From Tehran to LA, with a few stops between

 Fascinating story in the Jerusalem Post by Natan Odenheimer about Dora Kadisha-Nazarian, who fled Iran when the Shah fell in 1979. The family eventually settled in California where her father established a business empire. They are also great philanthropists. (With thanks: Pablo)

 Dora Nazarian (photo: Tomer Zmora)

Nazarian’s grandmother was 12 when her family packed whatever belongings
they could fit into suitcases and ran for their lives. Her parents
were well-to-do Russian Jews living in Tbilisi until the political
climate changed.

When the Bolsheviks grew stronger and outbursts
of violence threatened their community, they skipped across the border
to Azerbaijan and traveled to Tehran, where she took the name
Golbahar, Spring Rose in Farsi.

Golbahar
married young, but shortly after giving birth to two children – Izak
and Younes – was widowed. “I don’t know where my grandmother got her
spirit from,” says Nazarian smiling, “but she decided not to stay with
her late husband’s parents. She knew how widows were treated in the
Jewish Quarter of Tehran and concluded it’s not for her.” Instead, she
found a small single room for her little family and supported her two
children by doing small mending and sewing jobs.

Izak,
Golbahar’s firstborn and father of Nazarian, understood that if he
wished to make things right for himself he must earn money. At the age
of five or six he sold matches and cigarettes, and continued with any
kind of unskilled labor he could find. When he became a teenager, his
experienced immigrant mother encouraged him to seek opportunities
abroad. He saved money and in 1947, a few days shy of his 18th
birthday, traveled to Italy to study. In Italy he met a man from the
Jewish Brigade who recruited him to the Zionist cause, and several
months later, after a short period of paramilitary training in Genoa, he
set foot in the port of Haifa and was sent to fight in the 1948 War of
Independence with the Seventh Tank Brigade.

After the war, his
mother and brother joined him from Iran. In the newly founded Israel,
Golbahar picked a Hebrew name that corresponded with her Farsi one:
Aviva (“spring”). The three resided in a house with no ceiling in
Holon.

“Those were tough times,” says Nazarian. “My father likes
to mention the lizards crawling on the walls and that economically the
future didn’t look promising.” Izak worked in construction, as a bus
driver and in an electric shop.

In 1957, Golbahar advised her son
to return to Iran. She told him Iran was growing and prosperous, that
there were opportunities there, and that he should travel east, earn
money in Iran and come back to Israel. So 10 years after he left, Izak
was back in Tehran. He found his work experience in Israel to be
helpful. The late 1950s and 1960s were an era of vast growth in
infrastructure in Iran. In addition, the romance between Israel and
Iran was flourishing. Izak nurtured contracts with the Shah’s government
and brought Israeli engineers, technicians and construction companies
to work in Iran.

This lucky turn of events allowed Izak to send for his mother and brother who reunited, for the second time, in Tehran.

Golbahar,
like any good Jewish mother, wanted to marry off her reluctant son,
and cunningly introduced him to a young Persian Jewish woman named
Pouran. Not too long after, Dora was born. She went to an American
elementary school, then to a Jewish high school, and used to visit
relatives in Israel during the summers.

Nazarian was 18 when the
1979 Islamic Revolution erupted. Like her grandmother, she packed a
suitcase and traveled far to find a safer life. Her father tried to
salvage part of his business and stayed in Iran. Around that time,
Nazarian started seeing a fellow Farsi Jew by the name of Neil Kadisha,
whom she had befriended in Tehran; when she announced her engagement,
her father made the trip to Israel for the festivities. To this day, he
is thankful he didn’t skip the party. On his way to the airport,
heading back to Tehran, he was informed that the head of the Jewish
community in Tehran had been executed and that his own name was next on
the list. He canceled his return trip to Tehran and has never gone
back.

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