Posted by Karmel Melamed
It’s Chanukah and toys are on the minds of many parents for the holiday. One of the most popular girls’ toys for the past several years have been the “Bratz” dolls. They are cultural diversity with disproportionately large heads, large lips, and wearing trendy fashions—all unique traits that set them apart from every other doll on the market. Recently I had a rare opportunity to chat with Issac Larian, the Iranian Jewish businessman and brainchild behind Bratz and other popular toys made by his company MGA Entertainment that is the third largest toymaking company in the world. His rags to riches story could be straight out of a Hollywood movie, but Larian has not forgotten his humble beginnings in Iran. He has been generous in his giving to a number of Jewish and non-Jewish charities.
While his competitors have tried to paint a negative image about Bratz and Larian, I found him to be an extremely down to earth and kind gentleman. He also set the record straight about the controversy brewing in the media about the live-action Bratz’s film released on DVD last month. The following is an excerpt of my interview with him published in the Iranian Jewish Chronicle Magazine online:
Can you share a little about you background and how you ended up in the toy business?
I came here in 1971 and I was 17 years old then. I had $750 in my pocket, a one way ticket, and a big American dream. My first job was washing dishes in a coffee shop in Lawndale and I was getting $1.65 an hour working from11 at night to seven in the morning. Then I went to school during the day and I worked through out college until I obtained a civil engineering degree. I was planning on going back to Iran and become a civil engineer but we had a little thing called the revolution (in 1979). I did go back to Iran briefly, but returned and started a company selling brass giftware from the back of my car. In 1987 we went into the toy business and became distributors for Nintendo Game and Watch. In 1993 we became a licensee for “Power Rangers” which was one of the hottest toys then and that basically put us on the map as a toy company. We grew that business through ups and downs and in 2001 we launched the “Bratz” dolls. I did not expect it to be as successful as it became. That grew the company to the point where we are now the third largest toy company in the world and largest privately held toy company.
The director of the “Bratz” movie, Sean McNamara was quoted in an L.A. Times article earlier this year as saying that your dolls looked like “sluts”. What was your reaction to this controversy?
He was misquoted, he never said that and we have proof that he never said that. It was a misquote that has generate negative publicity for us.
Well then, how do you respond to some of your critics that have accused the Bratz dolls of supposedly promoting sex and sending a negative message to young girls?
These are just plastic dolls and they do not promote anything. It is up to parents to promote their values to their children and not plastic toys or a TV series or actors and actress. These statements made about Bratz are nonsense. We are proud of these dolls, they are the first dolls ever to promote diversity, they promote sports and they promote education. If you go to the Bratz website for example, there’s information for kids saying that it’s good to do homework in a fun way. One of our best selling products is the Bratz educational laptop. I think the negative publicity we have received has been circulated by our competitors because they cannot compete with us in the marketplace.
I have three children myself and as an Iranian Jew—between them they have 23 cousins and we get together every Friday night. So I value children and their mental health more than anything else. A hundred years from now what’s more important to me is that the difference I make in the life of a child—not how much money I have or how many cars I own. I am very involved with many children’s causes. I have proudly coached my kids through soccer and basketball. So the accusation that Bratz promotes sex is negative publicity that has been put out by people who have a different agenda.
So what’s next for the Bratz dolls?
MGA has other brands as well such as “Little Tikes” which are perhaps one of the most respected in the country. But as far as Bratz are concerned, if Bratz stay true to their nature and change like a chameleon changes with the times, it’s going to be a brand that will continue to grow worldwide. We have also gone to the internet and we have a site called “bebratz.com” that let’s kids create their own virtual doll, they can play games and chat.
How important is Judaism in your life and what involvement do you have with the Jewish philanthropic causes?
I am a proponent of Judaism. I am not a religious Jew but I am involved in different Israel and Jewish causes that are important to me. I was fortunate last year to be honored by the JNF (Jewish National Fund) for their “Tree of Life” award. I’m proud that we were able to raise more than a $1 million for JNF at that event which I am told was a record for the west coast. But I am involved in other Jewish charities dealing with children’s disabilities, poverty and education that I would not like to mention.
