Rashti family photo (JTA)
The ringing telephone that awakened David Rashti early one morning brought with it a jolt the Los Angeles-area resident couldn’t have anticipated . It was to re-unite a family divided by the Iranian revolution, according to the Times of Israel (with thanks: Michelle):
The caller was someone Rashti had never met or even heard of: Rachel Levy, a resident of Safed, Israel. She spoke Hebrew, he spoke English and they were unable to understand one other – until Levy utilized her weak knowledge of Farsi.
When Rashti, 47, heard “Iran” – not the country but the name of his long-lost aunt, Levy’s mother – he realized the significance of the phone call.
Rashti and Levy are first cousins – Rashti’s late father, Atta, and Iran were two of six siblings. But the branches had long been separated, dating to Iran’s decision circa 1949 to remain in Israel while the other five, who had also moved from the former Persia to Israel, returned to their homeland. Many years later they relocated again, to the United States. In the interim, connections were relaunched and lost.
The Rashti family comes from Rasht, a city near the Caspian Sea about midway between the capital of Tehran and the now-independent country of Azerbaijan. Several of the siblings — three brothers and three sisters — worked there in the family’s fabric businesses before they moved to Israel and lived in a maabara, or tent camp, in Jerusalem’s Musrara neighborhood with their parents, Eliyahu and Miriam.
Even after all but Iran returned to their native land within a year, they stayed connected for some three decades, until the Islamic Revolution in 1978 that deposed the shah and brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power.
Little by little, the family members clandestinely left Iran, forsaking homes and businesses and withdrawing whatever money they could. Levy heard that some of her aunts and uncles paid smugglers to convey themselves and their families by donkey over Iran’s western border to Turkey.