Over the course of my experience in interacting Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community, I have found there are really two types of “community leaders and volunteers”. There are those who are affluent, flaunt their wealth and claim to be leaders but really do nothing more than attend community meetings—then there are those who are truly remarkable jewels in the community by going above and beyond the call of duty in their volunteerism and seek no recognition. Dr. Azizeh Bral , a 90-something great-grandmother who lives in the Wilshire-corridor area belongs to the second group of amazing community servants.
On May 27th more than 100 local Iranian Jews gathered at the Iranian American Jewish Federation’s synagogue at Temple Beth El in West Hollywood to honor and recognize Dr. Bral’s continuous, unselfish and life-changing support of her community in Iran. I met this remarkable woman last month while researching my recent article on the late Habib Elghanian, the Jewish community leader who was executed in 1979 in Iran. Despite her old age, I found Dr. Bral to be very friendly and mentally sharp but unwilling to share the intimate details of what she had done on behalf of the Jewish community while she was living in Iran. During my interview with her I sensed that she did not want to open up about what she had done to help Iran’s Jews because her humble character and her desire to remain quiet about many sensitive community work. Luckily I had interviewed others in the local Iranian Jewish community who in the past revealed some of Dr. Bral’s amazing achievements and good deeds over the years. For example, the late Elias Eshaghian, the former head of the Alliance Israelite Universelle, French Jewish schools in Iran, informed me that Dr. Bral was key in raising funds and finding housing for poverty-stricken but bright Jewish students in Iran who wanted to get a college education in Tehran but could not afford to do so. Dr. Bral was also known for literally going out to the Jewish ghetto in Tehran frequently during the weeks to leave food items with poverty-stricken families who could no afford to buy the basics to eat. Now many may ask, so what’s so special about this woman who did hands-on philanthropic work In Iran? Well, Dr. Azizeh Bral is also the first Jewish woman in Iran and among the first group of women in Iran to attend and graduate from university! This was an amazing accomplishment and honor for women and the Jewish community as women before this time were barred by the government and society from seeking higher education. Most times women in Iran seven decades ago had to marry in their late-teens early and help raise a family while their husbands went to work. So Dr. Bral broke some barriers in her time and her education enabled her to give back to those less fortunate in Iran’s tight-knit Jewish community.
In essence, Dr. Bral was and still is the best example of what a select group of very special Jews in Iran did to help raise their community from poverty and a lower standard of living.
She always put community FIRST
and her own interests lasts! She was not interested in receiving accolades from others then but doing good deeds for the reason that it was the right thing to do. In my opinion, Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community needs to learn from folks like Dr. Azizeh Bral and get involved in real community activism in order to truly help those in need. Unfortunately many of them nowadays just show up at social fundraisers and pat each other on the backs for attending meaningless local meetings in order to show off their “philanthropy”.