Posted by Karmel Melamed
From the beginning of this year, I have witnessed a quiet revolution among young Iranian Jewish professionals unfolding in Southern California with the emergence of the 30 Years After organization. This group of young Iranian Jews has decided that the time is ripe for them to help the rest of their community become more involved in political and social activism in America. As a journalist covering the local Iranian Jewish community, I have been delighted to see our community giving back to the larger Jewish and non-Jewish community through their activism. After 30 years of living in the freedom and prosperity of America, this group’s activities are long overdue.
I had written an article about 30 Years After’s September 14th conference but after attending the event itself, I was impressed by the tremendous responses community members have to this new group. Indeed 30 Years After’s board members deserve kudos for organizing this conference and greater awareness about the true potential Southern California’s Iranian Jews in impacting local politics and social issues in the area. This endeavor of inviting speakers and openly discussing pressing issues facing Iranian American Jews was no easy task. In my opinion, 30 Years After also deserves applause for actually organizing a community organization that is doing something substantive when it comes to political or civic activism, instead of just throwing parties! For too many years, countless Iranian Jewish groups have merely been having events for young people to inactive or fundraise instead of doing anything proactive vis-a-vis community issues. Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community has been lacking a group of fresh leaders who are not figureheads with big titles. It now seems 30 Years After is filling this gap. They are organizing voter registration drives, participating in mentorship programs and putting together discussion groups for their community. Sam Yebri, the 27-year-old attorney and brainchild behind 30 Years After deserves praise for forming the group, energizing the community’s younger generation and seeking support from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles to fund the organization’s activities.
While the local Iranian Jewish community has been a-buzz since the group’s conference last weekend, some older members of the community have been less than enthusatic about the new group. Members of the old guard of community leaders in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s—have by in large ignored younger Iranian Jews and I know such was the case with 30 Years After. These older leaders informed me of their indifference to the new organization. How sad that some older Iranian Jews have failed to embrace/support the new generation just because of their own personal pride.
On a side note, I found the 30 Years After conference enjoyable except for being verbally attacked by a couple of disgruntled Iranian Jewish readers of The Jewish Journal. They inaccurately accused me of incorrect reporting on this story and proceeded to bad-mouth me in front of others. Their claims, in my opinion, are invalid as all of the facts in my article have been accurately attributed to named sources and based on solid documentation. Of course as a thick-skinned journalist, I am not upset as I am regularly attacked by members of the local Iranian Jewish community because they are uncomfortable with my raising of certain sensitive issues in my articles. These individuals believe that their verbal assualts, rumor -spreading and false accusations against my work will somehow succeed in discrediting my articles. Again and again, I welcome all criticism from readers of my work and invite them to write their letters to The Journal. If any of you think I’ve been inaccurate then by all means please specifically outline them for the editors of the newspaper. If you think you can do a better job in reporting on the local Iranian Jewish community, then by all means I invite you to do so. We as Iranian Jews cannot remain silent while we face serious issues such as drugs, violence and teenage criminal activity. The only way to resolve these pressing issues is to openly and honestly have a public dialogue—my work, I believe may in some cases help faciliate that dialogue.
Below are some of my own photos from the 30 Years After conference—here are some Jewish community members who shared their insights into the emergence of the Iranian Jewish community in Southern California.
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September 11, 2008 | 4:01 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Following the horrific events of September 11, 2001 the lives of thousands of Americans were transformed overnight with terrorists attacking our great nation. Yet 9/11 has always been a unique day in my life as it was the day I arrived in this world. 30 years ago this year, I was born in the midst of the chaos unfolding in the streets of Tehran. Almost every year on my birthday, since I can remember my parents have reminded me that I was born in the middle the violence, killing and anarchy involved with protesters clashing with the police and military forces loyal to the late Shah. After seeing the events of September 11th on television seven years ago, I could not help but recall my own story which was quite similar and essentially a clash between the forces of good and evil in the world.
