Izak Parviz Nazarian, industrialist and philanthropist, dies at 88

Izak Parviz Nazarian, an Iranian-Jewish community leader, industrialist and self-made billionaire philanthropist, died Aug. 23 in Los Angeles. He was 88.

Local Iranian-Jewish community members remembered Nazarian as a tireless pro-Israel advocate who gave generously to organizations in Israel and started nonprofit groups that benefited the Jewish state in various ways.

“When it comes to true and pure Zionism, he was a lover of Israel and our people. I have lost a teacher and our people have lost their favorite son,” said Dariush Fakheri, the former head of the SIAMAK organization, a nonprofit Iranian-Jewish group based in Los Angeles.

Nazarian was born in 1929 in Tehran’s Jewish ghetto, according to his 2016 Farsi language biography, “My Walk Toward the Horizon.” His parents were David and Golbahar Nazarian, children of Georgian survivors of pogroms and immigrants to the northwestern Iranian town of Urmia.

Following his father’s death in 1935, Nazarian and his younger brother, Younes, grew up in poverty as their mother worked as a tailor. Starting his own business at age 7, Nazarian began selling matches and cigarettes on the streets in order to earn bus money to visit his mother and brother across town while living with other relatives.

Later, Nazarian left his Jewish school before graduation and, with his brother, joined the fast-growing Iranian Railroad Organization trade school and earned a technical electrical degree.

Sam Kermanian, Nazarian’s first cousin and an adviser to the West Hollywood-based Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF), praised Nazarian for his hard work and drive.

“Since early childhood when [Nazarian] lost his own father, he dedicated his life first to elevating his family through his tireless and ever-optimistic pursuit of innovative and progressive business ventures,” Kermanian said.

Izak Parviz Nazarian

Nazarian became an ardent Zionist, leaving Iran in 1947 and joining the Haganah’s fledgling 7th Armored Brigade to help the fight for Israel’s survival in the 1948 War of Independence. During the war, he was severely injured during a patrol near Gaza when his military vehicle encountered a land mine.

“My jeep was completely destroyed and my leg was badly injured, but due to a miracle of God, I survived,” Nazarian told the Journal in a 2007 interview. “I felt it was my duty as a Jew to fight for my homeland of Israel after encountering horrible anti-Semitism while living in Iran.”

After leaving the army in 1949, Nazarian briefly worked as a driver for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and among those he chauffeured was a future prime minister, Golda Meir. Later, he began a road construction business with other young Iranian immigrants, according to his memoirs.

Nazarian moved back to Iran in 1957 and married Pouran Toufer. Along with his brother, he started a construction business that began by paving new roads in undeveloped Iranian towns and provinces and subsequently obtained major road, bridge and civil construction contracts. Later, the two also formed Techno-Is (an abbreviation for Technology of Israel), which imported and distributed throughout Iran various construction machinery and parts from Europe, America and Israel. The company also manufactured construction equipment in its own plant located just outside of Tehran, which employed about 100 people.

Following the turmoil of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Nazarian and his family fled Iran and settled in Los Angeles. Teaming again with his brother, he invested in various real estate and industrial ventures, including the acquisition of Stadco, an aerospace manufacturing company in downtown L.A. In 1984, they co-founded the technology company Omninet, which joined forces with Qualcomm in 1988 to develop a satellite-messaging system for the long-haul trucking industry.

“He was also a big risk-taker in business during his life and he took on some major challenges that many average people would never had taken. In the end, those calculated risks paid off,” said Shokrollah Baravarian, a longtime friend of Nazarian.

Nazarian used his wealth to become a constant supporter of Israel through countless philanthropic projects. In 1990, Nazarian became one of the founders of the L.A.-based Magbit Foundation, a nonprofit that over the decades has provided nearly $1 million in interest-free loans to thousands of Israeli college students.

Former Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad, who once headed the Magbit Foundation, praised Nazarian’s unceasing philanthropic efforts on behalf of the foundation.

