Posted By Tabby Davoodi
TEL AVIV--When I was a kid in post-Revolutionary Iran, we were subjected to repeating a variety of hateful chants in school against the U.S. and Israel, most notably, "Death to America!" and "Death to the Zionists!" When a few of us began expressing concern to our teachers and administrators about whether we were "bad" for cursing these states (none of us had ever even met an American or an Israeli), we were given incredible responses. One teacher reassured us that Americans and Israelis were like the tiny bugs that creep into rice and contaminate the whole bag of grains, ruining it forever. As Persians take their rice very seriously, this was a heinous claim indeed. Another top administrator asked us not to worry about such things and announced to our first-grade class that "When you wish death upon the Americans and Zionists, you are not wishing any harm to come to any people that live there, per se. You are only rightfully advocating for the destruction of a regime." We all breathed a sigh of relief, believed him, and went on with our chants, even though most of us were Jewish. I for one believed his explanation so much that I developed a personal disdain for the King of Israel (I was five and had no grasp of a Jewish State, much less its leadership). Of course, the irony that years later, I would be a proud American and a staunch supporter of Israel was never lost upon me.
This isn't a blog post about death chants and brainwashed first graders. It's a brief commentary about people. From our vantage point in the comfort of Los Angeles, we can try to understand the unfairly intense threats that Israelis face, but these threats are mostly delivered to us in neatly-packaged sound bites about "the threat of a nuclear Iran," imagined scenarios of Israel being "wiped off the map," and so on.
I've spent roughly the past four weeks in this extraordinary country, thanks to the amazing work of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Sachlav, which gave me the honor of staffing a Birthright trip for forty young local Jews, mostly Iranian-Americans whose families fled Iran and settled in LA decades ago. Most of the participants had never been to Israel, and most were also fulfilling the wishes of their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, who had never seen Israel with their own eyes, either. We lived, ate, and breathed Israel for 10 meaningful, intense days. Everything that they had seen or heard in the news about this country was irrelevant from the moment that they set foot here and experienced being in Israel. Towards the end, once the glare of the desert sun had subsided over the hypnotic blue hues of the Dead Sea and its colorful visitors—average, loud Israelis and excited, quieter tourists whose minds were a million miles away from hate and rockets and nukes--one student on our Birthright trip grew silent, looked around him, sighed deeply, and suddenly asked me, "Who would want to wipe this off the face of the earth?"
I see now why my school administrator in Iran rationalized that hateful death chants don't hurt people, but rather hurt "regimes." It was the only way to have convinced us to have continued singing, chanting, thinking, and hating—by dehumanizing Americans and Israelis. It was so much easier to have believed that we were cursing terrible regimes—and not people…not fathers walking their children to the park in Tiberias, elderly men with long memories and strong coffees sitting in cafes in Jerusalem , or immature teenagers living out their summer dreams in the cold malls and hot beaches of Tel Aviv.
I believe that the single greatest element that keeps those whose hearts and minds hate Israel from ever visiting this country and seeing it for themselves—is the hidden, yet nagging truth that they will see normal people here—humans being and doing—the humanization of the heart as it watches "the enemies" go for a sunset run by the Yarkon River or walk with a cane along the stony streets of Tzfat.
This is a blog about people. People like Eyal, who accompanied our Birthright trip as a soldier-participant. Eyal is 23 and a member of the elite Israeli Navy Seals. His body and mind have been pushed to more limits than most of us will ever experience in our lifetimes, yet he is unimaginably kind, humble, and soft-spoken. Eyal hails from a farming village in the South, and his dream is to return to the South after his army service and be a farmer, build his future wife and kids a home, and work the land with the kind of happiness of spirit that comes with knowing that the whole world knocked at your door, yet you chose the peaceful tranquility of a farm in the South.
Then there's Sapir, a 21 year-old officer in the Israeli Air Force with incomparably blue eyes and the maturity of a 35 year old. He became a First Lieutenant at an age when most young Americans are experiencing Miller Lite rather than missiles. Sapir's service to his country has led him to commit to at least three extra years in the IAF. By the time he is done, he will have become a Captain, gained the maturity of a 60-year old, attended half a dozen more heavy metal concerts—his favorite pastime, and perfected his Borat accent—his second-favorite pastime. His dream is to enter a university, perfect his craft, and ultimately become an engineer.
Next there's Kalanit, a stylish, strikingly beautiful 30-year old. Unlike Eyal and Sapir, she is a first-generation Israeli. Her parents were Iranian Jews that escaped the country after the Revolution and made aliyah, effectively altering the life of every child, grandchild, and future great-grandchild in their family. Kalanit sings like a bird in Hebrew, speaks like a scholar in English, and enunciates every "R" in Persian in the most charmingly discordant way imaginable, due to the fact that she is a bona fide Israeli. Her senior thesis focused on the extraordinary events leading up to the Iranian Revolution. She served as a female combat soldier in an artillery division at a time when I was deeply invested in beer, rather than batteries. Her dream is to be a renowned jewelry designer and goldsmith. She is not sure of anything else in life except for the fact that she will succeed.
