Financier Namvar’s conviction reveals community wounds


Once a pillar of the local Iranian Jewish community, businessman and philanthropist Ezri Namvar was a trusted friend to whom many in the community loaned money freely and without fear. Namvar’s reputation, which has been tarnished during the last several years, was dealt another blow on May 19, when Namvar, 59, was convicted on four counts of wire fraud in a downtown Los Angeles federal court.

After only three hours of deliberation, the jury found that Namvar had failed to return $21 million entrusted for safekeeping to his company, Namco Financial Exchange Corp. (NFE), and instead invested the money in risky real estate deals. NFE’s controller, Hamid Tabatabai, 62, was also convicted on four counts of fraud for a scheme with Namvar from March 2008 to August 2008 to defraud five of NFE’s clients of 1031 funds. According to the federal tax code, 1031 funds are profits realized from the sale of a business or investment property that are not immediately liable for capital gains taxes when the money is used to purchase a similar replacement property.

Namvar was indicted in September 2010 on charges that he returned only $4 million of the $27 million in 1031 funds given to his company for safekeeping. The indictment charged that the funds were used by Namvar without authorization for various purposes unrelated to the clients; it also indicated that Namvar, with the help of Tabatabai, used NFE’s clients’ funds to pay off creditors and investors of Namvar’s investment company, Namco Capital Group Inc., as well as Namvar’s personal creditors.

Namvar’s criminal conviction is the latest in a slew of problems he has encountered. In late 2008, two dozen creditors — most of them from Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community — filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against Namvar and his Namco Capital Group company, accusing him of losing as much as $500 million loaned to him in an alleged Ponzi scheme. That case is still ongoing.

Several Iranian Jews who lost money through Namvar’s actions expressed satisfaction at the jury verdict last week, particularly because Namvar has denied wronging anyone in his own community.

“Many of us victims feel that justice has been served somewhat today with this conviction,” said Abraham Assil, an Iranian Jewish businessman and Namvar creditor. “But we still believe more criminal charges need to be brought against the other Namvar family members involved for their role as accomplices to the criminal actions of Ezri Namvar.”

According to a statement released last week by the U.S. Department of Justice, both Namvar and Tabatabai are facing sentences of up to 80 years in federal prison.

David Peyman, a Los Angeles-based attorney specializing in white-collar criminal defense, said Namvar will more likely face concurrent sentences of about 78 months for each count he was convicted on (a total of about seven years) —  because federal sentencing guidelines are driven by the amount lost in each case. At the same time, Peyman said, the judge in the case will have some discretion.

“One of the factors judges always look at in coming to a sentencing decision is deterrence — will their sentence in one case send a message to others,” said Peyman, who has successfully served as a defense attorney in federal criminal securities cases. “That can never be the dominant factor, but it’s always in the mix.” 

U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson ordered Namvar released on bail and subject to home incarceration with electronic monitoring. Anderson has scheduled a June 1 hearing to determine whether Namvar will be sent back to jail prior to his sentencing, scheduled for Aug. 22.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in downtown Los Angeles and Namvar’s attorney did not return calls for comment on the case. A. David Youssefyeh, a Century City Iranian Jewish attorney representing some of Namvar’s Iranian Jewish creditors, said Namvar’s conviction has been a long time coming for many of his creditors.

“The fact that Ezri Namvar was convicted of fraud is a surprise to no one,” Youssefyeh said. “However, justice is not done yet. Justice will be done when Mr. Namvar is sentenced to prison for the rest of his life.”

In addition to Namvar’s involuntary bankruptcy nearly three years ago, 17 more lawsuits have since been filed against Namvar, Namco, entities owned by Namvar and other Namvar family members, alleging breach of contract and contractual fraud in a case that attorneys estimate involves 300 to 400 creditors — the majority of them Iranian Jews.

Youssefyeh said Namvar’s creditors have been particularly frustrated during the last nearly three years because they have had to endure tremendous financial hardships while Namvar has continued to enjoy a lavish lifestyle and made a concerted effort to hide his assets during the bankruptcy proceedings.

A report released in early 2010 by the trustees in Namvar’s bankruptcy case states that Namco owes more than $500 million to more than 170 secured and unsecured creditors. The report also states that Namco is owed more than $600 million from loans it made to 16 members of Namvar’s family, various limited liability corporations owned by Namvar and to more than 60 individuals and entities. In addition, the report indicates that Namvar gave himself a loan of more than $32 million, and he also gave $50 million to each of his four children.

Many of Namvar’s Iranian Jewish creditors are low- to middle-income couples, individuals or retired seniors who invested their savings with Namvar and his company, hoping to receive higher interest rates than what most banks were offering. Their investments ranged from $10,000 to $300,000, and most said they have lost all hope of regaining their funds.

The Namvar case has bitterly divided Southern California’s tight-knit Iranian Jewish community, with many of the Namvar creditors expressing frustration with the community’s social and religious leadership, whom they accuse of remaining largely silent about Namvar’s culpability.

“Early on, Rabbi David Shofet [of the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills] indicated in a formal letter that if Namvar was proven in court to be a thief, then he and his family must give back the money that they took from people,” said Assil, one of the first creditors to initiate the involuntary bankruptcy proceedings against Namvar. “Today I’d like to see what the rabbi’s statement is to Namvar’s conviction.”

Calls to Nessah Synagogue requesting comment were not returned. Nor were calls made to the West Hollywood-based Iranian American Jewish Federation, an umbrella group for the community.

Under community pressure, in April 2010, Namvar voluntarily quit his post on Nessah’s board.

Some other Namvar victims have strongly defended Shofet and other community rabbis for their efforts to resolve the financial dispute through the beit din, or religious courts. Both Namvar and the creditors rejected this option.

“I can say with certainty, since I have attended many meetings on this matter, that our rabbis — particularly Rav David Shofet — were involved in helping with this case, even before the case was taken into bankruptcy, so as to resolve the matter without causing so much hardship,” said George Haroonian, a Namvar creditor and local Iranian Jewish community activist. “Now some in this community wrongly expect the rabbis to have executive power, which they don’t.”

Several older Iranian Jewish activists said cases involving financial disputes among Jews in Iran traditionally were settled by the community’s leadership, key businessmen and elders — outside the court system — gathering all parties involved and helping out those who had suffered the economic loss, a practice that no longer is feasible in the United States, at least in this instance.

Haroonian said Shofet and other local Iranian rabbis also have been wrongly accused of financial misdeeds through an ongoing smear e-mail campaign.

“Many wrongly thought that the rabbis were financially involved with Namvar, but this has been proven to be a false and vicious rumor — a letter released by the bankruptcy trustees has proven that there was no such involvement by the rabbis,” Haroonian said.

For his part in defending the rabbis and advocating for a more moderate community dialogue and approach regarding the Namvar case, Haroonian said he has also been targeted by the e-mail campaign, falsely accusing him of “collaborating with Namvar.”

“The fact is, my family and I have not gotten back a dime of our money, when a couple of individuals who support this lie [about my family], have gotten back some of their money from Namco,” Haroonian said.

Emotions continue to run high in the community. Representatives of a handful of local nonprofit Iranian Jewish organizations that offer relief to those in need said that over the last few years they have been overwhelmed by calls from Iranian Jews in need as a result of the fraud. With their budgets already hard-hit by the economic downturn, the organizations have been unable to help everyone.

Investment fraud scandals involving two other local Iranian Jews have added to the local community’s difficulties.

In January 2010, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a lawsuit against John Farahi, 52, a popular Iranian Jewish radio talk-show host, who also served as an investment adviser and stockbroker for local Iranian Jews. That suit alleges that Farahi and his Beverly Hills firm, NewPoint Financial Services Inc., defrauded Iranian American investors of millions of dollars and that Farahi; his company; his wife, Gissou Rastegar Farahi; and the firm’s controller, Elaheh Amouei; misled investors by telling them their funds were being invested in unsecured corporate bonds, FDIC-insured certificates of deposit, government bonds and corporate bonds issued by companies backed by funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

Also over the last few years, nearly a dozen lawsuits have been filed by various L.A.-area Iranian Jews and other businesses alleging that Beverly Hills Iranian Jewish businessman Joseph Boodaie defrauded them of a combined total of close to $100 million, according to one local attorney. No criminal charges have been filed against Farahi or Boodaie.

Nevertheless, Namvar’s creditors said that Namvar’s criminal conviction would send a message to other Iranian Jewish businessmen seeking to potentially defraud investors. Still, the community will need many years to heal from the fallout from this crisis.

For more in-depth interviews regarding the Namvar case, visit Karmel Melamed’s blog: jewishjournal.com/iranianamericanjews/.

Roger Cohen’s Dialogue with the Iran Jewish Community


For video footage of the dialogue, click here.

There was no clean knockout when New York Times columnist Roger Cohen faced off against some 400 members of the local Iranian Jewish and Bahai communities last week, but spectators were treated to some vigorous rhetorical sparring and nimble footwork.

Last month, Cohen, a British-born Jewish journalist, returned from a reportorial visit to Iran and wrote a column for the Times headlined “What Iran’s Jews Say.”

In the city of Esfahan, in central Iran, Cohen talked to a handful of Jews, who are among the 25,000 remaining in Iran out of a one-time community of 100,000. Cohen reported that the Jews were “living, working and worshipping in relative tranquility.”

Despite the Holocaust denials and rants by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about wiping Israel off the map, “as a Jew, I have seldom been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran,” Cohen wrote.

To some 30,000 Iranian Jews living in Los Angeles who had uprooted themselves from their ancient homeland, Cohen’s evaluation was dangerously naïve at best and a mockery of their own experiences at worst.

They inundated Cohen and the New York Times with letters and e-mails, and the columnist agreed to fly to Los Angeles to address his critics at Sinai Temple, which has a large proportion of Iranian congregants.

What could have been a highly emotional face-off went well, thanks largely to the audience’s restraint during Cohen’s lengthy presentation and Rabbi David Wolpe’s insistence on decorum during the more emotional question-and-answer period.

Cohen started by expanding on the main points of his earlier column:

* Labeling Iran a totalitarian regime ready to destroy Israel and then the West’s infidels is a “grotesque caricature.”
* Iranians are a proud people, but pay little attention to the regime’s propaganda and incitements. To compare the situation in Iran to an impending holocaust “dishonors the memory of six million victims.”
* Iran’s leadership is mainly pragmatic and primarily concerned with assuring its own survival.
* Iran is the most democratic state in the Middle East, outside Israel, and is against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
* An attack on Iran by Israel or the United States would be a global disaster. “Force is the unthinkable option,” Cohen said, and mutually respectful negotiations are the only answer.
* Although he counts himself as “a strong supporter of Israel,” Cohen believes that Israel “overplayed its hand in Lebanon and Gaza” and that Hamas and Hizbollah are “established political forces,” that cannot be eliminated by military means.

The audience politely applauded Cohen at the end of the talk, but when Wolpe opened the dialogue, some sparks – leavened by humor – were ignited.

Wolpe to Cohen: “You draw a distinction between the Iranian people and their rulers, but Iran has a long history of anti-Semitism…the Iranian government has republished the notorious anti-Semitic forgery ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ and your New York Times column ran in the Teheran Post.

Cohen: “Then they stole my column.”

Wolpe: “That shows that it was worth stealing.”

Finally, it was the audience’s turn to confront Cohen directly, and the questions ranged from thoughtful to bitter.

“Were you paid by the Iranian government for your trip?” asked one audience member. “No,” said Cohen, though he paid an Iranian “agency” $150 a day for the services of a translator, who acknowledged that he would have to file a report on Cohen’s doings with the authorities.

Wolpe interjected that Cohen had paid for his own trip to speak at Sinai Temple.

Several questioners wondered how Cohen could take the answers of fearful Iranian Jews at face value, especially with a government translator at his side.

Cohen responded that he recognized the possibility of self-censorship by those he talked to, “but that doesn’t mean that nothing they said is of any value.”

Some of the sharpest questions came from the Bahai community, seven of whose leaders in Iran were recently imprisoned as alleged Israeli spies.

Cohen said he had not spoken to the Bahais, but was aware of their plight.

Despite his stout defense, it became obvious that Cohen was affected by the direct or implied criticism of his views by a knowledgeable audience.

“I feel your anger, indignation and pain,” he said. “I think that at some level you retain a love of country [Iran]. But I hope you will give some thought to what I have said.”

A sampling of audience reactions after the talk revealed little indication that Cohen’s request was acceptable.

“He didn’t understand the geopolitical situation, and he doesn’t know what he is talking about,” commented Jasmin Niku, a 22-year old law student.

Two veteran community leaders, who rarely see eye-to-eye but have excellent contacts inside Iran, also expressed strong reservations.

“In Iran, Jews are pawns of the regime, which will go to great lengths to persuade outsiders, like Cohen, who know little about the history of the Jewish community, that everything is just fine,” said George Haroonian.

Sam Kermanian was particularly disappointed, after spending two hours one-on-one with Cohen earlier in the day, trying to explain the real situation in Iran.

Kermanian, who is active in the Center for the Promotion of Democracy, based in Iran, said that the Teheran government is adamantly anti-American, whatever the sentiments of its people.

“If Cohen has come to a different conclusion, after talking to four or five Jews through an interpreter,” added Kermanian, “then he has been deceived.”

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Video from the Dialogue
Roger and Me
Roger Cohen speaks with Iranian Jews at Sinai Temple
Roger Cohen’s Reaction

L.A.’s Top Ten Mensches — big hearted Angelenos


“It is hard to convey the special sense of respect, dignity and approbation that can be conveyed by calling someone ‘a real mensch,'” writes Leo Rosten in “The Joys of Yiddish.”

The Yiddish word infuses the basic German denotation — “person” — with an almost indefinable connotation. A mensch is a person who is upright, honorable, decent, as Rosten writes, a person to admire and emulate.

Boy, could we use some now.

As the last pieces of 2008 crash down around us, there is ample evidence that mensch-hood (more properly, menschlikayt) is in short supply, at least judging by headlines. Worse, the Bernard Madoff scandal revealed a disturbing tendency to hide chicanery under the guise of do-goodery. Madoff, his middlemen and some charitable boards were doing good while doing wrong — either out of evil, in Madoff’s case, or, at best perhaps, just out of gullibility and incompetence.

So we look to The Journal’s fourth annual Top Ten Mensches list to brighten our spirits and boost our hopes for a better year. As the stories here demonstrate, these are people who in the course of lives no less hectic and demanding than our own, facing temptations no less alluring than those we all confront, manage to reach out and help others, making the world a better place, day in and day out.

The Jewish Journal created this list as a response to all those lists extolling fame, money, power and hot-ness. We honor these special ten because they are just people — menschen, to use the proper Yiddish plural — who understand the power and possibility of what just one person can do to help others.

Thank you to all our mensches, and to all who offered up names for consideration. Maybe next year we’ll all be candidates for the list….

Gabriel Halimi: Partying For a Cause

It was a stuttering problem that turned Gabriel Halimi into a mensch.

“I had a really bad stutter when I was kid,” the now 27-year-old recalled recently. “My therapist said I needed to speak up in class and try to get myself to talk more, and then I started falling into leadership activities because it forced me to talk.”

Dressed in a pink shirt and a brown blazer, Halimi looks much like the young professionals he now helps lead in the 4-year-old Beverly Hills-based nonprofit, Society of Young Philanthropists (SYP).

By day, Halimi works at ACG, a real estate consulting firm. But he recently passed the California Bar exam and said he hopes to be practicing as an attorney by February.

In addition to working full time and attending Loyola Law School, Halimi is one of 25 young professionals who helped found SYP and is currently serving as one of its board members. The philosophy behind SYP, Halimi said, is simple.

“We wanted to do well in our work,” he said. “We wanted to party, and we wanted to do something bigger than ourselves, and that’s kinda where SYP was born.”

Halimi grew up in Los Angeles, attending Temple Emanuel Community Day School before eventually transferring to Beverly Hills public schools. But Halimi said it wasn’t until college that his Jewish roots really took hold.

At UC Santa Barbara, Halimi joined the Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, and became immersed in its world of partying and doing good.

