Posted by Karmel Melamed
On August 30th nearly 300 Beverly Hills residents, business owners, community leaders and elected officials gathered at Graystone Mansion in Beverly Hills for Mayor Jimmy Delshad’s first State of the City address. Delshad, made history this past February when he became the first in the Iranian American Jewish community to attain the position of Mayor in the U.S. after winning his re-election to the Beverly Hills City Council by a slim margin this past February. The post of mayor rotates among the City Council members in Beverly Hills. Delshad was first elected to the city council in 2003 but faced two other Iranian Jewish candidates earlier this year in his re-election race. Votes cast for the Iranian candidates accounted for more than 50 percent of the votes cast in the Beverly Hills city council race this year.
Delshad’s new role in politics has drawn interest from among other Iranian American Jews who were previously not been involved with politics in the U.S. and had been barred from political involvement for centuries in Iran. For the past 30 years since their arrival in Southern California, a substantial number of Iranian Jews have gradually attained tremendous wealth in business as well as prominent positions in academia. Delshad’s involvement in local government has opened up a new area for Southern California’s Iranian Jewry to pursue and branch into.
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August 31, 2007 | 4:18 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Like other Jews in Los Angeles, Iranian Jews have a wide range of Ashkenazi and Sephardic synagogues of different denominations to choose from for High Holy Days services. This year, Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills hopes to attract a sizeable portion of the Iranian Jewish community who value the traditional form of Judaism practiced in Iran.
In particular, Nessah’s leadership is aiming for the many professional Iranian Jews in their 20s and 30s by offering English-language services conducted by Rabbi Hillel Benchimol, who was recently hired as a full-time associate rabbi.
“This synagogue is not Ashkenazi or black hat Chasidic, but with Sephardic roots that are much deeper,” Benchimol said. “We are trying to offer a genuine rebirth of Iranian Judaism that has been watered down in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles over the years.”
Benchimol, while not Iranian, was raised with a Sephardic background in the British territory of Gibraltar. For six years he was the head rabbi at Kahal Joseph, a West L.A. Iraqi shul. Benchimol left Kahal Joseph and spent two years in Europe before he returned to Los Angeles in June to begin working at Nessah.
Nessah board members said young Iranian Jewish professionals who are not necessarily religious have increasingly begun attending the synagogue’s separate English-language Shabbat services because of Benchimol. They find they can relate to the rabbi because he understands the secular world; in fact, he left Judaism for a while as a young man.
“What they love about Rabbi Benchimol is that he relates to them on a one-on one-basis and engages them in an interactive dialogue during services, rather than preaching to them through a sermon,” Nessah board member Simon Etehad said.
Since Nessah’s 2002 move to its Beverly Hills location, the synagogue has designated a separate banquet hall for worship services for young members who are more Americanized than their parents. During the last several years, Nessah has increasingly turned its focus and funds toward the younger generation, including many who had joined Ashkenazi synagogues or even lost interest in Judaism altogether because they do not understand Persian-language services or old-world customs.
Nessah also will target younger people through a lecture series during High Holy Day services. This year the lineup of “hip” Jewish scholars includes Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, host of The Learning Channel’s “Shalom in the Home,” and Rabbi Benjamin Blech, author of the popular “Idiot’s Guide” books on Judaism.
“All of our energies will and need to, go to the younger generation, because they are our future asset,” Nessah President, Morgan Hakimi said.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services for the younger generation have long been important to the Iranian Jews, as the religious gatherings are ideal for singles to meet one another and find their spouses.
Nessah made history five years ago when it became the first Iranian synagogue in the world to embrace congregational membership. For centuries, Iranian Jews have followed the tradition of raising funds for religious activities by auctioning off the privilege of participating in aliyot and other rituals during Shabbat and holiday services. Today, that practice has been phased out at Nessah, and congregants now call in their donations beforehand to receive aliyot and participate in services.
“The beauty of Nessah is that we are trying to transfer 2,500 years of our true tradition and at the same time trying to create a sense of belonging in the community for the new generation through membership,” Hakimi said.
