“A cigarette butt put out on her thigh.”


After the 1979 revolution, all Persian Jews were restricted in their ability to freely practice their religion as synagogues and Jewish education were heavily censored. Many in the Persian Jewish communities fled their homes while a small number remained…

This revolution stripped my mother, grandmothers, and aunts of their human rights, including the ability to freely dress and to exercise personal agency. It barred them from positions of political power such as judgeships. Their rights quickly evaporated. My mother’s first memory as a five-year-old is having a cigarette put out on her thigh by morality police because she was wearing yellow shorts. Even the simplest activities that I take for granted like singing and dancing in public, attending sporting events, and taking a bike ride are prohibited for the women of Iran.

To ensure absolute compliance with the restrictive laws, the morality police, a unit of the police that enforces Sharia law, roams the streets and detains anyone who violates the law. Most notably, a woman named Mahsa Amini died in police custody last year because a few strands of her hair were showing. Her death led to national and international outcry and brought the women of Iran out of the dark, revealing the harsh oppression they face. The slogan of the movement was “Women. Life. Freedom…”

This blatant misogyny and antisemitism make the work of Jewish-Iranian activist Roya Hakakian all the braver. Raised in Tehran, she witnessed the revolution unfold. Her family huddled on their rooftop as they listened to the screams of “God is great” at night; the headmaster of her Jewish school attempted to convert Jewish girls to an extreme path. From these first-hand experiences, Hakakian understands the Islamic Regime and their motives.

Hakakian co-founded the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, which addresses Iran’s human rights violations. Furthermore, Hakakian’s articles, books,and interviews call attention to gender issues in present-day Iran…

As the daughter of two Iranian immigrants, I am compelled to take advantage of the opportunities and privileges my mother, aunts, and grandmothers were deprived of. Hakakian serves as a prime example of a Jewish-Iranian woman taking advantage of the freedom she has been granted while maintaining an unbreakable bond to her Iranian roots and the innocent Iranians held hostage by their own government.

SHAMIM ELYASZADEH is part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship, “Speaking Out as an Iranian Jewish Woman,” JWA.org, January 2024.