Posted by Karmel Melamed
“I am no ordinary rabbi, I am the love prophet!” announced Rabbi Shmuley Boteach to a crowd of nearly 500 Iranian Jewish young professionals and parents last night at the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills. For the past six days during High Holy Day services, Boteach, a best-selling author of Judaism relationship books, offered his wisdom on life, love and Judaism to members of Nessah’s professionals through a series of lectures. His words of advice were peppered with his unique style of comedy that had the crowd entertained and in a way educated at the same time. Bring Boteach to Nessah has been a part of a larger campaign by the synagogue to lure back young Iran Jews who have left the flock for local Ashkenazi temples where English is spoken or those young Iranian Jews who have been disenfranchised with the Judaism of their parents. “This is one of the youngest synagogues I have spoken at,” said Boteach. “The youth are honest, committed and they are really seeking a deeper connection with god and seeking their soul mates”.
Interestingly, Boteach was not far from his roots at Nessah as he hails from an Iranian Jewish background. His father was born in the Iranian city of Esfahan and those in attendance last night said they felt an indirect connection with Boteach for that reason. “Hearing him speak for the past six days has been like taking a clear breath of fresh air,” said Simon Etehad, who heads Nessah’s young professionals group. Last night sushi was abundant and sake flowed through Nessah’s banquet hall as young Iranian Jewish singles mingled before Boteach’s lecture on “Kosher Sex” based on his popular 1999 book. The lecture specifically focused on explaining the power and place of sex within a marriage according to the Talmud and Torah. Open discussions of sex are generally taboo in the Iranian Jewish community which by far has been socially conservative. So Boteach’s lectures have been a unique and new avenue for many local Iranian Jews to explore. Of course Boteach also couldn’t help promoting his many books and national television program “Shalom in the Home” featured on The Learning Channel.
Despite all the talk of sex in a fun partying atmosphere, a group of young Iranian Jewish men still managed to gather in Nessah’s main sanctuary of evening prayers after the gathering.
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September 14, 2007 | 4:22 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Following a Wall Street Journal article about “Zero Degree Turn”, a new television dramatic series produced by Iran’s state-run broadcasting channel, international news media outlets and blogs have been buzzing at the emergence of a new Holocaust related message being put out by Iran’s regime. Zero Degree Turn is a dramatic love story set in Nazi-controlled France during World War II between an Iranian-Palestinian Muslim man and a French Jewish woman. Ultimately the man saves his love from Nazi camps with the help of Iranian diplomats in France who provide forged passports for her family to escape the country to safety. The program repeatedly refers to the Nazi concentration camps and the threats Jews faced in Nazi controlled Europe.
Zero Degree Turn to many might seem like a significant change in message put out by the Iranian government after the country’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called the Holocaust a myth since coming to office. But the show’s costly 1940s costumes and European locations reveal a very obvious attempt by the Iranian government to do damage control in the international community after Ahmadinejad’s ridiculous statements about the Holocaust. Ahmadinejad’s recent Holocaust deniers conference generated a significant amount of bad press for the regime and cast them in a bad light worldwide. Zero Degree Turn is yet another elaborate attempt by the Iranian government’s ruling mullahs to overnight repair the months of bad press their President has brought upon them and send a new message that their regime “may not be as bad you may think”. Interestingly, Zero Degree Turn seems to be only a piece of the larger P.R. campaign and spinning effort made by the Iranian government. Earlier this month, Iranian officials announced that they were creating a new cultural center in Tehran for the Jews of their country.
Unfortunately for the Iranian regime, I expect that they will be spending more time and money on P.R. considering the fact that Ahmadinejad will no doubt continue to put his foot in his mouth and spout more hate. They can try to spin these stories as much as they wish but the world is not stupid and knows where the regime stands based on its leaders long standing anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric.