My cover story this past week in the L.A. Jewish Journal combines my own personal story and the story of Iranian Jews escaping the revolution. Yet this feature article is also meant as a sort of education for everyone else in the free world who is not familiar with the current regime in Iran. To me it’s odd how God works in mysterious ways—here I am an Iranian Jew born on September 11th during the Iranian revolution and now a journalist who has been blessed to share my experience through this venue and enlighten others about the dangerous we face with the government in Iran. I don’t know if 9/11 is a day which is cursed, but I do believe it is my responsibility to share with everyone the true nature of the beast in Iran’s current leaders. This is a regime which not only destroyed the lives of thousands of Iranian of various religions, but plundered and wasted the wealth of the nation of Iran and has become a cancer in the Middle East. The leaders of the current government in Iran killed thousands of their fellow countrymen during the revolution with the idea of spreading radical Shiite Islam through out this planet. Today their objectives have expanded with the Iranian government supporting Shiite miltias in Iraq to kill American troops as well as funding terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah to launch attacks against Israel for no reason. But the regime in Tehran has not stopped—they are now seeking to acquire nuclear weapons in order to force their own form of radical Islamic ideology in the region and the world. The revolution 30 years ago was just the beginnings of the cancerous evil brought to fruition by the delusional Islamic clerics who run Iran’s totalitarian government, today they have increased that cancer. The international community can no longer wait by the sidelines as the regime in Iran is seeking weapons of mass destruction. Diplomatic and economic pressures must be intensified against Iran’s government to stop it’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
So in the end, 9/11 is a somber birthday for me not only because of the terrorist attacks on this country seven years ago, but because of the reminder that the pure evil being spewed by Iranian’s radical clerics has spread for the past 30 years. I therefore take my responsibility as an Iranian Jewish journalist very seriously in educated and enlightening everyone about our need as freedom-loving people to deter Iran’s aggression by showing strength—diplomatically, economically and if need be as a last resort, militarily. I’m often asked to speak about the Iranian Jewish experience during the revolution at gatherings attended by Americans unfamiliar with Iran’s government. My ending remarks are always the same; “if the current regime in Iran mistreated, abused, murdered and confiscated the assets of thousands of their fellow Iranians who were Muslim and non-Muslims 30 years ago—one can only imagine what nefarious plans they have in mind for the West and America!”
On a final note, I don’t really celebrate my birthday and have not done so for the past 10 years. To the contrary for me, during these past years it has been a day of reflection and prayer that the devastating events that unfolded on 9/11 in the past will not be repeated in the future.
September 7, 2008 | 2:28 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Following the publication of my cover story this week in the L.A. Jewish Journal regarding the Iranian Jewish experience during that country’s revolution, readers of the paper and this blog have asked me why I decided to go forward with the piece at this point in time. My objectives in writing the article were both personal and historic—this piece has perhaps been one of the very few emotionally driven pieces of my career in journalism.
Having been born at the start of a chaotic revolution is not something very many people let alone journalist possess and my family’s remarkable experience of escape during that time has been a tale I’ve carried with me for the past 30 years. As I’ve arrived at this juncture in my life, after three decades of living in a Jewish family and community, I felt it was time to shed light on their past plight and all that they have suffered at the hands of Iran’s totalitarian Islamic regime. Many of my own relatives and the older generation of Iranian Jews living in Southern California do not want to look back at what transpired in late 1978 and 1979. Their memories of having to forfeit their livelihoods or having relatives executed in Iran are often too painful to recall. “It was another world and another life my dear young man,” said one Iranian Jewish man in his 80’s to me recently. “Let the past go, let it die away”. Unfortunately a good number of Southern California’s Iranian Jews cannot let go of the revolution, they cannot forget the injustice they endured at the hands of Iran’s Islamic regime—and everyday they look back on their lives and are still baffled at how everything was suddenly turned upside down for them. The revolution in Iran was in many ways a horrible catastrophe for Iranian Jewry, not only because of the millions in dollars in assets that they left behind or had taken away, but because of the fact that this very ancient (2,500 year old) Jewish community was suddenly and violently uprooted. Thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish lives were overturned because of this heinous revolution 30 years ago in the name of a radical Islamic theocracy. Overnight, the Jews and other religious minorities that had lived under relative tranquility/tolerance in Iran before, were turned into second class citizen because of their mere religion after the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power. The scares of the revolution have still not healed in the Iranian Jewish community living outside of Iran who justly feel robbed. The community has been carrying these painful memories and their experiences no doubt effect their behavior in Los Angeles, New York and Tel Aviv. Thus I felt it was incumbent upon me as a journalist from the community to finally share their stories with the rest of the world. The Iranian Jewish community’s by in large collective public silence about the effects of revolution has baffled me. Who will seek justice for them after this great injustice they endured? Who will care enough to help them possibly reclaim their lost assets? Who will stand up to the current Iranian government on their behalf? The answer is quite simply NO ONE! Not a single soul would likely do anything for them because the general public worldwide knows very little about the plight of Jews during the Iranian revolution. With a lack of education about the topic, no one would know nor care about this very important Jewish community. Perhaps now that I’ve revealed the tip of the iceberg on this issue, more people will have the courage to speak up.
