Growing up in an affluent household, Reza fondly remembered the fruit trees at his family’s estate in Hamedan. His grandfather had been a general in the Shah’s army and even after the Persian revolution in the 1970s, his family remained wealthy. They were traditional-religious Muslims and survived a number of political purges that saw many of their neighbors and friends jailed or even worse.

The oldest of six brothers and sisters, Reza took the worst of the beatings from his father, a callous and brutal man. Years later, his first marriage, too, became an abusive one, as Reza followed his father’s pattern of violence. When his wife eventually fled, Reza found himself in a deep depression without too much hope or guidance on how to move forward. His religious faith dwindled and he rarely left the house beyond his cursory appearances at work with the family’s import-export business.

Reza had a cousin who lived in Boston and was willing to sponsor him to come to America. Ten years of living in American suburbia tempered Reza, and he got used to wearing blue jeans, eating pizza, and surfing the internet. But the stress of growing up in an abusive household remained with him, and Reza eventually developed stomach ulcers. The gastroenterologist recognized the stress-related symptoms, and referred Reza to the hospital’s psychiatric clinic — where I awaited my first consultation with him.

Reza was quick to let me know that he was uncomfortable. “I’ve met plenty of Jews before, Dr. Freedman,” he said as I introduced myself. “I mean, I know Jews and that’s okay that you’re Jewish.”

“I appreciate your flexibility,” I said magnanimously.

Reza blushed. “I mean, I know that Jewish people aren’t all terrible.” He realized he was digging his hole even deeper. He was having trouble finding the words and said, “I hope that you can help me. They say that I am too stressed. I hope that you will understand that even though I am Persian and you are Jewish we can be friends.”

“Reza,” I said. “We don’t have to be friends. You’re my patient and I’m your doctor, which means that I’ll do my best to help you get better. Let’s just start with some basic questions and we can take it from there.”

Reza smiled nervously and provided me with the most basic elements of his story, including his medical history and symptoms. From what he described, it was clear that he was still holding on to the difficult memories of his childhood and the years of physical abuse he’d suffered from his father. The treatment plan was clear: a low dose of a medication to address his nightmares and a course of cognitive-behavioral therapy.

“Can I trust you that this is the right treatment for me?” He asked nervously as I presented him with my recommendations.

“You don’t have to go this route if you don’t want to, Reza. There are plenty of other doctors who work in this clinic, the majority of whom are not Jewish.” It was clear that Reza was squirming in his seat but I wasn’t trying to make him uncomfortable by saying this — I was just being honest. “If you would like a second opinion, I can connect you with any number of colleagues.”

But Reza surprised me. “No, I think that you know what you are doing.”

Reza began weekly treatment sessions with me and his symptoms began to improve. He was a diligent student and after a month of working together, I asked Reza if he still felt anxious working with me.

“I do still feel strange,” he admitted. “Your people and my people don’t usually get along.”

Although I didn’t say anything as I nodded in the classic non-committal fashion of a psychiatrist, the feeling was mutual. It did feel a bit strange reading every day about how the ayatollahs were building nuclear weapons with the expressed goal of killing Jews. And it did feel awkward to sit across the room from a man whose grandfather was a general in the army that trained Hezbollah.

And then Reza surprised me again. “But you are honest,” he continued. “You wear your hat and your beard and your strings underneath your clothes. I know that you are honest because it is written in your laws.”

“And I know that you like to eat gondi and tadig and sibzaminee.”

Reza nearly fell out of his chair. “How do you know this?”

“Because, believe it or not, I have lots of Persian family and I know that these foods are delicious!”

Reza studied me carefully. “You are Persian? You are Jewish and Persian?”

“Well, I’m not exactly Persian myself,” I explained, “But I have a lot of Persian family. From Shiraz and Isfahan and Tehran. And also from Hamedan.”

“Hamedan is where I’m from,” Reza answered in disbelief.

“I know. And it’s also where some people say Mordechai and Esther led the Jewish people in a miraculous victory over their enemies a few thousand years ago.”

The next week Reza showed up with a giant sack of Persian rice and handed it to me.

“This is the best rice for tadig,” he said proudly as he sat down.

“Does this mean you trust me now?” I asked.

“I’m not sure. Maybe it means that I know you are trying to help me.”

I was. And I did.

In our last session, Reza brought me some saffron that even had a kashrus certification. “I know this symbol means you’ll eat it,” he said proudly.

“You’ve done your research,” I responded with a smile.

“I also know that you are going to be out next week because it is your holiday. You will be celebrating the victory of your people over my people next week?”

I stroked my beard and took a sip of water in order to give myself a moment to think. Should I tell him the truth? Maybe I should sugarcoat it?

But Reza made it easy by surprising me yet again. “I know that Mordechai and Esther had a major miracle happen to them and they destroyed their enemies. It actually makes sense to me. I’d probably want to destroy them, too, if I had been in their shoes. And I’d probably hate the ayatollahs, too, if I were in your shoes.”

Reza continued. “It’s okay now, Dr. Freedman. I’m Persian and you’re Jewish, but it’s okay. It’s not strange anymore. I just hope that my country doesn’t make any kind of war with your country.”

“Why is that, Reza?”

“Because historically the Jews always beat the Persians.”

“Thanks for the saffron, Reza. Hodafez,” I said, wishing him a traditional goodbye in Persian.

Reza smiled back and told me, “And thank you for helping me to overcome my stress. Hodafez, Dr. Freedman.”

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 699. Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Israel. When he’s not busy with his patients, Dr. Freedman can be found learning Torah in The Old City or hiking the hills outside of Jerusalem. Dr. Freedman can be reached most easily through his website