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PAGE 24A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 17, 2009 Oldest Jewish immigrant from Iran arrives in L. A. By Karmel Melamed Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles LOS ANGELES--Heshmat Elyasian, nearly 103 years old, at Los Angeles International Airport, where she arrived with her son and his family. An Iranian Jewish client of the He- brew Immigrant Aid Society, the international migration agency, Heshmat is the oldest refugee in HIAS records, which date back to 1909, and may be the oldest ever to arrive in the United States. After living in Iran for more than a century, witnessing the rise and fall of three kings and the upheaval of an Islamic rev- olution 30 years ago, 102-year- old Heshmat Elyasian arrived in Los Angeles in early 2009 with her immediate family to become the oldest Jewish im- migrant from Iran to resettle in Los Angeles. Because of an age-related mental decline, Elyasian was not fully aware that she had resettled in the United States. However, she said she was in good spirits during an inter- view with The Journal. "I have some pain in my arms and legs from arthritis, but otherwise, thank God," she said in her native Persian, while seated in a wheelchair and surrounded by family members at a relative's home in the Valley. Elyasian immigrated to the United States with her son, Manouchehr Tabari, and his family with the help of the New York-based HIAS. According to HIAS records, Elyasian is the oldest refugee they have helped. "Making the transition to life in America is not easy for many reasons, especially since the Iranian currency is worth so much less when converted to dollars, but we're grateful to be here," said 68-year-old Tabari, who was a cinematog- rapher and filmmaker in Iran. Tabari said the decision for his immediate family to leave Iran was based on his desire to pursue better educational opportunities for his children in the United States. Since extended families typically live together in Iran for many years, it was only natural for Tabari to immigrate with his mother. "The plane trip herewasvery difficult for all of us, especially for my mother, because it was for many hours, and they had seatedall of us in differentparts of the airplane," said Tabari, who now lives at his niece's Tarzana home. "We are still trying to get over the exhaus- tion of the trip and the shocks of this new environment." Elyasian's long life in Iran has not been the easiest, her son explained. After her mar- riage, her husband, who was a butcher, lost his savings after livestock he had purchased and ritually slaughtered were not kosher due to some im- purities. The couple and their six children barely survived while they lived in poor con- ditions in Tehran's run-down Jewish ghetto. Her husband was forced to work small and low-paying odd jobs, while she raised their children and also earned a living helping other families with their cooking, sewing and hand-washing their laundry. "I am the only person in my family that has had formal education, and my mother re- ally sacrificed on my behalf so that I could get an education," said Tabari, who produced documentary films for televi- sion networks in Iran after studying film and drama in New York during the 1960s. "I've taken care of her myself ever since my father suddenly died of a heart attack at age 62." Iranian Jewish historical scholars said they were excited about Elyasian's arrival in the United States because of her life experience and the fact that her father was one of a few Jewish musicians to entertain the late Iranian king, Nasser- al-Din Shah Qajar, which could shed new light on how Jews were treated in the king's court during the early 20th century. "Life was not easy for Jews living in Iran during the time this woman was born," said Daniel Tsadik, a professor of Iranian studies at Yeshiva University in New York. "They were typically living in poverty, faced persecution in various cities and their movement was restricted in the country, because they were considered ritually impure by the local Muslim leaders." Despite several mattresses and open suitcases stuffed with clothing laid out in her living room, Elyasian's grand- daughter, Soheyla Tabari, said she was excited to welcome her grandmother and uncle's fam- ily to stay with her temporarily until they settle in their new lives in Los Angeles. "I've been telling them to come here for the past 20 years, and we lost some valuable time that we could have really en- joyed together," SoheylaTabari said."Butit's beenagreat expe- rience for all of us to find each other again--four generations living under one roof." Elyasian and her family have already begun the slow process of resettlement with the help of local Jewish agencies. Once Iranian Jewish families reach the United States, the Jewish l00iscover lltaism Senior Rabbi Aaron D. Rubinger & Assistant Rabbi David Kay Beginning Mondays, August 10th 7:00 p.m.