Thursday, February 12, 2009

The beauty queen who fled the Iranian revolution

Photo: Amy Walters, NPR
Rosette Melamed, crowned Miss Iran in 1976, had everything going for her - beauty, talent, a bright future. Then the revolution broke out in 1979 - 30 years ago - and the family, along with most Iranian Jews, no longer felt safe. Three-quarters of the community left. NPR reports:

"In the early 1970s, Roset Melamed led a comfortable life in Iran. She grew up ice skating and learning martial arts. She was talented and beautiful.

"I was Miss Iran, 1976," she says. "It was heaven."

Melamed thumbs through old scrapbooks with pictures of teenage girls — herself and others — pictured in jeans, skirts and short-sleeved shirts. It's nothing like what you would see on the streets of Tehran today.

For Melamed, the revolution of 1979 came as a shock. Bit by bit, signs of unrest breached her existence. She knew there were demonstrations on the streets and scattered violence. But the thought of revolution seemed extreme.(...)

"After a few months in Buffalo, away from her family and friends, it became clear that the situation in Iran was not getting better. Melamed could not stand to be away from the rest of her family any more. She and her mother and son returned to the new Iran.

"Soon after her return to Tehran, her husband wanted to take her out for a pizza in the neighborhood, to celebrate their anniversary. Knowing the dangers of the new situation, Melamed didn't want to go. He persisted; she complied. The couple sat side by side in the restaurant, talking and holding hands happily, when Melamed suddenly heard the sound of boots marching toward her husband.

"A soldier said, 'You, you come here!'" she recalls. "And I thought, ' Oh, no! They're going to take him away.'"

"The soldier left after she and her husband agreed to sit across from each other and not hold hands. But Melamed couldn't eat. She was shaking in fear.

Sometime later, her husband's cousin was executed. Melamed says she could think of only one reason why: He was Jewish. So was she. Iran, she felt, was becoming too dangerous for her and her family.

"One night, my husband come to me and said, 'I have a ticket. ... Tomorrow we're going to leave Iran.'"

"The family has lived in Los Angeles for the past 30 years. They had left Iran with little money. But her husband had an engineering degree, and in the U.S., he eventually became part of the team that built NASA's Mars Rover. He received a special prize from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Listen to the report. Transcript here

Jews of Iran - 30 years after the revolution

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