(New York Jewish Week) — After a “traditional, religious” Jewish childhood in Brooklyn where he attended yeshiva, Barry Rosen fell in love with Iran.
Rosen was 22 when he joined the Peace Corps and set out on a two-year stint in Iran in 1967. There, Rosen felt deeply connected to the people and culture of the country — he loved the food, the clothing, the language, and the sights, sounds and smells.
“I was told by members of the Peace Corps that Jewish kids did very well in Iran,” Rosen says at the beginning of “Taken Hostage: The Making of an American Enemy,” a new two-part documentary on PBS that explores America’s role in the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979. “I felt to a certain degree that there was a warmth there that I could see in my own family. There was a sense of kinship that I felt for Iranians.”
Twelve years after first arriving in Iran, however, Rosen, would become one of the 52 hostages attached to the American embassy in Tehran who were held by Iranian college students for 14 terrifying, pivotal months. When he returned as a press attaché for the US Embassy in 1979, the country he loved was on its way to becoming the oppressive religious republic it is today.
That year, its citizens staged a revolution and overthrew the corrupt, American-backed shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, to make way for Ayatollah Khomeini, the Muslim cleric and “supreme leader.”
In November, 1979, students took control of the American embassy and demanded the shah return from exile to be tried for his crimes. Pahlavi, who had always maintained strong relations with the United States, was in New York for cancer treatment.
“It’s a story of perseverance,” Rosen told the New York Jewish Week in a Zoom interview from his apartment in Morningside Heights. “You look back and you say, ‘oh my God was that me? Was that us?’ It was so long ago but also the pain of it is very self-evident and it is still near in many ways.”
As a hostage in Iran, Rosen faced mock executions, days in complete darkness — what he calls “modern state-sponsored terrorism.”
Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, his wife Barbara Rosen found herself at the center of media attention as she advocated for her husband’s release. She and their two young children, Alexander and Ariana, woke up every morning to an onslaught of press ready to exploit her every move, though she had no information about Barry or the situation in Iran.
“It is part of my DNA. I feel personally responsible [to tell my story],” Barry said, sitting beside Barbara. “I was the first member of this honorary group of hostages taken by Iran and I feel that we owe every hostage something so that they can escape that horror.”
“Taken Hostage” tracks America’s connection with the politically volatile Iran, beginning with a 1953 coup d’etat to depose Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, organized in part by the CIA. The shah consolidated power, modernized the country and maintained strong relationships with the West, especially the administration of President Jimmy Carter, but maintained a fearsome and dictatorial reputation among the citizens of Iran.
The documentary traces the story of the revolution and the establishment of power by Khomeini, who undid the Westernization of the previous decades and declared the country the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Along with Rosen, the documentary features Gary Sick, who was a member of the National Security Council at the time and discusses what it was like to navigate the hostage crisis from inside the White House. Foreign correspondents Hilary Brown and Carole Jerome describe risking their lives to report on the crisis from Tehran.
Rosen was one of three Jewish hostages, and though Barbara did not publicize his Judaism out of fear for his safety, American synagogues and Jewish organizations managed to send him mail.
After a year in captivity, Rosen appeared to the public via broadcast and wished his family a Happy Hanukkah. “I really wanted to make sure the American Jewish community knew that I was safe,” he said.
The hostages were released on the day of President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration on Jan, 20, 1981. The settlement unfroze nearly $8 billion of Iranian assets, terminated lawsuits Iran faced in America, and forced a pledge by the United States that the country would never again intervene in Iran’s internal affairs.
Returning stateside was complicated for Rosen, who suffered from PTSD and had to separate his love for Iran from the experience of what had happened to him.
What was waiting for Rosen was “a huge outpouring of love and support from everyday people in the United States,” he said. “I think that was the most joyful part of it. There’s no doubt about it that everybody in the United States thought they knew me. At least in New York, it seemed as if American New Yorkers looked at me as a New Yorker who went through the pain. So I think that was a tremendously helpful and healing thing.”
Both Rosens were disappointed with the behavior of the United States. “It was an embarrassment of the foreign policy establishment. They wanted to wipe it out immediately,” Barry recalled. “They never held Iran accountable for what it did.”
“There was so much that each of the people needed to do to heal, and then after a year, there was never any follow up on any kind of medical or psychological investigation,” Barbara said. “We were both very disappointed in our own government and the way we were treated.”
Barry went on to a career in research and education — he conducted a fellowship at Columbia University doing research on Iranian novelists, served as the assistant to the president of Brooklyn College, and eventually was named the executive director of external affairs at Teachers College at Columbia.
The Rosens, who now have four grandchildren, wrote a book about that period in their lives.
“Personally, I don’t like going back and thinking about it or reflecting on this. It wasn’t a very happy time. It was a difficult time in my life,” Barbara told the New York Jewish Week.
But the documentary, the Rosens said, manages to tell the story of the crisis while reminding viewers how deeply personal it was for those involved. It’s a lesson the Rosens have taken with them as they watched and experienced similar crises over the last few decades, from the war in Ukraine to unrest in Iran over the death in September of a woman who was detained for breaking the hijab law.
“All history is a personal event. Each thing that happens is happening to people,” Barbara said. “It was a story of people being plucked out of their normal jobs, their diplomatic life, the security of just feeling that you’re safe. All of a sudden, you’ve lost all of that. You’re tied up in a chair for a month and not allowed to speak to somebody. Families here had no idea what’s happening to their loved ones in Iran.”
“It’s easier for human beings to think about the abstract issue rather than the personal issue. Get into personal issues, people start to walk away, they feel uncomfortable,” Barry added.
Despite everything, Barry still feels an attachment to the culture and people of Iran that he experienced in his early twenties, calling himself a “child of divorce” between the United States and its former ally, a relationship that he said he doesn’t see improving in his lifetime.
He also continues to tell his story because of his lifelong work with hostage victims around the world. Currently, there are three American hostages and more than a dozen international hostages in Iran. Barry works with Amnesty International, Hostage USA and Hostage Aid Worldwide to advocate for their release.
“I want to make certain that the American government and the American people stand by all those who were taken by Iran and all governments that take hostages, whether it’s China, Russia, Venezuela — but for me, especially Iran,” he said. “I say this because I really feel the need to make this an important issue. The American public needs to understand this very well. People’s lives are being taken away.”
“Taken Hostage,” an “American Experience” documentary, will air on PBS in two parts on Nov. 14 and 15. The film is also available to stream on pbs.org.
The post A Jewish diplomat tells his story in PBS documentary about the Iran hostage crisis appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.