The following is a small segment of the show posted online with English subtitles:
September 12, 2007 | 12:01 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Earlier this week, Kaveh Lahijani, an Iranian Jewish contractor in Laguna Beach dedicated a newly written Torah scroll in honor of his late father Isaac Lahijani to the Chabad Jewish Center in Laguna Beach. The gathering attracted nearly 400 guests from all around Southern California. According to close friends of the Lahijani family, the torah dedication was an emotional gathering as the circumstances of Isaac Lahijaniâs disappearance are still unknown after he was spirited away by police in Iran 28 years ago at the start of the Iranian revolution. “The family informed me that they really did not want to make a big story about this and I’d like to respect their wishes,” said Rabbi Elimelech Goorevitch, of the Chabad of Laguna Beach.
It is not unusual for Southern California based Iranian Jews to purchase and dedicate torahs to local synagogues and schools. New torahs have been purchased in recent years for the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills by a number of generous donors and just last summer the Iranian Jewish Namvar family dedicated a brand new torah to the Downtown Synagogue, the only synagogue located in the garment district of Downtown Los Angeles. On the average the cost of a new Torah ranges from mid-$20,000 to mid-$40,000 depending on the cost of the time and labor of the torah scribe.
My article regarding the Downtown Synagogue can be found here.
September 12, 2007 | 11:58 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
On Sept. 6, the California Senate unanimously approved a bill that would require state pension funds to divest an estimated $24 billion in investments from nearly 300 companies doing business with Iran.
“I am thrilled with the state Senate’s overwhelming bi-partisan support for this legislation, which will end California taxpayer’s investment in key foreign-owned companies that prop up the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R- El Cajon), said in a written statement.
In early June, the California Assembly unanimously approved the bill, known as AB 221, and the governor is expected to sign it into law later this month. The bill has received wide support from California Iranian Americans of various faiths, as well as 17 state and national Jewish organizations. The state bill follows a similar one approved on July 31.
In June, Los Angeles became the first city in the country to approve its own Iran divestment measure. The state of Florida passed legislation in May barring $1 billion in its state pension fund from being invested in companies doing business with Iran and Sudan. Currently, Iran divestment bills are working their way through 12 additional states’ legislatures.
September 11, 2007 | 4:42 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Five years ago Marla Bennett a 24-year-old Jewish graduate student from San Diego was killed with 8 other students by a bomb placed by Hamas terrorists at the Hebrew University’s cafeteria in Israel. Her grief stricken family refused to give up and decided to file suit against Iran’s government for their financial support of Hamas who perpetrated the cold blooded murder of their innocent daughter. Yesterday, the Bennett family finally received justice when U.S. Federal Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington D.C. ruled in their favor and ordered Iran’s government to pay them roughly $13 million in damages. “The plaintiffs should be praised for their courageous and steadfast pursuit of justice through legal means. This noble effort is made even more so when contrasted with the heinous and brutishly unlawful acts undertaken by the defendants and the individuals they support,” stated Lamberth in her decision to award the Bennett family damages against Iran’s government. While the Bennetts may have won the case against Iran, being able to collect the money may be limited as there are only a few frozen Iranian assets in the U.S. which they can tap into since other plaintiffs have also been successful in winning damages in their cases against the Iranian government.
In my opinion Lamberth deserves high praise for her brave stance and decisions as a member of the U.S. judiciary in the cases she’s heard regarding the Iranian government. On September 7th, she also awarded $2.65 billion to the families of the 241 U.S. service members killed in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut Lebanon. Lambreth gives hope to victims of Iran’s reign of international terror that while justice may not be immediate it does arrive in due time.
Iranian Jewish vicitims of Iran’s terror have also followed the same path taken by the Bennetts. Last September the families of 12 Iranian Jewish vicitims wrongfully imprisoned in Iran filed a federal suit seeks to collect damages from former Iranian President Mohhamad Khatami. The suit holds Khatami responsible for the kidnapping, imprisonment and disappearance of Jews imprisoned by Iran between 1994 and 1997. “Why is the world so silent? Why are Jews so silent about the plight of Jews being held captive in Iran?” Elana Tehrani, a victim’s mother asked a crowd during a speech at the Nessah Center in Beverly Hills last September.
