Every Nation is Many Nations

Every Nation is Many Nations

I’m sitting with three other people in a narrow booth in a bustling cafe in Manhattan. It’s the week of snowstorms and icy weather that most Angelenos dread but that I like so much, even if it does hurt to breathe outdoors, the cold air stabbing the brainstem like the sharp tip of an icicle. (more…)

From Tehran to Tel Aviv

From Tehran to Tel Aviv

So there we were, two Israelis, an Iranian Jew and an Iranian Muslim, all writers, sitting on a stage at the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman building. The occasion for the gathering was the publication of two anthologies of short stories, “Tehran Noir” and “Tel Aviv Noir,” featuring contemporary writers from each city. That’s “noir” as in “film noir” or “noir fiction” — “a genre,” Wikipedia tells us, “characterized by cynicism, fatalism and moral ambiguity.” But, of course, there was more to this event than what was announced on the library’s flier. You could sense it — the awareness of the symbolism of this moment, how it felt so easy and natural, something that could — should — be unremarkable because it’s so common, but that was, in fact, so unusual. (more…)

How Iranian Jews Shaped Modern Los Angeles: A Tale of Culture Clashes And Revitalization

How Iranian Jews Shaped Modern Los Angeles: A Tale of Culture Clashes And Revitalization

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. (more…)

Excerpt: “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.”

Excerpt: “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.”

Gina B. Nahai

Gina B. Nahai

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

That word, aabehroo, is one of those for which no equivalent exists in the English language. It alludes to the impression that others hold of an individual’s virtue and respectability. To have aabehroo means that the world regards a person in high esteem. To lose it — or, more literally, to have it leave the person — means he will live in shame unless he somehow manages to get his aabehroo back. You may be born with aabehroo because of your family history, but holding on to it requires a great deal of restraint and self-sacrifice. It means making sure you do everything in compliance with society’s idea of what is right, that you live honorably and protect the sanctity of your family’s name and reputation. It means being capable of feeling deep, personal shame before an exacting, infinitely multitudinous jury. (more…)

Coming to Terms with ‘Need’ This Yom Kippur

Coming to Terms with ‘Need’ This Yom Kippur

Gina B. Nahai

Gina B. Nahai

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

It’s not that I’m greedy and want too much, there’s just a whole lot out there that I need, for myself and my family and even for the dog, Gus, that my kids brought home last year because they needed a dog, so they rescued him from the animal shelter in Van Nuys, for $650, and when I asked why they had to pay so much money for a rescue dog, they said this one was especially cute and the shelter auctioned him and we had to outbid everyone else because we felt Gus needed to be ours.

The thing about “need” is, you don’t know you have it until it’s staring you in the face, or knocking on your door or, these days, popping into your inbox at 60-percent-off-for-the-next-12-hours-starting-now-only-for-our-special-customers. Once you get past the basics — food, water and a warm, dry place in which to sleep — the possibilities are endless. Like the 8,000-square-foot fixer-upper that Dodgers couple owned in Holmby Hills across from their 11,000-square-foot residence. In divorce papers, the wife said they needed the smaller place for “overflow laundry.” The husband, meanwhile, pretended he was broke so he could cheat the wife out of her half of the Dodgers’ $2 billion price tag, because, you see, he needed both billions to sustain just his own lifestyle.

I said this to some friends at dinner the other night — how laundry seems to grow along with a person’s bank account — and they agreed that rich people have more needs, and are therefore entitled to more leeway, in their dealings with the world. We were talking about those businesses downtown that were raided last month by the FBI and Homeland Security, allegedly for laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel. Someone who happens to know one of the accused brought up the fact that those downtown businesses are often very lucrative; they need to deal mostly in cash to avoid paying taxes like the rest of us saps. Someone else suggested that one of the alleged money launderers owns a great deal of commercial property in the area. He probably needs the cash to renovate the buildings so he can raise the rent on his tenants.

It’s not just a downtown thing, or an L.A. thing. It’s not just an American thing. People all over the world have needs that grow exponentially with their wealth. You can’t begrudge the wealth, or trivialize the need, or draw a line between what’s reasonable and what’s excessive. In some parts of the world, an entire family can live for a whole year on what my kids paid for Gus at the shelter; who am I to say, then, that Leona Helmsley’s dog didn’t need the $12 million she left him in her will?

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