Lily Dabby

Cleaned by: Julia Pappo
Transcribed by: Rev

Interview date: January 18th, 2018

Interviewer: Henry Green

Location: Montreal

Total time: 1:13:47

Lily Dabby: Born in Baghdad, Iraq on July 3rd 1948. Arrived in Turkey in 1951. Arrived in Iran in 1954/55. Arrived in Wisconsin in 1966. Arrived in Montreal in 1972. Arrived in Israel in 1972. Arrived in Iran in 1973. Arrived in Montreal in 1973/4. 

Henry Green (00:00:16):

What is your full name?

Lily Dabby (00:00:18):

My full name is Lily Dabby.

Henry Green (00:00:21):

And was this your name at birth?

Lily Dabby (00:00:23):

Yes, it was.

Henry Green (00:00:24):

And when were you born and where were you born?

Lily Dabby (00:00:27):

I was born in Iraq, and Baghdad, and I was born on July 3rd, 1948.

Henry Green (00:00:35):

So let's begin with a kind of general, uh, question. Tell me something about your background, your grandparents let's say, what do you know about your family history?

Lily Dabby (00:00:47):

Well, all I know is that my maternal grandmother died at a very young age and, uh, my maternal grandfather was a jeweler in Iraq. And, uh, because my maternal grandmother died when she was young, she had left three girls behind. So my mother had to be, uh, had, was expected to go into a- um, marriage that was basically prepared for her. And so we have in my family, we have, uh, winter, spring kind of dynamics.

Lily Dabby (00:01:31):

My father was significantly older than my mother and my mother was wed in the arranged marriage at the age of 14. Now, my father had a prominent position in- in Iraq. All I know is that some of the pictures that I did have at the time, there were, there were beautiful gardens. I remember, given the time, my father had two cars which was unusual for that time in history. Um, he was the importer of all the fabric for all the uniforms in the army, and in anything that related to the military for Iraq. That's all I know of the past.

Henry Green (00:02:13):

Did you know your- your maternal grandparents? Do you know what your- your grandmother's name was?

Lily Dabby (00:02:18):

Uh, I think her name was Fahima.

Henry Green (00:02:23):

And your grandfather's?

Lily Dabby (00:02:25):

His name was Dahud or David.

Henry Green (00:02:28):

David. And- and, um, do you know what area of in Baghdad where they lived?

Lily Dabby (00:02:34):


Henry Green (00:02:36):

And what about your father's parents?

Lily Dabby (00:02:39):

My f- I don't- I don't know very much about my father's parents because as I mentioned, he was significantly older. His mother, of course, was a stay at home mo- mother. And I don't know what her husband did, what my grandfather did. But after her husband passed away, I do know that she joined the family in Iran later on.

Henry Green (00:03:03):

So, um, you were born you said in 1948?

Lily Dabby (00:03:07):


Henry Green (00:03:07):

And, um, your parents, um, your- your mother's name is-

Lily Dabby (00:03:17):


Henry Green (00:03:17):

Albertin. And your father's name?

Lily Dabby (00:03:19):


Henry Green (00:03:21):

And do you know anything about their backgrounds at all?

Lily Dabby (00:03:25):

Um, I know that my mother's grandfather was the brother of the Chief Rabbi of Baghdad, that's all I know. And he was, I guess you could say he taught accountancy to young people. Of course, at that time, it was more like an apprenticeship, but he was, uh, he was basically a teacher of accounting.

Henry Green (00:03:55):

And, um, your parents, do you know the year they married?

Lily Dabby (00:04:01):

Uh, probably 45, 1945, because my brother was born in 1946.

Henry Green (00:04:08):

And what is your brother's name?

Lily Dabby (00:04:10):

His name is Saba, or as they say in Arabic Saba, and he's two years older than I am.

Henry Green (00:04:18):

So, um, do you, um, did you ever see any pictures of the area of Baghdad where you and your brother lived?

Lily Dabby (00:04:26):

Well, there was very little that we were able to take with us when we left Iraq. So the only thing I have i- I remember which I don't have in my position anymore is maybe one or two pictures of the garden. And in the backdrop of the garden there are the cars, it looked like a beautiful mansion of sorts. But no, I don't have any other photographs.

Henry Green (00:04:54):

And when did your parents leave Iraq?

Lily Dabby (00:04:57):

Uh, my parents, uh, because of my father's position which is hubris, uh, he thought he could go to Israel to visit his parents in Israel, and that he would be able to come back because of the position he held with the- the Iraqi government. And when he went there, he was quite shocked to return to find out that he is now officially, um, been, if you will, exiled and he no longer has the right to return to the country. So, uh, he lost his passport and his residency in Iraq along with my mother, and my brother and me.

Henry Green (00:05:38):

And when was this?

Lily Dabby (00:05:40):

Probably around '51. This is when all the passports and whatever were being taken away and there was if you will, an exodus of Iraqi Jews. But he did not ... He was not part of the Exodus because people were choosing to leave. He was reluctant, he just simply was not allowed to return.

Henry Green (00:05:59):

So I'm trying to understand this. So your father, he didn't go to Israel.

Lily Dabby (00:06:05):

He did.

Henry Green (00:06:06):

He did, and when did you [crosstalk 00:06:06]

Lily Dabby (00:06:06):

The whole family went to Israel to visit his parents.

Henry Green (00:06:09):

The whole fam- being your- you- you as a baby also?

Lily Dabby (00:06:12):

Me as a baby, my brother, my mother, and he, my father.

Henry Green (00:06:16):

And do you remember any idea of any of you have any memory of the year of this would be?

Lily Dabby (00:06:20):

No, I don't. The only thing I remember, but this is somebody else's recollection is that, uh, my, my dad's family was living in tents. And for some strange reason, either by riding a tricycle or something, I got my, uh, foot caught in other wheel and I needed according to my father emergency medical attention. And when you're living in a tent city, obviously, a sprained ankle is does not qualify as emergency, uh, you know, medical. So that's when he said, "Absolutely not. Uh, there's no way I could ever stay here with my family. I am picking up and I'm returning to 'my country.'" Which is Iraq. But that's the only thing I know based on hearsay. I don't recollect that myself.

Henry Green (00:07:16):

And this would have been maybe '49 or '50 or '51?

Lily Dabby (00:07:19):

Probably 51, probably around '50, '51.

Henry Green (00:07:22):

And then you go back to Iraq?

Lily Dabby (00:07:26):

My parents go back to Iraq, and then they are- they are not allowed to go into Iraq, so they go to Turkey.

Henry Green (00:07:34):

So they go, so they- so they- they get to Israel somehow?

Lily Dabby (00:07:40):

Yes, legally.

Henry Green (00:07:41):

By plane, by you have no-

Lily Dabby (00:07:43):

By plane. And fortunately, one of the things that happened in Israel, and I think this was, um, deliberate act of my father was hoping that they would not stamp the passport. The Israeli Government stamp the passport which means that there was evidence that they had entered Israel. So when the customs officers saw the stamp, they immediately took away their citizenships and their residency rights.

Henry Green (00:08:11):

And where did they go then?

Lily Dabby (00:08:12):


Henry Green (00:08:13):

And why Turkey? Do you have any idea?

Lily Dabby (00:08:16):

I really have no idea. I think, um, it was because it was a possible destination. Once my father left Iraq, he- he wanted to see if he could become an immigrant to the, um, to Great Britain because in his job while he was in Iraq, the materials that he would import was from Manchester. So he figured because he had this relationship with the business community of the UK, they would be very happy to allow him to emigrate.

Lily Dabby (00:08:57):

So I don't know why he chose Turkey. But I know that when he chose Turkey, he did not think of it as the next residence. He thought of it as perhaps a step, a stepping stone.

Henry Green (00:09:10):

And we're in Turkey did your [crosstalk 00:09:12].

Lily Dabby (00:09:12):


Henry Green (00:09:13):

Istanbul. And where in Istanbul? Do you remember what area?

