My Grandma and Your Grandma…
“When are you going to get married?” is a question I hear constantly from my grandmother now that I’m back in Los Angeles after three years of law school on the East Coast. Mind you I only recently turned twenty-seven. The question used to be, “what are you going to be when you grow up?” That one was a simpler multiple-choice question with two correct answers: a) doctor or b) lawyer. At least I got that one right. Now it is simply “when are you going to get married?” Jewish grandmothers think finding someone is as easy as going to the supermarket and picking out a Cornish hen for Shabbat dinner. “Whatever happened to falling in love?” I ask her. She doesn’t have time for that. She wants great-grandchildren.
In considering my experience as a single 20-something Persian Jew living in Los Angeles, my grandmother is one of the first things that comes to mind. The truth is, whether you are Ashkenazi or Sephardic, a Persian Jew or South African, your experience with your grandmother is one of the links that unites the tribe. Grandmothers are in fact part of the great Jewish trifecta: Torah, Israel, and “Nana” as my Ashkenazi brethren refer to them. I’m certain that if any young Jewish ladies visit the Chabad House in Shanghai, there is a grandmother like mine waiting to ask for your phone number to give to her grandson. It’s just what they do.
When I was a law student in Washington, D.C., people unfamiliar with the great many Persian Jews living in the United States, Europe, and Israel thought the whole concept of an Iranian Jew was oxymoronic. The reality is that before its Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran housed one of the largest and oldest Jewish communities in the Diaspora. Today, a great deal of them live in Los Angeles.
As a Persian Jew and first generation American, my life, both professional and social, consists of negotiating between three different worlds: American, Iranian, and Jewish. My experience is not unique. Add a dose of Los Angeles superficiality to the mix and you can understand why some young Iranian-American Jews here feel so conflicted. You learn to adapt-if you don’t, you’re liable to drive yourself crazy. It’s a Darwinian thing.
I value privacy, but it is hard to come by in a small insular community like mine. Rumors abound about who is dating whom. Go to a café in Brentwood, and like Cheers, everyone knows your name. Whether you are glad to see each other is a different story. All of a sudden, taking a date to a restaurant an hour away starts to seem like a good idea. Just be sure not to expend all your conversation on the car ride there. The whole experience can become a bit stifling.
Despite this, growing up Persian and Jewish can be very enriching. We Persians do things big. We are big on food, most of us grew up in big families, and we like big parties. We are also a sensitive species. We love to laugh and are not embarrassed to cry. Hugs and kisses from friends and family are the norm. You learn to incorporate these parts of your culture into your life as you grow older. It becomes food for the soul. Assimilation is not a bad thing if it is done right.
My experience reflects the similarities Jewish communities around the world share. Again, I refer back to my grandmother. I liken my grandmother and her friends to traders on the New York Stock Exchange. The commodity they peddle: 20- and 30- something single Iranian Jews. It’s a small market but the trading is fierce. Graduate from medical school, and your stock goes up. Move to Silverlake and become an artist and you’ve relegated yourself to over-the-counter status overnight. When I shared this anecdote with an Argentinean-Jewish friend of mine he laughed. He told me he now understood how similar my whole experience here in Los Angeles was to his situation in Buenos Aires. We both realize that if you allow some of your culture’s antiquated ways to get to you, you lose the forest for the trees.
I had dinner with my grandparents the other night. We had barely finished our salads when my grandmother started up again. “When are you going to get married so I can have great-grandchildren?” There is really only one way to answer the question. “Why don’t you pick me up a wife when you go to the market and grab dinner for Friday night,” I said. She wasn’t amused.