A first-of-its-kind Israel studies center, funded by one of the most active members of the Iranian Jewish community in the United States, has opened at UCLA. Younes and Soraya Nazarian, known as leaders of the Jewish community of Los Angeles, joined Yaakov Dayan, Israel's Consul-General to the city, in a ceremony to dedicate the Center for Israel Studies in their name last week.
Housed in UCLA's International Institute, the $5 million Nazarian facility is one of three such named and endowed Israel study centers in the United States. It offers courses on various issues in the Jewish States such as politics, law, economics, film, theater and environmental policy. In addition, the center presents speakers and organizes conferences focusing on Israel's history and its cultural diversity, as well as its economic and technological achievements.
The Nazarians, who fled Iran during the Revolution of 1979, feared they and their four children would be targeted for their ties to Israel. Younes Nazarian had originally been trained as a tool-and-die engineer in Israel, before becoming a successful businessman in the same field in Iran. But he was forced to leave everything when he fled the emerging Islamic Republic, landing in LA with little more than a few suitcases.
Nazarian soon recreated himself, however, as a businessman in various manufacturing, technology and real estate ventures. He also invested in Qualcomm Inc., where he eventually became a board member.
"Even though I don't have a higher education myself," said Nazarian, "I consider it a very important tool for building the future."
The Nazarians are strong activists and generous benefactors of Israeli causes within the Jewish State as well: in 2009, the family inaugurated the new Younes and Soraya Nazarian Library Building at Sapir College in Sderot.