Posted by Karmel Melamed
On weekly basis I am approached by dozens of individuals from various backgrounds ranting about how Iranian Jews are “taking over Beverly Hills and flashing their money everywhere”. In fact one American Jewish individual at Sinai Temple in West Los Angeles asked me how involved the Iranian Jewish community is in philanthropic activities in light of their substantial financial strength. With pride I was able to list more than two dozen Jewish, Israel, and even non-Jewish non-profit organizations that are benefiting from the donations and volunteer time of Iranian Jews living in Southern California.
The issue of poverty and the homeless is one that has been a high priority for many Iranian Jews. Two individuals from the Iranian Jewish community that have stood up and have been proactive about the problem are Jennifer Chadorchi and Nouriel Cohan . In fact, I covered Chadorchi in 2005 as one of the L.A. Jewish Journal’s “mensches” for her work on behalf of the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition in organizing a small army of volunteers. Cohan and his wife were also featured “mensches” by the Journal for their grassroots organization to help poverty stricken families. More importantly, Chadorchi and Cohan make me proud to be an Iranian American Jew because they represents the generous and loving spirit of our community. We Iranian American Jews may be quite affluent and sucessful but we are equally giving when it comes to needy causes!
Our latest podcast chats with both remarkable individuals and can be heard here
For more information on volunteering with Chadorchi and the West Hollywood Food Coalition call 310-288-0090.
For more information on supporting Cohan’s Global Kindness organizaiton call 310-286-0300
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April 19, 2008 | 1:30 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Late last year I reported on a controversial topic of extravagant spending by some Southern California Iranian Jews on their wedding celebrations in this piece which was published in the L.A. Jewish Journal. The story really touched a nerve in the community and drew both praise and curses from various factions in the community. Even today, many months later I still have both young and old Iranian Jews approaching me with insider information about the topic of marriages and weddings in the community. Many of them recall the lavish weddings they’ve attended while others try to give me advice for a potential future story. Unfortunately none of these individuals are willing to go on the record with their stories because of their old world fear that “some secret police” will come after them for chatting with the press.
Nevertheless, one aspect of Iranian Jewish marriages in America that has been repeated to me has been the fact that many families are preparing for their weddings just as was the case in Iran. Now I’m talking about the groom’s family gifting three chickens and the bride’s family purchasing a mule for the lovely couple…but rather both sides are using an older friend or family member as an intermediary to write informal wedding contracts for them. In fact I was recently invited to one of these informal wedding contract signing secessions which had nothing to do with the Jewish marriage contract or “Ketubah”, but dealt with the responsibilities of each family for the expenses of the wedding. The intermediary at this gathering was a 70-something Iranian Jewish woman who I will refer to as “Janet” because she did not want her name to be known to the public. Janet sat down with the bride and groom and both their parents, asking them point blank “how much do both families want to spend on this wedding?” Both sets of parents gave Janet their dollar amounts and she wrote them down. Janet then went through a series of questions asking the families how much they wanted to spend on flowers, decorations, catering, entertainment, the bride’s dress, the hair and make-up expenses, etc.
After two hours of her questioning, haggling, and writing down their requirements, Janet finally presented the informal document she had prepared in Persian language to both parents who signed the agreement. To my utter surprise, both families all shook hands and hugged—I could not believe Iranian Jews were able to quickly and efficiently resolve their wedding expenses. Typically both families before the marriage of their child quarrel and argue about the amount of guests to be invited and the amounts of money being spent, yet this was not the case with the families Janet had helped.
Still surprised, I pulled Janet aside and I had a quick Questions and Answer secession with her about this informal wedding contract she had negotiated and prepared. The following is an excerpt of that conversation:
How long have you been doing these informal wedding contract negotiations?
Well…since I moved to America. I noticed many potential weddings were being called off over families fighting about how much money was to be spent on the weddings. So I was thinking back to what we did in Iran many years ago before a couple wanted to get married—an elder person would sit down with both families and hammer out an agreement. This solved a lot of problems back then and it still works so many Iranian Jewish families still use it. I learned how to do it from my parents who used to do it for their extended family members. It’s a great mitzvah to help bring two Jews together in marriage.
Why do you think it’s such a great idea for people in the Iranian Jewish community to use today?
