Every once in awhile, one gets a rare opportunity to meet someone truly great. Someone who exemplifies strength, optimism, generosity—a true mensch. Potent emotions like awe, inspiration, gratitude, and even a tinge of shame flood one’s consciousness in response to such meetings. For those who have not recently met Ariel Kasheri, that is the experience you can expect by just one Coffee Bean meeting with him.
Unless you were on another planet in January 2012, you have likely heard of Ariel and the horrifying car accident in which he and his still-close friend Devin Maghen were involved. The collision, as result of a tie rod malfunction (in laymen’s terms, that has to do with steering capabilities), put Ariel in a coma for 3 months with severe brain damage and temporarily paralyzed the right side of his body. Ariel spent his 17th birthday in a coma; meanwhile, doctors were preparing his family to face the fact that either he may not wake up at all, or he would be brain-dead, a “vegetable” as they described it, when he does. Despite the hopelessness of all but one of his doctors, Neurosurgeon Dr. Babak Shafa, Ariel awoke. But it is no wonder the doctors had little hope. “If the ambulance came 5 seconds later,” Ariel said, “I would have been a goner.”
The accident left Ariel with many physical deficits, causing him to use a wheelchair for a year while he relearned how to walk. “He has to learn [how to do] everything again, the way a child does,” said his mother, Marjan Kasheri, “…he is my hero.” “My injury was more physical,” said Ariel, while Devin’s was more cognitive. Despite being hit with this devastating blow at a young age, 20 year-old Ariel emanates such an intense positive energy that it’s infectious.
He wanted to share a few messages with his supporters: be aware while driving–don’t text and drive, always work to be better, and take nothing for granted.
Not once during his interview did he whine about his situation. That is more than some people who have “everything” can say. “No, I never asked ‘why me,’” he said, “I just wondered how something like this could happen.” Ariel even quoted Tupac when he said, “through every situation and every mis-happen that happens to you, you always have to keep your sense of humor.” And indeed, Ariel heeds that advice. Despite his difficulty with varying pitch when he speaks, it was clear he’s a jokester and, not to mention, a social butterfly. He was left alone all but two minutes before he was laughing with the two elderly women at the next table.
He’s become a public figure of sorts and fortunately, he loves being approached by strangers who know of him. Ariel is the epitome of a ‘people person’; there are not many people who would take the spotlight so lovingly. He is empowered by his supporters and is grateful to them, for they push him to work harder (#stillmovin is his go-to on Facebook and Instagram). Meeting and helping people are his favorite hobbies, especially since basketball is not yet an option for him again.
Just a few hours before his interview, Ariel completed a portion of the Los Angeles Marathon with no wheelchair, no crutches, all him. In regards to how he is overcoming his disabilities, he simply said, “Work. Work. Work… I didn’t listen to physiology, I just kept going.”
Post accident, he aptly had “perseverance” tattooed on the inside of his upper left arm as inspiration. Fiercely independent, Ariel insists on doing everything he can on his own. “I’m scared, scared to death every time he walks up and down the stairs, but he’s so independent he doesn’t want help,” said his mom.
Ariel has big plans for the future. In terms of recovery, he continues to work; his next step is to work on improving his speaking. He is currently a full time student at Santa Monica College and aspires to become either a neurologist or a physical therapist, both of which have helped him a great deal, so he can to give back to others. Ariel knows that he could be a prodigious inspiration to other patients in similar conditions, like 70 million people who suffer brain damage each year in the US. In the meantime, however, he works to spread awareness about brain injury, particularly the one he has undergone T.B.I.; he also spends some spare time writing profound poems/raps like….
By: Ariel Kasheri
I woke up from a coma and was diagnosed with T.B.I.
Unfortunately all the doctors ruled that I would probably die
Thank God I didn’t die though
I went down to hell but I told Satan hell no!
I’m way too young to die
The Grim Reaper was definitely messing with the wrong guy
So now I’m here, anticipating my recovery
Impatient, but I know this process is very slow and steady
Like the story with the tortoise
Lil bit of hard work but the end result will be enormous
From now on I’m going to work a bit harder
Transforming the words I can’t into I can do this better
I never said that this will be easy
All I can do is my best, believe me
(Ariel claims it’s still being edited, but it already seems perfect.)
This article could go on forever, but attention spans cannot. Ariel is an exceptional person, intelligent, deep, generous, strong, and truly inspiring. He’s the kind of man who insists on treating you to Coffee Bean (even though he’s doing you a favor by doing an interview for you), and then surprises you with two drinks when you couldn’t decide which one you want (that’s hypothetical, of course). He has a love for others and appreciation for life that betters the world. Everyone should take note from this honorable Mensch(-en).
New Initiative Launched to Restore Memories and a Legacy
On Tuesday January 30th, Thirty Years After (30 YA) hosted the Legacy Launch, one of their largest, most innovative and interactive projects to date, at the Ahyra Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills.
