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Iranian Jews Find a Beverly Hills Refuge : Immigrants: Khomeini's revolution drove 40,000 of them into exile. At least 30,000 may live in or near the city that symbolizes wealth.


Social workers who deal with the Iranian Jewish community say this cultural and generational stress contributes to problems such as child abuse and wife beating. Divorce is on the increase, they say, and so are bankruptcies.

"We see them experiencing culture shock that takes place when the breadwinner is not able to go out and quickly earn money," said Arnold Saltzman, vice president of Jewish Family Services, which provides counseling for a number of troubled Iranian families.

For some formerly wealthy families, it is a tough adjustment to have to struggle to stay economically afloat.

"I have to work all the time, it is very difficult," said Edna Hakaian, who arrived nearly penniless in Los Angeles in 1983 with her two daughters after an arduous overland exodus from Iran by way of Turkey. She now is part owner of a clothing boutique in the garment district in downtown Los Angeles. "In Iran, one person worked and the whole family ate, but here in America one person works and everybody suffers."

Basic Iranian values also are being challenged, said Hilda Balakhan, a social worker with Jewish Family Services. "Men are finding it difficult to rule with an iron fist in a society where they are not the only breadwinners, and where the practice of physically disciplining a child, especially in public, is frowned upon."

Another Iranian tradition that is encountering resistance from the young is the arranged marriage. Families frequently begin grooming their daughters for marriage by age 16 or 17. Parents make the introductions and arrange chaperoned dates.

"It's not unusual for some girls to be engaged in their junior year of high school, get married in the spring of their senior year and take their 30-year-old husbands to the prom," said Shahla Miller, a counselor in the Beverly Hills school district.

Edna Hakaian's daughter, Nadia, 18, is one of a growing number of young Iranian Jewish women who say they want to break with that tradition.

Many of her own friends, Nadia said, already are making wedding plans. "Most Iranians don't want their kids to date unless it's for marriage," she said.

"At the same time, they expect more for their kids. They want you to get a job, go to college, do this, do that. They want to show you off. They say don't wear the same dress twice.

"I don't plan to get married any time soon," she said. "Most of the men, when they come to ask for your hand . . . all they want to know is how much money you have. They just want totally money. There are a lot of problems when your parents are involved."

As the Iranians adjust to life in America, she said, arranged marriages are on the decline. "People are falling in love more on their own, even if their parents do not approve. It is moving that way. Thank God."

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