Tag: Iranian Jews in US

One man’s mission to preserve Iranian-Jewish heritage

Tonight begins the festival of Purim. Youssef Setareh-Shenas hopes that, by tomorrow night, he will have a virtual tour of the tomb of Esther and Mordechai at Hamadan on hiswebsite,which aims to preserve the memory of Iranian-Jewish heritage. Karmel Melamed interviewed him for The Forward:

The tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Hamadan

 Celebrating Purim is bittersweet for Fariborz Moradzadeh, an Iranian Jewish businessman in Los Angeles. 

 In the 43 years since arriving in L.A., he has been unable to return to his birth city of Hamedan in Iran and visit the burial site of Purim’s heroine Esther and hero Mordechai located nearby. 

The Iranian regime’s random arrests of Iranian Americans and Jews makes such visits all but impossible.

 But this Purim Moradzadeh hopes to be able to visit Esther’s tomb virtually through 7dorim.com, a website that is trying to provide a virtual 3-D tour of the Esther and Mordechai mausoleum. 

The 3-D tour is still glitchy and the site, in Farsi with some English, difficult to navigate. But those drawbacks don’t dissuade Moradzadeh and others who are proud there’s an online home for Iranian Jewish heritage even if, as they claim, wealthy Iranian Jews aren’t interested in funding it. 

 The site is the brainchild of Los Angeles Iranian Jewish small businessman Yousef Setareh-Shenas, who nearly 15 years ago created the Persian-language online forum to preserve Iranian Jewish history, culture and information — and which he runs on a shoestring without help from far wealthier members of the community. 

 “I realized that we as Iran’s Jews are gradually losing our history and heritage because the majority of the community live here in America are unconcerned with the past,” said Setareh-Shenas, who is in his late 60’s.

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Hag Purim Sameah!

A video tour of the tombs of Esther and Mordechaiin Hamadan, Persia (W/ t Imre)

Why US Jews should do more to recall Elghanian’s death

Forty-one years to the day, Jewish businessman Habib Elghanian was repaid for his generosity  to Iran’s Ayatollahs with his execution on false spying charges. The execution sent ripples of terror through the Iranian Jewish community, most of whom fled into exile. But the US Jewish community has not done enough to honour the memory of an Iranian patriot and to call the regime to account, argues Karmel Melamed in The Forward:

An Iranian newspaper screaming news of Elghanian’s execution

“In 1967, when the Islamic clerics of Tehran were in the middle of constructing their new and grand Hossieneh Ershad mosque in the heart of the city, their funds for the project dried up. They turned to individual Muslim business leaders and observant Islamic individuals for financial help to complete the grand mosque after work on it came to an abrupt halt.

But none of the sources were able to provide the needed funds to restart work on the mosque.

So the clerics turned to a last option — Habib Elghanian, Iran’s most affluent businessman who was also the leader of Iran’s Jewish community, 80,000 strong at the time. 

Without blinking an eye, Elghanian donated 250,000 rials to the Ershad mosque completion project, and encouraged other Jewish businessmen in Tehran to donate as well.

And roughly 12 years later, those same Iranian clerics who Elghanian had helped thanked him by remaining silent as the radical Islamic thugs of the new Khomeini regime executed Elghanian on false charges of spying for America and Israel. 

On May 9, 1979, after a sham, 20-minute trial, Elghanian was executed with a bullet to the heart by Iran’s Islamic revolutionary thugs.
On May 9 of this year, the Iranian Jewish communities living in New York and Southern California will again be mourning the loss of Habib Elghanian, our leader.

 It is a tragedy whose wounds have still not healed, even after 41 years. In 1979, Iran’s Jews were not only emotionally devastated by Elghanian’z killing; they quickly discovered their lives were at risk under the Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime.”

Read article in full

Jenny K has an interesting Twitter thread and photos

More about Habib Elghanian

From persecution to freedom: one Iranian-Jewish family’s story (updated)

Every Jewish refugee has his or her story, but many are still untold, or kept within the confines of the family. Kam Aynessazian ‘s story might have remained unknown had he not heard of Point of No Return.Thanks to Kam for sharing  his family’s story with Point of No Return readers.

A family photo taken in Chicago in 1986. From left to right: Kamran, Kambiz, father Masoud holding a picture of Kamyar, Kam(bod), Kayhan. In the foreground, mother Ezzat and Kayvon. 

Kam’s uncle (his father’s younger brother) was the first to emigrate  to the US in 1956 aged 20 with about $100 in his pocket. He ultimately established himself in Chicago and through the years helped all his younger siblings  to move to the US. Those who left Iran at that time  sought economic opportunities and higher education – denied to them in Iran – mostly due  to their religious minority status (a Jew’s birth certificate invited discrimination by including the word Kalimee, meaning Jew, next to the person’s name).

Life under the Shah was, in retrospect, a golden age for all sectors of society. Minorities were able to practise in freedom and without fear. Kam’s family (his parents and six sons)  enjoyed a middle class lifestyle. But ‘sudden’ westernisation was producing a backlash from conservative Islamic fundamentalists, culminating in the Islamic Revolution.

Kam’s oldest brother (22) had already come to the US in 1976 to pursue his higher education. Then in 1978, Kam’s parents, anticipating the revolution and potentially dire consequences for minorities, managed to get two-month visitor’s permits  for themselves and for their two middle sons (the third son was aged 14 and the fourth, Kam, aged 13) to the US, leaving behind the fifth (aged 10) and 6th son (aged 2) with relatives.