What other philanthropic causes are you involved with or do you support?
For me the children’s charities are the most important in this day and age. We as a country need to spend more time and money on education because that is the foundation for future generation. I am proud to be involved with environmental causes and seeing children involved with this issue as well. My own son, decided to give all of his bar mitzvah money to environmental causes that promote alternative energy. I am also involved with Jewish causes dealing with poverty in Israel and jobs to help them. Poverty in the world and in the Jewish community is not solved by just giving money to people but teaching them to survive. You can feed a man by giving him a fish, but if you teach him how to fish then he can feed himself everyday for the rest of his life.
What reaction have you received from Iranian Jews who come to learn of your line of work?
Iranians are one of the most educated group of minorities in this country and very ambitious and it’s not only in toys. For example, if you look at Pierre Omidyar, a Persian who is not Jewish—he’s the chairman of the board and founder of eBay, one of the biggest corporations in the world. We need to be proud of the Iranian community, whether they are Jewish or not Jewish. Of course the Iranian Jews have had many major accomplishments. But the reaction I have received from the community has been from people who are proud that someone from their community has been able to been have this kind of achievement. I am humbled and I hope I can serve as an example to young people. I came from very humble beginning, so I am down to earth and connect well with the younger generation. I’d like to help them in anyway I can.
Why do you think Iranian Jewish immigrants to the U.S. have been so successful in business and other professions in the last 30 years?
I think that human beings in general are very resilient and when they are put in challenging situations, they usually rise to the occasion. And that has been the case for our community. We have been under attack and control, unable to express ourselves in the past. But now we are in America, the land of opportunity and we can do anything we want, so we have blossomed. Iranian Jews are no different than other immigrants like the Korean Americans or Chinese Americans. There are so many opportunities here and perhaps local Americans who were born here do not see that—with just a little hard work you can accomplish a lot.
What advice do you have for young Iranian Jews who are just starting their own businesses and entering the workforce?
First of all, I would say that life is not all about money. Money is just an instrument to help you in life. You should really work on your spirituality. Also I think it’s important to have dreams, being able to believe in your dreams and listening to your intuition and imagination more than your knowledge you gained in school. Your sixth sense and subconscious mind are much more powerful than the theories you learn in school. Lastly I would say that you should not be afraid of failure. In order to succeed, you need to fail.
Thank you for chatting with us Mr. Larian and best of luck with your work.
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December 4, 2007 | 1:06 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Haji Hayim, a.k.a. Eman Esmailzadeh , is the brainchild behind Persianrabbi.com , a website dedicated to connecting young Iranian Jews worldwide with religious leaders and their Jewish identity. The 24-year-old Esmailzadeh is a Brentwood resident and perhaps one of my biggest fans has regularly posted many of my articles on his site. To my surprise, my recent article in the L.A. Jewish Journal regarding the extravagant spending by local Iranian Jews on their weddings, had inspired Esmailzadeh to sound off about the subject in his own op/ed piece online. One particular aspect of his story that caught my eye was the fact that many of the lavish weddings in the Iranian Jewish community are causing divisions among friends and relatives. He writes:
“The saddest of them all was when, I had to console a newly married friend who felt that he had just made at least 20 enemies, all because some of his selfish guests were bothered about where they sat, or some distant family were offended that they didn’t get an invitation. And the story goes on, since we want to be accepted in the community, we try harder and harder to cater to the guests’ selfish drive and make sure it the most upscale, exciting and enjoyable wedding that they have ever attended.”
From the responses I’ve seen online to his story and my own piece about the outrageous spending that local Iranian Jews have undertaken has been overwhelming. I honestly had no idea the story would have such wide appeal and I’m pleased to see it has created a new avenue for young Jews in our community to address this issue. In too many occasions Iranian Jewry have had a tendency to sweep certain sensitive issues under the rug and not discuss them. This unfortunately habit has lead to social obstacles in our community to remain unresolved with both parents and their children feeling frustrated about issues concerning marriage, careers, pre-martial sexual relations, and even child bearing!