Lily Dabby (00:09:15):

I don't remember what area, but because we were always packed and ready to leave, uh, we lived in hotels, we never lived in an apartment. So I do remember we were living in hotels, uh, the four of us and I do remember that at one point, uh, my parents put us in to a Turkish nursery school where we learn Turkish and we became very fluent in it and, uh, we were always ready to go. We were also, um, told that we were not allowed to talk to anybody or tell anybody anything about our past, about our plans, just to keep everything hush-hush, that I do remember.

Henry Green (00:10:04):

And at home, what language would you speak with your parents?

Lily Dabby (00:10:08):

I think probably when I was in Turkey, I was probably speaking Turkish.

Henry Green (00:10:14):

To- to your parents? Your parents, your parents [crosstalk 00:10:16].

Lily Dabby (00:10:16):

To my parents? No. To my parents and my brother, no. I don't think so because I learned Arabic or I was told I learned Arabic much later in life.

Henry Green (00:10:26):

So your parents, what language would you think you'd be speaking in Turkey?

Lily Dabby (00:10:30):

I think, well, you h- you have to consider the backdrop here. We're talking about two people who are very depressed. I don't think there was much conversation with the children. They probably just tell us to keep ourselves busy and send us off into a corner. Perhaps they did speak Arabic, but I do know that I was very fluent in languages and everybody spoke about how fluent I was in Turkish. So it- it's like any child who, who i- who is in a new country, they tend to rely on the country where they're living and their parents are 'the older generation' so they don't necessarily want to maintain or speak the- that language with their parents.

Henry Green (00:11:17):

How long did you live in Turkey?

Lily Dabby (00:11:18):

About three years.

Henry Green (00:11:20):

So, uh, let's say from '51 to '54?

Lily Dabby (00:11:23):

I think so. All I know is that when we came to Iran, it was probably around the time of Mosaddegh and that's when we came to Iran.

Henry Green (00:11:34):

So before we talk about Iran, so you're in- in- in, uh, Istanbul between the ages of three and six roughly?

Lily Dabby (00:11:41):

About. Yes.

Henry Green (00:11:42):

So do you have any memories going to the bazaar or, uh, boat on the, uh, the river, in Bosphorus, or do you have any memories?

Lily Dabby (00:11:50):

I remember the hotel had a- had a mother cat who had kittens, that I remember clearly. I've always loved animals so I adopted one of the kittens until my mother found out. And I also remember we had to stand outside on a cold day. I think it was raining because there was a h- fire in the hotel. Anything else I don't remember. I also remember Turkish nursery rhymes. That's, I still remember them and I remember how to count in Turkish. But other than that, no, no memories.

Henry Green (00:12:25):

So in '54 you say maybe '55, uh, you go to Iran. Do you have any memories of that trip to Iran?

Lily Dabby (00:12:34):

Um, yes. I remember that it was very, very hush-hush. It was late at night. Uh, we were told not to tell anyone that we were leaving, or let alone where we were going. We I don't think my brother and I even knew where we were going. And we just simply went on the airplane and we arrived in Tehran in the airport.

Henry Green (00:13:03):

And, uh, the- you had mentioned you were always packed, ready to go somewhere?

Lily Dabby (00:13:08):

Well, as much as you can be in a hotel room, yes. Probably not too many suitcases or wardrobes.

Henry Green (00:13:16):

Do you remember taking anything special with you like $1 or something?

Lily Dabby (00:13:20):

Nothing. Nothing. Because when we were living in Turkey, because we were always on the verge of leaving for whatever the reason my parents concocted, um, there were no toys. I remember there were no toys and my brother, uh, was very industrious. What- so what he would do is he would create robotic toys with whatever he found in the hotel room. So with empty spools, with needles and threads, with rubber bands, anything, he could create these little machines or tractors or whatever that- that he could mobilize, and, you know, they- they'd be c- crawling all over the- the hotel room. I remember that.

Lily Dabby (00:14:03):

I also remember that was, uh, four pillar bed. And what he would do is the very top of the pillars were domes. So he would remove the domes, and I don't. He'd create some kind of game or- or toy with it. But in terms of toys, no. I- I don't remember having any toys. I don't remember him having any toys other than what he created. I had my little kitty. I was fine. Yeah.

Henry Green (00:14:31):

So you come to Tehran, you fly the Tehran and was there anyone to meet you [crosstalk 00:14:36].

Lily Dabby (00:14:36):

There was one couple, his name, he and his wife, his name was Salomon Daniel. I have no idea how, when, where and I believe we lost touch with them. But they were there to receive us. And I think we stayed with them until we found an apartment.

Henry Green (00:14:58):

And what area of Tehran do you remember? Do you remember where it was?

Lily Dabby (00:15:03):

It was central.

Henry Green (00:15:03):

It was central. And so what was it like, so you're now six years old roughly.

Lily Dabby (00:15:07):

Yeah, about five or six. Yeah.

Henry Green (00:15:09):

And how long did you stay in Tehran from 19 [crosstalk 00:15:12]

Lily Dabby (00:15:13):

Until, until I was 18. Until 1966.

Henry Green (00:15:16):

Okay, so you, you have a huge chunk of time, and so what are your, your, for example, you lived in, um, one place or you moved to different places?

Lily Dabby (00:15:29):

I remember moving from different apart- from- from one apartment to another apartment. I remember, um, my parents being completely isolated. I remember that we had- we were not in school. We were- we did not go to any schools. Um, I remember our next door neighbors, they were Armenians. And they were wonderful. They really helped my mother and my father with the shopping and as much as they could with whatever common language they had because my parents did not speak Farsi.

Henry Green (00:16:17):

So your- did you end up going to school?

Lily Dabby (00:16:21):

Yes. We ended up basically being shuffled around, private tutors, homeschooling, things like that, because my father still had this notion that we were eventually going to emigrate to the UK. And he was very set on us learning English so that it would be less of a transition once we arrived in the UK. So English was a priority for my father.

Henry Green (00:16:49):

Did he speak English?

Lily Dabby (00:16:50):

Yes, he did.

Henry Green (00:16:51):

And your mother?

Lily Dabby (00:16:52):


Henry Green (00:16:52):

So do you remember speaking English with them in the house?

Lily Dabby (00:16:57):

Hmm, no, I don't remember. But I picked up Persian very quickly. So you picked up Farsi. So my fa- so my brother and I were speaking in Turkish and in Persian to each other pretty much. And I have no idea how we communicate it to my pa- with my parents, if we communicated at all.

Henry Green (00:17:15):

So go to when you're 15 or 16, did your parents then-

Lily Dabby (00:17:18):

Okay, whe- uh, I was about 10 years old, I, once again, the obsession with learning English, uh, I was finally accepted in the community school which was an American Presbyterian missionary school. And of course, immediately, I had total English immersion. And once again, uh, my, uh, natural aptitude for languages kicked in, and I became fluent in English. And at that point, uh, two years later, my brother joined me at the school. Um, he entered my class which was very embarrassing for him because he was two years older than me, and his English was poor.

Lily Dabby (00:18:01):

And, uh, within a very, very short time, they realized that he had, they had misplaced him academically. So within a short period, he was jumped to classes and he went in the correct, in a suitable class level. And then we were in an English speaking school, and we were in an international media. But even though we weren't in international media, um, my parent's fear, uh, caution, did not permit us to interact very much. So we did not really have any kids coming to our house.

Lily Dabby (00:18:42):

We did not go to other kids houses. Um, somewhere along the way, I think, um, about when, when I was six or seven, uh, we found out or there was a connection between my mother and her maternal aunt. So we would go and visit my maternal aunt and her kids. So in terms of family units and- and interactions, social interaction, they were the core of the interactions that my brother and I- and I had. It was not schoolmates.

Henry Green (00:19:19):

Were there, uh, extra curricular activities you did at school?

Lily Dabby (00:19:25):

Uh, no. My pa-

Henry Green (00:19:27):

[crosstalk 00:19:27] Or- or, um, sports or, you know what I mean?

