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This Women’s History Month, We Honor the Strength and Bravery of Iranian Women

To commemorate Women’s History Month, we are excited to share the stories of Iranian women in our L.A. Jewish community who have been affected by violence and discrimination in Iran over the last six months. At Jewish Federation Los Angeles, we stand in solidarity with the courageous women of Iran who have taken a stand to defend their fundamental human rights. As one of the largest Persian and Iranian communities globally, we extend our support to all members of these communities in Los Angeles participating in this cause. Violence against women has no place in any civilized society and is in direct contradiction to Jewish values. It is important to honor the Iranian people, culture, and traditions that enrich our unique L.A. Jewish community. Read along for a deep dive into the perspectives of our own community members who have been impacted.

Tara Khoshbin

Tara is a nonprofit communications specialist, specializing in advocacy and social media, and is also a professional home organizer who owns her own small business, Aesthetics and Edits Organizing. She is the executive director of Chaya Community, a nonprofit organization that strives for an empowered Jewish Iranian American community by deepening a sense of self and cultivating meaningful connection. She is also an alumna of 30 Years After’s Maher Fellowship, Israel Policy Forum’s IPF Atid Bronfman Conveners Summit, The Jewish Federation’s Rautenberg New Leaders Project, and AJC’s ACCESS Leadership Fellowship. Tara has an MBA in nonprofit management from American Jewish University and a BA in political science from Pepperdine University. She is a native of Los Angeles.

What message would you like to send to women in Iran who are fighting for their rights? 

We are here for you and fully support you from afar. We admire your bravery in the face of cruelty. We cry with you, we mourn with you, and we will eventually celebrate with you. 
As an Iranian woman in L.A., how have you been advocating for those in Iran? 

This recent wave of protests has wholly shifted my identity. If you had asked me a year ago if I had any desire to visit Iran, I would have said absolutely not; I felt no connection to Iran and believed it to be just the past home of my ancestors. A home that would always be temporary until, as Jews, we were uprooted again for the eventual antisemitism that would reach the region, which it did. However, I don’t see it like that anymore. I see my family’s rich traditions and culture that are completely tied up to our way of life. I admire it so much more now. I also see a movement led by women – women fighting for equality and the ability to choose who they want to be and what they want to wear. 
How has being an Iranian Jewish woman shaped your experiences and perspective, both personally and professionally? 

Being an Iranian Jewish woman is the essence of my being. I am part of a collective group of women who are changing the status quo and working tirelessly in a society that does not always support our choices and way of life. We are constantly in the shadow of our matriarchs, who never had the opportunity that we have to live an independent life. We are fighting an uphill battle – whether with our family, who have certain beliefs, or with our Jewish community, who don’t understand our upbringing and societal expectations. 

Baraye Iran/For Iran, December 2022

What do you hope for in the future for Iran? 

I hope for a free and democratic Iran – for the people to prosper and live freely. I hope to one day visit the land of my ancestors, hear the familiar language, smell the familiar scents, and immerse myself in the country’s beauty. 

Orly Ohebsion

Orly is an Israeli married mother of three living in Los Angeles. She started in the retail designer jewelry arena in 1992 and took ownership of Moondance Jewelry Gallery in 1996 upon finishing college. After running her business for 21 years, she decided to sell it and focus on family and community. Orly is a Lion of Judah with Jewish Federation Los Angeles and is a member of the Los Angeles cabinet of Taglit Birthright Israel. Orly is the Los Angeles chair for Israel Bonds Women’s Division and is a supporter of WIZO and Visionary Women. 
Zan Zendegi Azadi.  

Woman Life Freedom.

How has being an Iranian Jewish woman shaped your experiences and perspective, both personally and professionally? 

The political climate in Iran has been upsetting and unfortunate for over four decades. Iranian Jewry dispersed in the diaspora and the largest concentration landed here in the city of angels following the Shah’s fall in 1979. I was born and raised in Israel to parents who left Iran in their youth well before the Revolution. Growing up in Israel, I didn’t feel much of a connection to Iran. All of that changed when my family moved to Los Angeles in 1990. Suddenly as a high school senior in West Los Angeles I felt a connection to the Iranian youth that I met on campus. They shared stories of fleeing overnight and settling here in America. Through them I learned more about my Persian heritage and grew fond of its customs and traditions. I chose an Iranian man to partner with in marriage and parenthood. I love the warmth of our community and its rich history of over 3,000 years. 
As an Iranian woman in L.A., how have you been advocating for those in Iran? 

