Archive for April, 2010

I read an intriguing article in this week’s New Yorker about the future of books and the foreseen affect of the iPad. Apparently Steve Jobs sees a future where books go from publishing company to digital book. Authors make a 25 percent cut of the sale and retailers serve as mere middlemen. Read more here.

This got me thinking, if everything will eventually be digital, will a loophole be found to allow orthodox Jews to read on the Sabbath? It’s not only books, board games too are being played on the iPad. If no loophole, what would people do on long summer Shabbatot?


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This week, one of my favorite NPR programs, On The Media, did an analysis of the press at the nuclear summit. I’ve been following this nuclear issue pretty closely; but I won’t lie, I haven’t read much coverage other than that of David E. Sanger and company for the NYT.

If there’s one American value I take very seriously, it’s press freedom. According to Dana Milbank of The Washington Post, last week’s nuclear summit lacked just that. Here’s a link to the interview. You decide, should President Obama have  shut the press out of the meetings?

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I’ve been so engrossed in job applications that I almost began this blog post with the words “dear hiring manager.” It’s nice to get a break from that parroting phrase, and instead to write about something more meaningful.

Growing up, I was lucky to be surrounded by strong female role models: My mom, whom I’ve already written a little bit about. My mom’s mom, who I wrote about at length and will continue to, for she is always a source of inspiration. And of course my aunt Cindy; an avid reader, writer, risk taker. I learn a lot just from speaking to her and observing who she is. And, in my mind, it’s always her opinion that matters most.

But lately, I’ve been thinking about my dad’s mom, Mama Noor, as we call her. In preschool, when all the kids were crying for their mothers, I was crying for my grandmother. We were the best of friends.

My grandmother, my mom and me

As a young girl, her apartment was a place I loved to frequent – and of course cause trouble, but I’m hoping the manager has forgotten about that already. After she and my grandfather left Iran, she dabbled in the fashion industry; opening stores in NY and The Beverly Center in LA. But what I remember best was the time after all of that, when she just sewed.

Her home was a small, tousled space with needles, thread, sequins and beads found in the most unlikely spots. I loved watching her clients come in and try on intricate gowns blanketed in shiny sequins. When I was in first grade, she made me a beautiful Queen Esther costume; I loved it because it reminded me of the embellished gowns she made for her clients.

I think what I love most about my grandmother is the sense of empowerment she gave me. Once when I was a difficult 10-year-old, I refused to go home and stayed with my grandmother for about two weeks. She taught me to sew, to bake and to play cards.

She always let me feel like I was doing a great job. Of course, she was the expert, but she never made a big deal of it. Mama Noor told me that the purse I sewed was beautiful, that the scarf she taught me to knit was nice, that the caacaah cookies I baked were delicious. Even if it wasn’t true, it was nice to hear. It’s so important to make young girls feel like they matter, like they can achieve the best of things. And that is what she always did.

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Old pictures

I’ve always appreciated old pictures, and this blog has taken me to the family albums. I think the pictures give it a genuine feel. And, I’ve found quite a few goodies; like this one of my cousin Kenny’s mustache:

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I am lucky. It’s a fact.

Of course, I have my challenges. Not everything works out as I want it to. But for the most part, my go-getter attitude has served me well. I work hard, but sometimes opportunities come my way in what seems to be an effortless pursuit.

For this kind of luck, I must thank my parents.

I was raised thinking I could do anything. As a kid I spent a lot of time outside; climbing trees, falling off my bike, learning to row a boat, you name it. I painted, I wrote stories, I started stamp collections, and experimented with all sorts of weird things.

All because I was told that I can achieve whatever I want.

Yes, I was my parent’s first. And yes, they had the time to shower me with love and attention. But I wonder, would I be the same person I am today without the childhood I had? Without the confidence they instilled in me? Confidence seems to be my key to success in all areas of life.

Would I be on this same path? Would I be as ambitious? As much of a risk taker?
What about all the other little girls out there? Do they have someone to tell them they can achieve anything they put their mind to? Do they even get to try?

I don’t profess to know anything about child rearing, but I observe quite a bit. Do kids go outside anymore? Do they try new things?

We live in this increasingly digital world, and there are so many benefits to it. I certainly enjoy it. But, there are drawbacks.  Most kids would rather play with their PSP than run around with a soccer ball. That physical aspect of childhood is so important. If they aren’t accustomed to trying new things and feeling that adrenaline rush, will they succeed in the long run?

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Much of the trouble that Jews in the Arab lands went through is unknown. Unlike many Eastern Europeans, the Jews in places like Iraq integrated somewhat normally into society. It’s true that they did not experience the horrors of the holocaust, but they did experience the pain of friends turning on them.

My grandfather has mentioned the good old days of inviting the shopkeepers over to his house, or playing tachteh (backgammon) with locals in cafes.

