Torn Between Homeland, New Land and Israel

Iranian Jews in U.S. Worry Over Threat of Mideast War

Deep Roots: Sam Yebri says Iranian jews understand why Israel may have to act.
Courtesy of 30 Years After
Deep Roots: Sam Yebri says Iranian jews understand why Israel may have to act.

By Rex Weiner

Published September 21, 2012, issue of September 28, 2012.
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Delshad left Shiraz and lived for a time on an Israeli kibbutz before departing Iran for good at the age of 20 to study at the University of Minnesota, then becoming an attorney and moving to California. Though the Jews still living in Iran have not been threatened as a group thus far, Delshad’s apprehensions about the deteriorating political situation are sharpened by the fact that he still has family in Iran.

“I’m concerned that the regime will use everything in its power to jail and kill the innocent Jews in Iran,” he said.

As the political tension increases, so does the tension between split identities, according to Tabby Davoodi, executive director of 30 Years After. Davoodi was born to a middle-class Jewish family in Tehran several years after the Iranian Revolution. Her family settled in the United States in the late 1980s.

“Those of us that lived as Persian Jews in Iran after the Revolution constantly played a balancing act between an affinity for our home (Iran) and our homeland (Israel), always cognizant and wary of the new regime’s declaration of Israel as its greatest enemy,” Davoodi wrote in an email to the Forward. “Having settled in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s, we undertook a connection to a third land, until the very definition of home itself left us begging whether this word was reserved for where we once belonged (Iran), where we always belonged (Israel) or where we now belonged (America).”

The issue is sure to be debated at the 30 Years After Biennial Civic Action Conference, to be held on October 14 at downtown L.A.’s Millennium Biltmore. Former White House adviser Dennis Ross and Israeli Consul General David Siegel are among the scheduled speakers. Despite the community’s strong support for Israel, contrarian views will not be hard to find.

“It would be very difficult and unwise for Israel to attack Iran,” said businessman and longtime community activist and publisher Dariush Fakheri, who left Iran in 1976 to study in the United States. “Iranian people are the most pro-Western in that region. They had a better relationship with Israel than with any other country, and they want to have the same relationship with the U.S. that they had under the shah.”

An attack launched by Israel against Iran “will cause violence and ethnic animosity“ in Iran, said Saba Soomekh, author of the soon-to-be published “From the Shahs to Los Angeles: Three Generations of Iranian Jewish Women Between Religion and Culture.” A professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University, Soomekh left Tehran with her family at the age of 2.

“My fear,” she said, “is that the Jewish community there will bear the brunt of the repercussions.”

Dayanim, who says he is “one of three or four liaisons” acting on behalf of the Iranian American Jewish community, hinted that the community is attempting to reach out internationally to address any such development. “We have been talking with various governments regarding the well-being of the Jewish community in Iran, and about taking that factor into any calculations they might make,” he said.

Reflecting on the community’s response to the arrest and imprisonment in 1999 of 13 Iranian Jews by authorities in the city of Shiraz, Dayanim said, “We were not prepared then.” At the present time, however, “we have some contingencies in place.” He did not elaborate.

But in the lush confines of L.A.’s most affluent areas, where many Jews of Iranian descent live, the concerns are not just for those Jews still in Iran.

“We face a lose-lose situation,” Davoodi wrote. “The primary factors of having family members in each country, as well as our connection to each land (more so to Israel), renders us wholly invested in this crisis — from all angles…. In essence, our lives would be forever changed.”

Contact Rex Weiner at rexweiner@forward.com


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