Lily Dabby (00:19:31):

Yes. Uh, uh, we- we did whatever the school permitted, provided that it did not linger into a late after school activity. I was very athletic. My brother was very athletic. If there was a school dance, we were permitted to go and my parents would drop us off and pick us up. We were very, very unnaturally guarded by our parents. I think it's- it had something to do with the way they were living in- in Turkey. Just dominated by fear. Now another thing about the whole situation with Iran is because we came to Iran illegally, we were basically illegal e- aliens.

Lily Dabby (00:20:15):

So once again, my father and mother did not want us to speak to anyone, or interact with anyone and let anything slip. So for a very long time, both in Iraq, as well as in, uh, sorry, both in Iran, as well as in Turkey, my father was not able to get a job. He just was not a resident so he was not, um, legal. So nobody gave him a job. So during this entire period until the Shah of Iran gave amnesty to all illegal aliens, my father was basically unemployed.

Henry Green (00:20:51):

And how did he live then? How did he [crosstalk 00:20:53].

Lily Dabby (00:20:52):

Okay. Now as I mentioned, he imported the fabrics for the military in Iraq. Now in order to pay for the fabrics, he had a third location in Europe so that he could send Manchester money, and then the goods would arrive in Baghdad. So he had some money outside of the country, in Europe. And, um, that's the, that's what we basically lived on. On a very, very, um, I would say, on a poverty level.

Henry Green (00:21:28):

So when- when, um, you think in terms of, uh, um, Tehran and this period of growing up, did your parents have Shabbat? Did they celebrate Shabbat?

Lily Dabby (00:21:44):


Henry Green (00:21:45):

Uh, when when Rosh Hashanah came-

Lily Dabby (00:21:48):

Yes, we- we celebrated the holidays, um, and I remember for example when there were holidays like Passover, or Rosh Hashanah or things like that, we would visit some of the Jews that we became familiar with, but not many. It was kind of like, um, knocking on doors and walking in and wishing them a happy new year or happy Passover and coming home. So they had a very small number of non-intimate acquaintances I think is the best way I can put it. And some of our neighbors also were Jewish. So, uh, when we moved to another apartment, so we interacted with them, but no, we were- we did not have too much Judaism in the household.

Henry Green (00:22:36):

So the Jewish context that, uh, these acquaintances, were they Iranians? Were there, were they former Iraqi?

Lily Dabby (00:22:47):

They were former Iraqis, and at best I can call them secular Jews.

Henry Green (00:22:54):

And so let's take one- one, uh, Jewish holiday like Passover. Did you have a Seder?

Lily Dabby (00:23:01):

Yes, absolutely. And I remember of another friend going to wherever it was, and bringing these, uh, circular matzah which were I- I would say easily 30 to 36 inches in, um, diameter. And I remember coming in with the matzahs and we would enjoy eating the matzah because they were freshly, uh, baked. I remember that. And of course, we had the Seder, we had the table, we had all the things that went on the table, as well as for Rosh Hashanah.

Henry Green (00:23:42):

And would your mother cook? I mean the- [crosstalk 00:23:46]

Lily Dabby (00:23:45):

I think she liked to think she could.

Henry Green (00:23:48):


Lily Dabby (00:23:51):

(laughs). She did minimally. Minimally, yeah.

Henry Green (00:23:54):

So did you have help to prepare it then or?

Lily Dabby (00:23:57):

Uh, well in Iran being that it was cheap labor for maids and whatever, mom had a cleaning lady coming in once a week. Uh, also, as I mentioned earlier, my father's mother left Israel, she was having a very rough time after her husband died and we brought her to Iran. Now she and mom became companions and friends. She was a lovely, lovely person. And it was at that point during a conversation that my parents were having and I was disagreeing, of course, that I piped up in Arabic and they suddenly realized that all the time I was spending with my grandmother in her room was also a learning experience with me because she only spoke Arabic and that they claim was a time when they realized I now have mastered Arabic.

Henry Green (00:24:55):


Lily Dabby (00:24:55):


Henry Green (00:24:56):

And so you at that point had English at school?

Lily Dabby (00:25:00):

English at school, Persian outside, Turkish in the background and Arabic basically with my grandmother and then later with my parents.

Henry Green (00:25:10):

And do you remember the name of the school you were at?

Lily Dabby (00:25:13):

No. There were so many between that and community school. I- I graduated from community school, but between grades one and five for me, and one and seven for my brother, there were, it was just, um, a revolving door, hopscotches, everywhere. Just a few months here, a few months there, quite erratic school.

Henry Green (00:25:36):

Between six to 12 you were at this one school?

Lily Dabby (00:25:39):

Six to 12 I was in that school.

Henry Green (00:25:43):

Um, and the school is made of international people?

Lily Dabby (00:25:45):


Henry Green (00:25:46):

And some of them were also Iraqi Jews?

Lily Dabby (00:25:49):

Yes, some of them were Iraqi Jews, but it was a Presbyterian missionary school. So we used to go to chapel every morning. Um, we learned all about Christianity. And my household, we were always taught that religion has to be respected. We ever felt uncomfortable being learning about Christianity. But at home, we did not really learn about Judaism.

Henry Green (00:26:19):

The, um, the Shah comes to power in '50, what '56? What-

Lily Dabby (00:26:25):

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes, after s- after, uh, Mosaddegh.

Henry Green (00:26:28):

And when does your father- when does he, um, give amnesty [crosstalk 00:26:33].

Lily Dabby (00:26:33):

Okay. I don't know when he gave amnesty, but I think probably, uh, when I was 11 years old which- which is about six, seven years later. I don't know whether it was the official amnesty or whether dad was working under table. But that's when dad, uh, sat behind a little desk and created his next business. And he became, um, through correspondence and, uh, money exchange, he became the representative for American Express for all of Iran, and he did very well.

Henry Green (00:27:11):

So- so your life changes in- in a dramatic way?

Lily Dabby (00:27:15):

Yes, um, I remember that the apartment was bigger or apartment looked better, nice furnishings, nice chandeliers and things like that. Yeah, and a car.

Henry Green (00:27:31):

And- and what about contact with, um-

Lily Dabby (00:27:36):

No, the contact, you know, when we came to Ir- when we came to Iran, there was- there was one group of Iraqis who had left I- Iran, Iraq for Iran, but they did not have a transition period. I think they came directly from Iraq to Iran. What happened is that we were the late comers. By then, the Iraqis living in Iran had created their own community. And as you know, communities are like cliques, it's very difficult to get into a community once it's established.

Lily Dabby (00:28:13):

So once my father became, um, uh, you know, uh, became the representative for American Express, I would say his circle of friends were m- mostly Persians and Muslims. They were the people that he interacted with, and he also liked to play poker. So they were the people he played poker with. But with the Iraqis in general, I would say there was a certain level of, um, contempt and condescension towards us. Number one, my father didn't hold a job. Number two, we did not speak Persian. Number three, we were late comers. So we were not really, we were not really made to feel welcome in the Iraqi Persian community and, uh, but we managed.

Henry Green (00:29:09):

So take your high school years between 11, 14 and 18. Did you have friends?

Lily Dabby (00:29:17):

Yes. I had- I had friends, but there was no interaction outside of the school.

Henry Green (00:29:25):

And these friends were your- your good friends. Were they Muslims? Were they-

Lily Dabby (00:29:30):

One was Muslim from and she currently, she later moved down to Bangladesh, and another one was Yugoslavia and she was Christian. These were my two closest friends.

Henry Green (00:29:42):

And you remain in contact with him now still?

Lily Dabby (00:29:46):

Only with one.

Henry Green (00:29:48):

And the, so you, your life was very contained you're saying?

Lily Dabby (00:29:53):


Henry Green (00:29:54):

But your father on the other hand, he now you said is the representative for American Express-

Lily Dabby (00:30:03):

And a workaholic.

Henry Green (00:30:04):

And a workaholic and he, uh, does not speak Farsi, he speaks other languages.

Lily Dabby (00:30:08):

He's- he picked up, he picked up. He was okay, yeah.

Henry Green (00:30:11):

He was okay. And- and he does have an extracurricular life. You were saying that he he plays poker?

