🔗 With Love From What Used to Be Home


First published: .

Recently, I've been editing my aunt's book of family memories, documenting the life of her family (which includes my mom, her sister) in Iran, and later, Israel.

This is the third book I have worked on with my aunt and mother in the last few years. A year back we self-published an extremely ambitious and comprehensive family recipe book, which I edited and designed, and on which we had worked for years. A bit later I edited and designed my aunt's third poetry book.

As a kid I worked on what Israeli schools call Avodat Shorashim, literally "roots assignment". Children are required to create a binder documenting their family history, including a family tree going several generations back. Unfortunately, kids are stupid and disinterested, so I forgot many details of my family's history since then.

Editing my aunt's book, however, has been illuminating to me. Learning how life looked for my family up until maybe six decades ago is incredible. Indeed, life has changed considerably for pretty much everyone after the industrial revolution and the two world wars, as technological advancements and medical breakthroughs swept through the world; and yet, for many Jews life has changed much more drastically, given their treatment in both Asia and Europe until the formation of the state of Israel.

The farthest known origins of my mother's side of the family are in Iran. One of my great-great-grandfathers, Shalom, was a butcher in the city of Kermanshah in western Iran, and used to travel on his donkey to Baghdad, Iraq, where he met a woman and brought her back with him to Kermanshah to marry. My great-grandmother, Dochetarbas (literally "girls, enough")‒who was their fourth of six daughters (followed by one last male boy)‒married a men named Yechezkel from nearby Borujerd, and moved to live with him there.

My uncles, aunts, and grandparents, therefore, were all born and lived in Borujerd. My mother was the first of the family to be born in Israel, after the family made Aliyah in the final months of 1952.

In Borujerd, my family was part of a relatively large Jewish community, which was recognized as a religious minority in the country. Just yesterday, as I was working on the book, I reached a part where my aunt describes the restrictions made on, and treatment of, the Jews in Iran.

The Shia Islam which dominates Iran views Jews as "impure", and Muslims must avoid any direct physical contact with a Jew or any object a Jew had touched. The Jews were therefore forced to live in a Jewish Quarter, separate from the Muslim majority. The Jewish Quarter contained their extremely small homes, and also included a school, a bath house, a synagogue, a rabbinic court and a market. Interestingly, Jews were not allowed to buy anything from a Muslim trader, except for bread, since they were disallowed from running their own bakeries. They also were not allowed to leave the Jewish Quarter on rainy days, of fear that "their impurity will transfer to the Muslims". They could not visit a Muslim bath house, and were not allowed to touch a water tap outside of their quarter. And of course, they were required to "dress down" compared to their Muslim neighbors and make their Jewry identifiable. Jews were only allowed to work certain jobs, making it difficult to provide financially for the large families, so poverty was pretty much standard.

The houses in the Jewish Quarter were very small mud buildings of 1-2 rooms, often housing more than 10 people, all built closely with no outside paving. They had no electricity, no air conditioning, no refrigerator, not even showers. They cooked their food in underground wood ovens located outside, in small courtyards that every 3 or 4 houses shared.

My grandmother (bottom-left) with her brother, parents and grandfather in Borujerd, Iran, 1925.

That said, my family does have certain fond memories of Iran. Most prominently the close-knit community life, the beauty of the surrounding nature, and family events in the Jewish holidays.

And so, I thought it quite poetic that I was reaching this section about the treatment of my Persian-Jewish family by the Iranians just two hours before Iran launched a historic attack on my country, reportedly from where most of my family's history took place: Kermanshah. With love, from what used to be home.

Late last night, with the attack mostly targeting the southern area of the country, I allowed myself to go outside on the balcony to watch the incredible sight of hundreds of missiles shooting across the sky and being intercepted by Israeli defence technology. As an Israeli, I am quite used to be under barrage of rockets and seeing them up in the sky, but I haven't seen missiles since I was a kid, and the sight up in the night sky was one I had never witnessed before, and hopefully will never witness again. The missiles were shooting southwest, above the stratosphere, leaving streaks of fire, sometimes simply disappearing into the distance, sometimes being met by Israeli interceptors, sometimes exploding in incredible halos. Looking up, I could not believe what I was witnessing.

Life is weird. My aunts and uncles had to see themselves and their entire communities booted out of their home countries, and then they are bombarded by that country in the place they built a new life for themselves. They are all old now, but they're still being persecuted. And me? What can I say, my enemies are really pushing me into becoming a Zionist, just to stick it in their fucking faces.

Iranian missiles in the Israeli sky. It only occurred to me to take a picture at the end of the barrage, and this is the best my smartphone camera could do.