Eager as can be, with my program in hand and my nametag around my neck, I made my way into the ballroom of the historic Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles for what would be a momentous gathering. I had never seen my community come together in such droves at such a venue for anything other than, well, a big Persian wedding. After navigating through a labyrinth of endless round tables, I found my seat, sat down, and looked up. I saw on the stage a dignified display of American, Israeli, and Iranian flags, arranged side by side. At that moment and in the form of those physical objects — the flags and round tables — I realized two things: that my identity is threefold, and that the circles of which I am a part are, in fact, overlapping. For these two reasons, I have a role to play in 30 Years After, and each Iranian-American Jew on this campus (and beyond) does too.
What is 30 Years After? 30 Years After is a non-partisan, non-profit organization based in Los Angeles, whose mission is to promote the participation and leadership of Iranian-American Jews in American political, civic, and Jewish life, as well as to build a bridge between Iranian-American Jews and the broader Jewish community. The organization was founded in November of 2007 by a group of three dozen young Iranian-American Jewish professionals. It is the first and only organization of its kind.
In 1979, the Islamic Revolution forced Iranian Jews to uproot their lives in order to flee religious and political persecution. Thirty years after, the cohort of about 30,000 that came to the United States seeking asylum has become one of the most prosperous and highly educated sectors of broader society. In other words, we have done extraordinarily well for ourselves in a remarkably short period of time. We have made the American Dream a reality for ourselves, and at an astonishing rate. Therefore, we should consider ourselves the most successful immigrant group America has seen. The problem is, however, that decades under authoritarian rule and the experience of persecution have created, in the collective psyche of the Iranian-American Jews, a certain skepticism of and detachment from American civic life and broader Jewish life. Dara Abaei, an Iranian-American Jew who works with the youth of this community on our campus as director of JUN: Jewish Unity Network explains, “Freedom is number one in this country, and we as a community still do not trust it. This generation must change that.” The time has come for us to expand into and engage with the larger society of which we are a part. We can do that without losing our distinct character and oneness. 30 Years After is the key.
Since 2008, 30 Years After has held a biennial civic action conference. I was privileged to attend this year’s third biennial conference, which took place on October 14. There were over 1,000 attendees and nearly 40 featured speakers, from congressmen, ambassadors, and diplomats, to authors, journalists, and academics. The panel’s discussions and debates addressed topics like the future of the Los Angeles Jewish community, the threat of a nuclear Iran, how to correct the internal flaws of the Iranian-American Jewish community, and there was even a Los Angeles mayoral debate. The daylong event ended with a gala dinner, featuring keynote speakers Rabbi David Wolpe, Consul General of Israel David Siegel, and representatives from both the Obama and Romney campaigns.
When asked why it is important to have an organization like 30 Years After, the executive director, Tabby Davoodi said, “We are blessed as a community to have wonderful organizations devoted to connecting us back to Judaism (e.g. JUN: Jewish Unity Network and Nessah Israel Synagogue), supporting Israel (e.g. Magbit), promoting the arts and culture (e.g. Y & N Nazarian Family Foundation), promoting social responsibility (e.g. LEV Foundation), and providing community service and support (e.g. Iranian-American Jewish Federation). However, it is time that our community becomes a strong political force and a formidable presence in American civic life.” Davoodi asks: Are the majority of Iranian-American Jews registered to vote? If so, do they actually practice this civic privilege? Are they educated on the issues? Do they know who their elected officials are? Do they know how to access them? Are they educated enough to participate in an educated conversation about Iran, Israel, and foreign policy? Do they have knowledge about and access to their elected officials? Are they maintaining their connection to their 2,700-year-old Iranian heritage? How about to their even more ancient 5,000-year-old ties to Judaism and its rituals and values? 30 Years After is currently the only force — and an increasingly formidable one — that can and will ensure that every Iranian-American Jew’s answer to each of those questions is, becomes, or stays a resounding “yes.”
Back to flags and round tables. I, like every member of the Iranian-American Jewish community, stand at the intersection of three identities and thus, multiple responsibilities and fidelities. Our families escaped a regime and country that frequently dominates global headlines. Interestingly enough (and unfortunately enough), Iran poses an existential threat to our biblical and eternal homeland (Israel) and to our new home (the United States). It is more crucial than ever before for us to rally ourselves.
We, Iranian-American Jewish Bruins, should begin right here on campus and parlay our on-campus presence and pride into concurrent involvement in 30 Years After. Davoodi insists, “Be the voice of your community on campus, because no one can do this for you — no one. Be honest with yourself — you have a world of resources around you — are you taking full advantage of those opportunities to enrich yourself and strengthen your knowledge and your connection?”
If you would like to get involved in 30 Years After, consider joining the volunteer council. Comprised of students and young professionals, the volunteer council plans, executes, and enjoys the perks of attending 30 Years After events and hearing from renowned speakers. There are also currently several openings for board members that will have a chance to directly create and implement programming for 30 Years After. There is no requirement to be fully informed about all of the issues; the organization is, however, looking for passionate, motivated, and bright individuals who like to think outside of the box. As Dara Abaei puts it, “Believe in yourself. You are a leader. You will steer the future of this community.”