“One of my fondest memories of him was walking with him to downtown Persian-Jewish businesses to introduce me as the new president of Magbit Foundation and asking for donations for our cause,” Delshad said. “He never accepted no as an answer and that confirmed my belief that … ‘no’ means ‘not now.’ ”

Nazarian gave to numerous other causes, including Sinai Temple, where the first floor of the Westwood campus is named for him and his wife, and Nessah Educational and Cultural Center, a Beverly Hills synagogue that serves the Persian-Jewish community. Tel Aviv University, which houses the Pouran and Izak Parviz Nazarian Building, also has been a recipient of his support.

“His legacy will be as a shaper of the Persian-Jewish community here and as a major pillar of the Diaspora support of the State of Israel,” Sinai Temple Max Webb Senior Rabbi David Wolpe said.

In 2003, Nazarian founded the Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel (CECI), a nonprofit organization that promotes election reform.

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg said Nazarian dedicated much of his life to the betterment of other Jews, especially Israelis.

“His devotion to the State of Israel and his pro-Israel philanthropic contributions helped improve the lives of Israeli citizens and gave students the opportunity to achieve a higher education,” Grundwerg said in a prepared statement to the Journal.

Frank Nikbakht, a local Iranian-Jewish activist and editor of Nazarian’s memoirs, said his friend’s rags-to-riches story should be inspirational to all.

“Nazarian’s life story was one of misfortune, hope, persecution, courage, uprooting, migration, falling, standing up, taking risks, flying high and shining,” he said. “This is the essence of Jewish life throughout the centuries.”

Nazarian’s survivors include his wife, Pouran Toufer; four children, Dora Nazarian Kadisha, Dalia Nazarian Sassouni, Daphna Nazarian Salimpour and Benjamin Nazarian; brother Younes (Soraya); 12 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

— Staff Writer Ryan Torok contributed to this report.

Izak Parviz Nazarian. Photo courtesy of Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel

Izak Parviz Nazarian, businessman and philanthropist, dies at 88

Izak Parviz Nazarian, the Iranian-Jewish co-founder of investment firm Omninet and former board member of the technology company Qualcomm, died on Aug. 23 in Los Angeles. He was 88.

Those close to Nazarian, a pro-Israel philanthropist, described him as a positive thinker whose love of Israel and his family were the driving forces of his life.

Born in a Tehran ghetto in 1929, he was 5 years old when his father died. He became the “man of the house,” which included his mother, a teacher, and his younger brother, Younes.

At 17, he traveled to Italy and fought with the Haganah in Genoa. Later, he moved to Israel and served with the Israeli armored forces in the War of Independence, an experience he would say decades later was among the most important of his life. An injury during the war landed him in the hospital, and, unable to fight, he became the chauffeur for then-Foreign Minister Golda Meir.

In 1957, he returned to Iran, found success in the construction business, married and started a family. When the 1979 Islamic Revolution put Jews in danger, he left for good, immigrating first to Israel and then to Los Angeles, eventually settling with his family in Beverly Hills.

In 1984, with his brother Younes, he co-founded Omninet. The company joined forces with Qualcomm in 1988 to develop a satellite-messaging system for the long-haul trucking industry.

With his business success, he gave to numerous causes, including Sinai Temple, where the first floor of the Westwood campus is named for him and his wife, Pouran Toufer; and Nessah Educational and Cultural Center, a Beverly Hills synagogue that serves the Persian-Jewish community.

“His legacy will be as a shaper of the Persian-Jewish community here and as a major pillar of the Diaspora support of the state of Israel,” Sinai Temple Senior Rabbi David Wolpe said in a phone interview.

In 2013, Wolpe was among those who participated in a ceremony honoring Nazarian, titled “Passing the Torch,” which was organized by American Friends of Tel Aviv University. The organization raises funds for Tel Aviv University, a recipient of Nazarian’s support. The university houses the Pouran and Izak Parviz Nazarian Building.

Committed to education perhaps because he never had a formal one, Nazarian founded the Magbit Foundation Los Angeles, which promotes education for those seeking to complete their university studies.