Because there is just too much fighting over the number of guests, the type of dress for the bride, the type of band and other stupid little things that families in the community go through. When everything is writing down and agreed to beforehand, no one in either family can object or demand something more because they’ve already agreed to it in writing. If anyone on either side does try to demand something beyond the written contract, he or she is pressured and sometimes shamed into keeping their mouth shut for the good of the couple. After all, what’s important is that these two young Jews love each other and the rest of the material things should not be important!
Have couples that do not have this type of informal contract for their wedding expenses broken off their engagements?
Sometimes yes and often times they also get divorced a few weeks or months after their weddings. When the groom is burdened with some hefty debts for additional expenses placed upon him by the bride’s family he often gets frustrated and just decides to abandon his marriage. I’m not saying that all couples without this agreement end up calling their engagements off, but this contract makes their lives much easier if problems arise about their expenses during the wedding. In the end everyone knows his or her financial responsibilities and they must abide by them.
April 16, 2008 | 10:22 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
I was recently approached by a non-Jewish American friend who point blank asked me why Iranians and Iranian Jews living in the U.S. were so opposed to the regime in Iran. “Jews are not mistreated in Iran, besides why are you guys making such a big deal about the Iranian government getting nuclear technology?” he asked. It took about two hours for me to explain the true nature of Iran’s regime to him in order for him to realize the very serious threat that that government poses to the world. He was obviously brainwashed by some left leaning media outlets that have little knowledge of the mentality and true ideology of Iran’s radical Islamic clerics. The journalists or editors of such online or offline outlets have obviously never spent a single day living in Iran as religious minorities or understand the Persian language to grasp the sad reality of the reign of Iran’s clerics on that country.
After my two hour lecture, I suggested my friend chat with middle-aged or older Iranian Jews or other Iranian religious minorities about their experiences of living under the rule of the Ayatollahs. I also gave him the following five talking points to discuss with Iranian American Jews so as to better under the extent of the Iranian regime’s evil:
1) The countless hardships religious minorities such as Jews encountered when they cannot obtain certain educational or work advancements in Iran under this regime.
2) The difficulty religious minorities in Iran face in getting real justice, fair judgments on lawsuits and fair hearings in Iran’s courts which treat Jews and other religious minorities as second class citizens with limited rights.
3) The sad fact that women and children regardless of their religion are considered the “chattel” of their fathers or husbands, with very little if no rights of their own under Iran’s radical Islamic laws.
4) The Constitution of Iran’s Islamic government which calls for global jihad with the objective of forcing everyone on the face of the earth to convert to the fundamentalist Shiite Islamic form of religion practiced in Iran.
5) The billions of dollars in assets and property Iranian Jews and other opponents to Iran’s current regime were forced to forfeit in order to escape Iran in the late 1970’s and 1980’s.
If anyone has any question about the very serious threat Iran’s current government poses to the U.S., Israel and the rest of the world with their pursuit of nuclear weapons, then let them chat with some of the Iranian Jews living in Southern California. Let them hear for themselves first hand of the horror stories from Iranian Jews who lived under the current Iranian regime of being physically abused, threatened, imprisoned and mistreated. Let them chat with Persian speaking experts on Iran and Iranian religious minorities who will give them correct translations of documents proving the true extend of the Iranian government’s financial support for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. If Iran’s current leaders have had such a horrid treatment of religious minorities in their own country, imagine what unthinkable attoricities they have planned for all of those outside Iran who do not follow their brand of radical Shiite Islamic beliefs!
If you think that any sane leader in the West can sit down and negotiate with the radical Islamic leaders of Iran’s government, you’re sadly mistaken! Only debilitating international sanctions and diplomatic isolation can decimate Iran’s regime which is teetering on the brink of economic collapse. Go ahead and ask the Iranian Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Bahais living in America what true evil lies in the hearts of Iran’s leaders today.
Following are some lovely charts which also show the immense danger Iran’s government poses to the world:
April 14, 2008 | 12:05 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
“Come closer young man,” whispered an older Iranian Jewish gentleman to me in Persian language late last week. I was visiting one of the many Iranian synagogues in the Los Angeles area and this man in his early 70’s had managed to corner me before I had left the place. “You’re the one who writes for the newspaper, aren’t you?” he inquired with a raised eyebrow. I replied yes and he pulled me aside saying “I’ve got a story for you but you cannot publish any of the names I’m going to saying.” Being the curious journalist, I nodded my head in agreement and the story he told me about his late brother brought me to tears. The following is his story but have change the names and identities of the parties involved.
