Historic Persian Rabbinic Conference held in Los Angeles
Rabbi Arye D. Gordon
The first National Conference of Persian Jewish Rabbinic Leaders was held in L.A. from June 5th through 7th, 2017. Rabbis from the major Persian Jewish communities in the United States attended the three-day conference to brainstorm on the ongoing challenges that confront Persian Jews in America.
With the downfall of the Shah in January of 1979, the Jews of Iran saw the writing on the wall and knew enough to leave the country as soon as possible. Most of the Jews that fled Iran settled in Los Angeles and New York.
Acclimating themselves to a foreign country with a different language, lifestyle, customs, and climate was not an easy transition. A major concern for the community was the effect of America on this ancient and unique Jewish community. Would this country be a major driving force leading to assimilation, disconnecting community members from thousands of years of Jewish Persian continuity?
“Instead,” said Rabbi Michoel Segankohanim, “the Persian Jewish community has grown in vibrancy and religious commitment. In the greater Los Angeles area, there are now more than 25 Persian shuls – all Orthodox.” Added to that are the numerous religious school founded and formulated to generate the continuity and customs of Persian Jewish traditions.
In response to this amazing growth and expansion, The Persian Rabbinical Council (PRC) of California saw the need to organize a gathering of rabbis and hosted this historic conference of workshops and discussions to structure and inspire the rabbis and leaders of their American Persian kehillot.
Most of the attending rabbanim were alumni of Yeshivas Ner Israel of Baltimore. Ner Israel, and Rabbi Naftali Neuberger, zt”l, played a great role in educating the future rabbanim of the kehillot, thus ensuring continuity of Torah-true Judaism within the Persian Jewish community
The sessions during the conference included discussions led by Rabbi Dr. David Fox, a renowned forensic and clinical psychologist, who discussed challenges and tools for working with baalei Batim; Rabbi Zev Cohen, Rav of Congregation Adas Yeshurun in Chicago and an international speaker, who discussed the role of the synagogue rabbi and dealing with youth; and Rebbetzin Bella Gottesman, a top mechanechet in Los Angeles and a sought-after speaker, who ran sessions for the rebbetzins about sharing with and role modeling to congregants.
Others who participated included Rabbi Dovid Shofet of Nessah Synagogue; Rabbi David Akhamzadeh of Beit Knesset Ohr HaEmet; Rabbi David Zargari, Dean of Tashbar; Rabbi Shmuel Khoshkerman, Rabbi of Congregation Ner Mizrach of Atlanta, Georgia; Rabbi Michoel Segankohanim of Congregation Ahavat Shalom; Rabbi Shemuel Soleimany of Persian Congregation in Brooklyn, New York; Rabbi Eliezer Ben-David, founder and spiritual mentor of Kollel Ohr HaEmet in Great Neck, New York; and Rabbi Yischak Baalness, Rabbi of Az Yashir Torah Center in Brooklyn, New York.
While the conference was arranged for the rabbis, on Wednesday evening the community was invited to a lavish dinner. This event offered an opportunity to meet, greet, and hear divrei Torah and encouragement from the prominent leading Persian rabbis from around the world, including the renown Rabbi Eliezer Ben-David and Rabbi Yischak Baalness, rabbis who have influenced and inspired Torah learning and religious adherence to Persian communities worldwide.
Rabbi Michoel Segankohanim, who in addition to serving Ahavat Shalom is currently Rabbinic Administrator of PRC, related that the conference was very successful. They have already received many emails from the attending rabbis expressing praise and thanks for this historic gathering.
Rabbi Nissin Davidi said to him, “Congratulations for a job well-done and a mission accomplished,” and Rabbi Yehuda Boroosan from Atlanta wrote, “It was an incredible event and remarkably inspiring.”
Rabbi David Akhamzadeh of Beit Knesset Ohr HaEmet, one of the conference organizers summed it all up: “The conference set out to unite the rabbis from our various communities, to provide direction and assistance in their avodat hakodesh, to educate and inspire on the ways to keep our community cohesive and Jewish. We have, baruch Hashem, witnessed a rebirth of the Persian Jewish Community. May it continue m’chayil el chayil.”