In 1973, when then-33-year-old Jimmy Delshad was sitting in Sinai Temple, he asked his father-in-law, "Who's that man sitting next to the rabbi on the bimah?"
"That's the president of the synagogue," his father-in-law replied. "But don't worry. That will never happen to you."
How wrong he proved to be.
Delshad, who was born in Iran and moved to Los Angeles in 1959, was elected president of Sinai Temple in 1999. It was the first time that an Iranian Jew had been selected to head one of the largest synagogues in the United States. A philanthropist and activist within his own community, Delshad, 62, was elected president last month of Magbit, a foundation that raises funds and distributes interest-free loans to college students.
But Delshad is about to expand his activities to the community at large, with a bid to run for the Beverly Hills City Council in an election scheduled March 4, 2003. