Posted by Karmel Melamed
“I’ll teach you Hebrew if you teach me Persian!” joked Rabbi Hillel Benchimol, who is teaching a 5 week free crash course in Hebrew at the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills. The educational Hebrew classes, also know as “Read Hebrew America” were created by the National Jewish Outreach Program in New York and offered to nearly 600 synagogues in the North America to promote the Hebrew language. Since its introduction at Nessah on October 15th, the program has been a surprising success in the Iranian American Jewish community in L.A. with more than 300 people attending the last three courses. “I’ll tell you that I was really amazed that so many people from this community (of Iranian Jews) really want to learn Hebrew and reconnect with their heritage,” said Benchimol who has single handedly been directing the classes on Monday nights between 7 pm and 8:30 pm. Ilya Welfeld, a spokesperson for the National Jewish Outreach Program said that while her organization did not know if Nessah had had the largest turnout of people attending their course in the country, but they were quite pleased with the substantial number of Iranian Jews participating. The “Read Hebrew America” program was launched 10 years ago and has thus far educated thousands of American Jews to speak Hebrew.
Earlier this week I stepped into one of the courses at Nessah and was surprised to find the large contingency of Iranian Jews who had packed the banquet hall in order to learn Hebrew. They were mostly older Iranian Jewish women and some teen, but the majority of the students were in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. They were given their Hebrew books and like grade school children repeated out loud the Hebrew words Benchimol announced. They would chant in unisen “AVI—AV—AVIV” or “ABBA—BA—AV” and it was heartwarming to see members of the community showing a serious interested in improve themselves.
I also found the dedication of these older Iranian Jews to learning Hebrew admirable because you don’t typically find individuals in the Jewish community who are advancing in age that want to pursue their Jewish education—especially on a Monday night. I personally think these older Iranian Jews have decided to learn Hebrew because they may not have had the opportunities to do so in Iran due to their business schedules or lack of funds. It is also possible that the chaos of the 1979 Iranian revolution coupled with immigrated to the U.S. and trying to set up new lives for themselves might have made learning Hebrew less of a priority for Iranian Jews.
I also found Benchimol, who is not Iranian, to be hilarious with his creative use of Persian words to keep the crowd awake, laughing and interested in learning Hebrew. Since coming on board as a rabbi at Nessah this past June, he has been able to really connect with both Iranian Jewish parents and children—a task which is in no way easy for an outsider to our community. “During Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana, I presented this ‘Read Hebrew America’ program as a challenge to them to learn Hebrew and it worked,” said Benchimol.
Those interested in attending the remaining two free Hebrew courses at Nessah should contact: 310-273-2400.
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November 1, 2007 | 12:30 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Several weeks ago following the publication of my article regarding the extravagant spending by local Iranian Jews on their weddings, members of the community have engaged in a rare but important dialogue concerning this issue. While it’s flattering to me that the story has really circulating through e-mail, what I applaud is the courage of young Iranian Jews to openly speak to their parents about having smaller and less expensive weddings.
I personally have received both praise and insults from various individuals for shedding new light on this pressing topic. While the comments do not really make a difference to me, I’m glad to see a discussion in the community about our weddings getting out of hand. Typically issues such as expensive parties, pre-martial sexual relations, drug abuse, spousal abuse, and other sensitive topics are “hush hush” in the Iranian Jewish community. There’s been a shroud of silence because of the stigma attached to these hot button issues. For too long members of our community have been too ashamed or frightened to talk about these crises and I’m glad to see that slowly changing.
The feedback from couples to my wedding story has also been tremendous and unique altogether. For instance, I was recently informed that one engaged Iranian Jewish couple kept putting off plans for their wedding because of their families fighting over the number of guests. Finally one weekend, the couple spontaneously invited both of their parents to a trip to Las Vegas and—four hours later the couple and their parents found themselves in a Vegas synagogue with a rabbi marrying the two love birds! The parents were shocked beyond words and worried about what to say to their respective families upon returning to L.A. Well in the end, everything turned out fine as the would-be guests were informed of the Vegas incident and the couple ended up donating some of the money set aside for their wedding to a charity in Israel. To me, this was a brave move by this Iranian Jewish couple and my hope is that more couples will stand up to their parents and families when it comes to their weddings.
For the record, I can understand the tremendous pressure young Iranian Jewish couples feel to please their parents when it comes to their weddings. Yes, we love and respect our parents. We also do want to let them down because we know the sacrifices many of them made by leaving their lives behind Iran so that we could enjoy freedom and better opportunities in the U.S. Yet at the same time, the sad reality is that we not longer live in Iran and cannot afford to invite so many guests. While it was possible for different reasons for extended families and friends to be invited to weddings in Iran, today in America it is just not logistically and financially possible to do the same. Besides the $100,000 to $300,000 that some Iranian Jewish families spend on one night of partying could be better used as a down payment for a house for the newlyweds!
We as younger Iranian Jews really need to outreach and communicate this key message better to our relatives who have such high expectations of being invited to every single party or gathering nowadays. For those who don’t know what to say, the simple answers is; “we love you guys, this is not personal, but the family has gotten too large and we cannot have a big wedding or bar mitzvah or brit milah party, etc.” Now if your relatives choose to cut ties with you and throw a fit because of your choice to have a small celebration, then perhaps you’re better off without them. Those who really respect and love you will respect your decision and wish you all the best regardless of being invited.
Keep your comments coming and keep the discussion alive on this topic…only then will enough folks from within the community with common sense realize how utterly ridiculous it is to spend extravagantly for one night of a wedding!
October 30, 2007 | 10:08 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Villaraigosa’s staff have indicated that Nahai will focus on renewable energy programs and modernize the reliability of water and electricity in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles DWP is the nation’s largest public utility with a $6.16 billion annual budget and more than 8,000 employees. Nahai was elected as President of the L.A. DWP Commission in September 2006 and one of his last votes on the DWP Commission was to support the first electricity rate increase in 15 years. The measure must now be approved by the L.A. City Council and Mayor. The DWP board under Nahai’s leadership also approved increasing residential water rates by about $1 per month, beginning on July 1 in both 2008 and 2009.
This new position is significant in that Nahai becomes one of only two Iranian Jews currently serving in local government in Southern California. Nahai’s involvement in this local government post would indeed been a rare achievement for the Iranian Jewish community which had never been involved in political office in Iran. Nahai has been one of the few politically active members of the local Iranian Jewish community and I have interviewed him on a number of occassions. During his campaigning on behalf of John Kerry in 2004, Nahai spoke at a number of community venues and also on KIRN 670 AM, the local Persian language radio station. More importantly, Nahai was key in campaigning and helping with fundraising efforts in the larger Iranian community on behalf of Villaraigosa during the 2005 mayoral race. Political activism is a fairly new phenomenon for Iranian Jewish immigrants who, for more than 2,000 years in Iran, were generally denied voting rights and the right to partake in political activities. My 2005 article in the L.A. Jewish Journal explored the Iranian Jewish community’s growing interest and involvement in local politics.
Indeed, Nahai is no novice when it comes to environmental issues as he practices environmental law as a Century City attorney and has worked on the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. In January 2005, Nahai was reappointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for an unprecedented third term on the Water Quality Control that overseas water quality in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. In addition, he currently serves as vice chairman of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission. Last but not least, Nahai is married to the acclaimed Iranian Jewish author Gina Nahai.
October 29, 2007 | 12:01 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
The High Court of Israel announced that on Tuesday it will hold a hearing to review six petitions against the plea bargain former Israeli President Moshe Katsav made with the government regarding a criminal probe for his alleged sexual misconduct and other crimes. The Association of Women’s Support Groups in Israel as well as other organizations have been furious over a decision in late June by Israeli Attorney General Menahem Mazuz to offered to drop all charges and suspend any prison time for Katsav. Mazuz offered the deal citing a lack of evidence in the case, on the condition that Katsav would plead guilty to sexual harassment and resign his post as president.
Katsav, who had originally defended himself against the allegations of sexual misconduct, was mocked in the world media over the case. He was also embarrassed for pleading guilty in the Iranian Jewish community in the U.S.—the group of his main supporters, as he hails from an Iranian Jewish ancestry. My article in the L.A. Jewish Journal covered the shock Southern California Iranian Jews felt after Katsav agreed to plead guilty and resigned his post. Katsav’s ascension to the presidency eight years ago marked the first time an Iranian Jew was elected to such a high political office in any government. The achievement served as a source of pride for many Iranian Jews worldwide. Yet the community really turned their backs on Katsav after this scandal broke out.
Many average folks and other Jews are unaware of the tremendous impact shame and embarrassment have on an individual living in the Iranian Jewish community. Since the Iranian Jewish community is so tight knitt and close, everyone is held to a high standard not to let any of their friends and family down. In a way, many Iranian Jews look down upon anyone from among their ranks for their shortcomings and this rejection can almost be more painful than any kind of physical punishment. I can say for certain that the embarrassment and rejection Katsav has encountered from his own community must be unbearable, especially after he rose to such a high ranking in Israeli society. Now I have not passed judgment on Katsav regarding this case nor am I a supporter of Katsav. Yet as a neutral journalist, I can say for certain that the Israeli groups’ decisions to drag on Katsav’s case in the High Court is not beneficial to anyone. If they want Katsav to go to jail, he’s already suffering a worse isolation after being dejected by many of his friends and supporters in the Iranian Jewish community. If they want Katsav to suffer financially, he has already lost his government pension after pleading guilty and his entire savings to pay for this attorneys. Lastly, he has received immense and irreversible damage to his reputation. Their decisions to continue fighting this case only takes up the High Court’s precious time on a ridiculous case where the alleged wrongdoer has been punished and continues to suffer in the public eye.
Instead of beating a dead horse in this instance, those who are upset with Katsav’s plea bargain should channel their energies into something productive. For instance they could begin an educational campaign to help end sexual harassment in the work place and in government. Worst of all, keeping this scandal alive in the media is only serving to maintain the black eye Israel received to its image in the world. Israel’s enemies like the Iranian mullahs and Hamas are cheering at this infighting among Jews and they are pleased to see that the Israeli society’s real focus has been turned away from them. The purpose of plea bargains are to expedite justice and to allow the court to move onto other pressing issues, so the High Court in this instance should reject the calls for the plea bargain to be set aside and move on!
October 25, 2007 | 9:11 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
“What are those delicious dumplings that look like matzah-balls?” an American rabbi inquired of me recently. “You’ve got to find me someone who has the recipe for this food, it’s one of the best I’ve ever had in my life!” The rabbi could not stop asking me questions about some mouth-watering “dumplings” he had recently eaten at the home an Iranian Jewish family. I immediately knew he was talking about the famous “Gondi” dumplings. He never had this special dish before because it is exclusively prepared by Iranian Jews in the home and rarely if ever offered in Persian restaurants.
Gondi, (pronounced go-n-dee) is perhaps the single most unique food to the Jews of Iran and is on the dinner table of most Iranian Jewish families for their Shabbat dinners. Prepared as dumplings that are cooked and served in chicken soup, Gondi is the traditional side dish or appetizer Iranian Jews enjoy along with a Middle Eastern bread as well as raw green vegetables including mint, watercress, and basil. It is typically served in a hot bowl of chicken soup with some families also adding in potatoes and a turkey leg. I’ve come to realize that the preparation of Gondi is not only a labor of love for Iranian Jewish mothers but enjoying the dish is always a time for families to gather and in a way reconnect with their past. Over the years, the vast majority of Iranian American Jews have informed me that Gondi first originated in the Jewish ghetto in Tehran many years ago—exactly when, no one knows. Now before any Jews coming from a city either than Tehran gets upset with me, I must mention the fact that Jews from the other Iranian cities also claim to be the first inventors of Gondi. In any case, it was a special food prepared only for Shabbat dinner because its main ingredient of ground lamb or chicken was expensive. While Iranian Jews have over the centuries eaten the same types of foods as other Iranians, Gondi has been one of their few culinary innovations that they can claim their own.
Now if you ask older Iranian Jewish women what the ingredients of Gondi are, they will give you almost 100 different variations of the same ingredients. To the best of my research the following is a recipe for a serving of eight Gondi dumplings:
4 medium onions, peeled and quartered
1½ pound skinless, boneless chicken breast
8 ounces or about 2¼ cups of ground chickpeas
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper,
1½ teaspoon cardamom
The preparation of Gondi can be tricky but first the onions are very finely minced by hand or thoroughly blended in a food processor. Then ground chickpeas or chickpea flour is added to the mixture and hand mixed with the onions. Next, chicken breasts or turkey breasts are blended or ground, to have the same texture as ground beef. Now some folks who prefer the taste of veal will use a combination of ground veal and ground chicken breasts. In any case, the ground chicken is added to the onions and oil, salt, pepper, and cardamom are added to the mixture. Some individuals will also add turmeric and cumin to the mixture.
Again all these ingredients should be hand mixed very well, then water should be added to make a dough-like mixture. The mixture should then be refrigerate until well-chilled for about two to three hours. Next, when the chilled mixture is removed, the chef preparing the dish should dip their hands in cold water and divide the mixture into small portions. Each portion is then fashioned into balls about two inches in diameter. Finally the dumplings should be gently added one by one to a chicken soup that has been brought to a boil. The pot cooking the dish should be covered and left to simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes.
Preparing Gondi is no easy task and more often than not, amateur cooks fail in their first several attempts. Nevertheless, practice makes perfect and overtime anyone who is able to prepare a delicious tasting Gondi dish is typically given high praise in any Iranian Jewish family. My only hope is that younger Iranian Jews living outside of Iran will continue cooking this amazing dish not only because it’s delicious, but because it’s a part of our heritage that needs to be kept alive. Unfortunately since Gondi is not widely available to the general public and not cooked in restaurants, the older generation of parents and grandparents have a responsibility to pass on the recipes and techniques of cooking Gondi.
I bid you happy eating and encourage you to ask your Iranian Jewish friends to indulge you with Gondi the next you visit them for Friday night dinner!
October 24, 2007 | 12:58 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
“It sucks being Iranian these days,” a Jewish comedian of Iranian heritage Dan Ahdoot jokes in his stand-up act. “People ask me the dumbest questions; “Yo, Dan, level with me. Are they making the nuclear weapons or what?” Like there’s this big e-mail list that goes out every month to anyone who’s Iranian, that reads, “Greetings from Tehran. Everything is going according to plan. Soon all the Americans will die! And now birthdays: Mahmoud from Virginia is celebrating his 34th!’”
It’s no secret that Iranian Jews living in America have attained substantial success as doctors, lawyers, real estate developers, professors and entrepreneurs. The final frontier in careers that we have yet to conquer is in the entertainment field—and Dan Ahdoot is slowly but surely making a name for himself and our community in the industry. I first interviewed the Long Island native two years ago for an article about Iranian Jews getting into the entertainment business. I was literally in tears laughing at his hilarious routine which is based on growing up as a child of Iranian Jewish immigrants in America. I think his comic take on the challenges of trying to please his Iranian Jewish parents who have high expectations of their children not only resonates with younger Iranian Jews but other young Americans. Though not necessarily for the reasons he outlines in his onstage routine, life has not been without its
difficulties for Ahdoot. In 2000, after graduating pre-med from Johns Hopkins University, he was set to enter medical school. But before he could even crack open an anatomy book, he decided to change course and take a shot at becoming a professional comedian. He took this brave step despite the opposition he faced from his family. So far, the gamble has paid off and Ahdoot has achieve some success after becoming a finalist on Season 2 of the NBC reality show “Last Comic Standing”. He has opened for such well known comedians as Lewis Black, Jay Mohr, and Dave Chappelle. He was awarded first prize at the Philadelphia Comedy Competition in 2003 and the 2002 first prize at the NYC Triad Comedy Competition. He currently tours colleges around the country sharing his humor and I recently had a chance to catch up with him about his career:
What’s been going on with your stand-up career since we last spoke?
