02 October 2008

Iranian Jews: Book on American experience planned

The published Jewish immigrant experience in America has been overwhelmingly Ashkenazi, with only a few smatterings of Sephardi or Mizrahi recountings.

This week I was happy to learn about two planned book projects focusing on the Iranian Jewish community. One is an Iranian Jewish cookbook planned by Tannaz Sassooni (see separate posting), and the other is a general volume on life in America as an Iranian Jewish-American by Nazanin Lahijani Cohen and Ninaz Khorsandi Beral.

It's about time that these experiences are recorded in different ways by Iranian Jewish Americans looking at themselves and their community. Both projects will, I am sure, elicit support from the community. In the future, when the younger generations are completely assimilated - except perhaps in their love for gondi - these books will have preserved the wisdom of the community's elders and cooks, and will also bear witness to the not-always-so-easy immigration experience of this community.

First, my comments on perhaps the most well-known Persian Jewish food anywhere in the world: Gondi.

Do you know what "gondi" are?

Gondi are the Persian Jewish versions of matzo balls. No Shabbat or holiday dinner is complete without golden peppery gondi, either as an appetizer (with lavash bread and assorted herbs) or served in the traditional Persian chicken soup called abgusht ("water of the meat"), with turmeric, potatoes, chickpeas and white beans.

The basic recipe includes roasted (not raw) chickpea flour, ground meat (beef, veal, chicken, turkey or a combination according to each family's traditions), onions, fresh-ground "hel" (cardamom), fresh-ground black pepper (lots) and salt. Mix together, addding some flour if too soft, a little water if too thick. The trick comes in forming the ball. This is not a matzo ball rolled between both palms, this is a gondi and it is authentically tossed in a rolling motion in one hand until perfectly round and then added to a pot of simmering chicken soup. There is a trick to doing this, but you have to see it in action as I cannot adequately describe it in words.

Gondi also feature in a project called Gondi Lunchbox by two young Iranian Jewish women, Nazanin Lahijani Cohen and Ninaz Khorsandi Beral. Click here to read more about the project and the women.

For 15 years, they have wanted to put together a book about the Jewish-Iranian community in America, to contain stories, essays, commentaries, cartoons, jokes, one-liners, photographs - all pertaining to the good, bad and ugly of life in America as a Jewish Iranian-American.

In their invitation for submissions, the best friends write:

We are, to say the least, an interesting people. We are the sons and daughters of Isaac and Rebecca, the heirs of the greatest empire the world has seen, and relics of a revolution that uprooted us from a desert oasis and re-earthed us in the land of the free . . . a revolution that re-routed our destinies and changed our lives forever.

There is no one story to explain our collective experience and, yet, there is something which we all share. An understanding as to what it is to be a Jewish-Iranian American.

Think of the tales our grandparents tell us at the Shabbat dinner table: nine year-old brides, 80 year-old feuds, love, and betrayal. It's enough to inspire a novel and thank G-d, in recent years, it has.
But another story has not been told. YOURS. It is the tale of being raised in America as a Jew of Iranian descent.

It is about culture shock and assimilation. It is about being a first generation American at the turn of the millennium. It is about leading a double life, giving in to the demands of others, or taking your non-conformity to the grave. It is about clashing, reconciling, and, hopefully, finding yourself in the end.

Perhaps in a hundred years it won't matter. Our progeny will be completely assimilated and the situations that terrorized our first generation lives (think: heavy accents, heavier cologne, and getting parental permission to wax your eyebrows) will just be something to laugh at.

But the stories of our lives deserve to be heard, shared, and recorded. And if, in the process, we have a couple of laughs (or cries) sharing our tales with each other, well, then, our lives will just be the richer for it.

If you have one or more stories, essays, journal entries, poems, cartoons, or writings in whatever format – send them to us! We are taking submissions – authored or anonymous, fiction or non-fiction (but please specify), in English or Persian – for publication.

Feel free to change names for privacy. Give as much (or little) biographical information as you wish but please indicate what information about yourself you do or do not wish to have published. In fact, no contact information or return address is necessary (i.e., if you are making an anonymous submission). Of course, if you'd like the recognition you deserve or wish to use a pen name, that's fine too.

To a large extent, your submissions will determine the parameters of our book. After all, we want it to be about you . . . about all of us, without any restrictions. Some brainstorming topics are family, in-laws, parental restrictions, "khastegari," dating, marriage, sex, double-standards, immigrating to America . . . you get the
picture. Please be as serious, funny, or explicit as you want.

Just tell your story, tell it straight up, and tell it like it is. Because it just may be the only chance you'll get!

Send submissions to: Booksubmissions2008@gmail.com

Please note that by sending us your submission, you are allowing us to reprint your submission without receiving compensation (i.e., you are giving us a release). If you would like the opportunity to approve any editing, please provide your contact information with your submission.

Please feel free to pass this e-mail along to other members of our community.

The submission deadline is December 31, 2008. For more details, click www.gondilunchbox.com.

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