It takes even less time from when she begins to speak about her experiences growing up in Tehran, during the Iranian Revolution, to see how fitting her name is.
The final Shabbat of the semester at Hillel, on April 24, was dubbed Persian Shabbat because we had the good fortune of hosting Hakakian, with the help of the Wisconsin Society for Jewish Learning and Alverno College, and hearing her read excerpts from her book, “Journey from the Land of No.”
The table was decorated with several Persian delicacies — including homemade baklava, but the conversation afterwards was the highlight of several people’s Shabbat experience.
Hakakian talked about her struggles with the English language when she first came to America and about how her anger subsided as her vocabulary expanded.
Though her experiences growing up in Tehran in the 1970s and early 80s were surely different than many of those who attended Persian Shabbat, one student remarked that perhaps in some respects “we all live in a Land of No.”
Freedoms haven’t always been so easily granted, even in America, and while many of us have been lucky enough to be born with a plethora of rights, it was inspiring to hear about Hakakian’s experience first-hand.
Though there are obvious differences between the land we know and the Land of No, Hakakian was able to use humor to describe what others might consider a semi-traumatic experience, and that is something that many can relate to.
With her ability to make us laugh, her opinions and experiences to make us think, and Iranian Milwaukeean Mehri Rokni’s cooking to make us full, Hakakian performed a Shabbat mitzvah by feeding our minds, bodies and souls.
Ilana Wolgel is the director of Jewish Student Life at Hillel Milwaukee.