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Jewish Journal

Why I continue to write about L.A.‘s Iranian Jews

by Karmel Melamed

December 11, 2008 | 10:06 pm

My article in The Jewish Journal last week has sparked some interesting reactions from Los Angeles Iranian Jews who were not happy with the fact that I was giving coverage to an incident in the community which was a topic of controversy surrounding the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF).

There are many in the community who support the IAJF and many who do not like the organization for whatever reason. As an unbias journalist from the community, I have no personal opinions of the IAJF either way but I find the overall reaction of the local Iranian Jewish community to my coverage of this unique story quite interesting. As a younger member of the community I often have to explain the importance of openness, free speech and accountability to the older generation of Jews who lived their entire lives often in fear as a religious minority under a less democratic monarchy in Iran. In opinion, it is a delicate balancing act

Some of the Iranian Jewish readers of the article asked me “why do you stir the pot when it comes to sensitive issues in the community?” and also “Why do you always have to air our dirty laundry to the rest of the world? Why do you portray us in a poor light and that make us embarrassed!”

My explanation has been simple—we as Iranian Jews living in Southern California and America do not live in a bubble unto ourselves! During the past several years the community has been going through a dramatic transformation and growth—with such changes often come conflicts and differences of opinions. We no longer live in fear in Iran where the authorities would come after us for speaking out about a whole host of topics. My journalistic work has been to give all sides of each story and allow the reader to make his or her decision. Has there been infighting among local Iranian Jewish groups as to leadership and religious issues? Yes. Is there a serious problem with drugs and violence among some local Iranian Jews? Yes. Are there some unscrupulous individuals in our community? Of course. But not openly discussing these hot button topics in a public forum or in the media will not make these problems go away. My goals as a journalist reporting on Iranian American Jews has been to act as a mirror onto the community and let them decide if and how they wish to make changes to what is going on around them. Someone needs to spark the conversation on these controversial topics—often times that person is the responsible journalist. How else will our community members realize that they need to address certain pressing issues?

So why do I continue my work as a journalist covering L.A.‘s Iranian Jews even though many of them do not want to hear the news which is often unpleasant? Well it’s because I feel a sense of responsibility to accurately share the views of many of my community members who do not speak English fluently, have a different culture and are still after 30 years trying to adapt to a new environment in the most dynamic democratic society in the world. I also delight in sharing the beauty of our traditions and success of our ancient Jewish community which is thriving as one of the most successful immigrant communities to America. Likewise in recent years I’ve found that other Jewish communities and groups in the U.S. have approached our insular community after learning about us through my articles! So it gives me pride and joy in seeing overall Jewish unity being advanced through my journalism. So yes, it is often very difficult to report on a community which does want to face the reality that they are changing and all the while live among them—but the rewards of writing about them are equally great.

To the younger generation of L.A.‘s Iranian Jews I only ask that you step up and participate in the community. Changes are coming gradually to us but without your productive involvement those changes will not be for the better.

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