Nearly 300 people packed a banquet hall in West Los Angeles’ Sinai Temple a few weeks ago for the launching of a new book, “From Laborer to Entrepeneur” complied and edited by Professor Goel Cohen who is perhaps one of the Iranian Jewish community’s few distinguished and respected writers and historians. The book is a biography and memoir of Iranian Jewish businessman and philanthropist, Jack Mahfar who is in his 80’s and resides in Geneva nowadays. Mahfar who obtained significant wealth in the pharmaceutical business in Iran as an importer of European drugs, also gave back to Iranians of various faiths. In addition Mahfar has indicated that proceeds from the sale of his biography will go to the non-profit “B’nai B’rith” organization.
Perhaps what is most remarkable about Cohen’s books is his signature “research based memoir-writing style” where he writes his books in the first-person speaking to the reader as if he were the individual the memoir is about and also includes in hard historical facts. In his latest book Cohen not only tells the life story of Mahfar, but he also weaves in detailed history about the lives of Jews from the Iranian city of Esfahan that he has painstakingly researched from historical, governmental and academic archives from around the world. “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. While his current book is in Persian language, he said there are plans to have the book translated into English and French as well. “From Laborer to Entrepeneur” is Cohen’s fourth installment of Persian language books about the lives of Iranian Jewry in the early part of the 20th century and his previous three other books have been widely received not only among his own Iranian Jewish community, but also used by scholars teaching literature and history in Iran’s universities today.
The May 12th event at Sinai Temple drew mostly older Iranian Jews from the Los Angeles area who still yearn for their happier days in Iran before the revolution and enjoy reading about the remarkable successes of once poverty stricken Jews like Mahfar who worked hard and became very affluent. Interestingly enough, I chatted with a number of older Iranian Jews who were born and raised in Esfahan and they shed light on their often difficult lives in the city’s Jewish ghetto that was know as “Joubareh”. The Jews of Esfahan— like Jews in many other Iranian cities during the centuries faced tremendous anti-Semitism, regular beatings and even horrid pogroms on occasion where many in the Shiite Islamic majority would try to force them to convert to Islam. My hope is that the younger generation on Iranian American Jews living in the U.S. will take the time to read about the difficulties their ancestors encountered in Iran in order to preserve and retain their Jewish identity. Likewise I believe the Iranian Jewish community here in Southern California needs to better fund scholars like Cohen who spend countless hours on their own, with limited funds tediously researching, writing and editing the history of our community. Where are the other Mahfar’s in the community who are willing to fund his worthy scholarly endeavor?
On an interesting side note, one of the speakers at the book signing event was the Chairman of the local Iranian American Jewish Federation, Dr. Kamran Beroukhim who shed light on the fact that Mafar was not only philanthropic to Jewish causes in Iran, but also to countless non-Jewish causes and needy individuals in Iran who were not Jews. The following is a portion of Beroukhim’s Persian language speech where he praises Mahfar for providing pharmaceuticals to one of the Tehran hospitals that was treating wounded individuals that had been protesting in the streets at the brink of the 1979 Iranian revolution:
“Upon the Wings of Wisdom” was 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 I captured…