“He was really seen as a leader even among his peers,” said Elishia Shokrian Bolour, a childhood friend who, along with Halimi, helped found SYP.

However, Halimi insists that working with SYP has demanded little self-sacrifice. Throughout the year, SYP holds events — big, bold, boisterous events — and rather than have all the money go to the DJ, the club or the liquor, the majority of the proceeds (about 70 percent) goes to charity.

“We just kinda wanted to get people to think in more philanthropic terms,” Halimi said. “If you’re going to be doing this anyway [partying], you might as well be doing it for a good cause.”

On May 14, 2005, Halimi and his friends launched SYP’s first event by pulling all their resources together and throwing a huge bash in Beverly Hills.

Approximately 500 young Angelenos — mostly ages 18-30 — raised close to $70, 000 for three Jewish organizations: IMA Foundation, which is dedicated to disaster relief in Israel; the educational foundation Magbit, which helps those in Israel gain a higher education; and Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish drug rehabilitation center in Culver City.

Halimi said his favorite SYP cause so far, however, has been one that doesn’t directly involve the Jewish community: Darfur.

“It was just so beautiful,” Halimi said, referring to the $45,000 SYP donated to American Jewish World Service’s relief work in Darfur. “We could see beyond ourselves and recognize that there are a lot of people out there that could use our help.”
“It goes to the principle of tikkun olam,” healing the world, he said.

SYP is not a Jewish organization, although most of those involved have grown up within the Jewish community, and the nonprofit does not make any outright political statements.

“We don’t want to take any kind of political stance that might alienate someone,” he said.

The organization chooses the causes it supports democratically, allowing every member to have a say in the direction of the nonprofit.

In addition to SYP, Halimi is involved in 30 Years After, a nonprofit dedicated to uniting the Iranian American Jewish community, and the Lev Foundation, which promotes balanced, responsible living and is named in honor of Daniel Levian, a recent victim of a drunk driving accident.

When asked, Halimi said he doesn’t consider himself a mensch — he’s not worthy, he claimed — but he offered up this definition of one: “Someone who can see past themselves.”

But just ask Rhoda Weisman, executive director of the Professional Leaders Project, an organization dedicated to developing the next generation of Jewish leaders. She said, “In all honesty, if you were to ask me what a definition of a mensch is, I would name you Gabe.”

— Lilly Fowler, Contributing Writer

Kim Krowne: ‘Hakuna Matata’Means Bringing Hope to Tanzanian Kids

Kim Krowne thought she’d be attending medical school. Instead, the 24-year-old Northridge native, a graduate of Sierra Canyon and Milken Community High School, spent most of 2007 and 2008 in Tanzania, improving the lives of orphaned children and many villagers. She’s been home for the past several months and plans to return to Africa in January.

ALTTEXTOnce a “total planner,” Krowne’s current philosophy of life is more hakuna matata — “there’s no problem” in Swahili, a language she speaks fluently. “Obviously, this was not my plan. But I love it. There’s so much work to be done,” she said.

The focus of her passion is the Matumaini Child Care Center, a small three-room building in the village of Rau that houses 20 children, ages 6 to 15. Krowne discovered it in the fall of 2006 while taking a year off after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where she fulfilled her premed requirements while majoring in the sociology and anthropology of health, concentrating on Africa.

At that time, the nongovernmental, nonreligious and nonprofit Matumaini Center cared for eight children whose parents had either died of HIV/AIDS, were alcoholic or couldn’t afford their care. Newly opened, it desperately needed funds for food and school fees, less than $20 annually per student. Krowne immediately e-mailed family and friends and raised $1,000.

She came home in March 2007 knowing she would return. Her last week there, she had met Michelle Kowalczyk, 27 and a nurse, and asked her to look after the kids, who then numbered 20. Kowalczyk also became enamored.

The following December, Krowne and Kowalczyk together formed a nonprofit, Knock Foundation (www.knockfoundation.org), to help solicit donations and grants. They also signed a five-year contract with Matumaini (meaning hope in Swahili) to fund the nonprofit and become decision-making partners.

When they returned to Tanzania they facilitated a host of improvements, including providing the children with nutritious meals, medical and dental care and school uniforms and supplies and paying salaries to the orphanage workers.

They also had bunk beds built in the rooms, upgraded the latrines, improved the general cleanliness and constructed a chicken coop on the property.

Their reach extends as well to the greater community in Rau and nearby villages, with the goal of making families more self-sufficient. One such effort, dubbed the Piggery Project, has provided 50 families with supplies needed to build a pig hut, as well as two pigs to raise. The families will keep some of the proceeds from the sale of the pigs and reinvest the remainder. They hope to expand the project.

They have also renovated a government medical clinic and dispensary in Shimbwe, the only health facility available to serve thousands of people in the Kilimanjaro region. In addition to repairing the clinic’s roof and painting its rooms, they purchased laboratory materials and medications.

Plus, they organized a two-day life skills and HIV/AIDS seminar in conjunction with a local NGO that was attended by 100 women and children. It will become a yearly event.

To date, Krowne and Kowalczyk have raised about $85,000 and need an additional $35,000 for 2009 to sustain the current projects. They would also like to construct a new building for Matumaini, start another orphanage and help provide secondary and university education for the children, among other dreams.

Kowalczyk marvels at Krowne’s ability to transcend barriers. “Kim has been able to reach people who otherwise would have been untouched,” she said. “We’ll be doing this for the rest of our lives.”

To make a donation or for more information, visit www.knockfoundation.org, call (818) 831-6075 or e-mail kim@knockfoundation.org.

— Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor

‘Mixed’ marriages lose stigma among Iranians


If Arash Saghian’s recent marriage had taken place in the late 1980s or early 1990s, he would likely have faced ostracism from Los Angeles’ Iranian Jewish community. The family of the 25-year-old businessman might have also frowned upon the match, all because his spouse Maya was Ashkenazi.

A few years after fleeing the chaos of Iran’s revolution in 1979 and setting up new roots in Southern California, parents and families in the insular Iranian Jewish community were fearful of losing their customs and the traditional form of Judaism they practiced. For these reasons, many in the community rejected or were fearful of their children marrying Jews from other cultures.

But my, how times have changed.

With today’s Iranian Jews now an important thread in the fabric of Jewish Los Angeles, the community has softened its approach to these so-called mixed marriages. For their part, the Saghians were married in what has almost become a normal occurrence for many younger Iranian Jews.

“Being Jewish is the most important part of the marriage,” Saghian said. “The families have different cultures, but when they see their children are happy and continuing the Jewish traditions … that matters more.”

Saghian is one of a growing number of Iranian Jews marrying Ashkenazi Jews because of their shared level of religiosity. But the trend is also growing among Iranian Jews on the secular end of the religious spectrum.

Dr. Nahid Pirnazar, a professor of Judeo-Persian history at UCLA, said marriage between Iranian Jews and other Jews is not a new phenomenon since many other immigrant Jewish groups have done the same after becoming Americanized over time.

“Thirty or 25 years ago, you wouldn’t see Iranian Jews going to see baseball or basketball games, or musical shows and plays, but now they own suites at the Staples Center or boxes at the Hollywood Bowl,” Pirnazar said. “Today, we as a community are becoming more assimilated, so having an American member in the family is not an inconvenience but a sign of sophistication.”

Pirnazar, whose husband is an American Jew, said many Iranian Jews who were living in the United States as students prior to the 1979 Iranian revolution were open to marriage with non-Iranian Jews, since the Iranian Jewish community was small at that time. Disagreements over finding a spouse from the Iranian Jewish community only arose after the older generation of Iranian Jews immigrated to the United States and were unfamiliar with other Jewish groups.

Iranian Jewish matchmaker Asher Aramnia, who volunteers his time out of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana, said there were hesitations even back in Iran. Prior to the revolution, marriages between Jews from different cities in Iran were often difficult for families to accept, he said.

“In Iran, in each city the Jewish community was fairly small and everyone knew one another so they could ask around about a family’s background,” Aramnia said. “But when a Jewish man from Shiraz, for example, wanted to marry a Jewish woman in Hamedan, there would be problems because each of the couple’s families had no idea what the other family was like or what their traditions were like.”

Aramnia, who has been married for more than 50 years, also said younger Iranian Jews today have no problems marrying Jews of European and Middle Eastern descent largely because their families have become more tolerant.

“Iranian Jews 25 years ago had heard rumors that American Jews did not want to be married for life, so there were hesitancies to marry with them since our community does not easily accept divorces,” he said. “But now, after they’ve seen so many long and successful marriages with American Jews, the doubts have disappeared.”

When Jaleh Naim’s daughter Neda met a Brazilian Jew at the USC dental school 10 years ago, the mother of three didn’t know how to take it at first.

“It was very hard for me to accept their relationship because we had no idea what his background was like,” Naim said. “But today they’re very happy together and that’s all I want.”

Dr. Morgan Hakimi, an L.A.-based Iranian Jewish psychologist, said despite the language and cultural differences, Iranian Jews have increasingly chosen to marry into other Jewish groups after having discovered they share common religious values with other Jews.

“We should not underestimate the power of the Jewish religion as a common denominator,” said Hakimi, who is also president of the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills. “A great foundation that has contributed to overlooking their cultural difference is Jewish knowledge and philosophy that has become the anchor in many of these marriages.”

But many families still frown upon intermarriage with individuals of other faiths, Aramnia said.

“There are a number of Iranian Jewish men who have married non-Jewish Mexicans and Filipinos, which the majority of our families do not approve of,” Aramnia said. “But parents are beginning to be more receptive to their children’s spouses who convert to Judaism.”

As the taboo of marriage to Jews of other cultures continues to abate, even many older Iranian Jews are finding Jewish spouses of Ashkenazi heritage. Gerald Bresler, of Encino, said he married his Iranian Jewish wife 18 years ago after being divorced because he had had positive business dealing with Iranians in Southern California.

“When I met my wife I was not surprised. I liked her mannerisms and everything about her,” said Bresler, who is in his 60s. “I think American Jewish men are attracted to Iranian Jewish women because they really try to please the man.”

Bresler said some older Jewish couples where the women is an Iranian and the man is an American have been successful because of the level of respect the couples have for one another.

“With the older generation in Iran, the male is more dominant than the female, whereas in the American culture men treat women equally,” Bresler said. “So I think if anything, Iranian Jewish women might be interested in marrying an American Jew because they might feel more equal.”

Many in the L.A. Iranian Jewish community feel the trend will continue as long as the marriages remain successful. Hakimi said the common ingredients in the relationships that continue to work have been “love, respect and tolerance for one another’s differences.”

Iranian Jews struggle with segregation, presumption and assimilation


A little historical anecdote tells much about the transition of Iranian Jews in Los Angeles over a 25-year span, from strangers to integral — though distinctive — members of the larger Jewish community.

In the late 1970s and early ’80s, following Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution, the first sizeable wave of Iranian Jews arrived in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.

Many chose the conveniently located Sinai Temple in Westwood, a prominent Conservative synagogue, as their Shabbat gathering place.

Soon their large, extended families, speaking Persian, socialized in the lobby on Friday evenings, ate oneg Shabbat cookies, and attended services the following morning.

Ashkenazi old-timers started grumbling about “free rides” for the newcomers, quite unaware that to the Iranians, paying membership dues to a synagogue was a foreign concept and that it was considered a blessing for guests to take home some cookies and candy after a bar mitzvah or wedding.

Things actually came to the point where a new Sinai Temple president “solved” the cookie problem by canceling oneg Shabbat refreshments after Friday evening services altogether.

Eventually, cooler and more perceptive heads prevailed as both sides came to understand each other’s background and customs.

Today, Sinai Temple is a model of “integration,” with Iranians representing about half of the membership, some 40 percent of the board of directors and even a president emeritus.

There is no demographic study of the Iranian Jewish community in Los Angeles, although its size is generally given as 30,000, including the American-born children of the original immigrants.

This figure is well below the 100,000 in Israel but ahead of New York City’s 12,000 — the only other large concentration in the United States — and bigger than the some 25,000 Jews remaining in Iran itself.

In a thumbnail overview, Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, describes his constituency as economically “extremely successful,” though, despite urban legend, there are poor Iranians, especially in the San Fernando Valley and the Pico-Robertson area.

However, the poor are not publicly visible, mainly because they are generally kept afloat through an extended and extremely tight-knit family structure, one of the hallmarks of the community.

One such family network is the Nazarian clan, in which the accomplishments and wealth of individual brothers, sons, daughters, in-laws, nephews and cousins combine to make the overall family clout and assets bigger than the sum of its parts.

The Journal recently met with the family patriarch, Izak Parviz Nazarian, and his daughter, Dora Kadisha, to listen to an up-to-date version of the Horatio Alger story.

Nazarian was born in Tehran 77 years ago into an impoverished family and went to work at an early age after his father died when Parviz was 5.

In 1948, he arrived in Israel three days after the country declared its independence and immediately joined a tank brigade, was seriously injured in a mine explosion and spent five months in a hospital.

After the war, he bought a truck for construction work, but soon advanced from driver to contractor. Over the next 30 years, he launched a remarkable entrepreneurial career, shuttling between Israel and Iran, and establishing joint enterprises in construction equipment, electronics and sheet metal production.

At the same time, he took an active role in the Tehran Jewish community, campaigned for women’s rights, aided Jewish refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan, and helped Israeli diplomats escape the country when the Islamic Revolution broke out.

In June 1979, Nazarian and his wife, Pouran, along with their three daughters and one son left Iran for good and settled in Los Angeles.

“We were attracted by the climate, which is similar to Tehran’s, and we were readily accepted by the Jewish community, which wasn’t the case in other American cities,” Nazarian said.

Arriving in the new country and city, Nazarian hit the ground running.

He took over, expanded and still chairs Stadco, a leading producer of high-precision tooling and parts for the aerospace industry. In 1985, he founded Omninet to develop the first satellite-based data communication system, and when Omninet merged with Qualcomm in San Diego, Nazarian became a major stockholder in the pioneering cellphone company.

Currently, Nazarian chairs Omninet Capital, a diversified investment firm in the fields of private equity, real estate and venture capital.

As a community activist and philanthropist, he helped organize the secret emigration of Soviet Jews through Armenia to Israel. He co-founded the Magbit Foundation, which has provided $6.5 million to more than 5,000 students in Israel. He is a supporter of Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University, Technion and the Weizmann Institute of Science.

The total wealth of Nazarian and his extended family, which includes his brother, Younes Nazarian, and son-in-law, Neil Kadisha, is estimated at between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.

Currently, Nazarian is focusing much of his considerable energy on the Citizen Empowerment Center in Israel, which seeks to educate the country’s citizens toward the goal of adopting a more functional electoral system.

Holidays are celebrated by the entire clan, with Parviz and Pouran Nazarian hosting around 50 family members for Passover seders, and 25 for Shabbat, including 10 grandchildren.

The Nazarian family tends to be very private and, for the most part, has avoided the media spotlight afforded some of this city’s prominent families. Nevertheless, some scrutiny is impossible to forgo.

According to a recent front-page report in the Los Angeles Times, son-in-law Neil Kadisha has been ordered to pay $100 million in damages following a four-year civil trial in which the judge ruled that Kadisha, as a trustee for a young widow, had taken large sums from her account.

Kadisha has asked for a new trial and a spokesperson said he was eager to refute the charges in public as soon as he is legally able to do so.

In their occupations, Iranian Jews are full participants in the business and professional life of this city, and they support the work of established American Jewish organizations.

Nessah president blazing trail for Iranian women


Dr. Morgan Hakimi has a variety of roles — psychologist, Jewish activist, wife and full-time mother. But it’s her position as president of the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center in Beverly Hills that has captured the attention of the L.A. Persian Jewish community.

In this Persian Orthodox culture, where leadership is traditionally dominated by men, opposition followed Hakimi after she was first elected president in 2004. However, Hakimi’s recent reelection has inspired her to step up her challenge to other women to get involved.

“I have always felt that Nessah could be an incredible bridge for more women to participate in our community, for younger American Jews of Iranian descent to connect with her heritage and for American Jews to become more familiar with us,” she said.

