August 20, 2019

Delivering Kindness to Iranian Senior Center on Purim

2019 Maher Fellow Daniella Cohan helps prepare Purim baskets for residents of the Iranian Jewish Senior Center. Photo courtesy of 30 Years After

Candice Hakimianpour is looking forward to spending this Purim in the company of an older man.

For 29-year-old Hakimianpour, this Purim, she’ll forgo her usual Purim parties with fellow young professionals to spend her time with the septuagenarians and octogenarians at the Iranian Jewish Senior Center in Beverly Hills.

Hakimianpour is a member of a group of current and alumni members of 30 Years After’s Maher Fellowship program who will be delivering Purim baskets to center’s residents.

Established in 2014, the six-month fellowship is the nation’s only leadership program for young Iranian-American Jews. The program promotes leadership in American civic, political and Jewish life through bimonthly sessions that focus on topics ranging from the history of Persian Jewry to Israel advocacy and the imperative for philanthropy. This weekend, fellows are headed to the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. 

All of the residents of the senior center fled Iran after the revolution in 1979. 

“I see this visit to the senior center as visiting a significant piece of our past,” Hakimianpour said. “We can learn from it, gain wisdom with each conversation, and shape our future by heeding their advice.” 

Kevin Delijani, 25, said, “I grew up as a Persian Jew in Los Angeles because the generations that came before me built a community here 40 years ago. Whether there is still a Persian-Jewish community here in 40 years depends on my generation, and there is no better way to learn how we can make it thrive than from the people who built it.” 

Daniella Cohan, 26, who helped make Purim baskets for the seniors several days before the event, said, “I’m grateful to be able to give back to those in the community who sacrificed so much to build better lives for our generation.” 

Ilana Yazdi, the senior center’s general manager, told the Journal that the Maher Fellows will be the first group of young professionals to visit the facility since the center’s founding in 2003. 

“This is so important,” she said. “For our seniors, they need this kind of attention, and youthful energy always uplifts and encourages them. The visitors can remind our residents of themselves and their children when they were young. And for the young people, when they visit here and see that they, too, will one day grow very old, they’ll be reminded to be a little kinder — both to themselves and to their parents.”

The organization 30 Years After plans to also visit the Iranian Jewish Senior Center next month to help residents welcome Shabbat with challah, grape juice, songs and stories. 

“Elie Wiesel once said that in Jewish history, there are no coincidences,” said 30 Years After President Sam Yebri. “That our community survived persecution in ancient Persia and again in modern Iran is no coincidence. Only by breaking bread with our elders can we find meaning and purpose in our survival.”

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer and former co-founder and executive director of 30 Years After. She currently serves as director of the Maher Fellowship. 

Trick Or Treat. Or Sukkah.

Photo by PxHere

In November 2014, I moderated a panel on the future of American Jewry at 30 Years After’s fourth biennial Civic Action conference at the Skirball Cultural Center. Only this time, the topic was the future of Iranian-American Jews, and a heated conversation began that, for me, actually foretold the future of our community with tangible clarity.

Simon Etehad, former president of Nessah synagogue, passionately argued that Iranian-American Jews ought to focus more on their Jewish identities than their Persian or American ones. Writer and Jewish Journal contributor Gina Nahai said she saw nothing wrong with our community practicing Persian and American customs.

At one point, Etehad said something I’ll never forget. His voice resonating with frustration, he demanded to know why, at that time of the year, there were so many Halloween decorations on the front lawns of local Iranian Jews and so few sukkahs. 

His question was met with thunderous applause from half of the audience. Nahai then reminded everyone that our community was Persian, so why would we want to shed the proud, millennia-old heritage that made us so distinct? Besides, we were in America now. 

Her response, too, was met with wild applause from half of the room, which consisted of roughly 800 Persian Jews between the ages of 21 and 60.

There you had it. Two Persian Jews, both immersed in their local community in Los Angeles, albeit in different ways, literally arguing over whether Persian Jews had any business putting up fake skeletons on their front lawns when they should have erected sukkahs.

I was enthralled by both the audience’s embrace or rejection of their assertions. Half of the Persians in the room wanted something like Halloween because they believed they could compartmentalize their identities —Iranian, American and Jewish — while still not losing anything. The other half was clearly concerned that such an ancient Jewish community was at risk of losing itself by embracing very non-Jewish practices. 

“Iranian-American Jewish families who enthusiastically embrace very non-Jewish, but very American, traditions like Halloween should ask themselves whether their kids exude as much excitement over Jewish traditions.”

I had to admit that I never once heard of my ancestors dressing up like vampires. My paternal grandfather was famous for the joy he derived from setting up his sukkah in Tehran each fall, and my great-grandparents were too busy suffering in Iran’s Jewish ghettos to pass out candy to children in costumes. 

Before I began to observe Shabbat roughly six years ago, I attended a Halloween party on a Friday night, hosted by one of my young Persian Jewish friends. It was October 2008, and I came dressed as Sarah Palin. Since I would always be home with family on Friday nights, I felt a little strange to be pushing my way through hundreds of other young Persian Jews who, like me, had clearly chosen Halloween over Shabbat. I knew that their butts also should have been back home, fighting over rice. 

And then I realized that the young party guests had enjoyed Shabbat dinner with their families and then left for the party. They, like me, had tried to dip a toe into both worlds. 

But at the end of the day, we don’t pass down costumes, but customs. 

Our children learn by watching our values in action. They can either see us sweating over getting the sukkah just right (or lamenting that we don’t have room for one) or watch us struggle to put fake witches on the front lawn. 

For Iranian-American Jewish families who enthusiastically embrace very non-Jewish, but very American, traditions like Halloween (which I used to love as a kid), I implore that they ask themselves whether their kids exude as much excitement over Jewish traditions. 

I don’t know if it’s too late. Perhaps more than a toe has been dipped; perhaps the entire foot is now in the cauldron.  

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer.

American Jews should stand with Iran’s Protestors

Nearly two and half years ago a large segment of Ashkenazi Jewish leaders and activists in Los Angeles, New York and across the country came out in strong support of the Obama administration’s Iran Deal based on the belief that the deal would “help improve the lives of the people of Iran” who were suffering economically and help “bring about reform in Iran for average Iranians”. As a result of the deal, billions of dollars in free money and sanctions relief were given to the Iranian regime by the U.S. and Europe. Many of these Jews not only vocally supported the Iran Deal, but also labeled many of us other Jews in the country who opposed the deal, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi alike, as “warmongers” and against finding a “peaceful diplomatic solution” to the crisis with Iran.