And finally, there's Ido, a 32-year old dark, handsome algorithm engineer whose grandparents were Yemenite Jews. His older sister is a doctor and his younger sister is an engineer—a virtual nachas factory of children that most Iranian Jews in Los Angeles can relate to. Ido served in the IAF during the Second Intifada and later received not only a Bachelor's, but also a Master's in Electrical Engineering from the Ben Gurion University of the Negev. His home is filled with trophies from local and national pool tournaments; his cue rests comfortably in a case by his couch in a studio in the heart of Tel Aviv, minutes away from the public square where former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated 18 years ago. His dream is to work for Google, find peace of mind, master the art of salsa dancing, and find a woman that makes jachnun as well as, if not better, than his mother.
Each one comprises a bigger picture of the humanity and humility of Israel. Each one embraces responsibility and has perhaps even an overdeveloped sense of service. Each one welcomes the end of a workweek with a day at the beach and a night at the bar. And each one knows exactly who was just elected president of Iran, and the new president's background and stance on major issues concerning the Middle East. When you live in Israel, you remember the human element of people, but you also keep your eyes on the regime.
30 YEARS AFTER is the nation's leading Iranian-American Jewish civic action organization, based in Los Angeles with a chapter in New York. Founded in 2008 by a group of passionate young professionals, our mission is to promote the participation and leadership of Iranian-American Jews in American civic, political, and Jewish affairs.
8.12.13 at 10:16 am | In Israel, humanity is undeniably tangible.
6.4.13 at 5:10 pm | Thanks to Senator Frank Lautenberg, thousands of. . .
4.11.13 at 7:36 pm | The next mayor of Los Angeles should support the. . .
3.22.13 at 2:29 pm | Reflections on Persian Jewish Passover traditions. . .
2.26.13 at 6:01 pm | Congressman Ed Royce (R), Chairman of the House. . .
10.16.12 at 3:52 pm | As the 2012 elections near, we must look within. . .
June 4, 2013 | 5:10 pm
Posted by 30 YEARS AFTER
Most Iranian-American Jews would not recognize the name Frank Lautenberg. But they should.
Senator Lautenberg was the Senate's oldest member, its last-surviving WWII veteran, a staunch advocate of Israel, and personally responsible for the entry of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union and Iran to the United States as protected refugees. He died Monday at the age of 89.
Since 1990, the Lautenberg Amendment has resettled and saved the lives of more than 440,000 individuals that were once persecuted religious minorities in their former countries. As Iranian Jewish refugees (or the children of refugees) ourselves, our community understands better than anyone how escape from oppression and re-settlement in a country like the United States have been one of the greatest blessings of our lives.
Senator Lautenberg once said of the Amendment that bears his name, "More than twenty years ago, I created this program to allow religious minorities to escape persecution and live safely in the United States."
According to the Hebrew International Aid Society (HIAS), the Lautenberg Amendment was "a crucial lifeline by helping to facilitate the resettlement of Jews, Christians, Baha’is, and others."
That's almost half a million people, all of whom found respite and freedom, due to the passion and dedication of one man.
The son of poor Jewish parents who emigrated from Russia and Poland through Ellis Island, Senator Lautenberg proudly represented New Jersey from 1982-2001, and again from 2003 to 2013. A staunch defender of Israel, he had visited the Jewish State over 100 times and had even put his own name on the line by harshly criticizing various Arab states' refusal to support U.S. policy towards Israel and Iran.
His record of public and Jewish communal service was extraordinary and especially inspiring to a new generation of American Jewish leaders, particularly young Iranian-American Jews that not only seek to make a real difference in the world, but perhaps for the first time in history, have the opportunity to do so, living as free Americans.
His legacy has particularly touched the next generation of our community. Most members of 30 YEARS AFTER were born in the 1980s, and many were born in Iran themselves, along with their parents. As second-class Jewish citizens living in the Islamic Republic, our own government showed a heartless lack of care and concern for us. It is therefore even more powerful to think that in the halls of the U.S. Senate, thousands of miles away from Iran, there was an American elected official that used his clout and passion to fight for the lives of hundreds of thousands of people abroad whom he had never met.
Indeed, even when our own government back in Iran had abandoned us, or worse, persecuted our Jewish communities, American leaders such as Senator Lautenberg never stopped fighting for us. In this, he changed lives and he changed destinies forever, and profoundly for the better.
But perhaps more remarkable than the blessings that Senator Lautenberg created for refugees themselves were the blessings that his legislation created for America, by way of the countless contributions that Iranian-American Jews and hundreds of thousands of others have made towards this country, whether in educational, civic, philanthropic, political, or Jewish life.
May his memory be for a blessing, and may future American leaders retain the legacy of courage, integrity, and clarity that Senator Lautenberg left behind. We are so grateful to the late Senator for his vision, his perseverance, and his service.
Founded in 2007, 30 YEARS AFTER is a non-partisan, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in Los Angeles with a chapter in New York, whose mission is to promote the participation and leadership of Iranian American Jews in American civic, political, and Jewish life. For more information, please email email@example.com.
April 11, 2013 | 7:36 pm
Posted By 30 YEARS AFTER
Many odious entities enter Los Angeles every day--smog, D-list celebrities, hipsters from the East Coast that have had enough of the cold--but one such group is particularly disturbing: it is the host of ships that frequently enters the ports of Iran to conduct business with the Islamic Republic, and later docks at the Port of Los Angeles to, you guessed it, conduct business with the United States.
To be fair, many other American cities also join LA in currently allowing such ships entry, ranging from the Port of Oakland to Houston, Savannah, New Orleans, Miami, New York, and others. However, in LA at least, those most concerned have taken the issue to task with the person most responsible for enacting a tangible change on the ground: the future mayor of Los Angeles.
Today, 30 YEARS AFTER joined United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) and a host of concerned partners in California in calling for Los Angeles Mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel to support denying docking privileges to shipping companies that access the Port of Los Angeles but also access ports in Iran, including OOCL (Hong Kong), Yang Ming (Taiwan), and CMA CGM (France).
The letter demonstrated a unified community voice, as it was also sent on behalf of the regional offices of the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, as well as Sinai Temple, Beth Jacob Congregation, Young Israel of Century City, University Synagogue, and nationally syndicated radio talk show host Dennis Prager.
Councilmember Garcetti and Controller Greuel each received a letter authored by UANI CEO, Ambassador Mark D. Wallace and signed by leaders of the organizations stated above, as well as 30 YEARS AFTER. Here is a snippet of the text:
... The next mayor has an opportunity to put pressure on Iran to curtail its nuclear program by closing the Port of Los Angeles to any ships that have docked in Iran, have offices in Iran, or import and export into and out of Iran (with exceptions on humanitarian grounds). Ocean transportation is critical for the import of raw materials required for Iran's nuclear program. Cutting off access to these raw materials would hamper Tehran's nuclear drive.
Several of the world's leading shipping lines routinely operate in Iranian ports and continue to do business with the Port of Los Angeles. This is contrary to the spirit of U.S. sanctions and President Obama's policy, and it needs to be stopped. The National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Obama in January, contains a provision that authorizes sanctions against any person who knowingly supports activity benefiting port operators in Iran.
In the 2010 Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, Congress explicitly invited state and local governments and agencies to assist with the implementation of federal sanctions policy. Thus, local governments and port authorities can take action to ensure that ports under their control effectively bar shippers that make port calls at Iranian ports.
The undersigned ask for your commitment to ban all shippers docking at Iranian ports, operating offices in Iran, or importing and exporting into and out of Iran by: 1) confirming that this your policy; 2) asking the Los Angeles Harbor Commissioners to implement this policy and 3) only appointing individuals who support your policy to the Los Angeles Harbor Commission.
We commend UANI on their excellent leadership and initiative, and look forward to hearing from the candidates regarding their stance on this vital issue. While it is complex on many levels, for companies that dock ships in both LA and Iran, the choice is rather simple: Either conduct business with America, or with Iran. But not both.
Want to know if your city's port authority currently allows entry for ships that have docked in Iran? Click here.
Founded in 2007, 30 YEARS AFTER is a non-partisan, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in Los Angeles with a chapter in New York, whose mission is to promote the participation and leadership of Iranian American Jews in American civic, political, and Jewish life. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 22, 2013 | 2:29 pm
Posted by Tabby Davoodi
Growing up Iranian Jewish in LA, our Passover Seders were like long, annoying road trips, where instead of the kids asking, "Are we there yet?", our parents were subjected to repeated questions about the order of the Seder:
After the first cup of wine:
Is it Dayenu time yet??
After the bitter herbs:
Is it Dayenu time yet??
After the charoset/halegh:
Is it Dayenu time yet??
After Dayenu, dinner, and even dessert:
Can we do Dayenu again??
In fact, the whole Seder seemed like one long, drawn-out series of mechanically-offered blessings designed to torture little Persian kids by taking as long as possible to finally arrive at the moment we had so desperately waited for all year: the annual green onion beatings of the Persian Seder Dayenu ritual.
In my experience, non-Persians that live in Los Angeles and interact with Persian Jews know generally two facts (and one crucial piece of advice) about our community and Passover:
1. We beat each other with green onions during the Seder
2. We enjoy rice the entire week because it is not considered chametz for our community
3. Don't ever go to one of the Persian kosher supermarkets within a 72-hour vicinity of Passover
There are a few different explanations for why Iranian (and Afghan) Jews gently hit each other with green onions during the Dayenu tradition of the Seder, but most are rooted in the theme of a physical, tangible reminder that we should never long for Egypt or what it represented (see Numbers 11:5-6). Also, the long tails of the green onions are said to represent the whips of the ancient Egyptians, though the truly clever assailants, including my mother, not only whip forearms with the tails, but beat heads with the bulbs. It's really a beautiful sight.