Throughout his life, his support for Israel remained steadfast. In 2003, he founded the Citizens’ Empowerment Center in Israel, a nonprofit, nonpolitical organization dedicated to improving the quality of life of Israel’s citizens and reforming the electoral system in Israel.

Wolpe recalled how Nazarian once told him that to connect with Iranian Jews, a sizable portion of the Sinai Temple community, the rabbi should emphasize his love of Israel.

“He said, ‘The more you make your focus Israel with our community the more successful you will be.’ I remember his saying that. Every time I would talk about Israel he would say, not in an ‘I told you so’ way, but in an affirming way, ‘This is what I was talking about,’ ” Wolpe said.

“And I think he felt the Persian-Jewish community had all the advantages and challenges that most of the people who are part of the community see, that wealth was a blessing and also a challenge. Being in America with the freedom it had was also a blessing and a challenge.”

Soraya M. Nazarian, who worked with Nazarian at the Citizens’ Empowerment Center, said he was “like a father to me.” She said her final interaction with him was singing to him on Shabbat at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Weak, Nazarian still managed to move his shoulders to Soraya’s tune.

In an interview after Nazarian’s death, she said she will remember Nazarian for how well he treated others.

“He was always respectful, he was always soft-spoken, but very strong — very strong — powerful, but he was very kind, always thanking people, appreciating everyone,” she said in a phone interview. “People would call and come to see him. He was always appreciative.”

“He gave an impression of titanic strength, he really did,” Wolpe said. “His face was sort of granite-like, that is how I always thought of it.”

His survivors include Pouran Toufer; four children, Dora Nazarian Kadisha, Dalia Nazarian Sassouni, Daphna Nazarian Salimpour and Benjamin Nazarian; 12 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

His burial service is scheduled for Aug. 25 at Eden Memorial Park, on Sepulveda Boulevard in Mission Hills, and a memorial service will be held on Aug. 30 at Sinai Temple.

The shivah will take place at Sephardic Temple on Wilshire Boulevard, according to Soraya M. Nazarian.

In lieu of flowers, Sinai Temple and the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center are accepting donations in his honor.

Qualcomm acquires Israeli start-up for $150 million

San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc. acquired the Israeli chip manufacturer start-up DesignArt Networks for more than $150 million.

The Israeli company, located in Raanana, is considered a leader in the design of modems and small communication cells for cellular base stations and high-speed wireless backhaul infrastructure.

“DesignArt and its products will both enhance and accelerate our initiatives to drive increased capacity and coverage in mobile networks,” Qualcomm President Craig Barratt said in a statement. “Operators can significantly improve user experience across residential, enterprise and outdoor networks given the greater network efficiencies derived by implementing small cells and heterogeneous networks.”

The sale, which was completed last week, is Qualcomm’s second acquisition in Israel following the buyout of the mobile web company iSkoot in 2010, Yahoo Finance reported.

DesignArt specializes in developing data-centric mobile radio access networks coupled with highly integrated system-on-chip technology.

The deal will allow Qualcomm to offer new system-on-chip and mobile offerings, according to PT-News.org. It comes two months after another Israeli start-up, Face.com, was acquired by Facebook for more than $100 million.

Chinese billionaire invests $30 million in Israeli startup

An Israeli startup company has received a $30 million investment from China’s richest man.

Billionaire Li Ka Shing has invested in the navigation technology firm Waze, which will put the money into supporting its application’s more than 7 million drivers and launch a traffic-reporting platform in China, the Israeli business daily Gloves reported.

The Waze free mobile application helps drivers find the shortest route to their destination and provides data on traffic conditions provided by its users. The company also has a social network allowing drivers to report directly to each other on road conditions. Its users live in 45 countries.

Other shareholders include Microsoft and Qualcomm.

Video courtesy of WazeGPS1.

USC Honors Cell Phone Pioneer

As millions of people across the globe yak away on their cell phones, they can thank an Italian Jewish immigrant who laid the foundation for the ubiquitous device.