I am however optimistic that young Iranian Jews like Esmailzadeh are now engaging one another in a serious dialogue about their weddings and bridging the cultural differences they have with their parents. The younger generation of Iranian American Jews is quietly awakening their parents to the reality that they no longer live in Iran and cannot for logistic or financial reasons continue the social norms of that country. While Iranians in general are known for their extremely warm hospitality to even the most distant of friends and relatives…we have to draw the line some where. When the older generation appreciates this reality, then perhaps they may ease their pressures on their children and spend less on weddings and other parties.
Only with open dialogue can real change and growth in our community blossom. I urge young folks in our community to continue voicing their concerns on THIS BLOG!
November 30, 2007 | 4:37 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Last night, more than 500 affluent Iranian American Jews from the Los Angeles area gathered for a night of festivities at the elegant Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills for fundraising on behalf of the Etta Israel organization. This was not just another glamorous fundraising event for local Iranian Jews, but a historical night for the community at large which for centuries had considered publicly displaying children with mental and learning disabilities as taboo.
Etta Israel is local community based non-profit organization dedicated to helping children with special needs including those with Autism, Down’s syndrome, Dyslexia and other forms of mental retardation. In 1997, local Iranian Jewish social worker and volunteer Manijeh Nehorai introduced Etta Israel and the need for support to children with special needs to the local Iranian Jewish community. At a time when many families in the community with mentally disabled children would hide their special needs children away from the public, Nehorai was brave enough to tackle this taboo and educate these families that there was help available for their children. “Many in our community unfortunately kept these children in the closet because they were afraid of people judging them,” she said. “But today as we can see, when these children come into the community they can have better lives”. The taboo of not exposing their mentally disabled children in public also stems from the fact that a substantial number of Iranian Jewish families feared that they would jepoardize their other children’s chances of finding spouses from within the community.
While the taboo has not totally been lifted, the fact that such a large contingency of Iranian Jews in the Southern California area came out to support this cause speaks volumes about how the community’s views about these special needs children has transformed in recent years. Moreover, Nehorai said the contributions from the Iranian Jewish community to Etta Israel has enabled the group to provide homes and Jewish activities for local young adults with special needs. Those interested in becoming involved with Etta Israel are asked to visit: www.etta.org
The following are just some of the sights from the evening I captured:
November 29, 2007 | 4:11 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
If you ask your average Iranian Jew in the U.S., Europe or Iran who Hubert Leven is, they wouldn’t have a clue. However, his family’s generosity to the Jews of Iran more than a century ago significantly transformed the fabric of our once isolated community. At the turn of the 20th century when Iran’s Jews lived in extreme poverty and persecution by the Muslim majority, the
Alliance Israelite Universelle” (AIU), an educational non-profit organization his great-grandfather helped establish schools through out Iran. This valuable education Iranian Jews obtained helped them lift themselves up and out of their ghettos. They were able to reconnect with Judaism, they found hope that they were not alone and there were other Jews in the world who cared about their well being. The ripple effect of the AIU can still be felt today in the Iranian Jewish community in the U.S., which is by far one of the most prosperous and successful Jewish communities in North America.
Fortunately, Leven has been able to reconnect with our community in Los Angeles as his new non-profit organization is seeking to help the less fortunate in Israel. This week my piece in L.A. Jewish Journal gives some insight into his meeting and the following is an excerpt of my interview with Leven:
Can you share with us a little about your great-grandfather and the work of those who helped established the AIU?
My great-grandfather’s Narcisse Leven was part of a group of seven who established the AIU in 1860 and also served as their President. This group of founders were very much influenced by the liberal and humanistic ideals of the 1848 French Revolution one of the achievements of this revolution was the abolition of slavery in the French colonies. Adolphe Cremieux, one of the founding members of AIU served as Minister of Justice and gave French citizenship to all the Jews of Algeria. The AIU also provided a platform for French Ashkenazi Jews to reach out to their Sephardic brothers who did not benefit from the Enlightenment which advanced civilization in general and to the French Jews in particular. The Hebrew name of AIU in Israel is Kol Israel Haverim or “all Jews are friends/brothers”.
Why has your family had such a dedication to Jewish philanthropic work?