My article about the Iranian Jewish families suit against Khatami can be found here.
Israeli attorney of Iranian heritage Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, along with Shurat HaDin, an Israeli organization that gives legal aid to terror victims, have been at the forefront of bringing more than two dozen lawsuits over the past several years against terrorist organizations and states sponsoring terrorism. Shurat HaDin has also successfully collected on judgments from suits brought against U.S. banks holding funds used by Palestinian terror groups. Darshan-Leitner and other American attorneys have been handling the case of the 12 missing Iranian Jews that is still pending in federal court.
Under the Federal Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act, non-U.S. citizens are able to to sue foreign governments in American courts. In addition, the 2002 Terror Risk Insurance Act permits U.S. terror victims to be paid the frozen assets of terror sponsoring states. In March of this year, B’nai Brith Canada filed suit against Iran’s current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejhad for incitement of genocide against the Jewish people in a Federal Canadian court. The suit also calls on the Canadian government to ban Ahmadinejhad’s entry into Canada.
September 10, 2007 | 9:49 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Often times when folks discover that I was born on September 11th they express a sense of shock and sadness for me since terrorists attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001. Honestly I have not celebrated my birthday since my bar mitzvah but rather September 11th has been a day of personal reflection for me because of the circumstances that occurred on that day in Iran 29 years ago.
While many folks are quite familiar with the events of September 11, 2001, the vast majority of people are unaware that one of the bloodiest days of the Iranian revolution was on September 11, 1978. In contemporary Iranian history, the day is popularly referred to as “Black Friday” (or in Persian as “Jome Sia”) because protesters clashed in the streets of Tehran with military forces loyal to the late Shah. Every year for as long as I can recall my parents retell the story with vivid details about how thousands of students and other protesters flooded the streets of Tehran calling for an end for the reign of the Shah and for an Islamic revolution. My father recalls that folks who were out on the streets of Tehran that night protesting were violating Marshall law that had been declared. As a result violence broke out between protesters and military forces sent in to end the violence. “There were many dead bodies laying in the ditches along the streets,” he said. My grandmother recalls many power outages during the night with electricity going on and off in the hospital. “Those where turbulent times my young man when you were born and we had to have the brit milah in the hospital because of the violence outside,” said my grandmother.
But the violence of September 11, 1978 was just the beginning of a blood bath that was to follow in Iran in the weeks and months following my birth. Hundreds were killed in Iran during the revolution and thousands after the revolution for being tied to the Shah’s regime and in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). While many Jewish families fled Iran in 1978 and 1979 at the start of the revolution, our family remained in Iran until the summer of 1980. At that time my father’s cousin was arrested and executed by the new Islamic government’s thugs for being a supposed “Zionist spy”. Our family only then realized that Iran was not the place for Jews to live peaceably and so we left all of our assets and fled Iran for good with only the shirts on our backs.
Ultimately I mourn the loss of innocent American lives lost on the tragic day of September 11, 2001. Yet at the same time I wonder how my life would have been different had there not been the Iranian revolution and the tragic events of senseless violence had not occurred on September 11, 1978.
September 8, 2007 | 5:06 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Iranian Jewish author Gina B. Nahai is perhaps one of the most well known and successful writers in our community having penned a series of fictional novels that give a unique perspective into the world of Iranian Jews. Yesterday I had the special opportunity to meet Nahai and attend a book signing for her latest published novel “Caspian Rain”. Without giving away the entire story, the novel focuses on the life of a young Iranian Jewess living in Iran before the 1979 revolution and dealing with her parents’ crumbling marriage. The novel also gives a rare glimpse into the taboo topic in the Iranian Jewish community of intermarriage with Muslims.