But for most kids, the Persian Dayenu signifies the only time of the year when lightly beating one's parents seems acceptable and even religiously-sanctioned, or so we tell ourselves as we mercilessly hurl the onions across the room. One Passover, I even attacked the back of my mother's head because she had refused to buy me any video games that year. I was 17.
Some of our most beloved childhood memories of Passover Seders involve those crucial moments right before the Dayenu, when the kids anxiously grab as many green onions as their stubby little hands can hold, chase each other down hallways and under tables, flail their pungent weapons over the heads of parents and elders, and scream and giggle and turn red with laughter and energy. Of course, it's not only the children. Grandmothers beat grandfathers, uncles beat nieces and nephews, fourth cousins beat sixth cousins, and mothers beat fathers. It's all done with love, until one soul finally begs for peace and tranquility. The cease-fire usually takes effect once someone has been subjected to an onion attack in the eye, and is usually preceded by a desperate uncle yelling, "It burns! It burns!"
Yet these memories still seem empty as I grow older and learn more about the real depth of Passover, and I find myself wondering why I remember all of the fun and none of the meaning of childhood Seders here in the U.S.
My family embraced the Seder traditions in its own way. Even the Four Questions that were reserved for the children had a special Persian twist on them. We still had the questions, but they were more along the lines of our parents and elders asking,
1.Where is your meat? I don't see any on your plate.
2. What type of lawyer do you want to be when you grow up?
3. What's your backup school in case you don't get into UCLA?
4. Were you the one that threw that green onion at my eye?
As individuals and as a part of a greater Jewish community, we each struggle to tap into the unique energy of Passover in our own ways. Personalizing the theme of "We are still in Egypt" came much more easily to me when I lived in Iran as a child in the 1980s. There's something about living under the rule of powerful anti-Semites that makes the connection between your current life and the struggles of your ancestors in ancient Egypt more personal and palpable.
But for those Jews that left Iran to live in the U.S., or were born in America altogether, the notion of still being enslaved while living in the freest country on earth might seem harder to internalize. How enslaved could I possibly be, drinking a latte and people-watching on a sunny afternoon at The Grove?
Ironically, when we are feeling the least physically or mentally enslaved is the best time to ask, What does it mean for something or someone to enslave me? I believe that it simply means that someone or something is keeping you from reaching your full G-d-given potential.
In the U.S., the Iranian-American Jewish community also has incredible potential. It's not fair to generalize, however there do seem to be a few matters that keep us enslaved as well, whether on the individual or communal level. I believe the most important are as follows:
1. An Obsession with Saving Face
Real life example: at 21, you're embarrassed that you have a boyfriend and at 31, you're embarrassed that you don't have a husband.
Our borderline-obsession with reputation and good standing has created an environment that pushes us away to deal with our struggles on our own, because we believe that our community might respond to us with alienation, gossip, and even scorn. This was the predominant theme of an important panel of young Iranian American Jews at a UCLA Fowler Museum event earlier this month.
2. Deflection of Responsibility for Things that Really Matter
Real life example: You don't care enough about anything to ever vote, or to even register to vote, and you believe that you'll never make a difference anyhow. You go about life in your own way and leave others to make the decisions for you. Or, you're relatively proud of who you are, but secretly hope that no non-Persians will ever ask you to explain anything about what it means to be an Iranian American Jew, about the community back in Iran, about the gravity of Iran's nuclear pursuits, about if and why you support Israel, etc. because you won't really be able to answer any of these questions (or so you think).
3. An Over-Embrace of Insularity
Real-life example: As one friend recently told me, "I always celebrate the Passover Seder in the Persian way, with my Persian family, and then after it's over, I watch the basketball game at home with my Persian friends."
Again, this is a generalization, but it begs the question of whether our community had found a healthy balance between insularity and openness. Just once, I would like to see an Iranian Jew from Beverly Hills attend a Shabbat dinner with a group of young professionals, mostly non-denominational Ashkenazim, from Eastside Jews at the Silverlake Jewish Community Center or somewhere else. He or she would learn so much about the amazing tapestry of the Jewish community all over this city. I would go myself, if I could find a place nearby to sleep so that I wouldn't have to drive on Shabbat. I love their self-description: "We hold monthly events at unlikely venues during unpopular holidays for Jews with confused identities."
And just once, I would like to see a group of young Iranian American Jews spend Thanksgiving volunteering at a food shelter on Skid Row in downtown LA, rather than taking road trips to Las Vegas with 60 of their closest friends. Vegas is fine, but it will still be around for Christmas, New Year's, Spring Break, Persian New Year, birthdays, bachelor parties, spontaneous weekend getaways when you need some space from your mother, clandestine weekend getaways with your secret boyfriend/girlfriend, and much, much more.