Yet within the last two weeks with the thousands of Iranians peacefully protesting in nearly two dozen Iranian cities against their repressive Islamic regime, we have seen that the 2015 Iran Deal clearly did nothing to help the people of Iran economically nor provide them with any improvement in their daily lives. The corrupt ayatollahs in Iran who made the deal have instead spent the billions for their own personal benefit or to fund their foreign wars fought by terrorist groups. The clerics in Iran have moreover killed, beaten and imprisoned these innocent peaceful protestors who only want better economic opportunities, a free society and a democratic representative government that is answerable to them. Therefore with the current events unfolding in Iran today, the same Jews in America who supported the Iran Deal, today have a responsibility to now stand in solidarity with the people of Iran seeking regime change on their own terms in Iran.

As an Iranian American Jew I will be the first to admit that I was vehemently against the 2015 Iran Deal and whole-hardheartedly support the protestors in Iran today because my family along with thousands of other Iranian Jews experienced the anti-Semitism and pure evil of this Islamic regime in Iran which forced us to flee that country nearly four decades ago. Yet I call on the American Jewish community who has long been strong proponents of social justice causes, equality and freedom movements to support the people of Iran that today are fighting to rid themselves of an oppressive regime. During the Cold War was it not American Jewry who were among the most vocal against the tyranny of the former Soviet Union toward Jews and opponents of the Soviet Communist regime?  Were American Jews not among those who stood with Polish Solidarity union activists during their protest against the Communist Polish regime? Were American Jews not among the many that stood shoulder to shoulder with Nelson Mandela and his freedom movement against the apartheid system in South Africa? Did Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and other American Jewish activists not march arm in arm with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Right Movement? And even today, many American Jewish congregations have even taken on the cause of “Tikkun Olam” or healing the world through their volunteerism in their own neighborhoods and to parts of Africa. Therefore it is imperative that this long and proud tradition of support for real social justice movements must continue and be carried forward by American Jews for the plight of average Iranian citizens seeking greater freedoms in their country and better economic opportunities despite the repression they have faced from their oppressive radical Islamic regime. We cannot and we must not remain silent and on the side lines while innocent men, women and even children are beaten and slaughtered in the streets of Iranian cities just for protesting against a corrupt government that has done nothing to improve their lives but instead spent their country’s wealth on funding terrorist groups throughout the Middle East.

Supporting the protestors in the streets of Iran who want regime change in their country, is not merely to the ultimate benefit of America and Israel’s security, but more importantly it is the right and moral thing to do. After all do we as Jews not read the Torah every year in the book of Deuteronomy in Parashat Shoftim which states “justice, justice shall you pursue”? As a people who for millennia have faced unspeakable violence, hatred, injustice, pogroms and even genocide, we have always spoken out in every part of the world in support of those who were downtrodden and oppressed.

Today our support of the peace-loving people of Iran would be no different and essential at this juncture in time. We already have seen leaders and individuals throughout Israel voicing support for average Iranians protesting for better lives on the streets of Iran. Likewise L.A.’s Simon Wiesenthal Center recently became among the first national Jewish organizations to also voice support for the Iranian protestors. And even if the Iranian ayatollahs and military apparatus ruling Iran may claim our support for the average Iranian protesters is a part of some “great American or Zionist conspiracy” to bring down their regime, we must stand steadfast with those Iranians seeking a democratic representative government in their country. How much longer can we stand idle and not speak up while the regime in Iran not only slaughters and imprisons its own citizens, but whose leaders constantly deny the Holocaust and call for a second annihilation against our brethren living in Israel?

More importantly for Jews and non-Jews who love peace and abhor war, standing in solidarity with the people of Iran protesting today is a moral and just thing to support because it avoids unnecessary conflict between nations when the people of Iran will eventually overthrow their country’s oppressive leaders. We as American Jews, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, conservative and liberal, secular and religious, have a duty to speak with one voice for freedom and in support of those innocents in Iran who want to liberate their own country from a repressive regime. We as American Jews must today recall the gift of freedom the ancient Persian king, Cyrus the Great granted us from the bondage of Babylonian captivity and in turn stand with his descendants in Iran who today are seeking the world’s support to free themselves from their own yoke of radical Islamic bondage and oppression.

Trump’s in the Torah

President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up to reporters as he waits to speak by phone with Saudi Arabia's King Salman. Jan. 29. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

You learn a great deal at your average Shabbat dinner, not just about the family and the latest goings on in everyone’s lives, but also about God, religion, science and economics.

These days, if you like your relatives and wish to stay related to them, you avoid talking politics except to say, “Yes, ma’am, I know I should be ashamed of myself for voting for crazy, corrupt Hillary and before her, Muslim-spy-intent-on-destroying-this-country Obama. I understand that Trump is going to save America and you and me with it. I’m glad you already feel safer, richer and more powerful.”

You learn that every news article in The New York Times and The Washington Post is “fake,” and that renowned, anti-Trump, conservative columnists like David Brooks and George F. Will are “desperate liberals.” You also learn, as I did last Friday night, that Donald J. Trump’s name appears several times in the Torah.

This latest gem of knowledge, you’re told, has been unearthed by scholars of the Old Testament for some time, and now is available at your neighborhood Orthodox shul. It may not be readily visible to the average person reading the Torah, but it’s clear as day to the experts, like Tom Hanks in “The Da Vinci Code,” who can detect and interpret signs and patterns and secret codes buried in the text.

You learn all this and if you want people to like you, or at least not dislike you very much, you throw your hands up and say, I sure hope you’re right.

I realize there were Trump voters in this country who kept their intentions to themselves until they went into the voting booth, but I assure you they weren’t Iranian Jews. Among our kind, it’s the Democrats who keep a low profile, get laughed at or vilified for their beliefs, get shouted at, lectured to, accused of taking money from liberal groups to spread misinformation about one candidate or another. As far as I can tell, somewhere around 60 percent of Iranian-American Jews and at least 30 percent of Iranian-Americans of Muslim background are Trump supporters. The Jews like his support of Israel, the Muslims like his opposition to the regime in Iran.

