The words of Iranian Jewish American Women
After a long hiatus filled with applications for scholarships and preparation for standardized tests, I have recently returned to my primary duty as a graduate student: graduating – that is, fulfilling the requirements necessary to graduate. In this case, that means writing my MA thesis, which is an examination of memoirs and personal essays by Iranian Jewish women who are living in the United States. It’s an interesting project, if occasionally overwhelming, and it reminds me every day that my own experience of Jewish life is not consistent with the lives of Jews everywhere. (I suppose that fact should be self-evident, but sometimes it takes a little bit of reminding.) Jewish people have lived in most parts of the globe, from Cochin, India to Dublin, Ireland to Kabul, Afghanistan.
The Jews of Iran have a particularly long history, but it is only recently that Jewish woman have begun to publish about their lives and identities as Iranian/Persian Jews. Since I’ve been delving into these texts quite deeply as of late, I’d thought I’d share a few that may be of interest to fellow JWA blog readers. If you like these, or want to know more about some other texts (there is some fiction out there, too!), just give me a shout in the comments.
- Wedding Song by Farideh Goldin is a sad, beautiful story of Goldin’s life and childhood in the Jewish ghetto of Shiraz, Iran, and her subsequent emigration to the United States prior to the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Goldin’s book tells a detailed story about Jewish ritual practice and culture in a working-class Jewish community. She is not nostalgic for Iran, but she does not wear rose-coloured glasses when it comes to life in America, either. Published in 2003 by Brandeis University Press, Goldin’s memoir was the first to be published by an Iranian Jewish woman.
- Roya Hakakian’s Journey from the Land of No provides a strong contrast with Goldin’s text. Hakakian is younger than Goldin, and comes from a wealthier, less-observant Tehran home. She engages much more with the politics of Iran than Goldin, and her book is concerned with the tumultuous years during and following the Revolution. Today, Hakakian is a journalist and commentator in America, and this is reflected in her memoir, which emerges from discussions with a non-Iranian journalist friend.
- Loolwa Khazzoom is the editor of The Flying Camel, an anthology of essays on identity by Jewish women of Middle Eastern and North African heritage. This book includes essays not only by Iranian Jewish women, but also women of Morocco, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere, as well as their descendents. If you read just one of the books listed here, The Flying Camel should be your top pick. It addresses the chronic absence of Mizrahi Jews (of Middle Eastern and North African descent) from dominant Jewish life in North America and Israel, and it does so by placing moving personal stories alongside trenchant critiques. Khazzoom has done a great job compiling diverse stories and linking them together in her introductory essay; the book is interesting, compelling, and important. Loolwa Khazzoom is featured in JWA's online exhibit Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution. Visit the exhibit to read her statement and see a video of her talking about her nose.