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Iranian Jewish Life in Los Angeles: Past and Present

Saba Soomekh, Author

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Iranian Jewish Women's Organization of Southern California: The Beginning of the Jewish Ladies Organization (Iranian chapter)

The Jewish Ladies Organization’s Iranian chapter was founded in Tehran in 1947. The women of Iran felt a great need to raise the standard of education and health among Jewish women and their children. The organization was first conceived by married and unmarried women over the course of a six-month period. The Jewish Ladies Organization started out with just a few women, and later transformed into a large committee of board members. The Iranian chapter worked independently to serve the needs of their community members, helping individuals and families with special needs. The members of the organization established classes to promote literacy among children and adults, to train nursing aides, and to teach children with special needs, as well as courses to teach English, Hebrew, and first aid for adults. They made a prayer book called the ‘Niayeshe Zane Yahudi’ and distributed it throughout the community. The spread of the prayer book impacted the community drastically, as these books were the first prayers to be entirely in Farsi, and continue to be used today by the Jewish Iranian community.

These women wanted to empower other women, but they were also interested in changing the rest of society for the better. In Iran, parents put their children to work to help support the family, depriving them of an education. The women of IJWO thought education was key. They took matters into their own hands and one of the first missions they accomplished was teaching children how to read and write for free. They wanted to help society evolve and foster change in the next generation. In addition to helping educate children, these empowering women ran an orphanage that fed, sheltered, and took care of homeless children in Iran. They took care of the children’s mental and physical health. The orphanage impacted society to the extent that when Eleanor Roosevelt came to visit Iran, she made a point of visiting the orphanage. The Los Angeles chapter began some years later, in 1976.
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