority group. According to a 2004 report prepared by Frank Nikbakht, a local Iranian-Jewish activist, since 1979, at least 14 Jews were murdered or assassinated by the Iranian regime’s agents, 12 Jews have disappeared after being arrested for attempting to flee the country, at least two Jews died while in custody, and 11 Jews have been officially executed by the regime. In 1999, Feizollah Mekhoubad, a 78-year-old cantor of the popular Yousef Abad synagogue in Tehran, had his eyes gouged out before he was the last Jew to be officially executed by the regime, the report stated. In 2000, 13 Jews living in Iranian city of Shiraz were facing imminent execution after being arrested on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel and the United States. Ultimately, the Shiraz Jews were not executed but sentenced to prison terms and have since been released as a result of pressure from American Jews and European human rights activists. Yet, the persecution of Jews and Christians in Iran still endures today and will not cease until there is regime change in Iran. For 36 years, we as Iranian Jews have gradually fled this nightmare of state-sponsored discrimination, humiliation and fear for our lives in Iran because we realized the pure evil nature of the radical ayatollahs ruling Iran. We learned the hard way that the Iranian regime’s leadership had no value for life, freedom or tolerance of non-Muslims. Sadly, today, after nearly four decades, we see the cancer of oppression, injustice, sponsorship of terrorism and advancement of radical Shia Islamic dogma from the Iranian regime quickly spreading throughout the entire Middle East. Therefore it is impossible for our community living in the U.S. to stand idle and believe that the Iranian ayatollahs have miraculously become benevolent and can be trusted with nuclear capabilities. Any American Jewish leaders or Jewish elected officials, who believe that a deal that leaves the Iranian regime with nuclear capabilities is a good deal, must first spend some time with the Iranian-American Jewish community to learn what we endured at the hands of the Iranian regime before making any decisions on this matter. This regime in Iran has no love or tolerance for non-Muslims. The Iranian regime today is on a global quest to expand its form of radical Shia Islam to all corners of the world by all means necessary — even using violence as outlined in the Iranian constitution. Take our word as Iranian Jews who firsthand encountered persecution at the hands of the radical irrational clerics running Iran. As Jews, our lives in the Islamic Republic of Iran were turned upside down, our assets were mostly confiscated by the regime or we were forced to leave behind our properties. Our family members were imprisoned, tortured or executed just because they were Jews. We faced discrimination, humiliation and persecution because of our Jewish faith. All of these horrible calamities our community endured are things we don’t want to see reoccur in the U.S. or in the rest of the free world as the ayatollahs continue running Iran. We will never trust the current Iranian regime, and our hope is that our brethren in the Ashkenazi community will wake up from their slumber soon to voice their opposition to the current Iran nuclear deal before the Iranian ayatollahs are eventually armed with nuclear weapons. Karmel Melamed is an award-winning, internationally published journalist and attorney based in Southern California. He writes the Iranian American Jews blog. Read Article Here%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

Jewish Journal By: Karmel Melamed May 2, 2015 During the last few weeks, many of my friends from the Ashkenazi community have asked why countless Iranian Jews living in the U.S. such as myself are opposed to the current efforts by the Obama administration to renew ties, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the current […]

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Iran executed my grandfather. Now the regime is trying to hide the way it has treated other Jews.

Posted on Washington Post By Shahrzad Elghanayan April 22 Shahrzad Elghanayan, a freelance photo editor and writer, is working on a book about her grandfather, Habib Elghanian. Until Iran’s leaders decide to get their facts straight about Jews, they should stay quiet on the subject. No, I’m not talking about former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust-denying antics. These days, as Iran’s leaders try to soften their image to seal a deal to limit the country’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions, they’re peddling a revised and rosy version of Iran’s own 2,600-year Jewish history. Asked by NBC’s Ann Curry during recent talks in Switzerland whether Iranian leaders understand why Jews have been wary of their rhetoric, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, “We have a history of tolerance and cooperation and living together in coexistence with our own Jewish people, and with — Jews everywhere in the world.” That’s not quite right. Iran’s Jews did have something of a golden age relatively recently, but Zarif, in his role as representative of a regime that eschews pre-revolutionary Iran, can’t take credit for it. That era was a brief period when the conservative Shiite clergy were stripped of their power — after the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 gave Iranians of all religions and ethnicity equal rights, and before Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power in 1979. Jews have lived in Iran since 586 B.C. In the 16th century, conservative Shiite scholars and clergy under the Safavid dynasty had restrictions placed on all minorities, including Jews, to bar them from economic activity and to prevent them from passing their “ritual impurity” to Muslims: Don’t open shops in the bazaar, don’t build attractive residences, don’t buy homes from Muslims, don’t give your children Muslim names, don’t use Muslim public baths, don’t leave your house when it rains or snows, don’t touch anything when entering Muslim shops. Jews weren’t protected by the legal criminal system, but they could convert on the spot to save their lives if attacked by Muslims. There were short periods of reprieve here and there but as a whole, life was pretty grim for the next several centuries. (For more on Jewish history in Iran, see Houman Sarshar’s “Esther’s Children.”) Late in the 19th century, French and British Jews lobbied to establish schools for Jews, and eventually the Alliance Israelite Universelle, a Paris-based international Jewish organization, funded a network of schools in the country. After Reza Shah founded the Pahlavi dynasty in 1925, he started a modernizing spree in which Jews participated and prospered. By 1979, according to David Sitton’s study of Sephardic Jewish communities, 80 percent of Iran’s estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Jews were middle class or higher, and 10 percent were part of the economic elite. Jews were not only successful businessmen, but also prominent university professors, journalists and doctors. It was during that window of relative Jewish affluence that my grandfather Habib Elghanian, born in 1912, became one of Iran’s most famous industrialists, after he and his brothers introduced the plastics industry to the country in the late 1940s. In 1959, he was elected the chairman of the country’s Jewish association. Still, some members of the clergy were uncomfortable that a Jew had become so successful. In 1962, when my family built the country’s first private sector high-rise, the 17-story Plasco Building in Tehran, Shiite cleric Mahmoud Taleghani objected to the idea that a Jew had built the tallest building of its time in Iran. Read Article Here%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

Washington Post By Shahrzad Elghanayan April 22 Shahrzad Elghanayan, a freelance photo editor and writer, is working on a book about her grandfather, Habib Elghanian. Until Iran’s leaders decide to get their facts straight about Jews, they should stay quiet on the subject. No, I’m not talking about former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust-denying antics. […]

