Jewish Journal

New history book on Iranian Jewry should be in English!

by Karmel Melamed

January 18, 2008 | 12:55 am

The above Persian language television commercial is to advertise the release of a new book about the lives and history of Iran’s Jews during the 20th century. I typically do not reflect much on material produced in Persian language about Iranian Jewry, because I like many younger Iranian Jews, am unable to read such books. I found it substantially ironic how the commercial advertising this Persian language book was placed on “Youtube.com” which typically appeals to those who are fluent in English and not Persian. The commercial features the book’s author Dr. Heshmatollah Kermanshahchi, the former treasurer for the central Jewish organization in Iran. He has also been a long standing community activist and leader in the local Iranian American Jewish Federation.

I have met Kermanshahchi on a number of occasions and have respect for him, but find that the release of his new historical book in Persian language to be a horrible choice. Typically history books are complied for the primary purpose of educating younger generations of people about past events and enlightening their minds. Yet when a substantial portion of young Iranian Jewry living in the U.S. are not fluent in the Persian language, books like the ones written by Kermanshahchi are useless! While one can argue that Kermanshahchi’s book was marketed toward older individuals including parents and grandparents—it’s long term legacy, like most other history books is to reveal insights about Iranian Jews for future generations. But when not many young people in the community can access the information contained in this very important text, what long term benefits does it offer? Unfortunately none.

Now I know many individuals in the local Iranian Jewish community may brush my critic of this book not being in English aside by stating that it can be translated down the line for younger generations. However, wouldn’t Kermanshahchi and other older Iranian Jewish community activists want to engage and educate those young people today? Wouldn’t publishing this book in English potentially capture the hearts and minds of younger Iranian Jews today who are unaware of their history and heritage? Kermanshahchi’s book should have been published in English today so it could be passed onto teens and young professionals who are still impressionable. By the time today’s young Iranian American Jews are in their 40’s and 50’s it may be too late to engage them in social issues when they were not given this education or community background at a younger age. In an era when Iranian Jews in the U.S., like other American Jews are leaving the faith in large numbers and inter-marrying with non-Jews, this community needs to make a more conserted efforts to educate it’s youth! When certain members of the Iranian Jewish community are still living with the same mentality they brought out from Iran, the younger generations suffer in certain ways.

How else will little Johnny or Sally know about the anti-Semitism their grandparents faced in the Jewish ghetto in Tehran? How else will young Iranian Jews discover the hardships their families endured by leaving behind their fortunes in Iran during the 1979 Islamic revolution? The only solution is to offer oral education and books in English which can be understood by the younger generation who will no doubt embrace their heritage when they learn about it. English fiction and non-fiction books written by Iranian Jewish authors Gina Nahai and Roya Hakakian about the experiences of Iranian Jews have captured the attention of younger Iranian Jews living in the U.S. The books written by these authors with regards to life in Iran for Jews have been quite popular across the board for young individuals and adults in the Iranian American Jewish community. Their books are proof that our youth are interested in learning about Iranian Jewry but need such information be easily accessible to them.

What’s really funny about this book is the fact that the Persian language commercial advertising it’s release was placed on the English language Youtube.com website! The last time I checked Youtube was by in large viewed by folks under the age of 35… and if young Iranian Jews can’t understand the commerical they are most likely not going to purchase the book either. So placing this video/commercial on the web is ultimately a fruitless marketing effort.

In closing, I do applaud Kermanshahchi and Bijan Khalili—the publisher of this new book on contemporary Iranian Jewish history, because they have at least recorded our community’s history in some format. Nevertheless, it would better suit Iranian Jewry if such books in the future were also published in English.

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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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