The decision to end bidding on aliyot at Nessah was also based on the new reality that successful young Iranian Jewish professionals do not wish to publicly announce their donations, Hakimi said, whereas in Iran such open announcements were once a source of pride for donors.
“It [the question of bidding on aliyot] has made a lot of people in the older generation uncomfortable because it was a part of our long tradition,” Hakimi said. “But at Nessah we are keeping parts of our traditions that are important and inherent, while letting the others go.”
Even though over the years some local Iranian Jews have accused Nessah of catering only to the wealthy in the community, young professionals are finding the synagogue’s membership fees fairly reasonable. Annual dues are $100 for singles between the ages of 18 and 35 and include the separate English-language High Holy Days services. Couples between the ages of 18 and 35 must pay $200 for their annual membership and High Holy Day services.
Despite Nessah’s membership program, a substantial number of Iranian Jews in Los Angeles remain resistant to paying membership at any synagogue, instead choosing to pay one-time flat fees to attend traditional Persian-language services held at various hotels and movie theatres for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
August 28, 2007 | 10:21 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
On August 9th Iranian Jewish hotel and nightclub entrepreneur Sam Nazarian hosted events for both presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at two of his company’s trendy venues in West Hollywood. Following her participation in a democratic presidential forum in Los Angeles for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community, Clinton joined 700 supporters for a fundraiser at “The Abbey”, a high end restaurant and bar operated by Nazarian’s SBE Group. “The Abbey was chosen because Mrs. Clinton wanted to go West Hollywood where the LGBT community lives to address issues important to them,” said Luis Vizcaino, a spokesperson for the Clinton campaign. During the same night, SBE’s popular nightclub “Area” in West Hollywood hosted post forum fundraising event for Obama and his supporters. SBE’s Vice President of Marketing, Michael Doneff said the company was interested in encouraging the patrons of their venues in becoming politically active. “We feel that it is paramount as socially responsible citizens to help our community and by promoting events such as these at our properties, we can become involved and engaged in the election,” said Doneff. Nazarian’s involvement in social issues involving the Gay and Lesbian community is perhaps one of first for the Iranian Jewish community which by in large has not engaged in any public dialogue regarding such issues that have long been considered taboo to discuss. Calls made to the Obama campaign for comment were not returned.
Last October, SBE’s “Privilege” nightclub on the Sunset Strip hosted an exclusive party fundraiser attended by Iranian Jewish young professionals on behalf of Israeli victims of Hezbollah rocket attacks. This event was put together by the Iranian American Jewish Federation and attended by nearly 300 local Iranian Jewish young professionals.
SBE owns interests in various hotels in Los Angeles, Miami, and acquired the Le Meridien Hotel in Beverly Hills for roughly $115 million in 2005. Nazarian’s latest real estate deal came in March 2007 when his SBE and Stockbridge Real Estate Group jointly purchase the famous “Sahara Hotel” in Las Vegas from the Bennett family. The transaction is said to be valued between $300 and $400 million for just the hotel/casino and a nearby 18 acre lot. Likewise SBE owns and operates a number of upscale and hip restaurants as well as the popular nightclubs including “Area”, “Hyde”, “Lobby” and “Privilege” all on the Sunset Strip.
In addition, Nazarian’s production company Element Films, under the SBE umbrella, as of 2007 has produced 11 films of which two have yet to be released. In the summer of 2007, Nazarian produced “Mr. Brooks”, the thriller film staring Kevin Costner and Demi Moore.
August 28, 2007 | 6:35 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Gerald Bugoff is a very close and dear American Jewish friend of mine who has been married to my second cousin Dorit for nearly 40 years. “Gerry”, as he is affectionately referred to by everyone in the family, is among the first group of non-Iranian Jews to have married into our large extended family. While Gerry and Dorit live in Long Island New York, we often get together at family gathering when they annually visit us in L.A. for family functions. I particularly enjoy chatting with Gerry because he’s one of the few folks I come across that enjoys intellectual conversations about history and American Jewry. As most of the folks at our family gatherings primarily speak Persian to one another, often times Gerry and I end being the only English speakers. Recently I chatted with Gerry about his experiences as an outsider who married into an Iranian Jewish family and his insights were surprising.
