| Teen Diary Serial |

Sara’s Story: Chapter 1   

The lack of basics didn’t bother me much. I didn’t know how much easier life could have been, so I never found myself wishing for more


Tehran, Iran, early 1970s

Ah, Tehran. The scent of walnut and oak. Sprawling parks and beautiful buildings. Morasa polo and kebabs frying on stovetops around the city. Music and fireworks pulsating through the night at Muslim weddings. And, of course, the unequal economy: Wealthy Iranians versus the poor, with no middle class to even things out.

My own family was poor.

Very poor.

It’s probably hard for most people to envision true poverty these days, but back in the Iran that I grew up in, poor meant not being able to afford basic luxuries like a refrigerator and gas oven.

It didn’t mean not having a pretty drop-in tub or even a bathtub without peeling paint. It meant having no bathroom at all. Period.

My family would move to a different apartment every year so as to save on rent. We’d pack up the tiny bit of clothing that we had and move into our new apartment just like that. There were no furniture or household items to take along.

In one of our homes, we got lucky. The bathroom was just across the garden from our one-room apartment, in our landlady’s house, so we didn’t have to trek out into the street.  On freezing winter nights, I’d wake up and walk across the snow to use the facilities.

The lack of basics didn’t bother me much. I didn’t know how much easier life could have been, so I never found myself wishing for more.

I did wish for a happier family life, though. My father and mother had separated when I was a baby. I lived with my mother and visited my father occasionally, and their separation pained me.

My three older brothers, Yosef, Yitzchok, and Dovid (who went by their Iranian names, Jamshid, Johongir, and Javid), were the breadwinners in our family. The oldest, Yosef, was 15 years older than me, and he took his role very seriously.

“Sara, get to bed immediately. You have school tomorrow morning.”

As a working older brother, Yosef seemed to think that he had the right to boss me around as much as he wished. I didn’t appreciate it.

Yosef would also ask me to help him relax after a long day at work.

“My back is killing. Sara, bring me a tea.”

Sometimes I would bring him his tea. Other times I wouldn’t. I longed to be a carefree girl, after all.

My older brothers pined for a better future. They’d all been forced into the workforce in their early teens, and they dreamed of saving enough money to buy a small shop. From there, they’d earn enough money to buy a house.

When I was about ten years old, my brothers first dream was fulfilled, and they managed to pool together their savings and purchase a small two-story shop. On the top floor they framed and mounted pictures, and on the lower floor they dealt with music, selling tapes, recorders, and the like.

At this point I’d been to four different schools, because we’d lived in four different homes during the time I was in first through fourth grade.

The only time that I attended a Jewish school was when I was in first grade. That was the year that we lived in a neighborhood with a Jewish school. After that, I attended whatever public school was in my new neighborhood, making new friends each time.

My older cousin Mitra, or Miriam,  attended a Jewish school her whole life. Unlike me and my wandering family, she and her older sisters and brothers were secure in that they lived in a single home. Miriam was my anchor, the friend who stayed at my side despite my many moves.

“Farah,” she’d tell me often, calling me by my Iranian name, “You need to come to my school and learn with other Jews.”

“I know, Mitra, I wish…”

Switching into Miriam’s school was one wish among many, but the wish was not to be fulfilled.

For when my family finally moved into the neighborhood where Miriam’s Jewish school was located, the Iranian revolution began, and Miriam and her family moved far away.

As for myself, change ultimately came about in the manner of most of Iranian Jewry: through the Iranian revolution and war.

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 903)

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