By: Michael Yadegaran
Growing up, I listened in utter disbelief as different members of my family recalled the hardships they endured as political refugees leaving Iran. Their accounts revisit the arduous and heartbreaking process of fleeing a country so deeply entwined with our history as Iranian Jews. It seemed to me that nothing I ever did could match the sacrifices my family, and thousands of others made, in order to plant the roots for myself and my fellow first-generation Iranian Jews in America. Our families instilled in us values that emanated from a traditionalist society, some of which serve as a collective annoyance to us youngsters, but in hindsight provided us with a head start on our competition. Arguably the most important advantage we have been given is our community’s emphasis on leadership and success.
The countless hours studying, the expectations of a degree from no less than UCLA, and the necessity to maintain a positive name for our families levy a burden on us college-aged members of the community. With the outburst of creativity and leadership from my generation in recent years, these societal pressures have fostered a thirst and ambition among young Iranian Jews that many of my American contemporaries lack.
One such bright spot has been the establishment and sustained impact of an organization that I am proud to be a part of: 30 Years After. Over the years, Iranian Jews have established themselves as philanthropists in America. However, our political activism rarely reached beyond the occasional campaign contribution. The establishment of 30 Years After brought to our community a highly organized and determined grassroots Iranian Jewish activist organization, unprecedented in our thirty years in America. A major factor that has lead to 30 Years After’s ability to galvanize the community and stir up interest in civic action has been the infusion of young blood into our community organizing work.
Well-established and longstanding Iranian Jewish organizations are, and continue to be, highly motivated and effective in the fields of immigrant support, philanthropy, and social services. The one sector that they have never successfully tackled is politics. Much of the previous generation, disenchanted with the state of political affairs and fearful of being politically active in Iran, did not have the desire or motivation to enter the political arena. Rather, they focused on professional success, leaving a lasting mark in real estate, business, law, and medicine.
With the entrance of an Iranian Jewish organization in the United States whose narrow focus is political participation and civic action on a community-wide level, we are in the midst of a movement that has the potential to extend its influence over local and national politics in the near future. Members of 30 Years After’s Board of Directors, all under the age of thirty (myself included), have testified at local and state hearings in favor of state legislation that would divest California and Los Angeles pension funds from companies doing business in Iran’s energy sector. 30 Years After has built relationships with leading local, state, and national elected officials in an effort to give voice to the Iranian American Jewish community. Leading Jewish organizations consistently partner with us on events and programs. We have registered hundreds of new voters and educated our community on issues such as health care reform, energy independence, and Iran’s nuclear program.
Starting from mixers and transitioning to substantive, activism-based events, 30 Years After is striving to be the necessary vehicle to give Iranian American Jews the political clout we deserve. It is now up to our community to stand behind us and give meaning to the work we do.
Michael Yadegaran is a Junior at the University of California, San Diego pursuing a B.A. in History with an emphasis on Near East Studies. He serves on 30 Years After’s Board of Directors and is currently studying at Tel Aviv University in Ramat Aviv, Israel. To learn more about 30 Years After and the 2nd biennial Civic Action Conference on October 10th, 2010 please visit www.30YearsAfter.org.