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Persian Gulf

Posted on Tablet Magazine BY Allison Hoffman April 6, 2011 Thirty years after the Islamic Revolution made them exiles, the Persian Jews of Los Angeles are split in new ways by an old question: how much to hold on to religious and cultural traditions forged in a country that now hates them Nessah Synagogue, the most prominent Persian synagogue in Beverly Hills, was founded in 1980 as a congregation in exile led by the son of Hakham Yedidia Shofet, the chief rabbi of Tehran and scion of a rabbinic dynasty that stretches back 12 generations. As the name Nessah—eternal in Hebrew—suggests, the congregation’s purpose was to pick up in California where Iran’s Jewish community had left off amid the chaos of the 1979 Islamic revolution, maintaining a clear, unbroken line to a set of traditions and practices that date back more than 2,500 years. “You can take the Jew out of Iran,” the synagogue’swebsite announces, “but you can’t take Iran out of the Jew!” The Iranian Jews spent two decades as the Cubans of Los Angeles: a tight-knit community living in exile, in many cases fabulously wealthy or entrepreneurial or both, plopped down not in some far, unseen corner of the city but right at its commercial and cultural heart, resisting any move toward assimilation while they waited for the tide to turn back home. Jimmy Delshad, the former mayor of Beverly Hills and an unofficial spokesman of the Persian Jewish community, refers to it as “the suitcase mentality”—as in, ready to go at any time. But that fantasy of return is long gone. Now, within a few miles of Nessah, there is a Chabad Persian Youth center, an Orthodox synagogue and school called Ohr HaEmet, and the Iranian Jewish Senior Center, all featuring prominent multi-lingual signage. “Their kids have grown up here,” Delshad says. “They know the kids would never go back to Iran.” Nessah today occupies a 60,000-square-foot neoclassical temple a few blocks east of Rodeo Drive, where Yedidia Shofet’s son and successor, David Shofet, conducts services in Hebrew and Farsi, from a bimah in the middle of a high-ceilinged thousand-seat main sanctuary. Aging men in charcoal gray suits with white shirts fill the east side of the room, while their wives sit to the west. That is the part of Nessah that its members describe as “traditional Persian.” No one knows what to call the services in the event hall on the other end of the block-long campus, where on Saturdays a charismatic young Lubavitch rabbi from Miami Beach named Menachem Weiss leads prayers in English from a standard Modern Orthodox text. Here, the worshippers are Jews who identify as Persian but are also unequivocally American. His congregants are the children and grandchildren of Shofet’s original flock, people who grew up in the United States, who live their daily lives in English, and who don’t want to or simply can’t follow services in Farsi. Even in the ladies’ room, where mothers whisper to their toddlers, the lingua franca is English. Now adults, they are the first generation of Persian Jews to come of age outside their country since the time of the Babylonian exile. More Persian Jews live in Los Angeles than anywhere else in the world—an estimated 45,000, roughly twice the number remaining in Iran. They have homes in Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Brentwood, and Encino; they have Ivy League degrees and work as doctors, lawyers, producers, and bankers. The names of the community’s most successful members, the brothers Parviz and Younes Nazarian, adorn the city’s major synagogues and centers at USC and UCLA; Younes’ youngest son, Sam, is a nightlife impresario who has been profiled in The New Yorker and who made the Los Angeles Timespower list in 2006 at 31. There is even a Persian “Bernie Madoff”: Ezri Namvar, a real-estate investor who owned everything from a Marriott downtown to a resort in Lake Tahoe and was indicted last fall on charges he stole $23 million from investors in his collapsed fund. Marked by their complicated surnames and close family ties, the Persian Jews are—willingly or not—responsible for determining how much of the old language and customs will survive after their transplantation to Southern California. Many of Nessah’s members, including its board officers, have what they jokingly refer to as “dual citizenship”: membership at Nessah as well as at one of the large, mainstream synagogues nearby, like the Conservative Sinai Temple or Reform Stephen S. Wise Temple, where their children attend day or Hebrew school and have their bar or bat mitzvahs. The community’s arrival exerts a profound influence on the Jewish culture and politics of Los Angeles, even as the Persian Jews themselves reshape their traditions to fit the American mold. “Persian, Jewish, American,” says Zvi Dershowitz, a rabbi who was instrumental in welcoming Persian Jews to his synagogue, Sinai Temple, one of the largest Conservative congregations in West Los Angeles, in the aftermath of the revolution. “It’s the three-legged stool.” *** It’s hard, these days, to remember that there was a time when Iran was cool, a place where Elizabeth Taylor went to recover from her split from Richard Burton and before embarking on her political life with Virginia Sen. John Warner. In an American context, the Persians remained foreign and exotic even after they began arriving in large numbers. Their American pop-culture debut was in the 1995 movie Clueless, the writer and director of which, Amy Heckerling, spent months sitting in on classes at Beverly Hills High School. “That’s thePersian mafia,” went one line in Heckerling’s screenplay. “You can’t hang with them unless you own a BMW.” To people in Beverly Hills, the joke was funny because it was true, and because it lampooned both Persians’ extravagant materialism and their American counterparts’ disdainful fascination. The joke still plays: A lavish feature in W magazine accompanied by a Larry Sultan photo essay depicted a bejeweled L.A. Persian old guard in faux-Versailles mansions—the Shah Reza Pahlavi crowd—giving way to a generation of rich, nubile proto-Kardashians posing in their clothes in the rooftop hotel pool. When the Persians began emigrating from Iran in the late 1970s, they encountered an established American Jewish community that was prepared to assist penniless Soviet defectors but utterly confused by the sudden arrival of self-sufficient and self-directed Jews who were relatively wealthy—wealthy enough to inspire genuine jealousy, the kind of jealousy that led parents to say nasty things in front of their kids and their kids to distill that into playground rejection. In Tehran, the wealthiest Jews had lived in the same neighborhood as the Pahlavis, down the road from the Shah’s new international ski resort; arriving in Beverly Hills at the height of the hostage crisis, they were treated like they had cooties. Sam Nazarian has recounted being called a “camel jockey”; his