Everyone in the family has the utmost love and respect for Gerry but it seems as if he ends up being the odd man out at some of our functions. Nearly everyone who is of Iranian background chats among themselves in Persian. Aside from myself, I haven’t really seen too many people engage Gerry in real conversations. I asked Gerry about this and he told me that since his marriage, he’s made many attempts to get his wife and her family members to teach him Persian but for some reason they’ve refused. “When we visited Iran (before the revolution), I was hoping to learn the language by speaking to my wife’s relatives but instead everyone was speaking to me in English because they wanted to practice their English!” said Gerry. In addition he said that many Iranian Jews he knows tended to speak in Persian to one another at family events because of their desire to stay together with a common bond which is their language. After realizing that he would never be taught Persian by his wife or her family, Gerry gave up his quest to learn the language. “If we’re sitting at a table and everyone is speaking Persian, I usually leave because I don’t know what is being said,” he said. While Gerry and Dorit are in a loving marriage and both have the affection of their family, indirectly or unknowingly Gerry becomes the outsider at certain gatherings because of the language barrier. Despite the differences in language, Gerry said he still appreciates Iranian food, music, culture as well as Iranian Jewish traditions.
Yet what surprises me whenever I chat with Gerry during our family gatherings, is the odd reaction I receive from my paternal grandmother. She has said to me on a number of occasions, “my god, you’ve been speaking to Gerry for four hours! What is wrong with you, why don’t you go and speak to someone else?”. I think my grandmother was frustrated that she could not understand our conversation in English and wanted it to end. Nevertheless, I still continue chatting with Gerry because I enjoy his insights into the world of Iranian Jewry from the perspective of an American and honestly I feel bad that there really isn’t anyone else engaging him in conversation.
While Gerry is not fluent in Persian, his two children do not speak Persian either but do understand some words. Surprisingly, Gerry’s American Jewish son-in-law, Steffen has tremendous languages skills and has begun learning Persian. At a recent Shabbat dinner our family members were quite surprised to hear him singing to us in Persian! While Steffen has an American accent when speaking Persian, it was delightful to see him make an effort to bond with the Iranian side of his wife’s family. As Iranian Jews have remained longer in the U.S., it seems more common place for them to inter-marry with other Jews who are not Iranian. You could say that Gerry Bugoff is among the pioneers of other Jews who decided to marry into an Iranian Jewish family.
August 28, 2007 | 6:29 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
By Karmel Melamed
In response to the Iranian government’s recent media war against Israel on satellite television and the Internet, Israel’s Foreign Ministry last month launched its own offensive—a Persian-language pro-Israel Web site. Although the site’s first aim is to teach Persian-language readers about Israel, it also gives Iranians in Iran a different perspective on their own government’s activities. And for all these reasons, the site, Hamdami.com—Persian for “camaraderie”—is also of great interest to Los Angeles’ large Iranian community.
Hamdami has been praised by local Iranian Jews and Muslims for reaching out to average Iranians who are constantly fed anti-Israel propaganda by Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime.
“I believe it’s a well-designed, balanced, factual and informative site,” said Sam Kermanian, Secretary General of the L.A.-based Iranian American Jewish Federation. “The content is less about Israel and more about political issues relevant to all people of the Middle East.”
Politically active Iranian Muslims in Southern California who have used the Internet to reach out to Iranians, particularly the student-run opposition groups, see opportunities in Hamdami
“A site like this can definitely influence everyday Iranians and brings them closer to Israel despite the negative brainwashing they might have received from the government,” said Roozbeh Farahanipour, head of the Marze Por Gohar Party, an Iranian political opposition group based in Westwood.
Farahanipour said the reach of the Iranian regime’s anti-Israel campaign goes beyond its own hate-filled Web sites; it has also provided financial backing for multiple anti-Israel, pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic blogs through the Orkut.com Web site. Orkut is a free international social networking Web site for non-Westerners set up by Google.
Los Angeles Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch said the Hamdami site is the first effort by Israel’s Foreign Ministry in nearly 30 years to open a direct channel of dialogue to Iranians in Iran.
