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.”