Well, who am I to say if these people are right or wrong? I have my opinion and they have theirs. I’m always wary of candidates who promise a great deal, and I’m quick to see and point out shortcomings in candidates I voted for. I’d be an imbecile to want to change anyone’s mind or to think that’s actually possible in today’s political climate. But if I were foolhardy enough to try to engage my Trumpist countrymen, and stupid enough to expect a civil response, I would really, truly, sincerely want to know how they explain the distance between what they advocate for the rest of the world and what they want for themselves.

Iranian hawks on Israel, for example, will tell you that peace with the Arabs is impossible, but they wouldn’t be caught dead letting a single one of their children serve in the Israeli army, much less fight in a war. I’m talking about those Iranian Jews who came to the United States instead of settling in Israel, or who settled in Israel until their children were of military service age, then quickly moved to the States.

Iranian hawks on Iran — Iranians of Muslim heritage — can’t wait to send American troops to the region, but only because we don’t have a draft.

They have no problem with a president who will appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court, couldn’t care less whether Roe v. Wade is overturned, but most of them wouldn’t hesitate to get an abortion. They say they’re not racist; they just happen to know that a woman who looks like Michelle Obama should not be allowed in the White House. They vote against LGBT rights until one of their own comes out. They say Barack Obama was a traitor because his middle name was Hussein and that he bowed to the Saudi king, but they don’t mind at all Trump’s cozy relationship with Putin.

They, who immigrated to this country less than four decades ago, truly believe that banning refugees who have been vetted for 36 months before being allowed into the country is morally and strategically sound. They, the majority of whom stayed in this country illegally — after their tourist or student visas ran out — and operated under the radar for years until they were able to gain political refugee status, who have put to excellent use the cheap labor provided by undocumented  men and women from south of the border, who have made fortunes from manufacturing goods in Asia or South America or selling stuff to Mexico, will tell you without irony that all illegals should be deported and all economic borders should be protected. That anyone who breaks the law by staying in the United States without permission must be sent back.

I would like to know how they rationalize these contradictions, and I’d love to know which genius code breaker detected Trump’s name in the Torah, but I’ve already made myself unpopular enough with my people, so I let it rest.

GINA NAHAI’s most recent novel is “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S”

Dual Tragedy of the Plasco Building Fire

For many Iranian-American Jews, the fire in and collapse of the historic Plasco Building in Tehran on Jan. 19 was a tragedy many times over.

The heartbreak comes not only from the loss of 75 innocent lives who tried to fight the fire or were trapped in the building; the building’s demise also rekindled the painful memories of the unjust execution of Habib Elghanian, the Jewish community leader who originally built the structure. The Plasco Building was one of the remaining symbols of the Jewish community’s height of success in Iran during its modern “golden age.” Not to acknowledge the Elghanian family’s role in this building’s creation and the tragedy that befell Habib Elghanian at the hands of the Iranian regime is also a travesty.

Media outlets worldwide have not extensively acknowledged the important role of the Elghanian family in the Plasco Building’s creation or only briefly mentioned Habib Elghanian’s name in passing. Elghanian and his brothers were among the most affluent and successful Jewish businessmen in Iran before the 1979 Iranian Revolution. They not only imported an array of goods from the West into the Iranian market and expanded infrastructure but also brought new technologies to Iran that helped the country manufacture its own goods and, as a result, helped employ thousands of Iranians in their businesses. The Elghanian family was equally generous in giving back to countless needy causes in Iran, Jewish and non-Jewish.

The Plasco Building, completed in 1962 and standing 17 stories, was the first privately built “high rise” of the modern era created in Iran. It was also the first modern “mall” of that early era in Iran, with floors that were home to many new stores for various goods and services. The Plasco Building was elegant and modern in design and structure for its time, and a huge departure from the ancient slum-like “bazaars” of Iran’s past where people typically went to buy their goods. At a time when Iran was beginning to modernize, the building was a powerful symbol of both the country’s positive transformation and the immense achievement of Iranian Jews.

It was likewise a symbol of great pride for Iranian Jews who, just four decades before, had been forced by the Qajar kings of Iran to live in poverty and in run-down ghettos.

“Jews were proud, of course, that a Jewish person had built this iconic building, but many elders in the community were apprehensive about its implications and the much expected backlash by Muslims, envious of Jewish accomplishments,” Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian-Jewish activist living in Los Angeles, told me this week.

Jewish community leaders in Iran worried about the Plasco Building’s backlash because, according to Shahrzad Elghanayan, Habib Elghanian’s granddaughter, Iranian Shiite cleric Mahmoud Taleghani “objected to the idea that a Jew had built the tallest building of its time in Iran.” No doubt Taleghani, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and other Shiite clerics were furious at the Pahlavi kings, who had created an environment of co-existence and tolerance among Muslims and non-Muslims in Iran. The late Shah of Iran and his father had essentially set aside the old Islamic Shariah laws, which were designed to impose or ensure superiority of Muslims over Jews or other “infidels.” The Plasco Building, built and owned by a Jew, was a direct slap in the face to that radical Islamic dogma at the time because the notion of a Jewish building being taller in size than Muslim-owned buildings was a totally unacceptable notion for the fanatic Iranian religious clerics.

When Elghanian was executed, the news spread like wildfire among Iran’s 80,000-strong Jewish community and sparked the first massive wave of Jews fleeing the country.

Those fears turned out to be prescient. On May 9, 1979, Elghanian was executed by a firing squad of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard after being accused on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel and the United States. Elghanian first was given a 20-minute sham trial in front of the Iranian Revolution Court and TV cameras, but never was allowed to consult with an attorney, nor any chance to defend himself from the baseless charges. When Elghanian was executed, the news spread like wildfire among Iran’s 80,000-strong Jewish community and sparked the first massive wave of Jews fleeing the country. On that disastrous day, the lives of Iran’s Jews were forever transformed for the worse. It was then that they realized when their beloved community leader could be so easily executed with no real evidence, they too were no longer safe in a country where they had lived for nearly 3,000 years.

In 2009, on the 30th anniversary of his execution, I had the unique opportunity to interview Elghanian family members, Iranian-Jewish leaders and Iranian Muslims who knew Habib Elghanian well and who recalled their memories of his imprisonment and execution. One of the most revealing interviews I had was with Sion Elghanian, Habib Elghanian’s brother, who told me that Habib had left Iran during the initial chaos of the revolution but then returned to Iran because of his patriotism and commitment to Iran’s Jews as their leader.

