Elham Gheytanchi’s father taught her that religion is a private matter. But in recent years she’s started questioning that idea. The following Perspective contains a mention of sexual assault.
As hate crimes in the U.S. were going up last year, my 16-year-old daughter asked me why I had recently started to wear a Star of David necklace.
She asked: “Are you seeking confrontation? Why would you wear that when we hear of attack after attack on synagogues?”
Her questions were valid considering I am not a very observant Jew.
When I was her age growing up in a secular Jewish family in Iran, we were told not to speak of our Jewishness ever in public for fear of repercussion or bigotry. I had received numerous Stars of David necklaces as gifts from my aunts and uncles but never wore them. In fact, for a long time, I hated being different and tried to blend in. I went with my Muslim friends to their mosques without telling my parents.
But now, more than 30 years later, things have changed. I have changed. Living in California and becoming a teacher, and then a mother, has made me feel liberated as a whole person with many layers of identity — being Jewish is just one of them.
And then, a 20-year-old woman named Armita Abbasi was arrested in the Iranian uprising that started after the killing of Mahsa Amini in September of 2022. I was drawn to her case because she joined the ranks of protesters by taking off her hijab while wearing a big Star of David necklace.
Looking at pictures of her on social media, I was bewildered at her bravery. Iranian security forces arrested her, reportedly raped her violently in prison, and agreed to release her only after pleas from her parents rallied international pressure.
As a sign of solidarity with Armita, and to overcome my own fears, I decided to wear a Star of David necklace.
I told my daughter, “Fear is not the answer.”
With a Perspective, I’m Elham Gheytanchi
Elham/Elie Gheytanchi is a sociology teacher and writer. Her research focuses on women’s movements in the Middle East and North Africa.