Professor Goel Cohan is perhaps one of the Iranian Jewish community’s few distinguished and respected writers and historians, having authored countless articles and to date three Persian language books about the lives of Iranian Jewry in the early part of the 20th century. I caught up with the London-based Cohan during his visit to Southern California on June 16th for the launching of his latest book “Upon the Wings of Wisdom” at the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills. Cohan shed light on this book and why older folks in the Iranian Jewish community enjoy his historically accurate storytelling books.
In addition to the remarkable historical facts laid out in his books, Cohan’s writing style of “research based memoir-writing” is unique because he writes his books in the first-person speaking to the reader as if he were the individual the memoir is about. For example, his latest book “Upon the Wings of Wisdom” is indeed a memoir of the life of the late “Hacham Yedidia Shofet”, the spiritual and community leader of Iran’s Jews for nearly 60 years. Yet when one reads the book, it reads as if Shofet is recalling his life and what transpired for Jews living in the Iranian city of Kashan nearly 100 years ago. “This is a new methodology of historical analysis by research and a role playing personality from that time period,” said Cohan when I inquired about his writing style. “About 10 to 15 percent of the words Hacham Yedidia uses in the book are accurate words that cam from his mouth”.
What is even more remarkable of “Upon the Wings of Wisdom” is that Cohan spent four years of intensive work reviewing historical records in Switzerland, France, the U.K., the U.S. and even in Iran that were used in the book. His travels took him to the city of Kashan in Iran and even to the archives of the Iranian parliament to uncover hard facts about Shofet’s life, work and the conditions of Jews living in Kashan. Likewise Cohan conducted two dozen interviews for the book to assure accuracy. What I admire about Cohan is his dedication to remaining true only to the historically documented facts about the subject matters in his books and not being influenced by community members.
Interestingly, the main contingency of Iranian Jews in attendance for this book launching where older folks from the community. I did not see more than two or three younger individuals inside Nessah’s main sanctuary of Cohan’s presentation. For me, this was indeed heartbreaking because books like “Upon the Wings of Wisdom” need to be translated into English for individuals like myself who cannot read the Persian language but have a great interest in the subject matter. We as young Iranian Jewish professionals need to know what our ancestors endured in Iran to appreciate our Jewish roots and preserve our traditions. Cohan has assured me that he has undertaken efforts to eventually translate this book into English.
“Upon the Wings of Wisdom” is the third in a series of research based memoir-type books Cohan has written over the years. His first book was called “A Tale of Culture” which covered the life of the late Jewish teacher Mashalah Farivar and the lives of Jews during the early 20th century living in the Iranian city of Shiraz. His second book completed in 2008 was called “A Follower of Culture” and was a memoir regarding the life of the late Elias Eshaghian, the director of the Alliance Israelite Jewish schools based in the Iranian cities of Tehran, Yazd, Esfahan and Sanadaj.
The following are just some snapshots of the evening’s photos I captured…