The 70-something gentleman was named Hamid and I realized he wanted to tell me his brother Jacob’s story in order get rid of painful memories that had been bottled up inside of him. Jacob had recently passed away from a sudden stroke at the age of 67 while living in Europe. Jacob’s story begins with his birth in 1940 to a fairly well off Jewish family that had left the Jewish ghetto in Tehran and was living in a nice neighborhood after his father had made a sizable fortune importing medical goods. While his mother was giving birth to Jacob in one room, her 18-year-old first-born son, Simon was dying of cancer in the adjacent room. The young Jacob was initially not nursed by his mother because of her tremendous grief but by his elder sister who had also just had a child.
Nevertheless the young boy grew up and was bright enough to be sent to Europe (I have not indicated the specific country for privacy reasons) for his college education. For the first few years he received monthly funds from his father in Iran while he studied civil engineering in a European university. Unfortunately during his studies his father suddenly died of a heart attack and the funds stopped. He was forced to work odd jobs at night and go to school during the day in order to be able to complete his education. At times Jacob did not have enough money for food, so he ate the food remaining in people’s plates at the restaurants he worked at. “He had a drive to achieve success no matter what the obstacles were thrown his way,” said Hamid. “He finally earned a doctorate in civil engineering and was invited back to Iran by the late Shah’s wife”. Now in his early 30’s and armed with a high level education, in Iran, Jacob quickly earned a good amount of funds as Iran was undergoing massive modernization of its infrastructure during the late 1960’s and 1970’s. All was going well for Jacob who had even married and was trying to begin a family with his new bride.
Yet Hamid told me that Jacob’s life during the last 30 years was tragically painful as a result of many factors including Iran’s 1979 Revolution. With the political upheaval in Iran in late 1978 and early 1979, Jacob like many thousands of Jews living in Iran was forced to leave behind his properties and asests. All of the years of hard work he had dedicated to securing a comfortable life for himself after experiencing poverty as a young man, seemed to be worthless to Jacob who had everything suddenly taken away from him by Iran’s radical Islamic regime. The stress of loosing his life’s savings and earnings was too much for Jacob who feld with his wife to Europe. On top of this heartache, his older brother Michael in Iran who he had entrusted to gather what was left of Jacob’s funds, decided to embezzle Jacob’s money. When Jacob confronted his older brother about the embezzlement, Michael bad mouthed Jacob and shrugged off the accusations. “After Michael had stolen his money, Jacob was totally devastated to the point where he said he no longer had an elder brother and cut off all ties with our family,” said Hamid.
And so my friends Jacob lived in state of mild depression during the last 30 years and unable to overcome the tragedy he was faced with because of the revolution and because of his own brother’s greed. Jacob and his wife were never able to have children, but he nevertheless managed to earn a living in Europe. “Jacob was never quite the same after all what happened with Michael and the revolution—he refused to come to America to visit the rest of the family because of the shame he felt,” Hamid said. Finally the years of depression and self hate had taken their toll on Jacob who died last month not only from a stroke but also from a broken heart.
I’ve decided to share Jacob’s story with the readers of this blog not to invoke sympathy for Jacob or hatred for his brother Michael. My overall objective is not to cause you to cry for Jacob, but for members of the Iranian Jewish community to rethink their behavior when it comes to matters of business and money. Jacob’s story is not the first I have heard concerning money where families have been torn apart and brothers not speaking to one another because of business problems for countless years. This heartless behavior must stop and other family members, if not friends. should get involved to right the wrongs that have occurred. Lawsuits are not always the answers to our community’s problems concerning money. Rather families must evaluate the potential negative impact of their behaviors. The 1979 Iranian revolution was indeed a great calamity for Iranian Jewry and we cannot do anything more about it as it has long past. However, we in the Iranian Jewish community can set a better standard for ourselves when it comes to our business and financial dealings.
