Posted by Karmel Melamed
It’s not often I get the opportunity to chat with an individual in the Iranian Jewish community who has personally witnessed a century of our community’s existence in Iran, but I had that rare honor when meeting Heshmat Elyasian. She is the oldest Jewish immigrant to arrive in the United States from Iran and my piece regarding her incredible long life appeared this past week in the Jewish Journal.
Elyasian’s story is particularly important to us as Iranian American Jews because she symbolizes the remarkable transformation our community has made over the last century. Her father and uncles played music for the Nasser-al-Din Shah Qajar, one Iran’s monarchs during the late 19th century. This profession of music was indeed unique for Jews of that era because Muslims according to Shiite Islamic laws were prohibited from playing or listening to music. Of course, Nasser-al-Din being the supreme leader of the land could do or listen to whatever he desired—so he brought Jews to his court to entertain him with music. Many of our families have gone from living in poverty stricken slums and ghettos in Tehran, Shiraz, Esfahan and Hamadan where we were treated as second class citizens nearly 100 years ago to now living in luxurious mansions in Beverly Hills and in Great Neck, New York. Elyasian’s story is nearly the same as ever other Iranian Jewish immigrant to the United States. Leaving a familiar land where our ancestors lived for many centuries and starting over in America, a new country full of new opportunities and hope. More importantly I believe Elyasian’s immigration earlier this year reflects the reality that despite the idiotic comments of some news pundits such as Roger Cohen, there are still Jews leaving Iran after 30 years. While they may not be fleeing the country in mass waves as was the case in the late 1970s and 1980’s, they are still trickling out because they realize their children and grandchildren have no real future as Jews in Iran.
On a side note, I found Elyasian’s son Manouchehr Tabari, to likewise have an interesting story on his own since he worked in the film industry as a cinematographer in Iran. Tabari created a number of unique documentaries about domestic life in Iran and one award winning documentary about the “darvishes” of Iran, a famous clan of nomads who have lived away from modern technology with their own ways of life. In addition Tabari has been a part of a number of other television documentaries over the years for Iranian television and even traveled to Southern Lebanon during the late 1980’s where he filmed then P.L.O. leader Yassir Arafat.
Elyasian’s historic immigration gives me hope that Iran’s remaining Jews have not lost hope, are gradually finding their way out of that broken down country and are finding new freedoms in America and the West.
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March 9, 2009 | 12:15 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Late last year when some players from the new J.E.M. Iranian Jewish basketball league informed me they were playing in an official and organized basketball league in Beverly Hills, I thought they were joking. But to my pleasent surprise the league and its players are a reality and perhaps one of the few very productive organizations I have seen come to existance on behalf of local Iranian Jews in their 20’s and 30’s.
My article this week in the Jewish Journal not only explores these basketball games but also a unique trend of dating among young Iranian Jews that has arisen from the league. Our blog’s podcast also chatted with some of the J.E.M.‘s basketball players about their thoughts of the league.
The podcast can be heard: here
The following are some great images I captured of the J.E.M. basketball leagues championship game late last year:
March 5, 2009 | 3:00 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Following yesterday’s election results in Beverly Hills, the only two Iranian Jewish candidates for the city council race had very poor showings as a result of low voter turnout and a lack of excitement for this campaigns. While one Iranian Jewish candidate, Fran Cohen received only 7% of the total votes cast and came in 7th place, businessman Michael Hakim came in 8th place with only 4% of the votes cast according to Beverly Hills City election records. While Iranian residents (many of whom are Jewish) cast more than 50% of the votes in the February 2007 city elections, the results of this year’s elections reveal a lack of interest by the community to come out and vote. The former city Mayor and current city councilmember Jimmy Delshad seems to be the one and only Iranian Jewish candidate who has until now been able to win a seat in back to back elections. He explained this unique phenomenon during my last interview with him:
“I don’t see as much excitement this time around among the Persians. Last time I ran, it was different because there were only two open places on the council, with three Persian candidates running — and you’ve got to remember that there was real excitement in the community about my mayorship if I were elected.”
On an interesting note, Paul Koretz, the Jewish candidate for the Los Angeles City Council’s 5th seat who had been courting Iranian Jews and other Iranians for votes in yesterday’s election was successful in winning one of the two spots for the run-off May 2009 race. There’s no doubt that his outreach to the local Iranian community—many of whom are primarily located in his district, paid off.
Up until 2000, the Iranian Jewish community in Southern California was by in large not politically active and not involved in political groups. However, since then things have gradually changed and the community has become an important voting block in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles. Viable candidates are increasingly courting the community for their votes and financial contributions. Time will only tell if young Iranian Jews in the area who are now accomplished doctors, lawyers and real estate developers will be throwing their hats in for local and state elections.
My recent podcast interview with Delshad, Cohen and Hakim can be heard here.
March 3, 2009 | 3:53 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Why the New York Times editors continue to publish the ridiculous lies and rants of their opinion columnist Roger Cohen is beyond my comprehension. Last weekend his shameful opinion article tried paint a rosey picture of the lives of some 20,000 Jews who still live in Iran. Cohen failed to recognize that the Jews he spoke to in Iran are living under duress and could not give him a fair assessment of their lives in Iran. Instead he fell for their lies which were directly dictated to them by the Iranian government’s well developed propaganda machine. Now this blog, other journalists in the U.S. and other publications criticized Cohen for being naive about the Iranian regime and his foolishness notions of the regime being “peaceful” but he’s again spreading untruths about the Iranian government in his latest piece this week in the New York Times.
