Impressions of a Gathering on Roots and Identity
"Conversations 3: Iran"

by Gita Khashabi


On Wednesday, November 30, I was invited by my friend Shida Pegahi to a literary salon. It was going to be about the culture and identity of the Jews of Iran. During the introductions, Jordan Elgrably asked if there were any writers present to record the evening. Somehow this fell to me.

Unaware of which directions the conversations would go, I hold my pen.  Unaware of what this non-profit organization is about I hold this pen.

I meet nice group of people.  Kind.  Open.  Friendly. Eager to know more about this association, I take a
brochure.  I open the brochure.  I read "Our mission..." At this point I need to quit reading.  But I continue.  I have to continue.  I have to write.  So I take a closer look. I take a glance at the brochure's smaller fonts.  It reads we are strongly committed to the principle of cross-cultural cooperation, and support the strengthening of  ties within the Jewish community as well as between all peoples of Middle Eastern descent. There are several Iranians here who are not Jewish, including Shida and myself. I read further.  Ivri-NASAWI.  Is this my place?

I wonder how can one continue in a world of mass communication.  In a world of mass-culture.  Mass
religions.  Mass Killing.  Mass Namaz.  Or even a simple Dast Namaz and massive fast men read and
understand the rest of these tiny fonts.  An association of Artists & Writers International.  And I think of me, an artist, a writer, a woman, a Persian. They say I ran?  But I didn't run.  I am just from Iran.

Twenty minutes into the meeting I look at the young woman speaker.  Whom by now has wrapped herself into a thick coat and leaning back into the couch.  Quiet. She looks like an orphan nun.  As if cold and tired. In a napping way she rests.  This is her state after a small dispute over a handout she gave saying don't, don't, don't.  I hear some one say "Sorry I am not here to be told..."  One page describing who and how one has the rights to form language?  When to form it. What to form.  And why to form.  Just like a uniform.

After fifteen minutes of speech she hands out this page.  She started by introducing herself saying  something like...concern...or did she say connection? don't know. I think she said something about her god and her mom, her id, her ego, Freudian superego, superstitious, superpowers. I don't know for sure. But yes, yes I remember she said she is a spiritual leader, a "healer." I remember her saying that as a child she wanted to touch the Torah and her mom screamed "don't, don't, you're impure," it was her time, but she didn't understand why she was not pure.

Later she told us about her years of depression and how she discovered Rumi, and the Sufi poet changed everything for her, everything opened up after that.

A Persian touch of a beautiful Kashan carpet is placed on the ground.  Extra folding chairs all around.  Cut watermelons and honeydews.  Hot tea and tender sweet cakes.  Biscuits and a basket for bills of support and donation.  I wasn't sure yet what I donated for.  So I read further organizing and supporting, representing, intending, identifying, approaching, outreaching and advocating Middle Eastern Jewish experience and crossing into connections with other cultures of the Middle East. Then I read programs such as poetry, peace, dance, dialogue, literature, history, through Sephardic arts festival.  Now here I was thinking maybe I need a therapy session!?  What an atmosphere. Consciousness-raising conversations about roots and identity where religious and personal issues are debated. Now adult beings seated in a room hold a green grape vine branch when told to speak or willing to speak.
Person to person talking about personal issues and experiences.  And I read the rest of the written small
fonts. Strongly committed to the principle of promoting contemporary expressions of Sephardi and
Mizrahi culture through scholarship, literature, education and so on.  Then the discussions continued
around the concept of god, spirituality and religion, usage of language.  Language of man and god.  The
impact of language in life.   "Reaching out," peace, love.  Loving god. Spirituality. Poetry. Religion this common ground for peace.

I heard god failed.  Religion failed.  Mother failed. Father failed.  Then I think maybe we failed to express ourselves?  Maybe our language failed god? Who knows?  I just knew I felt as if in a group therapy session.  So I distract myself by reading more into what I had in hand.  I read become an active
member.  I read become engaged.  Become special. Become of service.  Become a sponsor.

I hope that we would all try to make our concepts move from mental into spatial.

Gita Khashabi is an artist and writer living in Los Angeles.

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