July 23, 2008
L.A.‘s young Iranian Jews feeling sidelined
As a journalist who covers Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community I often have the rare opportunity to regularly chat with both young and old within the community to get a real sense of what activities are brewing and people’s sentiments. Folks within the community confidentially share their own personal opinions “off the record” and I find it interesting that more and more young professional Iranian Jews have recently been voicing their frustrations about the community’s leaders to me. Of course I cannot name names but I have personally witnessed a number of community leaders and financially prominent “philanthropists” give these successful professionals in their 20’s and 30’s the cold shoulder or total disregard.
Right now the local Iranian Jewish community is in a transition period as we have a number of very successful young professionals who grew up in America and received American educations, now trying to give back to the community in their own ways. These young folks are lawyers, doctors, scientists, engineers, bankers, real estate developers…and dare I say even “journalists’ who are proud of being Iranian Jews and want to contribute to and improve the community. Yet from my personal experience and from what I’ve witnessed lately, these young professionals are not being taken seriously or welcomed by the majority of those in the older generation of Iranian Jews in their 50’s and 60’s. On the surface, these older Iranian Jews sometimes talk of being supportive to those emerging on the scene and wanting to be active in community life, but when it comes to showing real moral and financial support they have done very little. For example, one young Iranian Jewish professional recently told me; “Me and my group went in to see a wealthy Iranian Jewish businessman about contributing to our event for social activism and he not only refused to give us any money but also bad mouthed us for raising the issue because he felt it was an ‘embarrassment’ for the community”. Another young professional told me she was given a lot of friendly rhetoric and pats on the back when she approached older Iranian Jews within one prominent local community organization to support her Jewish related cause. Yet when it came time for these same individuals to lend her a hand not a single person even returned her phone calls.
For the record I must say that there are exceptions to this type of behavior in the local Iranian Jewish community. I know for a fact that the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills has set aside funds for young professionals’ activities and has even permitted young professionals to sit on their board. Likewise the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana has also been very active in giving a real voice to young Iranian Jewish professionals, supporting their activities and even employing a youth activities director to help young people in the community feel as if they too are participating. Yet these two organizations are in the minority. It is a very sad reality that many of those older Iranian Jews who have been quite active in the community have not been receptive to the younger generation. This type of behavior leads many younger Iranian Jews to become disenfranchised with the community and disinterested in any form of activism. One young doctor recently told me; “why the hell should I be a part of this group or contribute to them when they don’t give a damn about my point of view and have ignored me every time I try to raise an issue with their board members?” I know that I as a young journalist in the Iranian Jewish community, I too have been disrespected on a number of occasions when approaching certain older community members to comment for articles I was working on. The experience was both humiliating and frustrating…unfortunately many older Iranian Jews in the L.A. area do not respect the profession of journalism, younger people, nor any other person who may not be as financially well off as them.
The sad reality is that the Iranian Jewish community will eventually loose out in the long run when a number of their young professionals are ultimately driven away by the unfriendly and sometimes hostile behavior of those older than them in the community. It should also be noted that some of these older Iranian Jews in Los Angeles claim to be “activists and philanthropists” when in reality they are all show and talk…they do little if nothing to give of their time or money to helping the community in a positive way.