May 31, 2012
A unique look into Shaul Mofaz’s Iranian Jewish roots
Southern California’s vibrant Iranian Jewish community has been abuzz during the last few months with recent news of the election victory of Iranian-born Shaul Mofaz as the new leader of the Kadima party in the Israeli Knesset in late March and when earlier this month with his decision to join in a unity government with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. News media outlets worldwide have been busy trying to gather as much information as possible on Mofaz’s background to learn more about this man but have failed to go his true roots which lie within the Iranian American Jewish community based in Los Angeles and New York. Fortunately, having covered this community as a journalist for more than a decade, I have gathered a substantial treasure trove of information regarding Mofaz’s family background from his friends and distant family members.
One source that was closely familiar with Mofaz and his family was the late Iranian Jewish community leader Ebrahim Yahid. Sadly Yaid who passed away earlier this year in Los Angeles, spent many hours chatting with me about his life and even shed light on Mofaz’s family from Iran in an exclusive 2008 interview. Yahid who originally hailed from the Iranian city of “Esfahan” recalled his close childhood friend with Mofaz’s father Eliyahu that blossomed over the years. “Their family name was originally ‘Mofassaskar’ in Iran and his (Mofaz’s) father Eliyahu helped establish the ORT Jewish trade school in Esfahan,” Yahid said. “Shaul, whose Persian name was ‘Shahram”, was Eliyahu’s first child and we played with him day and night— he even peed on me once! And when he became Minister of Transportation some years ago, I saw him in Israel and told him ‘I hope you know that you peed on me Shaul!’”.
Yahid, along with Mofaz’s father and former Israeli ambassador to Iran, Meir Ezri— all attended the “Alliance Universalle Israelite” a French Jewish school based in Esfahan that was established to educate local improvished Iranian Jews and help them improve their future lives. On an interesting side note Meir Ezri is also a Mofaz relative. Yahid also shared some special insights into Mofaz’s Iranian heritage and his attitudes towards the people of Iran. “I know that Shaul Mofaz comes from a very Zionist family but he still has pride in his Iranian Jewish roots,” said Yahid. “I once asked him if there would ever be war between Iran and Israel— and he told he had serious doubts because Iran and Israel had always had close bonds with one another and the people of Iran were generally very good people”. What has particularly sadden for me during the last several months is that Yahid, who praised Mofaz as a great Iranian leader of Israel, passed away and never had the special opportunity to witness Mofaz’s recent political successes.
Interestingly, Mofaz has remained close with friends and family in the Iranian Jewish community living in Los Angeles and New York over the years. He had spent a substantial amount of time forging ties with community members in Los Angeles during his 2002 visit and over the years welcomed community leaders such as former Beverly Hills Iranian Jewish Mayor Jimmy Delshad during their visits to Israel. Sources close to me in the community indicated that even certain affluent Iranian Jewish businessmen held dinner fundraisers to support Mofaz’s Kadima party leadership race earlier this year. There is no doubt that Iranian American Jews are proud of Mofaz’s achievements in Israel’s military and political realm since he is one of their own. But Mofaz’s recent successes have been especially meaningful for the community following the tragic downfall of former Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who also hailed from an Iranian Jewish background. While I covered the community’s initial support for Katsav, sadly his scandal was something community members quickly shied away from because it caused them great shame. Fortunately with Mofaz, they have a new and better example of success from a man of Iranian Jewish background that they can point to with great pride today. One can only guess what policies and attitudes towards Iran Mofaz will have considering his Iranian roots.