It was perhaps the most emotionally potent moment of the evening, as the elderly Rabbi Yedidiah Shofet, addressing his audience in Farsi, broke down and cried, his voice trembling, his frail body shaking.Representing the Nessah Cultural Organization, Shofet was part of a lineup of speakers appearing earlier this week at West Hollywood's Hollywood Temple Beth El, where - reacting to the July 1 verdict that sentenced 10 of the Shiraz 13 - local Jews met to demonstrate support for the prisoners and to condemn the actions of the Iranian government.
Co-sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the Iranian American Jewish Federation, Monday night's rally attracted a cross section of people, predominantly from the Iranian Jewish community. Onstage, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky eloquently summed up the "Shiraz 10" injustice.
"Their only crime is that they were Jewish, that they were proud to be Jewish," said Yaroslavsky. "There is no justice in Iran," where, as he observed, the situation has violated the principles of every religion, including Islam. "None of us can afford to stand by idly."
Yaroslavsky echoed the evening's oft-repeated sentiment demanding the curtailing of economic and diplomatic ties with Iran until the 10 are freed.
Other speakers included Dr. H. Kermanshahchi, leader of the Iranian American Jewish Federation; Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Terri Smooke, representing Governor Gray Davis; Antonio Villaraigosa, speaker emeritus of the California State Assembly; Temple Emanuel's cantorial soloist, Yonah Kliger; and Lori Ferdnand Field on behalf of Congressman Brad Sherman, who was in Washington working on legislation that would implement sanctions against Iran.
During the event, Rabbi Harvey Fields of Wilshire Boulevard Temple linked the "Shiraz 13" saga to past human rights violations, such as the Dreyfus affair, Russian pogroms and Nazi occupation, and blasted the case as "a show trial which convicted 10 of [the accused] on trumped-up charges of espionage.""We are not at war with Iran," Cooper stressed. "What we want is very simple. We want 10 innocent people to return to their family."
He illustrated the absurdity of Iran's actions by telling his audience that the Iranian government had recently contacted Interpol to help track down an elderly Iranian rabbi now residing in Pico-Robertson."His crime - he knows 12 of the 'Shiraz 13,'" Cooper said. "If it wasn't so tragic, it would seem pathetic!"
Also onstage at Hollywood Temple Beth El's presentation was Federation President John Fishel, who told The Journal that awareness of the situation was the rally's foremost goal. Added Federation Chairman Todd Morgan, "People keep thinking that anti-Semitism doesn't happen in the world anymore. It still goes on."
The "Shiraz 10" assembly in West Hollywood followed last weekend's Westwood protest, where 7,500 Iranian Americans gathered at the Federal Building to express their outrage over the Tehran regime's jailing of pro-reform movement student activists (According to one informed source, nearly half of the Iranians at that event - which was not sponsored by Jewish organizations - were Jewish). The Federation assembly was also part of a wider effort coordinated by United Jewish Communities (UJC). It took place in concert with other solidarity rallies held simultaneously across North America, and in Europe and Russia. In New York City, more than 2,000 people converged near the United Nations. Representing the Clinton administration, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke said, "We demand that there be a reexamination and a reopening of this process."
Holbrooke was joined onstage by Elie Wiesel, members of Congress, and both Jewish and non-Jewish community leaders.
In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino attacked what he called Iran's "kangaroo courts." And assembling around the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, a group of speakers comprised of community leaders, clergy, and politicians demanded an end to Iranian Jewish persecution. Each of those cities attracted crowds of about 200.
Solidarity gatherings were also held in Denver, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, San Antonio and Omaha. And in Canada, assemblies were held in Ottawa, Vancouver, and in Toronto, where, before 300 people standing in front of downtown's Old City Hall, Eddie Greenspan, vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, demanded that Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien recall his ambassador to Tehran and expel Iran's charge d'affaires from Canada until the 10 were released.
Overseas, demonstrations were coordinated in London, Paris and Moscow. In England, Israel's Ambassador to Great Britain called on Iran to "let our people go" before 150 people, which included Labor and Conservative members of Parliament.
In Germany, the human rights group Amnesty International joined the European Jewish Congress, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and Berlin's Jewish community in vocalizing its dissatisfaction over the "Shiraz 10" situation. Capitalizing on Iranian President Mohammed Khatami's visit to Berlin, Amnesty International called on the German government to demand that Iran revise its policies in regard to the judicial system and freedom of the press.
Not everyone involved in this issue supports these demonstrations. Some believe such outcries have exacerbated the situation, including Esmail Naseri, lead defense lawyer for the 10 prisoners, who stated in a message last week that "these pressures from abroad, which have taken the form of media onslaughts to incite public opinion, will have a negative effect on the case."
Los Angeles is home to the largest Iranian Jewish community in North America. Estimates vary, but according to demographer Pini Herman 18,000 Iranian Jews are thought to live here - substantial when compared with Iran's Jewish population of 27,000.
Emceed by Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) Chair Osias Goren, the Federation's gathering attracted around 400 people, despite very short notice and little advertising. However, noticeably absent at Hollywood Temple Beth El was George Haroonian, spokesman for the Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations, who has commented that no speaker from his group had been asked to participate. According to sources, a long-brewing rivalry exists between the mainstream Iranian American Jewish Federation and Haroonian's more militant organization.
Nevertheless, unity was on the mind of the local Iranian Jews in attendance Monday night. For Vida Tabibian, showing up to show support was a top priority.
"We should not sit silently," she said. "There should be more sanctions against the government of Iran, more pressure, economically and politically."
"I wish there were more American Jews supporting tonight to show unity in the community," said Shahram Elyaszadeh, a Brentwood-area mortgage banker. "American Jews have to come and support Jews through petitions and putting pressure on the White House."
And according to Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, politicians have been very involved in working with the Iranian Jewish community on this issue.
"We've received great support from world leaders," said Kermanian, who believes that the Shiraz affair should not only concern Iranians, but the Jewish community at large.
"I think as a community we need to continue to do whatever we can," he said. "This is not an injustice perpetrated against 10 individuals. This is an injustice against the entire Iranian Jewish history."Contributing Editor Tom Tugend and JTA reports contributed to this story.