'Now I can die an American'

December 17, 1994|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Sun Staff Writer

The difference between being a Jew in Iran and a Jew in Baltimore can be found in the names of the Delshad children.

It is the difference between Ardavan and Deborah.

Thirteen years ago, when Sion and Mahvash Delshad had their first child in Shiraz, a city about 300 miles south of Tehran, they wanted to give the boy a Jewish name.

They didn't dare.

"Too dangerous," said Mr. Delshad, explaining what it's like to live in a culture with no love for Jews, where Jews have few rights.

So, they named the child Ardavan, after a Persian king.

When the persecution became too much -- "Anytime we could be under arrest for very small reason," said Mr. Delshad -- the family sold everything, used the money to bribe a series of officials and escaped to the United States.

Soon, their second child was born, a girl. They named her Deborah, for the Old Testament judge who helped the Israelites defeat an enemy. A little more than a year ago, the newest Delshad arrived --Jonah, for the prophet who tangled with a whale.

Such simple freedoms as naming your children as you please were with the Delshads yesterday as they and 145 others became citizens of the United States.

"Now we have found a home," said Mrs. Delshad, a nurse at Sinai Hospital. "We can practice being Jews as we like to do."

"We had no choice [but to leave]," said Mr. Delshad, a former banker who now decorates cakes for a living. "There was no future."

The future began at 11:25 a.m. yesterday inside the Lloyd Street Synagogue when federal Judge Marvin J. Garbis, the grandson of Jewish immigrants, administered the oath of citizenship to rows of aliens holding small American flags.

Standing guard in the "bema" -- the raised platform where the Torah is read -- were Jacob and Hyman Goldstein, brothers who fought in World War II and belong to the Jewish War Veterans.

At 11:26 a.m. -- after renouncing "all allegiance and fidelity [to any] foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty" -- the aliens were citizens.

Just like that.

"Now I can die an American," said Rika Kozlova, a 69-year-old native of Odessa.

The first thing Ms. Kozlova and her fellow Americans did together was to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

"You know what it means to be a citizen of the United States," said Judge Garbis, wearing a yarmulke. "Give it to your children and grandchildren. Let them know what we have in this country by comparing it to what you left behind."

The ceremony, held in the East Lombard Street neighborhood that was home to Baltimore Jews from the mid- to late 1800s until the riots of 1968, was put on by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). The organization helped all of yesterday's candidates, including a dozen or so who aren't Jewish, with the paperwork for citizenship.

It was the fourth naturalization ceremony HIAS has sponsored in the last 18 months, as refugees from the former Soviet Union continue to land here. In the audience were people who helped the newcomers learn enough English to take the test and some who quizzed them on American government and history.

"Nothing too hard," said Elizabeth Fernandez, an immigration official whose parents are from Argentina. "We want them to pass."

HIAS also hired a bus to ferry the older people -- such as 72-year-old McDonald's worker Izya Olshansky from Kiev -- from the Jewish Community Center on Park Heights Avenue to the 149-year-old Lloyd Street temple, the third-oldest in the United States.

Sally Grant sits on the board of HIAS, which has been around for 90 years. At home she keeps her grandfather's citizenship papers framed and hung on the wall. On Lloyd Street yesterday, she saw something of what her grandfather must have felt in 1912.

"When they were filing into the synagogue, a young man lifted the certificate to his lips and kissed it," Ms. Grant said.

Most of the new citizens are from various parts of the former Soviet Union. Michael Khazan, a physical therapist in Ukraine, sold hot dogs at the corner of Light and Baltimore streets for about four years.

In his little tin stand, Mr. Khazan practiced English by reading Sidney Sheldon novels and waited for customers whether it was 99 degrees outside or a wind chill of 5 below. He worked hard, saved his money and now owns a restaurant on Clay Street downtown.

"It feels great," he said, beaming in the bright December sunshine. "I am very happy."

And Ardavan Delshad?

He is now called by his middle name, the one his parents would have blessed him with in Iran if they had not been afraid of branding him.

"He is Yehuda," Mrs. Delshad said.

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