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p 211A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 18, 2013 Rare exhibit tells complicated story of Iranian Jews By Naomi Pfefferman Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles Detail of 19th-century painted door from the col- lection of Miriam Kove, New York poem in Judeo-Persian in- scribed in a cartouche below. An early 20th-century Persian wall carpet made in Kashan and lavishly deco- rated with intricate biblical scenes and Hebrew inscrip- tions, in the style of Persian miniature painting. An undersize set of leather tefillin, from the town of Mashhad in the mid-19th century, indicat- ing one way this community of Jews forced to convert to Islam secretly practiced its Judaism--by creating phylacteries small enough to hide under their head- dresses. A ketubah, drawn in vibrant hues of amber and crimson in Isfahan in 1921, richly ornamented with in- tertwined images of birds, blossoms and the cypress tree, a symbol of eternal life dating back to the ancient Zoroastrian religion of Iran. These objects, all included in "Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews" at UCLA'S Fowler Museum, are Farsi marriage contract, circa 1853 from collection of Robert Mardcha, USA among the more than 100 sumptuous artworks and other objects--including rare archaeological artifacts, illuminated manuscripts, ritual objects and amulets-- on display through March 10. Together, they tell the 2,700- year history of the Jews of Iran, one of that country's oldest minorities. The exhibition's timeline begins in 539 BCE, when Cyrus, the founder of the first Persian Empire, de- feated the Babylonians and annexed the regions where the exiled Jews from Jeru- salem and the kingdom of Judea had settled after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. The narrative continues through the Arab -Muslim conquest of Iran in the seventh century and the more hostile Imam- ite Shiite conquest in the early 1500s that prompted the harsh conditions for Jews that waxed and waned until the tolerant reigns of the Pahlavi shahs in the early 20th century. The show continues through the 1979 Islamic Revolution to the Talk of Iran these days tends to be about threats of the annihilation of Israel, the potential of nuclear weap- onry and bellicose leaders. But before all that, over its almost 3,000-year history, Iran has had one of the deepest and richest artistic heritages of any place in the world, and its Jewish cultural component, in particular, is both intrinsic to the place and not so well known to the outside world--even much of the Jewish world. Some examples: A pair of 19th-century painted-wood doors decorat- ed with an image of a couple in an intimate tte--tte as he strums a sitar behind a raised curtain, with a love By Ron Kaplan New Jersey Jewish News Jews and the new TV landscape Alan Sepinwall the business, knowing a lot of writers--many of whom happen to be Jewish--they generally tend to fall on the more secular Jewish side .... They are perhaps more as- similated and for them it's not something that they're consciously thinking about, if they're writing a character that happens to be Jewish." Sepinwall, the former TV critic for The Star-Ledger in New Jersey who now writes for Hitfix.com, an enter- tainment website, recently published "The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slay- ers Who Changed TV Drama Forever," which considers a dozen watershed series, including a few--"Mad Men," "Deadwood" and "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer" among them--that have featured prominent Jewish charac- ters. John Hawkes played Sol Starr, the Austrian-born hardware-store partner to Sherriff Seth Bullock in the acclaimed HBO western series "Deadwood." In the pilot, Starr and Bullock meet AI Swearingen, the town's resident crime lord/saloon- keeper who immediately comments about the Jews' affinity for business, a remark he considers a compliment. Additional episodes refer to Starr's religion through thinly veiled stereotyped comments. The cult classic Buffy featured Allison Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg, the eponymous heroine's BFF. "They would occasionally make a joke about how the Jewish girl was wandering around, holding crosses," said Sepinwall. "I think it becomes sort of a no-win situation, because sometimes you do have those characters and it's mentioned once or twice, if that. Dr. Greene on"ER" and Detective Munch on "Homicide: Life on the Street" are two that come to mind, where there were only one or two episodes that even vaguely mentioned it." In a"Homicide" episode titled "Kaddish" Munch, played by Richard Belzer, recited the mourners' prayer for a mur- der victim. More recently, Mandy Patinkin's character, Saul Berenson, said Kaddish for scores of victims of a ter- rorist bombing in the season finale of "Homeland," as he did for a dead terrorist earlier in the series. Then there are those who would like to see even more Jewish content. "This is something I hear about from a lot of different groups," Sepinwall said. "We would like representation, and then different people can't agree on the kind of representation there would be." Sepinwall self-published his bookavailable viaAma- zon--rather than go the traditional route. (It has since become a rarity--a self-published work that ended up being picked up by a major publisher, Touch- stone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.) "I knew that I had enough of a platform at this stage of my career that in theory I could self-promote it very effectively, which has turned out to be the case. So far the response has been over- whelming." His book even merited a review in The New York Times --unusual for a self-published work--which Sepinwall termed "com- pletely unexpected and won- derful." Reviewer Michiko Kakutani named it one of her 10 favorite books of the year. "I was able to do the kind of book I wanted to do and that I felt confident people would want to read. "There is definitely some Jewish content in these shows BUYER 941 Fairbanks Avenue, Winter Park FL 32789 i An episode of the 1960s classic TVwestern "Bonanza" centered on a Jewish family traveling through Virginia whose members were vic- timized by bandits seeking to steal their precious reli- gious items. Such was the presentation of Jews on TV a generation ago: They were exotic, foreign "the other." Their accents, manners and dress were considered odd by the rest of the community (read: Christians). These days, Jewish char- acters are still somewhat unusual and used as a depar- ture-to a greater or lesser degree--from the norms of the general public. At the same time, they are definitely part of the rainbow that is American society as pre- sented on the small screen. For example, last season "btad bien"--the AMC hit series about people work- ing at an advertising firm in the 1960s--introduced blichael Ginsberg as a brash, young Jewish copywriter who claims to have no family, even though he's shown visiting his father, who bestows a Hebrew blessing upon hear- ing of his son's new job. The 20-something Ginsberg is clearly embarrassed by his father's "old world" ways; in asubsequent episode, he tells a story about his upbringing during the Holocaust that may or may not be true. "I think there's two types of Jews," said TV critic Alan Sepinwall in a phone inter- view. Mad Men "is the 1960s and it's around the time of the rise of Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce and the idea of the separation from the religious Jew versus the cultural Jew, the secular and non-secular. So they've been using [Ginsberg's] character to illustrate that generational shift between the father, who was obviously in some way in- volved inwhatwas happening in Europe during the war, and the son who tells the story to another character--and she can't believe it. He seems crazy enough that he could be inventing it, but I don't think that's supposed to be the implication." Sepinwall said that in his long experience "covering Courtesy of David Nissan Leora and David Nissan pose at Purim, 1964, in Tehran. contemporary period, there and abroad. The exhibit is free. Naomi Pfefferman writes for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, from which this article was re- printed by permission. AMC Ben Feldman portrays a brash young Jewish copywriter on 'MadMen.' that haven't been as prevalent as they would be if I was doing a comedy book," he said. "If I was doing a comedy book, there would be lots and lots of Judaism." Ron Kaplan is features edi- tor at the New Jersey Jewish News, from which this article was reprinted by permission.