An Iranian Hanukkah
Thanks to my mother for sending along this article written by a friend of hers, Farideh Goldin, and published in the Norfolk/Hampton Roads Virginia Pilot. It's an appropriate and thought-provoking piece in this time of so much discussion about the intersection of politics and religion, and of the US and Iran.
HANUKKAH IN IRAN
DURING MOST OF my adult life in Iran, I dreamt of leaving my country of birth, finding a place where the words “Jew” and “woman” were not derogatory terms.
My father, however, loved Iran. He never imagined a day that he would have to abandon the country of his ancestors. We had heated debates in Iran and later in his new home, Israel.
Last year, he passed away on the last day of Hanukkah, still dreaming of Iran, his views shared by many other Iranian Jews both in Israel and in the United States. Here are my conversations — reconstructed and imagined — with my father.
Once upon a time, my daughter, after a brief journey, you and I yearned to return to Shiraz. Through the arched gateway adorned with blue tiles, we entered our forefathers’ homeland for 2,500 years. There was a time, my daughter, that your eyes, like mine, sparked with joy to see our city of roses and nightingales, the city of poets and writers.
Once upon a time, my father, winter came, the ground froze, the trees died; icecaps dropped on your city’s mountaintops. I felt the familiar invisible yellow patch on my chest for being the daughter of my mothers’ religion.
My daughter, scant were those who scorned our beliefs. People of Iran were decent and God-fearing. There is always the good and the bad wherever you go. I saw kindness, respect; I was somebody in the land of my fathers.
Baba, didn’t you tell me of dark nights of pogroms in the Jewish ghetto of your youth? Returning from his synagogue one rainy Shabbat morning, your white-bearded father, the community rabbi, was beaten bloody for daring to walk outside the walls of the ghetto.
Those were the old days of ignorance and fanaticism, of melee and mayhem — and even in the dark days, the kindness seeped through. A Muslim mullah brought us warm blankets, hot tea, bread and grapes after a long night of bedlam in the ghetto. My daughter, don’t look at the ugliness. We were better off than the European Jewry, where the socalled civilized Germany murdered 6 million of us.
Baba, we were not allowed to become 6 million. We suffered in silence. Our history not recorded and publicized, our murdered ancestors die repeatedly in the elimination of their names, their stories and their faces. Baba, don’t help erase the past because you still yearn for your farms and orchards in Shiraz.
My orchard was paradise on Earth. I created it from dust and boulders, from a land untamed and dry. I invested all my money, my time, my sweat, my love. Such amazing endeavor! Don’t tell me about your adopted country America being the land of opportunity. I had it all in Iran.
Baba, and then the tornado of the Iranian Revolution shattered your life, your farm, your house and your respected status. Fleeing in a hurry, you left them behind. You forgot that as Jews you must not invest in property that you cannot secure in your pockets, in the hem of your daughters’ dresses. How can you long for your life in Iran?
Yes, I suffered during those years of Revolution and chaos. I suffered under a regime that tortured me and took my livelihood away; a government that reduced me to the broken man you see today. But I didn’t suffer alone. The Muslims, the Bahais, the Christians, the Zoroastrians suffered as much, if not more. I am not the only displaced and wandering Iranian.
America has its own history of bigotry and anti-Semitism. Aren’t you afraid of an uprising against the Jews? As you have allowed yourself to grow roots in your new country for just a few decades, I gave myself permission to invest in the land of my fathers for millennia.
Baba, a story of 2,500 years ago doesn’t testify to today’s history. From 100,000 Jews, only 25,000 are left in Iran today — a token kept under the thumb of a Holocaust denier with an impending atomic bomb to destroy Israel, the country that sheltered you.
Baba, I can’t imagine Iranian Jews being brave enough, like the Maccabim, to rise up against those who try to annihilate us, to assimilate us, to kill our traditions.
My daughter, Hanukkah is not our story as much as Purim is. We conquered and survived through words and not swords. In your adopted country, Hanukkah competes with Christmas, a commercial holiday. Don’t forget that you are Persian.
Baba, I remember you lighting the Hanukkah candles in the corner, where no one could see from the outside. You mumbled the prayers so that no one could hear you beyond your family.
I light my menorah by an unobstructed window. Let the candles light, growing more intense every night for eight nights, brightening my house and the faces of those walking by the window. Let the neighbors and passersby know who I am — a Jew, no longer afraid.
And for you, my father, I do add an additional prayer when I light my menorah. I pray that once again the Iranian Jews, Muslims, Christians, Bahais and Zoroastrians will have the opportunity to share your vision of a free Iran — a light unto other nations.
Farideh Goldin lives in Norfolk. She teaches English at Old Dominion University. Next year she will be teaching the works of Iranian women writers. She can be reached at her Web site, www.FaridehGoldin.com.
A conversation with my father on being a Jew today in America and, during a past lifetime, in our Mideastern homeland.
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