older sister, Sharon Baradaran, says one of her earliest memories in California is of being rejected in her seventh-grade folk-dancing class because she was from Iran. “Kids would say they wouldn’t hold hands with me,” said Baradaran, who now oversees strategic investments as president of the $30 million family foundation created by her parents, from an office in Century City where the parking lot is filled with Rolls-Royces and Maybachs. “Kids can be really mean at that age.” It was a time of anti-Iranian violence and boycotts directed at Iranian businesses, and Jews—many of whom had been as unobservant and monarchist as their Muslim neighbors—found that being seen publicly in established synagogues helped them establish anti-Islamist bona fides, like wearing oversized chai necklaces or Americanizing their first names. “We were treated like terrorists,” says Ron Mehrdad, a 1980 graduate of Iowa State’s engineering program, who stopped using his Farsi name, Mehran, after sending out more than a thousand job applications and not getting a single positive response. Going to American synagogues was a way to signal they were Jews first and unwilling to be associated with the Islamic Republic. Continue reading: strangers fitting in, fundraising, and “No, we are not Jewish.” Or view as a single page. Many Persian families found their way to Sinai Temple, on Wilshire Boulevard, a popular stop for many Persian Jews arriving in Los Angeles after the revolution. By then, the Conservative synagogue had migrated from its original home near downtown to a modern building equidistant between Beverly Hills and Westwood. From the start, there were culture clashes between the Americans and the Persians. “They were breast-feeding their children in shul, during davening, and that was disturbing to a lot of people,” says Maurice Lamm, the rabbi emeritus of Beth Jacob, an Orthodox congregation in Beverly Hills. “So, Hillel Silverman, the rabbi there, was talking to me about how to handle it, and I said, don’t worry about it, let them come here.” Lamm offered David Shofet a room where he could hold a minyan and encouraged him to bring his father to Los Angeles. But Sinai’s associate rabbi Zvi Dershowitz, whose family fled Czechoslovakia a month before the Nazi invasion, campaigned to give his new congregants a home. “All I knew was that they were Jews, and we had to help,” Dershowitz explains now, waving away questions. But the clashes went on, growing almost senselessly petty. There were people upset that families were coming in late to services, that people were talking to each other in Farsi rather than English, that women were ululating at bar mitzvahs and weddings, and most infamously, that Persian regulars who were not synagogue members were taking home cookies after Friday night Oneg Shabbat services. Longstanding members resented the fact that the strangers weren’t trying to fit in. “It never felt like ‘our’ synagogue,” said Sam Yebri, a 30-year-old lawyer who was bar mitzvahed at Sinai. “It was convenient, and we left after my bar mitzvah.” Eventually, Yebri found an American Jewish place that he could make his own: the world of Israel activism. In 2007, he founded a political-action group called 30 Years After, which engages young Persian Jews in local politics and holds Israel advocacy training workshops. Trim and dark-haired and good-looking in a pink button-down, Yebri has the bright white smile of a dentist’s son, which he is—or of a politician, which he seems intent on becoming. He has discovered that his background gives him added stature. “I use ‘Iranian’ when I’m talking in a political context, when I want credibility as an ‘Iranian-Jewish’ activist,” he says. The eldest of three boys, he was the only one born in Iran, a fact he carries like a burden. “My brothers remind me that I can’t be president, because I have ‘Iran’ stamped in my passport,” Yebri says, only half-joking. He left with his mother via Pakistan and Turkey; as a kid, he lived in a succession of houses as his parents’ fortunes improved, finally landing in Beverly Hills. Unlike his brothers, who went to Beverly Hills High, Yebri stayed at Brentwood, a posh private school where he got the idea that he’d like to go to Yale rather than stay closer to home like most Persian Jews he knew. He went on a Birthright trip to Israel and became head of Yale’s Hillel chapter just before the outbreak of the Second Intifada. What he saw then inspired him to switch from pre-med to political science. “If my parents had gone right instead of left, I’d have grown up there,” Yebri says of Israel. “So, for me, the safety and security of Israel are issue one, two, and three. It’s more than a place where Jews live—it’s our homeland.” The flurry of emergency fundraising in the wake of the intifada also, eventually, provided an avenue for healing some of the longstanding rifts at Sinai. In 1999, former Beverly Hills mayor Delshad—who came to the United States in the 1960s as a student, stayed, and married an American—became president of the synagogue. “I was for so many years the token Persian,” Delshad says in his mayoral office in Beverly Hills City Hall, a few days before his term ended last month. “All I wanted to do was say, ‘Now the door is open to you. It’s your turn.’ ” In 2000, Sinai’s current rabbi, David Wolpe, gave a startling Purim sermon in which he confronted the ongoing tsuris. “Some of the most disturbing, prejudiced, and even racist remarks I have heard in the past several years of my life have been directed against the Persian community by the Ashkenazi community,” he declared from the pulpit. “Every time I hear about how they do business, I think, ‘That’s what people used to say about Jews.’ ” To the Persians, he said: “When I say I want one community I mean it so much that I am ready to tell you this: If you, or your children, or your grandchildren, are not prepared to marry a member of the other community, then you don’t belong in my synagogue.” The underlying message amounted to this: If you want the American Jews to be nice to you, you have to at least try to play by American Jewish rules. The crisis in Israel helped open the floodgates: After one Shabbat morning appeal, the synagogue raised $4 million for Israel, $3 million of it, Wolpe estimated, from Persian congregants. “I was there,” says Sharona Nazarian, a psychologist who has sat on several synagogue committees. “It was amazing. People were standing up and pledging. But there were lives on the line, and people had a cause they could believe in.” Today, a decade later, the synagogue’s capital-campaign plaques are filled with Persian names. “It’s changed now,” shrugged Yebri, who has become a young-adult member. *** The heart of the neighborhood known as Tehrangeles lies a mile or so west of Sinai, along Westwood Boulevard, a busy commercial thoroughfare that runs south from the UCLA campus toward the Santa Monica Freeway. It is dotted with chelo-kebab joints, Farsi bookshops, and a place called the Music Box that stocks CDs and cassette tapes from popular Iranian singers and does a brisk business in concert ticket sales. The best-trafficked place on the street is the Jordan Market, a tiny storefront bodega that sells bulk pistachios and imported dry goods and has a butcher counter. It is the most convenient Persian market west of Beverly Hills for Jews and Muslims alike, but this is the kind of story Jews recount about it: “I saw an American woman walk up to the butcher and ask if they had kosher meat, and the butcher said to her, so disgusted, ‘No, we are not Jewish.’ ” Over the past 10 years, an equally vibrant Persian shopping area has emerged in what might be called the mahaleh, or Persian Jewish ghetto: a mile-long stretch of blocks along Pico Boulevard from La Cienega Boulevard to Beverly Drive. It’s a traditionally Orthodox neighborhood, with a dense concentration of shteibls, glatt kosher markets, and long black skirts. Now, in addition, there is the Elat Market, which has an aisle devoted to kosher rosewater, a restaurant called Kolah Farangi that sells glatt kosher kebab and Chinese food, and even a Farsi-speaking orthotics specialist. The Chabad Persian Youth center—CPY for short—occupies a small one-story building directly across Pico from an imposing block-long replica of the Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn. It opened nine years ago under the auspices of Hertzel Peer, a rabbi who was born in Shiraz and moved to Israel as a child. “We do Sephardic davening with a Chabad twist,” Peer’s 21-year-old daughter, Simcha, told me. We met at a megillah reading at the center on the first night of Purim; she was dressed like a hippie and dancing with her mother, who was dressed in a white wool Chanel-style suit on the women’s side of the room, blocked off from the band set up on the men’s side by a fabric hung in between columns painted with grapevines. Simcha Peer said her parents hadn’t taught her Farsi. “I have more than enough Persian culture—it’s all over Pico, it’s like Persianville over here,” she laughed. Unlike most of her peers, she has no extended family in Los Angeles—they are in Israel and New York—so while she works with young Persian Jews alongside her parents, her life is defined by the distinctly Ashkenazic rhythms of Chabad Hasidism. “We’re just trying to bring yiddishkeit to everybody,” she told me. In March, the ultra-Orthodox religious-outreach group Aish HaTorah opened a new lounge and learning center called Morry’s Fireplace in the neighborhood. Its aesthetic is best described as Bachelor-contemporary: red walls, oversized iron chandeliers, overstuffed wing chairs, a faux fireplace stacked with split logs. On Wednesdays, a young-adult group that started at Nessah meets there, led by Eman Esmailzadeh, a 28-year-old Persian who, like Sam Yebri, the young lawyer-turned-activist, found Israel. But Esmailzadeh, who wears rimless glasses and has an easy smile, went another step and found religion. Esmailzadeh was at Morry’s Fireplace with his wife, Jessica, and their infant daughter, Rachel. When we spoke on the phone, earlier in the week, his number came up marked Santa Monica; when I asked whether that was where he lived, he retorted, “Why don’t you think I live in Beverly Hills?” It turned out there were reasons for his class anxiety. Esmailzadeh’s family comes from Yazd, a small city in the middle of Iran that is a Zoroastrian hub, where his father had been a mechanical engineer. “Here,” Esmailzadeh told me, gesturing toward the door, “he was a day laborer, one of those guys on the street.” Eventually, he started a light-fixtures business in Culver City, a middle-class neighborhood, and sent Esmailzadeh to L.A. public schools. Esmailzadeh went on to the University of California, Irvine, where he got involved with pro-Israel advocacy. “But then I decided to start learning about Judaism,” he told me. “Israel is the Jewish state, and I felt like I needed to know about religion, because if you’re pro-Israel but don’t know anything about the religious side, then it’s just empty nationalism.” Continue reading: Morry’s Fireplace, a much nicer rug, and Nowruz. Or view as asingle page. The Judaism Esmailzadeh is learning is not the religion his parents practiced, which was deeply cultural, uniformly Orthodox, transmitted by force of habit rather than by formal education. The Persian community’s early decision to engage with established, overwhelmingly Ashkenazic American congregations and, in increasing numbers, to send their children to Reform and Conservative day and religious schools accelerated their adoption of American Jewish staples like elaborate bar and bat mitzvahs. But the engagement of Hasidic outreach groups with younger Persian Jews has created something altogether new: a group of observant young people who have exchanged the ancient Jewish customs of their ancestors for those of 19th-century Eastern Europeans. “Kids are getting more religious than their parents, and it’s causing a lot of trouble,” said Saba Soomekh, a Harvard-trained sociologist who grew up in Beverly Hills and has a forthcoming book on Iranian Jewish women. “What do you mean you can’t go to your aunt’s house for Shabbat because you can’t walk that far? Get in the car!” To some degree, Soomekh said, observance has become a way to fit in for young Persians who aren’t politically inclined enough for Israel activism or rich enough to run in moneyed circles. “For people who couldn’t find financial wealth, it’s a way to compete,” Soomekh said. “They just become more religious.” At the Aish HaTorah lounge, a group of five guys, all Persian, turned up to join Esmailzadeh for a men’s talk about Purim. At the end of the session, one of them stood up and told the others, “As they say in Yiddish—a freilichen Purim!” *** Morry’s Fireplace was the brainchild of Yitz Jacobs, the rabbi who runs Aish’s young professionals group in Los Angeles. “My population is at least 50 percent Persian,” he told me. “I find that people in America who care about Judaism are immigrants.” But, Jacobs went on, he found that his Persian students were “incredibly ignorant of the religion. They’ll do Friday night dinners—you might call it Shabbat, but it’s Shabbat in name only. It’s texting under the table and watching TV”—by which he means lacking in halachic purity. He added, “It’s pure traditionalism at this point.” The weekly family dinner is the essence of how most younger Persians define their Jewish tradition, because it is the single most obvious way in which they are different from their “American” friends. It is also the central vehicle for keeping extended families connected to each other. People talk about Shabbat dinners reverently, citing how much it meant to them as children that this or that man-about-town uncle would take the time to be with them on Fridays, even if he went out later on the same night. It is frequently cited as the main reason Persians often squeeze large houses