“We have always distinguished completely between the people of Iran—who we believe are striving for peace—and the Iranian regime, which is very radical,” Danoch said. “We believe that it’s a tremendous step in Israel’s public diplomacy when it comes to the issue of Iran.”
The Hamdami site offers information in Persian about the Holocaust, a response to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denier’s convention in Tehran last year. The site also gives readers opportunities to interact directly with Israeli officials.
“There will be a Q-and-A for people from Iran to ask questions from the government of Israel through this Internet site, and they will receive answers from us directly,” Danoch said.
Various online surveys and estimates indicate that as many as 11 million people from among Iran’s population of 70 million use the Internet. Farahanipour said even though the Iranian government may be able to block the Israeli site, Iranians will find ways to gain access.
“I think this site can still be very beneficial even if blocked, as it is likely that other Persian-language sites that are not blocked will reference it as a source—so Iranians may ultimately obtain this information from the Israeli government one way or another,” Farahanipour said.
According to a poll of Iranians living in Iran conducted by the Center for the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights (CFPD), an L.A.-based Iranian American nonprofit, 70 percent of Iranians do not agree that Israel should be destroyed and another 65 percent do not believe Ahmadinejad’s statements about the Holocaust.
Danoch said that later this month the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles will have its own formal event to launch the Hamdami site and welcome local Persian-language newspapers, radio programs and television stations to attend. A year ago, the Consulate first reached out to Los Angeles’ Persian-language media outlets broadcasting into Iran by holding a press conference responding to Iran’s leaders who were calling for Israel’s destruction. The gathering was the first public interaction between the Israeli government and the Iranian media in more than 25 years.
Local Iranian Jewish leaders said that while the Hamdami Web site is a productive first step by the Israeli government to reach out to Iran’s population, the Iranian government is still winning the public relations war in the United States and Europe.
“They [Iranian officials] seem to be very effective in arguing their half-truths, untruths and proliferating them into the Western media, which in turn feeds it to Western public opinion,” Kermanian said. “They are also gaining momentum in their direct and indirect lobbying efforts in Western capitals, including Washington D.C.”
This article was originally published by the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.
August 25, 2007 | 1:33 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Recently one of the readers of my blog forwarded me a blog posting made by freelance journalist Jonathan Cook from the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom. Cook, who is based in Nazareth in northern Israel, has made quite a number of incorrect assertions about Iran’s Jews in his piece entitled “Kosher in Tehran”. As an Iranian Jewish journalist living in the U.S. with more first hand knowledge about Iranian Jewry, I feel compelled to set the record straight. Jonathan Cook is dead wrong about Iran’s Jews and his misinformation must be exposed.
Aside from Cook’s long standing and rampant hatred of Israel, he has either knowingly or unknowingly taken the one-sided propaganda put out by Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime hook, line and sinker! In his blog posting “Kosher in Tehran”, Cook tries to paint a rosy picture for the lives of some 10,000 to 20,000 Jews living in Iran that he claims live in “peace and freedom” and Iran’s regime as benevolent toward the country’s Jews. As a journalist who speaks the Persian language fluently and regular chats with Jews and non-Jewish Iranians who have fled the country, I can tell you Cooks claims are nothing more than fantasies. The truth of the matter is since 1979, Iran’s government has used the presence of Jews living in the country as a major propaganda tool to supposedly show themselves in a positive light to the West. Ex-agents of the regime have long identified scores of Western journalists who were paid off by the Iranian government to portray the regime positively. Again today, pundits and supposed journalists like Cook are trying to use Iran’s Jews to whitewash Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s comments about the Holocaust and wiping out Israel. This is basically being done as damage control by the Western proponents of Iran’s regime on the Iranian government’s behalf. Often times you’ll see this type of damage control by television news media doing the same but showing young women in Iran wearing make-up, trendy clothing, and listening to Western music— all done to send the message to Americans and Europeans that “Iran is not such a bad place”.
