28 December 2009

Los Angeles: Persians record "Our Legacy"

There's another revolution in the Iranian Jewish community in Los Angeles - and hopefully in other pockets of the same diaspora.

I've been connected with this community for many decades, both in Teheran and Los Angeles. Normally, people do not focus on life in the old days, particularly if there were difficult times.

The community tends to focus on good times, positive achievements and the future. Only rarely do individuals talk about their past experiences that were less than positive, and even fewer speak about these experiences in public arenas.

Thus, this project, spearheaded by the 30 Years After group, is extremely important as it gives voice to the memories and experiences of this community. Thanks to this Iranian Jewish young leadership group first organized in Los Angeles (with a branch in New York, and which has also sponsored events in Tel Aviv), an oral history endeavor is now underway.

"Our Legacy" is a first-ever unique community project to commemorate and preserve Iranian Jewish history by connecting the future of the Jewish people with the legacy of their past.
Some have seen loved ones arrested and imprisoned as political prisoners. Others have fled across borders like nomads on the backs of camels. More escaped the Islamic Republic as political refugees in search of safety and opportunity. Yet, the stories of sacrifice and courage that sustained this community have never been fully told.
Headed by young Los Angeles attorney Sam Yebri, his organization is striving to document this history before it disappears from the community’s collective memory. It is an attempt to tell the history of a Jewish community through videotaped stories and interviews conducted and organized by the community's youth and young leaders.

According to the website, people may upload videos shot with video cameras or even cellphones, making it very easy to capture the memories of their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and help the younger - and future - generations understand what the immigrant generation experienced.

On December 13, some 100 people descended on Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills and shared their memories of life, after being directed to one of four available cameras.

Nessah is headed by Rabbi David Shofet, who graduated from the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. His late father, Hakham Yedidiah Shofet, was Iran's chief rabbi for decades. I've known David since his JTS days, and knew the family when we lived in Teheran. When he returned to Iran, he even arranged for some high school students at Teheran's Abrishami synagogue - where his father presided - to participate in USY Pilgrimages to Israel with their US counterparts.

Iranian Jewish journalist Karmel Melamed covered the session in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, who wrote, in part:
Recording oral history is not a new endeavor for the local Iranian Jewish community. In recent years the L.A.-based Center for Iranian Jewish Oral History, with the help of volunteers, conducted more than 100 video and audio interviews with Iranian Jews who had influenced Iran’s history, literature and culture in some way since 1906.

In 2002, the group released “Esther’s Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews,” a colorful book sharing the 2,700-year history of Iranian Jewry along with personal photos from community members.

Yet 30 Years After’s project is unique in that it encourages young Iranian American Jewish professionals to embrace their heritage by videotaping their own parents’ and grandparents’ often painful memories from life in Iran.

Yebri said the video testimonials recorded by 30 Years After will be available on the group’s Web site. Additional tapings will be scheduled during 2010 at local community synagogues and senior citizen centers, and the group plans to use the videos in collaboration with established institutions like the Library of Congress, the Jewish Museum in New York and the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv.
The faces in the videos were familiar, and it was good to see people I knew back in the old days in Teheran and later in Los Angeles. Some videos are in English, some in Farsi, which brought back many of my own memories.

For more information, visit the Our Legacy Project. However, be patient as the website seems extremely slow to load ("clunky" comes to mind) and needs some tweaking.

Read Karmel's complete story at the Jewish Journal link above.

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