February 22, 2020

Persian Senior Supports LGBTQ Jewish Community

Photo courtesy of Nora Rakow

Editor’s note: Nora Rakow was nominated for our seniors’ edition. However, the person who nominated her didn’t realize Rakow was too young to make our 80-plus cut. Nevertheless, her story is so inspiring, we decided to devote a page to her in our regular community section.

Married at 16 in Tehran, Nora Rakow moved to Los Angeles in 1986 to start a new life. Today, she continues to be successful through her passion for volunteer work with UCLA, Sinai Temple, Hadassah and JNF at “78 years young.”

In 1958, two months after their wedding, Rakow and her husband moved from Tehran to Hamburg, Germany, where their three children were born and raised. Rakow later followed her daughters to Los Angeles, where she received a green card and became a real estate agent.

Ever since her granddaughter Amanda became heavily involved with JQ International, a nonprofit that works to create community and advance greater inclusion of LGBTQ Jews and allies, Rakow has become a proud supporter of the LGBTQ community and has attended multiple events with her granddaughter.

“I admire this young, vibrant group because of the tremendous job they have done when bringing Persian-Jewish families together,” Rakow said. “Many parents don’t initially accept their children coming out as LGBTQ+ and families start to fall apart. [JQ International] has found a way to bring parents and children together and has taught parents how to accept their children, be proud of them and help them to prosper. I think that is a very powerful step they have made in the Persian-Jewish community. Instead of families falling apart, they have bound families together, who are now happy families.”

“Many parents don’t initially accept their children coming out as LGBTQ+ and families start to fall apart. [JQ International] has found a way to bring parents and children together.” — Nora Rakow

After retiring, Rakow realized that aside from spending time with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she “[gets] the most enjoyment out of giving back to my community and giving back to Israel,” she said. “I inherited my charitable heart and my love for Israel from both my beloved parents.”

As a volunteer on the executive board at Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Rakow works to raise funds for Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem. At Sinai Temple, she is an executive board member of the Sisterhood, where she raises funds to support conservative rabbinical students. She also volunteers at the main information desk at UCLA and collaborates with the rabbi in the Spiritual Care unit at UCLA’s health center.

Rakow always has been involved in Hadassah and JNF. When Israel planned to develop the Negev desert, Rakow envisioned “the Persian-Jewish community in Los Angeles could be helpful in this development. I started a new movement in the Persian-Jewish community that if [someone’s] loved one passed away, instead of sending flowers to their grave, they could plant a tree [in Israel] in the memory of [their] loved one. They can also send a tree certificate in honor of someone as a gift for a special occasion.” To date, enough money has been collected to develop almost four forests on the outskirts of Beersheba.

Rakow said her goal for the future is to continue to expand the forests in the Negev. “My slogan is ‘Together, we make the desert bloom,’ ” she said.  

Rakow advises others to follow their hearts. “Be passionate about your dreams and beliefs, and do your best to make them happen,” she said. “Don’t let anyone stop you.”

Melissa Simon is a senior studying journalism at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Jewish Journal summer intern.