Lily Dabby (00:30:18):


Henry Green (00:30:18):

Does he go to a particular cafe or someone's [crosstalk 00:30:21].

Lily Dabby (00:30:21):

No, no, no. What it would- what it was was a roundtable if you will. The poker, uh, group of men would have a rotation, uh, first in, um, person A's house, then person B's house, then person C's house, that kind of thing.

Henry Green (00:30:40):

And, um, do you remember any of these characters?

Lily Dabby (00:30:43):

Yes. I remember them being very handsome, really handsome. I remember that, um, they were, um, in the government. Uh, they held high positions. I remember they were very worldly, um, extremely well-bred, extremely polite. It was if you will, like [foreign language 00:31:12] of Muslim Persian society, very nice group of people.

Henry Green (00:31:18):

And secular?

Lily Dabby (00:31:20):

Muslim and secular.

Henry Green (00:31:22):

So did your father go to cafes?

Lily Dabby (00:31:24):


Henry Green (00:31:26):

Did he play backgammon?

Lily Dabby (00:31:29):

Not really.

Henry Green (00:31:29):

Did your mother play, uh, gin or?

Lily Dabby (00:31:33):

Nothing. Nothing. A lot of the ladies in the community that I'm talking about, the Iraqi Jewish community that were acquaintances/friends were into gambling, not maybe perhaps not gambling, but they especially liked rummy. And later on, they graduated to bridge, but at the time, they played rummy and my mother had an aversion to anything dealing with cards so she didn't like that.

Henry Green (00:32:03):

So y- your mother's life was very much connected to your- your- um, your grandmother that was living with you?

Lily Dabby (00:32:12):

Until she passed away.

Henry Green (00:32:13):

Until she passed away.

Lily Dabby (00:32:14):

Basically her life revolved around my- me and my brother.

Henry Green (00:32:19):

Do you remember going shopping with your mother at all or shopping with some of the help or?

Lily Dabby (00:32:23):

Nope. Nothing.

Henry Green (00:32:25):

Do you remember any activities that you did outside of the house?

Lily Dabby (00:32:28):

I remember I did not have a key so that at no time could I leave the apartment without having an accompaniment and my- my father would do all the shopping. And if my mother needed to do any shopping for textiles or things like that, to have dresses, custom made, she went with either her aunt, or a very dear friend that she- she, uh, became very close to.

Henry Green (00:32:55):

Muslim or?

Lily Dabby (00:32:56):

No, Iraqi Jewish.

Henry Green (00:32:58):

Iraqi Jewish.

Lily Dabby (00:32:59):


Henry Green (00:32:59):

Someone who had also [crosstalk 00:33:02]

Lily Dabby (00:33:02):

Experienced, yeah, but I know very little about their history.

Henry Green (00:33:06):

Um, what about anything to do with Israel or Zionism?

Lily Dabby (00:33:11):

Um, well, we knew that their entire family was in Israel except us because of my twisted ankle. Um, I know that my brother and I, uh, were a little bit angry and hostile towards the notion of Israel because we felt whatever we were going through was because of the State of Israel. And we felt if Israel had not become a nation, we would have been comfortably living in Iraq without all this turbulent, turbulence and all these changes that were occurring so quickly and so frequently.

Lily Dabby (00:34:06):

So there was a little bit of the resentment because, um, unlike the other Iraqi Jews, we were not moneyed. So they had a lifestyle which was a lot more comfortable. For me and my family, it was much more difficult and, um, so my brother and I resented that. As for my mother and my father, all their entire family was in Israel, and they maintained ties and you know, letters and things like that.

Henry Green (00:34:46):

So did you ever hear radio shows that are, is there any time that you would listen to, um, information about Israel off the radio?

Lily Dabby (00:34:57):

No, we got a television set much later on, and the only things we're we're interested in is what children liked to watch. I remember our favorite program was Rawhide. That's all I remember.

Henry Green (00:35:11):

And, but you got letters back and forth from [crosstalk 00:35:16].

Lily Dabby (00:35:15):

My- my parents did.

Henry Green (00:35:17):

Parents from- from their family?

Lily Dabby (00:35:19):

Yes, from their family, yeah.

Henry Green (00:35:20):

And what family was in Israel then? Uh.

Lily Dabby (00:35:22):

I believe my father was one of five. And as I mentioned, my mother, uh, had two sisters. Uh, her youngest sister, by the way, came to live with us in Turkey for a few years. I don't know how long before she moved back, she moved to Israel, excuse me. And of course, all their nieces and nephews were there.

Henry Green (00:35:47):

And did, uh, the stories you heard from them or through your parents in the letters, life was hard, or many or did some-

Lily Dabby (00:35:55):

Nothing, nothing. It was basically a non-disclosure pact between my parents and us. Uh, I don't know whether they thought they were helping us by sheltering us. We did not know anything about anything in the past, in the present, or what the future was likely to hold, nothing.

Henry Green (00:36:17):

And there- so there's no experiences you remember of, um, Zionist, uh, emissaries coming?

Lily Dabby (00:36:24):

Absolutely not. Uh, when I was 16, my mother went to Israel to visit her family and her father, and that was my first true, um, experience with Israel. And I remember I had a very good time.

Henry Green (00:36:41):

You visited Israel?

Lily Dabby (00:36:42):

I visited I- Israel with my mother in '66. No, in '65.

Henry Green (00:36:46):

'64, '65.

Lily Dabby (00:36:48):


Henry Green (00:36:48):

And do you have any memories of what Israel was like then?

Lily Dabby (00:36:50):

Yes. That was great. For a teenager, it was wonderful. And seeing all those young Israeli boys in uniforms was even better, that's all I remember.

Henry Green (00:36:59):


Lily Dabby (00:37:01):


Henry Green (00:37:02):

And they lived in Tel Aviv, or do you know [crosstalk 00:37:04]?

Lily Dabby (00:37:04):

Um, I think pretty much in Ramat Gan. And, um, so mom, of course, visited all of her maternal aunts, there were and uncle's. So it was nice. It was a very, very, very lovely family reunion. I met all the aunts and uncles and cousins. And it was the first time in my life that I experienced what it's like to have family around.

Henry Green (00:37:29):

And do you remember the language you spoke with them?

Lily Dabby (00:37:31):

They spoke in Arabic and at that time, of course, I was fluent in Arabic. And needless to say, they- we could not interact in Hebrew because I didn't speak any Hebrew.

Henry Green (00:37:43):

And did your if you had cousins your age, did they take you to parties, or to-

Lily Dabby (00:37:48):

Not quite to parties, but we went on picnics, we went to the swimming pool, we went for walks. It was lovely. It was a lovely trip.

Henry Green (00:37:57):

Did you feel like you wanted to come back to Israel at all or- or just like a one-off? You know, [inaudible 00:38:04]?

Lily Dabby (00:38:05):

No, because once again, I was plucked out from my area of comfort. Now I'm in a country where I can't read the language, where I don't speak the language, where I don't understand the language. It's a lovely country, but it's like, I don't know, for me visiting China. I'd love to go there, but not to live there. So it was that kind of experience.

Henry Green (00:38:31):

When- so we're back in, uh, Iran, and- and you're living this very sheltered life. Um, your- your, um, did you have favorite foods that you liked in terms of, uh, Iranian cooking?

Lily Dabby (00:38:48):

Yes, absolutely. Um, we love the kabobs, of course, but one of the things that my father and I did because my brother and my mother were very, um, cleanliness oriented. My father and I were regarded as the peasants of the family, we loved street food. But the condition was that when I went out with dad and I ate street food which basically was roasted beets and things like that, mom was the word. You go home, you pretend that there is no such thing and that you're still hungry.

Lily Dabby (00:39:27):

So I enjoyed street foods a lot. One of the things that I have to mention is that in addition to having a nice school life, uh, when my father as I mentioned, uh, started to work and was doing well, we became members of a club, a country club called the Gorgon club. And during the summer months, not during the winter, we did a lot of swimming and tennis. So it was- it was an all day summer camp if you will, for a whole bunch of teenagers. And it was fun.

