August 21, 2008
Elias Eshaghian, a pivotal educator and director of many Jewish schools throughout Iran during 20th century, died at 78 on Aug. 8, following a 20-year fight with lung cancer. More than 500 local Iranian Jews recently packed Temple Beth El in West Hollywood for his memorial service.
After obtaining his high school education in Iran from the Alliance Israelite Universelle (AIU), a French Jewish nonprofit education and cultural organization, Eshaghian attended college and received a teaching credential in France.
Eshaghian returned to Iran in October 1951, working for the AIU as an assistant director and French-language teacher in the city of Esfahan. In subsequent years, Eshaghian worked as the director and educator for the AIU schools in the rural Iranian cities of Yazd and Sanandaj.
He returned to Tehran in 1960, where he worked as a French teacher at the AIU boys' and girls' schools, later serving as the director for the boys' school. At a time when Iran's Jews were living in largely poverty-stricken areas, Eshaghian was one of the few community activists to encourage youth to consider higher education.
Eshaghian left AIU in 1970 and went on to work as a part-time reporter at Journal Du Tehran, a French-language newspaper, while also teaching French at Tehran universities.
UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) later hired Eshaghian as a French translator for their events.
Following Iran's radical Islamic revolution, Eshaghian, like many of the country's Jews, fled in 1980 and resettled in Los Angeles where he sold insurance. Despite a long battle with lung cancer, Eshaghian continued to volunteer by serving as chair of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, a local umbrella organization for nearly a dozen Iranian Jewish nonprofit groups. Eshaghian was also one of the founders of the Tarzana-based Eretz Cultural Center, one of the first local Iranian synagogues established in Los Angeles.
Community members honored Eshaghian on May 20 with a launch party for his Persian-language memoir, "A Follower of Culture." The book is a chronicle of the history of Jewish education in Iran during the 20th century, an effort that was supported by the AIU.
During an interview with The Journal earlier this year, Eshaghian recalled the tremendous difficulty he encountered attracting poverty-stricken Jewish students in the different Iranian cities, where young children typically worked in their families' businesses.
"I literally went from store to store of the poor Jews in the city of Yazd and had to drag their kids to get an education at the Alliance schools -- many of those children today in the United States are among the most respected physicians, scientists, engineers and successful businessmen in our community," he said.
To read more of an interview with Elias Eshaghian, visit the Iranian American Jews blog.
-- Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer
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