I was hanging out with a 22 year-old Iranian-Dutch woman who was telling me about her summer trip to LA to visit cousins. (Raise your hand if you have cousins in LA. I know I do, and I’m not even Iranian.)
“You wouldn’t believe it,” she told me, “My cousin drove for an hour to buy sweets so she wouldn’t have to buy them from the Jewish baker. She said, ‘I want my money in the pocket of a Muslim, not of a Jew.’”
Part of me was appalled, and part sympathetic. After all, when I was growing up, we bought from Jews whenever we could. That was the rule. My father still complains about certain university types who did not understand the importance of supporting Jewish merchants and would buy from anyone. “They just don’t understand how hard it is to earn a living,” he says.
Irangeles, apparently, is starkly divided by religion: Iranian- Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Bahai’s divided by semi-strict borders. “Even the coffee shops,” my young friend says. She told me of her cousin’s dismay when a group of Jewish 20-somethings dared to step foot in the coffee shop they were visiting. “They have their own. What are they doing here?” When my friend expressed her disgust with her cousin’s attitude, she was met with a blank stare. “We just don’t do that kind of thing in Amsterdam.” To be fair, Iranians in the Netherlands are pretty divided by political lines. It is true, however, that the 20-somethings are more likely to blur those lines than their parents.
Starbucks, sushi, Chabad House. Starbucks, sushi, Chabad House. A little Spanish, a lot of Persian, some Hebrew. That’s what Kamran and I experienced when we visited LA last Spring.
In a Persian restaurant in Westwood, a young Baha’i told us how disheartening it was to try to bring the Irangeles community together. He confirmed our Iranian-Dutch friend’s experience of the strong religious divisions in the community. Another man we met told us that when young Iranians arrive in Irangeles, they are comfortable crossing the borders between the religious communities. “They don’t seem to care at all about religious divisions at all. They’re just so much more relaxed than those of us who grew up in this community.”
Yesterday Kamran and I had lunch with some friends who live in Iran. “Do you think anti-Semitism is growing among Iranians?” I asked. (An article in the Washington Post had been haunting me since I read it.)
“Do you mean anti-Zionism?”
“No. I mean anti-Semitism.”
They told me that the young people born after the revolution to parents who lived most of their lives with the current regime had, in fact, become more susceptible to the message of the regime. “I mean, my friend’s younger sister has no problem throwing off her hejab and wearing a bikini in public, but when she talks you are surprised to hear her echo the message of the regime.” She’s not unique, just specific.