I began elementary school in the Catholic school in Tabriz, and then we moved to Tehran and I studied at Ettehād Elementary School. When we returned to Tabriz, I continued my education in the Bāzārgāni High School.
In Ettehad Elementary School in Tehran
Our principal was an outstandingly violent and merciless man. When students were wreaking havoc, he would appear out of nowhere, call them with his loud voice, and punish them in front of everybody…
One day during recess, while hanging out with my classmates, I imitated the principal: “Come here, son! I saw it with my own eyes! Come here!”
All of a sudden Agha Merciless Principal appeared out of nowhere, like a ginni, and said — “I came! Here I am!” He took me by the ear, into his office, where he whipped me with all his heart.
I’ve learned my lesson, and from that day on I was never caught again.
A memorable morning at the cinema
One of our favorite pastimes at that time was going to the movies. Our father would take us there sometimes, when he was in a good mood. One day, one of my classmates suggested we cut school and go the movies. We bought tickets with our scant pocketmoney and entered the cinema. The movie had already begun, so we found our seats in the dark and began to watch the movie. A fat man sat next to me, and not only did he ﬁll his seat, but his fat arms reached under my chin and bothered me. I removed his arms a few times, but he didn’t even notice! When intermission came, the hall was lit up, and I froze with horror and surprise. The person who sat next to me and bothered me with his arms was no other than my father, who was sure I was at school!
At that time, girls and women in Tabriz were completely hidden under black chadors. For high school students, seeing the face of their beloved was the most highly desired form of voyeurism! In our talks, we schoolboys would always complain about being away from our beloved ones.
Once I went in front of the girls’ high school, hoping to get a glance of the girl I loved, who was my aunt’s friend. I followed them, and midway I saw her splitting up with my aunt. I kept following her and started telling her sweet words of love, when suddenly my aunt’s voice came from under the chador, saying, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? I am your aunt! Don’t say such things to me!” My aunt’s chador was the same as her friend’s, and I could not tell my aunt from my love!
Bigotry at school
I spent most of my childhood and youth in Tabriz. The Jewish community of Tabriz was very small. Radical religious bigotry in Tabriz had driven most Jews out of the city and made life extremely tough for the remaining ones, including the Khakshouri family, and especially for me.
I studied in Bāzārgāni high school, the only Jewish student among hundreds of Muslim ones. Both my classmates and my teachers treated me with intolerance that often escalated to physical violence. My head is still full of scars from the stones the students used to throw at me. They would also abuse me verbally with anti-Semitic talk and dirty words, calling me a “dirty Jew” and calling my mother and sisters by names I will not repeat. I either kept silent or picked up a ﬁght with them that was usually ended by the principal. But the black shadow of religious fundamentalism could constantly be felt all through elementary school, and high school, on the streets and in the bazaar. It was bitter and painful.
But the event that hurt me more than sticks and stones could ever do was when a teacher said to me in front of the all the students: “You are one of our best students, you should convert to Islam!” I was deeply hurt by this disrespect for my identity but didn’t show it. I just humbly answered: “I should talk to my parents about this… ” And the whole thing was forgotten. Racism and bigotry were not exclusive to the Northern provinces. In Tehran, too, when I was going to school with my sister, every so often Muslim bullies would block our way and ask us: “Are you Jewish or Muslim?” If we said we were Jewish, they would beat us up, so we often said we were Muslim. When we said that, they made us recite the Shehādat — the Islamic declaration of belief.