Operating Instructions


Apr 30, 2014 | 8:42 pm


Gina B. Nahai

Gina B. Nahai

This article originally appeared in the Jewish Journal. View Original.

Every once in a while, someone I know will come up to me and announce that I’ve done it again, written something awful and insulting about the Iranian community in Los Angeles, and, in so doing, embarrassed us all in front of the non-Iranian community in L.A.

“You’re lucky you’ve been invited to this dinner,” a friend will say, “everyone is mad at you for your last Jewish Journal article.”

Or, just last month: “I had a dinner party last night and all everyone talked about was how insulting your article was to all Iranians, regardless of age, profession or worldview.”

On this occasion, the objectionable article was about me. I had written in these pages that I’ve recently realized I have no life, no hobbies, no fun and nor do most people I know. We’re all too “busy” working to have hobbies — we’re goal-oriented, ambitious immigrant types who have embraced our inner Quaker.

Most of the time, the friends who suggest I follow Edward Snowden to Russian exile will confess they haven’t read the article in question. Nor, they will admit, have most of the other critics. But they’ve heard about it, which is all that’s necessary in the age of cable news and social media to form a considered opinion.

What they’ve heard is that I’ve written “something” that “makes us look bad.” Sometimes the “something” is believed to be accurate, sometimes not. Either way, it doesn’t belong in a public forum because, the argument goes, it casts the Iranian-Jewish community in a negative light.

I’ve heard this “makes us look bad” assertion so many times and in so many contexts, I became inured to it long ago. I heard it in Iran, among Jews who were forever afraid of the judgment of Muslims, and within the Jewish community, where we judged each other too harshly. I heard it again in the United States, among Iranians of every faith who, despite their deep allegiance and many contributions to this country, are often viewed in the same light as your average shoe-bombing, hostage-taking mullah-in-civilian-clothes. And I’ve heard it from Iranian Jews who — this is the part that should be most shocking to us all — fear the condemnation of their Ashkenazi neighbors.

I’m often told I tend to write things about our community that many among us think or even whisper in private but are “afraid” to say out loud and in public. I worry about this just as much as I do about offending people unfairly. It goes without saying that I’m no expert in the social and historical principles upon which the Iranian-Jewish community stands. Mine is just one person’s reality, as addled by personal experience and distorted by internal biases as any. But I don’t think the real issue in this debate is the correctness of one portrayal or another. I think it’s much bigger, more important to explore, than any one person’s version of the truth.

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Written by Gina B. Nahai
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