Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Great Neck Community

Anyone who is familiar with the Great Neck neighborhood, is probably also familiar with the “Mashadi” community. The “Mashadi” community is an extremely private and eccentric close-knit community of Persian decent (yes, I speak fluent Persian.) Being part of this community comes with expectations. My parents expect me to keep with the traditions that I was brought up with, have Mashadi friends, and always stay part of the community. (What does that mean? I must marry a Mashadi!) When I was just a little kid I didn’t even know that there were people in this world who weren’t “Mashadi” Jews. I always thought it was something special to be part of this neighborhood, with its own private synagogue, lectures, parties, events etc… I always felt like I was part of this separate world. This world where everyone knows each other, and we all know that we know each other; however, it wasn’t until recently that I realized that there’s a whole other world outside of Great Neck.

I went to a Jewish private school all my life, and even after I graduated I spent one year abroad learning in another Jewish school for girls in Israel. It was great! I loved it so much! But I guess I truly did never realize how much I was in a bubble growing up all my life. I always just felt kind of comfortable and safe with my own friends, my own community, my Great Neck- my usual life. I suppose the truth is, I never really ever had to leave Great Neck. Whatever I needed was always just there- shopping, restaurants, movies, parks… However, it’s all different now. My eyes have been opened. I’m living in America 2009- I better start getting with the game and facing reality.
It all started hundreds of years ago in Iran, where all my family (parents, grandparents, aunts, cousins) were born and raised. The Jewish community from the city called “Mashad” in Iran all stuck together in hope of not getting assimilated. Since there weren’t too many Jews living there at the time, it was the norm for guys and girls to marry their first cousins. A big fear aroused the Jewish community when one day a Muslim man asked to marry a young beautiful Jewish girl. The Jewish parents wanted to take extra precautions to make sure such a fate wouldn’t befall their daughter so they would arrange assigned-marriages for their children from the day they were born, and at around 13/14 years old these girls would get married. One of my grandmothers was engaged at 11 and married by 13 and the other was engaged at 12 and married at 15. Its funny, because they still have this mentality and think it’s very strange that I’m almost 19 and still not wed.

Ever since the revolution, my parents and grandparents moved to America. Almost the entire Jewish community in Mashad, Iran moved to Great Neck, NY. This huge community emerged and continues to grow larger and larger every year. We now have our own Mashadi phonebook, weekly Mashadi newsletter, and even a Mashadi picture album website online. I can assume that from an outsiders point of view we seem pretty freakish and locked up, but I personally, in fact, find it very beautiful and inspiring that the community has stayed so strong and close, and has done so much to keep all their youth and elders so united. It’s so refreshing to know that I will always have a support system there for me.

In the 1970s, the challenges of the “Mashadi” community was learning the English language. In 2009, our youth has broken out and expanded all new territory. Whether its from Mashadi guys and girls setting off and earning their masters and degrees from all different universities, building new corporations in New York City, or even simply just attending Queens College, we have made that move and have opened ourselves to see the world through glasses that reach far beyond our “Mashadi” Great Neck Community.

In the larger scope though, Great Neck isn’t only about the “Mashadis”-even though many try to believe so. Great Neck is predominantly occupied by wealthy white families. There are many predestined assumptions that everyone in Great Neck is stuck-up and extremely rich. Not really so true! The houses in Kings Point are lovely to look at but the majority of Great Neck families live normal lives in pretty normal size homes. It’s a very cozy neighborhood with basically everything you need right here for you. In the end of the day, yes I have been living in a “Mashadi Great Neck” bubble- but I believe that its never too late to set free, meet people from all different backgrounds and to learn something new from others.

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