My work at the colleges have really taken on a life of its own. For two years in a row now I’ve become the highest booked comedian at colleges across the country. So that’s really taken off and been good to me. I’ve signed on with new managers that are very successful in L.A. I finished writing for a show for MTV called “Short Circuit” with Nick Cannon and its airing now. I’ve been traveling non-stop across the country and I did a really cool benefit for a charity called “Patha Community” up in San Francisco. It’s a charity for community services for the Iranian community in the Silicon Valley. A lot of corporations are hiring me to do shows.
How has your stand-up material you’ve been doing changed? Are you still focusing on your life as an Iranian American Jew?
I think that as long as Ahmadinejad continues to say stupid things, I’ll have a wealth of material. I don’t know if my material is centering around the Iranian stuff anyone, I’m writing more about myself as an individual. I consider myself a comic who happens to be Iranian and Jewish not an Iranian Jewish comic, I think that’s important because a lot of people are identifying themselves by race as opposed to who they really are.
Your family has been supportive of your career as a stand-up, unlike many Iranian Jewish parents who discourage their kids from getting into entertainment. Are they still on board with your career choice or have things changed?
No, they’re still on board, they realize that I’m still doing well thank god. Now they’re nudging me to get married, it’s getting on my nerves that my job causes me to be out of town all the time and I can’t meet up with any of the “khasetgars” (Persian word for a person who wants to get married and goes through a formal courtship). No khasetgar action going on in north-western Missouri where I am now!
How do you feel about young Iranian Jews who look up to you as a source of inspiration for not getting into a traditional career in medicine or law?
I still feel that there’s still a big gap in our community of what people want to do and what they end up doing. It doesn’t take much to be an inspiration to the Persian community—if you do what you want to do instead of what your parents want you to do, you’re suddenly an inspiration. I don’t feel like I’m that inspirational, but think it strikes a cord with them when you’re doing something that you love and you’re successful at. A lot of people in our community think that’s impossible to do something you love and be successful at it. They think you’re either going to be poor doing something you love or rich doing something you don’t like. As a community we’re so successful in everything we get into medicine or the law, that people fear that (the arts) is because no one has really given it a shot. I feel that many Iranian Jews that are getting into the arts, are realizing that they can use that know-how, that drive that we use in business in show business as well.
What reaction do average folks in the Iranian Jewish community have when you tell them that you’ve chosen a career in stand-up?
I feel that a lot of people in the community don’t take what I do seriously. They think it’s a joke— no pun intended. It’s funny because Americans who book me, they treat it with so much more respect.
So what is it really like working on the road constantly as a stand-up?
It’s become more of a job, which is really my dream come true. Last night I was in Kentucky, I did a show till 10 o’clock and a meet and greet till 11. I went to bed, then got up at five o’clock in the morning, drove two hours to the airport, got a plane to Missouri and here I am exhausted in the hotel room talking to you. I have to be on stage again in about an hour and be funny and cheery again. I’m on the road now doing 70 colleges a semester in three months, so it gets really exhausting after a while. But that’s what I’m in it for and I get exhilaration when a crowd gets my jokes.
October 22, 2007 | 10:20 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, (IFCJ), a Chicago-based charity group is promising $10,000 to nearly 20,000 Jews living in Iran to immigrate to Israel. The non-profit currently provides millions of dollars in donations from evangelical Christians to Israel every year and its leaders have said they are seeking to get Iran’s Jews out of the country for fear of the danger they face while living in Iran. “Is this not similar to the situation in Nazi Germany in the late ‘30s, where they (Jews) also felt they could weather the storm?”, said IFCJ head Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein in a recent AP interview. “Instead, six million were killed in the Holocaust, which Ahmadinejad has called a “myth”.
Eckstein said his group has raised nearly $1.4 million for this project. They have increased the amount of money offered to Iranian Jews who immigrate to Israel from $5,000 to $10,000 because since the beginning of the year the group has only been able to entice 82 Jews out of Iran. What’s interesting about the IFCJ is that they have well known infomercials that regularly run on American television networks appealing to evangelical Christians to donate to their efforts to bring out Jews from the former Soviet Union to Israel. Today they are using Radio Israel broadcasted in Persian language into Iran to spread their $10,000 offer to the country’s Jews.
