Posted by Karmel Melamed
On August 8, Elias Eshaghian, a pivotal educator and director of many Jewish schools throughout Iran during the last century, passed away at the age of 78. More than 500 local Iranian Jews packed Temple Beth El in West Hollywood for his memorial service. Late last year I had the rare opportunity to meet Eshaghian and chat with him extensively about his life’s work in bringing education and a new sense of self-respect to Iran’s Jews during the last century. At that time he was battling lung cancer but his strong spirit and gold heart somehow kept this very special man alive. I’ve written extensively about Eshaghian in this blog and my lengthy Q&A interview with him can be found: here
After obtaining his high school education in Iran from the Alliance Israelite Universelle (AIU), a French Jewish nonprofit education and cultural organization, Eshaghian obtained a college education and teaching credential in France. He returned to Iran in October 1951, working for the AIU served as an assistant director and French language teacher at the AIU school in the city of Esfahan. In subsequent years Eshaghian worked as the director and educator for the AIU schools in the rural Iranian cities of Yazd and Sanandaj. In 1960 he returned to Tehran and became a French language teacher at both the boys and girls’ AIU schools and subsequently worked as the director for the boys school. In 1970, Eshaghian resigned as director of the school and instead worked part-time as a reporter at Journal Du Tehran, a French language newspaper in Tehran. At the same time he taught French at three different universities in Tehran. Later on an opportunity arose where UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization hired Eshaghian as a French language translator for their events.
In 1980 following Iran’s radical Islamic revolution, Eshaghian like many of the country’s Jews fled and resettled in Los Angeles where he sold insurance. Despite battling lung cancer during the past 20 years, Eshaghian continued his volunteer work in the community by serving as Chairman of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, a local umbrella organization comprised of nearly a dozen Iranian Jewish non-profit groups. Eshaghian was also one of the founders of the Tarzana-based Eretz Cultural Center, one of the first local Iranian synagogues established in Los Angeles. On May 20, community members honored Eshaghian for his contributions to advancing education for Jews in Iran during a launch party for his Persian-language memoir, “A Follower of Culture.” The book is a chronicle of the history of Jewish education in Iran during the 20th century, an effort that was supported by the AIU.
Even though I only knew him for about a year, one of the primary reasons why I called Eshaghian my friend was because of his incredible kind heart, modern thinking and openess to new ideas. Likewise Eshaghian and I had plenty in common as he too was a journalist at one time—a profession which not too many Iranian Jews pursue today or did so in Iran years ago. Perhaps my highest admiration for Eshaghian was due to the fact that he was a humble man and one of the very few Iranian Jewish community leaders who weclomed other voices to the table to engage in a dialogue. He was especially open to welcoming the opinions and supporting the efforts of young Iranian Jews, unlike many of the community’s leaders who are now in the age range of 50 to 85 and don’t really give a damn about engaging the younger generation. Unfortunately many of our community leaders believe that just because they’ve made a substantial amount of money, they are all “knowing” and everyone else is unimportant. Eshaghian did not quash voices of opposition in the community nor did he bad-mouth those who were in the minority and may not have agreed with him on certain issues. To the contrary, he was truely a gentleman who made an extra effort to embrace these “outsiders” in the Iranian Jewish community. It pains me to loose such a noble friend but the loss of Eshaghian is most heartbreaking for me because there are very few if any open minded and compassionate leaders amongst Iranian Jews who truely cared about the younger generation as he did. Our community’s leadership today needs to take a lesson from Eshaghian’s style of humble leadership and wake up to the reality that they will not live forever and must now pass the torch of community activism to the young Iranian Jews.
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August 12, 2008 | 3:32 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
On May 6th nearly 250 local Iranian Jewish young professionals gathered at the Luxe Hotel in Bel Air to hear a panel of Jewish community leaders speaking in favor of both Democratic presidential nominee candidate Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee John McCain. U.S. Congressman from Southern California Howard Berman (D-CA 28th ) and retired Federal District Judge Bruce Einhorn spoke in favor of Obama as the presidential candidate best suited to deal with the threats from Iran and domestic issues.
Listen to our exclusive interview with Howard Berman: here
Also at hand, Larry Greenfield, director of the California chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition and local Iranian Jewish activist Frank Nikbakht pointed to McCain’s extensive foreign policy experience as the candidate of choice. The gathering was sponsored by “30 Years After”, a Southern California based Iranian Jewish non-profit seeking to engage young Iranian Jews in civic and political affairs.
Both sets of panelists spoke with passion for Obama and McCain’s candidacy, but from my observations it seemed as if the crowd of mostly young Iranian Jewish professionals was more supportive of McCain. They’re leaning toward McCain probably because Obama has repeatedly expressed interest in negotiating directly with Iran’s radical Islamic government leaders which does not sit well with most Iranian Jews living in the U.S. who fled the terror, anti-Semitism and backwards mentality of Iran’s current regime. Nevertheless I applaud Congressman Berman for coming out and explaining Obama’s approach to dealing with Iran— it’s great to see an influential member of Congress outreaching to our community which probably knows better than other Americans what evil lies behind Iran’s current government. Nikbakht, who is probably one of the best experts on the Iranian government’s treatment of religious minorities, also set forth some remarkable facts about the regime and how Obama’s approach to dealing with Iran would likely be ineffective in countering Iran’s leadership that is seeking nuclear weapons. Here are just some of sights from the gathering that I captured: