Posted by Karmel Melamed
Yesterday I had the rare pleasure of attending one of Israel’s 60th independence day celebrations here in Los Angeles at Woodley Park which attracted thousands of local Jews—including Iranian Jews. The event was packed with Israeli music, food, carnival type rides, booths with different organization’s displaying their information and keynote speakers. Most notably California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was present to congratulate Israel and her supporters at the event.
Aside from the extreme heat, I was delighted to see such a large turnout of local support for Israel but not surprised to see so many Iranian Jews. Southern California’s Iranian Jews have always held a special place in their hearts for Israel because of the trauma of the 1979 Iranian Revolution they have endured. Israel gives them hope and a sense of pride that that have their own homeland to give them protection should any entity try to bring harm upon them.
The following are some snap shots I took of local Iranian Jews and other Jews enjoying the jubilation of the Israel 60th independence day.
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May 12, 2008 | 5:53 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Several weeks ago various Jewish news sites and Jewish blogs were abuzz over news from Iran that seven old synagogues were razed in the old Jewish ghetto neighborhood in Tehran. The main story quoted various Iranian government officials who claimed the synagogues were razed “to make way for residential skyscrapers and other urban renovation”.
Always being the skeptic of any news put out by Iranian state-run media, I checked with my own sources here in Southern California and Jewish friends who regularly travel to Tehran. Sam Kermanian, a spokesperson for the L.A.-based Iranian American Jewish Federation set the record straight in my story published in the L.A. Jewish Journal several weeks ago confirming the accuracy of these synagogues being razed. Kermanian also offered me the following insights about these old synagogues in Tehran’s once Jewish ghetto which shed light on why they were razed:
1) Tehran’s Dwindling Jewish Population
“Other than perhaps a handful of Jewish elderly residents (probably less than 10), there are no Jews living there. The Jewish community started moving out decades ago and by the time of the 1979 Revolution there was at most a couple of hundred Jewish households left. Just to give you an idea, I was born in 1955 and left Iran in 1973. I never even visited the ghetto (the birthplace of my parents), because even at my time the area was considered extremely poor, dirty and dilapidated.”
“Despite the fact that these were indeed synagogues at one time and despite the fact that the area used to be a Jewish ghetto (and as such a significant chapter in Jewish history in Iran), in its current state it is in fact mostly a Muslim populated, Muslim owned area that in the eyes of a neutral observer would justifiably require a major renovation.”
2) Not majestic synagogues
“Even at the time that the ghetto was highly populated the synagogues there were mostly store fronts. In other words they were not the type of structures that would be considered significant ‘historical monuments’. But they were synagogues nonetheless that were in full use at least up until the late 40s.”
3) Not anti-Semitically motivated
“My own honest personal feeling is that the actions that are being taken are most likely not motivated by anti-Semitism, even if they can be considered to be insensitive to Jewish feelings.”
While these insights from Kermanian are intriguing, it’s also quite sad that there is very little to show of Jewish history and Jewish presence in Iran because of continuous urban development projects such this one in Tehran. There is no doubt that Tehran’s population is booming and this land may be quite valuable for development purposes, but what a shame it is to have a part of our history wiped out even though it may not be “nice neighborhood”. There will be no plaque, no statute, nor any memorial for individuals in the future to acknowledge this ancient Jewish presence in Tehran.
While many Jews in Iran and Jews of Iranian heritage in Southern California may not give this incident a second thought, in a way the razing of these synagogues is heartbreaking considering the history of Jews living in Tehran for so many years. Today Iranian Jews may not know or may have forgotten that their ancestors for centuries were forbidden by the Muslim authorities from leaving their ghetto or “ma-ha-lay” in each Iranian city, including Tehran. Or they may have forgotten the mistreatment Jews through beatings they received from many Muslims in Iran nearly 70 plus years ago while it rained and they were trying to get back to their ghettos. They were beaten in the rain merely because the rain would hit a Jew and then hit a Muslim causing the Jew to “spread his ritual impurity” (also known in Persian as being “najes”) to the Muslim. These were all very tragic realities the Jews in Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan and other Iranian cities encountered while living in their ghettos. Therefore in my honest opinion, to destroy the structures in these old Jewish neighborhoods is like trying to erase the history of Iran’s Jews.
