When Los Angeles businessman Younes Nazarian donated 119 scholarships to the University of Haifa to commemorate the same number of Israeli soldiers killed during last year's Lebanon War, he attached a personal stipulation to the gift.
He asked each recipient of the $1,000 scholarship to serve, in effect, as the surrogate son or daughter to the surviving families of the fallen soldiers.
Nazarian made his condition perfectly clear when he attended a recent ceremony at the university as one of five recipients of honorary doctorate degrees.
On hand were Erez Inbar -- himself wounded in the fighting, who received a scholarship in the name of fallen Sgt. Ya'ar Ben-Giat -- and the mother of Ben-Giat.
Before formally addressing the large audience, Nazarian asked the two to come to the stage and proceeded to put Inbar through the drill. Do you pledge to regularly visit the parents, he demanded. To write to them when you are away? To tell them how you are doing in your studies?
Amidst considerable emotion and not a few tears, Inbar solemnly pledged to be an attentive substitute son.
Nazarian added another innovative touch to the ceremony. It is an academic custom when conferring an honorary doctorate that a distinguished scholar serves as the honoree's escort.
However, Nazarian insisted that his escort be Soraya, his wife of 46 years and mother of their four children, to whom, he declared, he owed at least 50 percent of his success. As usual, he got his way.
Sitting in his spacious Century City office with his daughter, UCLA political science lecturer Sharon Baradaran, Nazarian cited two reasons for underwriting the 119 scholarships and traveling to Haifa.
First, he wanted to show the parents of the fallen that someone living as far away as Los Angeles shared their grief. The second, as he demonstrated at the ceremony, was to enlist substitute sons and daughters for the bereaved parents.
There might have been a third, unspoken reason. Younes was a 3-year-old child in Tehran when his father died, and he had learned early on what it meant to lose a close family member.
To help support his widowed mother, he started working as a newspaper peddler when he was 9. "I never had a chance to go to school," he reminisced, "but our mother taught my brother and me early on that we had to rely on ourselves and stand on our own feet."
The mother's lesson took hold. After establishing large construction and other enterprises in Iran and Israel, Younes, now 77, and his older brother, Izak Parvis Nazarian, started all over when they moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s.
Since then, the two brothers have done so well that now, according to the Israeli financial publication, Globes, they "are considered the wealthiest Iranian Jews in the world" and are leading philanthropists for Jewish and Israeli causes.
Younes Nazarian doesn't have any pat formulas for success, but advises future entrepreneurs to "think positively, then implement your ideas, and respect everyone who works for you."
Federation, Prizant Settle Dispute
After several months of mediation proceedings, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and its former chief fundraiser, Craig Prizant, have settled their dispute out of court, but a principal in the case has left her Federation job.
None of the involved parties disclosed the terms of the settlement, but Prizant's attorney, Fredric N. Richman, described the outcome as making Prizant "a very happy client."
After four years as The Federation's executive vice president for financial resource development, Prizant was abruptly fired on Jan. 12 of this year.
The cause of the dismissal was never explained, but according to supporters of Prizant, the root cause was professional friction between Prizant, the chief campaign professional, and Sue Bender, who had been hired by Federation President John Fishel to direct The Federation's prime philanthropy office.
Her job was to cultivate the largest donors, those able to make gifts in six figures and above and to fund new programs. Both Prizant and Bender reported directly to Fishel, but as the friction continued, Bender was allegedly able to count on her personal friendship with Fishel to favor her viewpoint, culminating in Prizant's dismissal.
Prizant's partisans claimed that his firing was for personal, not professional, reasons and assert that fundraising totals grew steadily under his stewardship.
Bender left her Federation position in the middle of July, it was confirmed by Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon.
Attorney's fees in the case have not been disclosed, but a knowledgeable source estimated that the cost to The Federation was close to $60,000. Attorney Wayne S. Flick, representing The Federation, did not respond to a request for comment.
At The Federation's board of directors meeting last week, no mention was made of the settlement or Bender's departure and no questions were asked, according to a participant.
Prizant said that he has not yet decided on his future plans, but is weighing opportunities in the nonprofit sector and in advertising.
Teriton Tenants Granted Reprieve in Ellis Act Evictions
Residents facing eviction from the Teriton Apartments in Santa Monica received a reprieve on Monday, Aug. 6, when Judge George H. Wu of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted a preliminary injunction against the owners, Or Khaim Hashalom, a religious nonprofit, halting its plan to use the Ellis Act as justification for vacating them.
The ruling marks the most successful challenge to date to the Ellis Act, a state law granting landlords the right to withdraw from the rental business for at least five years, according to tenants' attorney Christopher Brainard. The act is usually invoked when owners convert units from rentals to condominiums.