Cook also claims that Iran’s Jews “only suffer from discrimination”, but nothing could be further from the truth. The regime’s thugs keep a tight grip on the Jewish community in Iran who live in constant fear for their lives. If the Jews step out of line in Iran their lives are at immediate risk. Such was the case in 2000 when 13 Jews from the city of Shiraz were randomly arrested on trumped up charges of being supposed spies for Israel and the U.S. The penalty for treason by any person especially a non-Muslim in Iran is death. The intense pressure from the U.S. and Europe on Iran during the case of the Shiraz 13 ultimately forced the regime not to execute the Jews. Now if Cook is reluctant to believe me, I suggest he speak to the scores of new Iranian Jewish immigrants who have recently resettled in Los Angeles and ask them about life in Iran. Or perhaps he should chat with the hundreds of Iranian Jewish families who left Iran and are still waiting in Austria for their visas to the U.S. and ask them how life was for them in Iran. I seriously doubt Cook or anyone else would find a single person who would praise the conditions of living for Jews in Iran.
Yet Cook’s most naive ideas and assertions about Iran’s Jews in his posting is the fact that he whole heartedly believes the “positive” statements made by the Jewish community leaders in Iran about their lives in the country. For instance, in his blog posting Cook quotes a Jewish leader in Iran who denounces Zionism and praises his life in Iran. Likewise Cook points the refusal of the Jewish community in Iran to take up $60,000 offered by certain Jewish groups to lure them out of Iran, as evidence that conditions are supposedly good for them in the country. I recently interviewed Frank Nikbakht, director of the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, who has monitored the rhetoric of Iran’s Jewish leaders for the last 25 years and has had reservations about their comments. Nikbakht said the comments made by Jewish leaders in Iran to the Western media should be questioned because they lack credible since these leaders have been picked by the Iranian Intelligence Ministry to parrot what the regime tells them. “Whenever any journalist goes to Iran to talk to the Jews, they will be handed over to hand picked Jewish collaborators similar to those from the Judenrat in Nazi Germany,” said Nikbakht. In essence how can any statements regarding Iran’s Jews coming from those so closely aligned with Iran’s regime be trusted? They clearly cannot.
Here’s a recent news feature from Australian TV showing the handpicked Iranian Jewish leaders only say positive things about the Iranian government and other Iranian Jews supposedly speaking their minds freely about life in Iran:
What’s even more interesting is the fact that Iran’s regime does not grant visas to journalists it deems unsympathetic to their government, so the Iranian officials have had much success spewing their one-sided propaganda regarding Iranian Jews that is in no way objective. Cook is also foolish to believe public comments made by Jews in Iran because even if they wanted to speak freely about their government, they would never dare do so because they would face imprisonment, torture or even death for doing so. This is evident by the fact that the regime’s armed thugs have arrested and tortured Iranians in recent years that have expressed their criticism of the regime to visiting Western media. Therefore when all the voices regarding Iran’s Jews are so heavily influenced and controlled by the Iranian government, anyone in their right mind would not believe a single word that is coming from them.
In addition Cook is seriously mistaken if he believes life is great for Iran’s Jews considered the ridiculous scores of intolerant laws they live under. According to Nikbakht’s research of Iran’s Islamic based laws, not only does the Iranian Constitution clearly indicate that all non-Muslims have inferior status to Muslims, but all non-Muslims must be humiliated and confined to prevent them from gaining any advantage over Muslims. Again how on earth can Cook or anyone in their right mind consider living under such an unjust system of laws in Iran as humane and fair environments to like in?
As a journalist who exclusively covers Iranian Jewry and has close ties to the community, I am personally baffled at how Cook can make any assertions that life is great for Jews in Iran. On a regular basis, I am reminded by countless Iranian American Jewish leaders to watch what I might be writing about the Iranian government for fear that what I may report on may have negative repercussions on the Jews of Iran. So my question to Cook and others like him, is why on earth are Iranian American Jews so concerned about my words and the safety of their brethren in Iran if everything is so fine and dandy in Iran? The truth of the matter is, Iran’s Jews are not safe and they live in a constant fear of how the regime may turn on them at any moment.