May 11, 2008 | 5:43 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
“Israel, your people, as well as people of good will, are celebrating your sixtieth birthday. We, the children of Cyrus the Great, also would like to offer our heartfelt best wishes to you on this occasion. Many of us Iranians co-suffer with this tragic state of affairs that harms you as well as your neighbors. We earnestly hope that ways can be found for a peaceful resolution of this destructive impasse. We appreciate the fact that you, Israel, have welcomed the Iranian Jews who could no longer tolerate the rule of the oppressive venomous mullahs. These mullahs are indeed traitors to the lofty long-standing tradition and values championed by Cyrus the Great and revered by Persians throughout the ages. We applaud you for affording millions of Israeli Arabs opportunities denied to them in many other lands.Your fair treatment of the Baha’is, Israel, is a further testimony to your ability and willingness to live in harmony with any and all people”.
May 8, 2008 | 5:15 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
In the past I’ve praised the English language and Israel-based Jerusalem Post newspaper for their continuous coverage of Iranian Jewry living in Iran, Israel and the U.S. Yet a brief story they recently published about Iranian Jews and Yom Ha’atzmaut in my opinion was a poor journalistic decision by the JPOST. The story is basically a public relations ploy by Iran’s radical Islamic regime to use the country’s Jews to attack Israel on Israel’s independence day celebration. What a bunch of total B.S.! The JPOST’s publication of this piece just advances the Iranian government’s P.R. tactics against Israel.
The article quotes Dr. Siamak Morsadegh, (shown in the photo) the Jewish member of the Iranian parliament, who is obviously “condemning and denouncing Israel” per the direction of the government’s mullahs and Islamic thugs. Anyone who knows the true conditions in which Jews in Iran live, knows that the Jews in the country live under tremendous duress and must say or do whatever Iran’s totalitarian leaders tell them to say or do, so else they will face imprisonment, torture and even death! So it’s a no brainer that Morsadegh would distance the Jews of Iran from Israel because the Iranian government has a genocidal hatred for Israel and has not hid the reality that they would like to annihilate Israel from the face of the plant. What person in their right mind would want to expose their community to potential danger by supporting something their dictatorship hates with a passion! Therefore for the JPOST to publish this story is totally ridiculous and serves no other purpose than to advance the Iranian government’s P.R. agenda to attack Israel using their country’s Jews. By the way, here’s a December 2007 story with Morsadegh spouting off more of what Iran’s Islamic leaders have obviously dictated to him about Jews in the country and Israel.
One would think that the JPOST and other western news media outlets would by now after so many years, totally ignore such “Israel condemnation statements” made by Jewish leaders living in Iran. But some foolish JPOST editor decided to run the story which is not only false P.R. statements but not reflective of the true feeling Iranian Jews in general have for the State of Israel. While the Jews living in Iran may not be able to express or display their support for the Jewish homeland of Israel, they are by in large quite Zionist. In fact, Iranian Jews as a whole, where ever they live are big supporters of Israel and have always been quite Zionist over the past 60 years. Why you ask? The plan truth is that Iranian Jews are among one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world since the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem thousands of years ago. They have always yearned to return to their homeland. Likewise Jews living in Iran have encountered centuries of mass killings, forced conversions, rapes, tortures, pogroms and other violence from the country’s Muslim majority. After having faced such painful times in Iran, there’s no doubt Iranian Jews would be supportive of their own true homeland that would fight to protect their security.
From my own reporting on Southern California and New York’s Iranian Jews, they are extremely Zionist and have a passion for Israel that often surpasses that of the American Jewish community! This because they realize the true value of Israel in protecting their interests after the rise of power of radical Islamic clerics in Iran.
May 5, 2008 | 4:57 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
My article this week in the L.A. Jewish Journal focuses on the lack of enthusiasm among Iranian Jews for Democratic Presidential candidate Barak Obama. From what I’ve gathered from local Iranian Jews, they are turned off by Obama’s desire to diplomatically engage Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime.
The majority of Southern California’s Iranian Jews escaped Iran with little if nothing of their livelihoods nearly 30 years ago after Iran’s radical clerics took over their former homeland. So they view any diplomatic dialogue with the regime as a reward to Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic leaders who not only ruined their lives but have repeatedly called for the annihilation of Israel. Likewise many Iranian Americans and not just the Iranian Jews, blame former U.S. President Jimmy Carter for not supporting the pro-American Shah of Iran and indirectly allowing the Ayatollahs to come to power in Iran. Hence Obama’s decision to have a foreign policy team including Jimmy Carter’s former national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Carter adviser Robert O. Malley also works against him among Iranian Jews.
