Jewish Journal

Photo Essay: Behind the scenes with Elias Eshaghian

by Karmel Melamed

June 19, 2008 | 11:47 pm

Elias Eshaghian at AIU school event circa 1960’s

For me, often times reporting on the local Iranian American Jewish community is an uphill battle and a somewhat painful experience similar to receiving a root canal procedure. Yet every once in a while I come across a special story or individual in the community which makes the hardships of covering this beat seem very minor. Such has been the case since I first met and interviewed Mr. Elias Eshaghian. I had the rare honor of interviewing him for this blog last year which can be found here and I will get into the remarkable gifts of education this man has given Iranian Jewry during the 20th century. More importantly reflecting on Eshaghian’s personality and way of life— which many younger individuals in our community may not be aware of— is noteworthy to me.

Ever since I began reporting on Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community, I have probably met less than a handful of individuals in this community over the age of 70 who were friendly and welcoming to me. Mr. Elias Eshaghian is one of those very special individuals who not only understood my journalistic objectives in covering the Iranian Jews but more importantly did not bad-mouth my efforts in doing so like many other leaders from the community. As our friendship has grown over the past year, I have this man to be gentle, kind hearted, unselfish in his dedication to serving the community and open to helping the younger generation of Iranian Jews. Perhaps its his background as a professor that enables him to more easily relate to and support younger people. He does not seek the limelight nor does he flash his wealth unlike many of his counterparts and other middle-aged Iranian American Jewish leaders today. Unfortunately there are some leaders in the community today who are either self-appointed, believe themselves to be “god’s gift to humanity”, or not interested in helping the community but only care for the label of “leader” as a status symbol rather than to actually accomplish anything. It should be noted that during his tenure as chairman of the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF), Eshaghian was humble and always trying to bring together different factions or individuals within the community who were constantly fighting with one another. I am certainly not amazed that he’s been able to fight lung cancer for the past 20 years as Eshaghian has an indominable spirit. My wish today is that our community’s rabbis or leaders would learn from Eshaghian and carry on his ways of embracing Iranian Jewish youth as well as treating others with respect. Sadly not very many individual leaders in the local Iranian Jewish community have taken substantial actions to help resolve pressing issues community members are currently grappling with.

Eshaghian signing his book for a fan at his event

Although his health has been failing in recent months, he was nevertheless blessed on Monday 20th to see the local Iranian Jewish community finally show their appreciation and respect to him after his decades of service to them. The event was for the launching of his new book but in my opinion it was also a special tribute to a man did not have substantial wealth in Iran or America, but one person who helped transform the lives of thousands of Iran’s Jews by encouraging them to seeking our higher education. He brought his knowledge and hope for a better life to an entire generation of Jews in Iran who lived in undeveloped villages and poverty-stricken ghettos. In essence he was one of many who gave Iranian Jewry the key to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and they did so. For that accomplishment he deserves high praise as Iranian Jewry has become quite successful by in large in America. Below are some of my snapshots from that special evening.

My piece this week in the Jewish Journal also sheds light on Eshaghian accomplishments on behalf of Iranian Jewry and the launching of his new Persian language memoirs “A Follower of Culture”.


(left to right: Loftollah Hay, Dr. Goel Cohan, co-author of ‘A Follower of Culture’)
Nessah Synagogue President Dr. Morgan Hakimi
Iranian Muslim radio owner Assadollah Morovati
Iranian Jewish activist Frank Nikbakht


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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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