Narcisse Leven was not wealthy, he gave his time, competence and dedication to the cause. He also transmitted a sense of responsibility and duty towards to his son Georges and who in turn passed it on to his children. Philanthropy is to a large extent an element of culture, a way of life and if you are immersed in it from an early age, it becomes almost genetic. Gustave Leven, my father’s younger brother made a significant fortune and wholeheartedly believed that it would be put to much better use if invested in the future of the Jewish people rather than in making a few wealthy heirs—a philosophy that I fully share. Because of Gustave’s philosophy our family has been privileged to establish the Rashi Foundation and continued its extensive support to AIU.
Are you aware of the extent to which the AIU’s schools have substantially benefited Iranian Jewry?
Of course I am aware and proud. And especially when you remember what the AIU did in Iran, Morocco, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, etc. Let alone those in central Europe and Russia by allowing thousands to flee the pogroms for the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Argentina, etc.
The remainder of my interview with Leven can be found at the: Iranian Jewish Chronicle Magazine.
November 28, 2007 | 9:15 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
The Christian Science Monitor in its article today regarding the Iranian Television Series “Zero Degree Turn” became the latest U.S. publication to inaccurately report on this fictional drama on Iranian state-run television with the Holocaust as its back drop. The show has been hailed by reporters at the AP, Wall Street Journal, and NPR as sympathetic to the issue of Holocaust—a supposed change of rhetoric coming from Iran in light of the anti-Semitic comments spewed by Iran’s president in the last few years. But as a responsible journalist who has covered this story before, I’m here to say that these news media outlets have totally been inaccurate in their coverage of this TV program!
To the contrary, my own accurate article last month in the L.A. Jewish Journal revealed that “Zero Degree Turn” in no way sends a positive message about the Shoah or Jews. It is clear that the AP, Wall Street Journal, NPR and other reputable news outlets failed to properly review and translate the program with the help of experts. My investigation of the new Iranian program revealed that “Zero Degree Turn” is nothing more than the same old anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda put out by the Iranian government. The following is the truth indicated in my article about this TV show that the Monitor and AP failed to pick up on:
“This TV program lists in its credits a man named Abdollah Shabazi, who was an ideological strategist for the Iranian government, and he gave this idea to make this propaganda film to show that Iranians are ‘good with the Jews,’” said Bijan Khalili, a Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish activist and Persian-language book publisher. “But in reality, this man is the author of many anti-Semitic and anti-Bahai [Persian-language] books.”
“One of the objectives of this program is to show that Jews are corrupt, because they are shown as both giving bribes and accepting bribes,” Khalili said. “The story includes a character called Homayoun Talab, an Iranian diplomat, who accepts bribes in order to provide false papers to Jews.”
Talab, Khalili said, is loosely based on Abdol Hossein Sardari, Iranian ambassador to German-controlled France during World War II, who forestalled the deportation of 200 Iranian Jews living in Paris at the time.
Fariborz Mokhtari, a professor of Eastern studies at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., recently completed a book on Sardari’s life. He said “Zero Degree Turn” egregiously misrepresents Sardari, who never accepted money for giving Jews in France Iranian passports.
“Sardari was duty-bound to look after the interests of Iranians. Whether they were Zoroastrian, Christian, Jewish or Muslim was not very important to him,” said Mokhtari, who is Muslim and has been researching Sardari since 2002. “As he was quoted having told his inquiring nephew, ‘It was his duty to his country and to God.’”
Khalili also said that other episodes of “Zero Degree Turn” make repeated references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which are historically out of place, because the issue was not prevalent in the 1940s. Likewise the Jewish characters in the series are shown in a poor light, because they speak an improper form of the Persian language, as compared to the Muslim characters, Khalili said.
“We have a responsibility as Iranian Jews living outside of Iran to reveal to the rest of the world how anti-Israel and anti-Semitic the Iranian government is through this program and others like it,” Khalili said.
