It's a sunny Saturday morning in Great Neck, New York, and Larry Bencivenga is taking me on a driving tour. Bencivenga is the head security guard at a local synagogue for Iranian-American Jews.
He tells me that when the Persian Jews emigrated to Great Neck -- a Long Island suburb about thirty minutes by train from Manhattan -- they transformed the community. They built stained-glass synagogues and colossal homes -- "That garage is bigger than my house!" Bencivenga laughs as he points to a mansion -- which has since led to a broader pattern of gentrification in the area as a whole.
"You can tell which homes are Persian because they're made out of brick," Bencivenga tells me. Why brick? "They want them to last forever."
The word "forever" isn't one Persian Jews use lightly, either. The Jewish community in Iran stretches back for 2,700 years. They preceded the Iranian Muslims by more than 1,000 years. But Iranian Jews also know what it's like to leave that history -- and the sense of permanence that went with it -- behind. Two-thirds of Iran's Jews immigrated to the United States in the thirty years after the 1979 revolution.
Now, 31 years later, global tension is high over Iran's quest for nuclear weapons and the question of what, if anything, the United States or Israel should do to stop it. Many Iranian-American Jews are now facing difficult questions: As a community that straddles at least three different societies and identities, are their loyalties divided? Who should they support, and how? Could Persian Jews back Israel -- a country most love deeply -- in striking what is for some of them an equally important homeland?