As the news unfolded following Mahsa Amini’s death last year, I found myself emotional and helpless. I really wanted to believe that the women of Iran will bring on change with their fierce fight. I started sharing pleas on social media hoping to help bring a stop to the brutal senseless deaths of so many of Iran’s young and brave. With friends, I attended peaceful demonstrations and returned home with the heavy feeling that not much will change despite so many around the world standing in unity. Frustrated, I started to look for art by Iranian women and fell in love with several pieces that I purchased for our home here in L.A. Shirin Neshat’s piece showing her powerful voice against the hijab and another by her called “Hands”, in which she features an arm covered in Farsi writing intertwined with an arm wrapped in tefillin. The photography of an anonymous artist who takes self-portraits using a tripod joined my collection as well. In her work, the artist makes herself disappear as she is wrapped by the hijab, again reminding us how small and faceless the women feel. Maryam Maleki’s series called “This is Not a Scarf” moved me to tears. This colorful series was dismounted from its wooden frame and smuggled through Turkey rolled up in a tube. Unrolling the paintings, I felt an overwhelming sadness. How is the hijab different from the yellow star Jews wore in Nazi Germany? Both are forced on the wearer and both silence a group of people, stripping them of their identity and voice.  

What are some of the traditions you love most within your community? 

One of my favorite Persian Jewish traditions is hospitality. We are so big on having people over all the time!! Shabbat is the perfect occasion and Amir and I love hosting a mix of friends and family for delicious food and great conversations. The nights are always lively, people drinking and sharing the past week’s highs and lows; it’s a weekly Thanksgiving, really. Now our guests will get to appreciate some moving art by Iranian women and maybe, just maybe, the days of freedom will get a little bit closer. 

Can you tell us about a woman in your family or community who has been an inspiration to you, and why? 

I’ve been most inspired by the women in my family, as I come from a lineage of strong doers. Both of my grandmothers are well into their nineties and living in Israel. From them I learned to work hard and prioritize family and tradition. My mother and aunts continue this legacy of dedication to their families and commitment to instilling Jewish values. The woman who currently inspires me the most is my 21-year-old daughter Yasmeen. As a junior at Tulane University, she has taken on the task of getting the university to adopt antisemitism training as a part of the school’s freshman orientation. Yasmeen and her collaborators haven’t succeeded yet, but they continue to fight for what’s right. I am grateful that they are free to do so here in the United States. I hope and pray that the women of Iran are victorious in their fight and that basic freedoms become the norm again. I would love to see a free and modern Iran, a friend to Israel, and a home that we can all visit again. 

Chloe Makhani

After opening her first restaurant in 2015 and working for years at Starwood, Chloe Makhani brings her expertise to oversee marketing, events, and all hospitality assets within the Avondale Equities portfolio. She is currently working on her next venture, Casalena Restaurant, opening spring 2023. Chloe was born and raised in Los Angeles, where she now sits on the Visionary Women board and is the founder of GenV, the next generation of female leaders within the broader organization. Chloe is part of the fifth class of the Community Leadership Institute at Jewish Federation Los Angeles, and she has loved every minute of it thus far.

What does Women’s History Month mean to you? 

Women’s History Month is a time of reflection and intentionality. It is an opportunity to honor the women who have paved the way for us and to recognize the progress we’ve made while acknowledging the work that still needs to be done.  

It is about remembering the actions, big and small, of women before me who risked their lives to attempt to make the world a better place. It is about simultaneously acknowledging the struggles and celebrating the wins. There would be no future generations without the strength and resilience of the women in our past. We owe it to the women before us to carry on their legacy by continuing to fight for women’s rights and leadership. 

Additionally, Women’s History Month brings attention to the ancestral trauma that today’s women carry from previous generations. It’s our responsibility to release that trauma and work towards healing for the benefit of future generations. This trauma can impact our lives in both positive and negative ways, and it’s important to be mindful of its influence. 

I will leave you with this last thought: Every single woman is a powerhouse. The lightbulb is constantly going off in our minds on how to improve and educate, not only women but the world. This is what Women’s History Month is about. Every woman is a leader and a change-maker. We are constantly thinking of how to improve opportunities for our offspring, we work on our parenting styles, we work to understand male dominance while working towards justice in the home and in the workplace. A woman of influence no longer needs to fit within the molds our past encouraged. Today, women can be both sensitive and strong. There is no secret recipe, just a forward-facing direction we all work towards.  

This is what female leadership means to me. We are here to do something different than what was done in our past. We are here to include everybody in the way we lead. We, as women, have so much ahead of us; the truth is that we haven’t even begun. It’s important to remember women have the power to make an impact in the world that we live in; it has never been more needed.  