The tenants filed suit on June 22 against owners Rouhollah
Esmailzadeh, Eman Esmailzadeh, Arash Esmailzadeh and Ashkan
Esmailzadeh, attorney Rosario Perry and Or Khaim Hashalom, claiming
that the mission of the nonprofit to evict tenants and resettle the
building with Middle Eastern Jewish refugees violated their civil
rights according to the federal Fair Housing Act.The ruling marks just one event in a long-standing battle between the tenants of the Teriton -- a three-story, 28-unit garden apartment designed by architect Sanford Kent in 1949, which sits on almost an acre at 130-142 San Vicente Blvd. -- and the religious nonprofit Or Khaim Hashalom, which was incorporated in January 2006 and is headed by Rabbi Hertzel Illulian.
Attorney David Shapiro of Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard and Smith, representing Or Khain Hashalon, said at the hearing that the nonprofit had amended its bylaws and now intends to establish housing for "poor and needy people without regard to race, religion or national origin."
In response to questions from the judge on specifics of how the apartments would be used and the new tenants might be found, Shapiro responded only that the plan "has always been a work in progress."
Wu imposed the preliminary injunction until further notice, saying, "I don't understand how this serves the entity's [Or Khaim Hashalom's] purpose. It seems the client wants to provide low-income housing, but it's not connected to anything," he said. Defendants have been instructed to submit a detailed plan by Aug. 17.
Meanwhile, the city of Santa Monica concurrently filed suit on July 24 against Or Khaim Hashalom, Perry and others for discriminatory practices.
Many of the tenants have already moved out, meeting the original eviction date of Aug. 7. Others, including those disabled or 62 and over who had a year to leave under the Ellis Act, are remaining. Additionally, Or Khaim Hashalom has moved in one indigent Iranian family, a single mother and her two sons.
Several days before the hearing, Khaim Hashalom's Illulian expressed frustration at the process. "There are people who are trying to stay there forever, and they don't let people like us do good for others."
Timeline: The Teriton and Or Khaim Hashalom
November 10, 2005: A "Notice for Pending Demolition Permit" sign is posted on the lawn of the Teriton. Because the building is more than 40 years old, it is automatically placed on the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission's agenda.
November 14, 2005: The Landmarks Commission reviews the Teriton's eligibility for landmark status and requests the item be returned at a later date with more information. The demolition permit is withdrawn.
January 30, 2006: Or Khaim Hashalom files with the California Secretary of State as a religious nonprofit corporation.
April 2006: Residents receive notice that Or Khaim Hashalom has purchased the Teriton.
July 7, 2007: Rosario Perry, the attorney representing Or Khaim Hashalom, sends a letter to the Santa Monica city attorney declaring that under state law, Government Code Sections 37361 and 25373, the Teriton cannot be designated a landmark because it is owned by a religious nonprofit. (This law has been used only once previously in Santa Monica, on behalf of the First Church of Christ Scientist, a pre-existing religious establishment.)
August 11, 2006: Or Khaim Hashalom holds a public forum at the Gateway Hotel in Santa Monica to explain why the Teriton is exempt from landmark status and to allow the public to respond.
September 11, 2006: The Landmarks Commission unanimously votes to nominate the Teriton for landmark status, pending further study.
November 13, 2006: The Landmarks Commission designates the Teriton a historical landmark.
January 17, 2007: In response to a City of Santa Monica investigation into allegations that Or Khaim Hashalom is violating fair housing laws by basing tenant selection on religion and national origin, attorney Rosario Perry states that Or Khaim Hashalom would "provide housing in a legal manner." He also states owners are seriously considering selling the building. (A sale never takes place.)
April 12, 2007: Tenants receive eviction notices informing them that they must vacate their apartments by August 8 or, for those 62 and over, by April 8, 2008. The evictions are legal under the Ellis Act, a state law giving landlords the right to withdraw from the rental business for at least five years.
June 12, 2007: In response to an appeal by Or Khaim Hashalom, the Santa Monica City Council upholds the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission's decision to designate the Teriton a landmark.
June 22, 2007: The tenants file a lawsuit against Teriton owners Rouhollah Esmailzadeh, Eman Esmailzadeh, Arash Esmailzadeh Ashkan Esmailzadeh, attorney Rosario Perry and Or Khaim Hashalom claiming that the mission of the non-profit to evict tenants and resettle the building with Middle Eastern Jewish refugees violates their civil rights according to 42:405 of the Fair Housing Act.
July 24, 2007: The City of Santa Monica files suit against Or Khaim Hashalom, Rosario Perry, and others claiming the defendants have engaged in unlawful business practices, including housing discrimination, in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the Santa Monica Civil Code, the Ellis Act and other laws.
August 6, 2007: Federal Judge George H. Wu, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, grants a preliminary injunction against religious non-profit Or Khaim Hashalom, halting its plan to evict Teriton residents under the Ellis Act. He instructs Or Khaim Hashalom to submit a plan detailing its amended mission to establish housing for "poor and needy people without regard to race, religion or national origin" by August 17.
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-- Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor