Jewish Journal

L.A.‘s Iranian Jews still frightened to open up about social problems

by Karmel Melamed

November 15, 2007 | 11:16 am

It’s been nearly 30 years since Iranian Jews arrived in the U.S. and many in the Southern California area are still frightened to publicly discuss serious problems within their families and the tight knit community. I have previous written about the taboo that exists within the community when it comes to talking about sensitive issues such as drug abuse, divorce, spousal abuse, fraud in business, pre-martial sex, etc. Yet this problem among local Iranian Jews of self censorship and real fear of talking about these important issues has still not been tackled by anyone in the community.

I am continuously talking to different community members and am approached frequently by parents. They share their social problems and are genuinely concerned for their children and families. They constantly ask me; “why don’t you write an article about such and such topic?” When I ask them to go on the record with me by using their names and sharing their stories, they immediately turn a pale white color and go quiet. I also receive the following responses; “Well can’t you write something without using our names?”, or “We have children that are of marrying age and we’re afraid of using our names because it might jeopardize our child’s chances of getting married with another Iranian Jew”, or “We work within this community and speaking about these issues on the record would jeopardize our business”.

One of the latest examples of a crisis in our community that has not been addressed has been alcohol abuse by underage drinkers at family parties. The owner of catering company that primary has Iranian Jewish clients recently told me that teens as young as 14 and 15 are drinking beer and hard liquor at open bars during their family parties. He refused to go on the record about this subject matter for fear that he may loose clients and even face criminal charges. He told me that family members frequently give teens liquor and the folks who have thrown the party are unaware of the potential criminal liability they face for allowing underage individuals to consume alcohol. Of course with no one in the local Iranian Jewish community having the courage to address this very serious issue in a public forum and with complete candor, this crisis continues. I for one can’t cover the topic as a reporter because almost everyone in the community refuses to go on the record.

As a journalist I have a responsibility to accurately report what is occurring in the community, but the role of changing our behavior and advocacy lies in the hands of the Iranian Jewish community in Southern California and New York. Our rabbis, synagogue leaders, and parents need to gather some courage, accept responsibility and tear down the taboo of not openly discussing certain topics. Yes, I can understand that many Iranian Jews do not want to put their dirty laundry out in public but our community cannot grow without acknowledging these serious issues and talking about them.

Until you all decide to show some bravery and use your names, my hands are tied!

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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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