Me with my maternal grandparents in Vegas

After the creation of The State of Israel, Jews became the enemy. My paternal grandmother, who is younger than the maternal grandfather I mentioned, does not like to speak of her life in Iraq. The one time she did was when my cousin asked questions until she was blue in the face. Her memories are awful; of teachers hitting her just for being Jewish, of her sisters telling her to get married so that she could leave the country.

She was in Seattle for Passover the day they captured Saddam Hussein. I can honestly say that I had never seen her happier. I can’t imagine what it’s like to see those who made you suffer see justice.

Many Jews – including much of my grandmother’s family – escaped persecution to Israel, but others, like my grandparents moved to Iran. Here is a great article from Haaretz about the Jews who left the Arab lands.

In no way does this persecution compare to the genocide of the Holocaust, but these stories too should not be forgotten. Israel was a refuge for thousands of Jews thrown out of Arab lands. They lived in tents in the desert until they had the money and resources to build the country into the thriving democracy it is today.

In memory of the pain of the Iraqi Jews in a new monument in Israel. Read about it here.

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Today is a day of remembrance; it’s Holocaust Memorial day. I was appalled this morning when I saw someone’s facebook status claiming that this was a holiday for Ashkenazim.

Let me start by saying that by no means is this day a holiday. It’s a day to take a stand against genocide. More than 60 years ago, an entire nation was almost eradicated. For what? For being Jewish. Anyone with any sense of humanity should stand up today and say, “never again.”

Second, many Sephardic Jews were persecuted as well. The Nazis reached countries like France and Greece, and many of these Jews were sent to concentration camps. And by the way, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammad Amin al-Husayni was in talks with the Nazis. If the war hadn’t ended in 1945, he would have made sure that the entire Middle East was judenrein (free of Jews).

Many innocent people died in the Holocaust. Six million were Jews. Many were Black, homosexual, or just good people taking a stand against injustice. Let these brave people have an impact on your worldview; stand up against discrimination wherever you see it.

The Holocaust survivors of our generation are aging. Take the time to meet them, to greet them, and to hear their stories. You may not have the same chance a few years from now.

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I just got a google alert on my phone that announced the producers of Jersey Shore are casting for a Persian version of the show. Should I try out? I haven’t found a job yet …

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For a while now, my literary choices have been focused on the Middle East. I’ve read many books on many subjects relating to Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Recently, I concluded a book called Life As A Visitor by Angella Nazarian.

This book was not just read; it was experienced. Each page gave my eyes the chance to do more than absorb text. The story – of difficulty leaving Iran and acclimating to the U.S. – is told in layers. There is, of course, the story itself. But it’s surrounded by beautifully embellished borders, and interwoven between colorful pages of anecdotes and poems, and bright, telling photographs – many taken by the author herself.

The emotions she expresses are so personal, so relatable, and so pure.It’s not often that I complete a book and think, “I would really like to get to know this author.”

Many stories of leaving Iran are heartbreaking. Abandoning a life that is rewarding and familiar, to find security in an unfamiliar culture is a huge risk. Thank G-d, my family left early enough to avoid the complications, but they still had to endure the challenges of re-acclimating. They still had to leave their home, their property, their comfortable life.

I’m reminded of a moment on my grandparents’ most recent visit to Seattle. My mom turned to my grandmother and told complimented her cooking. “I’m so proud of you,” she said. Proud, why? My grandmother came to America having never cooked before; the family always had full-time help. She had mastered the task of shopping, while Shahin took care of the cooking.

What keeps me coming back for more is the knowledge that after having to leave and readjust, many families did very well for themselves. The Iranian community in the U.S. is one of the most accomplished immigrant groups. They are well educated and influential; they work hard, and have given themselves a good name.

In my eyes, the challenge that lies ahead is for Iranian Jews to integrate better into the larger Jewish community. We are seeing second and third generations in the U.S.; no one should feel like an “other” any longer.

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What has always fascinated me about the people who left Iran is the way they feel so attached to the country. Unlike many Jews who lived in Eastern European countries, or even the Jews of Iraq, the Jews of Iran very much felt that this was their country. They, for the most part, did well financially, held government posts, and integrated into daily life.

Of course, there was anti-Semitism; it was still a predominantly Islamic country. But, it was a country that was quickly progressing. The Shah even took the bold move of recognizing Israel. In fact, Iran, Turkey, and Israel were allies for a number of years – the three non-Arab countries of the Middle East.

Those days are long gone. Iran is Israel’s greatest fear, and I’d even say, Public Enemy Number One. Two weeks ago I was in D.C. lobbying by senators to increase Iran sanctions, but last week I had a revealing Iran experience.

Again, I was checking my mom’s email and we came across a slideshow from the days of the Shah. As we watched the slideshow – in the kitchen with the lights off, and music on a loud volume for full effect – tears came to both our eyes.

Don’t get me wrong, things were not perfect by any means. But for my parents he represents a time when things were getting better for their birth country. Their lives were a timeline in every Iranian’s own life. The Pahlavis  represent all that is regal in my mother’s eyes. They represent the Iran my parents would like to one-day take their children back to see.

The Slideshow: Iran & The Pahlavi Family

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