Skepticism from critics has died down since her initiatives have led to a substantial increase in membership within the last two years. People are packing Nessah’s two sanctuaries during Shabbat services, and crowds of previously disenfranchised women — both younger Persian Jews and non-Persian Jews — are participating in greater numbers in center programming Hakimi developed.

She credits outreach to and inclusion of the larger Jewish community for the synagogue’s growth. Hakimi has turned to a more American model of running a synagogue — setting up a membership system, establishing support groups for single parents and adding more events for its younger congregants.

“My greatest asset is having a diverse staff of Iranians, Americans, Hispanics and African Americans that are not afraid to work together,” Hakimi said. “We purposefully chose a new executive director in Michael Sklarewitz and new program director in Robin Federman, who are American, in order to better serve our community and bring us closer to the greater American Jewish community.”

Nessah’s Rabbi David Shofet praised Hakimi’s outreach efforts to younger Iranian Jews and said he has noticed more women at the center since she took office.

“In my eyes, women are more important because they are the mothers of the next generation,” he said. “If they are committed to Judaism and are affiliated, they can hand it on to the next generation. Otherwise there will not be a continuity of Judaism.”

After Hakimi’s election two years ago, participation of women in religious services became a lightning-rod issue on both sides of the mechitza in the Orthodox congregation. Traditionalists sought to keep women out, and more liberated women demanded greater involvement. Hakimi has approached such situations with diplomacy in mind, talking with both sides to find acceptable common ground.

“I am not here to create a revolution. I’m here to bring awareness and understanding about a lot of issues in our community, including those involving women,” Hakimi said. “I was raised in an egalitarian family, so I’m not bitter toward men, and I don’t have an attitude of fighting when I approach the rabbis or men. That’s why they are welcoming of my suggestions to include everyone in our programs.”

Hakimi’s election as president set a precedent at Nessah, which she continues to build on slowly. Eight women now sit on the center’s board of directors, with more women serving in committee and staff positions. At the congregational level, young women are now welcome to celebrate a bat mitzvah by giving a d’var Torah during the daytime Shabbat service.

Nahid Pirnazar, a member of the Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization, said that Nessah could stand to have greater inclusion of women in religious services.

“But Dr. Hakimi has certainly helped [us] take a lot of positive steps toward greater participation of women,” she said.

Pirnazar, a UCLA professor of Judeo-Persian history, said Hakimi is the first from her generation to achieve a leadership role in the local Iranian Jewish community, and that she shares good company with Jewish women in Iran who took leadership positions in the early 20th century.

Hakimi is also encouraging young women to develop their own programs at Nessah and to make their voices heard.”Dr. Hakimi has been an incredible mentor in my life in demonstrating to me the unique qualities women in leadership can bring,” said Rona Ram, a 22-year-old Nessah volunteer. “What we, as young females, have noticed is the overriding respect and appreciation the entire congregation gives her as she speaks.”

Hakimi said that when issues of change come up, she anticipates resistance. But she says her aim is to slowly press for greater involvement of women in community activities.

“The Iranian Jewish woman has a quiet strength that is only now coming to the surface. I’m here to say they can have it all, but it will take time _ it will not happen overnight, and they must show a desire and commitment to taking part in leadership roles,” Hakimi said.

For more information about the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center, visit www.nessah.org or call (310) 273-2400.

Local community refuses to forget 12 missing Persian Jews


12 missing Persian Jews: not forgotten

Nearly 300 members of the Iranian Jewish community and local Persian-language media gathered at the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills on Sept. 27 for an event sponsored by the Council of Iranian Jews to discuss the fate of 12 Persian Jews who were kidnapped by the Iranian secret police between 1994 and 1997 and have not been heard from since. Family members of the missing 12 Jews were on hand to express their frustration with lack of cooperation from the Iranian regime.

“I am sure my son is not lost; he’s alive and being held by the Iranian government and that regime must answer to where they are holding our youngsters!” said Elana Tehrani, whose 17-year-old son, Babak, was arrested by Iranian secret police when trying to flee Iran into Pakistan in 1994.

Those in attendance cried when photos of the missing 12 Jews were held up for the audience with their names and dates of abduction announced. An emotional recorded telephone message to the community from Orit Ravizadeh, one of the missing Jews’ wives living in Israel, was also played for the audience.

Speakers at the event included Nessah’s Rabbi David Shofet and the Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper. Persian Jewish activists George Haroonian, Bijan Khailli, Frank Nikbakht and Pooya Dayamin who spoke at the event said they have been active in trying to resolve the case of the missing 12 for the last six years.

Earlier this month, the kidnapped victim’s families filed suit against Iran’s former President Mohammad Khatami for implementing a policy of abduction and imprisonment of their loved ones.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Smile, darn ya!

Operation Smile, a leading humanitarian and medical services organization dedicated to helping improve the health and lives of children and young adults worldwide, honored humanitarians Vanessa and Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump family; L.A. Clippers of present (Elton Brand) and past (Norm Nixon); and Abbott, the global health care company, at its fifth annual Operation Smile Gala Sept. 21 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Among the prominent civic leaders in attendance were Milt Hinsch, Jerry and Vicki Moyers, Joe and Sue Kainz, Dennis Seider and dental innovator Dr. Bill Dorfmann, author of “Billion Dollar Smile, a Complete Guide to Your Smile Makeover.”

The evening, whose honorary chairs were Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and his wife, Cindy, began with a VIP party, complete with goodies and piano accompaniment and culminated in a dinner and awards ceremony emceed by “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush. Guests were royally entertained by multi-Grammy Award-winner Christopher Cross and Debbie Allen’s Dance Academy.

Lladro, the renowned Spanish House of Porcelain, donated $150,000 to the cause and the evening included a surprise visit from Madelein Cordova Dubon, a 2-year-old girl from Honduras who was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. Event co-chairs Roma Downey and Mark Burnett had recently participated in an Operation Smile medical mission in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where they met and bonded with Madelein.

Operation Smile was founded in 1982 by Dr. William P. Magee, a plastic surgeon, and his wife, Kathleen, a nurse and clinical social worker. It has provided free reconstructive surgery to more than 100,000 children and young adults with cleft lips, cleft palates, tumors and other birth defects in 32 countries around the world.

For more information, visit ” border=0 alt = “”>


Dr. Sarah Weddington, renowned winning attorney in one of the most famous cases in U.S. history, Roe v. Wade, spoke at the annual fundraiser for the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP) recently. Opening her speech, she immediately expressed her deep sadness about learning of the death of her dear friend, colleague and fellow Texan, Ann Richards, former governor of the state of Texas.

“I had the privilege of knowing Ann since the early ’70s,” she told the large group of supporters who turned out for the event. “When it came to running for a political office, Ann was a guru and pioneer in the art of running for political office and winning. Her inspiration, courage and quick wit were element of her savvy personality. Ann Richards was a friend, mentor and role model for women.”

WRRAP raises money for low-income women of all ages, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds who are unable to pay for either emergency contraception or a safe and legal abortion. The event featured sumptuous hors d’oeuvres and a wine reception. Following Weddington’s speech and comments on the upcoming Proposition 85, which would prohibit abortions for California teens until 48 hours after their parents have been notified, there was a Q-and-A session.

For more information on WRRAP, visit the ” border = 0 alt = “”>

It’s mayor meets mayor at Temple of the Arts; Women of vision see Jews’ future in Iran


It’s mayor meets mayor at Temple of the Arts
 
Mayor Yona Yahov of Haifa received a standing ovation after his Kol Nidre address at Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills Sunday night. A few minutes earlier, by way of introducing Yahov, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke candidly about the feeling of disorientation his famously frenetic schedule tends to induce.
 
“It’s almost like not knowing where I am at any given moment,” Villaraigosa confessed.
 
Luckily, the sound of Hebrew prayers and his recollection of a Yom Kippur appointment at a temple in Northridge earlier in the evening helped Villaraigosa get his bearings. During his brief remarks he praised his counterpart from Haifa as a man of peace.
 
In his sermon on the seed of resiliency, Rabbi David Barron spoke more pointedly about Yahov’s aptness as a speaker at Sunday’s service. Citing Yahov’s ongoing efforts to create understanding between Arabs and Jews, Barron called Yahov “a man who is practicing forgiveness, which we are here to reflect on.”
 
“This has been an awkward, unprecedented war,” Yahov said at the beginning of his speech. “It has not been soldiers against soldiers or ships against ships.”Yahov said that when a rocket struck the Carmelite monastery above Haifa at the onset of the conflict, a local investigator at the scene was puzzled to find tiny ball-bearings scattered about the area.
 
“We learned these are often packed into the belts of suicide bombers,” Yahov said, “to widen the effect of the blast.”
 
When it become clear that civilians were to be the targets of Hezbollah’s missile campaign, Yahov said one of his first concerns was to keep life as normal as possible for Haifa’s children, even under the city’s constant curfew.Soft laughter rippled through the audience when Yahov, a big silver-haired bear of a man, asked, “Can you imagine what to do with your kids if they were stuck in your house for a month?”
 
Yahov’s solution was to place his city’s youngest citizens in a very familiar environment. Each day of the conflict, from early morning until late afternoon, thousands of Haifa’s children were sheltered on the lower levels of underground parking garages at the city’s shopping malls.
 
“No enemy can destroy our life,” Yahov said.
 
After he thanked the congregation for its support, he concluded his remarks by saying, “We showed the whole world that the Jewish people are one people.”
 
— Nick Street, Contributing Writer

Women of vision see Jews’ future in Iran
 
Amidst growing tensions between Iran and the United States in recent months, the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization (IJWO) in Los Angeles is planning a seminar at the Museum of Tolerance focusing on the future security of Jews living in Iran today.
 
The event, scheduled for Oct. 10 and organized by the Women of Vision chapter of IJWO, will include prominent Persian Jewish activists, leaders and intellectuals from Europe and Israel, as well as Los Angeles, and aims to shed light on the political, social, and psychological challenges faced by the approximately 20,000 Jews in Iran.
 
“We didn’t really select this seminar or its topic because we wanted to make a statement about ourselves as women, rather because it is an important topic that has not been addressed by the Iranian Jewish community nor the larger American Jewish community,” said Sharon Baradaran, one of the volunteer organizers of the IJWO seminar.
 
Baradaran said the seminar is particularly significant for opening new dialogue between the various factions within the Persian Jewish community that for years have often been at odds with one another on how to best address the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric of Iran’s fundamentalist regime without jeopardizing the lives of Jews still living in Iran.
 
“While every panel member has been very sensitive to safeguarding the best interest of the Jewish community, to address difficult questions about the future of the community in Iran is critical and if that means certain disagreements, then they should be discussed,” Baradaran said.
 
Local Persian Jews have expressed concern for the security of Iran’s Jews in recent months, following false media reports in May that the Iranian government had approved legislation requiring Jews to wear yellow bands on their clothing.In July, Iranian state-run television aired a pro-Hezbollah rally held by Jews living in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, in what many local Persian Jewish activists believe was a propaganda stunt organized by the regime to show national solidarity for Hezbollah.
 
Maurice Motamed, the Jewish representative to the Iranian parliament, had been slated as a panelist for the seminar but withdrew, saying he will not be arriving in Los Angeles until after the seminar, Baradaran said. Some local Persian Jewish activists have expressed concern over public comments from Motamed during the past year, including his praise for Iran’s uranium enrichment program and his opposition to Israeli military actions against Palestinian terrorists in Gaza and Hezbollah terrorists in Southern Lebanon.
 
In January, Parviz Yeshaya, the former national chairman of the Jewish Council in Iran, issued a rare public statement questioning the logic of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had called the Holocaust a “myth”.
 
The Iranian Jewish Women’s organization was originally set up in 1947 in Iran and later re-established in 1976 in Los Angeles with the objective of recognizing the impact of Iranian Jewish women in the community. In 2002, the Women of Vision chapter and other chapters were added to the organization in an effort to reach out to younger generations of Iranian Jewish women.
 
The IWJO seminar will be held at the Museum of Tolerance on Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. For ticket information contact the IWJO at (818) 929-5936 or visit www.ijwo.org.
 
— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer
 
Captured soldier’s brother addresses students
 
Gadi Goldwasser — brother of Ehud Goldwasser, one of two Israeli soldiers captured on July 12 and still held by Hezbollah — spoke recently to students at UCLA and USC during a brief visit to Los Angeles. He addressed the business and law schools at USC, as well as Hillel and Chabad student groups during their Shabbat dinners.

Iranians Open Shul in Garment District


With a new Torah in their arms, about 100 local Iranian Jewish businessmen sang Hebrew songs and danced down a busy street in downtown Los Angeles’s garment district June 13 to celebrate the official opening of a new synagogue, where many Iranians have their businesses.

As a DJ blasted Israeli music and kebab dinners were served, congregants packed the elegantly decorated 700-square-foot sanctuary, known as the “Downtown Synagogue,” to give thanks and pray. The shul is situated inside a store, alongside fabric outlets, on Cecilia Street, between Eighth and Ninth streets.

“Baruch Hashem, we are very pleased with the new synagogue,” said Avi Cohan, a local Iranian businessman who is one of the founders of the Downtown Synagogue. “It looks just amazing with the nice chairs, and it’s perfect for many of us who wanted a place for prayer at the end of the work day.”

Prior to the festivities, approximately 25 Iranian Jewish business owners gathered at a local textile warehouse, where they each pledged to donate between $260 and $1,500 for each of the last Hebrew letters Cohan was writing to complete the synagogue’s Torah. The Torah was made in Israel for the congregation, and funds still needed to be raised to cover the cost.

Cohan had reason to boast about the new synagogue, whose initial dozen or so congregants first began to assemble in his downtown office to recite Mincha and Arvit prayers nearly 12 years ago. The congregants formed the initial Downtown Synagogue because they were often unable to beat the rush hour traffic to arrive at daily services at synagogues in Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles.

“It’s very convenient for me, because sometimes during the week, I’m in downtown and need a place to pray, so I go there because there is always a minyan, and it’s close by,” said businessman Dara Abaei, an Iranian community activist.

Cohan and other founders said they wanted to create a place of spirituality, as well as a social center, in the business district, which also has an Iranian shul in the jewelry district, between Broadway and Hill streets.

“Our main goal was to little by little get businessmen in our community to close their businesses on Shabbat and bring them closer to God,” said Cohan. “Many are also, unfortunately, too busy during the day to make it to a synagogue to say the Kaddish on the anniversary of their parents’ deaths, so our synagogue provides them with a place to do that.”

Although the afternoon ceremony marked the official opening of the synagogue space, Cohan said congregants have unofficially been holding services at the Cecilia Street location for the last two years.

Contrary to most shuls, the Downtown Synagogue is open only on weekdays and closed on Saturdays and High Holidays. Between 50 to 60 people regularly attend. On Tuesdays, congregants also hear a devar Torah by Rabbi Yosef Shem Tov of the Torat Hayim Kohel in the Pico-Robertson area.

The move to create a formal space for the group began in 2003, when local Iranian businessmen Ezri Namvar and Solomon Rasetgar stepped forward to furnish the rent-free store situated inside a building they co-owned. Namvar and Rastegar recently sold the building housing the synagogue, but they said the current owner, who is not Jewish, has continued to permit the congregation to stay there without paying rent, Namvar said. The new owner was not available for comment.

Cohan said approximately $15,000 was raised through direct contributions. Unlike Ashkenazi Jews, who generally generate the revenue for synagogues through membership fees, Iranian Jews have traditionally raised such funds by auctioning off aliyot during services or asking individuals for direct donations.

Namvar said his family has always strived to keep Judaism alive in Los Angeles and worldwide by supporting Jewish groups, regardless of their specific denominations.

“Our passion is for Jewish education, and we try to help organizations that promote Jewish education, whether they are Orthodox, Reform or Conservative,” Namvar said.

For more information on the Downtown Synagogue call (213) 215-6061.

 

The Circuit 06-30-2006


All About Aviva
It was a night of stargazing…and trying unsuccessfully to spot any flaws on the amazing “Desperate Housewife” Teri Hatcher, when Aviva Family and Children’s Services presented its annual Triumph of the Spirit Awards Gala at the Regent Beverly Wilshire. The evening sparkled as honorees recognized with Aviva Spirit of Compassion awards included Carolyn Strauss, president of HBO Entertainment; actress Raven; restaurateur and architectural designer Barbara Lazaroff, president of Imaginings Interior Design and partner and co-founder of the Wolfgang Puck group of businesses; and community leader and philanthropist Susan Casden. Hatcher served as honorary dinner chair, Jeff Garlin emceed and Macy Gray and Melissa Manchester performed.