Henry Green (00:40:01):

And the, uh, this club was a Muslim club or was it a-

Lily Dabby (00:40:05):

I would say it was a, there were a lot of Iraq is there and, uh, well, okay. All given, but really, really, it was Iraqi Jewish, but it was really a Christian club. It was a German club in fact. So you had all the people who were working in companies who were German engineers and things like that. That was their club because they were active in terms of, uh, tennis. It also had squash courts and it also had, uh, the swimming, a very large and well kept swimming pool. So this is where they would come after working.

Henry Green (00:40:43):

Were girls then wearing bikinis?

Lily Dabby (00:40:45):


Henry Green (00:40:46):

So it was very bourgeois contemporary?

Lily Dabby (00:40:50):

Very bourgeois, very contemporary, we were very modern. We- we were American really.

Henry Green (00:40:59):

Why- why say American?

Lily Dabby (00:41:01):

Because we went to an American school. Uh, I did not have any friends outside of the American school and I did not meet anybody outside of the club.

Henry Green (00:41:13):

And the club was Europeans and Americans?

Lily Dabby (00:41:15):

Europeans and, uh, Europeans and yeah, Americans.

Henry Green (00:41:20):

And Iraqi-

Lily Dabby (00:41:20):

English speaking.

Henry Green (00:41:22):

English speaking and Iraqi, Jews.

Lily Dabby (00:41:23):

English speaking, yeah.

Henry Green (00:41:24):

But that contact with Iraqi Jews was minimal.

Lily Dabby (00:41:28):

Minimal. Yes, minimal.

Henry Green (00:41:30):

Um, uh, the summers are hot in Tehran and often people go out to the mountains, don't they?

Lily Dabby (00:41:36):

We did. We do picnics occasionally which was nice. I don't remember with whom we would picnic, but it was nice and cool going up to the mountains. Uh, but the most important parts of the summers were going to the club. That was the fun part.

Henry Green (00:41:52):

Did your father travel at all?

Lily Dabby (00:41:53):


Henry Green (00:41:54):

He- he stayed, uh.

Lily Dabby (00:41:55):


Henry Green (00:41:56):

So as the representative of American Express, he's- he remained-

Lily Dabby (00:41:59):

He remained there.

Henry Green (00:42:01):

So what- what led to your emigration then? Why did in 1966 did you decide to leave the country?

Lily Dabby (00:42:09):

I got married.

Henry Green (00:42:10):

You got married?

Lily Dabby (00:42:12):

Yes. My ex-husband, uh, was working on his PhD and he'd come to visit his family and I met him. And within five weeks, we got married.

Henry Green (00:42:21):

And how did you meet him?

Lily Dabby (00:42:23):

Through a family friend. And we never dated as it were. It was kind of like sheep or a sheep mentality. We'd go out in groups. So you're talking about restaurants or going out on picnics and things like that, but the two families would go out together.

Henry Green (00:42:39):

So- so your family was close to this family?

Lily Dabby (00:42:41):

Yes. And- and would they be part of your Passover Seders or anything?

Henry Green (00:42:46):

No. But they- but they socialized at the club or?

Lily Dabby (00:42:51):

Not at the club. They weren't wealthy enough to be at the club.

Henry Green (00:42:55):

So where- where was the socialization?

Lily Dabby (00:42:58):

The socialization was visiting each other. Basically, it was between my mother and the stepmother of my ex husband. They were close friends.

Henry Green (00:43:12):

Did they- and they met in- in Tehran?

Lily Dabby (00:43:13):

Yes, they did not know each other prior to that.

Henry Green (00:43:16):

And was it Iraqi background also?

Lily Dabby (00:43:19):

Iraqi background also.

Henry Green (00:43:21):

And what was the name of your husband?

Lily Dabby (00:43:23):

Albert Abdullah [Kutzadeh 00:43:26].

Henry Green (00:43:27):

And what is that family background?

Lily Dabby (00:43:29):

It's Persian. [Kutz 00:43:31] of course, you know, is Jerusalem. Zadeh means, um, child of or born of. So it's born of [foreign language 00:43:40] or Jerusalem. And that's how his father's name was to distinguish him as a person who- who was affiliated with Jerusalem. In the sense then connected to Jewish? Connected to Jewish, correct.

Henry Green (00:43:56):

And- and, um, you- uh, your- your marriage. Can you tell me about your marriage at all?

Lily Dabby (00:44:03):

Yeah, um, my ex-husband was, uh, given a position at the University of Wisconsin which is where we went, uh, for the first four years and after I- and I went to university there. So after a six month break from h- from graduating, I decided I could not stay at home and cook. So I enrolled full time at university. And four years after that, I came and revisited- revisited Iran and stayed there for several months while he was, while he continued to teach in at Wisconsin.

Henry Green (00:44:39):

So I'm just trying to put this in perspective. So you basically you got married, you got a passport, only goal-

Lily Dabby (00:44:46):

The passport, the passport and all that was all okay once we got amnesty.

Henry Green (00:44:52):

So, so you, you go to, um, just so I can, uh, sort of summarize. It's going to Israel legally.

Lily Dabby (00:45:02):

It was legal.

Henry Green (00:45:03):

Turkey is illegal.

Lily Dabby (00:45:04):


Henry Green (00:45:04):

Iran is illegal.

Lily Dabby (00:45:05):

Entering Iran was illegal.

Henry Green (00:45:06):

You're illegal, you're an alien, when an amnesty comes, you now become, um, a legal, a legal resident with passport-

Lily Dabby (00:45:15):

A passport holder. Yes.

Henry Green (00:45:15):

And you go to Wisconsin. And what was your ex-husband's, uh, he was teaching in what field?

Lily Dabby (00:45:21):

Political science of the middle east.

Henry Green (00:45:23):

Of the Middle East.

Lily Dabby (00:45:23):

He was specialized in the beginning of nationalism.

Henry Green (00:45:27):

And your language you spoke with him would be English?

Lily Dabby (00:45:30):


Henry Green (00:45:31):

Did he speak Arabic also?

Lily Dabby (00:45:33):

He spoke Arabic, but it wasn't the language with fall back on.

Henry Green (00:45:37):

So [crosstalk 00:45:38]?

Lily Dabby (00:45:37):

He spoke Arabic with his family, I spoke Arabic when I needed to with my family, but for the most part, it was English.

Henry Green (00:45:47):

Um, so when you came to Wisconsin, you were already married?

Lily Dabby (00:45:50):

I was married.

Henry Green (00:45:51):

And when you go back to Iran in 1970.

Lily Dabby (00:45:54):


Henry Green (00:45:55):

'71 and stay a few months, your parents are still there?

Lily Dabby (00:45:59):

Yes, they are.

Henry Green (00:46:00):

And your brother?

Lily Dabby (00:46:02):

No, no, no, my brother was two years older than me. So my brother, um, left for university, uh, when he was 17 and he was at that point, I think he was attending UCLA.

Henry Green (00:46:18):

So he left to go to the States also?

Lily Dabby (00:46:19):

He went to the states at 17, yes, to continue his education.

Henry Green (00:46:23):

And your parents are left without their children in Iran?

Lily Dabby (00:46:27):

Yes. And that meant my mother had the empty nest, and she became the secretary to my father at American Express.

Henry Green (00:46:36):

So when you go back in- in '71, had Tehran changed at all?

Lily Dabby (00:46:43):


Henry Green (00:46:46):

And were your parents as isolated in a way that you described it before you left?

Lily Dabby (00:46:53):

I would say socially they were isolated, but because my mother was not working 9:00 till 5:00 or 9:00 till 9:00 or whatever the hours were, they felt the isolation less bec- because they immersed themselves in, um, in their jobs. Now one of the things once my brother left to be educated, my mother would take long vacations to visit him. So that was nice for her.

Henry Green (00:47:18):

And your father would be left alone in-

Lily Dabby (00:47:20):

My father would be left alone and if he'd ever visit, he'd only visit for just two or three days at a time. So he visited me several times in Wisconsin, he visited my brother several times, but it was never for prolonged periods.

