One of my neighbors died recently, a Jewish woman known best for her commitment to the cause of another minority, the Kurds.
I want to honor the memory of Vera Saeedpour, who died early this month at 80, after turning a grand Prospect Heights townhouse into an institution called the Kurdish Library. The Kurdish Library, which she began in 1986, was best known by researchers and journalists, but Vera was well known around the neighborhood as well.
I would occasionally see her walking down the main shopping street, though less in recent years. Tiny, gray haired and indomitable, she often walked around in a long Victorian-looking dress that I assumed was traditional Kurdish clothing.
Though she was a colorful and tireless advocate on behalf of the Kurdish people, she told me that her motivation came from a Jewish place. She would often compare persecution of the Kurds to the persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust.
She argued passionately for Israel to get more involved in the Kurds’ cause and work to rectify Kurdish repression in Turkey.
Chatting in a checkout line at the neighborhood supermarket where we were both shopping, several years ago, she looked up at me and said that she championed the cause of the Kurds because she was Jewish.
Vera, born in 1930 as Vera Marion Fine, was first married at 17 to a man with whom she eloped, and they had five children. At the age of 40, she enrolled in college and eventually earned a master’s degree. After she was divorced and living in Harlem, and studying at Teacher’s College, one night her apartment was robbed. She saw a man across the way in a different apartment, and asked if he’d seen anyone escaping. The man she saw, Homayoun Saeedpour, many years her junior, soon came to her door bearing flowers and asking her out.
After he died some years later of leukemia, she began the Kurdish Library, eventually becoming perhaps this country’s best known expert on this persecuted people who were not her own.
Vera Saeedpour became an expert on the Kurds because she was a Jew, and she died leaving the world a bit more sensitive to their plight than it was before she was here. Rest in peace, Vera.