From the Land of Purim, Jews with Complex Identities

For many American Persian Jews, self-identification can be complicated. Whether they were born in Iran or they are first-generation Americans, the culture and patriotism of their parents’ homeland can clash with their lives in America. This inner conflict has been exacerbated by the ongoing political tensions between Iran and the United States. Mix in some public musings on the possibility of war with Iran from Israel, and Persian American Jews (or are they Jewish Persian Americans? American Persian Jews?) are effectively being pulled in three directions.

The Persian Jewish community in American remains quite insular, concentrated in a few close-knit enclaves, including one on Long Island. And while the western label Orthodox doesn’t quite apply, Persian Jewish religious practice certainly has more in common with contemporary Orthodox Judaism than it does with any of the liberal streams. Because of all of these factors, Yeshiva University, the Modern Orthodox university with its various schools scattered around the city of New York, has a particularly high concentration of Persian Jews.

“I feel an internal conflict,” admitted Sarit Bassal, a student at Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University. Bassal’s family is the paradigm of this cultural potpourri: Her father is from Iran, and her mother from Israel, but she and her siblings were born in New York. The possibility of a war involving two or all three of these homelands has left Bassal feeling a bit lost.

“It’s really sad when we hear that the country our parents grew up in wants to destroy the country I identify with, the Jewish homeland,” explained Bassal.

At the time of the interview, Bassal was holding down a booth in a lobby at Stern advocating for women’s rights in Iran. Another Persian student, Sarah Mansher, sat next to her. Mansher said she feels less conflicted about the situation, although both feel strongly enough about their parents’ homeland to fight on behalf of citizens there whom they’ve never met, Jewish or not. Read full article in New Voices

The author, Simi Lampert, is a senior at Stern College for Women.