Posted by Karmel Melamed
Close to 400 Southern California Iranian Jews, Muslims, Bahais and Christians united at a Beverly Hills hotel on November 24th for a magical and surrealistic evening to honor Menashe Amir, the Iranian Jewish journalist and host of Radio Israel’s “Voice of Iran” Persian language news program. The event was organized by the Los Angeles based “Iranian Jewish Cultural Organization” (IJCO) as a show of appreciation to Amir for his 50 years of work in broadcasting accurate information to audiences in Iran and worldwide through his program. In addition to providing daily news to radio listeners, Amir has also taken calls from average Iranians living in Iran who struggle daily to live under repressive social and political circumstances in their country.
With the rise of the current radical totalitarian Islamic regime in Iran 30 years ago, accurate and unbiased news has been unavailable in Iran to average citizens living in the country. Amir’s daily three-hour program based in Israel is special because it has become one of the very few truly trusted resources of Persian language information for folks in Iran to rely on. State-run news programs in Iran have been chalk-full of one-sided anti-Israel and anti-American propaganda instead of fair and balanced coverage of various news stories. Likewise, Amir’s program has been an invaluable outlet for Israeli leaders to directly outreach their message of peace to the people of Iran despite the Iranian government’s pledge to wipe Israel off the map. During the event George Haroonian, a board member of the IJCO, perhaps best expressed the Iranian Jewish community’s sentiments about Amir when he said; “He (Amir) is the voice of freedom, the lone voice of hope for millions in Iran seeking knowledge about the outside world and what is going on in their country”.
With his fluency in French, English, Persian and Hebrew languages, over the decades Amir has also become one of Israel’s and the Iranian Jewish community’s most respected ambassadors of peace when tapped as a expert to discuss Iran issues for various international media outlets. Amir emigrated to Israel at the age of 20 and has developed a remarkable career in broadcast journalism which has proven to be an asset for those living in free world and seeking to reach the masses living in Iran. The outpouring of support for Amir from Southern California’s non-Jewish Iranian media personalities was remarkable at the gala event. Iranian Muslims at the event expressed their sincere admiration for Amir and his work because through his program he has been seeking to bring all of his countrymen in his former homeland together. Amir’s concurrent love for Israel and the nation of Iran are perplexing for many individuals nowadays to understand considering the regime in Iran has repeatedly declared its desire to annihilate Israel. Yet Amir’s message of tolerance and co-existence between Iranians of various faiths worldwide has really resonated with his listeners.
The mood of harmony among Iranians at the event was also prevalent through out the evening when “Hatikva” and the “Star Spangled Banner” as well as the old Iranian patriotic national song of “A-Iran” were all sung for the guests in the audience. The feeling of camaraderie among those in attendance was indeed unique because nowadays one does not come across very many communities with different religious backgrounds coming together in harmony this way. I personally believe the Iranian American community in Southern California, which members have by in large great relationships together, is an ideal example of how people with different faiths can live together with close friendships. Often times it takes special individuals like Menashe Amir to bring the Iranian American community together in such events to demonstrate their incredible harmony. From one Iranian Jewish journalist to another, I salute you Mr. Amir for your five decades of remarkable work and your exemplary representation of our community. Mazal Tov!
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November 16, 2009 | 11:18 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
For nearly six decades she was the solid rock behind the religious and political leader of Iran’s Jews, never seeking the limelight nor recognition for her own work in the community. However on November 1st the local Iranian Jewish community’s spotlight was on Rabbanit Heshmat Shofet as she was honored with a “Woman of Valor” award by the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills which her late husband, Hacham Yedidah Shofet helped establish nearly 30 years ago in Southern California. The leadership of Nessah rolled out the red carpet with many of the evening’s expenses donated by local vendors in order to welcome the well to do of Los Angeles’ Iranian Jewish community. The crowd of nearly 500, both young and old joined together that evening for a celebration of a woman who has in her own rite given to the community for many years in both Iran and in the U.S.
As a journalist who has extensively covered the local Iranian Jewish community, I felt as if the evening was not just another “honoring” of an important person, but rather a reflection of a historical change among Iranian Jewry. Until recent years the predominately male-dominated community has long failed to give proper acknowledgement and thanks to strong giving women from amongst their ranks. Mrs. Shofet, now in her early 90’s, is just one of the many remarkable females the Iranian Jewish community has finally come to appreciate and recognize. After her husband’s passing in 2005, Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community has been struggling to forge its new identity and find new leadership to guide it into the 21st century.
The evening’s speakers shed light on the true character of this quiet, humble yet strong woman. Perhaps the most telling story came from her son, Rabbi David Shofet who heads the Nessah congregation and is considered by many as the community’s spiritual leader. Rabbi Shofet recalled; “I remember my father telling me a story one day about my mother who was in his office one day when a gentleman was chatting with my father about his martial problems. This gentleman was going on and on about how horrible his wife was and also bad mouthing Jewish women in the community. My father just listened to the man but all of a sudden my mother came up to this man and slapped him across the face. She angrily said to him ‘you can say what you want about your wife but you have no right to bad mouth all Jewish women in our community!”
Other speakers praised Mrs. Shofet for being a strong supporter of the home for the Jewish elderly in Tehran, even to this day and for opening her home to battered Jewish women in Iran who at the time were escaping physical abuse from their husbands. Interestingly enough, the evening also marked what would have been the 101st birthday of Mrs. Shofet’s late husband. After a moving video tribute from friends and family, Nessah’s current President Mehdi Soroudi perhaps best expressed the community’s thoughts to Mrs. Shofet when he thanked her for sharing her husband with the community and supporting his years of leadership. Nessah, being one of the largest and central Iranian Jewish centers in the region has been trying to bring together the old traditions carried on for 2,500 years from Iran and the newer mentality of those living in the U.S.