Sam Yebri, President of Thirty Years After, explains the Legacy Project, “The Project is a grassroots initiative that will help preserve and honor the Iranian Jewish experience through video for future generations, and provide an opportunity for every family to capture their parents’ and grandparents’ most compelling memories and anecdotes before it is too late.”
Doors opened to guest at 7:00 pm where they were greeted with smiles from 30 YA volunteers and staff members. The lobby was packed with guests who were treated to wonderful Iranian street food not often seen or eaten in the United States. The delicious cuisine included Labu (beets baked in their own juice, and typically served steaming hot in a street cart during the dead of winter), Baghali (beans topped with spices, typically served the same way as Labu), Dizi (a meat mash/stew– usually made with lamb, but made with beef and chickpeas at our event), Shohleh Zard (saffron rice pudding), Chos-e-fil (otherwise known as popcorn) and Mahi-Cheh Polo (herbed rice with beef shanks).
The large number of attendees was a testament to the genuine and unprecedented support for the new generation of leaders of the Los Angeles Iranian-American Jewish community. The printed program for the event listed over 25 generous families and businesses that supported the Legacy Launch and congratulated 30 YA on celebrating their 10 year anniversary.
This event was magical because of the broad range of emotions experienced just by being shoulder to shoulder with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins born in Tehran. Sadness is one emotion that could have been felt while standing in the room, because of all of the untold stories that were not recorded, told or heard. How many stories have we “missed out” on because family members have passed away, younger generations have gone off to college, or simply because we took time for granted? At the Legacy Launch, time stood still for a few hours for the sake of a community recording the past, but very aware of time, embracing beloved memories on video, but also progressively moving toward the future.
Yebri explained, “Our history informs our present and powers our future. This is especially true when our families and community have such a rich legacy of inspiring memories and experiences in Iran and during our exodus to America. 30 Years After is thrilled to launch ‘The Legacy Project’ as part of the organization’s 10th anniversary celebration.”
Bobby Zolekhian, former President of Nessah Young Professionals expressed, “It was one of the most inspirational events I have been to. I am recruiting people to share their stories. This is something extraordinary!”
Featured guest speakers during the screening included Mrs. Susan Azizzadeh, President of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, Dr. Saba Soomekh, Assistant Director of Interreligious and Intercommunity Affairs at AJC, Megan Nemandoust, Margalit Rosenthal, Liora Simozar and 30 YA President, Sam Yebri.
The dynamic presentation of the screening and its intimate interviews clearly validated that the second and third generations of Iranian Jews growing up in the United States are confidently embracing their unspoken responsibility to record the stories of generations before them for a purpose with a greater cause– maintaining their identity, culture, and traditions.
Learn more about preserving your legacy with 30 YA at https://legacy.30yearsafter.org/
The Honorable Mensch’n: Shanel Melamed
A true essence of Persian grace and humility, this issue’s honorable mensch is Shanel Melamed, Executive Director of the nonprofit organization, 30 Years After. When she’s not bridging the gap between subdivisions of our own community, Melamed travels and trains in Capoeira (a Brazilian martial art) but always makes sure she is home in time for Kabob dinner with her grandparents on Thursday nights.
30 Years After promotes the participation and leadership of Iranian American Jews in American political, civic and Jewish life. In the last decade, they have become the doorway for anyone who wishes to reach out and build a relationship with Persian Jews, from political candidates, to universities or other nonprofit organizations. While the nonprofit often organizes socio-educational events for the community, its flagship program is their six-month long “Maher Fellowship”, which trains young Persian Jewish professionals in developing leadership skills and educates them on their cultural history and Jewish Los Angeles today. Shanel explains that the fellowship’s mission mirrors the Jewish concept of L’dor Vador, instilling a sense of pride upon first generation Iranian American Jews and subsequently creating a ripple effect on the rest of the community. Melamed intends for graduates of the fellowship to embrace their heritage, and as they enter their first stages of their professions and parenthood, feel entitled to pass on their legacy for generations to come. Shanel believes that,
“People of our generation should be knowledgeable and capable of cross-coding, of how to be American in the Persian Jewish world and how to be Persian Jewish in the American world. There’s no need to be only one of the three…it takes education on identity, culture, and history and our work doesn’t always have short-term return on investment. We’re in it for the long run, but that’s the spirit of what we do. My hope is that as our generation starts having kids, and as they educate them at home, it’ll be very similar to how we grew up- in terms of traditions and values, but maybe with an American mentality.”
Shanel works to make sure that the organization is “educating, empowering and connecting a community of like-minded people that can then be multipliers within their contemporaries of embodying what it means to be all three and how to leverage every aspect of that identity.” She advocates that Iranian American Jews cherish their roots as they serve well in the United States.