“We all begged him not to go back to Iran — including Israeli Prime Minister Begin, because we all knew the new regime would execute him if he returned,” Sion Elghanian said. “He said, ‘I have done nothing wrong for them to execute me. I’ve created jobs and businesses to help the country grow and helped many Iranians of all faiths. Why should they kill me?’ ”

Sion revealed his family had made plans to bribe officials to help Habib escape the prison and country, but Habib refused to go along with the plans.

“He told us he would not go along with the plan to escape because if he did, the Iranian regime would take revenge by executing Jews in Iran. In this way, he sacrificed his life for the community.”

Another revealing interview was of an Iranian-Muslim businessman named Nasser Oliae, who was a longtime Elghanian friend and had nothing but praise for him. “One day they must create a giant statue of Habib Elghanian in the middle of Tehran for all of the great things he did for that country! He brought the plastics manufacturing industry to Iran, he hired thousands of people, he gave generously to thousands of Iranians of all religions who were needy. He was a man who truly loved Iran and wanted to see the country’s success,” Oliae said.

Habib Elghanian

Habib Elghanian

Habib Elghanian was an innocent Jew who was executed for no reason by the evil Iranian regime, and that regime still has not apologized to Iranian Jewry for this injustice.

Elghanian family members sold the building in 1975 to Hojabr Yazdani, an affluent Iranian-Baha’i businessman. After the revolution, the Iranian regime’s official “nonprofit” organization, called Bonyad-e Mostaz-afaan, confiscated the Plasco Building from Yazdani in 1979, and has been operating it since then. Bonyad-e Mostaz-afaan, which translates to “organization for the oppressed people,” was a front established by the Iranian regime’s ayatollahs after the 1979 Revolution to expropriate the assets of any person who they believed was an “infidel” in order to allegedly “redistribute” it to the poor or needy in Iran. Unfortunately for Iran’s poor, the Bonyad-e Mostaz-afaan has in the past 38 years never given a penny to them. Instead, the money and assets this group has confiscated over the years from Jews, Muslims, Christians and Baha’is have all gone into the pockets of the ruling Iranian ayatollahs. All of the Elghanian family assets and properties were also confiscated by the Bonyad-e Mostaz-afaan.

What is truly unfortunate about the recent Plasco Building fire was the fact that, since it was owned by the Iranian regime, no one will be brought to justice for the failure to upkeep the building and prevent the fire hazards that brought it down. We will never know what caused the fire or explosion that destroyed this iconic building in Tehran, and sadly, the ayatollahs who profited from the building for the past 38 years will never be held accountable for the fire code violations that resulted in the loss of so many innocent lives.

In the end, the Plasco Building fire disaster not only caused the death of many individuals but the loss of one of the remaining symbols of Jewish contributions to Iran during the 20th century. The building was also a symbol of the bygone era of modernity and new development that an Iranian Jew named Habib Elghanian and his brothers brought to Iran. Today, we cannot forget the calamity that befell Habib Elghanian at the hands of the current Iranian regime, nor can we forget the tremendous contributions thousands of Iranian Jews made to the betterment of the nation of Iran during the 20th century. 

Young Iranian-Jews discuss taboo topics at UCLA

Nearly 300 young Iranian Jews packed UCLA’s Fowler Museum auditorium on March 7 for a discussion featuring five prominent young Iranian-Jewish professionals openly discussing topics considered to be taboo within their community. The gathering was historic not only because young Iranian-Jews do not typically discuss their problems regarding career choices and personal relationships in a public forum — but also because this event marked the first time an openly gay member of the community has discussed issues of homosexuality facing Iranian-Jews in Los Angeles.

“I believe that we were aiming to create the types of dialogues and conversations that are already occurring between young Iranian-American Jews when they sit down together — only this time, we wanted to expand these expressions to a public forum so as to send a message that it is OK to actually discuss these issues openly and as a community,” the event’s moderator, Tabby Davoodi, executive director of the L.A.-based Iranian-Jewish nonprofit 30 Years After (30YA), said.

While 30YA did not sponsor the event, Davoodi said many of the local young Iranian-Jews who make up its membership were drawn to the event to learn how to speak to their family about pressures surrounding career choices or about issues of sex and marriage.

Speakers included Saba Soomekh, a theological studies professor at Loyola Marymount University, and her sister, Iranian-Jewish film actress Bahar Soomekh; hotel and nightclub entrepreneur Sam Nazarian; financial adviser Joseph Radparvar; and Shervin Khorramian, an openly gay Iranian-Jewish accountant. Fowler Museum organizers chose each speaker because they demonstrated independence and challenged community taboos. Each speaker talked about how young people in the community should feel empowered to make decisions in their own lives and take steps to shatter the taboos.

“I think it’s only natural for Iranian-Jews, as immigrants to this country, to be scared and want to keep their kids near them and push them into areas which they think are best for their kids,” Nazarian said. “But it’s up to each one of us in the younger generation to have the courage to follow our passions and make decisions that are best for us personally.”

Radparvar, 30, expressed the frustration many young Iranian-Jewish professionals face as their parents push them into medicine or law for the potential financial rewards. 

“Every single day I was in law school I was miserable, and I know there are hundreds of other young Iranian-Jews who feel the same way because they go into certain fields just to make their parents happy,” Radparvar said. “I had to leave home and remove myself from that environment to find the inner strength to choose a career path I was happier with.”

Saba Soomekh said her young Iranian-Jewish students frequently say they feel trapped and are unable to speak with anyone about their issues of sexuality and relationships.

“The amount of sexual confusion in our community and the need for women to keep their sexual purity is at a ridiculously high level,” Soomekh said. “The fear of backlash and spreading of gossip has gotten to the point where girls can’t even talk to their girlfriends about issues of sex.”

She also said some Iranian-Jewish parents expect their daughters to remain virgins until marriage while looking the other way when sons are sexually active, creating a double standard that is a point of contention for young women in the community.

Homosexuality is a highly taboo topic in the community, as well. Many gay community members are not open about their sexuality out of fear of being ostracized by family or friends. Khorramian said Iranian-Jewish parents, especially, face a significant difficulty when gay children come out of the closet.

“I can understand the sense of loss Iranian-Jewish parents feel when their kid comes out to them, because they feel the child has left their culture and their norms,” Khorramian said. “The second you come out, the roles are reversed. You become the teacher, and your parents become the students — so you have to be patient, considerate, accepting and forgiving of them.”