Aviva is a nonprofit, nonsectarian, multiservice agency that provides care and treatment to abandoned, neglected, abused and at-risk youth in the greater Los Angeles community.

For more information, visit

The Circuit


Kudos for Kuh

Los Angeles culinary expert Patric Kuh was honored recently in New York by the James Beard Foundation for his humanitarian efforts during the the James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards.

Kuh won kudos in the Magazine Restaurant Review or Critique category for his work at Los Angeles Magazine.

A Clear Need

Bob Ralls and Linda Falcone accepted awards from Harold Davidson, chairman of the board for Junior Blind of America, at the nonprofit organization’s gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The event was held specifically to recognize the contributions of the couple to Junior Blind of America, where they have served as president and vice president of development for more than 20 years. For more than 50 years, Junior Blind of America has offered unique programs and services to help blind and visually impaired people become more independent.

Farewell to Anat Ben-Ishai

While many Jewish Angelenos gathered to do a mitzvah for Big Sunday or to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut at the Israel Festival, a group of almost 300 Wilshire Boulevard Temple staff and families gathered at the Irmas campus for a cause equally personal. The morning’s event was dubbed a “Farewell to Anat Ben-Ishai,” who retired this year after 15 years as director of the Edgar F. Magnin and Gloria and Peter S. Gold Religious Schools.

“You’ve been an inspiration to our children. We can’t pay any person enough for that,” Rabbi Emeritus Harvey J. Fields told Ben-Ishai via a video message. Fields prerecorded a special goodbye message to Ben-Ishai, knowing he would be out of the country for the event. He said what would be missed most in Ben-Ishai’s absence would be her “poetic soul,” her storytelling, and her “care about each of us.” He also noted the excellence of the synagogue’s religious schools today “is your crowning achievement.”

Indeed, in the time Ben-Ishai served as Hebrew school director, the school grew from less than 400 students attending Hebrew school once a week at one campus, to close to 1,000 students attending three days a week at two different campuses.

The haimishe event, as one attendee described it, included many students, several of whom came with their parents. The day began with the tribute and was followed by Israeli dancing, children’s art projects and lunch, as well as a video station to record personal messages to Ben-Ishai and another station to “Write an Anat-o-gram.”

Students also participated in special art projects in their classes, as well as a video project, in which they bid Ben-Ishai farewell and told her they would miss her friendliness and her stories.

Gil Graff, executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), acknowledged Ben Ishai’s leadership contributions over the years, stating that out of the five outstanding teachers recognized by the BJE last year, two teachers were from Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

“Anat,” he told her, “you are truly a teacher of teachers.”

Ben-Ishai told those assembled that her greatest pride came from seeing her student’s independent participation in acts of tikkun olam and tzedakah.

The Anat Ben-Ishai Religious School Scholarship Fund was established May 3 in Ben-Ishai’s honor.

Those wishing to contribute may call the school at (213) 388-2401. — Keren Engelberg, Contributing Writer

Much About Maller

Hot dogs and happy memories were the recipe for the weekend as Temple Akiba, the Reform congregation of Culver City, honored Rabbi Allen Maller for 39 years of dedication and inspiration. The weekend was filled with events to bring the congregation together to celebrate and reflect on the Maller’s years as their leader.

Friday night a special service was held and representatives of California Assemblywoman Karen Bass and L.A. County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke presented commendations. Former Culver City Mayor Albert Vera and Culver City Councilwoman Carol Gross praised Maller’s contributions to the community — the City Council even designated April as “Rabbi Maller Month.” There was a “Potpourri of International Tastes” dinner Saturday night and an original musical review written by Barbara Miller that featured five temple members — performing a “shtetl-flavored” tribute to Maller and Temple Akiba.

Maller will leave Temple Akiba at the end of June. Rabbi Zach Shapiro will become new spiritual leader of the congregation.

Magbit FUNDRAISER

Nearly 800 donors, community leaders and public officials gathered May 7 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel for the 17th annual Magbit Foundation gala to raise funds for interest-free loans for Israeli college students and to celebrate Israel’s 58th year of independence. Master of ceremonies and Magbit leader David Nahai, chair of the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board, welcomed the guests and the contributions of the local Iranian Jewish community that started the Magbit Foundation.

Keynote speaker, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, acknowledged Magbit’s nearly $3 million in loans given to almost 7,000 new immigrant Israeli university students during the last 17 years.

“The fact that you have provided a means for the talented students in Israel to get the education that will help better the world is truly remarkable,” Villaraigosa said.

Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch spoke about the uniquely strong sense of Zionism of Iranian Jews living in Southern California.

“My friends I have known many Jewish communities around the world, but I have grown to admire the Iranian Jewish community for your sense of Israel and love of Israel which is heartfelt,” Danoch said.

Guests also enjoyed the Middle Eastern dancing of the Sunflower Dancers and the singing of acclaimed Israeli Noa Dori. Also in attendance were Israeli Justice Ministry official Shlomo Shachar, and Los Angeles Jewish Federation President John Fishel — Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

The Sinai Century


Every Sunday morning, on Valencia Street in downtown Los Angeles, the Welsh Presbyterian Church of Los Angeles holds services in a sloped brick house of worship with stained glass windows picturing Stars of David.

The stars are Jewish stars, and the church organ is the one used in the Jewish services of the building’s former occupants, members of Congregation Sinai, or as it is known today, Sinai Temple. Formed in 1906 by a group of young men in their 20s and 30s, the Conservative synagogue remained at 1153 Valencia St. until 1925, when the congregation sold the property to the Presbyterians.

Now, two buildings and a handful of cantors and rabbis later, Westwood’s Sinai Temple is celebrating its 100-year anniversary.

How do you celebrate 100 years of history?

Sinai Temple began the party in December, with a communitywide Mitzvah Day, and has held events throughout the year. The celebration will culminate in two events: this weekend’s program featuring scholar-in-residence Elie Wiesel, and a June musical performance at the Wilshire Theatre combined with an evening dinner/dance at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Another way to celebrate 100 years is to start planning the next 100, according to David Wolpe, Sinai’s rabbi for the last nine of them. Wolpe suffers from no shortage of ideas: Eight years ago, he started Friday Night Live, a monthly musical service for 21-39-year-olds, which has been replicated at congregations around the world. And recently, he asserted in a speech and an essay that the entire Conservative movement, which is struggling and divided, ought to be renamed “Covenental Judaism” and thus redefined for the future. Under his leadership, the synagogue has embarked on a two-year, $36 million Sinai Centennial Campaign to expand the synagogue and its services. Some $14 million has been raised so far; donor levels are set from $10,000 to $5 million.

The money will be used to purchase additional property, renovate existing
facilities (including Sinai Akiba day school, which was founded in 1968 and
educates 600 students from kindergarten through eighth grade) and create an adult education center, a parenting place and a counseling center.

“I would like to create a model of synagogue that will be able to help other synagogues figure out how to do this right,” Wolpe told The Journal. Los Angeles is “the most important city in the world,” in terms of influence, he said, and that also applies to Jewish life and to creating innovative programs.

How do you sum up 100 years of history? That’s the task of historian Florie Brizel, who was hired by Sinai two years ago to write the history of the shul. She just completed “Sinai Temple: A Centennial History,” a narrative that runs more than 200 pages.

The young adult immigrants who established Sinai in 1906 — incorporating it in 1908 — just wanted a synagogue that wasn’t exactly Orthodox, but was definitely not Reform.

“It was in response to the choices that were available, which was Orthodox, which didn’t suit a lot of those pioneers, and the new German Reform, which just wasn’t enough,” said Brizel, co-author of “Words That Shook the World: 100 Years of Unforgettable Speeches and Events” (Prentice Hall Press, 2001). “For all intents and purposes, they wanted to be Orthodox, but not quite.”

There was mixed seating and an organ but traditional prayers.

In a way, the history of the temple and congregation is the history of Jewish Los Angeles, with the migration toward the Westside and the integration of diverse Jewish communities.

In 1925, the congregation moved to 3412 W. Fourth St., at the corner of New Hampshire Avenue, where it stayed for 35 years (the building is now used by the Korean Philadelphia Presbyterian church). In 1960, Sinai moved to its current location in Westwood, on Wilshire and Beverly Glen boulevards.

“That big move was about maintaining the congregation,” Brizel said. “Everyone was moving west from the Boyle Heights area. They wanted Beverly Hills. Young people were not staying in the congregation so they said, ‘We’re going to have to stay where our members are.'”

Over the years, there were many rabbis, beginning with Jacob Kohn. Other rabbis have included David Lieber and Jacob Pressman.

Some of Sinai’s leaders influenced the path of Conservative Judaism, including Lieber, who headed the University of Judaism. Sinai was known especially for its music, with cantors such as Carl Urstein, Meir Finkelstein and Lieb Glantz.

One event that radically changed Sinai — and Los Angeles — was the Iranian revolution in 1979, and the influx of Persian Jews to Los Angeles.

“Up until the Iranian revolution in 1979, Sinai was traditional Ashkenazi,” said temple historian Brizel, even though there’d already been a handful of Persian members.

Jimmy Delshad came to Los Angeles in 1960 with his brothers from Iran (via Israel), and when he became a citizen in 1972, he and his wife wanted to join a synagogue. At first they tried Sephardic Temple, but the services were more Ladino — from the Spanish-Jewish tradition — than close to the Persian services he was accustomed to, or the Israeli ones familiar to his wife. They joined Sinai, in the end, because they enjoyed the rabbi’s speeches.

The influx of Persian Jews to Sinai Temple was “organic,” Brizel said. “On Shabbat, everybody would go to the synagogue to find out who was here. It was the trading space for information,” she said, noting that traditionally, synagogues were always meeting houses and especially for Persians during the Iranian revolution.

Friday nights was when the American Jews would come to shul, but the Persians, who traditionally worshipped on Saturday morning, would come to the synagogue Friday night mainly to socialize and to reconnect. Many left Iran with just the clothes on their backs, so they appreciated the food at the shul’s Kiddush on Saturdays.

Near the beginning of the Persian influx, some longstanding members decided to cancel the Kiddush one week because they said they felt outnumbered by the amount of Iranians. But the move provoked an outcry with others in the shul responding that Jews don’t do that to other Jews and they had to have an open-arms policy. They reinstated the weekly post-prayer fete.

“It was a difficult adjustment, just like when any other new group comes in,” said Ed Kaminer, a dentist, lawyer and general contractor who was president of the temple from 1969-71. “Each group looks at them, ‘How dare they come into our shul?’ It wouldn’t matter if they were Russians, Romanians.”

Sinai’s longtime members, especially older ones, worried about having to give up customs and being supplanted.

“It takes a while,” Kaminer said. “The younger ones find it easier. It takes a generation or two.”

Added Brizel: “It took several rabbis chastising the congregation and it still takes some work. Some people left. It took years before the congregation really settled down and started to behave properly.”

She noted a “cultural disconnect.” For example, in Iran, Jews didn’t pay membership dues. It was more of a pay-as-you-go institution. Volunteerism was also a Western concept.

“My wife promoted volunteerism. She helped me figure out that volunteerism is a good thing to do,” Delshad said. The mentality in other countries is more “why do I have to do that?” he said.

Delshad also recalled a night, long ago, when he looked at the bimah and remarked on the men who stood up there beside the rabbi and the cantor.

“Who are they?” he asked his father-in-law.

The temple’s president and vice president, he was told.

“You don’t have to worry about it,” his father-in-law said, because you needed 20 years of service to the synagogue, you had to give a lot of money and Delshad was Persian.

“That will never happen in your lifetime,” his father-in-law told him. “This is an Ashkenazi shul,”

“Something cracked in my head that night [and I decided] I will change that attitude,” said Delshad, who was named Sinai’s man of the year in 1990.

It took Delshad, currently a Beverly Hills’ city councilman, 12 years — not 20 — but from 1999-2001 he became the first Persian Jew to serve as president of Sinai. Delshad, along with others, like Wolpe, have worked to integrate the Ashkenazim and Persians, whose numbers are split about 50-50 in the 1,900-member synagogue.

Today, the synagogue has other pressing challenges, some related to local matters — like whether his younger congregants can afford Westside real estate; others related to wider issues involving Judaism.

“We have all the problems of Westside Jews,” Wolpe said. He has recently spoken on such topics as the value of parents saying no to children — not because parents can’t, but because they won’t. He also spoke last month about the importance of treating hired help — which is mostly Latino — with respect, as Los Angeles’ Latino mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, stood by his side.

“The biggest single problem is continued education and connection to Jewish life,” Wolpe said. “To raise kids who still feel passionately about Jewish life in America.”

The proposed new facilities and programs should help. Through the new parenting and the counseling centers, Wolpe hopes to inculcate Jewish values and modern psychology to newlyweds and parents. And he plans to maintain and build on Sinai’s Center for Jewish Life and Learning, its adult education center.

“Nobody 100 years ago could possibly have any idea what Jewish life would be like now. Just as we have no idea what it will be like in 100 years,” Wolpe said. “But I believe that powerful, active institutions make the difference.”

For more information on events at Sinai Temple, visit www.sinaitemple.org.

 

Community Briefs


Czech President Speaks at Yom HaShoah Service

Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus spoke to about 700 Jewish schoolchildren, diplomats and Holocaust survivors at a Yom HaShoah service at the Museum of Tolerance April 25, at which Gilberto Bosques, a Mexican diplomat who saved thousands of French Jews, was honored.

“We must never forget how it started, who did it,” Klaus said during a California visit, in which he also met with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “The same fate was being prepared for all the Czechs.”

Bosques’ grandson, Tijuana businessman Gilberto Bosques Tistler, accepted the honor on his late grandfather’s behalf. A museum offical told the story of the Mexican consul serving in Vichy France. The diplomat saved about 40,000 Jews, artists and other refugees by issuing travel visas. The visas allowed thousands of Jews to escape to Mexico.

“I hope someone in Israel will say Kaddish for Gilberto Bosques,” said Ruben Beltran, Mexico’s consul general in Los Angeles. Beltran is a descendant of Spanish “converso” Jews, who were forced to become Catholics during the Spanish Inquisition.

The speech by the Czech president, as well as those by Mexican, Israeli and Austrian diplomats, supported the memorial service’s tribute to survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, who recently died in Vienna.

“For many young Austrians, this fragile, stubborn, modest old man has become a hero,” Austrian Consul General Martin Weiss said. “You don’t need many heroes in your life; you just need to choose them carefully.”

YULA High School junior Ariela Gindi, 16, and others noted that they had never heard Bosques’ story before. “You always hear about Schindler, who saved all the Jews, but you never hear of a Mexican consul personally saving Jews,” Gindi said.

After rescuing Nazi victims in World War II, Bosques served as Mexico’s ambassador to Cuba from 1953 to 1964. During that time, he witnessed the Cuban revolution in which strongman Fulgencio Batista was overthrown and communist dictator Fidel Castro rose to power.

Bosques Tistler said his grandfather first protected hunted communist insurgents fighting Batista’s rule, and then, after the 1959 revolution, he hid Batista’s allies fleeing Castro’s regime.

“He arrived into Cuba before the Castro revolution,” Bosques Tistler told The Journal. “Before the revolution, he helped Castro’s people, and he gave asylum at the embassy. Then came the revolution, and he gave asylum to the Batista people.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Iranian Community Honors Memory of Shoah Victims

Nearly 1,000 Iranians of various faiths gathered Sunday, April 23, at the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills to honor the memory of the 6 million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.

The event, broadcast via satellite to Iran by Persian-language television stations in Southern California, was considered especially important this year in the wake of recent comments by Iran’s president denying the existence of the Holocaust. Keynote speakers included Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Dr. Abbas Milani, professor of Iranian studies at Stanford University.

“Many in the world don’t understand why Jews are so obsessed with commemorating the Shoah,” Hier said. “We must remember because we paid a dear price for allowing the world to be silent when it was going on more than 60 years ago.”