In the effort to maintain Jewish values in a modernized world, Melamed believes in letting go of certain outdated mentalities; such as not speaking about the things that plague us or seek guidance and support without fear of backlash from the community, deeming us as “unmarriageable” or tarnishing our family name. The Persian Jewish community is not immune to adversities of the human experience. Shanel explains, “It takes time for the community to evolve. It took the Jews 40 years in the desert. Our generation is in a very tough situation, but we need to embody the changes that we want to see. Since Jewish America has been on the decline for a variety of reasons and Persian Jews arrived here only about 40 years ago, we have a lot to give.” She hopes that the organization impacts the Persian Jewish community to eventually feel empowered enough to “open doors within existing institutions to allow those institutions to welcome our voice as well.” Shanel often noticed that Jewish events in Los Angeles are not very inclusive of Persian Jews, despite their large presence. She explains, “We need to be embraced…not to be forced to change in order to feel comfortable somewhere…it is very uncomfortable to go to a Jewish event and words are being thrown around in Yiddish, and you have to ask what they mean. You don’t feel like you fit in.” Melamed finds it unfortunate that Persian Jews have been underserved for so long and that consequently the greater Jewish community has not been able to benefit from the wealth of Jewish connection and “fierce Zionism” that Persian Jews have to offer. This is where her work with 30 Years After comes in, to “teach young Jews what the Jewish landscape is and how they fit in.”
On the topic of Saturday morning synagogue congregations dwindling, Shanel emphasizes the significance of keeping Friday nights holy: “Because the home has been the epicenter of Persian Jewry, I think we keep the community alive through Shabbat dinners.” Melamed reflects on a quote by Ahad Ha’Am, “‘More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.’ Persian Jews are the epitome of what that means in a modern society, and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of that story.”
The Flawed Stereotype of Lawyers May Cause a Law School Epidemic
THE FLAWED STEREOTYPE
We’ve all seen it: the pounding on the desk, the shouting across the courtroom.
Nearly every legal drama in the past half-century has perpetrated the same cutthroat stereotype of lawyers.
This made me, a prospective law school student, worried about my future. When I told people I wanted to be a lawyer, they’d cringe.
“You would be miserable as a lawyer!” they’d say. Others asked, “Did your parents brainwash you into it?”
And frankly, for a short time, I began to worry that they were right. Was I about to take a turn into the dark side?
My story is not unique. Aspiring law students across America face a similar struggle—just because they aren’t loud and combative they have been discouraged from going to law school. It’s as if the soft-spoken, empathic types don’t have the chops to be lawyers.
But then, thankfully, my view changed. I met Daria Roithmayr, a professor of law at USC who told me something that I’ll never forget:
“Great lawyers come from all different backgrounds,” she said. “You can be a successful lawyer regardless of whether you are soft spoken or flamboyant.”
Professor Roithmayr explained that the empathic lawyer could have an edge over the others. She used the example of a character on the TV series, True Detective, who uses his ability to empathize with the suspect to break down his barriers and eventually get him to confess to the crime. This character uses empathy as his “superpower.”
Now, sadly, many law school hopefuls haven’t heard Professor Roithmayr’s rebuttal. It’s fair to assume that most college students still think you need to be the outspoken, aggressive type to succeed as an attorney.
Remember, we are the millennial generation. The TV set had a hand in raising most of us. We’ve seen shows like Suits and The Practice, along with movies like A Few Good Men. The impressions they’ve had on us cannot be downplayed.
This may seem like a non-issue at first glance. But in ten or twenty years from now, what will happen if all the soft-spoken, empathic potential lawyers are dissuaded from applying to law school because they don’t fit the perpetuated archetype?
Our whole legal system may lose out on the type of attorneys our society needs the most.
Being soft-spoken is not a liability, but could be an asset. Those who are soft-spoken or empathic get their point across by speaking thoughtfully instead of speaking loudly. A soft-spoken lawyer will observe, ask questions, and listen in order to advance their negotiation tactics.
A lawyer needs to be mindful and intuitive to understand the depths of our laws and the opponent’s perspective.
The stereotypical lawyer may thrive in courthouse dramas, but that’s not the only way to succeed in real life.
Imagine a lawyer who intuitively feels what the jury needs to hear. Now imagine the lawyer who can look at the case from his opponent’s perspective. This lawyer analyzes and develops his case in a language that persuades his opponent.
In a world of fist-pounding attorneys, the empathic lawyer has a secret weapon. Emotional intelligence isn’t only for psychologists.
There was a time when women were not believed to make good lawyers. That was proven wrong. It’s now time for the introverts to take center stage.
Lawyers and law schools alike will benefit by educating the public about the multiple faces of the legal profession.
It takes a certain analytical skill to be a good lawyer, but in the end, it takes all kinds to make a profession. So don’t succumb to the naysayers. You don’t have to be a bulldog to be a good attorney—your work ethic and passion determine your success.
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