What I really enjoy about Nahai’s works is the fact that she is able effectively reveal the intricate mentalities and norms of Iranian Jews that not very many people know about. Our community is very tight-knit and typically closed off to outsiders for whatever reason, so having an insider like Nahai share details about us can be quite educational. I think younger Jews of Iranian heritage will also enjoy “Caspian Rain” because it gives them an idea about the lives of Jews in Iran before the 1979 revolution which they may have not otherwise known about.
By the way, for those who are unfamiliar with Nahai, her books have received wide acclaim by critics and her first novel Cry of the Peacock even won the Los Angeles Arts Council Award for Fiction. Her works have been translated into more than dozen other languages and are used for teaching in universities worldwide. She is a regular contributor to the Jewish Journal of Greater L.A. as well. Those interested in Nahai’s other works should visit her site: http://ginabnahai.com/
September 7, 2007 | 6:32 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Frequently I am approached by Americans and other folks who ask me why Iran’s government officials and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have decided to deny the Holocaust all of a sudden. Why the Holocaust? What does the Shoah have to do with Iran and the regime? From the Iran experts I’ve spoken to over the past year, the reasoning for the Iranian regime to even bring up the Shoah are vast and multi-layered.
Perhaps the best explanation for the Iranian government’s decision to attack the validity of the Holocaust was made by Yigal Carmon, president of the Washington, D.C., Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which translates anti-Semitic and anti-American media reports from various Arab and Islamic countries, including Iran. In many of his speeches Carmon explains that Iran’s Holocaust revisionism is based on their ultimate goal to delegitimize Israel’s existence. For the Iranian regime’s officials the Holocaust lends moral justification to the creation and continued existence of the State of Israel. Now if the Iranian government could only deny the Holocaust and prove it was a mere “Jewish fabrication”, then they could more easily justify to their desires to eliminate the Jewish state of Israel.
I actually did an article about the roots of Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitism: http://www.jewishjournal.com/home/searchview.php?id=17335
Political scientists have long studied brutal dictatorships such as the one in Nazi Germany, where a group of people were vilified in the media before the masses to rally hate and gradually win support for he dictatorship’s desires to harass or eliminate a certain group. Such was the case in Nazi Germany, where Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals and other “undesirables” were portrayed in German propaganda films as “subhuman” or like vermin. This disgusting propaganda worked as many Nazi supporters, soldiers, and officers were convinced that the Jews and others needed to be eliminated after they were dehumanized through films.
Again today, the Iranian government is seeking to do the same thing the Nazi propaganda machine did in the 1930’s…to blame the Jews for supposedly “taking control of the world and being evil”. Through this hateful message they hope to make their sick case for eliminating Israel. Here’s a three-part “documentary” created by Iran’s state-run television called “Merchants of Myth” which tries to disprove the Holocaust with a series of lies and disgusting use of famous Holocaust revisionists. This film would make Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels quite proud, as the Iranian government is trying its best to cover up all Nazi atrocities:
“Merchants of Myth” is not only ridiculous in it’s denial of undisputed historical facts about the Holocaust, but it makes absurd claims that News Corp. C.E.O. Rupert Murdoch is Jewish! Nothing could be further from the truth…Murdoch is not Jewish and does not have any Jewish ancestry. Now some Iran experts will argue that the Holocaust denial statements made by the Iranian President and others in Iran are just a smoke screen to draw attention away from their nuclear weapons plan. This argument may indeed be valid, but we in the free world who respect life and the have tolerance for all mankind, should not turn a deaf ear to tyrants who speak of genocide. The world ignored Hitler when he called for the destruction of the Jews nearly 70 years ago and as a result millions of Jews perished. Today, we just cannot afford to take the same risk of ignoring the Iranian government’s calls for the destruction of the Jewish people living in Israel.
For all of those journalists, Iranian government sympathizers and folks who think Iran is such a great place for Jews to live in, I’d like to ask them how anyone would consider a country where the Holocaust is so blatantly and regularly denied, as friendly to Jews?