September 16, 2019

Moving & Shaking: Nazarians at CSUN, Pico Union Project’s Ultimate Shabbat, Bet Tzedek’s Justice Ball

Los Angeles-based Iranian-Jewish philanthropists Younes and Soraya Nazarian have donated $17 million to Cal State Northridge (CSUN), prompting the renaming of the school’s Valley Performing Arts Center to the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts.

In a statement, CSUN President Dianne Harrison heralded the donation, one of the largest in the history of the state university system.

“The Nazarian family has made a profound and lasting impact on CSUN and the entire region,” Harrison said. “Younes and Soraya have ensured that we can continue to deliver the finest music, dance and theater events, engaging communities throughout Los Angeles and Southern California.”

The California State University Board of Trustees approved the renaming of the center, which houses a 1,700-seat theater. Established six years ago, the center will be known informally as “The Soraya.”

The Nazarians provided the donation through the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation, which promotes education and societal change by focusing on four areas of giving, including the “artistic realm,” the foundation website says.

“At CSUN, we found the perfect opportunity to impact the entire region by supporting two of our family’s most treasured values — education and the arts,” Younes Nazarian said. “My wife’s name, Soraya, means jewel, and this center is a jewel, as well. It is very fitting that her name will grace this building that is itself beautiful and contains such artistic beauty on its stage.”

The Nazarians’ support for CSUN dates back to 2014, when their son, David, a CSUN alumnus, provided a naming gift to the CSUN business college, now known as David Nazarian College of Business and Economics. In 2016, Younes and Soraya Nazarian donated 50 laptops for business students. They sponsored the 50th anniversary of the newly renamed business college, as well. Soraya, a renowned artist, also made and donated a sculpture that will be installed at the Nazarian College.

The Nazarians left Iran and moved to the United States in 1979 during the Islamic Revolution, settling in Beverly Hills. Younes is a businessman and investor.

— Clara Sandler, Contributing Writer

Aryell Cohen (left), trope specialist at Sinai Temple, embraces Craig Taubman, founder of the Pico Union Project. Photo by Linda Kasian Photography.

The inaugural Pico Union Project benefit, “Light Up the Night: The Ultimate Shabbat Table,” was held June 2 at its multifaith cultural center in Los Angeles.

Participants in the sold-out gathering, which functioned as both a community-building event and a fundraiser, according to Pico Union Project executive director Zach Lasker, included singer Shanee Zamir, Cantor Marcus Feldman and actor, writer and event emcee Stuart M. Robinson.

Exceeding its fundraising goal of $40,000, the evening kicked off with hors d’oeuvres in the parking lot, followed by a candle lighting, dinner and the entertainment program.

The 170 attendees at the benefit included Rabbi Deborah Schuldenfrei, DeLet Education Director at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and her husband, Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei, spiritual leader of Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay; the Rev. Najuma Smith-Pollard, program manager of the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement; Rabbi Scott Westle, rabbi-in-residence at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School; and Edina Lekovic, public affairs consultant at the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

In 2013, singer-songwriter Craig Taubman founded the Pico Union Project in the former home of Sinai Temple. Looking ahead, Lasker said he’s excited about the spiritual programming that the organization aims to provide.

“We’re not looking to create a community where people show up and sit in the pews and enjoy — that’s lovely but not what we’re all about,” Lasker said. “We want people to feel they have a stake in creating a multifaith, multicultural community, where there is commitment to looking outside the bubble.”

Too Short performed at Bet Tzedek’s 21st annual Justice Ball on July 21. Photo courtesy of Bet Tzedek.

Dressed in a casual tracksuit and a slicked-back ponytail, pop artist Sia took the stage at West Hollywood hot spot Bootsy Bellows on July 20 at Bet Tzedek’s 21st annual Justice Ball. With the help of DJ Fred Matters, the singer played tracks ranging from Tupac Shakur’s classic “California Love” to DJ Khaled and Rihanna’s current chart-topper, “Wild Thoughts.”

Several guests emerged from the crowd of more than 700 attendees to partake in a dance-off in front of Sia’s DJ set.

Bet Tzedek, which means “House of Justice” in Hebrew, is a pro bono legal service in Los Angeles that assists low-income individuals with legal issues, including elder abuse, housing, consumer rights, transgender rights and reparations for Holocaust survivors. It was founded in 1974.