onto small urban lots—the infamous “Persian palaces”—to accommodate 50 or 60 relatives on a regular basis. “We have a whole culture,” says Ben Maddahi, a 27-year-old A&R man for Atlantic Records. “There are foods that are significant to us and not shared by other Jews, and it’s what we have that Persian Muslims don’t have.” Maddahi went to heavily Persian Jewish day schools all the way through high school—Conservative, at Sinai, where his parents’ names are on the capital campaign wall, and Reform, at Stephen S. Wise Temple’s Milken School—and this is what he came out with: dinner. But Maddahi, who with his babyfaced smile and perfect hair looks a little like Ricky Martin, comes from the Persian Jewish elite; he is a cousin by marriage to Sam Nazarian twice over. Consciously or not, he channels a strain of easy secularism that was the norm in Tehran, mixed with homegrown ethnic pride. He is unapologetic about the much-bemoaned materialism of the Persian community, which in the Real Housewives era is anyway nearly impossible to distinguish from generic L.A. materialism; while other people still fret about the community’s negative portrayal in a Wmagazine story a couple of years ago, Maddahi bragged to me that his sister was in the shoot and that he was cut at the last minute. We met in his office in Hollywood, in a nondescript building that houses a handful of production studios; when I asked whether he’d provided the Persian rug in David Guetta’s studio, he shook his head. “Everyone asks me that,” he said. He paused and then added, “But honestly? I’d have gotten a much nicer rug than that.” The one thing that upset him was the idea that an Ashkenazic rabbi would suggest that his family’s Friday night rituals might not be good enough to be called Shabbat. “The extremists who take the time to pick on fellow Jews about how they observe the traditions should be ashamed of themselves,” he said, leaning forward. “We get together, we cook, we have hamotzi, we have wine—that’s Shabbat” Later, he emailed me again about it, with a one-word comment: “Sad.” *** This is the gap that Nessah was in part intended to bridge: It’s not an accident that its board chose a permanent home within walking distance of the Pico-Robertson neighborhood and an easy drive down the hill from the wealthier precincts of Beverly Hills. It is designed to channel the energy that drives younger people to find religion outside the Persian community to find it inside instead. “My intent has never been to recreate what existed in Iran,” said Morgan Hakimi, a 45-year-old organizational psychologist who recently finished her term as board president. “The goal was integration—a lack of anxiety, a lack of guilt for the kids who went home and had to be ‘Persian’ and then in the morning went back to UCLA or Beverly High where they could be ‘American.’ ” But the new Nessah is also, by design, a gathering place as much as a religious enterprise. “One of their goals is to match-make,” explained Orly Setareh, a bubbly 31-year-old redhead who teaches Israeli dance at a nearby Reform synagogue. “And there’s nothing wrong with that—especially if you’re at the age where you don’t go to clubs anymore, because otherwise you have your relatives approaching each other” elsewhere to make arrangements. Hakimi shrugged when I asked her about it. “I’ve been accused of turning a small synagogue into a community center,” she said. “If that’s what I did, fine—we have the first Persian JCC.” Nessah’s symbol is Queen Esther, whose tomb in Hamadan was a popular pilgrimage destination for Persian Jews. In the foyer hangs a large painting depicting Esther’s triumph over Haman in the style of an annunciation portrait of the Madonna: virginal figure at center, hand guided by God to the side. Accordingly, Purim at Nessah is a raucous affair: Every mention of Haman’s name drew a cacophony of air-horns and foot-stamping. Whereas at Sinai almost all the children were in costumes, from Persian Harry Potters to ladybugs and would-be Kobe Bryants, at Nessah very few were wearing anything but their Shabbat best. Among the adults, only one person dressed up: the English-speaking rabbi, Weiss, who was in a Beverly Hillbilly getup of coveralls and a red kerchief finished with a pair of fake buck teeth. It also happens that this year, Purim coincided with Nowruz, the vernal equinox that marks the traditional start of the Persian New Year. For the estimated 160,000 people of Iranian descent—Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Bahai, Zoroastrian—living in Southern California, Nowruz is the equivalent of both Passover and Thanksgiving, with a firmly established ritual table covered in symbols of spring and lavish spreads of pomegranate stews and rice pilafs standing in for turkey and stuffing. It’s an ecumenical celebration that predates the birth of Mohammed by several millennia, and under the Shah it became a vehicle for drawing Iran’s diverse population together under a nationalist umbrella—which has now made it a vehicle for expressing polite, nonpolitical opposition to the existence of the Islamic Republic. But while there were public Nowruz displays all over Los Angeles—including banners flown from streetlamps along Wilshire Boulevard, right outside Sinai’s front door—there was no sign of it inside any of the synagogues I visited. “Nowruz is not a date I circle in my calendar,” Sam Yebri told me with a shrug. “My grandparents do, but I have no interest in passing it down. Nowruz to me is Iranian.” But Purim is among the holidays some Persians choose to observe at home, with a modified version of a Friday night Shabbat, and merging the two is a simple matter. On Purim Sunday, Sharona Nazarian braved a deluge to take her middle son to a soccer tournament; in the afternoon, she returned home and began setting up an elaborate display for two dozen siblings, in-laws, nieces, and nephews. A megillah reader, hired via a Chabad rabbi, arrived at about 5 o’clock; Nazarian’s husband, Danny, read the blessings off his iPhone, and the younger kids started their stopwatches to see how fast the reader could go. Sixteen minutes later, he was done, and after a swig of vodka, he went on to his next appointment. The family gathered around the dining room table, where Nazarian laid out an elaborate feast of grilled snapper, chicken, and two kinds of rice. Her father-in-law, Nasser, gave Danny a gold chainecklace he had brought from Tehran. “We used to wear it inside, then we came here and because of Carter we wore it outside,” Nasser Nazarian told his son. His wife, Parvin, offered a toast in Farsi to Nowruz Mubarak—happy new year—that ended, “Inshallah.” CORRECTION, April 18: An earlier version of this article inaccurately noted that Eman Esmailzadeh was born in Yazd, Iran, and raised in Culver City, Calif. In fact, while Esmailzadeh’s family comes from Yazd, he was born in Tehran; his father’s business is in Culver City.%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