Henry Green (00:47:34):

And in- in '71, was the Jewish community, do you have anything to do with the Jewish community when you were there?

Lily Dabby (00:47:41):

Absolutely not.

Henry Green (00:47:43):

Was there any- any fear among the Jewish community [crosstalk 00:47:47].

Lily Dabby (00:47:47):

No, none whatsoever. I never felt discriminated, uh, uh, in, uh, in the Christian environment of the school, I never felt discriminated on. Uh, uh, by the Muslim community at large, um, you know, we had help, we had, everything was fine. The people that my father worked with were- were mostly Muslims or Armenians. I never experienced it. So you go back to Wisconsin after a few months?

Henry Green (00:48:19):

Yes. And what- what happens after that?

Lily Dabby (00:48:23):

Okay, and then, um, I, just a second. Oh my, my ex-husband and I, uh, had different views on where we wanted to live. And I really did not like living in a small parochial village, like, or state like Wisconsin. So, um, in the interim, one of the things I left out was that he was, um, he- he worked at McGill for a year and I did one year at McGill University before I got my bachelor's degree. So we decided we were going to move to Montreal.

Henry Green (00:49:07):

So you- when did you move to Montreal?

Lily Dabby (00:49:11):

I think probably in '72, but I'm not sure.

Henry Green (00:49:15):

And he got a job teaching at McGill?

Lily Dabby (00:49:18):

Yeah. But I also said that I was, I was not going to have any children unless I lived with family. So the choices were either to return to Iran or to go to Israel. And that's when we decided to go to Israel to have a family.

Henry Green (00:49:41):

And so you move to Israel in-

Lily Dabby (00:49:44):

And that's where my daughter was born in Haifa. And he was teaching at the University of Haifa.

Henry Green (00:49:49):

So you didn't, he didn't teach at McGill then at that time?

Lily Dabby (00:49:52):

He did. And then when we [crosstalk 00:49:54]. To McGill to Wisconsin to Iran to I think to the states again and to Israel.

Henry Green (00:50:06):

Israel. Did he have a tenure position in Wisconsin or was it [crosstalk 00:50:09]

Lily Dabby (00:50:09):


Henry Green (00:50:09):

He did. Okay, so you're now in Israel, and- and it's what year again? 19-

Lily Dabby (00:50:18):

Uh, 1972, 7- academic year '72, '73.

Henry Green (00:50:21):

And your daughter, your child is born-

Lily Dabby (00:50:24):

In '73, in the spring of '73.

Henry Green (00:50:27):

And what- what is your child's name?

Lily Dabby (00:50:30):


Henry Green (00:50:30):

Shantal. she was born in spring '73?

Lily Dabby (00:50:34):


Henry Green (00:50:35):

And- and, um, you were a, um, a working man or were you-

Lily Dabby (00:50:40):

No. Actually what I was doing was I was pursuing my master's degree in literature, uh, at the University of Haifa because my intention was always to go back to Iran, and work at the University of Tehran, and maybe have my own, become head of the English department at the University. So that was the route I was planning for myself.

Henry Green (00:51:06):

So you're in- so you're taking a- you're not- you don't know Hebrew? You're-

Lily Dabby (00:51:10):

No I don't.

Henry Green (00:51:11):

You're studying in English?

Lily Dabby (00:51:12):


Henry Green (00:51:13):

English literature, doing a Master's, um, at- at the University of Haifa.

Lily Dabby (00:51:17):


Henry Green (00:51:18):

Your, you have this beautiful child and your husband's teaching there. And did you stay on in the fall in '73?

Lily Dabby (00:51:26):

No. My husband did not like the way Israeli kids behaved and they were, um, difficult. So he wanted to leave. So we moved to Iran, he got- he got a University position I believe at University of Tehran, but at that time, uh, there were a lot of, um, riots going on at the University of Tehran and I was very, very uncomfortable about him teaching political science because, uh, he is a little bit too uncensored.

Lily Dabby (00:52:09):

I was afraid he'd get himself into a lot of trouble. So when we moved to Iran, he went- he tried to go into business for several months.

Henry Green (00:52:22):

And- and was that successful at all or?

Lily Dabby (00:52:25):

No. It was an- uh, I don't know whether it was or not, but I do know that on one of his business trips, he went to Montreal, and that's when he got a job at McGill again. So that was the reason why we returned to Canada and he was teaching at McGill again.

Henry Green (00:52:45):

So let me just try to, again, play something. You're in Iran the fall of 1973?

Lily Dabby (00:52:53):


Henry Green (00:52:54):

Okay. You have the Yom Kippur War?

Lily Dabby (00:52:57):

Yes. Yes.

Henry Green (00:52:58):

Can you talk about what that was like living in Tehran?

Lily Dabby (00:53:01):

There was nothing wrong with living in Tehran. What was really uncomfortable is that because I speak English, and sorry, because I speak Arabic, I was able to hear the harangues if you will, uh, of in Arabic, and that was very scary.

Henry Green (00:53:24):

So did that mean that you felt, um, uh, fear at all or?

Lily Dabby (00:53:28):

I did not feel fear for me living in Iran, but I felt a great deal of fear for my family living in Israel, but we're talking about the 66 War. When we are in 66 now-

Henry Green (00:53:43):

'67 war or '73?

Lily Dabby (00:53:45):

'67 war and at '73 when we came to-

Henry Green (00:53:48):

Wait, wait, let me go back. '66 you're in Wisconsin?

Lily Dabby (00:53:51):

No. '66 war was in June, was it not?

Henry Green (00:53:54):

June '67.

Lily Dabby (00:53:56):

Oh yeah, I was in Wisconsin.

Henry Green (00:53:57):

So you were already in the states?

Lily Dabby (00:53:58):

Yes. And then '73-

Henry Green (00:54:00):

'73 war, you're now in Iran.

Lily Dabby (00:54:02):

Yeah, yes. And I'm hearing all the broadcasts in Arabic, very disconcerting.

Henry Green (00:54:07):

Right. So I'm wondering because now you're, you have a daughter, you're- you're in [crosstalk 00:54:12].

Lily Dabby (00:54:12):

I never felt, yeah, no. That did- that did not come into the picture at all. I really did not. What was my primary concern was my family in, in Israel surrounded by the Arabs because I never considered Iran Arab. First of all, it isn't. But second of all, it's not in the same, they- they're not painted with the same brush. They have different ideologies, et cetera, et cetera. They were not into [foreign language 00:54:40] which is what the Arabs tend to be.

Henry Green (00:54:44):

So what were the riots going on in '73 when you were-

Lily Dabby (00:54:47):

It- it- there were perpetual riots going on at the University of Tehran for, um, improvements and human rights, uh, you know, uh, changes on the law, anti-Shah, you know, they just want to change us. And y- it was not unusual for us to come home with teary red eyes because of the, um, you know, smoke, you know, that they were sending, uh, and shooting at- at the students. It- it- it was, it was a rough period, uh, internally, but not in terms of, um, prejudice, or discrimination.

Henry Green (00:55:28):

Did you feel any, uh, rise of Shia sentiments and when you were there [crosstalk 00:55:33]?

Lily Dabby (00:55:33):

No, because the way I saw it was that it was the rise of the intellectual el- elites. The problem wasn't people in the streets writing. The problem was people at the university who were intelligent, who were ambitious who wanted to change. So it was really an elitist riot going on rather than a religious riot going on.

Henry Green (00:56:00):

Now your parents were still living in Tehran?

Lily Dabby (00:56:02):


Henry Green (00:56:03):

So did you live close to them? Do you spend time with them?

Lily Dabby (00:56:06):

Yes. A great deal of time. But, uh, you know, we still had to take a taxi to go to each other. But yeah, still central.

Henry Green (00:56:16):

Would they babysit- would they babysit your- your daughter?

Lily Dabby (00:56:18):

Um, I had a maid who came in all day because I started working when I was in Iran. But a little bit, but not much.

Henry Green (00:56:28):

Did your mother start- did she start playing, uh, rummy and these kinds of games or not at all?

