As many as 40,000 Iranian Jews live in the Los Angeles area. This is the largest concentration in the US and also in the world. Saba Soomekh, an Iranian-born member of this community, has written an informative profile of the three generations of women in this community.
Each generation had a different historical experience and they also varied in their approach to Jewish life especially with respect to the highly traditional role of women. The first generation, born in the first half of the twentieth century, closely followed the traditions passed down informally by their mothers. A second generation, born between 1948 and 1963, experienced a more privatized form of religion and were subject to more secular influences. Some of these women are employed in family businesses in contrast to their mothers whose role was almost universally restricted to the home. This is the generation which immigrated here in the midst of raising their families and hewed more closely to traditions than their daughters, many born abroad but reared here, who are influenced by an interesting peer ethnic culture that places less stress on religious traditions, tends to be materialistic and is still subject to the joint influences of American, Iranian, and Jewish traditions.
All three generations are influenced by the central value of najeeb, which emphasizes modesty and sexual purity before marriage. This value is stressed for the third generation which, according to Soomekh, struggles with it far more than their mothers did being subject to the crosspressures of the broader, secular society. At the same time, an important trend among second and third generation women has been a return to Orthodox observance in recognition of the limited level of Jewish continuity among the less stringent. This echoes a pattern found in the broader Jewish community. As an insider, Soomekh has a unique perspective on these three generations on the basis of her own experience, her background research, and interviews with members of each generation.