Tablet Magazine BY Allison Hoffman April 6, 2011 Thirty years after the Islamic Revolution made them exiles, the Persian Jews of Los Angeles are split in new ways by an old question: how much to hold on to religious and cultural traditions forged in a country that now hates them Nessah Synagogue, the most prominent […]

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An Iranian Seder in Beverly Hills

Posted on THE NEW YORK TIMES By JOAN NATHAN MARCH 29, 2010 Beverly Hills, Calif. YOU might say that Maryam Maddahi and her relatives hold a dry run for the Passover Seder every Friday night, when they have a rotating Sabbath dinner for four dozen to five dozen family members. It’s a common practice for the family, as it is for their fellow Iranian Jews in Southern California, who began settling there after the fall of the Shah in 1979. The population has grown to about 40,000. Iran has one of the oldest known Jewish communities, going back over 2,500 years to when Jews fled the land of Israel after the destruction of the First Temple. “We take pride in the country of Persia,” said Mrs. Maddahi, who will host the first Seder on Monday night. “It was an old monarchy, with thousands of years of history.” On a recent night here at Ms. Maddahi’s home, some 60 family members were listening and dancing to Persian music performed by a violinist to celebrate the birthdays of Mrs. Maddahi and another relative, Younes Nazarian. The guests, talking mostly in Farsi, nibbled on pistachios, plump dates, nuts and raisins, signs of welcome in Iran. “Food and feasts were a part of life for us,” said Angella Nazarian, one of Mrs. Maddahi’s daughters, who has just published a memoir of the Iranian Jews’ arrival in the United States, titled “Life as a Visitor” (Assouline Publishing). “Jewish people never do anything without food. There needs to be plenty and varied dishes fit for a party of 100 people in order to really call it a dinner party — even if only 20 people are invited.” The dining table held platters of appetizers including a display of raw scallions, fresh mint, tarragon and dill and Mrs. Maddahi’s extraordinary grape leaves stuffed with rice and barberries and topped with Iranian golden prunes and apricots, a recipe she learned long ago from her mother in Tehran. Even at Passover, Iranian dinners always include an abundance of rice, brought to Persia from the East about the time that Jews first arrived there. (Ashkenazi Jews do not eat rice at Passover.) “Persian women take their rice seriously like Moroccan cooks their couscous and the Italians their pasta,” said Angela Maddahi, one of Mrs. Maddahi’s daughters-in-law. By soaking the long-grained rice, then parboiling and finally steaming it, each grain is expertly separated. To catch the steam and protect the texture of the rice, the elder Mrs. Maddahi uses a piece of wicker she encases in cotton fabric, which she inserts underneath the pot’s cover. As guests gathered, rice casseroles were kept warm wrapped in blankets. The kitchen was a bustle. “When it is your turn, you make your specialties,” said Nazy Maddahi, another daughter-in-law, who held a Sabbath dinner a few weeks later. “I assign the other meat and rice dishes to family members.” Daughters and daughters-in-law bring casseroles like fesenjan, a sweet and sour pomegranate walnut chicken stew sweetened with fresh California dates. Mrs. Nazarian, who is a psychologist, said the food of Iranian Muslims and Jews is essentially the same, except that Jews don’t use butter with meat. Najmieh Batmanglij, author of “New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies,” which is considered the go-to source on Iranian cooking, agreed. “I tried to look for specifically Persian Jewish dishes,” Ms. Batmanglij said, “but the differences I found were based more on regions, not on religion.” One specifically Jewish dish, served at the start of Sabbath dinners for centuries, is gundi, a plump chicken and chickpea dumpling, flavored with cardamom and tinted with turmeric, that is cooked in chicken broth. During Passover when chickpeas, beans and lentils are considered off-limits, many Iranian Jews in Los Angeles replace the gundi with matzo balls. The second generation of Iranian Jews in California takes shortcuts, like using commercial gundi mixes. “I wouldn’t tell her, but I buy prepared gundi, which I swear is as good as my mom’s,” Mrs. Nazarian said. Sadaf, a kosher company in Los Angeles that specializes in Iranian food, sells frozen chopped mint, dill and marseh (an herb similar to rosemary and tarragon), as well as lemon powder, barberries and a prepared spice combination for charoset, among many other Iranian products. Although food customs are changing, with convenience becoming the standard, Iranian-American Passover customs are for the most part the same as they have been for generations. Many first-generation immigrants in Los Angeles still take a full day to shop at grocery stores on Pico Boulevard and then spend another full day cooking, often with old pans brought from Iran. On the Seder plate the bitter herbs, representing the hardships of slavery, consist of celery, romaine or other bitter lettuces dipped in vinegar. Persian charoset, called halleq, adapted from the banquet dipping sauces of Greek and Roman conquerors, is filled with nuts and dried fruits, pomegranate juice, bananas and cardamom as the prominent spice. Mrs. Nazarian’s mother-in-law, Soraya, uses a hefty amount of cardamom in her moist almond sponge cake with pistachios for Passover. During the Seder service, a scallion is placed on each plate. Before singing the song “Dayenu,” the assembled guests get up from their chairs, take their scallions and begin whacking one another with them to simulate the whips of the slave drivers in Egypt. “We start a big balagan,” or mess, said Angela Maddahi, an office manager. “We never sing the whole dayenu, we just beat each other up.” In other ways, life in the United States has changed the nature of some traditions. Since milk products that were kosher for Passover were unavailable in Iran, Jews followed a very restrictive diet. At sundown on the closing day of the holiday, they eat a yogurt salad, laced with cucumbers, mint, radishes and scallions, with bread. Today in Beverly Hills, the last day of Passover still involves dairy products. It is also the time for a family with a daughter who is engaged to have a huge celebration called hametzy, featuring yogurt with rice and herbs as well as an Iranian version of crème fraîche. “The groom’s family brings dairy products and there is a big party at the bride’s house,” Angela Maddahi said. Another ritual is maintained at the first Seder. After the table is set, it is covered with a cloth to protect the food from negative energy caused by reciting the 10 plagues that God was said to have sent upon the Egyptians. “As we read each plague we pour two drops of water and wine into a bowl,” Angela Maddahi said. “After we are done we uncover all the food and pour the liquid from the plagues into running water outside of the house.” But there is a difference here, too. “My mother made everything in Iran,” Angella Nazarian said, “even her own wine. Here you can buy kosher wine.”%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

THE NEW YORK TIMES By JOAN NATHAN MARCH 29, 2010 Beverly Hills, Calif. YOU might say that Maryam Maddahi and her relatives hold a dry run for the Passover Seder every Friday night, when they have a rotating Sabbath dinner for four dozen to five dozen family members. It’s a common practice for the family, […]

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Daughter of Iranian soldier said involved in December murder of Tehran Jew