The parents returned to Iran while Kam and his brother stayed on – illegally – in the US. The Islamic Revolution broke out in November 1978, unleashing vicious religious persecution. Kam’s second oldest brother (aged 18) was flown to Israel by an organisation rescuing many young adults. Distant Baha’i’ relatives of Kam, who refused to convert to Islam,  were executed. Jews and other minorities – never popular – were forced to live in seclusion and practise in private. Many lost contact with their families abroad.

Kam’s parents and the two younger brothers were stuck in Iran. In the meantime Kam’s uncle was able to apply for and get immigration visas for them, but since the US Embassy was closed, they were unable to obtain them. Nor were they allowed to  travel to another country with a US embassy to receive them.

Kam’s father was desperate and in 1983, he paid smugglers a hefty bribe to take his wife and two  sons over the border into Pakistan (he stayed behind so as not to raise suspicion). They endured many hardships along the way, but eventually made it. They joined a group which had access to forged documents and visas. His mother and brothers ended up in Spain. Through Kam’s uncle,  they managed to obtain legal visas from the US embassy in Spain.

Back in Iran, Kam’s father, a textile merchant, was trying to liquidate some of his personal assets while not giving the impression that he was preparing to leave. Most of his assets were left behind: the business, a shop, car and land.

Eventually, he tried to escape, but was captured and thrown into jail, with death as a certain punishment, in the border city near Pakistan. Thankfully, he had business contacts in that town who were able to vouch that he was there on business. He was then released.

In 1985, Kam’s father tried again to escape to Pakistan, this time successfully, and was re-united with his family in Chicago. Kam had not seen him for seven years.

Against popular wisdom, Kam’s parents (legal US citizens) went back to Iran in 2006, to visit family and friends. It turned out to be a grave mistake. Upon arrival, their US passports were confiscated. Kam’s dad fell ill immediately. He ended up in hospital and died soon afterwards. Kam’s mother was able to retrieve her US passport after a few weeks of court proceedings and immediately returned to the US. It took another few weeks of legal wrangling for the body of Kam’s father to be sent back to the US.

Kam’s mum and five of the six brothers currently live in the US. One brother still lives in Israel. Kam’s mother has ten grandchildren, and so far, seven great-grandchildren.

If you would like to record your story please contact https://www.sephardivoices.org.uk/contact

Iranian Jews overcame threats of deportation from the US

Some 40 years ago, the Iran hostage crisis had an unintended impact on Jews seeking refuge in the US. Point of No Return heard the following anecdotes: 

A mass demonstration in favour of Ayatollah Khomeini during the 1979 Iranian revolution

The Iran hostage crisis was a diplomatic standoff between the United States and Iran. Fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for 444 days from November 4, 1979, to January 20, 1981, after a group of Iranian college students belonging to the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line, who supported the Iranian Revolution, took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

 The crisis coincided with a mass exodus of Jews and westernised Iranians. Following the revolution, Jews were persecuted and many found refuge in the US.

Less well-known are the unintended consequences on Jews of measures the US took in response to the crisis: some Jews were threatened with deportation.

One Jewish family, which had moved to New York, had an unwelcome visit from two policemen. They claimed that the daughter’s papers were not in order. The mother invited in the policemen, plied them with lashings of her trademark chocolate cake, and finally convinced them that it was folly for Jews oppressed by the Islamic Republic of Iran to be sent back.

 In the same time period, a young friend of the family was invited to dinner. He arrived an hour late. He apologised to the hostess, a stickler for punctuality, saying,’ Sorry I’m late, Auntie, I was applying for political asylum’.

Suleimani demise: Iranian Jews relieved but fearful

Following the assassination of Qassem Suleimani, senior commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, the Los Angeles Times has been canvassing opinion among Iranian Jews in California:

Among Los Angeles’ Iranian Jewish community, many
responded positively to Suleimani’s assassination.

Some who were doing their
pre-Shabbat shopping in Pico-Robertson described Suleimani as an enemy of
Israel, which has been locked with Iran and Saudi Arabia in a struggle for
regional dominance.

 An Iranian Realtor carrying bags of Shabbat
groceries said the U.S. needed to take action after pro-Iranian militias
attacked the U.S. Embassy in Iraq earlier this week — the event that apparently
triggered Thursday’s military response.

“The concern is about effects that will happen
around the region, but I don’t think the U.S. could [just] stand there,” said
the man, who fled Iran with his family during the Islamic Revolution and did
not want to be identified

“I think Trump needed to make a stand in
some way.”

 Tabby Refael, an Iranian refugee and a prominent
voice in L.A.’s Persian Jewish community, said “the first ones to breathe a
sigh of relief were the Persian Jews, because Suleimani was not only an enemy of
the Iranian people, he was an enemy of the Jewish people.”

 She and others in the Persian Jewish community said
their most immediate concern was for family in Israel rather than about any
direct retaliation against the U.S.

 In a vacuum, objectively, his death is a welcome
development,” said Sam Yebri, president and co-founder of 30 Years After, an
Iranian American Jewish civic organization in Los Angeles. “With that said,
most Iranian Americans, including myself and my family, are fearful of the
repercussions. This is a really dire situation if it escalates.”

Read article in full


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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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