Saturday, April 10, 2004

Untapped resource

I remember when I was in eleventh grade in some yeshiva in New York there were two boys in my class, let's call them F and G. F and G were interesting cases. They did not speak English all that well when they had just entered the school a couple of years before. They were new immigrants. This was kind of rare for Jewish community that usually outsourced their "immigrant" students to yeshivas that specialized in taking care of immigrants - with their special needs, like learning English, and acculturating. But anyway, these two students were most likely charity cases, and the school took them.

I remember G used to read the Op-Ed page of the times every single day to learn English. I am not sure how much he understood, heck, I am not sure how much of it I would have understood at the time, but he was the hardest working eleventh grader I ever met. He then went to Yeshiva U. on early admissions to College, and I saw him around every now and then, but we eventually lost touch. He was a really nice guy.

F and G were from Iran.

Being the curious sort, I often took the time to ask them about where they were from and how they got to New York. Both had stories. Both involved running away from the Iran-Iraq war where they believed, as Jews, they were to be used to locate landmines - by running through mine fields. Their stories involved bribing border guards, local officials, and everyone else. They would speak sadly of the days of walking and hiding and running and sneaking and living in fear, that was involved in escaping Iran.

Every Iranian in YU wants to get in to medical school. There are tons of them there.

Going to my father's synagogue for Passover, there is a very kind man who works in the neighborhood. He sometimes has some trouble with the prayers and is not overly comfortable with the Orthodox service, but over the last two or three years has learned to fit in quite well. He too is from Iran. His English is getting better and better by the day. It is very good.

I remember when I was in the Army recuiter's office the recruiter took a phone call and requested a Russian speaking recruiter. Her office was on Coney Island, just at the fringe of Little Odessa, aka Brighton Beach. For her to get her recruiting numbers up, she needed a Russian speaker. I do not think that putting a Yiddish speaking Army recruiter in Boro Park would generate any soldiers for the Army, in the same way that a Yiddish speaking Mormon would probably get few to zero converts. Not many hassidic types joining the Army.

However, the State department has a few very white collar Jobs, very respectable, well-paying, and VERY vacant. They need Farsi and Arabic translators. They need them badly. There are calls going out every day for these people. For some reason the Jewish community has not been contacted. There are tons of Jews in Brooklyn and other places who fled Syria, Egypt, Iran, Libya, and Yemen. Many of them speak the languages that the state department needs. None of them have any allegiance whatsoever to their home countries. There are actually enough of them that there are almost 5 pages in the Iranian Yellow Pages advertising Jewish services.

The State Department (and the NSA who is now launching a new recruiting drive) will not do better for their language needs then to go to YU and offer good jobs translating intelligence information from Farsi to English. But there is no recruiting in the Jewish community. There are magazines just for Farsi speaking Jews in New York. (I think that one of them is named "Shofar".) I do not think the state department ever considered advertising there. The state department is forced to rely on people with all sorts of dubious allegiances from Arab countries who have friends, and siblings who must be members of all sort of militias, and governments, to do their translating. They are forced to rely on Arabs and Iranians, whose loyalty is at best questionable. The Jewish community can produce people who can move in Persian circles, and do whatever need to get done to deal with routine intercept, and gather human intelligence. This article describes our failure at getting people we need for the job. The Jewish community is a good solution. Our government needs to consider it - now.

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