Shame on the Monitor’s editors and shame on the reporter Scott Peterson for failing to do better research to expose the REAL TRUTH about “Zero Degree Turn”. Instead, Peterson and the Monitor in this story continued to spread the one-sided propaganda feed to them by the Iranian government concerning this show! Supposedly the Iranian leaders are now “good people” after producing this show that does not deny the Holocaust. What a bunch of hog wash! When articles like these fail to expose the “spin” put out by Iran’s radical leaders this is a discredit to journalism and in a way helps the Iranian regime continue to help cover up their President’s anti-Semitic comments about the Holocaust. While reporters in Iran cannot freely cover the news in Iran without being imprisoned, tortured or executed by the regime’s leaders, U.S. and western journalists have a duty to expose the truth of what is going on in Iran and not helping to cover it up.
If you don’t believe me about the anti-Semitic nature of “Zero Degree Turn”, just view this clip accurately translated by The Middle East Media Research Institute!
The Christian Science Monitor and other news media outlets have a responsibility to retract their articles about “Zero Degree Turn” and issue apologizes to their readers for not giving the full truth regarding this show!
November 25, 2007 | 7:59 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
A follower of the Bahai faith in an AP article I recently came across said “I love Israeli people for the fact that they are very united. Israel wouldn’t be a possibility if the Jewish people weren’t united. We’re grateful to Israelis. We wouldn’t be here without them”. I found this man’s comments and the fact that Israel has enabled those of the Bahai faith to maintain their world center in Hafia, quite ironic considering the religion’s long history of missionary work that converted thousands of Jews in Iran to their faith more than 100 years ago. Founded less than 170 years ago, the Bahai faith believes that Persian-born prophet Bahuallah, who died in Israel, brought a message of unity, equality and world federation to save mankind from the plagues of the modern world.
According to Dr. Habib Levy’s book “Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran”, since people of the Bahai faith were persecuted themselves, they had to be careful in proselytizing among the Muslim majority living in Iran at the time. Since there was no such danger from proselytizing among the Jews in Iran, this made Jews a prime target for the new Bahai religion to target. Unfortunately at that time, the Jews of Iran who lived in certain urban areas were exposed to a steady stream of persecutions and pogroms which did not give them much time to explore their Jewish heritage. Likewise many Jews in Iran at that time did not know how to read Hebrew and were ignorant about their traditions while living in extreme poverty. Those Bahai proselytizers offered the Jews of Iran both money and social support, two major factors that lead many Iranian Jews to abandon their ancestor’s faith. Unfortunately when one member of a Jewish family converted to the Bahai faith many times others in the family would follow suit. Ultimately this very intense proselytizing by the Bahais, devastated the already dwindling number of Jews in Iran who had for centuries been forced to convert to Islam by the Muslim majority or face death.
Today there are a substantial number of Iranian Bahais who can trace their Jewish roots and also many Iranian Jews who have distant relatives that are Bahais. Iranian Bahais and Jews typically have good relations nowadays, the Iranian Jewish community is still cautious about their social interactions with Bahais because the Bahai faith requires continuous proselytizing. For this same reason, the Israeli government has allowed followers of the Bahai faith to maintain their center in Israel, but prohibited them from proselytizing in the country. It is a well known fact that Bahais who still live in Iran today as religious minorities have no rights unlike Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians. The current Iranian government not only persecutes Bahais, but readily executes those of the faith who it discovers have been proselytizing in the country.
No doubt the State of Israel has proven that unlike people of many other faiths and countries, the Jewish people are tolerant of other religions and are willing to co-exist with them. How many Roman Catholic or Islamic countries would allow the Bahais to have a center in their country if the Bahais had similar success in converting substantial numbers of Muslims and Christians in their countries? Not very many!
November 20, 2007 | 7:33 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
This week’s Newsweek magazine story on “presidential physical” exams offered to the public by Dr. Raphael Darvish, a local Iranian Jewish physician, caught my eye. Darvish is the latest example of how rising stars in our community are really making a splash on the national scene with their new ideas and unique innovations. His Brentwood clinic, “Concierge Medicine L.A.”, is the first and the only clinic in the country offering individuals the same comprehensive medical tests the President of the United States receives each year. His clinic’s unique physical exam has also been covered by the local media including the L.A. Daily News and local television news broadcasts on KTLA Channel 5 and KTTV Fox Channel 11. The Newsweek article suggests that the clinic’s presidential physical is not only saving lives by spotting unknown health problems, but giving patients the peace of mind that they’re receiving the “best of the best” possible care:
“The presidential program goes further, making each patient feel like the leader of the free world. The price of a Presidential Physical starts at $1,400. Since the clinic started offering them last November, about 600 people have had one, says Concierge’s medical director, Dr. Raphael Darvish.”
Darvish is by far not your run of the mill Iranian Jewish doctor. He’s a fourth generation physician who has an MBA from UCLA and a rich family history known for being pioneers in the Iranian Jewish community. Most folks in our community are not aware that his great-grandfather, Dr. Habib Levy , was one of the first Jewish officers in the Iranian military and among the first Jews to leave Iran and obtain higher educations in Europe. Levy returned to Iran not only to treat members of the Iranian royal family as their dentist but also dedicated his life to recording Iranian Jewish oral history. Levy’s book, “Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran” is perhaps the most read and accurate record of our community’s history in Iran during the last 2,500 years. So the apple certainly doesn’t fall from the tree with Darvish who is following in those same foot steps.
Recently I chatted with Dr. Darvish about his clinic’s presidential physical and his family’s longstanding ties to the medical field:
How did you come up with the idea to provide the presidential physical to your patients?
When I started the practice here, I realized that the president gets such terrific care and wondered why folks are not getting the same kind of care. Every year on TV you hear about the president getting his physical and they say he’s doing great when he’s leaving the medical center there. So I was interested in knowing what this physical entails, I called the White House and got in touch with physicians of the president. I obtained a copy of his physical examination report—it’s on our website and from that we replicated exactly what he was getting for our own patients. So folks can go on the site and compare their physicals to President Bush’s after the fact. Each year as the physicals get changed,as the technologies change, as the doctors of the president modify their physicals for the president, we do the same and update it.
What kind of responses have you had from your patients and what of kinds of results have come from this presidential physical?
Every patient whether they’re 20 years old or 50 old receives a very complete test. We check every inch of their body from the top of their head to bottom of their feet. During the physical we do different tests to check for a variety of things. Every patient who comes for our physical finds something interesting whether it’s a strategy to help them be healthier and happier or hopefully to living a long life. They also find interesting things about their health that saves them headaches down the road. We had two patients this week that had the presidential physical and one had a heart blockage that he was unaware of. If that heart blockage was not treated it would have exploded and he’d have a heart attack with serious heart damage and even risked morbidity. We also had another patient who was eating a lot of fish because he wanted to be very healthy but his mercury level was toxic. There are an extensive battery of tests that we do as a part of the presidential physical and mercury level is one of them. So we were able to detect that and to direct him as to which fish to have that aren’t so high in mercury and to decrease his fish intake. The last patient that comes to mind is one who had kidney stones and was unaware of it since he was passing blood in his urine. We picked up blood in his urine test and also did an abdominal ultrasound. Then we advised him on what to do to address that because if he didn’t do anything about it, those kidney stones could end up being a problem.
What’s the motivation behind investing more time in treating your patients through this type of physical exam that no one else is offering?
This physical is a lovely item that someone can get done annually. It really allows them all the time they need to ask as many questions they have regarding anything that they may be curious about. It’s wonderful because the standard physician practice allows you 15 minutes with your doctor and those questions you have don’t get answered. Furthermore, not only do your questions not get answered but your problems don’t get addressed. In a 15 minute physician office visit you can only talk about one, two—maybe if you talk really fast, three problems. So as a physician, you can’t really treat the person as a whole because you are working under such time pressures. In this practice we do a presidential physical and have all the time we need to really address every last issue. It really should be done on everybody but unfortunately the way the health care system is structured, we don’t have the time and no doctor would be able to survive providing such thorough care in a standard practice.
Your family members have been working in medicine for many generations, tell me a little bit about that and if was there any pressure on you to get into the medical realm?
