Posts Tagged ‘Saba Soomekh’

Iranian Jewish Scholar Breaks Stereotypes While Studying Them

February 4, 2014

This article was first published in The Times of Israel.

Saba Soomekh decided to study her own Iranian Jewish community. (courtesy)

Saba Soomekh decided to study her own Iranian Jewish community. (courtesy)

It’s hard to look away from the piercing gaze of the girl in the photograph on the cover of Saba Soomekh’s book, “From the Shahs to Los Angeles: Three Generations of Iranian Jewish Women Between Religion and Culture.” The photograph is of Soomekh’s great-grandmother as a 12-year-old bride in Iran, and it makes you wonder whether she is somehow looking into the future, amazed at just how different her great-granddaughter’s life is from her own.

Soomekh, the 37-year-old great-granddaughter of the child bride, is a theological studies professor at Los Angeles’ Loyola Marymount University and one of only a small number of researchers who focus on the Iranian Jewish community.

She has a BA from Berkeley, a Masters from Harvard Divinity School and a PhD from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She’s a member of the Iran Task Force for the American Jewish Committee and a member of Los Angeles’ Human Resource Commission. PBS employed her expertise in producing its 2012 “The Iranian Americans” program. The same year, the Fowler Museum at UCLA appointed her project coordinator for its “Light and Shadows” exhibition on Iranian Jews.

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© 2014 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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3,000 Years of Persian-Jewish History

October 24, 2012

This piece was first published on The Arty Semite blog at The Forward.

David and Leora Nissan in Purim costumes, Tehran, Iran, 1964 (Courtesy of David Nissan).

At a time when Iran is in the American consciousness thanks to both Washington and Hollywood, a major exhibition about the Jews of Iran has opened in Los Angeles. “Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews,” which originated at Beit Hatfutsot: The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, is at the Fowler Museum at UCLA until March 10, 2013.

The show, the first ever in the United States on Iranian Jews, traces the 3,000 year-long history of Iranian Jewry with more than 100 objects ranging from archeological artifacts to intricately made Judaica to illuminated manuscripts to contemporary photographs and art installations. According to Smadar Keren, Beit Hatfutsot’s curatorial department director, it took two years to collect the various objects and mount the exhibition, which ran in Israel for most of 2011 and was a huge success.

Moti Schwartz, Beit Hatfutsot’s director noted that “Light and Shadows” represented a major turning point for his museum, which does not have its own artifact collection, save for a few items. Based on the positive response to the exhibition, the museum is now set to open one on the Jews of Bukhara, with exhibits on other Jewish communities in the works, as well.

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© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.