Finally, Cook’s argument that Iran’s remaining Jews are living peacefully and freely in Iran and supposedly “unwilling to leave the country” is also flawed. First of all Cook is wrong in citing that there are 25,000 Jews living in Iran because there has been no real census to determine their population. The community’s population estimates over the years have varied from 10,000 to 20,000 today. Some argue that the 20,000 figure is also inaccurate because thousands of Jews have quietly left or illegally fled Iran in the last five to ten years. Others argue that the 20,000 figure is inaccurate because a small but considerable portion of these Iranian Jews have converted to Islam or Christianity in order to survive but are still counted as Jews because they are living within their family structures and attend synagogue to their continued beliefs in Judaism. The children of these Jews are now growing up as Muslims or Christians but not as Jews. It should be noted that it is much safer to live in Iran as a Christian than as a Jew. Therefore for Cook to include a few thousand hidden coverts with the population of Jews in Iran is flawed.
In his posting, Cook boasts on behalf of Iran’s regime by claiming that the country is still home to a substantial number of Jews but heFAILS to look at the bigger historical picture of Iran’s Jewish population. Before the 1979 revolution, some 80,000 Jews lived in Iran as compared to the 20,000 who have remained. This mass exodus of Jews would be enough proof to anyone in their right mind that Iran must obviously not be a welcoming place for Jews if 60,000 Jews have fled the country! Moreover, Cook FAILS
to take into account the painful history of Iran’s Jews who were numbering in the hundreds of thousands 500 years ago before the Shiite religious cleansing of Iran began. Since then and over the centuries forced massive conversions, gradual conversions, mass killings and pogroms force thousands of Jews to convert. Those hundreds of thousands of Jews in Iran should have been numbering in the millions today had it not been for the ruthless and irrational activities of Iran’s clerics and monarchs over the centuries. Cook’s ridiculous portrait of Jews now living in Iran is not only an insult to those who appreciate common sense, but an insult to Iranian Jewry for ignoring our tragic history in Iran.
The irony of Cook’s anti-Israel stance and sympathetic views towards Iran’s regime is the fact that he is currently living in Israel, a country where he has the freedom to criticize anyone he pleases without the fear of being harmed in anyway. He would never enjoy that same type of free speech while living in Iran or any other Islamic country. Cook and other apologists for Iran’s Islamic regime must be exposed for continuing to perpetuate these lies about Jews exclusively for Iran’s benefit. Individuals like Cook are in no way professional journalists but rather the lapdogs of Iran’s tyrannical regime since they are spinning the real truth about the regime and presenting the “supposed facts” from a non-objective and bias perspective.
What’s real sad about Cook and other apologists of Iran’s regime is that they have no other way to bolster the Iranian government than to point to the condition of Jews in the country. The fact of the matter is that Iran’s economy is in shambles, there is a gasoline shortage, skyrocketing inflation, and doubt-digit unemployment— how else could anyone justify keeping any government in power with such disastrous economic conditions? As usually they can use the Jews as a distraction.
Cook is dead wrong about Iran’s Jews and I call on the U.K.‘s Guardian newspaper to retract Cook’s statements because they have no journalistic value and are only helping to perpetuate hate for Israel and wrongly bolster the tarnished image of Iran’s government.
The Guardian’s online editor Georgina Henry can be reached at Georgina.firstname.lastname@example.org
August 21, 2007 | 2:18 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
The leadership of the Eretz-SIAMAK organization will not be offering High Holy Day services at any of the local area hotels this year, as it had in years past. The group’s board of directors will still be providing services at their center in Tarzana. For last 25 years the SIAMAK organization, one of the oldest Iranian Jewish community groups in Los Angeles gathered several hundred local Iran Jews for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services in various hotel banquet halls and country clubs in the city. The non-profit organization never had a base or center as its members were all volunteers, but SIAMAK’s leadership made an effort to organize High Holiday services every year. For many local Iranian Jews, SIAMAK’s services were ideal because they catered to the younger generation in the community that is English speaking and more Americanized. Many younger members of the community also chose to attend SIAMAK’s High Holy Day services because they could meet their potential spouses in a friendly and no-pressured environment. Like many American Jews, the High Holy Days are an ideal time for young Iranian Jewish singles to meet one another and chat. At the same their services offered an innovative “open discussion” group for younger Iranian Jews to discuss certain taboo issues among themselves including politics, different levels of religiosity in Judaism, double standards among young men and women as well as pre-martial sexual relations.