I come from a long line of doctors. My great-grandfather was in medicine and my grandfather was a physician who trained in Paris, France. He left Iran at a young age after high school and spent 10 to 15 years training, he returned to Iran to take care of the Iranian population armed with very good knowledge he had gain in Europe. My father followed in his father’s footsteps and went to Bordeaux to complete an eight year medical school program. He subsequently worked in different hospitals throughout France to get his specialty training in internal medicine and gastroenterology. The education back then in Europe was more highly regarded. Growing up here in L.A. with a father as a physician and an older uncle as a physician, it was a pretty easy choice for me to go into medicine and at a young age I got interested in the sciences. I went to Berkeley for college and got into my first choice for medical school which was UCLA, close to my family here. Obviously Persian Jewish folks are family oriented and it was nice to be here with my family during medical school.
Why do you think young people in the Iranian Jewish community are so successful and thriving in such fields as the law, medicine, business and other areas?
I think there’s a lot of drive and encouragement from the close family structure in the Jewish community. There’s quite a bite of encouragement and support for them to go on and become lawyers or doctors and get through those different programs—whether it is financial support or social and emotional support. Beyond that I do think there is some kind of materialism that exists in the community which may encourage folks to involved in more lucrative professions.
Thank you for chatting with me and good luck in your practice.
November 19, 2007 | 3:28 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Almost on a weekly basis I am approached by folks in the Jewish community and non-Jewish community who asked me the same question; “why are you Iranian Jews living in the U.S. so successful?” I’ve been asking myself that same question for the past eight years as a journalist who has been covering the community and looking at them from afar. With the 30th anniversary of the start of the Iranian revolution approaching next year, sociologists and anthropologists should take a close look at the overall impact the migration of Jews from Iran to America has had on this community.
In my opinion, the massive wave of immigration of Iranian Jews to Southern California and New York in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s was perhaps one of the most unique and incredible social experiments of the 20th century. Here was a tight knit Jewish community who was just beginning to pull itself out of poverty, had not had much exposure to the rest of the world while living in a developing third world country—which was quite abruptly transplanted into one of the most dynamic, technologically advanced and free countries in the world. Dariush Fakheri, the founder of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana, California, has frequently compared the Iranian Jewish immigration to the U.S. to “suddenly placing a lobster in a boil pot of water”. With the circumstances surrounding our exile from Iran and the necessity to quickly getting adjusted to life in America, it is simply remarkable that the Iranian Jewish community in the U.S. has not only been able to survive but has flourished. Now totally 30,000 in Southern California alone, we have countless doctors, lawyers, engineers, businessmen and even folks working in the film industry in Hollywood from our community! An even more amazing aspect of this social experiment concerning Iranian Jewry, has been the fact that our community has achieved this substantial success within a fairly short amount of time since our arrive in the U.S.
For me, perhaps one of the greatest aspects of the Iranian Jewish immigration to the U.S. has been the new found freedoms our community has been granted in America. While the late Shah of Iran and his father Reza Shah had provided an environment of significant social and religious tolerance for Jews living in Iran, the Jewish community in many ways still faced discrimination, was barred from certain professions such government posts and were often treated as second class citizens. From what I’ve been told as a journalist, Jews in Iran typically did not voice their political opinions or get involved in politics for fear of what potential danger may fall upon them at the hands of certain Muslim political elements. We no longer have to hear some Muslims refer to us with the derogatory term of “bad joohood” which translates to “bad Jew” in English and is the equivalent of the “N” word for Iranian Jews. In America we can now openly support Israel and hold fundraisers for Israeli causes without fear of the potential backlash from anyone, whereas this was not possible in Iran. I must emphasize that not all Muslims in Iran are currently or in the past have been intolerant and disrespectful to Jews. We as Iranian American Jews still maintain close friendships with other Iranians of the Muslim, Christian, Zoroastrian and Bahai faith in the U.S. So for our community to be able to stand proudly and have the freedoms to pursue politics, religion, and business is a significant dream come true.
The next time you hear or read about the successes of a person in the Iranian Jewish community, you should keep in mind that that person’s parent or grandparent once struggled to survive in Iran and maintain his or her Jewish identity. Who would have throught that the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of Jews that were mistreated and living in poverty in ghettos in Iran could flourish when given the opportunities? America is truly a great country!