Posted by Karmel Melamed
On December 13th more than 300 Southern California Jews packed the Nessah Synagogue to pray and also to show their deepest gratitude to nearly 30 members of the Israel Defense Forces who were visiting Los Angeles courtesy of the F.I.D.F. I was present at the gathering and touched to see members of the local Iranian Jewish community not only giving these proud defenders of the State of Israel standing ovations but also personally thanking them for their service to protecting the Jewish people worldwide. The members of Nessah’s Young Professionals organized the event which was followed by a luncheon which honored the soldiers present and had the audience singing Israeli songs. “What makes these soldiers even more special is that in order to serve in their combat unit, each soldier had to obtain the express permission of each parent to sign up for the combat unit, said Simon Etehad, one of Nessah’s young professionals. “Even more compelling is the reason for which they had to obtain such express permission—each of these 28 soldiers had lost an immediate family member in the line of duty, while defending our Homeland”. Flags of Israel were draped in the luncheon area and an IDF solider sat at each table to chat with those in attendance about his or her experience on the front lines in Israel.
What truly warms my heart is the fact that both young and old Iranian American Jews many of whom suffered directly or indirectly at the hands of Iran’s current radical Islamic regime since 1979, now understand the importance of showing their appreciation for Israel’s military forces. These young members of the IDF not only protect our Jewish homeland but more importantly protect the rights of Jews living anywhere in the world to live in peace and free from genocide—including those near 20,000 Jews still living in Iran. We as Iranian American Jews know very well what the regime of the ayatollahs in Teheran could have done to our community had there been no State of Israel. We as Iranian American Jews owe a great deal of gratitude to both members of the IDF and U.S. military for protecting our freedoms in this chaotic world where radical Islamic extremists want to destroy our peaceful Judeo-Christian society of tolerance.
So kudos to Nessah Synagogue’s young professionals for organizing this special event and showing that we too Iranian Jews living in America understand the significance of supporting the Israel and its soldiers. No doubt those members of the IDF that were visiting Nessah and who have now returned to active duty in Gaza today know very well that the Iranian Jewish community in Southern California supports their efforts to bravely defend our rights as Jews live in peace in this world.
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December 15, 2008 | 7:22 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
For the past several years, critics of this blog have discounted my suggestions that the Achilles heel of Iran’s current fundamentalist Islamic regime is its poor economy. Yet the recent events of the past few weeks with oil hovering at around $40 a barrel (and Iran’s lower-quality crude selling even cheaper) have proven that the Iranian government can potentially be brought down through peaceful economic means.
This past Thursday the Bush administration ratcheted up the financial pressure on Iran by revoking an exemption that gave Iranian banks access to the U.S. financial system, but it stopped short of blacklisting the Islamic Republic’s central bank. The move against Iran’s banks puts additional financial pressure on Iran’s economy that is already hurting because of oil prices that have dropped by $100 a barrel since this past July—a move that has substantially reduced the regime’s revenue lifeline. Iran’s dependence on oil money is staggering. Oil funds 60 percent of the government budget, economists say, supporting billions in public subsidies of goods such as gasoline, sugar and bread. A research center affiliated with Iran’s parliament reported last week that the government depends on oil to remain at $80 a barrel in order to keep its accounts balanced. Iran’s oil income has dropped from $300 million to $100 million a day, and if oil prices stay in the $30-$40 a barrel range, the country could see more than $70 billion in expected funds evaporate—and with it a significant chunk of Iran’s gross domestic product. Some economist have said that the Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s massive domestic spending projects has fueled more inflation and waste. Likewise Ahmadinejad’s foolish decision to convert Iran’s foreign exchange reserves from dollars to euros to evade sanctions earlier this year has cost the country as much as $5 billion as the dollar has strengthened. The regime has also poured billions of dollars over the past 29 years into funding external terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and other Shiite militias in Iraq—a decision that has been quite costly for the country. None of this bad economic news comes at a good time when Iran’s inflation and unemployment are currently in double digits as well as widespread strikes that have crippled some industries in the country.
Undoubtedly if the Iranian regime can’t pay its bills and can’t pay government workers, then the entire country may come to a screeching halt! The regime’s days will be numbered if its economy continues in the current path and in the end it maybe be unable to continue its lofty goals to acquire nuclear weapons. So it seems that while U.S. and U.N. sanctions may be ineffective in bringing an end to the government in Tehran, squeezing the regime through low oil prices and other financial means may be the ultimate key to destroying this growing cancer in the Middle East. Perhaps the next U.S. administration’s officials should pay attention to using their economic means of bringing down Iran’s government before empowering the regime through negotiations and financial rewards. Now that the Iranian government is on the ropes, we cannot afford to give it time to get back on its feet, but instead we must deliver some knock out economic punches.
No doubt the people of Iran are suffering now and will continue to suffer while the regime’s economy is in shambles, but this may be a sacrifice they will have to endure short term if they would like to see regime change in their country. On a sad note over the past 10 years countless news outlets in Persian language media outside of Iran have reported stories of many average Iranians in Iran selling their kidneys on the open market to make ends met and even some women desperate for funds that they have gotten involved with prostitution. The current government in Iran run by Islamic clerics does not really give a damn about the suffering of the Iranian people as long as they can fill their own pockets with oil revenues. But with empty pockets the regime’s ayatollahs will not be able to hold onto power for very long.
December 11, 2008 | 11:06 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
My article in The Jewish Journal last week has sparked some interesting reactions from Los Angeles Iranian Jews who were not happy with the fact that I was giving coverage to an incident in the community which was a topic of controversy surrounding the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF).