Cohen who is still obviously living in “la-la land” claims that “Iran’s Islamic Republic is no Third Reich redux. Nor is it a totalitarian state. Significant margins of liberty, even democracy, exist (in Iran)”. This claim by Cohen is utterly absurd considering the fact that the Iranian government orders regular large-scale arrests, incommunicado detention and torture that have taken place in the context of unrest among the country’s Arab, Kurdish and Azeri ethnic minorities. Demonstrations held to protest the Iranian government’s human rights violations have been met with indiscriminate use of violence with several of the victims have been children. Religious minority communities—including Bahai and Muslims practicing Sufism, have also been faced increased persecution for years. Over the years and more recently the Iranian authorities have been carrying out widespread crackdowns on civil society, targeting academics, women’s rights activists, students, journalists and labor organizers. Hundreds of trade union activists have been arrested as part of measures to prevent planned strikes. Lawyers, web bloggers and others who have spoken out against human rights violations have themselves been targeted for abuse. Basically anyone and everyone who speaks out about the regime is either murdered, arrested and imprisoned or tortured for their actions. Currently Iran is one of the world’s largest importers of construction cranes—why you may ask? Well it’s not for any sort of infrastructure development but rather to hang hundreds of “enemies of the state” in public. Iran is also one of the only countries left in the world today that still executes children and child offenders. According to Amnesty International, last year at least 130 juvenile offenders faced execution, but the total number could be much higher as many death penalty cases in Iran are believed to go unreported. At least eight child offenders were executed in 2007 and Iran was the only country in the world known to have executed a juvenile offender in 2008. (At least seven juvenile offenders were executed in 2008). The last known execution of one child named “Golamreza H.” took place on October 29, 2008. If Cohen does not consider these activities by the Iranian government totalitarian, then he is either out of his mind or smoking some bad wacky weed! I don’t know what planet Cohen lives on, but these types of activities carried out by the Iranian government are NOT DEMOCRATIC in any way.
I am not even going to get into all the lies Cohen continues to spew in his latest piece about how the lives of Jews in Iran are supposedly tranquill and paradise-like. But how can Iran not be a brutal Nazi-like totalitarian state when religious minorities from the Bahai faith are always and immediately imprisoned, tortured and then executed? While other minorities may be punished if they “step out of line”, there is zero tolerance for Bahais who are promptly executed. This is because the regime in Iran sees the Bahai faith that requires proselytizing, as a direct threat to the future viability of Islam. Likewise floggings, forced amputations as punishment, public executions by hanging, and executions by stoning are advocated by Iran’s Islamic laws. Again is this the fabulous Iranian “democracy” that Cohen is trying to promote? How utterly outrageous!
Another lie Cohen tries to put out there is that “Iran has not waged an expansionary war in more than two centuries”. Again this statement by Cohen is completely false because since the inception of Iran’s current radical Shiite government in 1979, there have been many active efforts by the Iranian clerics to wage a “holy war” against Israel. The Iranian regime has advanced this obvious expansionist war against Israel since 1979 by funding terrorist groups in Southern Lebanon such as Hezbollah with weapons and encouraging this terrorist organization to launch attacks against Israel—such was the case as recently as the summer of 2006. The Iranian regime is clearly seeking to expand their influence in both Lebanon and in Israel through their proxy Hezbollah. Moreover the Iranian government has funded other radical terror groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad to wage the same sort of terrorist expansionist war against Israel’s southern borders. I don’t even need to get into the Iranian government’s financial and military support for Shiite militias in Iraq as further proof of another one of their expansionist wars. Again if these efforts by the Iranian government are not “wars of expansion” in Cohen’s eyes, then he probably needs to either get his eyes checked or he needs to get some medication for his mental condition.
Below are just a few very REAL photos I obtained from news websites operated by Iran’s state-run media outlets showing how Muslim citizens of Iran who were supposed “enemies” of the regime were punished and later executed. While these photos may be graphic for some individuals, they are evidence of the pure Nazi-like evil behind Iran’s government. More importantly, if this is how non-Jews are treated in Iran—anyone in their right mind would realize that Iran is no safe place for Jews or other religious minorities. After looking at just a few of these photos anyone in their normal mind would clearly realize that Roger Cohen is TOTALLY WRONG about Iran’s government. So the only thing left is for someone to figure out if Cohen is just another propaganda stooge for the Iranian government who wants to promote their evil regime or if he’s just completely insane!
Majid Kavousifar, a 28-year-old Iranian Muslim student opposed to the regime who was hung in public from a crane in Tehran on August 2, 2007 for alleged “crimes” against Iran’s regime. The executioner shouts “Allah Akbar” as the stool is yank from underneath his feet.
The Iranian government executed the above gay men in November 2005 in the province of Kermanshah in western Iran. The Muslim young man above on the left identified as Shahab Darvishi had been hanged in the city for corruption, assault and sodomy. The two teenagers shown here were executed after a religious court found them guilty of homosexuality on July 19, 2005 in the city of Mashhad. Under the Iranian penal code, girls as young as nine and boys as young as 15 can be hanged.
Unknown Iranian woman buried up to her chest and then stoned to death. Iran’s Penal Code prescribes execution by stoning and dictates that the stones are to be large enough to cause pain, but not so large as to kill the victim immediately. Article 102 of the Iranian Penal Code states that men should be buried up to their waist and women up to their chest for the purpose of execution by stoning. Women in Iran are often executed by stoning for the crime of adultery, drug use, or other crimes the regime deems worthy of such execution.
Unknown Iranian woman hung in public by a crane for alleged crimes against the regime.