Likewise I decided to tell my grandmother’s remarkable story of fleeing Iran, not for any personal glory nor to seek sympathy from people—but to reveal an example of the hardships Jews encountered as a result of the Iranian revolution. Many average folks in the West haven’t a clue about the unmerciful brutality of the current Iranian government. Indeed we even have some U.S. and European politicians (not to mention a U.S. presidential candidate) who have the absurd belief that one can actually sit down and logically negotiate with the insane religious leaders of the Iranian government! If Iran’s government mistreated, killed, abused its Jewish population and its other non-Muslims citizens during the revolution and afterwards—God knows what nefarious plans they have ready to unleash on the rest of the world once they acquire nuclear weapons! The Iranian American Jewish story of escape and exile from Iran should serve as a clear example for all American politicians of the pure evil that lies at the heart of Iran’s current regime. While my community may be tight-lipped about what they endure in the late 1970’s and 1980’s in Iran, I for one will cannot remain silent. What they endured was a horrible injustice that one day must be done right—it may take decades for Iranian Jewry to have this justice but nevertheless it should be sought.
Recording what the community suffered during the revolution is also essential for historical purposes. Just as Shoah survivors today are slowly dying away, their stories of suffering and survival thankfully remain alive and recorded for future generations as well as for historians to refer to. Unfortunately I do not see very many Iranian Jews seeking to record our oral history during the revolution. How on earth will the younger generations of American Jews from Iranian heritage fully comprehend what their families experienced at the hands of Iran’s ayatollahs? When their parents and grandparents are long gone, they may have a limited knowledge for what transpired during the late 1970’s, but nothing substantial. That would be a great calamity! My hope is that my work may somehow serve as some sort of long term historical reference for future generations in our community. Sadly Iranian Jews living in the U.S. and Israel are largely afraid to speak about what hardships they encountered during the revolution because many still have relatives in Iran and they feel that the regime’s leadership will harm their relatives if they speak up. This silence is heartbreaking because it seems as if the current Iranian government is harming Iranian Jewry a second time today by indirectly causing the community to remain quiet about the regime’s crimes.
Perhaps my final motivation in preparing this cover story was because of the incredible growth and tremendous success of Iranian Jewish immigrant to the U.S. during the last 30 years. I honestly cannot think of very many other immigrant groups to this nation that have within such a short time after their arrival here achieve financial, educational, social and even political victories. To have been plucked from that third world nation in the Middle East with little money, a lack of language skills and few contacts in the U.S., Iranian Jews today have made millions (and yes some billions) through their companies. Likewise during the last 30 years they have sent their children to obtain higher education and the new generation of Iranian Jews in America are among the most accomplished professors, educators, physicians, lawyers, entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists in the country! Now I ask you, isn’t it amazing how this ancient Jewish community was able to so quickly adapt and thrive in the U.S.? I for one believe so and feel compelled to share the news of their successes.
In the end, I feel honored to be one of the few journalists/authors today that has had the special opportunity to share the Iranian Jewish community’s stories from the revolution. I am also eternally grateful to the editors of the L.A. Jewish Journal for permitting me one special issue to retell the Iranian Jewish experience and shed light on all that they have overcome to achieve success in the U.S. My special thanks to our editor-in-chief Rob Eshman and managing editor Susan Freudenheim for having the open mind, open heart and wisdom to welcome this week’s cover story as well as the many others about Southern California’s dynamic Iranian Jewish community published in the paper regularly. You guys are the best for seeking to welcome all the various Jewish factions—including the Iranian Jews (who often seclude themselves) into the Jewish tent in Los Angeles.
September 1, 2008 | 4:10 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Below is a eulogy I prepared and was asked to present at a memorial service on August 28th at the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills for my dear friend Benjamin Davidoff. Unfortunately due to time restrains and other speakers speaking for long periods, I was not given the chance to share my words with the audience. However, below is the eulogy entirety and sheds light on what a great hearted man the late Davidoff was in helping the local Iranian Jewish community. Sadly this joyful man in his early 70’s suddenly died two weeks ago, leaving his friends and community members who loved him completely broken hearted. I had written previously about Davidoff as well as his synagogue “Or Emona” and that posting can be found here.
