Jewish Journal

Iran’s 1979 Revolution and greed tear one Iranian Jewish family apart

by Karmel Melamed

April 14, 2008 | 12:05 am

“Come closer young man,” whispered an older Iranian Jewish gentleman to me in Persian language late last week. I was visiting one of the many Iranian synagogues in the Los Angeles area and this man in his early 70’s had managed to corner me before I had left the place. “You’re the one who writes for the newspaper, aren’t you?” he inquired with a raised eyebrow. I replied yes and he pulled me aside saying “I’ve got a story for you but you cannot publish any of the names I’m going to saying.” Being the curious journalist, I nodded my head in agreement and the story he told me about his late brother brought me to tears. The following is his story but have change the names and identities of the parties involved.

The 70-something gentleman was named Hamid and I realized he wanted to tell me his brother Jacob’s story in order get rid of painful memories that had been bottled up inside of him. Jacob had recently passed away from a sudden stroke at the age of 67 while living in Europe. Jacob’s story begins with his birth in 1940 to a fairly well off Jewish family that had left the Jewish ghetto in Tehran and was living in a nice neighborhood after his father had made a sizable fortune importing medical goods. While his mother was giving birth to Jacob in one room, her 18-year-old first-born son, Simon was dying of cancer in the adjacent room. The young Jacob was initially not nursed by his mother because of her tremendous grief but by his elder sister who had also just had a child.

Nevertheless the young boy grew up and was bright enough to be sent to Europe (I have not indicated the specific country for privacy reasons) for his college education. For the first few years he received monthly funds from his father in Iran while he studied civil engineering in a European university. Unfortunately during his studies his father suddenly died of a heart attack and the funds stopped. He was forced to work odd jobs at night and go to school during the day in order to be able to complete his education. At times Jacob did not have enough money for food, so he ate the food remaining in people’s plates at the restaurants he worked at. “He had a drive to achieve success no matter what the obstacles were thrown his way,” said Hamid. “He finally earned a doctorate in civil engineering and was invited back to Iran by the late Shah’s wife”. Now in his early 30’s and armed with a high level education, in Iran, Jacob quickly earned a good amount of funds as Iran was undergoing massive modernization of its infrastructure during the late 1960’s and 1970’s. All was going well for Jacob who had even married and was trying to begin a family with his new bride.

Yet Hamid told me that Jacob’s life during the last 30 years was tragically painful as a result of many factors including Iran’s 1979 Revolution. With the political upheaval in Iran in late 1978 and early 1979, Jacob like many thousands of Jews living in Iran was forced to leave behind his properties and asests. All of the years of hard work he had dedicated to securing a comfortable life for himself after experiencing poverty as a young man, seemed to be worthless to Jacob who had everything suddenly taken away from him by Iran’s radical Islamic regime. The stress of loosing his life’s savings and earnings was too much for Jacob who feld with his wife to Europe. On top of this heartache, his older brother Michael in Iran who he had entrusted to gather what was left of Jacob’s funds, decided to embezzle Jacob’s money. When Jacob confronted his older brother about the embezzlement, Michael bad mouthed Jacob and shrugged off the accusations. “After Michael had stolen his money, Jacob was totally devastated to the point where he said he no longer had an elder brother and cut off all ties with our family,” said Hamid.

And so my friends Jacob lived in state of mild depression during the last 30 years and unable to overcome the tragedy he was faced with because of the revolution and because of his own brother’s greed. Jacob and his wife were never able to have children, but he nevertheless managed to earn a living in Europe. “Jacob was never quite the same after all what happened with Michael and the revolution—he refused to come to America to visit the rest of the family because of the shame he felt,” Hamid said. Finally the years of depression and self hate had taken their toll on Jacob who died last month not only from a stroke but also from a broken heart.

I’ve decided to share Jacob’s story with the readers of this blog not to invoke sympathy for Jacob or hatred for his brother Michael. My overall objective is not to cause you to cry for Jacob, but for members of the Iranian Jewish community to rethink their behavior when it comes to matters of business and money. Jacob’s story is not the first I have heard concerning money where families have been torn apart and brothers not speaking to one another because of business problems for countless years. This heartless behavior must stop and other family members, if not friends. should get involved to right the wrongs that have occurred. Lawsuits are not always the answers to our community’s problems concerning money. Rather families must evaluate the potential negative impact of their behaviors. The 1979 Iranian revolution was indeed a great calamity for Iranian Jewry and we cannot do anything more about it as it has long past. However, we in the Iranian Jewish community can set a better standard for ourselves when it comes to our business and financial dealings.

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Karmel Melamed is an internationally-published freelance journalist based in Southern California.

Since 2000, Melamed has specialized in covering the growing influential...

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