Iranian Jewish Culure
Dr. Rahim Kohan

Dr. Rahim Kohan

Philanthropist, Public Welfare & Cultural Activist

Rahim Kohan “Cohen” was born in 1915 C.E. in a religious Jewish family of the Oudlajan Jewish neighborhood of Tehran. His father Haj Shemouel “Samuel” Kohan was a neighborhood businessman who worked for years at his small grocery store.

Rahim Kohan received his elementary education at the Alliance Israélite of Tehran, completed his high school years at the Kourosh “Cyrus” High School, and studied medicine at Tehran University. He completed his post-doctorate studies in Pediatrics and Gastro-Intestinal Medicine in Paris University, France, and upon graduation, he returned to Iran.

His non-professional activities went back to his student days, when as a young man, he attended the meetings of the youngsters at the house of Benjamin Nehourai. Nehourai was a British-educated Iranian Jewish engineer who arranged for a number of educated young people to meet up at his place every Wednesday and form social and cultural networks. Out of these meetings the Jewish Youth Center was born.

As an active member of the Jewish Youth Center, and while still an intern at Razi Hospital, Dr. Rahim Kohan witnessed inequalities and constant discrimination against Jews carried out by some of the staff at various hospitals. Thus, he met with Dr. Rouhollah Sapir to tell him about the formation of the Jewish Youth Center. He then shared the idea to establish a hospital in the Jewish neighborhood, and asked him to join them in the Youth Center’s meetings to discuss the matters. At one such meeting, Dr. Rahim Kohan proposed that a hospital for the impoverished Jews be founded in the Jewish neighborhood, an idea that was warmly received by the other members. That very night, by the majority vote, Dr. Rouhollah Sapir was elected President of the Jewish Youth Center.

Before long, and approved by prominent community figures, officials, philanthropists and other members of the Youth Center, the first clinic named Kanoon Kheyr-Khah, “The Philanthropy Center” (later, "Dr. Rouhollah Sapir Hospital) was established at the location of Mullah Haninah Synagogue on the Cyrus Street. The Kanoon clinic focused its initial services on the impoverished patients. Besides, every Saturday afternoon, Dr. Rahim Kohan or other members of the Jewish Youth Center presented comprehensive and useful speeches to help the community become familiar with medical and hygienic issues.

Gradually, other physicians joined to volunteer their services at the Kanoon, among them, Dr. Habibollah Moghtader, Dr. Morteza Mo’alem, Dr. Nejatollah Darvish, and Lady Touran Hayim, a midwife at the Mothers’ and Infants’ Support Obstetrics Center.

Besides the hospital, the Kanoon further reached into socio-cultural affairs, among them, by collaborating with the Polish-born Ha-Rav Levi to establish the Otzar Ha-Torah “Ganj‑e Danesh” Schools of Iran, offering Hebrew language courses, cooperating with the Sochnut, and cooperating with the cultural institutions led by Ha-Rav Azizollah Naim, to name a few.

As Kanoon Kheyr-Khah expanded its goals and endeavors, it became clear that more space was needed to handle the increasing number of patients at the clinic. In the spring of 1941, with the approval of Yousef Melamed, four rooms in the courtyard of the synagogue and a lecture room on the second floor were built. Sadly, two years later, at the peak of Kanoon’s activities, Dr. Sapir died of typhus that he had contracted during an epidemic. Immediately, Dr. Rahim Kohan was elected by the majority vote to fill the gap left by the late Sapir as the President of the Kanoon. However, due to disagreements between various cultural institutions of the community, and with the intervention of Tehran Jewish Association, Dr. Yousef Piroozban was appointed instead as the President of Kanoon.

The affair hurt Dr. Rahim Kohan personally. He stepped down from most responsibilities assigned to him and decided instead to pursue his social activities on his own. First, he opened a clinic for the impoverished people at the Amin-Hozoor 3-Way corner, where he treated patients for free. Later, he opened another practice at the more affluent northern part of the city. But his passionate soul knew no rest. He not only sought to cure the physical ills of his own community, but also he cared about the spiritual and intellectual progress of the society.

Dr. Rahim Kohan believed that the Jewish community had inherited a host of miseries, and that those in charge were not doing enough to address these issues. Most prominently, those who lived in the Oudlajan neighborhood, “the Jewish ghetto”, were particularly neglected. The unfavorable conditions of the neighborhood, and the repression of people’s rights, if continued, they would likely lead to stagnation and slow down individual progress, and they would leave a drastic impact on the misfortunes of the coming generations. He continued to try and somehow reveal these shortcomings, and to find solutions for them. Finally, in the spring of 1946, he received permission to publish his Israel Newspaper in Persian, in 4 pages, 4 rials per copy, 2000 copies per issue.

