The pandemic of recent years has disrupted education, pushing children and educators into online classrooms. Many of these classrooms still remain virtual, with Zoom as the only method of connection. But what if schools had closed, due to widespread protests, tanks in the streets and the declaration of martial law?
My last year of high school coincided with the Iranian revolution. The Jewish School of Ettefagh (meaning unity in Persian) was the epicenter of my life during my formative years. My friends and I spent the innocent years of elementary school and the rowdy years of high school together. During the 1970s, in pre-revolutionary Iran, our lives paralleled those of our Western counterparts. We’ve attended each other’s birthday parties, watched newly released Hollywood movies, followed the latest Western fashion trends and idolized American superstar, David Cassidy. As we got older, we sat for hours sharing our secrets or analyzing the latest episode of “Donny and Marie,” the TV variety show hosted by American brother-and-sister duo Donny and Marie Osmond.
Growing up, we looked forward to graduating in 1979. We expected to continue our education at one of Tehran’s universities and have strong bonds as we took on responsibilities as adults. But in the summer of 1978, our school’s proximity to the University of Tehran became the epicenter of a revolution. We have witnessed chaos, anarchy and the 2,500 year dissolution of the Persian monarchy in our country. We stayed home instead of completing our final year in class due to the mass uprising and dissatisfaction with the status quo. Finally, 1979 ushered in a new era of a promised clergy-led utopia.
The chains of years of friendship were so badly severed that there was no time for a proper farewell or graduation, as most of my friends were looking for a new life elsewhere.
The acute societal unrest of that time disrupted our education and affected student life outcomes. The future remained unknown, with speculation of the worst to come. Suddenly, our laid plans became unachievable. Most of my community, fearing the hostile authoritarian government in charge of a new order, hastily left our old homeland. The chains of years of friendship were so badly severed that there was no time for a proper farewell or graduation, as most of my friends were looking for a new life elsewhere. But I stayed in the Islamic Republic of Iran for another eight years. Social media did not exist and new laws further severed the bonds of friendship. I forever lost a close friend who had gone to Israel, and by state mandate, I could no longer contact her from Iran.
I finally immigrated to the United States in 1987, and for almost thirty years, my high school years remained a fragment of my memories. These friendships belonged to a forgotten time and to a lost world that no longer existed. Also, it was likely that due to the marriage, my friends had different surnames, as I too now had my married surname.
Then, in the summer of 2010, I received an unexpected call from New York. Vida, a classmate from Ettefagh whom I hadn’t heard from since 1979, said that with the help of a distant family connection in Chicago, I was “found.” The overwhelming majority of my friends had relocated to Southern California or New York and surrounding areas, while I had made my life in the Midwest.
At our high school reunion in February 2015, we graduating students from the class of 1979 gathered from different corners of the United States and celebrated our long friendships in Los Angeles. Fortunately, our assistant director, physics teacher and art teacher, who are now in the last part of their life, were also present. One of us told the art teacher about the prank she pulled off in class by showing the teacher someone else’s work and getting a good grade!
Excited about our meeting, we remembered the “good old days”. We laughed, cried, joked, and shared memories of our teachers, the school janitor, and the school team’s basketball games. We fondly remembered the sandwich shop and bakery we used to visit during our lunch hours and the lavashak (thin pieces of dried fruit) sweets that we used to have during recess. Who else could I sit with and share stories from another time, another culture and another place, who could understand and complete my unfinished sentence?
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of reconnecting with a high school friend as we get older. Life has its way of scattering people, but when you meet again years later, you find that your friend isn’t gone. Today, our American children have no memory of life before the revolution. But as I reminisce about the halcyon days of my past, I’m thrilled to savor old memories and recreate new ones with those who lived it with me.
Recently, my friends and I attended the wedding of a classmate’s son in New York. During the long weekend filled with magical moments, we felt like teenagers again. Then, on a short two-day visit to Los Angeles, I made sure to plan dinner with my friends before heading to the airport. More broadly, there is now a Facebook page dedicated to the students of the Ettefagh school, with photos from the 1960s and 1970s, when we were students in a world that no longer exists.
A Persian saying goes something like this: “Mountain ranges will never be within reach of each other, but people will somehow reconnect.” (“Kooh be kooh nemireseh, ama adam be adam mireseh.) Despite the forty-three-year lapse of time, this expression testifies to the promotion of the Iranian revolution and our undeniable bond that transcends time and distance.
JAcqueline Saper is the author of “From miniskirt to hijab: a girl in revolutionary Iran.(Potomac Books from the University of Nebraska Press). jacquelinesaper.com