How about this as a starter: let's each take a moment to reflect on whether we have a Jewish friend that for whatever reason, will not have a Passover Seder to attend this year (and probably won't care). What if each of us invited one non-Iranian Jew to our family's Seder? (please ask your mother first and warn relatives in advance that this person is NOT your lover nor does he/she work in Admissions at USC). Or what if this year, you join a non-Persian Seder or a Passover meal and see how different Jewish communities celebrate this incredible holiday? Perhaps by showing each other the beauty of our traditions, we may begin to appreciate them ourselves, to contemplate the "mental chametz" and noise that continue to enslave us and drive a toxic wedge between us and our potential, and the powerful and auspicious spiritual energy of Passover that makes liberation truly attainable.
Plus, it never hurts to have an extra set of hands armed with green onions...on our side of the table.
30 YEARS AFTER is a civic action organization (501(c)(3) that aims to promote the participation and leadership of Iranian American Jews in American civic, political, and Jewish life. Founded by a group of young professionals in 2007, it has chapters in Los Angeles and New York.
February 26, 2013 | 6:01 pm
Posted by Oron Maher and Sam Yebri
U.S. Representative Ed Royce (R), currently serving his eleventh term in Congress representing Southern California’s 39th District, attended an intimate meeting with political, community, and business leaders from Los Angeles’ Iranian-American Jewish community on February 19th, to discuss American foreign policy. Royce assumed the influential position of Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in January.
Among the various topics discussed was the need to strengthen and enforce economic sanctions against the Iranian government. Royce, a leading voice in Congress on the issue, pledged to continue to use all available economic measures to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Royce warned that those who oppose sanctions underestimate the manipulative tactics of the Iranian regime. Royce was the original co-sponsor of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syrian Human Rights Act of 2012. Following the bill’s passage, with Royce’s support, Iranian officials engaging in censorship activities were targeted with asset freezes and travel bans. The leaders from the Iranian-American Jewish community thanked Royce for his steadfast support of sanctions against Iran, which last week week began installing advanced centrifuges at its main uranium enrichment plans at Natanz, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Royce also voiced his criticism of U.S.-government funded media that is being broadcast into Iran, such as Voice of America, which he believes fails to serve the best interests of the United States. Royce argued that such media programming should serve as a foreign policy tool that effectively impacts the hearts and minds of Iranian citizens. Likening the matter to Cold War broadcasts into the former Soviet Union, Royce advocated for a more robust Iran strategy that would include discussions with recent immigrants to the United States from Iran because only they can testify firsthand to the political climate on the ground in Iran.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee that Royce chairs is responsible for overseeing broadcasting to Iran. As such, Royce pledged to work tirelessly to ensure that U.S. broadcasting initiatives effectively promote democracy and human rights in Iran. Other topics discussed included the vital importance of a strong U.S.- Israel relationship and the critical role of the Iron Dome air defense system in protecting Israeli citizens.
30 YEARS AFTER was proud to have convened this meeting with Congressman Royce and commends his steadfast leadership and friendship in the United States Congress. We agree in the strongest terms with his recommendation that Iranians who have immigrated to the United States are in the best position to inform both the American government and the American people regarding the true nature of the Iranian regime – including its human rights abuses, persecution of minorities, and global support for terrorism.
For the Iranian-American Jewish leaders who met with Royce this week, it was a privilege to have offered our input regarding Iran to the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs – an individual with tremendous influence on American foreign policy towards Iran, Israel, and the entire world.
In a broader sense, the meeting provided a truly unique and invaluable opportunity to inform our policymakers about issues we care deeply about and to hear the policymaker’s perspectives and policy agenda directly. Such meetings stand as a testament to the exceptional nature of America's democratic system.
Oron Maher, a real estate broker and attorney, serves on the Board of Directors of 30 YEARS AFTER. Sam Yebri, an attorney and Los Angeles City Commissioner, serves as the President of 30 YEARS AFTER.
October 16, 2012 | 3:52 pm
Posted By: Michael Yadegaran
November 6th will be a special day for me. It is, of course, Election Day. The next President of the United States will be chosen and hundreds of local, state, and federal legislative positions will be filled. Yet none of this is what will make me immensely proud to be an American on that day. I am not a partisan voter; I have voted for both Democrats and Republicans and will not pledge undying allegiance to any one party or politician. I am not an ideologue nor will my vote be based solely on dogma.
November 6th is significant to me because of history. As a student of history, I have taken great interest in the story of my community. By some miracle of fate, I was born an American. After thousands of years rooted down in the Middle East, our families fled from the land of Esther and Cyrus and trekked over seas and continents; they discarded memories and wealth, endured emotional hardship and physical pain, and settled from Santa Monica to Manhattan, where they picked up freedom and liberty.
