About 250 people attended a dedication event at the UCLA Chancellor's Residence Tuesday night for a first-of-its-kind center on the West Coast — the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies.
The event, which was attended by Jacob Dayan, Israel's consul general in Los Angeles, and Sherry Lansing, vice chair of the UC Board of Regents, also honored the Nazarians, an Iranian American couple whose foundation has donated a total of $5 million to establish Israel studies at UCLA.
"This is for UCLA a landmark moment for international studies," said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, adding that the university intends to make the center the leading Israel studies center in the nation. "In today's global marketplace, international studies and exchanges are more important than ever, especially concerning Israel and the Middle East."
The center, one of three such named and endowed centers in the U.S., offers courses on such varied topics as Israeli politics, law, economics, film, theater and environmental policy. The center also presents speakers and organizes conferences that highlight Israel's history, cultural diversity and economic and technological achievements.
"This idea that started just a few years ago has now become a reality, and it's become a reality because of the unbelievable philanthropic gift of Soraya and Younes Nazarian," Lansing said. "We hope that this program will be a model for all UC campuses."
The Nazarians, who are Jewish, and their four children, fled the violence and demonstrations that led up to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, fearful that the oppressive regime would target the family for their ties to Israel.
They arrived in Los Angeles with a few suitcases and little money. Younes Nazarian, who had successfully started a tool-and-die business in Iran after being trained in that sector in Israel, would eventually start various manufacturing, technology and real estate enterprises. He also was an early investor in and board member of Qualcomm Inc.
"The Nazarians have clearly been guided by their own remarkable history," Block added. "It has been amazing to see the entire family take an active role in marshalling additional resources to bring this dream to fruition."
"This center fits perfectly with the main focus of our foundation, and that is education," Younes Nazarian said. "Even though I don't have higher education myself, I consider it a very important tool for building the future."
The Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies is housed in UCLA's International Institute, which serves as the focal point for international research and teaching at UCLA and houses a number of multidisciplinary centers and programs dedicated to the study of world regions and global issues. From Europe and the Middle East to Africa and South America, the institute's educational mission encompasses activities dedicated to diverse teaching, research and community service.