Audience members became emotional several times during the event when special prayers were chanted for those killed in the Shoah and when anti-Semitic programming from Iran’s state-sponsored television stations was shown.

Other officials in attendance at the Nessah gathering were Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch, Beverly Hills City Councilman Jimmy Delshad and Michelle Kleinert, deputy director of community affairs for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. — Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Holocaust Survivors Take Part in Hospital Memorial Event

Toni Green, 82, and her sister, Selma Konitz, 80, both of West Los Angeles and formerly of Auschwitz, Poland, were the only ones of eight siblings to survive the Holocaust. They were sent to separate concentration camps and found each other the day after liberation.

To commemorate Yom HaShoah and remember the 6 million who died, the sisters joined other local survivors in a recent candlelighting ceremony at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Program chair Dr. Joel Geiderman, the hospital’s co-chairman of emergency medicine, as well as vice chair of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, told the audience that quite a few survivors come to Cedars, and he urged the residents in attendance, who were from a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds, to listen to their stories while there’s still an opportunity.

Keynote speaker for the 22nd annual gathering, Dr. Susan Bachrach, curator for the U.S. Holocaust Museum, spoke on “Nazi Medicine and Eugenics.” Her talk mirrored the Holocaust Museum’s current exhibition — the most successful in its history — “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race.”

Through a slide show and video testimonials, Bachrach traced the path of Nazi medicine, stemming from Sir Francis Galton’s philosophy of eugenics, which he defined as the improvement of human hereditary traits through intervention. She noted it was practiced by well-known, respected doctors and moved from forced sterilization and unethical experiments to mass murder to genocide.

“It is inconceivable how that became accepted behavior,” she told the audience, discussing the campaign to cleanse German society of those deemed “biological threats,” to the Nordic (“ideal”) race.

Bachrach concluded that “no straight path led from eugenics to Nazi medicine to the Holocaust. It was a twisted route, with many steps along the way. The cumulative, step-by-step choices of thousands and tens of thousands of persons, added up to genocide.” — Melissa Maroff, Contributing Writer

Youths Stage Rally Against Genocide in Darfur

Young people in Los Angeles are actively engaged in the fight to save Darfur, as witnessed by a recent Sunday afternoon gathering at the Federal Building in Westwood. The rally, organized by Teens Against Genocide (TAG), attracted about 300 supporters, including some bearing signs urging, “Honk if you’re opposed to genocide.”

“It was cool to see it all come together,” said TAG founder Shira Shane, a New Community Jewish High School senior, who started the group earlier this year. “This was a communitywide effort, not just the Jewish community.”

Shane said the event was a collaboration of students from high schools throughout the Los Angeles area. TAG membership “exploded exponentially,” according to Shane, who said more students signed up at the rally.

“This is a spectacular group of kids and the most successful aspect of our organization,” noted Janice Kamenir-Reznik, executive director and co-founder of Jewish World Watch (JWW), who mentored TAG and co-sponsored the rally.

Participants included area rabbis and ministers, representatives from the offices of Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Dr. Bruce Powell, New Community Jewish High School headmaster.

“Even though it’s a cold day, it can’t penetrate our warm hearts,” the Rev. Cecil Murray told the crowd. “These young people are giving up their time and talents, and with so many pulls, are prioritizing something as huge as genocide.”

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) stopped by to say “thanks” when she noticed tents set up by the organization, Camp Darfur. “It was a pleasant surprise to find teens against genocide,” said Waters, who told the rally that she had recently been to Sudan, and it was more horrible than they could imagine.

“They’re not just talking tikkun olam (heal the world); they’re seeing it, and they’re teaching their parents,” said Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Jewish World Watch co-founder. “These kids crave idealism, which reminds me of the spirit of the ’60s. There’s a difference in learning history and making history. They’re making history.” — MM

Iranians Facing Up to Drug Abuse Taboo


Three years ago, Raymond P., a 28-year-old Iranian Jew, was a full-fledged member of a notorious Los Angeles street gang. He sold drugs and suggests that he may have participated in violent crimes. He doesn’t want to talk about specifics but explains by saying he was desperate to pay for his drug habit.

Raymond P., who asked that his real name be withheld, is among an uncertain but significant and possibly growing number of Southern California Iranian Jews who have been using and selling illegal drugs. It’s the sort of problem you wouldn’t typically hear about within the Iranian Diaspora community, because the topic embodies cultural shame for family members. Experts say that silence has aided and abetted the problem.

However, now there are efforts under way both to end the silence and help these families.

“I came from a very good family, but I didn’t care who I was hurting, as long as I was getting high,” said Raymond P., who is now in recovery.

He told his story to nearly 200 Iranian Jews gathered recently at the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana. The gathering late last year was the first of its kind for the community.

Since their arrival in great numbers in the United States more than 25 years ago, Iranian Jews — numbering an estimated 30,000 in Southern California — have become one of the more educated and financially successful Jewish communities. But this has not made them immune from a side effect of the American dream: drug abuse, especially among the young.

Leaders of the Eretz-SIAMAK center have decided it’s time to shatter the long-standing taboo of not publicly discussing the drug abuse plaguing Iranian Jews. It began an open dialogue on the issue late last year by gathering a panel of experts to educate families about drug abuse.

“For years, we’ve been quietly helping addicts in the community to [recover from] their drug use,” said Dariush Fakheri, co-founder of Eretz-SIAMAK. “But we finally decided to go public and try to fix this problem when we noticed it has really become widespread among our young people.”

The Eretz-SIAMAK leadership has made a mission of taking on serious and sometimes discomfiting issues within the Iranian Jewish community, including poverty, premarital sex and new Jewish immigration from Iran. It went forward with the drug-abuse awareness event after an anonymous donor provided funding. More seminars and other events are planned this summer after the same anonymous donor recently contributed $5,000 to Eretz-SIAMAK.

There’s no official or reliable data on illegal drug use among Iranian Jews, but psychologist Iraj Shamsian, who specializes in treating addicts of Iranian heritage, said that nearly half of his Iranian patients are Iranian Jews. He and other specialists say they are convinced that, based on their own practices and anecdotal evidence, the problem is growing.

Yet some families are hesitant even to seek help.

“Our culture is the type that wants to keep everything secret and not talk about it, because it’s embarrassing, and people put a label on you,” said Dara Abai, a longtime youth mentor and community volunteer who helps Iranian Jewish drug addicts. “In Iran, I remember that if someone told you to go to a psychologist, they thought you were crazy and had a serious mental problem.”

Cultural attitudes toward alcohol haven’t helped either, he added.

“In our community, we have a lot of alcohol use,” Abai said. “I go to parties and see married people half drunk. Their kids see this, and they think it’s fun. So they try alcohol at a young age, and sometimes that leads them to try drugs.”

Experts said, too, that young Iranian Jews, just like many other young people, experiment with different drugs out of peer pressure or to fit in with friends.

In working with young addicts, psychologist Shamsian draws on his own experience as an addict from 1983 to 1993.

“During those years, I never said no to any drugs I saw,” Shamsian said. “I shot heroin. I used cocaine. I used different downers and uppers — even tried acid and mushrooms.”

Shamsian said his addiction was so intense that he wasted away his savings, as well as family funds brought over from Iran, ultimately ending up on the streets of downtown before finally seeking help.

After becoming drug free, Shamsian obtained professional credentials. Besides his private practice, he works as program coordinator for Creative Care, a respected drug treatment facility in Malibu. He also hosts “Ayeneh,” a Persian-language television program, available on satellite systems, on which he seeks to educate Iranians about the dangers of drug use.

“We answer phone calls from Iranians around the world — even in Iran,” Shamsian said.

Three years ago, Shamsian, along with non-Jewish Iranians, helped found the Iranian Recovery Center (IRC) located in Westwood. The nonprofit offers seminars and education about substance abuse, as well as referrals to those seeking treatment.

“The services of the IRC are totally free and open to the public,” Shamsian said. “We help Iranians of all different religions.”

Other community resources include the Chabad Residential Treatment Center, a treatment facility run by the Chabad organization in the Miracle Mile area, where many Iranian Jews seek help for their addictions. It emphasizes Jewish values and spirituality.

However, the drug problem is not only among the young. Shamsian noted that a significant number of older Iranian Jewish men are using opium on a regular basis, because of their past use and familiarity with the drug from Iran.

Drug use frequently leads to legal difficulties, as well as financial, health and emotional problems, said Dariush Sameyah, an Iranian Jew and Los Angeles Police Department sergeant.

“I was in court recently with this person from a very prominent Iranian Jewish family, and she was heavily involved in credit card fraud to support her narcotics habit,” said Sameyah, who works in internal affairs. “This issue is prevalent in our community. If you look at the court records every day and see the cases coming up, you will see Jewish Iranian names quite frequently.”

“They get a very very rude awakening once the handcuffs go on,” Sameyah said. “Back in the day if a very well-respected Iranian person got arrested in Iran, they wouldn’t get handcuffed or strip searched the way they do here. It’s such an insult and slap in the face for an Iranian person when they are told to bend over for a cavity search, but that’s the law and public policy in the United States.”

Sameyah said a joint investigation led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and Los Angeles police resulted in the arrests last summer of nearly a dozen Iranians in Southern California — many of whom were Jews — for allegedly selling and importing opium, as well as laundering money generated from the sale of opium.

Besides opium and marijuana, heroin has recently made a comeback, said Sameyah.

He added that it’s almost never too soon for parents to begin discussing the drug issue with their children.

“If you want to start talking about narcotics to a 15-, 16- or 17-year-old, you’re about 10 years behind the curve,” Sameyah said. “Because that kid has spent the last 10 years in school with God knows who having glorified narcotics use for them. Education about narcotics starts at the age of 3 and 4.”

He said parents should talk about “what drugs can do to you and what they look like.”

But when children do stumble, make bad decisions and have problems, the taboos must be discarded to leave the path clear for recovery.

“We have to try not to judge people with drug addictions,” said Shamsian. “We have to look at drug abuse as a disease and not from a moral point of view.”

 

Iranian Muslims Brush Up on Shoah


The Simon Wiesenthal Center hosted more than two-dozen representatives from local Iranian Muslim news outlets this month to provide them with information about the Holocaust that they can, in turn, use to educate their readers, listeners and viewers.

“We are looking to introduce the Iranian media to the Wiesenthal Center and to respond to the hatred of Jews in Iran,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, said in remarks to the group. “We want you to expose the lies and hatred coming from the Iranian government.”

Cooper was referring to recent statements by Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian leader has implied that the Holocaust is a myth; on another occasion he asserted that Israel should be obliterated and that a homeland for Jews could be located instead in Europe or America.

Ahmadinejad’s comments have recently energized the Southern California-based Persian-language media to support Israel publicly and to speak out against anti-Semetic remarks made by Iranian government officials for the first time in the 26 years since the Islamic revolution. A pro-Israel rally in Westwood drew nearly 2,000 Iranians from various religions last November.

At the weekend gathering, Iranian journalists talked of a duty to learn more about the Holocaust so they could properly relay the full extent of Nazi atrocities to their audiences.

“It is our responsibility to give people in the Iranian community the correct information about this issue,” said Parviz Kardan, a Persian-language media personality and host of the radio program “A Spoonful of Sugar” on KIRN 670 AM. “We must be a window for young Iranians everywhere to show history in the proper light.”

Those in attendance were given an electronic card with the name and photograph of a child who lived during the era of the Holocaust. At the end of the tour, they discovered what happened to that child.

“I was aware of the Holocaust, but not to the extent of what I learned from this visit,” said Assadollah Morovati, owner of Radio Sedaye Iran (KRSI), a Persian-language satellite-radio station based in Beverly Hills that broadcasts news into Iran and worldwide. “In Iran we have a dictator like Hitler who is behaving like him and speaking like him.”

The journalists’ tour guide was Holocaust survivor Peter Daniels, who had his own perspective on Ahmadinejad.

“We’ve dealt with Holocaust deniers for years,” Daniels said. “The president of Iran is not anything new. It’s a way for them to be heard and get attention. I try not to take it personally.”

In a question-and-answer period following the tour, Cooper noted that Ahmadinejad’s statements may be an attempt to divert attention from Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. But he urged the Iranian media representatives to respond to them nevertheless.

“The average American thinks the president of Iran speaks for all Iranians,” Cooper told them. “They don’t know the region well, so you need to have a core message.” He also urged them to reach out to U.S. elected officials “to voice your concern for the safety of your friends and family in Iran.”

Local Iranian Jewish leaders George Haroonian and Bijan Khalli were involved in setting up the Museum of Tolerance event. They said they felt a responsibility as Jews to inform their non-Jewish Iranian compatriots about the truth of the Holocaust.

“Forgetfulness about the Holocaust is like committing a crime,” Haroonian told the crowd of Iranian journalists in Persian. The Iranian government is “trying to teach hatred for Jews. We hope this tour will be a step to awaken the Iranian people.”

 

‘Top Gun’ Lawyer Aims to Aid Likud


The latest, and certainly most colorful, addition to the ranks of the local Likud leadership is Beverly Hills lawyer Myles L. Berman.

He is better known to citizens facing drunk driving charges — and to connoisseurs of advertising slogans — as The Top Gun DUI Defense Attorney, but these days, it’s the defense of Israel that is uppermost on his mind.

Last June, fed up with what he considers the failure of established organizations to involve the American Jewish and Israeli expatriate communities, he founded the Beverly Hills Chapter of the American Friends of Likud.

So far, he has recruited 11 upscale families, drawn primarily from the Iranian Jewish community, to which his wife, Mitra belongs. The members make up in financial clout what they lack in numbers, with a combined worth of over $1 billion, according to Berman.

Born into a strongly Democratic family but later a founder of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Berman, at 51, is a man of strong physique and opinions.

“I am fed up with intermarriage and with rabbis who reach out to gay and intermarried couples,” he said during an interview in his spacious Sunset Boulevard office.

A member of Sinai Temple, Berman fears that “to some extent, rabbis and lay leaders are unable to instill Jewish identity” into their constituents.

Currently, Berman is focusing his considerable energies on two primary issues:

One is to assure the election from America of a large pro-Likud slate for the upcoming quadrennial Congress of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), dubbed “The Parliament of the Jewish People,” and his own election to the No. 5 spot on the slate.

He is concerned, he said, that so few American Jews realize the importance of June elections for the WZO Congress, which plays a major role in determining relations between Israel and the Diaspora, the running of the Jewish Agency and the dispersal of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Berman’s second immediate goal is to persuade the Israeli government and Knesset to allow Israeli citizens living abroad to vote in Israeli elections.

“It matters to both Israel and American Jewry what the expatriates say and do,” he observed.

Berman has “grabbed [the two issues] in my teeth,” he said. With Berman that means putting his money and advertising savvy behind the effort. Indeed, his penchant for publicity elicits knowing smiles even from fellow Likudniks.

Berman is laying out $50,000 of his own money to place his messages on Israeli cable TV programs popular with Israeli expats, and in the Anglo-Jewish and Hebrew-language press in the United States.

“I hope the efforts will further my ultimate aim of bridging the gap between Israeli leaders and American Jews,” Berman said.

Any Jew over 18 is eligible to vote for delegates to the Congress of the World Zionist Organization online or via mail by Feb. 15. For details, go to www.azm.org or phone (888) 657-8850. The Congress will meet June 19-22 in Jerusalem.

 

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help


 

At 6:30 p.m. on a chilly Wednesday night in December, more than 30 young Jewish professionals gathered on the corner of Sycamore Avenue and Romaine Street in West Hollywood to feed homeless people waiting in line for a hot meal.

There on behalf of the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, the volunteers looked with surprise at the growing line of nearly 200 people waiting for food — a sight already familiar to Jennifer Chadorchi, the young Persian Jewish woman who had single-handedly recruited the evening’s volunteers.

“The turnout of volunteers was amazing that night,” said Chadorchi, who regularly organizes volunteer groups for the Coalition. “It makes me feel so great to share the experience of helping others by bringing them in to volunteer.”

For the last eight years, Chadorchi, a Beverly Hills resident in her 20s, has become a rare jewel in the Persian Jewish community, quietly mobilizing a small army of friends, family members and local students to respond to the plight of the homeless in Los Angeles.