There are many in the community who support the IAJF and many who do not like the organization for whatever reason. As an unbias journalist from the community, I have no personal opinions of the IAJF either way but I find the overall reaction of the local Iranian Jewish community to my coverage of this unique story quite interesting. As a younger member of the community I often have to explain the importance of openness, free speech and accountability to the older generation of Jews who lived their entire lives often in fear as a religious minority under a less democratic monarchy in Iran. In opinion, it is a delicate balancing act
Some of the Iranian Jewish readers of the article asked me “why do you stir the pot when it comes to sensitive issues in the community?” and also “Why do you always have to air our dirty laundry to the rest of the world? Why do you portray us in a poor light and that make us embarrassed!”
My explanation has been simple—we as Iranian Jews living in Southern California and America do not live in a bubble unto ourselves! During the past several years the community has been going through a dramatic transformation and growth—with such changes often come conflicts and differences of opinions. We no longer live in fear in Iran where the authorities would come after us for speaking out about a whole host of topics. My journalistic work has been to give all sides of each story and allow the reader to make his or her decision. Has there been infighting among local Iranian Jewish groups as to leadership and religious issues? Yes. Is there a serious problem with drugs and violence among some local Iranian Jews? Yes. Are there some unscrupulous individuals in our community? Of course. But not openly discussing these hot button topics in a public forum or in the media will not make these problems go away. My goals as a journalist reporting on Iranian American Jews has been to act as a mirror onto the community and let them decide if and how they wish to make changes to what is going on around them. Someone needs to spark the conversation on these controversial topics—often times that person is the responsible journalist. How else will our community members realize that they need to address certain pressing issues?
So why do I continue my work as a journalist covering L.A.‘s Iranian Jews even though many of them do not want to hear the news which is often unpleasant? Well it’s because I feel a sense of responsibility to accurately share the views of many of my community members who do not speak English fluently, have a different culture and are still after 30 years trying to adapt to a new environment in the most dynamic democratic society in the world. I also delight in sharing the beauty of our traditions and success of our ancient Jewish community which is thriving as one of the most successful immigrant communities to America. Likewise in recent years I’ve found that other Jewish communities and groups in the U.S. have approached our insular community after learning about us through my articles! So it gives me pride and joy in seeing overall Jewish unity being advanced through my journalism. So yes, it is often very difficult to report on a community which does want to face the reality that they are changing and all the while live among them—but the rewards of writing about them are equally great.
To the younger generation of L.A.‘s Iranian Jews I only ask that you step up and participate in the community. Changes are coming gradually to us but without your productive involvement those changes will not be for the better.
December 5, 2008 | 4:03 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Nearly 200 local Iranian Jews, academic scholars and community members packed a banquet hall at Sinai Temple in West Los Angeles on November 17th to hear a panel of experts discuss the dynamic growth of Southern California’s Iranian Jewry during the last 30 years. The gathering was one of nearly a dozen during a three-day academic conference that focused on the current state of Sephardic Studies and was organized by the Hebrew Union College. Moderated by Sinai’s Rabbi David Wolpe, the gathering’s panelist included Iranian Jewish author Gina Nahai, UCLA professor of Judeo-Persian Studies Nahid Pirnazar, Iranian Jewish Beverly Hills City Councilmember Jimmy Delshad and Iranian Jewish film producer, hotelier and night club entrepreneur Sam Nazarian.
The panelists delved into sensitive topics such as gossip, different forms of religiosity and difficulties with money and marriage that many Iranian American Jews deal with today but rarely discuss in public. “We were incredibly pleased with the type response we received from the community and I don’t think we quite expected it to hit the nerve it hit, said Mark Kligman, the Conference Director. “One reason we had this conference in Los Angeles was to feature a living Sephardic community like the Iranian Jewish community”. Many of those in attendance said they came to hear Nazarian, the 33-year-old successful businessman share his views about the changes among the generation of younger Iranian Jews living in Los Angeles since he has not typically spoken at community events. In addition to hearing him speak the gathering, I had a chance to chat with him for our blog’s podcast and found him to be quite down to earth and friendly.
Listen to our podcast program’s exclusive interview with Sam Nazarian here.
Nazarian is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of SBE which includes hotel, restaurant, nightlife, and real estate divisions; as well as Bolthouse Productions and Element Films. As a film producer, real estate financier, hotelier, and restaurateur, Nazarian has produced numerous major motion picture releases including the 2007 thriller “Mr. Brooks” with Demi Moore and Kevin Costner and owns several Southern California nightclubs and restaurants, as well as SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills, The Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and the Ritz Plaza in Miami. In 2006, Nazarian was the youngest executive to be named one of the “Top 100 Most Powerful People in Southern California” by West, the Los Angeles Times’ Magazine and was named among “The Influentials” in Los Angeles magazine. Nazarian’s first entrepreneurial venture was in 1998, when he founded Platinum Wireless, a telecommunications business specializing in the distribution of Nextel software. Within one year of its founding, Platinum Wireless was the number one Nextel distributor in Southern California. Nazarian then entered the world of real estate by diversifying his family’s assets into real estate holdings, beginning with the establishment of 3Wall Development in 1999 which has become one of Southern California’s largest owners of multi-family housing.
Scores of young Iranian American Jews in Southern California often bring Sam Nazarian’s name up in conversations they have with me. They admire him not just because of his obvious financial success in different areas of business that Iranian Jews haven’t yet ventured into, but also because he has remained in touch with the community and given back. During the past few years he has opened up his various nightclubs including “Privilege” on the Sunset Strip for several party fundraisers on behalf of Israeli victims of Hezbollah rocket attacks in 2006 and the Friends of the I.D.F. At the same time he has also made his venues available for political related activities and in August of 2007 his company’s venues were made available for a events after a democratic presidential forum in Los Angeles for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community.
For more photos of the Hebrew Union College’s panel on Iranian Jews, visit photographer Jon Vidar’s website: here
For more information on the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion visit there website: here