I had a humorous column prepared for this week. It had even been edited. But then, an antisemite decided to play “Shoot the Jew” in my Los Angeles neighborhood.
At least, that’s the name I’m using for his violent actions. In a recorded interview with law enforcement, Jaime Tran said he searched for Jews on the street based on their “head gear.” He found his first victim on Feb., then returned less than 24 hours later to the same neighborhood and shot his second victim. Fortunately, both victims survived.
I knew I couldn’t publish my original column for this week, which described the ups and downs of my recent Hawaiian vacation. If it had been printed now, I would have been the first to accuse myself of being fantastically tone deaf.
Instead, I knew I had to write about the shootings in Pico-Robertson, but there was one problem: What could I possibly add to the conversation? By now, the story has made headlines worldwide. In fact, it’s surreal when relatives in Israel, where there’s currently a new wave of terror from rabid antisemites, send me urgent messages asking if I’m okay in Los Angeles.
But as soon as The Jewish Journal reported last week that Tran had a history of antisemitism, I found a connection with this hate crime that came really close to home: Tran has not only expressed deep hatred of Jews, but he harbors particular hatred for Persian Jews.
According to the story, “Tran sent multiple emails to former classmates toward the end of 2022 blaming COVID-19 vaccine mandates and lockdowns on ‘Iranian Jews’ and referred to ‘Persian Jews’ as being ‘primitive’ and ‘narrow minded’ who ‘scrap nickel and dimes’ and ‘never donate to any charities.’”
Sadly, I read news of hatred against Jews every day. But it’s not every day that I read about such hatred directed specifically at my community of Persian Jews. It was incredibly difficult to process.
Maybe that explains why Tran’s first victim was a Persian Jewish man. Incidentally, the second victim, whose family I know, told me he recently returned to Los Angeles from Israel (he’s in the process of making aliyah and briefly returned to L.A. to file some more paperwork). As I recently told friends, either of them could have been our friends—the same friends whom one often sees leaving synagogues or kosher markets on Pico Boulevard.
When you’re a Persian Jew who lives in Pico-Robertson, you learn to shrug off jokes (and complaints) about your community—our accents, our lifestyles, our penchant for covering anything in the living room with a thick layer of protective plastic and, yes, our fabulous haggling skills. I never take an antisemite at their word, but I’ll admit it stings to be called “primitive.” Ironically, Tran seems to have met a lot of “primitive” Persian Jews while he (and they) were enrolled at dental school. I’ve never heard of a dental school for primitive students, have you? Tran also told his classmates to blame any “inconvenience” or loss of money during the COVID-19 lockdowns on the “Iranian Jew.” This is even more ironic, given that the overwhelming majority of Persians Jews I know were vehemently against the lockdown.
The terrible events of last week—both the shootings as well as news of Tran’s antisemitic history—have reminded me how much I love Jews and appreciate our resilience. I especially love Persian Jews. Our hearts are as big as our giant, steaming pots of rice.
But there’s no denying that the shootings will leave a lasting impact on the Jews of Los Angeles. For Jews who escaped antisemitic regimes such as post-revolutionary Iran, what happened last week can only be described as a resurrection of trauma.
For others, it proves what they’ve always suspected. A few days ago, a friend from L.A. described how, for the past several years, she’s been removing her young son’s kippah and tucking in his tallit when she picks him up from a local Jewish school and he accompanies her on errands. If her son asks his mother why she always tucks in his tallit when they exit the car at the supermarket parking lot, she responds with a white lie, telling him that she doesn’t want the ends of his tallit to get stuck in the shopping cart when she places him in it.
“My own family accused me of being overly anxious and paranoid,” said my friend. “But after what happened last week, I knew I was right.”
Like many Jews I know in this city, I’m weary and worried. But with Purim a few weeks away, I believe that our community recently experienced a Purim miracle for two incredible reasons: First, both victims of the shootings not only survived, but also had relatively minor injuries, given that they had both been shot. I can’t imagine the horror if the newspaper headlines had reported something worse.
Second, the fact that Tran, given his intense Jew-hatred, decided to shoot one person each day rather than enter a synagogue or supermarket and unleash bullets, is nothing short of miraculous. It’s even more amazing given that he had searched for a kosher market on Yelp, but didn’t enter it. Tran located a market, drove to it and chose a man on the street based on whether he was wearing a kippah.
Let’s keep this in mind in the next few weeks as we prepare to celebrate Purim, solemnly recall the destructive potential of our enemies and offer the security guards and police officers outside of our schools and synagogues a few sweet hamantaschen.
Tabby Refael is an award-winning, L.A.-based writer, speaker and civic action activist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @TabbyRefael.
Originally published by Jewish Journal.