Equally grateful is USC, which earlier this month unveiled its newly named Andrew and Erna Viterbi School of Engineering in recognition of a $52 million gift from the one-time immigrant and his wife.

With banners, balloons, bands, laudatory speeches and even a canon-shot salvo, USC feted Viterbi, who in a later interview traced his career as a wireless communications pioneer, academician and entrepreneur and weighed the responsibilities of a Jewish philanthropist.

Viterbi, generally addressed as Andy, was born in Bergamo, a northern Italian town of 110,000 with 70 resident Jews. He was the son of an a prominent ophthalmologist. The year was 1935, not a good time for the old, well-established Jewish community of Italy as fascist dictator Benito Mussolini began to ape Hitler’s anti-Semitic laws.

"By 1938, my father had lost his hospital position, couldn’t practice his profession; Jewish kids couldn’t attend public schools, and we were shunned," Viterbi said.

Fortunately, the father obtained a visa to enter the United States and the 4 year old and his parents landed in New York on Aug. 27, 1939 — five days before the outbreak of World War II. The family soon moved to Boston, where young Andy could look across the Charles River and glimpse the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he decided then and there on his future college and career.

For his bar mitzvah, Andy and his parents traveled back to Italy, where one of the celebrants was the great writer Primo Levi, a distant relative.

After finishing MIT, Viterbi began the West Coast phase of his life by joining the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. He met and married Erna, who had arrived with her family as refugees from Sarajevo. They joined Temple Sinai in Glendale and soon added three children to the household.

Viterbi received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from USC in 1962, in 1963 joined the UCLA faculty and three years later developed his path-breaking Viterbi algorithm.

It happened while the family was celebrating Purim, recalled Erna Viterbi, and the children were anxious to show off their homemade, prize-winning costumes. Despite the efforts of the children and their mother, the father couldn’t be distracted from scribbling on a piece of paper.

Finally, Erna Viterbi asked her husband if he had come up with anything, and he replied, "Well, I thought about it, but it’s nothing major."

Actually, it was the Viterbi algorithm, now imprinted on USC T-shirts, which opened the doors to the digital age as a groundbreaking mathematical formula for eliminating signal interference. This allows cell phones to communicate without interfering with each other, but this and later contributions by Viterbi go much further.

C. L. Max Nikias, USC engineering dean, summed up Viterbi’s impact, saying, "Try to imagine a world without Andy’s inventions, and you’d have to travel back in time 30 years — before cell phones, direct broadcast satellite TV, deep-space weather forecasting and video transmission from the surface of Mars."

As an entrepreneur, Viterbi co-founded Linkabit in the 1960s, and cell phone giant Qualcomm in San Diego in 1985. The companies have been huge success stories, and in the year 2000, Viterbi ranked 386th on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans, with an estimated worth of $640 million.

Currently, he and his daughter, Audrey, head the Viterbi Group, a small investing and advisory firm for start-up companies. Today, at age 68, he has also stepped up his long involvement in Jewish and general civic and philanthropic causes.

A former president of the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego, Viterbi is proud as well to have served as president of Congregation Beth El in La Jolla and even prouder that his son, Alan, holds the same post today and keeps a kosher home.

Unlike most very wealthy American Jews, who, according to a recent study, channel only a minute fraction of their charitable giving to specifically Jewish causes, Viterbi has played a major role in aiding Jewish institutions in the San Diego area and in Israel.

Until his megagift to USC, he estimated, he assigned 60 percent of his total giving to Jewish causes and 40 percent to general ones.

The former include the San Diego Jewish Academy, attended by his five grandchildren, the Jewish Community Building, named in honor of his wife’s parents, as well as the Technion in Haifa and various start-up companies in Israel.

But he makes no apologies for his generosity to USC and other non-Jewish beneficiaries, including MIT and UCLA.

"One naturally forms attachments to universities and institutions one grew up with," he said. "We are Jews, but we also live in a larger world and society."