The first issue of Israel Newspaper included several articles on social, political, and historical topics by Mr. Gabay, an engineer, Sh. Anvar, and A. Owraz. It also included important national and global news, including those of the Jewish community of Iran, and even the review of a play. Later issues included medical and hygienic articles by Dr. Rahim Kohan, and shortly afterwards, original articles or translations by such prominent figures of the Jewish community as Ostad Solayman Haim, Soleiman Kohan-Sedegh, Homayoun Hekmati, Dr. Basim Berjis, Mr. Omidvar, and many of the other professional or amateur authors.

It should be noted that before Israel Newspaper, several similar efforts had been made, among them the Shalom and Ha-Geoulah publications; and before long, several other publications joined the list, including Ālam-e Yahoud “The Jewish World” by Dr. Habibollah Levy, as well as Nissan, Sina and Tamouz. These marked a new chapter in the publication of newspapers, magazines and other periodicals in the Iranian Jewish history.

The last issue of Israel Newspaper bore the No.62, issued on the 6th of May, 1948. While it was not quite clear why the publication had to cease, some scattered clues might be found on the first page of the issue, under the title “The Israel Newspaper Begins Its Third Year of Publication”:

“After a two-year campaign, two years of struggles and shortages, two years of enduring disagreements and accusations, Israel Newspaper enters its third year. This newspaper came into life, despite its many flaws and inadequacies, despite many a sabotage and provocation carried out against it. It stepped into the arena bravely and defiantly. From the outset, it carried a motto of progress, and with a clear goal in mind, it pointed out in unequivocal terms the deficiencies of the Jewish community and the missteps of its officials.”

In the last section of the article, we read:

“Ever since it was founded, this newspaper has been aware of the condition of the community and the problems that it’s faced with; and it has constantly made every effort to help and advance positive goals and to fight the causes of backwardness. […] We can’t refrain from stating the fact that if the current situation continues, if people refuse to fulfill their obligations toward the newspaper, this defender of their rights, if we can’t increase the number of subscriptions, if the cost of material, print and office expenses continue to increase, and if the Iranian Jewish community doesn’t make a decided effort, we are afraid that the newspaper will cease to publish, and an entire community will be deprived of even its only truth-teller, its sole means of campaign and defense.”

Once the newspaper was closed, Dr. Rahim Kohan dedicated most of his time to his two medical practices, although he continued more or less to pursue his social, philanthropic and public welfare interests on the side.

In 1979, as the Islamic Revolution began, Dr. Rahim Kohan left the country against his deepest wishes. He left behind his entire life’s savings and immigrated to the United States where his children had been studying. Once settled in Los Angeles, he became increasingly aware of the many issues in need of attention that faced the Iranian immigrants.

Several Iranian Jewish organizations had been formed already by philanthropist members of the community, and each tried their best to solve social problems that especially the younger generation were faced with. They also tried to improve the overall condition of those in financial need, establish synagogues, and found new schools. Nevertheless, Dr. Rahim Kohan garnered the cooperation of a number of benevolent people who welcomed his proposal to help the elderly. Thus, in 1984, during a meeting at the Chabad of Westwood Synagogue, he laid the foundation for what would become the Iranian Jewish Elderly Care Center of Los Angeles. Although retired, Dr. Kohan did not stop serving his community, and for years, he personally directed the institution.

Shortly afterwards, in 1988, Dr. Rahim Kohan used his own money to publish Farman-e Panjom “The Fifth Commandment” Monthly meant for the Persian-speaking community of Los Angeles, himself acting as its chief editor. The publication ended prematurely after a mere few issues due to a lack of cooperation by other cultural figures of the community, various problems rising in exile, and age-related difficulties. Nevertheless, he pursued other philanthropic endeavors at every rising opportunity.

In 2000, more than a century after the demise of Israel Newspaper, this important cultural heritage and a treasure chest of Iranian Jewish History, the fruit of Dr. Rahim Kohan’s personal endeavors and those of his friends, he collected and published all of its 62 issues in a single volume, and he entrusted the copies to cultural institutions and other interested parties. About the same time, the Iranian Jewish community of Los Angeles arranged to celebrate Dr. Kohan’s life and services in a public ceremony.

Dr. Rahim Kohan married Mahin of the Yehouda Anvari family in 1939, and the couple brought three daughters and a son to the world. He spent his later years of retirement amongst his family, visited on occasion by friends and other erudite members of the community who came to meet this old pioneering philanthropist and enjoy the grace of his conversations.

Dr. Rahim Kohan died in 2011, at the age of 96, having spent his immensely productive life in the service of humanity.

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