--9:15 p.m. If you would like to strengthen your Jewish Spirituality or are considering conversion to Judaism this course is for you. This curriculum introduces the essence of Jewish faith, beliefs, customs and traditions from a Conservative perspective and also incorporates the study of Hebrew for synagogue use. Class topics are as follows: Jewish Views About God & Concept o1Mitzvoh The DiMerence Between Torah, Bible, and Talmud Jewish View ol the Messiah and the Afterlife High Holidays: Elul, Rash Hoshono, Yam Kippur The Meaning and Observance o1Shobbot The True Meaning ol the Dietary Lows Festivals: Sukkot, Pesach, Shovuot, Hanukoh, Purim & Other Important Jewish Occasions Jewish History I - Origins ol the Jewish People till Destruction ol 2nd Temple Jewish History II - Rabbinic Age till Modern Time Life Cycle h Brit, Naming, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and Weddings /J)e Cycle Ih Divorce, Death and Dying and Rites ol Mourning What ore Tzedakoh, Talmud Torah, and Mo'osim Tovim? Structure & Meaning of Our Prayer Service Comparative Judaism: Orthodoxy, Conservative, and Reform - What does it mean to be Conservative Jews What Every Jewish Home Should Hove: Preparation for Conversion Upon completion of this program, those considering conversion must meet traditional requirements. For fees and registration information, please call Susan or email: Congregation Ohev Shalom A Member of The Unit:2s:dogule9:?Conservafive Judaism ih.',] 5015 Goddard Avenue * Orlando, FL 32804 * (407) 298-4650 Please view our Website: www.ohevshalom.or$ HIAS Heshmat Elyasian, nearly 103 years old, at Los Angeles International Airport, where she arrived with her son and his family. An Iranian Jewish client of HIAS, the international migration agency, Heshmat is the oldest refugee in HIAS records, which date back to 1909, and may be the oldest ever to arrive in the United States. Vocational Service, Jewish Family Service and other agencies affiliated with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles typically are among the first to help these new immigrants. Local Iranian Jewish groups also have helped out, including the Torat Hayim Center, the SIAMAK organization and the Hope Foundation. These groups have collaborated to create the Caring Committee, whichwill temporarily help the family with rent, groceries, medical and legal bills, trans- portation and school tuition. The local Iranian American Jewish Federation has also been involved in helping these new immigrants. The issue of Jewish immi- gration from Iran is particu- larly sensitive for local Iranian Jewish leaders. For the most part, the work of HIAS to help Jews emigrate from Iran since the 1980s has happened under the media radar in order not to embarrass the Iranian gov- ernment. Community leaders have long feared that any pub- licity could potentially jeopar- dize the current flow of Jewish immigration out of Iran. The process of immigration varies for different Iranian Jews and can take anywhere from nine months to several years. According to HIAS records, since 1979, the organization had aided more than 15,000 Iranian Jewish refugees in im- Immigrant on page 23A With the political situation in Iran changing mo- ment by moment, and with objective news from inside that country effectively silenced, some journalists suggest that Twitter and YouTube may be the most current sources of news--but since anyone can post to these services, it's difficult to determine which information is correct. If you're interested in following the news from Iran, here are some other sites that can be helpful: 30 Years After 30 Years After is a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles whose mission is to promote the par- ticipation and leadership of Iranian American Jews in American political, civic and Jewish life. The Huffington Post Nico Pitney, a national editor at the HuffingtonPost, is widely considered to be offering one of the most, if not the most, comprehensive and current blog on the political situation in Iran. Follow his Iran blog at, and follow him on Twitter at The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center http:/ On Twitter at The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center believes that the development of an accountability movement and a culture of human rights in Iran are crucial to the long-term peace and security of the country and the Middle East region. It aims to provide comprehensive human rights reports, data about past and present human rights violations, and to encourage an informed dialogue on the human rights situation in Iran among scholars and the gen- eral public in Iran and abroad. The Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights is among its funders. Human Rights Now (a blog associated with Am- nesty International) Human Rights Now posts news and video on the recent situation in Iran, along with detailed analysis not found on other sites, although the information is not always updated daily.