Why my teacher became my hero

Why my teacher became my hero

My mother’s childhood friend — pale skin and green eyes and the kind of tameness deemed desirable in a wife — would stand before the mirror in her parents’ house and watch herself grow old. Past her prime and dangerously close to becoming “spoiled” (as in, gone rancid), she would count her laughlines and crow’s-feet, the creases in her neck, and say out loud, “I waited too long.” (more…)

The night that Elvis Presley died

The night that Elvis Presley died

My mother’s sister and her husband met us at the airport and drove us to the Holiday Inn on Sunset Boulevard near the 405 Freeway. We already had a house in L.A., purchased a few years earlier, but you don’t move in to a new place after dark, or buy a car, or make any major decisions — it can be bad luck — so we stayed at the hotel instead. (more…)

I’ve seen this woman before

I’ve seen this woman before

The boys had dominion over the yard, using it for soccer games at every recess and lunch break and after school during pickup time, so the girls were confined to the periphery of the asphalt field and to the hallways and stairs.

We sat in groups outside and talked while we watched the games, or we walked around the borders of the yard, our shoulders grazing the wall or the fence. The headmaster, a princess of the Qajar dynasty, strode around in stilettos and pencil skirts, impeccably made up and pleasantly fragrant and forever brandishing a bullwhip. She was one of the more beautiful women of her era, independently wealthy and French educated, indignant of religion, superstition and a great many social conventions. While she kept most of us on a tight leash, she seemed to favor three of the older girls — two seniors, one junior — who stood out because of their good looks, their audacity with the teachers, their defiance of societal protocol. (more…)

A woman’s life

A woman’s life

You’re one of more than 10 children, a girl in a boy’s world, and though you don’t have a name for it yet, you’re being abused by more than one of your brothers. You’re 6, 8, 10 years old; the brothers are in their mid-to-late teens.

Your father is unemployed and your mother has to work a day job in addition to being pregnant all the time, nursing babies and running the household and praying three times a day. You’re poor but not starving, well educated but not in secular matters. You have a feeling your parents barely know your name, but you know you have an inherent value as a future wife and mother. You live in a permanent state of fear and apprehension, forever about to take the one wrong step that will guarantee you’ll burn in hell, but you realize this is normal. Your world is small but solid; unforgiving but dependable. God rules over men and men rule over women — their word alone is the truth. (more…)

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day

We wrote essays and memorized poems about the saintliness of mothers, their selflessness, their sacrifices. Every Mother’s Day in elementary and middle school, we stood up and read to the class a new ode to the person who had given up her youth and good health, her freedom and grand ambitions — her self, really, though in those days women had no “self” outside of motherhood — to give us life and make sure we kept eating and breathing. Thank you, Mother, for relinquishing body and soul. (more…)

Not Iranian

Not Iranian

You would think I’d be used to it by now.

In the 1980s, at a dinner party at the home of a Muslim Iranian friend, an older woman sitting next to me panics when she realizes I’m Jewish. Quickly, she gathers her coat around her and hugs herself tight to create as much space between us as she can. Later, the host explains that the old woman still believes what she was taught as a child in Iran — that Jews are najis (ritually impure) and will contaminate anything they touch.

In the 1990s, at a book talk in Portland, I’m confronted by an angry group of nearly 100 Muslim Iranian men and women who demand to know why I feel the need to write about the persecution of Jews in Iran under Shia Islam. The evening ends when one woman — a dentist — asserts without irony that it is indeed true that Jews are najis. It also is true, she goes on to say, that Jews have little tails hidden by their clothes. Everyone hears her, but not a single person in the room steps in to correct her. (more…)

The nature of rubbish

The nature of rubbish

In the morning, we sat around the dining room table, on the second floor of the house on Shah Reza Street, and listened to the man on the radio announce the day’s news with religious solemnity. My father, always in a suit and tie, ready to drive us to school on his way to work, sat at the top of the table, directly across from the French doors that opened onto the round balcony, and shook his head in disapproval every few minutes.

In his early 20s and with three young children, he spoke little and explained even less about what he objected to or why. To my mother, he muttered only that the news was “pure rubbish”; to us, he said, “Don’t say a word about the shah in school, not even in praise, not even if your friends or teacher bring it up.” (more…)

Trump’s in the Torah

Trump’s in the Torah

You learn a great deal at your average Shabbat dinner, not just about the family and the latest goings on in everyone’s lives, but also about God, religion, science and economics.

These days, if you like your relatives and wish to stay related to them, you avoid talking politics except to say, “Yes, ma’am, I know I should be ashamed of myself for voting for crazy, corrupt Hillary and before her, Muslim-spy-intent-on-destroying-this-country Obama. I understand that Trump is going to save America and you and me with it. I’m glad you already feel safer, richer and more powerful.” (more…)