DR SIMA Goel was 14 years old at the time of the Iranian Revolution, when “what little freedom we had was gone”.
The young Iranian Jew was forced to wear a hijab, her only choices: black, brown or navy.
“It was revolting,” she recalled. “It was one thing when you have a choice, but it’s another thing when you just have to do it and you’re told how to behave, that’s what I detested.”
Goel will be sharing her story in a Zoom event for Zionism Victoria in partnership with South Caulfield and St Kilda Shules, and Connecting Cultures on Wednesday, July 22 at 8pm.
Don’t miss out!Less than a week to go!Register here: www.zionismvictoria.org.au/events/fleeing-the-hijab
Speaking with The AJN from her home in Canada, Goel reflected, “During the Shah, Jews were able to respect the Jewish holidays. My father was going to the shule every week. We had Shabbat dinner at our home.”
She fondly remembers idyllic Passover celebrations because it would always fall around the Iranian new year. The family would roast their own nuts and toast their own spices at home.
“And we would get together, everybody would make different dishes.”
But life changed under the dictatorship of Ayatollah Khamenei.
Goel’s Baha’i classmate became a victim of racial taunts from a bully – they were in the one per cent non-Muslim minority at school – and she challenged the bully on the teachings of Islam. Goel was then suspended.
“There is a price to pay for standing up for difference … That was the beginning of the end for me in Iran.”
Over the ensuing three years, Goel changed schools, and cities. Eventually her mother told her, “This is not the life to be living. Maybe try to get out of Iran.”
The only way out was by crossing the desert on foot to Pakistan in the night. There were many dangers – particularly if Goel came into contact with Afghanis who were coming into Iran to support the government.
“They could have executed me, raped me, and taken me back to Iran as a trophy,” she said. “But by grace of God, I survived.”
She made it to Pakistan where she stayed under gruelling conditions before finally reaching Canada at 18 years old. “I felt like a bird that was out of the cage and could soar. It was wonderful.”
Goel has since encapsulated her experiences in her book, Fleeing the Hijab: A Jewish Woman’s Escape from Iran.
“As a Jew, we always have to stay strong and stand strong for freedom,” she said. “Because when they take one person’s freedom away, they take everybody’s freedom away.”
To register for the Zoom event, visit www.zionismvictoria.org.au/events/fleeing-the-hijab.