L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty, From Los Angeles to Iran

The 3,500 members of L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty resoundingly condemn Iran’s intention of executing Arvin Ghahremani (Hebrew name: Arvin Netanel ben Sonia), within the month, if not sooner. Ghahremani is a 20-year-old Jewish man who is going to be murdered by the state for to an act of self-defense against Mr. Amir Shokri, a Muslim man who attacked Ghahremani with a knife, but was killed himself when Mr. Gharemani stopped him. Mr. Gharemani was scheduled originally for execution on Shabbat – the Jewish Sabbath – but was miraculously given a months’ reprieve. Now, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the local representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei are pushing for his execution as soon as possible. The Jewish world is vehemently petitioning for his life to be spared.

Ghahremani is among the estimated 8,500 Jews who still live in Iran, following an exodus of most of Iran’s once-major Jewish population after the 1979 revolution that put Islamic leaders in charge. His state murder, like far too many, is barely receiving coverage in the Western press, a fact that members of L’chaim (which means “To Life!” in Hebrew) also lament, calling upon media outlets to cover all executions in Iran and in any actively executing nations.

On the contrary, the Iranian Jewish community of Los Angeles – the largest such community outside of Iran, earning the name “Tehrangeles” –  has done its utmost to sound the alarm over this abject abomination. Rabbi Eliyahu Netanili, the leader of Los Angeles’ Hayyeh Torah synagogue, called for 1,000 people to recite Psalm 13, a prayer expressing faithfulness, 13 times. L’chaim members from across Los Angeles, California and the world proudly join the members of Hayyeh Tora in this prayer, and in condemnation of this horror.

The prospect of Gharemani’s killing reinforces what L’chaim has long maintained; namely,  that “the death penalty is a Jewish issue, even in California.” Newsweek recently published L’chaim’s op-ed about the relevance of the death penalty for Jews in California. That piece described the recent discovery that the Bear State’s Alameda County has notoriously sought to exclude Jews from serving on capital juries. It also highlighted how Jeff Rosen – a Jewish DA from Santa Clara county – is now asking courts to change the penalties of the fourteen men from his county who currently are awaiting execution, citing inherent racism and unfairness in the administration of the death penalty.

Let there be no doubt: L’chaim is against the death penalty in every case, without exception. This includes even the case of the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooter, where L’chaim issued a formal plea for life for the Tree of Life. Together with its partners at Death Penalty Action, L’chaim actively campaigns against each and every execution in the USA, where members are pen pals with all in line for state-murder here – both the innocent and the guilty. L’chaim also advocates vociferously against the increasing calls for executions in Israel.

L’chaim’s opposition to state murder is grounded in the fact that  many at L’chaim like myself – one of its co-founders – are direct descendants of Holocaust survivors. L’chaim carries the torch of one such survivor, Poet Laureate Elie Wiesel, who famously said of capital punishment: “Death is not the answer.”  L’chaim also follows in the footsteps of renowned Jewish theologian Martin Buber, and other Jewish human rights luminaries who opposed the execution of the Nazi mass murderer Adolf Eichmann. Members of L’chaim are keenly aware that the USA continues to carry on the Nazi legacy that is lethal injection, and to erect more and more gas chambers, including those that propose use of Zyklon B, of Auschwitz infamy. L’chaim stands with its partners in Louisiana – the Jews Against Gassing Coalition, chanting loudly together that Jews will “never forget!” As Wiesel said: “With every cell of my being and with every fiber of my memory I oppose the death penalty in all forms. I do not believe any civilized society should be at the service of death. I don’t think it’s human to become an agent of the angel of death.”

For all these reasons, L’chaim now stands with the Iranian Jewish community of Los Angeles against the inherent abomination of the slated execution of a Jewish man for self-defense under a practice of Sharia law that – like American law – allows for the violation of the most fundamental human right of all: that of life itself. May all Jews and civilzed people across the world soon join in this chorus, chanting “L’chaim – to Life!”