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Mon Dec 3, 2018, 01:04 AM

A Persian Jewish Refugee Who Fled Iran by Airlift Just Became a State Senator in New York

Democrat Anna Kaplan’s recent victory over Republican incumbent Elaine Phillips helped flip the New York state Senate, long dominated by Republicans, to Democratic control. That’s a very big deal in New York politics but the win is notable for other reasons as well—it makes Kaplan, who came to America as refugee from Iran, the highest ranking Persian-Jewish elected official in the state.

Kaplan was born Anna Monahemi in Tabriz, Iran, and raised in Tehran. There was a recorded Jewish presence in Tabriz, located in the mountains of northwest Iran, since at least the 12th century, but that ancient community of some 400 Jews was wiped out in a blood libel massacre in 1830. About a century and half later, when she was 13 years old, Kaplan fled the Islamic Revolution as a child refugee and arrived in the United States as part of an airlift of Iranian children. She initially stayed in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and then fostered with a family in Chicago where she learned English and attended high school until her parents and family were able to legally join her in the United States more than a year later. She went on to graduate from Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women and Benjamin Cardozo School of Law.

“Persian Jews stayed out of politics in Iran,” writes Kaplan on her Facebook page. “My parents and community were afraid of being noticed—they were a small, vulnerable minority in a conservative part of a conservative country. But here in the United States, we have been given so much opportunity and I am so grateful to this country for opening its arms that I’ve had to give back.”

In New York’s 7th Senate District, which covers parts of Long Island’s Nassau County, Kaplan ran a grassroots campaign with volunteers canvassing and knocking on doors. Gov. Andrew Cuomo came down to campaign with her, and former President Obama tweeted his support. Emily’s List endorsed her run. She ran on her local record of accomplishments, as a councilwoman of the Town of North Hempstead, since 2011, and as a member of North Hempstead Board of Zoning Appeals and of the Board of Trustees of the Great Neck Public Library District before that.

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