Often times I am approached by total strangers in the Iranian Jewish community here in Los Angeles who feel the urge to share their personal family’s stories of tragic anti-Semitism dating back to the earlier part of the 20th century. These stories are both heart wrenching and historical but not really newsworthy enough for me write an article about. Nevertheless, I’d like to share one special story I was recently told with the names of the parties changed because the person who told the story to me requested anonymity for his family.
Hamid P. a Los Angeles area Iranian Jewish businessman approached me at a local Jewish fundraiser and was telling me the story of his great grandmother Sara. “She lived in the Jewish ghetto in Tehran nearly 100 years ago with my great grandfather Asher and I was told by my grandfather that his mother was absolutely gorgeous,” said Hamid. The couple had only one son age 9 and made a meager living but were happy with little they had. One day, Sara ventured out of her home to purchase goods and was covered in traditional chador or an open cloak worn by Iranian women. After hours had passed since Sara had left, her husband Asher grew worried and nervous. Sara was not the type of woman to go out for long periods of time and everyone including the other Jews in the community grew frightened by the news of her disappearance. Finally after many days of no news, Asher was finally informed by members of the Jewish community that his wife had been kidnapped by local Muslim men under the direction of their wealthy Muslim boss who had been admiring Sara for a while. “This Muslim man had fallen in love with Sara and decided to just take her against her will and there was nothing anyone could do to save her,” said Hamid. “She was prisoner in this strange man’s house and was sexually and physically abused during that time”. The Jews living in Iran at that time could not seek justice nor help from the authorities who were a part of the country’s Muslim majority because the Jews had no rights and were considered inferior to Muslims. So Asher had no way to save his wife, said Hamid.
Just as Hamid was about to continue the story of his great grandmother, his cousin who was an older woman in her 70’s suddenly stepped into our private conversation and snapped at Hamid. “What the hell are you doing tell him our family’s private story?!” she said. “That story you’re telling him is hush hush and a source of shame for us!”. Hamid’s great grandmother’s story had been kept a secret and was not spoken about even after a century because it was not only a source of pain for the family but also a source of shame since Sara was taken away from her family. Hamid’s family members years ago were also likely worried that negative gossip may brew in the Jewish community in Iran about Sara that may have hurt her family’s reputation.
I smiled at the older woman who had chastised Hamid and told her that she did not have to worry about her family’s reputation because Sara, her child and the others involved in the incident had long passed away in Iran. She looked at me in shock and was unable to respond. It was so taboo to openly discuss the story for years and years that this older woman had naturally brought up her defense mechanisms to keep the story under wraps.
Getting back to the story…Sara was abused and finally fell ill while being held captive in the Muslim man’s home. Her brother was informed of her whereabouts many months later when she was very ill. He was permitted by Sara’s captor to visit her. With great difficulty, Sara’s brother convinced the Muslim man that holding his sister was unjust and to release her because she had little time to live. Finally Sara was taken home and reunited with her husband and young son. “A few weeks later Sara died after she got her final request to see her son before dying,” said Hamid.
I share this very sad personal story with the readers of this blog to offer a better understanding of some of the deep scares Iranian Jews still carry after centuries of living under difficult conditions in Iran. Even after generations have passed on, Hamid’s story is relevant today as Jews still live in Iran and face similar danger to their lives from the Iran’s radical Islamic government.