SIAMAK’s services were also appealing to many Iranian Jews because there was no membership fees to be paid in exchange for attending the High Holy Day events. Those Iranian Jews who do not want to pay the sometimes costly membership fees of an Ashkenazi synagogue would feel more at ease just buying one-time tickets for SIAMAK’s holiday services. Even after SIAMAK’s 2004 merger with the Eretz Center in Tarzana, the new “Eretz-SIAMAK” organization still continued to offer the High Holy Day services inside L.A. area hotels because many of their members concentrated in West Los Angeles and Beverly Hills were unwilling to travel by automobile to Tarzana on Yom Kippur. With the Eretz-SIAMAK services being held in Tarzana this year, the group’s leaders have indicated that the youth oriented portion of the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services will not be made available this year. Specific reasons as to why the youth portion of the services cancelled this year have not been given. Yet many Eretz-SIAMAK members have said the retirement of the group’s ex-president Dariush Fakheri, who had organized the youth services in years past, was one of the main reasons for the cancellation of their youth services.
A substantial number of Iranian Jews will buy High Holy Day tickets for services held at American synagogues or by other Iranian Jewish groups in the community who have rented local hotel banquet halls. Still others have purchased membership at the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills to attend their services or attend services at the Iranian American Jewish Federation’s synagogue Temple Beth El in West Hollywood.
August 20, 2007 | 1:46 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
On a weekly basis I am approached by nearly a dozen Los Angeles area Iranian Jews who read my articles regularly and feel the undying urge to kvetch to me about the topics concerning the community that I cover as a journalist. They ask “why do you always focus on politics or Iran?” Or “why do you write about Iranians in general as opposed to real social issues weâre facing as a community?” To these and other similar questions I simply respond with my own question; “do you have a story youâd like to share with me on the record?” Ninety-nine percent of the time their answers begins with “this is off the record butâ¦” Well without naming names Iâd like to take certain topics that are taboo to discuss in the community and place them in the lime light.
I can understand that most Iranian Jews for political reasons may be frightened sometimes to go on the record because of witnessing or hearing about physical violence that befell anyone that voiced their opinions to the media in Iran. I am also sensitive to the cultural norms of Iranian Jews who in Iran never publicly discussed problems they had in their families because there was a stigma attached with airing your laundry in public. For these reasons and for others, to some extend my hands are tied as a journalist when covering the local Iranian Jewish community. When folks in the community do not have the desire or courage to engage in a serious public dialogue about important topics that their friends and family members are facing everyday, how can I as a journalist report about them?
Even though Iranian Jews have been living in the U.S. now for nearly 30 years, community members still fear being ostracized or looked down upon by others for admitting that their family member have been grappling with serious personal issues. Some of these issues involve drug abuse, spousal abuse, religious inter-marriage, gambling, shady business dealings, embezzlement, alcoholism, divorce, sexual behavior for young men and women, and excessive spending on parties. I must emphasize that NOT all Iranian Jews in Southern California have these problems and these problems are NOT common place in our communityâ¦however they do exist. In the last few years I can recall only a couple of gatherings at the Nessah Center in Beverly Hills and at the Eretz-SIAMAK Center in Tarzana where Iranian Jewish community leaders were honestly discussing these social problems and solutions for them. In order for any community to successfully overcome difficulties, it must first acknowledge their existence and then engage an open dialogue about them.
I am not one to dwell on the negatives of the Iranian Jewish community nor do I want to show the community in a bad light. My hope is that the communityâs leaders and members will make a greater effort to tackle the obstacles we are facing while living in the U.S. Sweeping these issues under the rug and staying quiet about them will not eliminate them. I urge those who wish to seriously engage in this needed dialogue to go on the record for a change with their problems and solutions because that is the only way progress and growth can be achieved in the community.