This story has been recounted countless times in the years since. My generation will attest to having heard this tale told every time their grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles remember one more detail, one more lost friend, one more childhood playground or neighborhood market. The significance and importance of this communal story is not lost upon us. At the Shabbat dinner table, despite being more focused on the tadig my grandma cooked for us than the stories she’d tell of her journey, the influence of those stories never left my side.
True, hundreds of immigrant communities have left their homes for America, many of them leaving far more dire circumstances. Nobody forgets the photos of Holocaust refugees packed onto boats, longing for a glimpse of Lady Liberty. But those photos have driven our desire to pay tribute and do right by our parents and grandparents. As first generation Americans, we realize the gravity of our choices as the children of refugees: to take part and contribute to the strengthening of a greater union, or to dismiss the sacrifices of our immigrant families and take our education, health, and freedom to assemble for granted.
If my parents had stayed in Iran, under the grasp of religious intolerance, I would not be free to don a tallit or wrap tefillin without fear. If our family had stayed in Iran, whose women are not treated as its greatest asset, my sister would not be free to earn a decent education and employment. If our community had stayed in Iran, whose president denies the existence of gay people in his country, and where sexual orientation is not protected, our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters would not be free to live. If we had remained in Iran, where school children are indoctrinated every morning with chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” we would not be free to proudly sing the Star Spangled Banner and HaTikva.
So no, I’m not going to the polls on November 6th because I feel a particularly strong affinity for President Obama or Governor Romney. I’m not going to the polls due to a personal inclination for low taxes or free healthcare. I registered to vote the day I turned eighteen and will vote in every election until my dying day because I know our involvement in this society matters. I understand that when our families settled in the United States and earned material wealth, education and success, the most valuable addition to their lives did not come in the form of a diploma or shiny status symbol, and did not have to be earned. It was endowed upon them by our creator and protected by this nation’s most sacred documents and revered doctrines. I will vote on November 6th simply because I am granted the freedom to do so.
Michael Yadegaran serves as 30 YEARS AFTER's Vice President of Civic and Governmental Affairs
October 8, 2012 | 3:29 pm
Posted By Tabby Davoodi
The last time I saw my grandmother alive, she was sitting in a wheelchair at an elder care hospital in Israel. She wore a little silk scarf over her hair and spoke to me in a perfect mix of Persian, French, and broken Hebrew. My grandmother's first name was Iran. Yet she lived in Israel. And that about captures the complex relationship that Iranian Jews have with their native country and their ancestral homeland.
I'd like to believe that there was no Iran in Israel until my grandmother arrived there.
She was a product of the dilapidated Jewish ghetto of Tehran, born in the 1920s to a world without Ahmadinejads, nuclear weapons, old ideologies and new terrorists. And without a modern Jewish State of Israel and Jewish oversight of Jerusalem. A time when praying at the Western Wall was as much a dream as a man landing on the moon. Before she passed, my grandmother told me that when she was a little girl in Tehran around the time of Passover, she would affix as many pieces of matzah as she could together, line them up against a window, press her face to the solid surface, and pretend that she was at the Western Wall--a pipe dream for practically any Jew in the 1920s; a Travelocity ticket away for me in 2012.
Some sixty years later, her wish came true when she and my grandfather escaped Iran after the Revolution and moved to Israel. From then on, she found a way to make it to the Kotel, first by bus, then in a car driven by her grandchildren, and finally, with a cane. When I asked her why she kept going back in her fragile state, she lovingly admonished me:
"What do you mean?! BECAUSE I CAN!"
I had never thought about it quite that way before. Despite the fact that I too was born in Tehran, albeit after the Revolution, I am a product of a more self-serving generation. Less because I can and more because I want to and because it makes me feel good.
Five years ago, I committed myself to an amazing cause. 30 YEARS AFTER is a non-profit organization that promotes the participation AND leadership of Iranian American Jews in American political, civic, and Jewish life. Its name signifies the moment in time that the lives of 80,000 Iranian Jews changed forever--in the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Founded by a group of young professionals in LA in 2007, it's led almost entirely by volunteers, a fact even more unbelievable considering that we are hosting our third biennial Civic Action Conference on October 14th in Los Angeles at the historic Millennium Biltmore Hotel. Almost 35 speakers and over 60 different co-sponsors will be there, including ambassadors and diplomats (keynote speakers will include Ambassador Dennis Ross), congressmen and elected officials, academics, brilliant rabbis, stellar authors, the 2013 candidates for Mayor of Los Angeles, and representatives from both the Obama and Romney campaigns. A full conference schedule may be found on the link above.
There are many reasons why I am so proud to belong to 30 YEARS AFTER, yet they're all fueled by an underlying motive. And it's the same reason why I take advantage of the PCH on a winter's day, enjoy a beer during a Lakers' game, and sing the Israeli national anthem of Ha'Tikva: because I can.
