July 24, 2003
Persian Jews Mourn Deaths at Market
Janet Nabatian tried to answer her cellphone at the busy Santa Monica Farmers' Market July 16 at about 1:30 p.m., but the reception was so weak that she had to walk a few steps away from her mother and 7-month-old son to get better reception.
Nabatian, 32, was at the market with her child and 63-year-old mother to buy food for Shabbat. The phone call from her sister in Washington, D.C., saved her life.
Moments later, Nabatian turned her head and saw a speeding red Buick smash into her mother and the baby carriage. Nabatian stared in shock as she saw her mother, Molok Ghoulian, roll over on the ground and her son, Brandon David Esfahani, tossed into the air.
Ghoulian was killed on the spot. The baby was rushed to Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and later transferred to UCLA Medical Center, where he died a day later from brain injuries.
Ghoulian and Brandon, members of the Persian Jewish community, were two of the 10 people killed by 86-year-old driver George Russell Weller, who lost control of his car. As of press time, Santa Monica Police had not decided on what action to take in the case.
The Russian Jewish community is also mourning the Santa Monica Farmers' Market death of Movsha (Michael) Hoffman, who left Lithuania while it was under Soviet rule. He was known in his Russian Jewish neighborhood as a helpful man, "who could fix anything that was busted," a friend said.
Another neighbor described the 78-year-old immigrant as "very communicative, and, if someone was in trouble, he was always the first to help."
Hoffman's wife, Esther, was among the more than 50 people injured at the market. She was hospitalized after the accident in serious condition.
During an emotional funeral on Sunday at Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills attended by 750 people, the Persian Jewish community paid farewell to Ghoulian and her grandson.
Ghoulian and her husband, Houshang Nabatian, emigrated approximately 15 years ago from Iran to the United States, with the help of a Jewish rescue organization based in Italy. The couple came to the United States with their daughter, Janet, to join their other four children, who left Iran during the revolution.
After spending time in Maryland, Ghoulian and Nabatian, a jeweler, moved to Los Angeles with their daughter to join two of their children. They settled in West Los Angeles.
Two years ago, Janet Nabatian married businessman Shahriar David Esfahani (known as "Davidi" in the Persian community). Janet's sisters, Pouran Ahdoot and Parvaneh Abrishamian, flew in from Washington, D.C., and New York for the wedding.
Last December, Brandon was born, the 11th and youngest grandchild of the tightly knit Ghoulian-Nabatian family.
A day after the deadly accident, dozens of family members and friends visited the Ghoulian-Nabatian apartment to offer condolences and support to the family.
"I cannot believe this. I lost my dear mother," said Ben Rahbarpour, the only son. "She was 63 years old. I do not know what to say."
A man who described himself as a cousin lamented the loss of Brandon, "the family's favorite."
"He was such a cute baby," he said. "Everybody in the family loved him. He had brought such a joy to the family."
Abrishamian, 35, was exhausted and still in shock after arriving from New York the morning after the tragedy. She recounted the events of that Wednesday: her sister Ahdoot had been on the phone with Janet when the crash occured. She heard Janet scream and then the cell phone went dead. They couldn't reach the family all day.
"I tried to reach my mother over the phone all day long, but I couldn't reach her," Abrishamian said. "Nobody knew where she was. It was midnight when we got the news from coroner about what had happened, and I came here by the first flight," Abrishamian said.
"Can I ask you something?" Abrishamian said, with pleading eyes. "Could you please write that officials should not give permission to old people to drive? This is something I am going to follow up on and fight for until it becomes a law."
To her family and friends, Ghoulian was known as a kind and gentle person. She and her husband, observant Jews, attended Maohr Hatorah in Santa Monica, where a memorial service was held Thursday.
Speaking by phone from Washington, D.C., Fedra Askarinam, a close friend of Ahdoot, spoke highly of her best friend's mother.
"I knew Ghoulian," Askarinam said. "She was the best woman I had ever met. Ghoulian had raised all her children as honest, kind and observant Jews."
Askarinam said that relatives and friends all sought out Ghoulian for advice.
"She always tried to solve problems and encouraged people to reconcile arguments," she said. "She also taught her children to be like that. They are the most helpful, hospitable and compassionate people I know."
Rabbi David Shofet of the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center in Beverly Hills, remembered Ghoulian, who was a Maohr Hatorah member, when he was the leader there.
"She was a family person and a very giving person," he said. "She was a mother and a grandmother, and she was very devoted to her family. This is such a tragedy."
Tom Tugend contributed to this article.