Khorramian also said many young Iranian-Jews who are gay lead double lives. They often use the Internet for anonymity, which can expose them to sexual predators online or other dangers.

Iraj Shamsian, an Iranian-Jewish psychologist who has long helped young Iranian-Jews open up to their families about their homosexuality, but was not at the UCLA event, said that community members need to have ongoing public discussions about sexuality, drug abuse and alternative career choices.

“The reality is that there are Iranian-Jews who are drug addicts, or who are gay or have mental health issues — we don’t have to like it, but we must acknowledge these people and slowly begin a healthy community dialogue about these topics in order to grow as a society,” Shamsian said. “We have to change as a community, so people who need help can get help, and we need to take a risk to understand these issues and not to judge individuals facing these issues.”

Shamsian said he hopes to begin a support group for young gay Iranian Jews to help them come out to their families and to embrace their new identities. 

30YA head Davoodi said that while currently there are no plans for future events on the topic, she has been bombarded with positive feedback from attendees expressing their support for the open dialogue created by the event.

“There is a way to explore the taboo issues in healthy, gentle ways without sacrificing our amazing principles and traditions,” Davoodi said. “It all begins with listening, compassion and suspension of judgment, whenever possible.” 

Iranian Jews honor local Jewish nonprofits, HIAS

Nearly 500 local Iranian Jews packed two auditoriums at UCLA’s Fowler Museum on Jan. 28 for an event honoring three prominent Los Angeles-area Jewish nonprofits and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). 

The gathering, sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation and the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF), marked the first time in more than three decades that the Iranian-Jewish community has publicly thanked HIAS, the Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) and Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) for helping community members immigrate, often under duress, from their native Iran and resettle in Los Angeles.

“Today, after 30 years, we can now stop and recognize these incredible four organizations for the kind help they offered us from the moment we left Iran until today,” Younes Nazarian, chair of the foundation, said. “It is now our community’s duty to return the kindness bestowed on us by these groups by not only donating to them, but volunteering our time and serving on their boards.”

Iranian-Jewish community members at the event expressed gratitude for the help extended by the larger Jewish community as these new immigrants dealt with the trauma of fleeing a revolution-torn Iran in the late 1970s and 1980s.

“These Jewish institutions opened their doors graciously and offered their services to us that were culturally sensitive and confidential — this was vital for our community that has a collective culture in which there is a strong pathology of guilt and shame in receiving help,” said Morgan Hakimi, the event’s emcee, who is also a former president of the Beverly Hills-based Nessah Synagogue.

Individual Iranian Jews shared personal stories with the audience about how each nonprofit had aided them. Elnaz Panbechi, a 20-something recent immigrant and pharmaceuticals graduate student, said she was overwhelmed with joy after receiving a no-interest loan from JFLA.

“I started to realize and appreciate the people that were behind these loans,” an emotional Panbechi said. “I became thankful for being in a community and amongst people that were so caring and have their hands to help another person like me build a better life for myself.”

Among the programs offered by JVS is a women’s career mentoring program, called WoMentoring; according to JVS, over the past seven years, one-third of JVS’ scholarship recipients have been high-achieving Iranian-Jewish students with financial difficulties.

At the same time, the larger Iranian community has also benefited from JFS’ Iranian Peer Counseling Helpline, which offers Farsi-speaking counselors to help with family problems. JFS has also provided seminars and programs for Iranians dealing with drug abuse, domestic violence, elder abuse, depression, homelessness, mental illness, poverty and other social problems that are cultural taboos to discuss within the community.

Perhaps the most emotional aspect of the event came in the outpouring of love for HIAS, which since the 1979 Iranian revolution has been instrumental in rescuing and resettling Jews and other religious minorities fleeing Iran, including Christians, Baha’is and Zoroastrians. 

“HIAS has played a very important role in influencing elected officials in Congress to keep the doors of immigration open to religious minorities escaping Iran — particularly under the leadership of Jerry Teller, one of HIAS’ past chairmen, who was instrumental during some of the most challenging times,” said Elliot Benjamin, an Iranian-Jewish attorney and member of the Resettlement Committee of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Since 1979, approximately 80,000 Jews have fled Iran and now reside in Israel, Europe or the United States. Today, between 10,000 and 20,000 Jews are believed to be still living in Iran and are gradually leaving the country every year with the help of HIAS.

Shahla Javdan, president of IAJF, said HIAS has helped roughly 47 percent of the Jews who have left since 1979 to resettle in Los Angeles, and the organization has also given nearly 350 scholarships to Iranian immigrants in the United States. 

“The immigration experience is unpleasant, and when Iranian Jews or any other refugees are experiencing it, they grumble and complain about it to HIAS just as the Hebrews complained to Moses when they were escaping from Egypt,” Mark Hetfield, the interim president and CEO of HIAS, said. “So it is very moving to see so many Iranian Jews understand today that we at HIAS were trying to help them all to move to a better place.”

Out of fear of repercussions within Iran, HIAS and local leaders have not publicized the group’s efforts in helping religious minorities to flee their country, yet recent political trends in Washington, D.C., have transformed their policy. Specifically, the expiration in September of legislation in Congress known as the Lautenberg Amendment, which allows for religious minorities in Iran to more easily seek asylum in the United States for humanitarian reasons. As a result of the expiration, HIAS has gone public to encourage members of Congress to renew the law.

The evening also marked a growing trend in the often insular and tight-knit local Iranian-Jewish community to connect with the larger Jewish community, as well as a new spirit of volunteerism. 

“It is now time for us as a community of Iranian-Americans to get engaged and involved in these community organizations in order to bring about real change,” Sharon Nazarian, president of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation, said. “We need to be at the table in order to be relevant, to have a say and to be a part of the decision-making process.”

For more information on the Iranian-Jewish community’s night of appreciation, visit Karmel Melamed’s blog at

PBS’ Iranian-American Story

Following more than three decades of Iranians flourishing in the United States, a documentary titled “The Iranian Americans” offers a nostalgic look at how tens of thousands of immigrants resettled in America following the 1979 revolution in Iran. It will air Dec. 18 at 9:30 p.m. on PBS.

