For thousands of years Jewish-Iranian women have been forced to hide behind chadors, look down at their feet and not speak unless spoken to. During ancient Persia and even later day Iran, they lived with two strikes against them: Jewish and female. They were and still are viewed and treated by Muslims as second class citizens. Even today, in Iran, a woman, cannot become a judge, regardless of her education, degrees and professional qualifications. The reason given: “A woman can never be just.”

As a Persian-American, all I can say is, “We’ve come a long way, baby,” based on two documentary films recently shown by the New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival, “Reading Tehran in Tel-Aviv,” and “Rita Jahan Farouz.”

With such history in mind, “Rita Jahan Farouz” took my breath away. A 76 minute documentary directed by Ayal Goldberg, the film portrays the Iranian-Israeli-Jewish superstar singer, “Rita.” It was Rita, who on March 5,2013, sang in Farsi at the United Nations in front of ambassadors from across the globe. Why? To build world-wide bridges. Rita explained that she embodies two nations, Iran and Israel, and uses voice and song to unite. Cultures, religions, nationalities may differ but as humans we’re one and the same.

Similarly, Orly Noy, in “Reading Tehran in Tel-Aviv,” is an Iranian-Israeli-Jew using her strengths to connect Iran and Israel, two nations otherwise thought of as enemies. She translates and publishes classical Farsi literature and poetry into Hebrew, enabling Israelis to learn and value ancient Persian culture. The film, directed by George Itzhak also introduces Josephine Mairzadeh, who interweaves her Iranian-Jewish-American-female identity through art. For her, these aspects of her identity need not be dissonant, disparate parts, but can live side by side in harmony.

In a conversation following the film, singer and composer Galeet Dardashti, who is the granddaughter of a renowned singer of Persian classical music, summed up the program, “Both films underscore the fact that being Iranian and being Jewish isn’t an oxymoron.”

I am stunned that women, muzzled for 2700 years, are now coming out from under, taking leadership roles in mending the world. These Jewish- Iranian women are only some of the many who use their voices as ambassadors of peace. Bravo.

The 17th annual New York Sephardic Film Festival, presented by the American Sephardi Federation, was held at the Center for Jewish History, March 13th to 20th.


Esther Amini is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and author. Her stories have appeared in Elle, The Jewish Week and Barnard Magazine, and have been performed by Jewish Women’s Theatre. She is writing a memoir about growing up first generation American in a Persian-Jewish home.