Posted on Iran’s Jews fearful following murder of Daniel Mahgerefteh, the second member of the community killed in as many months The Times of Israel By GREG TEPPER and ILAN BEN ZION January 3, 2013 A Jewish man who was in a romantic relationship with the daughter of a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was murdered in his Tehran apartment last week. The Jewish community suspects the woman of complicity in the killing of Daniel Mahgerefteh, 24, who belonged to one of Iran’s wealthier Jewish families, Israel’s Channel 2 News reported on Wednesday night. According to Armin Avi Kreuznacher, an Iranian-born Jew who emigrated from the country in 2010, Mahgerefteh was killed by the woman’s family after the two had intimate relations and he refused to marry her. “The murder was carried out as revenge for dishonoring the family,” said Kreuznacher, who currently resides in Germany . Police investigators reportedly told the woman that she had “done a good deed.” However, Iranian authorities maintained that Mahgerefteh was killed during a robbery. According to the official account, the killer, who was acquainted with Mahgerefteh, came to his apartment armed with a gun and shot his host in the back. He then stole his car, eventually parking it on one of Tehran’s streets and hiding from the authorities. Police reportedly apprehended the alleged murderer, who confessed to the deed. Menashe Amir, an expert on Iran’s Jewish community, told The Times of Israel that the official account of Mahgerefteh’s murder was rife with inconsistencies. The Jewish community is afraid following Mahgerefteh’s murder, the second of its kind in as many months, he said. In November, a 57-year-old Jewish woman was brutally stabbed to death, her body mutilated by Muslim attackers, in the Iranian city of Isfahan. The woman’s family said it was a religiously motivated crime with a property dispute as its pretext. Tuba N., whose family requested that her last name not be revealed for fear of further attacks, was murdered by her Muslim neighbors, who had harassed her family for years in an attempt to drive them from their home and confiscate the property for an adjoining mosque. “The religious radicals even expropriated part of the house and attached it to the mosque’s courtyard,” Amir said. “The Jewish family appealed to the courts with the help of a local attorney” to seek redress for the conflict, “despite the threats to their lives.” A government census published earlier this year indicated there were a 8,756 Jews left in Iran, about a tenth of the country’s Jewish population at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

Iran’s Jews fearful following murder of Daniel Mahgerefteh, the second member of the community killed in as many months The Times of Israel By GREG TEPPER and ILAN BEN ZION January 3, 2013 A Jewish man who was in a romantic relationship with the daughter of a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was murdered […]

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A relatively placid situation for Iranian Jews … today

Posted on The Jewish Voice and Herald By Naomi Lipsky Friday, 07 December 2012 02:37 If Israel and Iran are at war, Iranian Jews may suffer anti-Semitism Jewish life in Iran Since the turn of this century, the Jewish population of Iran had been widely reported to be about 25,000. A recently released census by the Iranian presidency’s planning and strategic supervision department, based on 2011 figures, suggests there are currently fewer than 9,000 Jews remaining, with about 120,000 Christians, a smaller number of other minorities and about 73 million Moslems. Before the 1979 Revolution, there may have been as many as 30 synagogues in the country, with 11 or 12 of them in Teheran, as well as kosher butchers and restaurants. It is difficult to document the current numbers of these institutions. The World Jewish Congress asserts that there are three synagogues in Teheran, though there is no functioning head rabbi. The position of Jews in Iran today remains a unique one. Interviews of Iranian Jews by the media show people living normal, comfortable lives. The Iranian constitution of 1906 mandated that minorities were entitled to representation in Parliament; since then, there has always been one Jewish member of the Parliament. The government today is rabidly anti-Israel and anti-Zionist, but professes no sanctions against Jews who are not Zionists. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president, made one of his many speeches denying the Holocaust, the Jewish member of Parliament at the time, Maurice (Morris) Mohtamid, wrote a letter of protest and did not suffer any repercussions. Though Jews are a minority, Roohi Radparvar said that she believes they are treated better than people of other minority religions, such as Christians and Zoroastrians and those who follow Bahai, which Iran does not recognize as a religion. The only time she felt any anti-Semitism, she said, was at the beginning of the Revolution. “People were being brainwashed,” she said. As for today, she believes that “things aren’t as bad as people think. There are about 10,000 to 15,000 Jews who are doing fine.” Any anti-Semitic pressure, said Radparvar, is from the government rather than the people themselves. “That’s one thing the film ‘Argo’ unfortunately doesn’t represent correctly; Iranians as a whole are very hospitable people. [In the movie], all you see is hatred; that’s unfortunate.” “Argo,” for those who haven’t seen it, depicts what happened to six employees of the U.S. embassy who escaped capture when the embassy was overrun and then found temporary shelter in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Disturbing childhood memory Dr. John Yashar, however, is not as confident or trusting as is Radparvar. He recounted a childhood experience of visiting the Teheran home of a Muslim friend whose family was very religious. “We’d have tea and they would put my cup of tea on the side [separate from the others]. They had to wash mine in a separate dish because I wasn’t clean.” That’s how Muslims think about other religions, said Yashar. They don’t assimilate; they have the same problem in France, England and Germany, and will have in the future with this country, he added. From their perspective, said Yashar, “Anyone who isn’t Muslim is [an] infidel [and] is not clean. I am sure they do the same to Christians; they tolerate them …” Anti-Semitism in 21st century Iran Is there anti-Semitism today in Iran? “Of course,” said Fred Barcohana. The fanatics “don’t like anybody. They don’t like Christians, they don’t like Jews.” Still, he feels there is no imminent danger for Jews living in Iran today. Radparvar believes, she said, that , with the sense of isolation, Iranian Jews are focusing more on Judaism. With the synagogue becoming the main social gathering place, synagogue members are becoming more traditional in their observance and girls are learning Hebrew. Although she knows of a few Iranian Jews who returned to visit and were able to leave again, she wouldn’t advise it for any other Iranian Jews. Her grown sons, who live in New York, want to visit Iran, but she fears for their safety, given their name and their religion. Although she’d love to return to visit with her children, she said, “It’s just too scary.” Expressing gratitude that Jews had the freedom to practice their religion without fear of retribution or punishment during the Shah’s regime, Barcohana said, “He was a good man. Jews liked the Shah because [there was] democracy. [Iran under the Shah was] a good country.” The future remains unknown Radparvar said that, 25 years ago, she never expected this regime to last this long. Yashar worries that if it comes to war, the U.S. will have a bad fight on its hands, as Iran has a huge army and is very strong and has the physical protection of the mountains. Most of the atomic research facilities are 200 feet deep under the mountains. “Israel is a small country,” he said. “All they really need is one or two bombs to destroy Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa or any [other] part of Israel.” If war breaks out between Iran and Israel, Radparvar believes there could be trouble for Iranian Jews. Some people, she said, automatically consider Jewish Iranians as Israelis, while many Iranians fully understand that Iranian Jews have nothing to do with the State of Israel. Barcohana said, “So far, things are good, but God knows what will happen tomorrow.” His prediction is as accurate as any. NANCY KIRSCH, executive editor, contributed to this story. NAOMI LIPSKY, a freelance artist, lives in Johnston. Contact her at %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