After quickly establishing the circumstances behind the political upheaval in Iran during the late 1970s, the film features interviews with various Iranian-Americans who shed light on the difficulty they experienced in leaving their homes in Iran and coming to a land of freedom in which they were unfamiliar with the language or culture. Whether Muslim, Jew, Baha’i, Christian or Zoroastrian, the Iranian-Americans in this film reveal the duality of their cultures and how they succeeded in their new home.

Numerous prominent Iranian-Americans are featured, including former Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad, who is Jewish; Citicorp vice chairman Hamid Biglari; the former head of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, Firouz Naderi; and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Goli Ameri. All discuss how they were able to achieve high levels of success due to their pursuit of higher education and hard work.

“I think Iranians living in the U.S. are so misunderstood by average Americans, who do not know the tremendous contributions they’ve made to our country and the pride they have for being Americans,” said Andrew Goldberg, the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker behind “The Iranian Americans.”

The documentary shows how Iranian-Americans live bicultural lives by keeping alive some of their music, food, poetry and other traditions — such as Nowruz, the Iranian New Year — while at the same time taking on new American traditions, such as Thanksgiving. This cultural juggling shows up in language, too. Citicorp’s Biglari points out that Iranian-Americans today “sometimes speak Farsi and sometimes speak English or sometimes count in English and sometimes count in Farsi.”

Captured in the film is the sense of nostalgia some older Iranian-Americans have for their former homeland — and with it the desire to visit there one day. But at the same time, it highlights the tremendous pride they have in being U.S. citizens.

Numerous Iranian-Jewish scholars, journalists and writers explore the acculturation of Iranian Jews into American society and how a large segment of Iranian Jewry was embraced by Jews already living in the United States.

Despite showing the trials and tribulations of the immigrant experience, the film also has several lighthearted moments, thanks to Iranian-born stand-up comedian Maz Jobrani, a Muslim who pokes fun at the behavior of certain older Iranian-Americans. Jobrani even recites famous Iranian poetry in Farsi and jokes at how some would not approve of his Farsi accent.

For his part, Goldberg said he wanted to educate the public about the Iranian-American community while at the same time celebrating its tremendous achievements and successes over the last three decades. Yet making the film wasn’t always easy, he said.

“I think the two biggest challenges we had [were] obtaining financial support for making this documentary from the community and also interviewing certain people who were afraid that the Iranian regime may take what they say out of context and possibly create problems for their family members still living in Iran,” Goldberg said.

In the past Goldberg has produced similar documentaries for public television about other immigrant groups, including Armenians, Jewish-Americans and a 2007 film regarding anti-Semitism in the 21st century.

While the film accurately showcases the various Iranian-American religious groups and their achievements in the United States, it omits the tremendous sense of friendship, mutual respect and camaraderie Iranians of all religions living in the United States share for one another. 

And even though the documentary discusses the dictatorial nature of the government of the late shah of Iran, it fails to mention the advances in education, prosperity and social tolerance all Iranians experienced for one another in the country prior to the revolution. 

Another element that is missing is how many non-Muslim Iranians, including Jews, Christians and Baha’is, still struggle to live with the significant trauma resulting from persecution they experienced at the hands of Iran’s current brutal regime. 

Overall, though, the “The Iranian Americans” documentary is a fairly good representation of the larger Iranian community living in the United States and how its members struggled to become acculturated into American society over the years. 

Author promotes moderate faith for Iranian Jews

After their immigration to Southern California more than 30 years ago, the majority of the area’s Iranian Jewish community poured their energies into re-establishing themselves financially. Following their success, some Iranian Jews have turned their attention to promoting philanthropy in the arts, education and Israel in recent years.

Nourallah “Norman” Gabay, a semi-retired Iranian-Jewish businessman, is one of perhaps a dozen older individuals in the community who has been using his wealth to promote Jewish education and values, among Jews and non-Jews alike.

A resident of Beverly Hills and a founding member of the Magbit Foundation, the 82-year-old Gabay authored and self-published “An Invitation to Reason,” a 2009 Persian-language book that suggests Iranian Jews should reject religious extremism and follow a traditional yet moderate form of Judaism instead.

Gabay said his main motivation in writing the book was to address a divisiveness and sectarianism that has taken root within his community, which he says has strayed from 2,500-year-old Iranian-Jewish traditions.

“I wrote this book to better inform our community and our society of the neglected dangers of the status quo, and to help prevent the further spread of such irrational divisiveness, or even sectarianism,” said Gabay, who poured approximately $80,000 into editing and publishing the book.

For centuries, the Jewish community in Iran followed a traditional religious practice that might best be described as “Conservadox.” After their immigration to the United States, Iranian Jews split among the movements of American Judaism — Reform, Conservative and Orthodox — a gradual division that Gabay says has often caused great strife among tight-knit families in the Iranian-Jewish communities living in Southern California and New York.

Despite the fact that Gabay has no formal rabbinic or religious training, he has not shied away from this controversial topic. He says that the children of immigrant Iranian-Jewish families have been particularly vulnerable, and that Chasidic and ultra-Orthodox communities have encouraged Iranian-Jewish youth to follow a religious path radically different from that of their parents.

“In effect, this small group of preachers were tearing apart these families at a particularly vulnerable stage in their lives and, by extension, they were destroying the unity of our community, rather brutally,” he said.

In the book, Gabay issues a call to action to adopt a rational approach to religion in order to build stronger communities and a more ethical world for Iranian-Jewish children and grandchildren.

Gabay says the book’s message can be applied to any faith. And if he were to rewrite the book today, he says he wouldn’t single out a specific religion.

“Instead, I would just write about extremist religion as a whole,” he said. “I think that each one of my readers can find certain points in my arguments which would align along their own convictions and beliefs.”

Since its first printing, Gabay has sold nearly 3,000 copies among local Iranian-Americans of various faiths through word of mouth and at an event organized last year by the Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization.

Earlier this year, Gabay published an English-language version of “An Invitation to Reason,” which is intended for younger Iranian Jews who were unable to read the Persian-language edition. Gabay has also made both versions of the book online as a free download on his Web site,, and the English-language version can be purchased on Amazon.

For their part, many of Los Angeles’ Iranian-Jewish community members said they were supportive of the book’s main theme, which promotes harmony among Jewish families by embracing the traditional customs followed by Iranian Jews.

“Everyone whom I have given Mr. Gabay’s book to read has told me that they have enjoyed its refreshing message of embracing what is positive among about Judaism,” said Nasser Mogeemi, an Iranian-Jewish businessman living in Studio City. “We live in America and it is inevitable that our young people will be lured to other faiths, so we need to avoid pushing them away from Judaism with fanatic religious customs.”