The organization’s annual Justice Ball brings together young professionals in the community to raise funds for the nonprofit. Past performers include Nelly, Travie McCoy and the Go-Go’s. This year’s Justice Ball raised over $225,000, event organizers said.

“For 21 years, the Justice Ball has brought together A-list talent with young leaders from L.A.’s law, finance, real estate, entertainment, tech and sales industries to benefit the work of Bet Tzedek,” said Jessie Kornberg, president and CEO of Bet Tzedek. “Our city’s most vulnerable communities are in need of access to free legal assistance now more than ever. The Justice Ball makes justice possible for countless Angelenos.”

Justice Ball guest Dana Palmer, a lawyer at McGuireWoods LLP, said he loves that his firm partners with Bet Tzedek because it provides a steady stream of pro bono work.

“[The Justice Ball] is a great event because we get to have fun while contributing to a good cause,” said guest Sarah Kim, an associate at McGuireWoods.

In addition to Sia’s appearance, guests enjoyed a video booth and DJ sets by rappers Too Short and Balthazar Getty.

The Justice Ball is produced by the Bet Tzedek New Leadership Council, a group of volunteers who do outreach and fund-raising for Bet Tzedek’s services among young professionals. The New Leadership Council’s co-chairs are Kim Chemerinsky, John Ly and David Mark.

— Gabriella Kamran, Contributing Writer

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills has hired Rabbi Educator Adam Lutz as director of its religious school and lifelong learning program, effective July 1.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Lutz is a former aerospace engineer who earned a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering at UC San Diego and a master’s in engineering at UCLA. After several years of working as an engineer in the U.S. Navy, he decided Judaism was his calling. He was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2016.

His previous experience in the Jewish community includes serving as information technology coordinator of Project Zug, which enables people to find an online chavruta (study partner) anywhere in the world, and helping to develop KabbalatTorah, an online platform for Jewish texts.

“Rabbi Lutz’s strong connection to Judaism and his extensive training in education will breathe new life into the existing education program,” said a release from the Reform congregation.

Lutz’s wife, Emma, is a cantor at Stephen Wise Temple, and his father, Barry, is the senior rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge.

Participants in the Diller Teen Fellows summer program, including 22 teenagers from Los Angeles, come together after a day of volunteering with Leket Israel, Israel’s largest food bank. Photo courtesy of Leket Israel.

Participants in the Diller Teen Fellows summer program — including 22 teenagers from Los Angeles and 22 from Tel Aviv — recently volunteered with Leket Israel, the largest food bank in Israel.

Over the course of three weeks in Israel, the teenagers packed almost 5,300 pounds of tomatoes and carrots for people in need, which resulted in 600 needy families receiving assistance, according to a July 19 statement.

“It’s wonderful when schools come and get their hands dirty volunteering with Leket Israel,” Joseph Gitler, founder and chairman of the organization said in the statement. “Picking produce in the fields with Leket Israel’s flagship program, Project Leket, is a unique way for today’s youth to connect with the cause, the land and Israel overall. Showing the youth that they can make a true difference, even with limited time, is of utmost importance in empowering the future generation. We would be thrilled to welcome more visitors from Los Angeles on future visits to Israel.”

The annual program is known as the Diller Teen Follows’ Israel Summer Seminar. It began this year on July 2 and concluded 22 days later, and featured educational, service-oriented and community-building activities.

Manda Graizel, Los Angeles coordinator of the Diller Teen Fellows, accompanied the teenagers to Israel. She said they benefited from learning about the homelessness situation in Israel because they were able to draw parallels between the challenges facing the hungry there with the homelessness and hunger problems in Los Angeles.

The age range of participants was 15 to 17. They represented the gamut of Jewish involvement, Graizel said after arriving back from Israel.

The teens who do the Diller Teen Fellows program range from kids who haven’t done anything Jewish since second grade because they didn’t like Hebrew day school and stumbled onto our program, to kids in Orthodox day school, and everything in between,” Graizel said. “It is a truly pluralistic program and we pride ourselves on that.”

Established in San Francisco in 1997, the Diller Teen Fellows is a leadership program for Jewish teenagers from around the world. Each year, 600 10th- and 11th-graders are chosen to take part. To date, the initiative has graduated more than “3,400 alumni-leaders actively engaged in improving the future of their communities, Israel and the Jewish people,” according to the program website.

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