On a regular basis I have many non-Iranian Jews ask me why Iran’s Jews do not leave the country. Iranian Jews who regularly travel between Iran and the U.S. have informed me that the Jews do not want to leave Iran for two primary reasons. They are either too wealthy and do not want to give up their easy living or uneducated and without any skills available to them to earn a decent living if they leave the country. However, the best response to why Iran’s Jews do not leave the country was given to me in my L.A. Jewish Journal article earlier this year:
Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist and director of the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, said a substantial number of Jews have stayed in Iran because they feel they will face economic and cultural challenges if they leave the country.
“Some successful and resourceful Jews [in Iran] have either a false sense of security or are willing to take risks, hoping to outlast the regime,” said Nikbakht, “while some have converted to Islam or other ‘safer’ religions such as Christianity to help them survive.”
While that the IFCJ may be doing is a noble cause because the Jews of Iran live in potential danger from the regime that might turn on them, their efforts in this instance may also indirectly be feeding into the hands of the Iranian government. The regime in Tehran loves to use stories about offers to lure the Jews out of Iran because it gives them a chance to spread their propaganda about how “peace loving” and “tolerant” Iran since non of its Jews want to leave the country. I do know that since the 1980’s there have been quiet and successful efforts by various Jewish groups in the U.S. to help slowly bring out Jews living in Iran. But again these groups have accomplished this work without the media spotlight, so as not to create a public relations fiasco for the Iranian government. The Iranian regime clearly does not want to get rid of their Jewish population because they can use them for both propaganda purposes and as potential hostages if Israel were to attack their country. The regime’s radical Islamic leaders know that the best way to scare off the Jews in Iran is to begin executing them or randomly taking away their assets—and this is exactly what they successfully accomplished in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These actions caused a mass exodus of Jews to flee Iran for Israel, Europe and the U.S., as a result the regime was able to cash in on millions of dollars worth of Jewish assets left behind.
Historically, we must not forget that the Jews have lived for more than 2,000 years in Iran dating back to the times of Cyrus the Great. For centuries they set roots in Iran and remained there despite facing mass conversions and constant harassment by the Muslim majority. So for this reason it might be difficult to break these ancient ties overnight.
On a final note, this story about inciting the Jews to leave Iran reminds me of a popular street slogan spread in Iran during the 1979 Revolution. An Iranian Muslim gentleman recently shared it with me; “When the Ayatollah (Khomeini) arrives, first we will banish all of the Armenians back to Russia, then we will take money away from the Jews and finally we will execute all the Bahia’s!”
October 20, 2007 | 11:19 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
News media outlets from New York to New Dehli for the past month have been a buzz and praising the content of the latest teleivision drama series “Zero Degree Turn”, produced by Iran’s state-run network. The show has been hailed by reporters worldwide as sympathic 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. To the contrary my own personal research has revealed that “Zero Degree Turn” in no way sends a positive message about the Shoah or Jews and that many publications including the Wall Street Journal failed to properly review and translate the program with the help of experts. My investigation of the new Iranian program with the help of experts fluent in the Persian language revealed that “Zero Degree Turn” is nothing more than the same old anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propoganda put out by the Iranian government.
Iranian Jewish activist Bijan Khalili and researcher Dr. Fariborz Mokhtari exposed just a handful of the program’s hateful messages and inaccuracies in my latest L.A. Jewish Journal article on “Zero Degree Turn”:
“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.
It’s quite sad when reputable publications and news outlets in the U.S. and Europe are too lazy or close-minded to do their research and dig deeper into a story regarding Iran before jumping to conclusions. These editors and reporters failed to ask the most important question before filing their stories on “Zero Dgree Turn”; since when has the Iranian government put out programing that was supposedly “positive about Jews”? Never, so some red flags should have gone up for them. On a final note, what is even more disturbing is the fact that millions of Iranians living in Iran who are watching this very popular show are indirectly being brainwashed with the anti-Semitism protrayed in this program.