This Podcast Uncovers a Famous Iranian Jewish Family's Incredible Story – Kveller
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This Podcast Uncovers a Famous Iranian Jewish Family’s Incredible Story

In "The Nightingale of Iran," two sisters attempt to solve the decades-long mystery of their family's exit from Iran.


Photos courtesy of Danielle Dardashti and Galeet Dardashti

How do you tell the story of the Jewish people? It’s a question that I surprisingly found answered in one podcast: “The Nightingale of Iran.”

The six episode series, presented by Kveller’s partner site, JTA, tells the story of one Jewish family from Iran, the Dardashtis. Sisters Danielle and Galeet masterfully weave the tale with music, old family tapes, and interviews with seasoned experts and charming relatives and friends who add so much color to this story.

The story begins in the 1950s, “the golden age for Jews in Iran,” as the Dardashti sisters were often told growing up. Galeet and Danielle’s grandfather, Younes, a religious Jewish orphan, rises to stardom in the country as “The Nightingale” for his incredibly powerful voice — singing on the radio, at the opulent halls of the Shah’s palace and in crowded concert venues at a time when Jews were finally thought of as equal after centuries of religious oppression. A decade later, his son, Farid, becomes a teen idol who performs music hits on TV. And then, in the 1960s, both Farid and Younes leave Iran.

For decades, Danielle and Galeet have wondered why. Why, if things were so good for Jews in Iran, did they leave? And why were Danielle, Galeet and their sister Michelle raised with so little Persian culture here in America, and so much of their mother’s family’s Ashkenazi Jewish traditions instead? Why did their family’s Jewish band sing in Greek and Hebrew and French — but never in Persian?

In the “Nightingale of Iran,” the sisters get their answers.

I am loathe to spoil much of the specificities of this podcast — many moments had me gasping as the Dardashti sisters unveil the keys to certain mysteries, including how the prevalence of antisemitism shaped their grandfather’s and father’s identity as pop icons.

But some of the moments that had me gasping were not big revelations, but the sound of Younes and Farid’s voices themselves, so incredibly resonant and beautiful. You understand exactly what it is about them that swept a whole nation like pied pipers.

The more I listened to the podcast, the more I found that it has both delightful and devastating specificities of the Iranian Jewish experience, but also the very broad story of our people’s history. The story of Jewish marginalization and erasure, of Jewish excellence and the balancing act so many Jewish communities have had to play for both their survival and assimilation. It touches profoundly on the notion of Ashkenormativity — the prevalence or “supremacy” of Ashkenazi Jewish narratives and identity over those of Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews both in the U.S. and Israel, in pop culture and society at large. It tells the story of how Jewish communities in the diaspora have always held important keys to their countries’ progress and histories — and in this specific case, the history of Persian music.

There’s also something so stunning about the span of the history of Jewish culture this podcast touches — Sarah Levi, for example, the renowned founder of the Inbal Yemeni dance troupe, played an unwitting matchmaker for the Dardashtis’ parents. There’s the history of cantorial tradition in the U.S. — and how Farid, when he fell in love with it, taught himself how to be an Ashkenazi Jew. There’s even a nod to Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.”

The work of excavation that the Dardashti sisters do in this podcast feels deeply Jewish, sorting through the rubble of history — destroyed in their case by the forces of the Iranian revolution, unable to go back to the place where that history happened.

At the beginning and end of each episode, you get to hear “Melekh” — king — a profoundly religious song from the tradition of the Jewish New Year’s selichot (the ancient poems chanted before the new year). Melekh means king in Hebrew, and is often used to refer to God. The recording is a duet between Younes and Galeet, an anthropologist and now a singer of Persian tunes, from her 2023 album “Monajat.” The tune is not just hypnotizing, but also perfectly encapsulates the spirit of this podcast — an incredibly successful attempt to take ownership and give space to one family’s remarkable Jewish story, and to connect the past with the future, as well as the narratives of Persian Jewish history with Jewish history at large. In this fraught moment for Jews, it reminds us of all the complexity and great beauty of our history.

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