In no time at all, we went from being unknown to notorious. When I moved to Los Angeles in August 1977, perfectly intelligent, well-meaning Americans would ask me if we had roads and automobiles in Tehran, or if I had taken a camel to elementary school every day. The ones who did know Iran wanted to talk only about the ruins in Persepolis or Queen Farah’s jewels. Most people just couldn’t tell Iran from Iraq, Arab from Iranian, Shiite from Sunni. And they certainly couldn’t fathom such a thing as an Iranian Jew.
Oh, what a difference a year can make. By the summer of 1978, the high-rise condominium buildings in Westwood were filled to capacity with Iranians, and the kosher businesses in Pico-Robertson were tending to ever-increasing numbers of new customers. You would think this was a good thing.
Say what you will (and believe me, people do) about the way Iranian Jews have changed the social and economic landscape of Los Angeles; the place is a hell of a lot more interesting because of it. I know because I was here for the “before” pictures. My parents had a house in Trousdale since 1976; they had family in Pasadena and Beverly Hills. That’s how I learned about cream cheese, broccoli and “All in the Family” — we spent summers here, watched a lot of TV, and ate McDonalds a few times a week.
Before the Iranians came, Beverly Hills was a sleepy little village populated by cranky Eastern European Jews and polyester-clad Episcopalians from the Midwest. Hollywood was an embarrassing slum. Santa Monica was a communist enclave, downtown one large skid row. The food was rich, heavy and unsophisticated, fancy department stores catered to 80-year-olds, and you couldn’t breathe the air without risking lung cancer on any day of the week.