Where I was born, Ha'Tikva is never sung. Israel's flags are not displayed, and even the sale of all "Zionist" goods and products are banned. There is no Israel in Iran, except for the government-fueled depiction of a heartless false state and its faceless, soulless citizenry of occupiers. I can still remember our first grade chants of "Death to Israel" each morning at school. The fact is that Jews that remain in Iran today (roughly 20,000)--the same kids that were in classrooms with me back in the 1980s--cannot sing the words of Ha'Tikva, though the song belongs to them as much as it belongs to American Jews, French Jews, or Iraqi Jews. This is all the more reason for me to take Ha'Tikva more seriously.
You see, when you realize that you are holding the voices of 20,000 additional Jews on your shoulders, including everyone that you left behind in Iran, you feel a certain responsibility and even privilege...to sing just a bit louder. To enunciate the words and to consciously understand that you are somewhere that allows you to congregate in a room full of Jews and actually sing Israel's national anthem without fear of being arrested, tortured, and even sentenced to death.
If you are an Iranian Jew living in America, and you feel connected with Israel and are able to sing Ha'Tikva from time to time, someone paid a price for your voice to sing this song freely. Whether it was a parent that sacrificed fortune and familiarity to bring you to a new, free land, or the part of you that is still in Iran- in the form of a fourth cousin or great grandparent that has since passed or even a Jew in the streets of Tehran whom you have never met--whose fate is still intertwined with yours, whether you know it or not.
Iran and Israel are also inextricably linked--bridged together in the hearts of Iranian Jews from Shiraz to Los Angeles. Therefore, I would like to offer an anomaly: the words of Israel's national anthem, the soul song of the Jewish state and the Jewish people, in the rich language of its single greatest modern threat. The very same language that Mr. Ahmadinejad uses to tear apart Israel, now presented here to uplift Israel.
THIS is Ha'Tikva in Persian, and I have yet to find it published anywhere else online, until now.
If one Jew in Iran can access these words and recite them in the confines of his or her private space, it will mean something. If one non-Jew in Iran can access them despite the government's censorship and block of all things Israel...it will mean even more.
30 YEARS AFTER will be singing Ha'Tikva at our third biennial Civic Action Conference on Sunday, October 14th in Los Angeles. One of our most talented young members will also be singing the American national anthem. Her family escaped during the Revolution, too. The third national anthem, that of imperial Iran (pre-Revolution)--an emotionally loaded piece for most of us-- will be sung by legendary Persian singer Andy, who fled Iran 30 years ago to settle in Los Angeles. The Revolution has made it impossible for him to sing in his native country ever since, but he packs sold-out venues in concerts all around Iran's borders--from Armenia to the United Arab Emirates. In addition to the imperial anthem , he will sing his 2009 hit with Bon Jovi, "Stand By Me," in support of the people of Iran. That means a lot, folks.
Everyone is welcome--and we expect many members of the greater Los Angeles Jewish community as well--whether Ashkenazi or Sephardi.
I hope that you join us on October 14th, and if you find yourself compelled to sing, that you recall whose voice you are shouldering...the ones that have since passed, or the ones that cannot be there to experience the eternal unity of a national song, and the sacred gift of free expression. Why would you invest such time and energy? Because we would love to have you. Because this signifies a moment in time. And maybe, just maybe, because you can.
Tabby Davoodi is the Executive Director of 30 YEARS AFTER. For more information about the Third Biennial Civic Action Conference on Sunday, October 14, 2012 in Los Angeles, please visit here.
August 21, 2012 | 3:14 pm
Posted Posted by Tabby Davoodi
There is one country in the world that has the highest ratio of female to male undergraduates, according to UNESCO.
It is not the United States. Nor is it a European state. Nor is it Israel.
It is the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI).
Surprised? I’m not. Iranian women are brilliant. In fact, women outnumbered men in a ratio of three to two this year alone in passing Iran’s notoriously difficult university entrance exams, having consistently outperformed their male counterparts across a variety of subjects.
The regime this week showered Iran’s female students with an extraordinary reward for their incredible hard work and commendable intelligence: leading universities from all over the country announced the ban of women from some of the most popular academic subjects in the state, ranging from English literature to electrical engineering and business management.
Perhaps one could make the argument that proficiency in electrical engineering would enable an Iranian woman to create dangerously feminist digital hardware (perhaps the only chip the government wants Iranian women to tackle is the kind that is baked and/or fried). Or maybe there is a concern that a background in business management would result in the Iranian female equivalent of a Steve Jobs (somehow, “Seeb” sounds a lot less promising than its English counterpart). But it seems to be about much more than that. Writing from exile in the UK, Nobel laureate and extraordinary poet Shirin Ebadi noted that the action “is part of the recent policy of the Islamic Republic, which tries to return women to the private domain inside the home as it cannot tolerate their passionate presence in the public arena. The aim is that women will give up their opposition and demands for their own rights.”