On behalf of my own family and my grandparents Mr. & Mrs. Khorramian, I would like to offer my most heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Davidoff, her children, the Davidoff family and the other grieving families. May they find comfort of the heart during these difficult days, weeks and months to come. I sincerely thank the Davidoff family for honoring me with this special opportunity to convey my thoughts about Mr. Benjamin Davidoff of blessed memory.
It is with a heavy heart that I share my thoughts and fond memories of my dear friend Benjamin Davidoff with you. I cannot begin to express the shock and sorrow I felt after learning of his sudden death last week. For nearly 15 years I had the special privilege of knowing Mr. Davidoff both as a close friend while I attended the ‘Or Emona’ synagogue and also as a journalist for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal who interviewed him on some occasions. With his bright rosey cheeks, warm eyes and infectious smile, he brought pure joy to me as a young man attending Or Emona’s Shabbat morning and services during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. When most of the older gentleman in the synagogue did not embrace nor welcome me since I was a teenager who did not understand some of the formal Persian language spoken, Mr. Davidoff was always first to greet me and to offer me the honor of saying a prayer for the Torah reading. Unlike many in the older generation of our community, he clearly understood that the only way for Iranian Jews in America to retain their Judaism is through encouraging our youth. But I was not the only recipient of Davidoff’s kindness, hundreds of other much younger kids from the community received candies, sweets and gifts that he purchased for them to make their trip to the synagogue a fun experience, rather than a boring chore. At a time when many of my own relatives did not attend “selihoot” services at our new home, Mr. Davidoff honored us with his presence and gave us joy. As many of the other speakers tonight will tell you, he had a heart of pure gold and the sole objective of doing what was right in this life. Mr. Davidoff accomplished his good deeds by his contributions to the up keeping and organizing Or Emona’s services—not to mention the countless funds he help raise for a long list of Jewish and Israel charities. He made me proud to call myself an Iranian Jew by his behavior which was not preaching about Judaism but rather physically implementing the mitzvoth of the Torah in his everyday life. To say Mr. Davidoff was one of the rare special angels in this community would be an understatement!
Our holy Torah teaches us that each Jew is responsible for his fellow Jew. I cannot think of very many individuals in the Iranian Jewish community besides Mr. Davidoff that fulfilled this rare mitzvah. Many of you may not be aware, but Mr. Davidoff was one of a few Jews in Iran who during the early 1950’s risked his life and paid from his own pocket to aid the Jews who had escaped from Iraq into Iran. On a few occasions he sat down with me to explain how he paid the bail at different jails in the small towns and villages through out Iran so that hundreds of Iraqi Jews who were imprisoned for entering Iran illegally, would be released. “They were innocent Jewish families who had escaped from Baghdad and other places in Iraq with no money and were forced to leave their lives behind, so I thought I had to help them,” Mr. Davidoff told me during an interview. At a time when Jews were enjoying unprecedented prosperity and freedom of the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran, one man named Benjamin Davidoff took the initiative to share those special freedoms with his fellow Jews from Iraq. These Jews who had fled Iraq and entered Iran, then made their way to Israel, thanks in part to the help of an angel like Mr. Davidoff. As a gift for his generosity and support, one Iraqi Jewish family even gave him a precious jewel—but that gift was unnecessary for a man like Mr. Davidoff, who himself was the most precious jewel of all.
I could go on and on about Mr. Davidoff and his good deeds, but I don’t believe he would want that. Dear friends, I know that as a final message to you and our community, he would urge us to seek greater unity and harmony as Iranian Jews, to set aside our jealousies over foolish material items and cease from unnecessary lashon-hara. Mr. Davidoff was a man who sought to bring healing and comfort to those whom he met, especially other Jews and this too should be our aspiration to achieve. Before you leave tonight, please ask yourselves what legacy would you as a Jew living America like to leave? Do you wish to only achieve the material through wealth and business alone? Or would you like to be comforted with the belief that you helped transformed your fellow man’s life for the better, just as Mr. Davidoff accomplished?
I leave you with the prayer of Moses that Mr. Davidoff gave me on a few occasions; “may the lord bless you and keep you, may the lord make his glory shine upon you and act kindly toward you. May the Lord turn his glory on your and you shalom. Amen.