Post-war America marked the “End of Ideology” (similarly, much of the Zionist canon has become irrelevant for many Israelis, particularly as the country embarks on a path of economic growth). If they study Zionism at all, most young American Jews are taught Herzl and Ahad Ha’am, whose philosophies did not predict the complexities, or worse, enemies faced by the modern State today. Herzl assumed the Arabs would be moved to join the Jewish “model nation,” while Ha’am’s vision of a Hebrew cultural mecca had no need for a military or means of self-defense. The Jewish political tradition, as described in Jews and Power, is a force that many have sensed but few have been able to put into words. Jewish patterns of adjustment have aided the anti-Zionist movement in grinding down the moral confidence of many Jews with a force of great momentum. Programs like birthright israel
offer hope, as they enable transformative experiences on a collective scale, connecting young American Jews to Israel with unprecedented success. But in the long term, tourism will not be able to sustain an intellectual framework that ties Jews to the Jewish State; experiential knowledge will fade and be replaced with old habits. Rather, the answer lies with thinkers like Wisse, who provide a basis for exploring the ways that political history defines current narratives of power, and alert us to the ways that Jews continue to keep themselves from being free. Works like Jews and Power mark the beginning of a new conversation, one that will introduce this generation to a discourse based on political logic, moral confidence and strength. Polly M. Zavadivker is a founding member of PresenTense Magazine. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
jewish-iranian women explore post-revolution life
The Septembers of Shiraz
Journey from the Land of No:
A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran
by Dalia Sofer
by Roya Hakakian
352 pp, Ecco, 2007
272 pp, Three Rivers Press, 2005
My voice, my very ability to express myself, was in itself a privilege I almost did not have.
wrote my first song at the age of four. My ambition at that time was nothing short of monumental: I was going to be the first ever Jewish Persian pop singer. My voice was going to get me on a stage in front of thousands of screaming fans.
Little did I know that my voice, my very ability to express myself, was in itself a privilege I almost did not have. I had been born into one of the most repressive eras of modern time: post-revolution Iran. The year was 1982. My parents—young, in love, and idealistic in Tehran—believed they could wait out the revolution, and, unlike many of their family members and peers, did not race to leave the country. Their resilience was astounding. And then I was born—their first child, a daughter—and they became a little less idealistic. As a Jewish woman in post-revolution Islamic Iran, I would be targeted twice over. Women were to be covered in veils, silent, timid, inferior; Jews as a group were considered second-class citizens. My parents wanted me to be free, so they paid a smuggler, packed a single suitcase, and traveled through Pakistan and eventually into Israel with a child not even six months old. I struggled for months to regain my health, for the trek through the mountains proved almost too difficult for me to bear as an infant. But I had inherited my parents’ resilience—and the world had yet to hear my voice. I know I am lucky. With the recent emergence of works by Jewish Iranian women writers who grew up in Iran after the revolution, I am able to see what my life could have been. The Septembers of Shiraz, a semi-autobiographical novel by Dalia Sofer, and Journey from the Land of No, a memoir by Roya Hakakian, are two examples of works that capture life for Jews in Iran after the 1979 takeover. Each page of these works is a vivid illustration of daily Jewish life during the years following the Islamic revolution, a life filled with confusion, oppression, fear, sacrifice, love, hope, and ultimately determination. Despite the gravest of circumstances, the characters in these books flourish, steadfast in their identities while bravely facing change, a hallmark of Jewish tradition. Dalia Sofer and Roya Hakakian have authored works to show the world their distinctive Jewish-Iranian identities. Whether it is through fictional characters or passionate prose, both of these women reveal their experiences following the revolution to create a record. Each has spoken candidly, proving that silence is issue four 2008
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