Sunday, July 07, 2013

Iranian-born singer Rita is not bitter


Adam Levick of CiF Watch feels uniquely privileged to have met Rita, the Israeli singing sensation still popular in her country of birth, Iran. Even in the 1960s, tolerance was conditional - her family were instructed not to say they were Jewish. But perhaps all is forgiven now that Iran has embraced her and her new Persian album ' as their own', she says:

On June 19th I was one of the few bloggers at the Israeli President’s Conference in Jerusalem who had the privilege of sitting down with Rita – a warm, personable and engaging woman without even a hint of pretension – and ask her a few questions.  

We naturally spoke about a good deal about her music, which is inspired by the lullabies sung by her mother who, she proudly explained, had an “absolutely beautiful voice” – a Persian influence which can especially be heard in her most recent album, sung in Farsi, titled ‘My Joy’.  However, it was the memories, which she briefly conveyed to me, of her family’s experience as Jews living in a Muslim country which I found most interesting.

Though she was only 8 when her family emigrated she explained that she still has “memories of the smells and tastes of the food and the sound of the music” of Iran. And, though her family escaped 9 years prior to the Islamic revolution, the cruel reality of antisemitic persecution even in Arab and Muslim lands which were putatively ‘tolerant” of its Jews inspired me to ask how they were treated by their neighbors and the larger community.

Though the years between 1953 (the fall of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh) and the 1979 revolution were arguably the most prosperous for Iran’s Jews, Rita told me that even in the 1960s everyone in her family was firmly instructed to keep their Jewish identity hidden from neighbors – a secret, however, which would eventually be revealed. 

My sister“, she said, “came home from school one day in tears because her teacher asked her to recite a Muslim prayer in front of the entire class. The teacher was appalled when she didn’t know how to ,” Rita recalls. “After that incident, my father decided we should leave Iran.”

Iran’s Jewish community, numbering more than 100,000 in 1948, has dwindled down to less than 9,000 today.

Rita, however, shows no bitterness towards her former country.  Iranians, she proudly informed me, have embraced her new Persian album –  ”me, this Jewish, Israeli woman, as their own“.  She has received a huge volume of emails from Iranians expressing their admiration for her personally, and their love of her music. And, though Iran’s Internet is strictly censored to keep out “Zionist” influences, Rita’s album has become a hit on the black market, and her songs are even played by Iranian Muslims at weddings and clubs. 

Read article in full


Anonymous said...

Bahman Nirumand will deny this! He said there was "never any Antisemitism in Iran" while he demonized Israel and whitewashes the Ayatollahs.

Sylvia said...

Well, I've *almost* got to listen to Rita once and I don't think there'll be another chance.

A few years ago, she has been invited to perform here for independence after a period of heavy rocket attacks. But she asked for what was considered an enormous amount of money for a small town with high unemployment rate) and according to a local paper the Mayor at the time told her she should be the one paying us to listen to her and consider it a privilege.

That ruined her for me.