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Poet and refugee advocate Roya Hakakian talks about how words can help create change in Iran



Roya Hakakian is a poet, author, journalist and advocate for refugees. Every one of these roles is an offshoot of her own life experience as a child and teenager in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran and as an immigrant to the United States. Her poetry appears in many anthologies around the world, her books take a candid look at life under Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime and her documentaries tackle important issues like underage children in wars around the world. In our interview, we discuss what people can do to support the current uprising in Iran and the role poetry can play in revolutions.

These must be emotional times for you and the entire Iranian immigrant community. How are you holding up?

It is very exciting and also, as you can imagine, gut-wrenching to watch teenagers, children, and other people perform these great acts of courage and then suffer as a result of it. So, it’s a heroic time and, like all heroic times, whether in history or in epic stories that we read, it’s always associated with a great deal of tragedy too. And all of that is on full display. I wrote a memoir whose last chapter is called “1984.” It’s the last year I was in Iran, and I was describing what Iran had become and how the entire society was divided between two people—the regime and their allies, and then us, which were the ordinary citizens. I thought it was amazing how much time had passed, and yet nothing had changed in that division I described in that chapter. The circumstances, the frustrations, the inequalities, the injustices are the very issues that have brought a new generation of Iranians onto the street.

Iran once had a thriving Jewish population. Do you have any memories of what it was like to be a Jew in Iran before the revolution?

I was 12 years old when the revolution took place, and all my memories at the time before were happy childhood memories—going to the synagogue with my father. We lived within walking distance of a synagogue. I didn’t experience the sort of things that my father had talked about growing up, of the severe antisemitism that he had experienced as a child in a small village in central Iran. And I didn’t experience the sort of things my mother talked about. And she grew up in Hamadan, which is where the tomb of Esther and Mordechai are. The ’60s and the ’70s were the golden time of religious egalitarianism in Iran. And then came the revolution, and things quickly changed. And, you know, it wasn’t so much the ordinary citizens who were being antisemitic, but the regime gave a leg up to Shiite Muslims. So it wasn’t that Jews were barred from anything; it was that it was far more advantageous for you to be a Shiite Muslim.

You have been in danger from Iranian operatives in the United States. I think of Salman Rushdie, who refused to let threats intimidate him, but he ended up severely injured. Is this something you worry about?

The answer is yes for a variety of reasons, one of which is that the FBI came to my house a couple of years ago, warning that they had spotted my name on a list because of the work I do and the books I published, especially my memoir and the second book, which was about a series of murders that Iran had orchestrated in Europe. But I think what’s important, and something that What I hope to bring to the attention of the broader public in America is that everyone is in danger, that if the Iranian regime has gathered enough influence to go after the dissidents that they don’t like in the United States, then we become only the primary targets and everybody else will follow. And I’m incredibly concerned about that.

You recently testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. What was your message? Also, what should the United States be doing to help the protesters in Iran?

My main message was that this movement that began in Iran in September is the most serious movement that Iran has seen in 40-plus years. Immediately a few senators afterward told me, “Oh, Iran has protests all the time, and the regime always suppresses them.” Well, this one has already proven to be different. It has certain qualities that none of the other protests in the past have had. This is a deeply secular movement; it’s a movement that demands the separation of government and religion. And none of the previous movements had these overtones.

For the past 20 years, we’ve only been interested in Iran from a nuclear perspective, and everything else has been in the shadows. Who are Iranians? What do they want? How are they different? What are their demands? The best thing we can do is to stop looking at Iran as just the nuclear program and begin to widen the perspective and recognize that if something changes in Iran, if these protests succeed, then so much else can follow.

Among your many identities are writer and poet. What is the role poetry can play in revolutions?

I became interested in the Iranian revolution in 1979 through poetry. Poetry was the language of that revolution, which in many ways, is why some of those poets who were so devoted to the uprising against the former Shah became far less popular in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution. Revolutions begin with certain social demands, but what fuels them, what keeps them going, is the power of the rhetoric poets and writers pour into them. That’s what literature has always been for me—a tool for grand ideas and grand expressions and, possibly, a tool for changing society for the better. 

What do you plan on discussing at the Z3 conference?

I want to talk about my own journey back to defining myself as a Jewish person after leaving Iran and coming to the US. It wasn’t my issue, antisemitism wasn’t my issue, Jewish identity wasn’t my issue because I was a writer. I didn’t have to think about these things. Over the years, have rediscovered my own relationship with Judaism. That is basically what I want to talk about.

The post Poet and refugee advocate Roya Hakakian talks about how words can help create change in Iran appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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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.

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Local News

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.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

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.)

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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.

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