Lily Dabby (00:56:33):


Henry Green (00:56:34):

Did you at all when you-

Lily Dabby (00:56:35):

No. Scrabble. (laughs).

Henry Green (00:56:37):

Scrabble. (laughs).

Lily Dabby (00:56:37):


Henry Green (00:56:39):

So you ended up leaving again and going to McGill?

Lily Dabby (00:56:44):

Yes. Yes.

Henry Green (00:56:44):

And how long have you spent in Montreal?

Lily Dabby (00:56:46):

Um, we s- that's it.

Henry Green (00:56:51):

So you- you- so Montreal became your home?

Lily Dabby (00:56:54):

So Montreal became my home and I got divorced, but because of the laws, I could not leave the province because that would be classified as kidnapping. So I stayed in Montreal.

Henry Green (00:57:07):

Because of your daughter?

Lily Dabby (00:57:08):

Because of my daughter. Yeah.

Henry Green (00:57:10):

And what did you do in Montreal?

Lily Dabby (00:57:13):

In Montreal, I taught. Uh, I- when I went to ... After I got divorced, I went to get my master's degree in education. And in order to, um, be self- self-supporting because I walked away from my marriage, I did not want any strings attached, um, because I wanted to be self-supporting, I got certified in English as a second language so I could teach in the French school boards. And I got certified in English literature so I could teach in the English school boards. I wanted to hedge my bets, and whichever school or s- school board would give me the job was the one that I'd take. So I was teaching.

Henry Green (00:57:59):

Teaching English?

Lily Dabby (00:58:01):

Teaching English as a second language in a French school.

Henry Green (00:58:04):

Did you know any French at this time?

Lily Dabby (00:58:06):

Yes. French was one of the languages, the second language that we were learning at Community School. And as I said, I have a certain, um, natural aptitude for languages so I was okay.

Henry Green (00:58:18):

So French was-

Lily Dabby (00:58:19):

so I- I- yeah, I- I was do- it was doable. I don't- I don't think I speak like a native French, um, speaker.

Henry Green (00:58:28):

So let me- let's go to for example you come back, you're in Montreal, uh, you have a young daughter. The, uh, you have, uh, the- the Québécois come into power.

Lily Dabby (00:58:38):


Henry Green (00:58:38):

Did this create problems in the sense of, um, you were in Iran when there were changes here, you're in Quebec there's changes did- was there any kind of-

Lily Dabby (00:58:49):

Yes, it was, "Oh dear. It's happening again." (laughs).

Henry Green (00:58:51):


Lily Dabby (00:58:54):

Yes, it felt- it's just, I- it was very interesting because I thought it seems to be following me. I want- I wanted to be the center of the universe and everything revolves around me. So it was just following me. Yeah.

Henry Green (00:59:10):

And so did you think of, um, um, um, I know you had your daughter, but of leaving because of these?

Lily Dabby (00:59:18):

Yes. There was a lot of- there was a lot of there was significant discrimination against me. Not for being Jewish, but for being English in my school. So I said the minute my daughter goes to university ... Oh, no, not university, the minute she leaves home because if she was going to go to university of McGill, I certainly wasn't going to leave. But I said if she should ever leave the province of Quebec, I was planning to move to, um, British Columbia.

Henry Green (00:59:48):

So tell me now, you're- you're in Montreal, you're back there, it's, um, mid '70s and your- your daughters are going to go up, so it puts you in Montreal through the end of the '70s, through the '80s, right?

Lily Dabby (01:00:01):


Henry Green (01:00:02):

Into through the early '90s.

Lily Dabby (01:00:03):


Henry Green (01:00:03):

That period?

Lily Dabby (01:00:04):

That's correct.

Henry Green (01:00:04):

Okay. So what is your contact to the Jewish community? Do you have any contact to the Jewish community there?

Lily Dabby (01:00:10):

Uh, remember, I told you that in Iran, uh, my mother and her aunt got together. Well, so I was in touch with my mother's cousins, the ones from Iran who are living in Montreal, and who are currently living in Montreal.

Henry Green (01:00:27):

And who were they?

Lily Dabby (01:00:28):

Yvonne Sala and her husband, George, her brother, Freddie, and her younger- youngest brother Ronnie.

Henry Green (01:00:35):

And so you begin socializing with them or?

Lily Dabby (01:00:38):

To a certain extent, to a certain extent.

Henry Green (01:00:41):

Did you become a member of any club in- in?

Lily Dabby (01:00:44):


Henry Green (01:00:45):

Did you attend, uh, any synagogues?

Lily Dabby (01:00:47):


Henry Green (01:00:47):

Did you ever go to events at Spanish Portuguese?

Lily Dabby (01:00:50):


Henry Green (01:00:51):

So you were contacted, the Jewish community was very-

Lily Dabby (01:00:54):


Henry Green (01:00:54):


Lily Dabby (01:00:55):


Henry Green (01:00:55):

So when was your social group then that you, uh-

Lily Dabby (01:00:58):

Uh, it was, my social group was basically the interactions I had at work. I did not really have a social group because, uh, I was in a situation where if I went out at night, there was nobody to take the babysitter home without leaving my daughter alone. So there was no, it was not possible to work out a babysitting system. Um, during the weekends, I became f- very friendly with a girlfriend of mine who was also divorced and who had two daughters that I met when I was, uh, student teaching. And basically what we do is occasionally go to a movie or go out for a cup of tea or things like that. Nothing very dramatic.

Henry Green (01:01:45):

What about the contact with your family in Israel?

Lily Dabby (01:01:49):


Henry Green (01:01:50):

None. Your parents, did they stay in Iran?

Lily Dabby (01:01:53):

My parents, uh, left Iran after the revolution when Khomeini came in.

Henry Green (01:02:00):

After 1979?

Lily Dabby (01:02:02):


Henry Green (01:02:03):

So how did they get out?

Lily Dabby (01:02:05):

My mother happened to be in Canada at the time.

Henry Green (01:02:08):

Visiting you?

Lily Dabby (01:02:09):

Visiting me. And my father was told, remember I told you he had a circle of friends and important positions who basically told him, "Leave, and then you can come back when things settle." So my father left Iran, before he was put on the list of persona non grata and, uh, by the Persian government.

Henry Green (01:02:34):

Before when? Before-

Lily Dabby (01:02:35):

Before he was put on the list.

Henry Green (01:02:37):

Before he was put on the list.

Lily Dabby (01:02:39):

That's right. It was in the very early days of the revolution and he had the intention of going back. So basically, he locked the apartment door, left all his belongings, all his assets, um, bank books, bank boxes, you know, just literally it was a trip. He was taking a trip until things would settle down, and then he'd come back.

Henry Green (01:03:01):

And this was when? November '79? Do you know?

Lily Dabby (01:03:03):

No, it was February.

Henry Green (01:03:05):

February 8th, and he comes where? To Canada?

Lily Dabby (01:03:09):

He comes to Canada and I returned from work and I see him standing there near with a suitcase. And I looked at him and I said, "Where are you going?" He said, "Well, I'm waiting to say goodbye to you. I'm- I'm returning to Iran." And- and of course, I just flipped because on the news was the hostage taking in Iran. I told him you can't go back. You were in- Iran is in the middle of a hostage crisis. So, um, he said he was going back anyway. So what I did was I had a very dramatic and major fit, and to calm me down, he basically, um, stayed waiting for things to change. And he stayed.

Henry Green (01:03:59):

And he stayed?

Lily Dabby (01:04:00):


Henry Green (01:04:00):

And did they stay with you?

Lily Dabby (01:04:02):

Uh, they stayed with me up to a certain point, but, um, my daughter was young. There were friends coming in and out all over, uh, which delighted me, there were kids running up and down the stairs. You know, it was- it was lovely. And they needed their peace and quiet. So they moved to a to- to an apartment just down the streets.

Henry Green (01:04:26):

What area of Montreal was this?

Lily Dabby (01:04:28):

This is Montreal.

Henry Green (01:04:29):

Where in Montreal?

Lily Dabby (01:04:31):

In Montreal. Not in that suburbs.