April 9, 2008 | 5:08 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
In her column recently in the L.A. Jewish Journal, Iranian Jewish author Gina Nahai took a real bold stand by publicly supporting two of the remaining Democratic candidates for the 2008 U.S. Presidential race. This move by Nahai is indeed unique because Iranians and Iranian Jews have typically not been very supportive of certain Democrats over the years due to their hatred of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. While Iranian Jews in the past have supported various members of Congress and even former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Carter is perhaps their least favorite because he is blamed for indirectly supporting the rise of radical Islamic clerics to power in Iran and the fall of the late Shah in 1979. My article about Iranian Jewish dislike for Carter can be found here . In recent years the Iranian Jewish community in Southern California has been more vocal about their support for Republicans and George W. Bush due to the party’s overall strong stance against Iran’s current regime and support for Israel.
While I do not agree with many of the foreign policy views of Sentors Clinton or Obama, I tip my hat to Nahai for having the courage of her convictions to speak out about her support for both candidates and the need for our community to be open to different political alternatives. As a journalist covering Iranian Jewry, I am well aware of the pressure in the local Iranian Jewish community for individuals to conform to one set of political, social, professional or religious beliefs. So for Nahai to set herself apart from the rest takes a lot of guts. Here’s a sample of her published piece:
“And if it sounds like I’m giving myself permission here to cast the first stone, that’s because I am—because I’ve been there, a member of a minority group that has been wronged by history, a Jew in a Shiite country, an Iranian in Europe, a Democrat in Los Angeles’ Iranian Jewish community. I’ve been there and know the pressure to conform to the tribe, the desire to close ranks with one’s people against a hostile world, to keep one’s mouth shut and thereby avoid becoming an outcast, being called a traitor, becoming unpopular. I’m not a particularly brave person, but I’ve found myself, on more than one occasion, walking out of a synagogue where the rabbi was preaching intolerance, refusing to join groups that, under the banner of “traditionalism,” promote oppression of one kind or another. Here’s what I’ve learned about swimming against the tide, about the difference between sitting in the pews for 20 years or leaving halfway through the first service: There is such a thing as guilt by omission.”
On a side note it does not surprise me that Gina Nahai is supportive of the Democratic presidential candidates as her husband H. David Nahai has also been a long time supporter of various democratic presidential candidates including Al Gore and John Kerry within the Iranian Jewish community.
In the coming weeks, my own piece regarding the Iranian Jewish views of Senator Obama will be published. This upcoming article will identify the reasons why members of our community are very hesitant to support him because of his stances on diplomacy with Iran.
April 3, 2008 | 7:12 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Accurate news coverage of the incident involving popular Iranian Muslim singer Dariush Eghbali in Las Vegas last December has been no easy task for me during the past three months. My article this week in the L.A. Jewish Journal concerning the incident can be found here.
Tensions had been and still are running high in Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community concerning the concert on Dec. 23rd when some local Iranian Jewish fans were shocked after Eghbali made what some considered to be an anti-Semitic remark between songs. In a video clip from the Las Vegas concert posted to Eghbali’s Web site, dariush2000.com, the singer speaks in Persian, quoting an alleged passage from a book he attributed to Lebanese American poet Khalil Gibran. He said, “Different people have different talents.” He elaborates, saying that Iranians notice one bad tree in a beautiful park; Germans are power-seekers; Italians are fashion-oriented; and Jews are “mochareb,” which is the Persian word for “saboteurs.”
The video of that concert can be found here:
After this Eghbali incident I was literally bombarded with e-mails from readers of this blog and some Iranian Jewish community members demanding that I denounce the singer for his words. My response was a simple NO. As an unbias journalist, my duties are not to pass immediate judgment on any person or activity, but merely uncover and report the real facts of each story. Now at this juncture, I am not defending nor am I denouncing Eghbali for his comments, my position is just as a neutral observer. Trying to get to the facts of this story without the drama and emotion involved, was not an easy task and a few local Iranian Jewish community leaders (which shall go unnamed) were not helpful to me in my quest to find real answers to this problem. Interestingly, Eghbali never returned my calls for comments and it’s sad because he could have used the opportunity to set the record straight and put the issue to rest for good.
In my opinion, Iranian Jewish community leaders need to learn how to respond to the news media more respectfully and accurately, instead of hurling threats and shouting—yes I did encounter some of both when asking certain leaders for their comments. Local Iranian Jewish community leaders need to wake up to the reality that we no longer live in a bubble, as was the case in Iran, and they are accountable to the community for their actions or inactions. I am not out to cast a negative light on anyone, but as a journalist who is trying to sharing this community’s stories accurately it is disappointing to see some involved with stonewalling.