Gabay acknowledges the often-vast religious difference among local Iranian Jews but said he would like his book to begin a positive dialogue between parents and their children as well as among religious leaders. He hopes his work will inspire the community to openly discuss how to unite and find common ground.

Read more of Karmel Melamed’s interview with Nourallah Gabay online on his blog:


L.A.’s Iranian Americans keep tabs on new freedom protests in Iran

In the wake of the Feb. 14 Iranian protests for greater freedom, which took place throughout that country, Iranian Americans of various religious backgrounds in Southern California have been closely monitoring the developments and voicing support for those seeking democracy.

The Iranian Americans here have been in close contact with student opposition groups in Iran, and leaders said the recent demonstrations there were sparked, at least in part, by the recent success of the massive public protests in Tunisia and Egypt.

“After protesting the 2009 fraudulent presidential election in Iran, the people in Iran were again inspired this time by seeing people in Tunisia and Egypt rise up against their governments for freedom,” said Roozbeh Farahanipour, who heads the Los Angeles-based Iranian Marze Por Gohar political party, which opposes Iran’s government. “You’re seeing thousands of Iranians demanding regime change in Iran when they’re chanting in the streets,” said Farahanipour. Chanting, “ ‘Mubarak, Ben Ali and now it’s time for you to go, Seyed Ali!’ — which is a reference to the dictators of Egypt, Tunisia and Iran.”

Iranians organized another mass anti-government demonstration on Feb. 20 to commemorate the seventh day of mourning for two slain students, Sanah Jaleh, 26, and Mohamad Mokhtari, 22, who were killed during the Feb. 14 demonstrations when Iranian security forces attacked a crowd in Tehran.

According to various anti-regime Web sites in Iran, the demonstrators in Tehran were met by hundreds of anti-riot police and Basiji militia, who lined the streets and on several occasions fired directly into the crowd and beat protesters with steel batons. In one neighborhood, the Basiji took over a commercial building and dropped tear-gas canisters from the roof onto the protesters.

The Iranian government has barred foreign journalists from entering the country to cover the demonstrations, but social networking Web sites, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, have been flooded with video taken by protesters during the demonstrations. The videos show thousands of young men and women wearing surgical masks, throwing rocks at riot police, setting trash cans on fire, chanting slogans of “death to the dictator” and setting on fire posters of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Here in Los Angeles, on Feb. 14, about 50 Iranian Americans opposed to Iran’s regime protested in front of the U.S. Federal building in Westwood to mark the 32nd anniversary of the current Iranian government’s rise to power.

The local Iranian American community has also been glued to the various Persian-language satellite television programs broadcast here, hoping to get information on demonstrators and friends. Viewers of the Tarzana-based Pars Television were shocked last week when one unnamed pro-regime militia member called into the program from Iran and threatened viewers. During his call, he shouted at the show’s host in Farsi, saying, “My brothers and I will not have mercy on anyone! If anyone dares to stand up and question the authority of the Supreme Leader, we will kill each and every single one of them! My hope is that one day I will encounter you and your supporters to cut your heads off myself!”

Leaders of the Iranian Jewish communities in Southern California and New York have remained mostly quiet about the current situation in Iran and the fate of Iran’s Jews for fear that what they say may be used as an excuse by the Iranian regime to retaliate against the estimated 10,000 to 20,000 Jews still living there.

“The Jewish community in Iran can be considered as a sort of hostage population, and they may be facing new pressures soon, even though they were not involved at all” with the demonstrations, said Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist who heads the Los Angeles-based Committee for Religious Minorities in Iran. “This is because the paranoid Iranian regime, thinking Israel has had a hand in the riots, may pressure the Jewish community to stage pro-Palestinian and pro-Hezbollah demonstrations, issue statements and hold rallies, like they forced the Jews to do in 2009.”

Indeed, in January the Iranian government-sponsored Fars News Agency (FNA) reported that “the Iranian student Basiji militia, of the Abu-Ali Sina/Avicenna University in the western Iranian province of Hamadan were rioting outside the entrance of the Esther and Mordechai tomb and threatening to destroy it if Israel destroyed the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.” The news reports said Basiji militia had removed the mausoleum’s entrance sign, covered the Star of David at the mausoleum’s entrance with a welded metal cover and demanded the site be placed under the supervision of the local Islamic religious authority.

According to one FNA news report, the Basiji protesters also demanded that the shrine lose its status as a nationally protected religious site because “the shrine is an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty; it honors Esther and Mordechai, who were the murderers of Iranians, and their names must be obliterated to teach the younger generation to beware of the crimes of the Jews.”

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center has sent a letter to Irina Bokova, director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO),  asking the organization to condemn the threats to the mausoleum and calling on UNESCO to request the Iranian government to protect the site. Aside from a handful of local Iranian-Jewish activists, Iranian-Jewish community groups in Southern California and New York have remained silent about the threats to the mausoleum in Iran.

Nikbakht said small minority groups in Iran, and in particular hated minorities such as the Jews, have always been in danger during periods of crisis since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

“Times of turmoil, war and revolution are the most dangerous, because not only may a Nazi-like government, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, decide to use its Jewish hostages for deterrence or revenge — but smaller groups of fanatics within the society or the armed forces may decide to do something themselves to the Jews during a chaotic situation,” Nikbakht said.

Requests for comment on the status of Iran’s Jews or the Esther and Mordechai mausoleum made to the Beverly Hills-based Iranian Nessah Synagogue and to Dr. Kamran Beroukhim, chairman of the Iranian American Jewish Federation in West Hollywood, were not returned. Similarly, calls to the Tehran Jewish Committee, the leadership body of Jews in Iran, were not returned.

Nevertheless, some Iranian American political activists in Los Angeles expressed optimism at seeing young protesters demanding real democracy in Iran, while still uncertain what benefit the demonstrations might have, because they felt the protests were poorly organized.

“In my opinion, the current demonstrations are not going to yield results, because people are just demonstrating up and down a few major streets and in the ‘revolutionary square’ in Tehran which has no real impact on the government,” Farahanipour said. “They are not marching in front of the Parliament, homes of political leaders, the prisons or the state-run media outlets — if they did so, it could slow things down and have some kind of an impact.”