Can you tell us about a woman in your family or community who has been an inspiration to you, and why?  

There are so many, it’s hard to know who to choose. Iranian women are incredible! To name a few, my mother Angel Makhani, Angella Nazarian, and Soheila Adelipour. These are all Iranian women who I admire and are a part of me in different ways. I have learned from them and stood alongside them in my own journey to become the leader I am. Their drive and resilience is unparalleled in their own unique ways. They ask the hard questions. They take chances. Finally, each shows vulnerability through their leadership both in and out of their households. 

The woman I am choosing to recognize today is my grandmother Nancy Sakhai Simantob. She is a force of light who pushed the boundaries during a very different time. She is one of the women who paved the way for us to be where we are today. At a time where women were meant to follow, she led. She sent all of her kids to America before the Revolution for a better education. Nancy was progressive even when being that way wasn’t easy. She allowed her kids to take their own paths. She demonstrated her creativity constantly through her style and elegance.  

During the Six-Day War, she so strongly identified as Jewish that she donated all of her prized possessions and jewelry to the State of Israel to support the soldiers. On a personal front, she was constantly curious and open minded to all individuals in Iran and in U.S.. She immediately got her gemology degree, and her real estate and driver’s licenses after relocating to escape the Revolution; she prided herself on self-sufficiency. This is something we may take for granted due to the sheer magnitude of opportunity women are given in America. To this day, she has friends from different backgrounds and always sees the beauty in differences. In a place where women were an afterthought, she was a forward-pushing force even though her role in the family was defined from the young age of 15 when she wed.  

I see so much of Nancy in me. She is sensitive and simultaneously strong. Marriage didn’t solely define her. She was triumphant in the workplace when women were primarily caretakers. She was fashion-forward. She sang and danced beautifully, while sharing in the joys of life. This is leadership. Whether she had a lot or very little, she stayed humble and constantly gave when she could to the Jewish people. Today, we see so many women like Nancy. I admire and thank women like her who changed the tone and set new standards. This is the backbone of all the amazing things women are doing today. I am so proud to be her granddaughter, and I will carry the lessons and strength she instilled within me always. She is, and always has been, a modern woman.  

What are some of the traditions you love most within your community? 

The notion of community is something that is often overlooked, yet highly desired by most. The traditions that stand out to me are the simple pleasures. The throwing of flower petals when two people are uniting in marriage sticks out to me. This is known as “ Gol Berizin.” What a simple yet beautiful symbol to celebrate a union of two to one.  

The Haft-sin table that is set to welcome Nowruz, the “Persian New Year”, is another beautiful tradition. Every item placed on the table is a representation that marks the first day of spring and the renewal of nature. There are 15 items. The seven S’s plus a mirror, candle, the holy book, eggs, sweets, fish, and “sombol” which is a hyacinth flower. In their own ways, each item represents what is to come in the new year, which is a fabulous reminder of what we can all have. As it is said, when you know where you want to go, you’ll get there. This table is a wonderful visual reminder of that.  

Traditions bring the community together to bond over joy, or even grief. They implement values and unity no matter what the circumstance, uniting us. All in all, the closeness of family in general is emphasized and implemented through each of our days, and weeks. No matter if it is around the Shabbat candles, the union of a new couple and family, or moving forward after losing a loved one we find comfort in the community that supports and stands behind us. I’ve always loved this about the Iranian culture, even when we may feel alone, a whole army stands behind us. 

What do you hope for in the future for Iran? 

Zan. Zendegi. Azadi.  

Women. Life. Freedom. 

Chelsea Khakshouri Larian

My name is Chelsea Khakshouri Larian, and I am a first-generation Iranian American born and raised in Los Angeles. I serve as a vice president of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, and have had the privilege of connecting and collaborating with Jewish Federation Los Angeles to organize events highlighting the recent women-led protests in Iran and to discuss how to engage our communities to unite with their bold cause.

What message would you like to send to women in Iran who are fighting for their rights?

Your strength, resilience, and determination in the face of adversity is truly inspiring. You have shown incredible bravery by standing up for what is right and advocating for change, despite the significant risks you face in doing so. Your persistence and tenacity in demanding a more just and equitable society pave the way for future generations of Iranian women to enjoy greater freedom, dignity, and opportunity. You are an inspiration to women across the world. 

