I know I’m supposed to have angst about my Bat Mitzvah, but looking back on it, mainly what I see is a great party: a delicious Persian spread, flowing cocktails, and a buzzing dance floor. What I am angsty about is what was missing. Save for a few Hebrew School girlfriends, nearly everyone at the party was family or family friends, and nearly everyone was Iranian.
The interface between family and the outside world is tricky for Iranian Jews. Our fiercely loving family bond is truly beautiful. But as far as the world outside that community, I grew up with the clear message of ‘you’re not like them’. Whatever they do is fine for them, but those rules don’t apply to you. It’s a sentiment that can make it hard to find your place. There was never a directive to nourish myself with experiences, to figure out where I fit in and what my contribution is.
As an adult, I’ve come to value defying that insularism. I get huge joy from connecting with people as different from me as possible. So, if I were to reboot my Bat Mitzvah, I’d change up the crowd. I’d invite my Tunisian neighbor and her Syrian friend, who shared grim stories from their respective countries as we drove to an Arab nightclub one night: a sense of creeping religious conservatism for one, starving relatives trapped in a war zone for the other. I’d invite my burly, tattooed former coworker who, as our lunchtime conversations grew personal, quietly confided that his ex “Maria” was actually Miguel. I’d invite my most formative old flame, a freewheeling, bronze-skinned surfer with just-passable English, who taught me an openness that serves me to this day. It took me some time to learn it, but the lesson is simple: to truly know yourself, you have to look outward.
This essay was originally published in Jewels of Elul.
Tannaz Sassooni is and forever will be in the middle: of American and Iranian, of geek and cool kid, of techie and artist.