“Her compassion and her actions are contagious,” said Lida Tabibian, a volunteer recruited by Chadorchi. “She not only changes thousands of lives, but she’s also inspiring a whole generation to be leaders for this cause.”

Chadorchi’s journey in aiding the homeless began when she was 16, when, on a rainy night while driving in her brand-new car, she spotted Coalition volunteers serving food to the homeless.

“What caught my eye was the long line of these people just standing in the pouring rain with only newspapers over their heads,” Chadorchi said. “It didn’t seem fair to me that I had so much and they had nothing, so I decided I had to help.” Since 1987, coalition volunteers have been handing out excess food donated by Los Angeles area hotels, restaurants, grocery stores and caterers. In 2000, the coalition joined forces with UCLA medical students, who offer medical aid to sick, homeless individuals gathering at the street corner.

Chadorchi’s efforts also have included raising funds for the coalition, and she has organized clothing drives in her Beverly Hills neighborhood. She was also instrumental in organizing Project Feed, a campaign allowing Beverly Hills school district students to donate food and time to the coalition in exchange for school credit.

“She has had a tremendous impact on our organization. What she did was build a bridge between our group and Beverly Hills, especially the Iranian Jewish community,” said Ted Landreth, one of the coalition’s founders. “Without her I doubt we could have made these important connections.”

Those familiar with Chadorchi’s volunteer efforts said they wished she would enter the public sector and work with local government officials to help alleviate Los Angeles County’s difficulties with the homeless.

“I’ve known Jennifer since she was a junior at Beverly Hills High School. I think she is one of the most dedicated, incredible and passionate young people out there,” said former U.S. presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. “The people working out there [L.A. city officials] are doing alright, but if she was in charge of the homeless problem in Los Angeles County, I promise you’d see some real changes.”

Chadorchi said she is frequently approached by Jews in the community who question her for helping a non-Jewish cause like the coalition.

“It is our duty as Jews to heal the world one person at a time — tikkun olam,” Chadorchi said. “I’m here to let people out there know that one person can really make a difference.”

Individuals interested in joining Chadorchi’s efforts can contact her at (310) 288-0090.

Jennifer Chadorchi

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Rabbi David Shofet to Serve as Iranians’ Spiritual Leader


Nearly 90 religious and social leaders from Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community have formally and unanimously recognized Rabbi David Shofet of the Nessah Cultural Center as the community’s new spiritual head.

While Shofet was not elected, the leadership from leading Iranian Jewish organizations signed a resolution approving him to serve as their primary religious leader. The pronouncement was made at a community gathering Sept. 29 at the Olympic Collection in West Los Angeles.

For more than 25 years, Shofet worked alongside his father, Hacham Yedidia Shofet, the community’s longtime spiritual leader, who died last summer.

“The resolution was an expression of confidence that Rav David was the best person to follow in the footsteps of his father, Hacham Yedidia, as our community’s leading spiritual leader,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian Jewish Federation.

The event was hosted by Dr. H. Kermanshachi, past chairman and founder of the Iranian Jewish Federation.

 

Iranian Community Mourns Its ‘Anchor’


More than 2,000 mourners packed the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills this summer to bid farewell to Hacham Yedidia Shofet. During the funeral, the powerful sound of the shofar blended with the recorded voice of Shofet, who at his own request, led a prayer at his funeral. His seeming presence made it seem all the more difficult to believe that he was gone — after being the anchor of the community for so long.

This High Holiday season marks a milestone for the Iranian Jewish community in Southern California, which numbers nearly 30,000. For the first time since Iranian Jews began to settle here in large numbers, Shofet will not be present as either their actual or symbolic leader. Shofet had been a spiritual force for more than seven decades — most of that time in Iran, where he’d played a powerful political role, as well.

Shofet died early this summer at 96, after several years of declining health. His passing leaves behind a community in transition, one that revered him, but also one that relied less and less on his influence and direction. It’s a community that had begun to see him more with a sense of nostalgia than as a leader.

However, he always commanded respect, and when he called for unity in the community, the Iranian Jewish diaspora took the injunction seriously. With his passing, tensions and factionalism that had been roiling behind the scenes could become more open and intense.

“So long as Hacham Yedidia Shofet was alive, the deep respect and feeling of reverence that the community held for him prevented the younger rabbis from wandering too far from the mainstream on either side,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general for the Iranian American Jewish Federation, a community umbrella organization.

Now the mantle of spiritual leadership falls to Rabbi David Shofet, the middle-age son of the late leader. Like his father, he practices an Iranian style of Judaism, developed over more than 2,500 years, that balances elements of Conservative and Orthodox traditions.

However, he’s inherited a restive flock. The offspring of the immigrant generation is pulling in different directions. Some are shedding much or all of their religious practice or even exploring other religions; many others are turning to Orthodoxy.

None of this internal disintegration seemed possible in Iran, where Jews struggled against frequent oppression to hold onto their religion and culture. In many ways, they succeeded spectacularly. For more than 2,500 years, Iranian Jews lived in relative isolation from the rest of the Jewish world, but they remained Jews, held together by leaders such as Shofet.

The community understands the debt they owe to Shofet and his predecessors.

Following the funeral services, a motorcade and five rented buses were necessary to transport all those who wanted to attend the burial at Groman Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills. Even that wasn’t enough of a goodbye for the 96-year-old patriarch. Approximately 5,000 mourners attended a later memorial.

Shofet served in a quasi-political capacity as representative of the nearly 100,000 Jews in Iran. He spoke for Jews and protected their interests during the reign of the shah, and also for two years under the Islamic regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini that followed.

He immigrated to Southern California in 1981, where he tended to religious and social issues within the Iranian Jewish community here. The issues in the United States were not as immediately perilous as those in Iran, but Shofet soon found he had to deal with fractiousness and assimilation that threatened to erase an Iranian Jewish identity thousands of years in the making.

While many Iranian Jews have been saddened by the loss of Shofet, they’ve had to shift their focus to the future. Community feuding, which had been kept in check out of respect for Shofet and by Shofet’s delicate diplomacy and voice of moderation, are likely to re-emerge.

A serious rift became apparent nearly 10 years ago between those practicing traditional Iranian Judaism and Iranian Jews who adopted a more religiously observant Eastern European form of Orthodox Judaism. Young Iranian Jews have been drawn to more than two dozen Orthodox synagogues in the Pico-Robertson area and along Ventura Boulevard in Encino.

Critics of the new Orthodoxy say that it has broken up families, because the young adult proselytes frequently reject their parents’ generation for not being religious enough.

“It’s just ridiculous, [Orthodox rabbis] have used religious issues of the bedroom and food as weapons that [have] been given to our children to be used against us,” said Pouran Mogahvem Cohen, a West Los Angeles resident.

She organized a support group for families in conflict because of religious differences between the older and younger generations.

“Everyone involved in our group has the main goal of bringing unity in the community by not creating divisions in families or brainwashing our children to drop their university studies and careers, only to go off to some yeshiva across the country,” she said.

A different perspective comes from leaders of the Orthodox shuls. They insist they are addressing the community’s true spiritual needs, which were suppressed in Iran but can achieve full expression given the religious freedom of the United States.

“In Los Angeles, there are hundreds and hundreds of fully observant Persian families, and this past Passover, just through me, we had 1,000 families that sold their chametz, which shows that definitely a good portion of our community is becoming more observant,” said Rabbi David Zargari of the Torat Hayim Center in the Pico-Robertson area.

To reduce the tensions of these religious differences, Cohen’s group in late 2003 organized three question-and-answer seminars held at the Nessah Center, Beverly Hills High School and the Eretz Cultural Center in Tarzana, respectively. She said each seminar was attended by nearly 2,000 Iranian Jews. Also attending were various social and religious leaders, including those from Orthodox synagogues, whose leaders participated as panelists. It was the sort of unity-building exercise that Shofet approved of — except that nothing was settled, Cohen said.

“Their rabbis had no answers for us, and there was nothing resolved,” Cohen said. “Our main achievement was in making people in the community more aware of this problem to protect their children from this type of fanaticism.”

But efforts at peacemaking continue. Last year, the Iranian American Jewish Federation passed a resolution calling on all religious factions in the Iranian Jewish community to accept each other and respect the rights of community members to practice Judaism as they wish.

The intervention was “meant to calm everyone down and to promote the social unity of the community,” Kermanian said. “In essence, what it meant was that any attempt by any single faction to dictate religious policy to the entire community was unacceptable, and the only solution was for all to be free to pursue their own ways of practice.”

This goal doesn’t get any easier in the absence of Shofet.

“The community was his family, and he believed in the well-being of all people, not just Jews,” said David Shofet of his father. “He loved every Jew no matter who he was unconditionally, and his tremendous spirituality is why old and young people were drawn to him.”

Which means that David Shofet, who looks to be in his mid- to late 50s, has big shoes to fill, though he, too, is well regarded after working alongside his father for more than 25 years.

The community is never likely to have another figure as revered and influential in the United States as the elder Shofet was in Iran.

According to Shofet’s 2001 memoirs, written in Persian by Manucher Cohan, he was born in the central Iranian city of Kashan into a family with 12 generations of rabbis. Over the years, Shofet gradually gained prominence among Iran’s Jews and non-Jews for his eloquent speeches and his ability to connect easily with all who approached him for help. Ultimately, he became a liaison and spokesperson for Iranian Jews before the shah, government officials and even Islamic clerics. There’s no such equivalent position for an Iranian Jewish leader in the United States.

However, in Iran, Shofet commanded enough respect to intervene when Jews were in dire trouble, for example, with the Iranian government. He was instrumental in persuading the shah and other government officials in the early 1950s to allow Iraqi Jews, who had illegally left Iraq, to find temporary refuge in Iran before eventually immigrating to Israel, said Ebrahim Yahid, a close colleague of Shofet.

“We had many rabbis, teachers and hachamim in Iran, but he was the most open minded and most beloved of them all,” Yahid said. “He was even respected by the most fanatic Islamic clerics in Iran who did not have friendships with Jews — all because of his gentleness and humility.”

Following the 1979 Iranian revolution, Shofet, along with thousands of other Iranian Jews, eventually immigrated to Southern California. While no longer working as a liaison for Iranian Jews, he continued to serve as a symbolic religious figure, urging Iranian Jewish families to preserve their Jewish traditions. In the United States, Shofet, with his son and other community leaders, helped establish the Nessah Center, first in Santa Monica and then in Beverly Hills.

Over the last five years, Shofet was gradually forced to retire from community work due to failing health. His son took over day-to-day leadership duties.

“Replacing Hacham Yedidia is impossible. The closest we can come to him is his very able son, Rav David Shofet, who has dedicated his life to Iranian Jewry like his father did,” said Andy Abrishami, a Nessah board member and the elder Shofet’s son-in-law. “It’s hard to be a rabbi under any circumstances, especially when you’re a rabbi for Iranian Jews, because their expectations are much higher, but he [David Shofet], with his humility and dedication, has captured the Iranian Jews’ favor.”

If David Shofet can’t bring the often-divided community together, it isn’t clear who can.

“The crucial test for our community now is whether it can hold the center together,” Kermanian said. “At this point, this seems like an extremely tall order, which only Rabbi David Shofet, Hacham Yedidia’s son and our community’s preeminent rabbi, has the chance to fulfill.”

Cohen, the critic of the new Orthodoxy, expressed similar hopes, saying, “We have no expectations from [Orthodox rabbi] Zargari or the others, but we are looking to David Shofet for real, true leadership. This community wants him to truly be a father figure to us. [And] we want him to be as open-minded as his father was.”

Zargari, for one, said he’s open to dialogue with Jews who don’t practice his Orthodoxy: “They are my brothers and sisters. I don’t look down on them or think that I’m better than them in anyway. And it must be mutual. We have to learn to be tolerant and respect each other.”

There’s hope for the future in such sentiments, said Dr. Shirzad Abrams, co-founder of the Graduate Society Foundation, a local organization that promotes the continuity of Iranian Jewish history and Judaism among young Jews.

“The fact that there is contact between [different factions] is positive,” he said. “I’d be very afraid and totally frustrated if they stopped talking to each other.”

The Circuit


Founder Farewell

Jonathan Jacoby, who helped found the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) in 1993, will move his primary residence from New York to Los Angeles in October and, shortly thereafter, step down as IPF’s executive director. Jacoby has been a leading participant in efforts to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict for the past 20 years. The announcement was made, with “regret,” by Seymour D. Reich and Marvin Lender, president and board chair, respectively, of IPF, the organization that advocates an active American engagement in bringing about Israeli-Arab peace. It has its headquarters in New York and an office in Washington, D.C.

Reich and Lender have formed a committee to seek a new executive director and said Jacoby will continue to serve in that position until his replacement begins, at which time his IPF role on the West Coast will be determined.

A Sure Bet

More than 300 young Iranian Jewish professionals attended Eretz-SIAMAK’s second annual Casino Night held at its Tarzana cultural center on Saturday, July 23. Guests enjoyed the easy-going sounds of a live jazz band while gambling at the poker, craps and roulette tables. A portion of the evening’s proceeds was donated to Cure Autism Now, a national nonprofit organization seeking to find a cure for autism.

“We wanted to raise awareness and funds for autism research because it has really impacted the Jewish community but hasn’t received much attention” said Alan Fakheri, chair of the Eretz-SIAMAK Young Professionals Committee.

Federation Feast

South Bay women feasted on a generous serving of warmth and humor as well as a delicious lunch at The Federation’s South Bay Council annual Women’s Division fundraiser. The Heart and Spirit Event, held in May at the Depot Restaurant in Torrance and hosted by comedian chef extraordinaire Michael Shafer, raised more than $73,000.

Shafer’s performance was part cooking class, part stand-up comedy. Those who weren’t laughing too hard learned how to prepare a delicious, kosher Shabbat dinner. Event co-chairs Zvia Hempling and Iris Lee Knell were delighted with the ladies’ enjoyment of their day as well the overwhelming success of the fundraising effort.

“This was definitely among the South Bay Jewish community’s most successful events ever,” said Robin Franko, director of the South Bay Council. “I could not be more excited about the support, encouragement and dedication of our close-knit community.”

Beth Labelson, Suzan Waks and Leslie Werksman were recognized at the event for their generosity and each received the Lion of Judah pin, which is awarded to women who make a minimum gift of $5,000 to The Federation’s annual campaign.

For more information on South Bay programs, call (310) 375-0863 or visit www.jewishla.org. — Julie M. Brown, Contributing Writer

Young Fighters

The young professionals of Los Angeles recently turned out to support the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Young Leader’s Committee annual Summer Soiree to reaffirm their commitment to leadership in their battle against hated and prejudice.

The party mood didn’t deter for one moment the seriousness of efforts to curtail the ever-present ravages of anti-Semitism and bigotry.

These young professionals believe in securing fair and just treatment for everyone and are shaping the future of this important effort through leadership roles in the agency’s many human relations, community service and civil rights programs.

They invite others to become involved as a donor, board member, committee volunteer or Salvin Leadership Institute participant. This annual fundraiser was designed to not only raise funds but awareness.

The evening featured food, dancing and an opportunity to win prizes and to name a martini.

All proceeds benefited the ADL’s fight against anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry.

For more information, call (310) 446-8000.

Briskin at the Beach

Entering the next chapter of its 83-year history, Temple Beth El and Center of San Pedro is excited to welcome Rabbi Charles Briskin as its new spiritual leader. He brings youthful energy and a passion for learning, worship, social justice and community building to Temple Beth El.

“Temple Beth El has a wonderful history and reputation,” Briskin said. “It is known to be a community of genuinely caring and friendly families, served by a solid group of devoted lay leaders and an excellent team of talented and well-established professionals.”

Briskin, his wife, Karen, and toddler son, Ezra, come to Temple Beth El from the San Francisco Bay area. There, Briskin served as the associate rabbi of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, where he worked with Rabbi Janet Marder, a national leader in the Reform movement.

Temple Beth El serves Reform Jews from the Beach Communities, Torrance, the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the Harbor Area in its two locations: the main synagogue building in San Pedro, and the Temple Beth El Peninsula Family Center in Torrance.

