Shamsi Morad-pour – Hekmat was born in 1918 C.E. to a religious Jewish family in Tehran, though her ancestry went back to the city of Kashan. Her father, Davoud Morad-pour was one of the well-known businessmen of the Sara-ye Amir, a chamber of the Bazaar of Tehran. He was also a founder of the Kourosh School and an active member of Hayim Synagogue.
Shamsi Morad-pour – Hekmat completed her high school studies at Nour-bakhsh “Light Source” High School, before studying her favorite subject of Children Education at the Sayeh and American College. Having earned her Bachelor’s degree, she began to teach English literature at the American School, as well as giving lessons at the Ettefagh School. Since an early age and through her student years, Shamsi Hekmat had also been giving priority to her cultural and social pursuits.
Like the rest of her family, including her sister and two brothers, she valued social and cultural activities, and on occasion, she would attend the various meetings that were arranged at their father’s house to address such matters. She actively helped resolve many problems that faced the community, and she tried to optimize people’s conditions, especially in regards to the problems that befell women in particular, young and adult.
In 1947, and during the Yom Kippur ceremonies, she offered a speech in defense of women’s rights at the Pol-e Choubi Synagogue. The speech introduced and registered her name for the first time as the standard-bearer of Jewish women’s rights in the Iranian Jewish community; and as a prominent figure, she would continue her campaign for Jewish women’s rights to the end of her life.
For more than half-a-century, Shamsi Hekmat made vast and significant efforts across the society to reclaim Jewish women’s rights. She moved the task forward in part with the cooperation of a few friends, especially that of her longtime friend, Maliheh Sapir – Kashfi, together with whom, and alongside a few other philanthropist ladies, she cofounded the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization.
It should be noted that the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization was established at a time when it was considered against religious principles for Iranian women to work for the government. Altogether, Jewish women had no place in political, social and cultural activities, save few and rare social undertakings among the Jewish women themselves.
The Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization carried out many fruitful endeavors and succeeded in bringing home a series of important public welfare projects, so far as the Organization was accepted as a member of the International Council of Jewish Women in 1958. Among its first initiatives, the Iranian Jewish Women endowed scholarships to students in need, offered assistance to impoverished patients, and collected donations for poor families.
Shamsi Hekmat initiated a program through which male and female nurses were sent to underprivileged areas. She herself taught nursing to a number of young women and men, and once they had graduated, she sent them to deprived areas for nursing duties and other assistance. This was happening during a period when basically Jewish women, particularly in the smaller towns, were subjected to special social and cultural limitations, never mind that the girls could seldom finish high school or pursue higher education.
Her love of children education, and her dedication to the task, drove Shamsi Hekmat to establish, together with the other members of the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization, a daycare center and preschool in the Oudlajan Jewish neighborhood, as well as offering nursing classes. Before long, thanks to her colleagues’ efforts, more preschools were opened, and this public welfare organization expanded its reach beyond Tehran into the cities of Shiraz, Isfahan, Hamedan and Arak. For more than a decade, beyond three thousand children were warmly accepted and cared for at these centers, irrespective of their religions, ethnicity or the color of the skin.
About the same time, in 1952, Shamsi Morad-Pour – Hekmat opened on her own the first private kindergarten and elementary school center, known as The International Hekmat School. She had a boundless interest in teaching and believed that education had to start from an early age at the kindergarten. The students of this cultural institute consisted mostly of the children of foreign ambassadors and other diplomats from 35 countries who resided in Iran with their families, as well as the little princes and princesses of the Iranian royal court and its periphery. Understandably, all subjects were taught there in English. Due to its higher standards and qualifications, experienced faculty, and proper management, the International School gained much fame, so far as interested parents had to place their children on long waiting lists. At the beginning of the Revolution in 1979, about 350 students were enrolled at the Hekmat School. The crisis, however, forced the school to close, ending years of excellent service.
After the 1956 annual conference of the International Jewish Women’s Organization in Paris, having already expressed the Iranian Jewish women’s conditions, Shamsi Hekmat and a number of her colleagues at the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization, besides several figures of the International Jewish Organization, met with Ha-Rav Nissim, the Chief Rabbi of Sephardic Jews in Jerusalem, and they arranged for him to visit Tehran and sign an edict to modify young and adult women’s religious rights. Although Ha-Rav Nissim did not sign the intended religious code on this visit, the project was nevertheless a step forward toward rewriting Jewish women’s rights. Thenceforth, the ceaseless efforts of the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization continued until the task was brought to fruition, when in 1972, Tehran Jewish Association invited Chief Rabbi Ovadya Yosef to Iran, who approved of the proposal. By the help of Yousef Cohen, then the Jewish Community Representative to the National Parliament, the new code was officially registered and enacted as a part of the personal affairs laws pertaining to the Iranian Jewish people.
Besides her many invaluable social and cultural services to the Iranian Jewish community, Shamsi Hekmat also served the larger society as the General Treasurer for the Council of Iranian Women. She held the revered position of the Vice President of the International Council of World Jewish Women’s Organization. She was further a member of the board of directors of the Academic Women Association, a member of the International Schools Association, a member of the International Brotherhood Association, and a member of the High Council of Iranian Women, besides membership in many other philanthropist and non-profit associations and organizations.
Shamsi Hekmat was an erudite and selfless Jewish woman. She resolved social problems by her vast vision and penetrating wisdom. She earned her good name by the precious significant services that she offered over the years in various fields. Consequently, many non-Jewish organizations invited her to collaborate in their projects. On many occasions, at the request of the Iranian officials, she attended international conferences held in several European countries, as well as international congresses in Israel, Thailand and China. In 1962, the Department of Education of the United States invited her to visit American schools, while in 1959, invited by V.J.A., she had given speeches and collected funds in several American cities. Furthermore, she proved the eloquence of her pen and her vast knowledge in several articles that she wrote on social issues, as well as in the several plays and children’s stories which she translated.
Shamsi Morad-Pour – Hekmat married Mr. Abdollah Hekmat in 1942, a high ranking member of the Iranian Ministry of Roads and Transportation. Together, they brought a daughter and two sons to the world. In 1980, and in the aftermath of the Revolution, Shamsi Hekmat had to leave Iran against her wishes, and thus, she immigrated to the United States. In 1981, having settled in Los Angeles, together with a number of her philanthropist friends, she founded the Persian Friends Chapter of City of Hope, and in 1982, the Haifa Group of the Beverly Hills Chapter of Hadassah. She further resumed her social activities with the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization of Southern California. Shortly afterwards, she also began to represent Iranian Jewish women in the Council of American Jewish Women, a subsidiary of the American Jewish Federation.
Shamsi Hekmat passed away in exile in 1997, at the age of 78. She was one of those rare Jewish women who by her genuine and precious services secured for herself many golden pages in the history of contemporary Iranian Jewish women.
A documentary on the life of Mrs. Shamsi Morad-Pour – Hekmat:
(*) For this translation, the Encyclopedia Iranica online was consulted.