'Titan of Tehran' Brings Author's Grandfather, Executed Iranian Jewish Leader, Back to Life
Shahrzad Elghanayan was only seven when her grandfather was murdered in the 1979 Iranian revolution. She remembers him in a biography.
Imagine you are seven years old, and you receive word via the news on the radio that your grandfather had died—not just died, but was brutally executed by firing squad. On May 8, 1979, that’s what happened to Shahrzad Elghanayan. Her grandfather was Tehran businessman Habib Elghanian, who was the head of the Jewish Association of Iran until he was executed during the country’s Islamic revolution. The charge was spying for Israel, which as we know is a common trumped-up accusation against Jews (See my previous interview with Natan Sharansky for more on that).
Elghanayan is now a photo editor for NBC News, and wrote a book that not only scrutinizes her grandfather’s death, but also celebrates his life. It’s called Titan of Tehran: From Jewish Ghetto to Corporate Colossus to Firing Squad — My Grandfather’s Life, published by the Associated Press in November.
One of the great things about my work at the intersection of publishing and Jewish issues is I get to interview some fascinating Jewish authors. I do this occasionally for Publishers Weekly, but just began doing the same thing for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, where I was managing editor back in the early 2000s. I’m very pleased to write an occasional feature for them now, including one on Elghanayan.
Habib was the secular leader of the Jews as head of “Anjoman-e-Kalimian,” the Jewish Association of Tehran or Jewish Central Board. The chief rabbi of Iran was Hacham Yedidiah Shofet. He had met with Khomeini when he returned to Iran. But in "August 1980, Rabbi Shofet left for Europe, urging Jews to leave Iran quickly. Of the estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Jews in 1979, more than half left Iran “uncertain and fearful about the future.”
The author calls Iran's leaders "pathologically anti-Israel" and had this to say regarding Iran's treatment of Jews: "Maybe Iran’s nearly 10,000 remaining Jews will one day flourish again, but for now their future looks like that of the nearly extinct Jewish communities of many other Middle Eastern countries. In a few generations, there will barely be any Iranian Jews left as we all assimilate in our new homelands."
It’s a fascinating book that’s not only about the life of the author’s grandfather, but the history of Iranian Jews in general, from a time of relative tolerance under the shah to persecution, execution, and ethnic cleansing under the Ayatollah. But, like everything in history, it’s not so simple or clean. The shah had persecuted Habib in his own way, too.
I divide my time between editing books, producing and hosting podcasts, and Jewish journalism. This piece scratches my journalism itch. I have some other fascinating projects in the works that have to do with Jewish current events and Holocaust education. One piece I’m working on will probably be controversial, so you won’t want to miss it!
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