For more information on upcoming events to welcome Briskin, call (310) 833-2467.

 

Circuit


Cardinelli Couture Shines

Fashionistas noticeably gasped as each model paraded down the runway recently at the incredibly perfect United Hostesses’ Charities luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The annual fundraiser for the cardiac unit at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center featured a spectacular fashion show of vintage designs from Marilyn Lewis, who worked under the name Cardinelli. Lewis’ new book, “Marilyn, Are You Sure You Can Cook? He Asked,” is a memoir of her illustrious career when everyone from Nancy Reagan to Marlo Thomas donned her exquisite creations; Thomas even selected Lewis as her designer for her classic “That Girl” television series.

Each design was more beautiful than the one before and the sighs were audible as it became more and more apparent Lewis was eons ahead of her time as the styles reflected the au courant look of fashion today. Sumptuous fabrics, silks and drop-dead designs only brought home her incredible genius.

Fashion icon and Giorgio owner Fred Hayman, who featured Lewis’ sportswear in his chic Rodeo Drive Giorgio boutique, sang her praises.

“She is a timeless and magnificent designer of couture whose designs have passed the test of time and are still relevant and exquisite today,” Hayman said.

The room, decorated to perfection by floral designer Yonelli, was the ideal backdrop for the stunning runway show.

United Hostesses President Marilyn Gilfanbain, unfortunately under the weather, nevertheless outdid herself this year, and everyone turned out to enjoy this wonderful effort including Nancy Sinatra, Eva Marie Saint, Simone Friedman, Michelle Kaye and former Beverly Hills Mayor Donna Garber.

Glickman’s Pix at UCLA

The Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts at UCLA Hillel held a reception to celebrate the opening of Judy Ellis Glickman’s photography exhibit titled “Resistance and Rescue in Denmark.”

The event featured Dr. David Myers, professor of Jewish history and director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies.

The exhibition, sponsored in part by the Royal Danish Embassy in Washington, D.C., the German Consulate General in Los Angeles and Villa Aurora, features Glickman, whose photography has been an integral part of her life since early childhood. Her father, Irving Bennet Ellis, was a recognized early California pictorialist photographer of the 1930s and 1940s. Glickman has been photographing and exhibiting extensively since the late 1070s. Her work has been shown in over 100 exhibitions nationally and internationally since 1992. In January 1993, Judy Ellis Glickman was honored as a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, the highest honor bestowed by this prestigious organization.

The show will run through June 30 at UCLA Hillel, located at 574 Hilgard Avenue. For more information, call (310) 208-3081, ext. 125.

New Young Professionals

A new nonprofit for young professionals held its inaugural soiree May 14 at a private estate in Beverly Hills and raised $40,000 for three Jewish charities.

The Society of Young Philanthropists (SYP), an organization that targets professionals between 21 and 40, attracted 475 revelers to its fundraiser gala. Guests made a minimum donation of $150 a ticket to feast on sushi and other delicacies, quaff their thirst at an open bar and take in the Latin beats of The Gypsy Boys and the sounds of indie rockers Paramount. A DJ spun hip-hop and dance beats until 5 a.m.

“We definitely met our expectations,” said SYP founder and president Elishia Shokrian, a recent graduate from Cornell’s Hotel School who now works at Califco Inc., a real estate development and management company in Beverly Hills.

Although not a Jewish organization, all 22 of The Society of Young

Philanthropists’ current founding committee are Jews, including some Israelis, said Jessica Kimiabakhsh, media relations director. Leveraging their personal and professional networks for financial and other support, the group chose to donate the proceeds from its first event to three Jewish causes: Magbit Foundation, which provides interest-free loans mostly to Israeli university students; IMA Foundation, a nonprofit that gives money to poor Israelis and for relief efforts; and Beit T’Shuvah, a rehabiliation center for Jewish ex-criminals and addicts. Future beneficiaries of the SYP’s largesse could include other Jewish charities as well cancer research, orphanages and tolerance education.

Going forward, the SYP plans to hold equally high-profile, trendy and enjoyable fundraisers. Among the ideas under consideration is a battle of unsigned bands or a fashion show, Kimiabakhsh said.

“We want to create really fun and appealing events. Young people already spend so much money on entertainment, and it just makes sense to raise money for important causes at the same time.,” Kimiabakhsh said. “We feel that is the best way to motivate this age group.” – Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

A Tribute to Tolerance

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance held its annual National Tribute Dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on May 4. The evening honored Bob Wright, chairman and chief executive officer of NBC Universal and vice chairman and executive officer of General Electric. Wright was presented with the center’s highest honor, its Humanitarian Award, for his lifelong dedication and commitment to philanthropic efforts.

“The Tonight Show” host Jay Leno served as master of ceremonies, Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx provided the entertainment for the evening and “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams delivered tribute remarks to Wright. Chairmen for this year’s dinner were Universal Studios President Ron Meyer, DreamWorks SKG’s Jeffrey Katzenberg and NBC Universal Television Chairman Jeff Zucker.

The Wiesenthal Center also presented Medals of Valor for individual acts of heroism, which included Pastor Carl Wilkens, who remained behind after the forced evacuation of Americans from Rwanda, and is responsible for saving hundreds of lives; Devorah Schramm, an Israeli woman, who transcended the bitter divide of the Middle East conflict to teach music to a blind, autistic Palestinian girl; the untold story of a young Jewish lieutenant, Jerome Shapiro, who arrested Hitler’s second in command, Hermann Goering (the last surviving member of the platoon, Alfred Frye, accepted the medal); and Japanese American veterans of World War II who, as members of the most decorated unit in the history of the Army – themselves victims of discrimination in the U.S. – liberated the Dachau concentration camp death march.

Museum of Tolerance board of trustees chair Larry Mizel thanked the entertainment community for its support at the dinner, which raised $1.5 million.

Bicyclists Raise Funds

Five men from Southern California took part in Riding4Reform, a five-day, 300-mile bike ride through the Negev to Jerusalem, raising more than $40,000 in funds for the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, the Reform movement in Israel.

Howard Kaplan, executive director of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Los Angeles; Cantor Evan Kent, Temple Isaiah, Los Angeles; Charlie Niederman, president of Temple Beth David, Westminster; Mickey Rosen, Los Angeles; and Rabbi Ron Stern, Stephen S. Wise Temple, Los Angeles, were joined by 25 other riders from the United States, Canada and Israel. Together they made the trek from Reform Kibbutz Yahel to Jerusalem, stopping to visit with other Progressive communities in Ashkelon, Modi’in, and Tzur Hadassah along the way. Rabbi Ron Stern decribed the ride as “a terrific trip-by far one of my best experiences in Israel.”

The Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism oversees 25 Reform congregations, 46 preschools, the Noar Telem youth movement, the Young Adult Leadership Forum and the Mechina post-high school/pre-military leadership program in Israel.

For more information, call Mandy Eisner at (818) 907-8740, ext. 28, or e-mail meisner@urj.org.

Magbit Celebrates Israel

More than 500 guests, including local and state government officials and Iranian Jewish leaders, celebrated Israel’s 57th Independence Day at Magbit Foundation’s annual gala event held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on May 22.

Beverly Hills City Councilmember and outgoing Magbit President Jimmy Delshad welcomed some of the evening’s guests, which included L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Beverly Hills Vice-Mayor Steve Webb and California State Assemblymember Paul Koretz. Newly installed Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch praised the Magbit’s directors and contributors for having provided nearly $5 million in interest-free loans to Israeli university students in the last 16 years.

“Over the years, Magbit has given a new hope to the students of Israel that would otherwise not had a chance to receive an education,” he said.

The event’s keynote speaker, Walid Shoebat, a former Palestinian Jihadist turned Christian Zionist, surprised those in attendance with his inspiring tale of leaving the hate-filled environment of the Palestinian Authority and speaking internationally in support of Israel. Guests at the event also enjoyed the performance of up-and-coming pianist William Joseph and award-winning Israeli magician Amos Levkovitch. – Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

 

Political Activism Inspires Iranians


Iran’s growing nuclear threat has activated members of Los Angeles’ Iranian Jewish community to participate in this year’s presidential campaigns and make their voices heard.

Political activism is a unique phenomenon for Iranian Jews, who, for 2,500 years in Iran, had been barred from taking part in political activities and had been denied certain civil rights.

"It took a while for us [Iranian Jews] to take care of our immediate needs in the U.S.," said Sam Kermanian, one of the co-vice chairs for the George Bush/Dick Cheney 2004 campaign in California. "This is a community that came here as refugees and had to put its foundations in place — so getting involved in politics in the last few years only became a priority after all these other issues were taken care of."

Kermanian recently stepped down as chair of the Iranian American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles in order to join the Bush campaign full-time. He said many of California’s 30,000-35,000 Iranian Jews support Bush’s re-election bid.

But the main challenge, he said, is not to convince Iranians Jews to vote but "to make sure that a community that traditionally does not have a culture of voting, to actually come out and cast its vote."

Since the beginning of the summer, Kermanian has collaborated with the Iranian Republican Coalition and the Republican Jewish Coalition in order to reach Iranian Jewish voters who favor the president’s strong alliance with Israel and unwavering stance against negotiations with Iran.

In August, Beverly Hills Jewish Republican Voters for Bush, a group consisting primarily of Iranian Jews, placed a one-page ad in Chashm Andaaz, the local Iranian Jewish magazine, asking for Iranian Jewish campaign volunteers. According to the group’s representatives, they have helped register roughly 200 Iranian Jews in the last two months.

"Because of Iraq, the situation in the Middle East and in Israel, a lot of people on an individual basis have expressed interest in getting involved, because they believe there is a lot at stake in that part of the world," said Solomon Meskin, a volunteer for Beverly Hills Jewish Republican Voters for Bush.

While support for President Bush is prevalent among many Iranian Jews, there are still many in the community that are equally engaged in campaigning on behalf of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

"The Iranian American Jewish community is not homogeneous and should not be regarded as a monolithic body with one political mindset," said David Nahai, a volunteer co-chair of Jews and Friends for Kerry who co-chaired a June fundraiser for Kerry in Brentwood featuring the Democratic nominee’s Jewish brother, Cameron Kerry.

Nahai, a Century City attorney and board member of The Jewish Federation, said he is trying to educate many Iranian Jews who are not yet fully aware of Kerry’s long-standing pro-Israel voting record.

"I believe that our community is now coming to recognize John Kerry’s rock-solid, 20-year, proven pro-Israel record which dwarfs that of George W. Bush in comparison," Nahai said. "I believe that as Iranian-American Jews learn more about Sen. Kerry, his support in the community can only grow."

Aside from Kerry’s pro-Israel voting record, Nahai said Iranian Jews are just discovering that Kerry has also expressed resolve against Iran’s nuclear program.

"Clearly Sen. Kerry is no dove where Iran is concerned and he has stated unequivocally that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable," Nahai said. "Sen. Kerry supports bringing the matter of Iran’s nuclear program before the U.N. Security Council if Iran does not verifiably foreswear its nuclear ambitions."

Nahai said some younger Iranian Jews he has spoken with have also expressed their backing for Kerry and other Democratic candidates in the upcoming election.

"I believe that younger Iranians are more likely to lean toward the Democrats," Nahai said. "The Republican leadership’s ultra-Christian, neo-conservative, big business ethos is backward-looking and simply does not resonate with the young who are looking for a more hopeful… and progressive vision."

Other Kerry supporters in the Iranian Jewish community said they were backing Kerry because of his domestic policies, including proposals to boost the economy.

"I support Kerry because I think his ideas are different from Bush’s as far as being better for our society, from the economy, environment and other areas," said Zhila Ross, an Iranian Jew who lives Brentwood.

In addition to acquiring volunteers, Kermanian said he has also helped start grass-roots campaigns with other Iranian religious and ethnic groups, namely Armenian Christians, Zoroastrians, Caledonians, Muslims and Bahais in California to support Bush.

"There has been absolute harmony among the Iranian groups behind the president," said Kermanian, who has spoken on Persian language radio and TV programs, as well as at many community events.

According to Kermanian’s election demographic records, approximately 80 percent of Iranian Jews in the state are U.S. citizens and 70 percent are of voting age.

Likewise, Nahai said he has also tried to stir up support for Kerry among local Iranians by appearing on KIRN 670 AM, a popular local Persian-language radio station, as well as on the Voice of America television program.

This past July, both Kermanian and Nahai spoke to an Iranian Jewish congregation at the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana during Shabbat morning services, said Shohreh Nowfar, the volunteer chair for the center’s events committee.

More recently, Kermanian and Nahai said they have been approached by the leadership of the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills to engage in an open debate about both presidential candidates, but no time has been set for the event.

As the election intensifies, so do emotions for many Iranian Americans — regardless of their religion. Many say they still harbor a deep dislike for former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Iranian Americans in general continue to blame Carter for not supporting the regime of the late shah of Iran during the Islamic revolution in the late 1970s that ultimately forced thousands of Iranians, including Iranian Jews, to flee their former homeland and lose their livelihoods.

"Most Iranian Americans of all religions believe Carter had a policy that didn’t support the Pahlavi dynasty and his administration convinced military officials in Iran to step aside while the revolution took over the country," said Dr. Shirzad Abrams, co-founder of the Graduate Society Foundation, a local organization promoting the continuity of Iranian Jewish history and Judaism among young Jews.

Abrams and other Iranian Jewish leaders said that despite the resentment some in the community have for Carter, Iranian Jews by in large still continued to support Democratic candidates and politicians, including former President Bill Clinton and U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (Sherman Oaks).

Others in the Iranian Jewish leadership said that while the Democratic and Republican parties have reached out to Iranian Jews for fundraising purposes, the parties have overlooked the true political potential of the community.

"Iranian Jews have a great authority to mobilize the Iranian American community, which numbers around 1 million people," said Pooya Dayanim, president of the Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee. "In the years ahead, they need to become involved in non-Israel and non-Iranian causes to become fully integrated in the fabric of the American Jewish community".

For more information on the Bush campaign, call Sam Kermanian at (310) 854-1199. For more information on the Kerry campaign, call (310) 556-9172

Splintered Persian Groups Merge


Long troubled by infighting, the Los Angeles Iranian Jewish community is working toward less conflict as three prominent Iranian Jewish organizations recently merged with the hope of speaking with one voice.

The Iranian-American Jewish Association (SIAMAK), Eretz Cultural Center and the Neria Yomtoubian Foundation came together under the banner of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center on Feb. 21 in Tarzana.

The merger of the three groups signifies a desire within the Iranian Jewish community for greater participation in the larger Jewish community and a desire to attract Jewish youth to its cause. After more than two decades in the Southland, Persian Jews are organizing to present a united front for their community.

“This is actually a historical event. I do not remember anything like this happening before, and I truly believe that this is a bridge to the future of our community,” said Manizheh Yomtoubian, founder of the Neria Yomtoubian Foundation.

SIAMAK co-founder Dariush Fakheri said he first approached Yomtoubian and Ruben Dokhanian, co-founder and president of Eretz Cultural Center, after he realized the true growth potential of the three separate organizations. The three leaders said that while they have encountered a variety of challenges from logistics to reorganizing their volunteer base in the merge, their primary desire has been to generate more interest in the Tarzana center.

“We have numerous volunteers who give their time, money and effort for the betterment of the community,” said Fakheri. “But we need new members who want to come along with us as we go through this transformation.”

Fakheri said it’s taken a long time for Iranian Jewish organizations to unite because the community has been trying to adapt since its arrival in Southern California nearly 25 years ago.

“You have to look at our situation from so many angles. We are the survivors of a revolution,” Fakheri said. “Our main goal was to survive, so we did whatever we had to do to reach that goal. Now our situation is way different than even a decade ago so we can do more by putting our resources together.”

Lisa Daftari, an editorial intern for SIAMAK’s monthly magazine, The Iranian Jewish Chronicle (“Chashm Andaaz”), said Yomtoubian is the ideal 21st century Jewish activist since she has preserved the memory of her late husband, Neria, by engaging in various activities that encourage young Jews to embrace their Jewish identities.

