School days can be stressful enough. In Iran it is a challenging experience in more ways than usual for a Jewish teenager.
At a recent ISEF luncheon at Sotheby’s in New York, to raise scholarship funds for needy students in Israel, Roya Hakakian recounted growing up in Iran after the 1979 revolution.
For a Christian, Jew or Zoroastrian there was constant pressure at school to convert. Roya could not evade such pressure, even though she went to a Hebrew day school.
One day her class was called to assemble in the basement near the cafeteria.
A woman, clutching a bull horn, introduced herself as Mrs. Mohadan, the new principal.
Roya saw “a short woman, dressed in baggy pants, with an oversize raincoat with sleeves that reached down to her knuckles, and a scarf that covered everything but her eyes. On top of this she had a black veil.”
Roya found this strange. “If we needed a new principal it wouldn’t be a non-Jew with a black veil. We were 15-year-old girls and we started to giggle. We thought it was funny. We always looked for something to chatter about.”
But it terrified her parents when they heard the news.
Every afternoon the Muslim principal gave a lecture to the young Jewish students on the merits of Islam as a superior religion. “And she constantly warned us of the evils of sex,” Roya said.
In 1985 Roya left Iran. She came to New York where her brothers were already living there. She worked at CBS as an associate producer at “60 Minutes,” published two volumes of Persian poetry, produces documentaries on the Middle East, and contributes to the Weekend Edition of NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
Tim Boxer is editor of 15MinutesMagazine.com.