Out From Under
03/29/2014 - 23:47
Esther Amini
Rita Jahan Farouz. Photo courtesy American Sephardi Federation
Rita Jahan Farouz. Photo courtesy American Sephardi Federation

For thousands of years Jewish-Iranian women have been forced to hide behind chadors, look down at their feet and not speak unless spoken to.  During ancient Persia and even later day Iran, they lived with two strikes against them: Jewish and female.  They were and still are viewed and treated by Muslims as second class citizens.  Even today, in Iran, a woman, cannot become a judge, regardless of her education, degrees and professional qualifications.  The reason given: “A woman can never be just.”

As a Persian-American, all I can say is, “We’ve come a long way, baby,” based on two documentary films recently shown by the New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival, “Reading Tehran in Tel-Aviv,” and “Rita Jahan Farouz.”  

With such history in mind, “Rita Jahan Farouz”  took my breath away.  A 76 minute documentary directed by Ayal Goldberg, the film portrays the Iranian-Israeli-Jewish superstar singer, “Rita.” It was Rita, who on March 5,2013, sang in Farsi at the United Nations in front of ambassadors from across the globe.  Why?  To build world-wide bridges.  Rita explained that she embodies two nations, Iran and Israel, and uses voice and song to unite.  Cultures, religions, nationalities may differ but as humans we’re one and the same.

Similarly, Orly Noy, in “Reading Tehran in Tel-Aviv,” is an Iranian-Israeli-Jew using her strengths to connect Iran and Israel, two nations otherwise thought of as enemies.  She translates and publishes classical Farsi literature and poetry into Hebrew, enabling Israelis to learn and value ancient Persian culture.  The film, directed by George Itzhak also introduces Josephine Mairzadeh, who interweaves her Iranian-Jewish-American-female identity through art.  For her, these aspects of her identity need not be dissonant, disparate parts, but can live side by side in harmony. 

In a conversation following the film, singer and composer Galeet Dardashti, who is the granddaughter of a renowned singer of Persian classical music, summed up the program, “Both films underscore the fact that being Iranian and being Jewish isn’t an oxymoron.”

I am stunned that women, muzzled for 2700 years, are now coming out from under, taking leadership roles in mending the world.  These Jewish- Iranian women are only some of the many who use their voices as ambassadors of peace.  Bravo.

The 17th annual New York Sephardic Film Festival, presented by the American Sephardi Federation, was held at the Center for Jewish History, March 13th to 20th.

Esther Amini is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and author.  Her stories have appeared in Elle, The Jewish Week and Barnard Magazine, and have been performed by Jewish Women’s Theatre. She is writing a memoir about growing up first generation American in a Persian-Jewish home. 

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Thank you for sharing about these two films. While these films feature Jewish Iranian women, your writing about what these inspiring, brave women are doing says that the films and their work deserve wide exposure. They exemplify how cross-cultural efforts can foster better understanding and encourage finding ways to co-exist.

Art is a wonderfully powerful way to educate and illuminate. When conflicts run long and deep, speaking to the heart can help to counteract deeply imbedded differences. These films about the important work being done to combat prejudices and stereotypes deserve attention. Thank you, Esther, for writing about them.

Excellent piece, on such an important topic.

It is deeply inspiring to hear about these documentaries and the work of such wise women as Rita Jahan Farouz, Orly Noy, and Josephine Mairzadeh whose courageous work is indeed “mending the world.” Thank you, Esther, for your illuminating article. The world needs more builders of bridges and harmony such as these!

Zounds. The world is changing. Hopefully, for the better.

Today when most of us think of Iran we think of anti-West rhetoric; denial of Nazi extermination of the Jews and those hostages of long ago. It is therefore with great interest that I read Esther Amini's review of these two films which offer another, less known side - Iranian Jewish women who are working to connect the dots: their own ancient Persian Jewish heritage to the modern State of Israel. Thank you for showing us an alternative to divisive Ayatollahs - Persian Jewish women who are trying to build bridges to bring the world together.

This is such important information about the state of affairs for Iranian women. Brava to Esther for the insightful illumination on the topic.

Beautifully written! Iranian Jewish women kept tradition alive in Iran with great difficulty and they continue to do so today! It's about time we debunk some of those "Persian" stereotypes! We are lucky that our daughters have wonderful role models in our community...

What an erudite and insightful article! Esther Amini brings a little known topic to light and encourages our full support of these strong women who carry a great weight. Their uphill battle becomes the challenge of all women and the contribution of these amazing women is humbling. Thank you for a wonderful article.

As the Granddaughter of Eastern European Jews who fled Europe in the 1870's I am having trouble understanding the desire of Persian Jews to stay so connected to their Persian experience that the writers characterized as abusive. My Grandparents clearly labeled the "old country" as bad and built their families around identifying with American culture. Is it possible that Persian Jews are suffering from a form of Stockholme syndrome?