“Through the creation of Eretz-SIAMAK Center, Manizheh is now determined and able to fulfill both her dreams and Neria’s,” Daftari said. “Her commitment and optimism regarding this project is genuine and unmistakable”.

Yomtoubian has also been very active over the years in an effort to feed nearly 100 Iranian Jewish families living in poverty in Los Angeles by gathering food for them on a weekly basis, Daftari said.

Fakheri said that in the last decade, Yomtoubian has collaborated with SIAMAK — the oldest Iranian Jewish group in Los Angeles — to subsidize food, medical and educational expenses for these needy Iranian Jewish families.

Most notably in 2000, SIAMAK and the Council of Iranian-American Jews were at the forefront of bringing to the world’s attention the plight of 13 Iranian Jews who were arrested by Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime on false charges of treason and were in danger of being executed, Fakheri said.

SIAMAK has also had an international presence, donating $20,000 last year to the Jewish community in Argentina, sending medical aid to earthquake victims in India and Iran, as well as providing humanitarian support to Muslim refugees in war-torn Bosnia during the recent Balkan wars.

Several Iranian Jews living in Los Angeles said they were surprised at the bold move by the three Iranian Jewish groups merging, especially since in-fighting is commonplace among many Iranian Jewish groups.

Fakheri and Yomtoubian said that despite differences of opinion among the diverse local Iranian Jewish groups, the new Eretz-SIAMAK organization will continue to reach out to all Jews in order to be more proactive in community and Israel causes. The group will host a variety of Jewish-oriented programs, including adult and youth Hebrew classes, marriage workshops, yoga classes, singles Shabbatons and cooking classes.

Fakheri said he was particularly looking forwarding to collaborating with as many other local American Jewish groups as possible.

“I would like to see a greater intermingling of Iranian-born Jews and other Jewish communities in the U.S.,” Fakheri said. “We can collaborate more with one another and contribute a lot to each other because of our common Jewish bonds.”

For more information about Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center, call (310) 843-9846.

A Persian Artist’s Crowning Moment


Yosef Setarehshenas wants to revive and introduce Jewish Persian art to the world.

And on the Jewish New Year of 5764, he plans to do it through a unique Persian calendar that will incorporate four different calendars: The Hebrew (Jewish); the Persian (Solar); the Arabic (Lunar) and the English (Christian), with complete explanations of Persian Jewish events for the past 126 years.

"Even the dates Jewish soldiers were killed in the Iran-Iraq war are mentioned," Setarehshenas said.

The calendar will be published by Iranshahr Association, a subsidiary of Sherkat Ketab, the biggest publisher of Persian books and text in Los Angeles. The calendar will be shipped to Persian communities in New York, Europe, Iran and Israel — and Reseda’s Ben David synagogue has ordered nearly 500 copies, said Setarehshenas, 41.

Art — and Iran — are in Setarehshenas’ blood: He only arrived in Los Angeles two and a half years ago. The eldest of five children, Setarehshenas’ mother, Malek Molayem, played the tar, a Persian instrument, and she took up the hobby of rug weaving.

From a very young age, Setarehshenas has been involved in writing and drawing; his short stories appeared in children’s newspapers in Tehran.

"Art is endless," he told The Journal. "Life without art is like heart without love."

Setarehshenas obtained a graduate degree in industrial design, and in his spare time he wrote poetry and played guitar.

Setarehshenas started to use his talents to serve the Jewish community. He designed copper plates of Moses holding the Ten Commandments, and donated several of them to the Iranian Jewish community to honor Persian students. His name, which means astrologist in Farsi, got him interested in the subject of calendars, which is the subject of one of his books, "Conformity of Seconds" (he penned other Jewish books such as "Haftara Treasures," a review of Jewish history, culture and philosophy).

Setarehshenas began in earnest to revive Jewish traditional works of art. He designed and prepared a silver pair of rimonim — the crowns that adorn the Torah scroll sticks — for a Sephardi Torah decoration. It took him almost nine months to produce both one-pound crowns made out of 90-carat silver. Each are adorned with beautiful Persian silverwork, as well as a small Stars of David, combining Persian and Jewish art.

"I have had the best Persian artists make these rimonim," Setarehshenas told The Journal. "Some parts have been done by the best silver-making firms in Isfahan."

"In Iran when I wanted to start making the rimonim or other religious works of art, I would explain the Jewish meaning of the object to the Muslim workers and artists who were going to do the job … they did the job with great appreciation and respect. Even when they wanted to put a piece of work down, they considered it a holy object and would do it very carefully," Setarehshenas told The Journal.

Setarehshenas came to Los Angeles in 2001, joining his wife, Hayedeh, and their two children, Shahrooz and Caroline. He runs a business in the Valley, and still spends much time in art and writing — including contributing to various Persian publications in Los Angeles.

He wants to use the same style of the rimonim to make more traditional Jewish silver objects such as mezuzahs and wine jugs. His latest work, inspired by his mother, was a Persian rug using the copper plate sketch of the figure of Moses holding the Ten Commandments on the rug.

He will stop at nothing to produce Jewish Persian art.

"I want to introduce Persian Jewish culture to those who do not know about it. My wish is to keep the rich Iranian Jewish heritage alive and pass it on to the next generations," he said.

Suspect Arrested in Arson Attacks


An Iranian Jewish immigrant has been arrested as a suspect in a string of arson attacks that targeted three synagogues, a church and a Baha’i center, and which had spread fear of hate crimes and even terrorism throughout the San Fernando Valley.

Farshid Tehrani, 40, who apparently suffered from depression, was arrested early Friday by police, which had been tracking him for a day after receiving a tip linking him to the five arson incidents in Encino.

During three successive days last week (May 5-7), incendiary devices, described by some as Molotov cocktails, were hurled at the Baha’i Faith Community Center, the Iranian Synagogue, Da’at Torah Educational Center and Valley Beth Shalom, one of the leading Conservative congregations in Los Angeles.

About 10 days earlier, a similar attack on the First Presbyterian Church of Encino caused $75,000-$100,000 in damage, according to The Los Angeles Times, which had assigned eight reporters to the story. Damages at the other locations were relatively minor and there were no injuries.

Investigation of the attacks was conducted through one of the largest local law enforcement mobilizations in recent history, with more than 150 police, fire department, FBI and other federal investigators working on the case. These included 65 detectives from the anti-terrorism division of the L.A. Police Department.

Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, told The Jewish Journal that his community, as "one of the targets of these attacks, had been extremely concerned that they were hate or terrorism-related."

George Haroonian, president of the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations, said, "It is disturbing that an Iranian Jewish immigrant is believed to be the perpetrator, but I understand that he had psychological problems. You will find this in every community and it tells us that we must try to identify such problems early on."

Haroonian said that there were two major and about eight storefront synagogues patronized predominantly by Iranian Jews in the San Fernando Valley alone. He praised the work of the authorities and local legislators, who had met with community and congregational leaders to advise on security matters.

Pooya Dayanim, president of the Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee, urged government agencies to channel grants directly to the Iranian Jewish community to enable it to deal more effectively with mental and other health problems.

Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President John Fishel said that the situation is not representative of any particular community but that it is an interpersonal problem.

"It’s important when incidents do occur that we are aware," he said, "but also that we don’t necessarily make sweeping generalizations that every time something occurs to the Jewish community that it is always related to anti-Semitism or some kind of base prejudice."

Police said there was no evidence linking Tehrani to any terrorist groups or causes, while one official described him to the Times as a firebug with serious personal problems.

"We probably saved a lot of lives in this one," the unnamed official said. "He was heading to something bad."

On Tuesday, the L.A. County district attorney’s office charged Tehrani with 12 counts of arson, terrorism and vandalism for attacking five houses of worship in Encino.

During the arraignment in Van Nuys Superior Court, a not guilty plea was entered on Tehrani’s behalf. He is being held on $750,000 bail and a preliminary hearing has been scheduled for May 28.

If convicted on all counts, Tehrani could face a maximum state prison term of 22 years.

According to his immediate family, Tehrani came to the United States about 16 years ago and worked hard in his jewelry business in downtown Los Angeles, until a "depressive disorder" forced him to give up most of his work two years ago.

His younger sister, Sheena Tehrani, described her brother, who is unmarried, as "a kind, caring man who just got burned out. There has to be some mistake. He is not that type of person."

Rabbi Moshe Hafuta of the Da’at Torah Educational Center, said Farshid Tehrani had once come to pray with members of the small congregation, which includes Persian, Israeli and American Jews.

Hafuta also told the Times that he had been involved in a dispute over an apartment he rented from Tehrani, and that a blaze, apparently set with lamp fluid, broke out at the apartment in late April.

The Times investigation also reported that the State of California had filed two tax liens against Tehrani, who, in turn, had tried to sue two judges who had ruled against him.

The fears engendered by the arson attacks motivated congregations and people of all faiths to come closer together through meetings and gestures of support.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom noted that when the Molotov cocktail heaved through a sanctuary window at 6:30 a.m. and landed a few feet from the ark, the Hispanic Catholic custodians rushed in to save five Torah scrolls. Schulweis added that the loyalty and altruistic behavior of the five custodians will be recognized in a gathering of the synagogue’s congregation and board of directors.

"I think we have learned a deep lesson: not to allow hatred to embitter our souls. While we must be vigilant, we must seek out the rescuers and those who love life," he said.

On Thursday night, May 8, worshipers, including various elected officials and religious leaders of many faiths, gathered at St. Cyril’s Catholic Church in Encino to show their solidarity.

"What was impressive was the kinship of fear and the resolution to be for each other," Schulweis said. "I’ve been to many interfaith gatherings where there’s a very noble rhetoric expressed, but never a greater degree of urgency and passion. The lesson derived is that hate is indiscriminate and in order to counter one has to have an ecumenical embrace of love and concern."

Ironically, at the same time (May 5-7) that the hate crimes were being committed in Encino, a conference was being held at USC in the name of religious solidarity. Over the three days, nearly 200 clergy, activists, academics, non-profit workers and lay people from all faiths attended "Beyond Violence: Religious Sources of Social Transformation," a three-day conference intended to "find ways for the religions of the world to work together for peace and justice." In response to the irony, the Rev. James L. Heft, president and founding director of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies, said "Our conference was called ‘Beyond Violence,’ but we were not so naive to think that we would be able to remove all violence. Anytime violence is used it is destructive of human dignity…. People commit acts of violence out of frustration, ignorance, malice and hatred. Whatever the reasons, it must be denounced and opposed."

Amanda Susskind, regional director of the Southwest Regional office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), called the arson incidents "alerts."

"It’s certainly a time to refresh your vigilance in terms of security at your institution," Susskind said, noting that the ADL has scheduled a community forum on security for institutions in the ecumenical community on June 2. "It’s like when there’s an earthquake and afterward you kind of evaluate what your earthquake preparedness is. It’s a good reminder to [exercise] safe practices within the community."

Staff Writer Rachel Brand contributed to this report.

JVS Program Heals Immigrants’ Lives


Balancing a large tray on her shoulders, Nahide Kafri dashed from table to table serving dinner to patients with Alzheimer’s disease at the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA). Despite the hard work, a smile crossed her face.

As a certified nurse assistant (CNA), Kafri earns less than $9 an hour, barely enough to support her husband and four children. She commutes two hours a day in heavy traffic to get to and from work.

She said she couldn’t be happier.

"I like working here so much, maybe too much," said Kafri, clad in white shoes, a floral gown and white pants. "I’ve always liked to help people, and now I can help old people, people who really, really need me."

Just six months ago, the 46-year-old Iranian immigrant was unemployed and on welfare. Now, she has a bright future.

In the past year and a half, Kafri and 29 other immigrants and refugees, mostly from the former Soviet Union and Iran, have moved off the dole and into stable jobs after completing a five-month program sponsored by Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) . After earning their state certification, they have gone on to work as CNAs at JHA, where they bathe, dress and feed the elderly, among other tasks.

In the process of becoming nurse assistants, immigrants like Kafri have regained their pride, said Tatyana Kodner, director of the department of refugee and immigrant services at JVS.

"This program creates miracles in their self-perception, ego and consciousness and makes them feel equal to anybody and everybody who’s functioning independently and not waiting for handouts," she said.

And they make wonderful CNAs, said Molly Forrest, chief executive of JHA, adding, "They’re really good workers."

So talented, in fact, that area nursing homes have inquired about hiring them. Country Villa Health Services, a Marina del Rey firm that operates 26 skilled-nursing homes in Southern California, has had discussions with JVS about possibly tapping program graduates for future positions, said Martha Schwegler, County Villa’s director of education and training.

The state’s nursing shortage has meant a strong job market for participants in the Certified Nurse Assistant Training Program at JVS. With California’s residents graying and its population growing, nursing homes, hospitals and other medical facilities are hungry for CNAs, licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) and registered nurses (RNs), said Donna Gerber of the California Nurses Association, a Sacramento trade group. New state guidelines mandating minimum staffing requirements are expected to boost demand even more when they take effect next year, she added.

For Kafri, completing the JVS program has been nothing less than life altering.

Coming to the United States in 1998 to escape anti-Semitism, Kafri, her husband and their children found themselves crammed into a one-room Los Angeles apartment with no language skills and even less confidence. Isolated and depressed, Kafri and her spouse fought bitterly, feeling like outcasts in their adopted country. She cried herself to sleep many a night.

In Iran, the Kafris lived a comfortable, middle-class life. They owned their own home in Tehran. Kafri’s husband, Khosrov, ran a successful company that manufactured baby shoes. Although some prospective buyers steered clear because of his Jewish heritage, he earned enough so his wife could stay home to raise their family.

In the United States, however, the couple relied on government assistance to survive, a source of great shame. They nearly lost hope, sometimes wishing they had never uprooted themselves.

Then a social worker told Nahide Kafri about the JVS program, and she saw a way out of her predicament. At first, her husband discouraged her from pursuing a career in nursing because of his opposition to her working outside the home. After several heated discussions, he finally relented.

She began her journey toward self-sufficiency when JVS officials interviewed her to ascertain whether she had the English-language skills, intellect and physical strength to pursue a nursing career. The agency also performed an extensive background check on her, as well as on other interested immigrants and refugees. After the vetting, she and a handful of other qualified applicants were chosen to start formal training at JHA.

At the Jewish Home, Kafri and fellow trainees received more than 160 hours of classroom and hands-on training. Cyril Kincaid, the main educator, taught them more than just how to feed stroke victims properly and perform rehabilitative exercises to prevent bed sores and keep the blood flowing. Trying to breach cultural barriers, he talked about such subjects as death and dying in America, noting that some people are agnostics and atheists and prefer nonreligious burials. He stressed the need to respect patients’ customs and wishes, no matter how seemingly exotic.

During the training, Kafri earned $7.15 an hour, and JVS assigned her a mentor to give her career and life advice. Her salary increased to $8.75 after she passed state exams and gained her certification. After three months on the job, JHA hiked her pay to $8.88, plus health benefits.

Kafri isn’t getting rich at the new job. However, she manages to save enough to surprise her children, including her 21-year-old son, Rayan, a UCLA senior.

"I hand them some money and say, ‘Here, spend it for yourself,’" she said, smiling with pride.

JVS started its program after executives noticed that many job-seeking immigrants and refugees on welfare had previously worked as medical technicians and nurses in their home countries. That, coupled with the state’s acute nursing shortage, made agency executives confident that they had a winning idea.

Los Angeles County agreed, granting $197,000 and, recently, another $150,000 for the program. Several private foundations have followed suit.

Although little new money is expected from the county because of the budget crunch, JVS Chief Executive Vivian B. Seigel said the program will continue without interruption, because additional private-sector grants should offset the loss of county funds. The Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund recently said it had preliminarily agreed to invest $125,000 in the program.

JVS executives said they hope to partner with local community colleges so that program graduates could easily go on to train to become LVNs and RNs.

Like the freshly minted nurse assistants, JHA has benefited from the program. Not only has it hired more than two dozen program graduates, but it also receives $1,350 for each CNA it trains in conjunction with JVS, said Shelly Ryan, the home’s chief of human resources.

More than that, the program has given a real opportunity to people down on their luck, she said.

"We have so many people from so many countries who come here for no other reason than to make a better life for their families," Ryan said. "Now, they are."