Saved, redeemed, stolen

Menachem Kashanian, 28, was riding his bicycle to synagogue at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday July 25 when he saw an older man sitting on the sidewalk, alone and visibly distraught. Kashanian instinctively got off his bike and approached the man. It was then that he noticed the broken glass.

Hooshmand Talasazan, a 75-year-old Iranian Jewish small business owner who arrived in the United States as a refugee in 1997, sat in a chair, staring in disbelief at the remains of his life’s work: a watch shop and antique shop called Hooshmand Antique Watches on Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles. Hours earlier, at 4 a.m., two men spray-painted his security camera, broke locks and a metal security gate, and ransacked the store. Video footage shows them smashing glass display cases with a hammer. Outside the store, an accomplice was waiting at the curb in an SUV.

Photo by Sam Yebri

“My heart almost stopped,” Talasazan told me after seeing the remains of his store that morning. “I saw how everything was damaged, destroyed and shattered. They took whatever they could take. In a solemn tone, Talasazan estimated that he had suffered over $150,000 worth of stolen goods.

This probably explains why, when Kashanian found him sitting alone on the sidewalk and staring at the wreckage, Talasazan said to him: “Zendegeem Raft; zendegeemo bordan” (“My life is gone; they took my life”). Like Talasazan, Kashanian is also an Iranian-American Jew and was able to converse with the shopkeeper in Persian.

Talasazan has been in the watch and antique business for 40 years, first in Tehran and then in Los Angeles. That’s all he knows. As his shaky voice described some of his lost items, it was almost as if he fondly remembered old friends. Some of the stolen items, like antique locks that Talasazan had brought with him from Iran, were collectibles that also held indescribable sentimental value for the aging shopkeeper.

” Locks [from Iran] were so special,” he said. “They were really collectibles and therefore very beautiful.” He valued the stolen locks at between $70,000 and $80,000. “They also took unique hand watches and pocket watches; some of them were 1940s/1950s watches,” he noted sadly.

Talasazan is still waiting for more information about theft coverage from his insurance company; he is deeply worried that he will not be able to recoup his losses.

When Kashanian found Talasazan sitting on the sidewalk outside his burglarized store, the young man pulled out his phone and began filming. “My first reaction was that I needed to film what was happening,” he told me. “Everything was raw and left exactly as it was after the flight,” he said. He posted the short video on social media, including Facebook and Instagram; it instantly went viral.

It’s not easy to watch Kashanian’s video, especially when he turns his camera to Talasazan and captures a devastating moment of heartbreak from a man staring at the ruins of his livelihood and passion. In that fleeting moment, Talasazan breaks down and sobs quietly.

Kashanian had passed the store on his way to morning prayers and a class at Kehillat Bnai Torah, a synagogue located next to Talasazan’s store. With the help of Iranian-American Jewish community members Yehuda Masjedi and Kiya Eshaghian, the young men brought a broom and wastebasket from an upstairs room and a large trash can from the nearby synagogue and began to sweep the floors. Soon after, other devotees of Kehillat Bnai Torah also began to help. “We wanted to remove the stain of what had happened to him [Talasazan]said Kashanian.

And then Kashanian picked up his phone again, this time to create a GoFundMe campaign. Within hours, he had raised over $15,000 to help Talasazan.

There was only one problem: “At first he was embarrassed to accept funds because he is an extremely proud man,” Talasazan’s daughter, Niloufar Mobassery, told me of his dad. “He was absolutely devastated and broken.”

Talasazan opened his store in 1998, a year after he arrived in the United States as a protected refugee with his wife and two daughters (a third daughter later arrived from Iran). With the help of HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), the family was resettled in Los Angeles. Talasazan’s store was first located on Beverly Boulevard, but later moved to Pico Boulevard.

Hooshmand Talasazan (Photo by Menachem Kashanian)

“He left Iran more for us than for himself, so we could have more opportunities,” said Mobassery, who also lives in Los Angeles. According to Mobassery, his father and mother have always lived modestly in the United States, and for his father, the store is much more than a workplace. “He is a gentle and generous man,” she said. “It’s all he knows and all he loves. Watches are his babies. He literally takes care of them; they are very important to him. He has immense love for what he does . »

Talasazan’s store had no alarm; shortly after the burglary, the landlord of the building from whom he rents the store contacted Talasazan’s eldest daughter, Ghazaleh Talasazan, with the bad news.

But this isn’t the first time Hooshmand Talasazan has been robbed; in fact, it’s the fourth time in 25 years. The latest incident occurred in 2020, when his store was targeted during the civil unrest and mass looting that tore through Los Angeles after video footage of George Floyd dying while in police custody in Minneapolis have gone viral.

I asked Mobassery, his daughter, how Talasazan had recovered from this particular loss. “He didn’t,” she said. “In the 2020 heist, he didn’t even have insurance.” But today, Talasazan is deeply moved and grateful to the local community for their incredible support, including GoFundMe donors as well as kind people who sponsored security cameras and new glass for his storefront, and a local lawyer. who offers free services. . Currently, the GoFundMe campaign has raised over $60,000, although much of it may be reimbursed to donors depending on the extent of Talasazan’s insurance coverage.

“I’m so grateful to everyone who helped me, to those who stopped to cheer me up,” he said. Some of these visitors included children. Unsurprisingly, with its multitude of charming watches big and small, the store was a favorite among local kids.

“Like all of us, he worked really hard and he had really high hopes,” Mobassery said, “but I don’t think his American dream ever came true. Not for him, personally. For his children, but not for him. His dream was to have a successful business, own a home, and live a financially stable life.

Unfortunately, Talasazan’s professional life in America was ruined by the theft. “From the day I came from Iran to Los Angeles, I was robbed,” he said. “First by the manager of my first store on Beverly Drive, then when the store was on the other side of Pico, when a robber pointed a gun at my head in 2010, again in 2020, when looters actually ripped the door off and now.”

According to Mobassery, his father wants to stay at Pico’s current location, despite his family begging him to move the store elsewhere. “We are trying to get him to change his mind. I don’t know how many more safeguards we can put in place,” she said. Despite his pain, Talasazan wants to stay at the heart of the city’s Iranian and Jewish community, and he’s deeply worried about whether he’ll be able to pay the rent if he moves the store away from Pico Boulevard.

Talasazan’s story is a grim reminder that sometimes a refugee or immigrant’s redemption in America can still be marred by lack of safety and security.

Talasazan’s story is a grim reminder that sometimes a refugee or immigrant’s redemption in America can still be marred by lack of safety and security. Without a doubt, Talasazan suffered an indescribable loss when he fled Iran at the age of 50 and started over there, but the loss he suffered in the United States left its own trauma.

And in the end, the trauma of repeatedly lost livelihoods — and loss of faith in the American Dream — finally seems to have shattered Talasazan. Her daughter, Niloufar, captured such grief when she asked me, “Wasn’t fleeing Iran a challenge in itself?” What financial and emotional loss can a person experience? »

For more information about the GoFundMe for Hooshmand Talasazan, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/hooshmand-the-watchmaker-recover-form


Tabby Refael is an award-winning weekly columnist and writer, speaker, and civic action activist based in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter @TabbyRefael

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