As a first-generation Iranian American, I have an even deeper and more profound appreciation for your bravery. It is painful to imagine what the lives of women in my family would have looked like if they had not escaped Iran during the 1979 Revolution and foud freedom in a new country. Compulsory hijab, unequal rights, a lack of political representation, and the violence you have faced is a reality I cannot wrap my head around, though it was a fate that so easily could have been my own. 

You are not alone in your struggle. People around the world, including Iranian women like myself in the diaspora, stand in solidarity with you and support your efforts to achieve equal rights, opportunities, and freedom for all women and people of Iran. Your fight is our fight; we will continue to raise awareness and advocate for you. You make us proud. 
Can you speak to the role of religion and culture in shaping the experiences of Iranian Jewish women, and how do you balance those influences with your own personal beliefs and values? 

Iranian and Jewish culture have rich histories and traditions, which often intertwine and influence various aspects of our lives, from family dynamics and social interactions to personal values. Iranian culture is known for its emphasis on family, hospitality, and community. We also have a deep appreciation for art, poetry, nature, food, celebration, and cherishing all things beautiful in life with lots of passion!  

As Iranian Americans, Jewish faith and traditions have provided a strong foundation for our community, helping maintain a sense of continuity and despite the challenges of immigration and adapting to a new society. For some, religious observance is an essential aspect of daily life. While for others, participating in rituals and celebrations help maintain a connection to their heritage.  

Jewish culture and religion, much like Iranian culture, places a significant emphasis on tradition, community, and family. The strong sense of togetherness and interconnectedness that stems from the merging of Iranian culture and Judaism can provide a warm and supportive environment for women But it may also come with certain expectations regarding traditional gender roles and family structures.  

Balancing these cultural and religious influences with personal beliefs and values can be a complex process. For me, it involves maintaining an open and respectful dialogue with my community, while also reflecting on my own values and experiences. I cherish the traditions and values I have inherited from my Iranian and Jewish roots, and I strive to incorporate them into my life in a way that aligns with my personal beliefs and aspirations. 

At the same time, I recognize the importance of embracing change and challenging certain cultural norms or expectations that may limit women. This might involve advocating for greater gender equality, supporting women’s rights and education, and promoting interfaith and intercultural understanding. I have also found a balance between celebrating my rich culture and its traditions with adapting or reinterpreting certain traditions or beliefs to resonate more strongly with me In doing so, I can integrate different aspects of my identity. 

Ultimately, the process of balancing cultural and religious influences with personal values is a deeply personal and individual journey! For me, the process has involved ongoing self-reflection, open-mindedness, and a willingness to learn from and engage with diverse perspectives. This approach allows me to honor my heritage while also embracing my own unique identity as a first-generation Iranian American Jewish woman. 

What are some of the traditions you love most within your community? 

Perhaps this is a somewhat bland response, but Shabbat is something I look forward to all week! I admire the way Iranian American Jews in our community have held on to this tradition. Life can become chaotic, between balancing work, social lives, and a myriad of other responsibilities and obligations. The peaceful knowledge that at the end of the week, there will be an opportunity to unwind and enjoy time with the people you love is truly wonderful.  

Shabbat is also an opportunity for cultural preservation. As immigrants adapting to life in the United States, the emphasis on getting together with family and friends for Shabbat has provided an opportunity to pass on customs, rituals, and traditions, whether through certain practices, lively conversations, and the exchanging of stories, or through making and enjoying traditional Persian food. It has provided a platform for intergenerational connection, which is vital not only for maintaining our unique culture, but also for strengthening bonds between family, friends, and the broader community. While it may sometimes be difficult to navigate dual identities as both Iranian and American Jews, Shabbat is a space where our unique blend of cultures is embraced and celebrated. There is nowhere I feel more belonging than around the Shabbat table! 

NuRoots Roots of Identity Shabbat, September 2019

Of course, getting to enjoy a home cooked meal featuring delicious traditional Persian dishes is the cherry on top. Food is one of the ways our community uniquely blends Iranian and Jewish cultures. One example is gondi, a dumpling of sorts made from ground chicken or turkey, combined with chickpea flour, onions, and various spices, which is formed into balls and simmered to cook in a flavorful broth. This dish, which is similar to matzo balls, is commonly served as a precursor to the rest of the Shabbat meal. I love how every family prepares it differently, with variations based on the region of Iran that family is originally from! It is usually enjoyed with fresh herbs such as tarragon and basil, referred to as “sabzi”, which roughly translates to “greenery.” This dish holds a special place in my heart and the hearts of many Iranian Jews, not only because it is a delicious and comforting food that signals the end of the work week, but also because it is a symbol of our unique culinary heritage. 

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