February 28, 2020

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.