Iran’s senior clerics believe that such a ban would counter the state’s declining birth and marriage rates.
“Some fields are not very suitable for women’s nature,” said Abolfazl Hasani, a senior Iranian education official, according to the Rooz Online report.
But Ebadi believes that the policy is geared towards reducing Iran’s proportion of female students to 50% (it currently stands at 65%).
To us in the U.S. and elsewhere, this move seems counter-productive to the ideal role of government as encouraging, not discouraging, an educated citizenry. How can we understand a system in which the state actually wants to REDUCE the percentage of citizens that seeks higher education? Yet with regards to Iran today, I can imagine something almost akin to Superman’s “Bizarro World,” wherein powerful male government officials congregate in a room and an education minister woefully declares, “We are facing a national emergency. This blasted 65% ratio cannot continue to rise. Therefore, it is truly in the state’s best interest to ensure that the female student rate is reduced to a healthy 50%.” It might be simplistic and even unfair, but that’s how the scenario would play out in my mind. Maybe I’ve read one too many comic strips. Or maybe the fact that in a country with 23% inflation rate, crippling economic sanctions, and tangible instability as a result of internal political backstabbing and external military threats—a sudden urgency to target women and ban them from studying accounting seems almost cartoonish and comical in and of itself.
Iran today is by no means a model for promoting human rights. Yet for me, attacking women on the educational front truly hits below the belt. And it is for one simple reason: I know the potential of Iranian women, of the magic of their minds and the necessary essence of their imaginative knowledge.
I have lived in the U.S. for many years and have been exposed to brilliant Iranian-American women, particularly young professionals whom I count as colleagues through 30 YEARS AFTER—young women such as Channah B., who will begin her Ph.D. in September at UCLA with a full scholarship or Parisa R., who arrived in Cambridge this week to pursue her Master’s at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Yet this is precisely what kills me when I read that dozens of Iranian universities are enforcing “single-gender” courses and programs, i.e. those that will be the exclusive domain of men. For there are millions of Channahs and Parisas living in Iran today. The only disparity is that their opportunities will be very different.
I would like to ask my Iranian-American female friends to imagine for one moment a world in which they could not freely declare their major or submit their graduate thesis…solely on the basis of their gender. To be told to find something other than archaeology or computer science to study, to explore, to devour—two subject areas that will now be off-limits to women at many Iranian universities. Women in Iran that were gearing up for school have received such letters in the past few weeks, notifying them of the various bans.
I suddenly feel silly for having complained about a letter I received from USC in 2010 notifying me of the bookstore’s reduced summer hours.
There’s another point to consider: As Iranian-American Jews, we are irrefutably blessed with regards to the opportunities at our disposal. Yet we must not perceive the situation of Iran’s women today through a simplified lens of pity. I am suddenly reminded of Azar Nafisi’s words in January 2012, ironically delivered at a lecture at the University of Southern California. The Johns Hopkins professor and famed author of “Reading Lolita in Tehran” made an observation that mesmerized me.
“Iranian women,” she declared, “do not need to look at the West to learn how to be free. They simply need to look at their own history, their own ancient texts, and above all, to remember the power of the Iranian woman throughout time, to know exactly what they are capable of, and what can never truly be taken away from them.”
Nafisi was right. She had captured the rock-like inner strength and irrefutable passion that is part and parcel of the genetic makeup of every Iranian woman—regardless of religion or social class.
This is not about feeling sorry for Iranian women. This is about finding ways to empower them.
The story of these recent university bans in Iran has barely made the news. That is why I implore us to understand that the new bans on Iranian women in higher education are OUR problem as well. Therefore, I can only off this simple suggestion: Channah, please take an extra class and write an extra paper while at UCLA. Never take one day as a Bruin for granted, and remember that the topic of your dissertation (Iranian Jewry’s historical relationship with Israel) would not even be an option of study in Iran. Parisa, please find a way to use that public policy degree you will earn in 2014 to promote BETTER policies at home and abroad. For both of you, your hard work and natural intelligence earned you a seat among the best of the best. In this, you are no different than women in Iran today. But to have this seat actually be ACCESSIBLE to you once you’ve earned it is something entirely different.
As for these recent academic bans against women in Iran, they constitute a part of a much bigger picture—a thread in the larger fabric of restrictive state control that spans everything from denying Iranians their pop
music to future access to global internet (just Google “Iran halal internet” to learn more). The regime has added another straw to the burdened back of the Iranian citizen—or as some would note, another nail in its own coffin—by creating yet another grievance for the people of Iran to hold against their leaders.
It is true that a few subjects banned at a few universities may not seem like much in the bigger scheme of things (77 fields across 36 universities, to be exact). But there is only so much people can stand to be withheld from them. I can already see the signs during the next round of mass Iranian protests that died off in 2009, which are now all but inevitable:
“Where’s my vote?”
“Death to the dictator.”
“Long live a free Iran.”
“I want my Computer Science back.”