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Iran to Los Angeles to Seattle to Denver — via the IJN

How did a Persian Muslim find himself at a Shabbat table in Seattle? It started in Los Angeles, with an endodontist from Denver — and with the IJN the unexpected go between.

Dr. Robert Salehrabi, an Iranian-born Denverite, moved here from LA. Prior to the pandemic, he returned there a few times a year to train residents at USC’s dental school.

He prefaces the story with “There’s no such thing as coincidences,” and he’s right. Because either this is an incredible string of happenstance, or it was bashert — predestined.

During these trainings, Dr. Salehrabi chooses a resident at random to treat an unknown patient. One day, he selects a student who turns out to be Iranian. Hailing from the same country leads to conversation and Dr. Salehrabi inquires as to the resident’s faith. “Muslim,” is the response. A few minutes later, the two walked into the patient’s room and lo and behold, it’s a Chabad rabbi.

As Chabad rabbis are wont, he strikes up a conversation with the resident, asking, like Dr. Salehrabi, about the resident’s religion. Once again, “Muslim,” is the response, but the rabbi — again, like most Chabad rabbis — doesn’t let it go quite so easily. He inquires after the resident’s parentage, uncovering that his mother is Jewish, “but my father is Muslim, so I’m Muslim,” says the resident, citing Islam’s patrilineality.

“Not so fast,” says the Chabad rabbi. “According to Judaism you’re Jewish,” he says, reaching into his satchel for tefilin. After receiving the resident’s permission, the rabbi performed the mitzvah of laying tefilin with him.

One might assume that the resident, who Dr. Salehrabi says was a secular Iranian, was bemused — and possibly amused — by the encounter, but one would be wrong. This is a very different story.

Earlier this year Dr. Salehrabi gets a text: “Remember me?” It’s the resident, and listen to this.

After completing his residency, he gets a job in Seattle. It seems that in the intervening years, this man has started exploring his Jewish identity. One Friday night, he’s at a Shabbat table in Seattle. He sees a newspaper on the table and he can’t believe his eyes: There’s his former professor, in a feature story about a remarkable escape from Iran. The newspaper? The IJN, of course. The story by Chris Leppek appeared in our Chanukah edition last year.

From Iran to Los Angeles to Seattle to Denver — via the IJN. Talk about connecting people! And reconnecting, as Dr. Salehrabi is back in touch with his former resident, curious to hear more about his Jewish journey, the one that started when Dr. Salehrabi “coincidentally” picked the resident to “coincidentally” treat a Chabad rabbi; the journey that “coincidentally” took the resident to Seattle where he “coincidentally” had Shabbat dinner at the home of IJN subscribers.

Only a betting man would have taken those odds!

But our Colorado readers may be surprised to learn that we have more than one subscriber in the Seattle area. Some are former Denverites, others encountered the paper, liked it and stuck with it. One Seattle subscriber recently told me that she appreciates that the IJN presents different points of view, and also that we’re still in print, and not only digital.

Who the Seattle subscriber was remains a mystery. I’ve checked with one and it wasn’t he. But whoever it was not only welcomed this endodontist into their home but also unwittingly deepened his connection to the story of Iranian Jewry — and a former mentor — by dint of subscribing to the IJN.

It’s like it was meant to be.

Shana Goldberg may be reached at shana@ijn.com

Copyright © 2022 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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IJN Assistant Publisher | shana@ijn.com

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