Nannette, our only daughter, is named after Sasson’s late mother, Nanne. She is exactly like her — small in stature, but great in all other respects (Nanne’s Persian nickname was kuchik — “small”). It took us time (for Sasson also consultation with our rabbi, Rav Piron) to accept her choice to marry a non-Jew, but Nani and Cyril remained together and happily married for more than 25 years — a rare achievement for their generation. Cyril is a great person and a wonderful father to the three wonderful Jewish grandchildren they gave us. This is what counts in life.
Nani’s children are Jewish not only according to Jewish law (as Judaism is passed on through the maternal line), but more importantly — by identity: the family lives the Jewish tradition, celebrating Shabbat and the most important holidays. Liam and Bonvoyage had their Bar and Bat Mitzvah in their synagogue, and Pleinsoleil will celebrate hers soon. The children love visiting Israel, seeing it somewhat as their second home: They love the country, and love visiting their grandparents and family.
It is important for Nani to give their children a clear identity based on her heritage, but without being religious. To her, Judaism is important as an identity full of symbols and rituals that ground her children rather than a religion with strict rules and only one way of living. To her, there are many possibilities for living a Jewish identity. It’s not about praying all the time and going to synagogue, but rather being with the family (for example, cherishing a Shabbat dinner and seeing this as precious time together without distractions like phones, etc.), being there for friends and family, and trying to be good people with clear values.
Cyril sees it the same way. He likes a life ﬁlled with rituals (and good Iranian food!) and is proud to have a Persian Jewish wife. For Cyril, who is Swiss but grew up in Isola Elba, it is also important to ground his children, and give them a clear identity, because he knows too well the feeling of being the Swiss guy in Italy and the Italian in Switzerland…
Sasson: One of the things that put a damper on my relationship with Nani was her choice to work in dance management. It may seem odd to the young Western reader, but in traditional Iranian society, dancing was not considered respectable. It took me many years to realize how highly respected Nani is in this ﬁeld in Europe. She has received so much acknowledgment for her work from the press in Europe and from the Swiss government department of culture, and won so many prizes in the ﬁeld, I can only be proud of her.
Throughout all of Nani’s choices that clashed with the values on which I was raised, Gollar has played a tremendous and meaningful role in saving our father-daughter relationship, a role for which I can’t thank her enough.
Nani writes about Sasson:
I remember a photo of my dad in his youth, when he was 20 or even younger. Everyone would tell me, “You look just like your dad, a copy of your dad.” Now, you can imagine that generally, a teenage girl absolutely doesn’t want to look like her dad, and doesn’t want to hear this. Plus, I did have a difficult relationship with my dad — him being conservative-Iranian, me not exactly fulﬁlling his expectations. But reﬂecting on the photo, I must say that the similarities were not only apparent in looks, but also in character, habits, talents, job choices, etc.
Very strange but true.
Just as my dad has succeeded in turning his passion for tennis into a career, so I did with contemporary dance. I remember my dad didn’t believe me when I told him I went to dance classes on a daily basis, until he saw it with his own eyes. After my studies, I became the ﬁrst cultural manager on the contemporary dance scene in Zürich, and opened the ﬁrst management agency in Switzerland, which manages many contemporary dance companies. In 1999, I was awarded a prize for my cultural achievements, and it was the ﬁrst time that this prize went to a “non-performer,” that is, to a person working behind the scenes. Just as my father has done a lot of pioneer work in tennis in Russia and Uzbekistan, I did the same — on a much smaller scale of course — in the dance ﬁeld.
This is only a small example, as there are other similarities that come to my mind between myself and my dad: our relationship with money, our ability to listen and be there for other people, but also the difficult characteristics such as stubbornness, a strong sense of being right when actually being a little short-sighted, being naïve in certain things, too forgiving or the opposite at times, etc.
In addition, I am very outgoing and social but at the same time an introvert with my very own habits, just like my father.
How can this be? Do we learn from our parents? Are they our role models even if our relationships are not always easy? Do we subconsciously imitate them in order to please, or is this genetics? I don’t know… But I am thankful for having had the parents that I had and strongly believe that “easy” is not always better. On the contrary.
Life is complex and so are relationships. The sooner we learn this, the better we are prepared for life.
Nani writes about Golli:
My mom was always a little torn between my dad and me, between a European upbringing and Persian traditional values. It’s not easy to make everybody happy.
As a teenager daughter of a very strict dad, I was not allowed to go out in the evenings. When I did, for example if I wanted to go out or to a party, my mom would do the best she could to back me. It usually worked, but on very rare occasions, it would end with drama. Once she gave me permission to go to some friends’ house, but I had to leave the address of where I was going. My best friend telephoned to give me the address. Isaac took the phone, and wrote down the address. Unfortunately, in a very messy handwriting. So, I copied the address, and gave it to my mom. The other note went straight into the bin. My parents were about to go out in the evening when my dad wondered where I was… Obviously my mom was not a great liar, my dad found the address in the bin — and so they came to pick me up, very matter of factly… I was mortiﬁed! My parents dropped me off at home and went out, while I was the only teenager in the world who had to stay home on a Saturday night.
Mama and I have always been close. But I did keep my boyfriend, and husband-to-be secret for many many years. The ﬁrst person to realize I had a secret ﬁancé was my great-grandmother Saltanat. But that’s another story.
Besides that, my mom has always been the pragmatic kind of mom, the mom who took good care of everything in a very pragmatic and organized way. When I was 12, she got me 4 or 5 bras and pretty lingerie, because that’s what you do for your Bat Mitzvah daughter. But I was ﬂat as a board, didn’t like stuff that is too feminine, and was so embarrassed! Actually, I got very angry. And look at me now, some 35+ years later, doing the same thing today for my 13-year-old daughter (save that she is not ﬂat as a board, and loves going shopping for lingerie with me. But she would be very embarrassed reading this now).
My grandma always said that having a daughter is something very special because she always remains your best friend. How true, because my mom, in a certain way, is my best friend. She was always there for me in important moments. She is the one I conﬁde in when I have a secret I don’t want to share with anyone else, and I still often ask her for advice or ask her to be here when I need her. A mama stays a mama, also at the age of 50. There are difficult moments in life when you need your mom around, so I hope she will stick around until 120!