The Jewish Voice and Herald By Naomi Lipsky Friday, 07 December 2012 02:37 If Israel and Iran are at war, Iranian Jews may suffer anti-Semitism Jewish life in Iran Since the turn of this century, the Jewish population of Iran had been widely reported to be about 25,000. A recently released census by the Iranian […]

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Shulamit Gallery showcases Iranian stories, artists

Posted on BY JONATHAN MASENG Jewish Journal of Los Angeles December 19, 2012 Giving directions to the Shulamit Gallery would be an easy task. Just take Venice Boulevard all the way west until you see the sand. Stop. Located in a converted home right off the famed Venice Boardwalk, the gallery founded in 2006 by Shulamit Nazarian, of L.A.’s philanthropic Iranian-American Nazarian family, is now showcasing its inaugural exhibition in its brand-new home: “My Heart Is in the East, and I Am at the Ends of the West” will be on view through Jan. 5. “I specifically chose Venice because I felt that Venice has had a very creative history,” said Nazarian, sitting at an elegant table on the second floor of her gallery. “The people that reside here have an edge of creativity to them which is quite raw, and very much in-your-face, which you cannot run away from. And there’s a beauty and fear to it, which kind of intrigued me.” Nazarian, who was born in Iran and immigrated to the United States in 1979 along with her family, had another reason for choosing Venice: “I felt like I should push myself to come be exposed to the beauty of the Pacific Ocean.” Part of the charm of the Shulamit Gallery ( is in its location, 17 N. Venice Blvd. The view from the rooftop deck is an eyeful of sand and blue sea. Spread out over five light and airy levels, the gallery still bears many signs of having once been a functioning home, though it is every bit a gallery space. You can’t turn a corner without encountering art. The current exhibition, a satellite exhibition of the ongoing “Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews” at UCLA’s Fowler Museum, mostly occupies the ground level. Four of the artists — Farid Kia, Jessica Shokrian, Laura Merage and Soraya S. Nazarian (Shulamit Nazarian’s mother) — are contemporary artists. In a twist, the Shulamit Gallery pairs their work with that of artist Ben Mayeri, a more traditional Iranian artist who worked with silver and gold. The Mayeri works came courtesy of the Fowler Museum. The work covers a wide range of media, from Kia’s massive paintings, one of which depicts an almost grotesquely wrinkled Golda Meir, to Merage’s provocative photography/installation art, which includes some female nudity. “We’re interested in showing work that has a powerful story to tell and that also is executed in a way that’s of high caliber,” gallery co-director Anne Hromadka said. In pairing the modern artists’ work with Mayeri’s, Hromadka hopes to show people the link between the different generations of Iranian artists. “Supporting emerging artists is an essential. Likewise, midcareer [artists]. They all need the space, they all need to be exposed, and when you combine both experiences together, always one learns from the other,” Shulamit Nazarian added. “Anne has brought great skills into what we have created here together.” Shulamit Nazarian and Hromadka first met five years ago while serving on the USC Hillel art and gallery committee. Back then, they were working on an Iranian art exhibition. “In some ways, this project actually brings [us] full circle as a team,” Hromadka said. According to Shulamit Nazarian, the two just clicked. “We both have a huge love of Judaism and Israeli artists and the Middle East.” In that sense, the Shulamit Gallery is the perfect partnership. The two have big plans to potentially host everything from educational events to Shabbat dinners. “We view art and culture as a way of opening up a dialogue and having those conversations. Programming really is an essential part and also allows us the ability to work with nonprofit organizations and different groups across the city,” Hromadka said. The gallery’s next exhibition, opening Jan. 14, is a sort of companion piece to the current show. “Leaving the Land of Roses” will feature the work of artists David Abir, Marjan Vayghan, Tal Shochat and Krista Nassi, and it will focus more on Iranians in exile. It will run through March 9. "What does it mean when you long for the physical landscape, for the sights and the sounds of the place you were born and raised, but you know it’s unsafe and you can’t go back?” Hromadka asked. For many Iranians, according to Shulamit Nazarian, the home they left is very much a paradise lost. “There is a whole history of us which has never been talked about,” she said. Art, Shulamit Nazarian said, is the perfect way to speak about that hidden history. “You can talk about your wishes, your fears, your experiences through art and express it without necessarily being aggressive,” she said. Smiling, she added, “In a very selfish way, I wanted to learn more about my own heritage.” “The rose in Iran has a very special connotation,” said Hromadka, explaining the reason for the name of the upcoming exhibition. “The rose is such an important part of the Persian garden, of rosewater, of food, even in their rituals ... for Havdalah, rosewater is used. That’s the scent that’s passed around. For Iranian-Jewish funerals, flowers and rosewater are poured into the grave. So it really follows the Iranian-Jewish experience from birth to death.” %A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

BY JONATHAN MASENG Jewish Journal of Los Angeles December 19, 2012 Giving directions to the Shulamit Gallery would be an easy task. Just take Venice Boulevard all the way west until you see the sand. Stop. Located in a converted home right off the famed Venice Boardwalk, the gallery founded in 2006 by Shulamit Nazarian, […]

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Being Iranian

Posted on Being Iranian By Gina Nahai Jewish Journal August 12, 2015 Time was, you could claim to be a patriotic Iranian, a supporter of Israel and a lover of the United States all at once and be believed by most Iranians. You could say you were all three things without pretense or contradiction, or the need to rank your loyalties in order of intensity, or to distinguish between your support for Israel as a nation, as opposed to any one of its governments. That’s what we thought anyway, we Jewish Iranians whose ancestors had lived in Iran for 3,000 years. The mullahs had always said differently — that Jews were not “real” Iranians; that our existence was a threat to the rest of the nation; that we had lain in wait for a millennium and a half for the Arabs to come and convert most Iranians to Islam, only so we could use the blood of Muslim children in the baking of matzahs. Read More%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

Being Iranian By Gina Nahai Jewish Journal August 12, 2015 Time was, you could claim to be a patriotic Iranian, a supporter of Israel and a lover of the United States all at once and be believed by most Iranians. You could say you were all three things without pretense or contradiction, or the need […]

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