Analysts see sharp differences between the situation in Iran and those of Tunisia and Egypt, countries that each had only had one military force and a central government. Unlike those countries, the Iranian regime has power bases spread throughout the religious sector, as well as the political factions and the revolutionary guard, all willing to help prevent a coup d’état. Likewise, the Iranian government makes use of seven major security and military apparatuses to quash political opposition, including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC), Basiji militia, the Supreme Leader’s personal security forces, Ministry of Intelligence security forces, the judiciary’s security forces, municipal police forces and the country’s internal security forces. During the 2009 demonstrations in Iran, the regime even utilized members of the government-backed Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah to beat, kill and later torture protesters in Iran’s major cities.

On Feb. 18, the Iranian government bused in thousands of regime “loyalists” from cities throughout Iran for a rally in Tehran calling for the executions of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Iranian activists in Southern California were quick to discount the authenticity of the pro-regime rally.

“These protests in support of the regime are not legitimate because the government has 10 percent of the country’s population on their payroll, and these people will do whatever the government tells them to do, because they don’t want to lose their paychecks,” Farahanipour said.

Kianoosh Sanjari, an Iranian journalist working for the Washington, D.C.-based “Voice of America in Farsi” television program, who is a former Iranian student-opposition leader, said protesters in Iran were extremely disappointed with the Obama administration for being slow to voice public support for the populist uprising in 2009 seeking regime change in Iran as well , and again during the current crisis.

“Last year we heard the people of Iran’s disapproval of Obama when they chanted in the streets, ‘Obama, you’re either with us or you’re with them!’ ” Sanjari said. “The demonstrators are very upset with Obama, because they see how he treated the Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, America’s close ally, by demanding his resignation and freedom for the people of Egypt — yet, at the same time, he says nothing to Khamenei and the Iranian regime, who are enemies of the U.S.”

The majority of Iranian-American activists believe the best way for the United States and the West to bring about a new democratic government in Iran would be to voice moral support for the demonstrators seeking freedom, and to increase the political and economic isolation of the Iranian regime.

Calls for comment to the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations in New York were not returned.

For more videos and information on the current situation in Iran, visit Karmel Melamed’s blog at

Persian Pursuasion

On any given weekday, Elat Market, the Pico-Robertson supermarket, is already a hub of hustle and bustle for the Persian community. So one can imagine the human traffic on the Friday morning before Yom Kippur – getting ready before Shabbat and yontiff. Standing outside the market on this busy morning, it becomes apparent that Elat is somewhat of a de facto community center, a nexus where friends – young and old – run into one another and splinter off into small congregations of conversation.

That is exactly why Marjan Keypour and Mary Koukhab were out there. The co-founders of the Iranian-Americans for Democratic Action (IADA), Keypour and Koukhab, both 20-something professionals, have something else in common – their concern that not enough Iranian American Jews are registering to vote.From a small table set up in front of Elat Market, Koukhab and Keypour, sporting flashy sequined patriotic caps, approached shoppers as they entered and exited the market. It quickly became evident that the two had tapped into an important vein. In the course of an hour, some 30 people registered to vote. And these registrants – members of Southern California’s Persian community, which includes roughly 30,000 Iranian Jews – seemed to appreciate having these two energetic women reaching out to them in their native Farsi tongue.

“It’s a fantastic idea,” said Edna Radnia of the registration booth. “I was too lazy to go to do this.””It’s very good,” agreed Eden Faknim.

For Koukhab and Keypour, registering many of these newly naturalized citizens also meant educating them about the voting process, as a lack of communication and information has hampered their ability to participate. One man erroneously believed that the presidential election was on Oct. 7 until Keypour informed him that it was, in fact, a month later. An older man in a kippah also came to the table for assistance – like many in the community, he was handicapped by his lack of command of the English language.

“He picked up the forms yesterday and brought them in to make sure they’re right. The dates and signatures are still missing,” Keypour explained to The Journal.

Keypour and Koukhab expressed mixed feelings over the fact that they were filling a void in political outreach.

“That’s personally satisfying, but in terms of community organization, it’s disappointing,” said Keypour. “One would think that some organization would have already thought to reach out to the Iranian-American community, but remarkably, no one has.”

That’s why IADA was formed. The Koukhab-Keypour cause had its genesis back in August, when Gore and Lieberman came to town.

“We both went to the Democratic National Convention and were so excited about the Democratic campaign platform,” Keypour said. Soon after, Koukhab contacted an acquaintance, 1988 Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Dukakis, about becoming involved with the party. Dukakis suggested that Koukhab turn to her own community. Keypour and Koukhab credit fellow volunteer Reuben Zadeh, active in Democrats for Israel and the Westside headquarters of the Democratic Party, for assisting them in their outreach.

In addition to their Elat Market spot, Koukhab and Keypour have helped people register in front of the Democratic Party offices. They also supplied Persian Jewish destinations – such as the Iranian-American Jewish Federation in West Hollywood and the Nessah Cultural Center in Santa Monica – with registration forms and dropped off forms at Iranian businesses, such as some of the book, music and rug stores in Westwood and Santa Monica.

The women had learned much over the course of their weeklong campaign.

“I am surprised by the mere fact that so many people do not know the basic information. Almost everybody is a first-time voter,” said Keypour. “We have to inform them that by registering to vote, they have not voted. We have to remind them to go and vote on Nov. 7.”

Some of the Iranian Americans filling out forms at the IADA table voiced their support for the Gore/Lieberman ticket.

Explained Keypour, “People in the Iranian Jewish community have been more receptive to the Democratic party because Lieberman is a Jew. It makes them proud. In Iran, Jews can not run for high offices.”Their second day in front of Elat Market, Keypour and Koukhab rapidly ran out of Gore/Lieberman stickers and buttons. Although Democratic Party literature was on display, the two women were more concerned that people vote, regardless of what candidate they support.

For Koukhab, who grew up in Michigan and has only been a part of the local community for four years, helping get the word out was at once exhilarating and satisfying: “I feel like it’s an obligation to bring them into the process in a way that’s comfortable to them.”

Koukhab was heartened by the number of Persian Jews who had been receptive to the idea of registering, once presented with the information and materials.

“Those who understand the significance are ready to jump on right away,” said Koukhab. “People are realizing that it’s important to them as they become part of the larger American society.”Said Radnia as she registered, “It’s important for us as a community to participate. We live here, we pay all our taxes, we should be involved.”