Henry Green (01:04:33):


Lily Dabby (01:04:33):

Westmount I guess. I lived in Westmount, but they lived in Montreal.

Henry Green (01:04:38):

And- and, um, and did they stay in Montreal after that?

Lily Dabby (01:04:41):

Um, they stayed in Montreal and then, uh, what happened was, uh, something very, something I'd never known about. My mother developed an allergy to the cold. Never heard of anything like that. So I know when- when I went to the doctor to inquire about it, I asked him whether she would build an immunity to the cold. And he said, "It only gets worse with time." So what I did was I sat in an airplane, and I came to Florida and I rented a car and I drove around, and, uh, I found a little condo for her which I thought would be suitable because my father, there was absolutely no way he was going to leave because the next time he boarded an airplane, it would be to go back to Iran because Iran was going to be waiting for him. And so I shipped my mother over to Boca Raton, uh, where the weather was, uh, uh, a little bit more Clements, but she was also once again living a life of total isolation.

Henry Green (01:05:51):

And did you know anyone in Boca?

Lily Dabby (01:05:53):

No, but I like the town. (laughing). I chose it because it was pretty. (laughing).

Henry Green (01:05:59):

So you basically dropped your mother off?

Lily Dabby (01:06:02):

I dropped my mother off and I went to the to- near the refrigerator, I took a refrigerator magnet. And I wrote down two telephone numbers, the police station and the fire station and a taxi.

Henry Green (01:06:18):

And you said goodbye to her in what language?

Lily Dabby (01:06:20):

English. (laughing). I told her she'd be okay and she was. She did- she my mother has a doctorate in lemonade making so she was okay.

Henry Green (01:06:34):

And- and she stays in Boca?

Lily Dabby (01:06:36):


Henry Green (01:06:37):

And your father is in, um, Montreal.

Lily Dabby (01:06:40):

In his little apartment.

Henry Green (01:06:41):

With a packed suitcase waiting?

Lily Dabby (01:06:42):

With a packed suitcase and, uh, the news channels always on.

Henry Green (01:06:47):

Always on. In French or English?

Lily Dabby (01:06:50):

In English.

Henry Green (01:06:52):

And does he ever go back to Iran?

Lily Dabby (01:06:54):

No. He was on the list.

Henry Green (01:06:57):

And what happened with all the assets?

Lily Dabby (01:07:00):

Disappeared. He got- he, somebody contacted him from Iran and told him, informed him that he was on the list. And basically told him under no conditions should you come back. So, um, so he wasn't going to go back as long as Khomeini was in power. He wasn't waiting to be removed from the list. He was waiting for a new government to come in. So he obviously, it has stayed, uh, a theocracy, and he has not gone back.

Henry Green (01:07:30):

Are your parents still living or?

Lily Dabby (01:07:31):

No, they're bo- they're both deceased.

Henry Green (01:07:33):

And did your father join your mother?

Lily Dabby (01:07:35):

Eventually he joined my mother when he began to realize it was a lost cause. It was very sad.

Henry Green (01:07:41):

And he didn't work anymore?

Lily Dabby (01:07:43):

He didn't work anymore. No.

Henry Green (01:07:45):

So, um-

Lily Dabby (01:07:46):

But my mother did.

Henry Green (01:07:47):

But your mother did?

Lily Dabby (01:07:49):

Well, what they- what they found out was in- in- in order to have health insurance which was American, which was very, very, very, very expensive, um, m- we found out that if my mother has a job where the company provides for her family health insurance, it would cover health insurance. So my mother basically worked for minimum wage as a sales lady in a department store. And she wasn't really working for the money, she was working so that they wouldn't have to pay an a- an average of 2,000 US dollars a month for health care. And then when that department store closed down, she went to another, she went to a pharmacy I think or a drugstore which also gave, uh, health insurance. In other words, she sought out the work that would provide her with a health insurance.

Henry Green (01:08:44):

And then he- your father joined her?

Lily Dabby (01:08:45):

Uh, my father. Well, yeah, my brother, um, took care of all the paperwork, and he made them American citizens. Um, they would not become, they would not accept to become Canadians because they could have become Canadians if they took refugee status. But then once again, we're dealing with my father. If he declares himself a refugee, he won't be able to go back to Iran. So absolutely not, he's not going to become a refugee. So my brother made them American.

Henry Green (01:09:18):

So when you were in Wisconsin, you became an American citizen?

Lily Dabby (01:09:21):


Henry Green (01:09:22):

And then when you were in Canada, did you become a Canadian citizen?

Lily Dabby (01:09:25):

Yes. And when I was in Israel, I was an Israeli citizen.

Henry Green (01:09:29):

You became an Israeli citizen that one year when you were there [crosstalk 01:09:33]?

Lily Dabby (01:09:32):

Yes. Yes.

Henry Green (01:09:34):

And do you still have all these citizenships today?

Lily Dabby (01:09:36):


Henry Green (01:09:37):

What- what citizenships [crosstalk 01:09:40]

Lily Dabby (01:09:40):

The only one I- I, uh, I a.m.- I keep and I'm proud of is Canadian. I don't- I'm not interested in any other rel, uh, citizenships.

Henry Green (01:09:50):

So in terms of your Jewish heritage, how do you see yourself?

Lily Dabby (01:09:57):

Well, um, I have a natural cur- curiosity of which I'm very proud. And I studied and researched a lot of religions. Uh, I'm quite knowledgeable about most religions. But to me, religion is what resonates with your soul. And I- I was leaning towards Hinduism or Buddhism, but somehow or another, they weren't enough for me. And then I discovered the Kabbalah. And the Kabbalah spoke very, very clearly to me, and it made, it created a world where I could see rhyme and reason. And I consider myself if I had to write down specifically a religion, I would say probably a Kabbalistic Jew. So I'm extremely religious, but I'm a non-practicer.

Henry Green (01:10:59):

Does Iraq or Iran play any [crosstalk 01:11:03]

Lily Dabby (01:11:03):

Actually, actually, that's very interesting because as you know, Kabbalah started in- in- in the Middle East, in Babylonia I believe, and my bro- my father and I would sit down and discuss it. And he was very concerned about my interest in Kabbalah because he telling- he- he was cautioning me that people who are interested in the Kabbalah and delve too much into it go insane so he wanted me to back off from my interest in my research in Kabbalah.

Henry Green (01:11:37):

But Iraq and Iran is- is really not, um, um-

Lily Dabby (01:11:42):

Did not play a role in my religion.

Henry Green (01:11:45):

Or your identity today?

Lily Dabby (01:11:46):

No. Oh, no, that's not true. That's not true. It's all a part of my life and they all played a- uh, played a role. Like for example, I have a compilation of Iraqi Jewish Proverbs and they're transliterated as well as translated. As I mentioned, I don't- I- I- I'm very knowledgeable, I'm very aware of being Arab. So I- I know completely Arab mentality. At the same time, I also was in Iran. So I, uh, took on the identity of being Persian. So I know the Persian identity, it's very rich, I consider myself a very wealthy person because I have so much wealth in terms of identifying and acknowledging the influences in my life.

Henry Green (01:12:40):

So if someone said to you what's your identity?

Lily Dabby (01:12:42):

Iraqi Jew.

Henry Green (01:12:44):

Iraqi Jew is what you would say?

Lily Dabby (01:12:45):


Henry Green (01:12:47):

And if they asked you what's your nationality, what would [crosstalk 01:12:50]?

Lily Dabby (01:12:50):


Henry Green (01:12:51):

Canadian. Um, so let me ask just one final question then. Uh, and that is that if anyone, uh, well down the road, we hope people will be listening to this. What message would you want to leave for them?

Lily Dabby (01:13:07):

Make lemonade. (laughs).

Henry Green (01:13:09):


Lily Dabby (01:13:10):

That's what I would recommend to everybody. Life has its trials and tribulations, you're going to sink unless you learn to make lemonade.

Henry Green (01:13:23):

Thank you so much Lily.

Lily Dabby (01:13:23):

Thank you for the interview. Okay. (laughs).