The following are just a few of the photos I captured from that evening:
November 14, 2009 | 8:06 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
This journalist and blogger joined 18 of Los Angeles’ prominent rabbis last month as they spent an amazing 58 hours together exploring different facets of life in Israel. I interviewed, photographed and filmed these rabbis as they came together to show a united front in support of Israel. It was perhaps one of the rare and special events in the community’s history as never before have so many different rabbis from the city journeyed as a collective with Israel as their unifying factor. My outside blog postings of this trip can be found here, here and here.
It was a fast-paced trip with a full schedule as these Jewish community leaders went everywhere from a school in Tel Aviv helping Darfur refugees, to Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to honor the late slain leader and to meet Israel’s President Shimon Peres. They met with young Zionists building new villages in the middle of the Negev desert, they fed the needy at a soup kitchen in Jerusalem and prayed for the victims of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem. The rabbis heard from military, social, economic and political leaders in Israel about the country’s status— also discovering how Jews living in Diaspora are key to Israel’s survival.
The following is a blog entry I wrote on October 29, 2009 at the end of this remarkable journey with the city’s rabbis:
As the direct El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Los Angeles took off in the early hours of the morning today, the majority of Los Angeles’ 18 rabbis were sound asleep after a remarkable 58 hour action-packed journey to Israel. After witnessing their travels together through Israel I too was still absorbing the substantial impact of the trip. The 15-hour flight today gave me much time to reflect on this amazing trip and what was said during the final dinner the rabbis enjoyed together in Jerusalem. During the dinner the Angelino rabbis gave praises to Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles Jacob Dayan for having brought all of them together for the trip— a feat that had never been undertaken by any previous Consul General. “Through this trip, you have helped strengthen our Jewish community in L.A. and shown us we are all one and the same,” said one rabbi at the dinner. Yes the rabbis were Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, gay, straight, young and older— but they acknowledged that the common thread of Israel has and will always be a uniting factor for them and their respective congregations.
As an L.A. area journalist who often covers divisive and controversial issues the Jewish community faces, it was heartwarming to see that for 58 hours the leaders of the community were able to set their differences aside and embrace one another. It seems as if Israel was not just a holy and religious place for these Jewish clergy, but the modern glue that has kept the Jewish people united. From my personal impressions, this special place in the world known as Israel has not only become a home for Jews seeking to live in an area of their own, but this land has become truly transformed the modern world as we know it. Israel has produced some the world’s most remarkable technologies, agricultural advances and yes even become a place of refuge for non-Jews escaping genocide in their homelands. We traveled to fish farm in the middle of the Negev desert where oceanic fish like Barramundi were being cultivated! Yes, a fish farm in the middle of a blossoming desert where olive orchards and vegetable farms grew plentifully! The sight was truly breathtaking a one is left wondering how Israel has been able to accomplish such remarkable feats with their limited financial and natural resources. It can be quite easy everyday for critics, pessimists and dictators to denounce Israel for a whole host of political reasons. But the clear reality is that this land holy to the world’s three religions is uniquely remarkable.
Numerous talking heads in the news media, Middle East experts and columnists will continue to spend countless hours critiquing Israel’s political moves visa vie the Middle East conflict. I for one will not engage in any such discussion nor pass judgment on Israel because such rhetoric has only created animosity in the human community. This 58 hour trip with L.A.’s prominent rabbis has revealed the incredible accomplishments of Israel and its people. I would prefer to focus my energies on the generous contributions this tiny nation in the Middle East has given the planet. Yes Israel like most democracies is imperfect, but taken as a whole this nation has brought the Jewish people together and more importantly strived to heal the world with its contributions to medicine, agriculture, technology, the social sciences, history, literature and even religion. As a blogger and journalist, I walk away from this unique trip to Israel with a new sense of respect for the rabbis who journeyed with me and for the people of Israel who are still trying to live in peace in an unfriendly neighborhood.
The following are just a few of the videos I captured through out this trip:
November 2, 2009 | 10:18 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Members of the Iranian government never cease to surprise me with the daily idiotic denials of the Holocaust and the great lengths to which they go to disrespect the memory of the millions of innocent lives who perish at the hands of the Nazis. The latest example of the regime’s purely moronic attempts to deny the existence of the Holocaust was forwarded to me via bloggers and readers of this blog who are based in Iran. They sent me the below official letter in Persian language coming from the president of the University of “Khaje Nasir” in Tehran that is calling on his subordinate to shut down the university’s student newsletter called “Galawej” on September 22, 2009. The student newsletter was closed by the university simply because the publication printed articles insinuated that the Holocaust did indeed occur!
Iran’s Amir Kabir news agency reported last month that the Galawej newsletter was shut down simply because students have accepted the truth of the Holocaust, a concept that runs contrary to the Iranian regime’s official policy of denying the horrid Nazi genocide. It seems as if the Iranian government’s thugs, also known as the “Basiji”, have threatened force against the university’s management over a small student newsletter that carries a message of truth. Pressure from the regime on Iran’s educational centers from the government is proof enough of the regime’s totalitarian nature. This ridiculous crack down on freedom of speech in Iran and continued denial of the Holocaust is clear evidence that Iran’s political leaders are pure evil— striving to silence anyone they can who thinks or speaks contrary to their views. One is left wondering how members of the Obama administration can go on negotiating with Iran’s leadership when such clear examples of the Iranian regime’s totally illogical and immoral behavior continues. Do the administration’s members really think Iranian government officials will keep their word, obey the rule of law or consider basic human morality when the same regime blatantly denies the Holocaust? How naïve! It’s time for America and its leaders to wake up to the reality that Iran’s regime is not to be trusted and this latest episode of their cracking down on freedoms is just another wake up call coming to us directly from Tehran.