During my interviews with various local Iranian Jewish activists, I found the insights of Frank Nikbakht with regards to Iranian Jewish views of Obama to be fascinating. Nikbakht, who also heads the L.A.-based “Committee for Minority Rights in Iran”, spoke candidly to be about the topic and the following is an excerpt of my interview with him:
Can you identify what segment if any within our community would vote for Senator Obama if he won the Democratic nomination and why?
I don’t know anybody from our community who supports Obama. I imagine that a few intellectual types within the Iranian Jewish community would vote for him, as they would support any other populist.
From your assessment and interactions with local Iranian Jews, to what extent has Senator Obama’s calls for diplomatic engagement of Iran worked against him among local Iranian Jews?
Obama begins with the false assumption that American officials, Europeans and others have not been talking to the Iranian regime officials. This assumption is wrong and many contacts with the IRI (Islamic Republic of Iran) are known and have been reported. In addition to actual supporters of the IRI in the U.S. and Europe, international IRI opponents have also been talking to them all along. Obama’s propaganda does not really mean that the U.S. should talk to the Iranian regime officials, but that the U.S. should drop any demand which is not palatable to the Mullahs. Obama’s real problem is that he tries to portray the IRI as a normal regime.
Obama and his supporters say that having direct negotiations with Iran will open the way for tougher sanctions on Iran and give the U.S. more diplomatic clout if the mullahs do not agree to end their nuclear weapons development. How do you respond their argument?
The European experience in appeasing the IRI has proven this theory to be wrong!
Obama has criticized Hillary Clinton for voting in favor of a bill classifying the Iranian “Quds Force” as a terrorist organization, claiming the bill could enable President Bush to launch military action against Iran. He stated that he would have voted against the bill if he had not been in New Hampshire campaigning. In your opinion, is this criticism by Obama fair?
Obama’s portrayal of the Islamic Republic of Iran as an ordinary regime, would naturally lead him to think of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps which according to the IRI constitution is tasked with the Global Islamic takeover, as just another “national” army. This kind of thinking or pretense, is extremely dangerous.
In your opinion does the fact that Obamas middle name is Hussein work against him when it comes to votes from the Iranian Jewish community?
The vast majotity of Iranian American Muslims, as most other U.S. Muslims, support Obama BECAUSE of his middle name. In the 2000 elections, many Iranian Muslims here advocated strongly for George Bush, because of his opponent’s last name, Lieberman while the Democratic ticket was almost boycotted because of it. Hussein is a very normal name in the Middle East, a name carried by many of our good friends and associates would not matter to us under any normal circumstance. However, it matters at this historical juncture when there is a global war against Islamic extremists and when this name is going to be carried by the President of the United States. The Muslim family background of Obama, reminds the Iranian Jews of the humiliation and persecution they suffered under the Iranian Islamic regime, which was the main reason why they emigrated to America in the first place. In Farsi we have a proverb saying “one who has been bitten by a snake, is even scared of a harmless rope”.
May 2, 2008 | 4:49 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
On March 20th, Alfred Hakim, 49, a Iranian Jewish resident of Beverly Hills, was allegedly shot by his 47-year-old brother, Adel. The incident rocked the local Iranian Jewish community which has been abuzz because such gun violence and violence in general is quite rare for the community. Now the incident may have been shocking for local Iranian Jews but what has amazed me has been the lack of community dialogue on the issue of violence. Just talking about domestic violence or other forms of violence is still taboo for the Iranian Jewish community because many feel that they be embarrassed or shamed into admitting the existence of violence in their families.
This taboo of discussing violent incidents in the Iranian Jewish community has been frustrating for me as a journalist because not very many individuals in the community are willing to go on the record to discuss the problems with this issue. Their silence has hindered my goal of educating and informing the community about certain trends and activities within their circles. Contrary to what many Iranian Jews in Los Angeles may think, reporting on and publicly acknowledging that the community has a serious problem with different forms of violence is not a bad thing. Only productive changes can be brought about with an open and honest dialogue about the issue and education about the impact of such violence. We cannot continue to sweep this issue under the rug and believe it will go away because has become worse each year among certain segments of the community.
My upcoming article in the L.A. Jewish Journal will be exploring this horrible taboo and the issue of violence among Iranian Jewry. In the meantime, our blog’s podcast recently chatted with a couple of community leaders who had the courage to pinpoint the community’s difficulities with certain types of violence and the roots of the problem. The podcast program can be heard here.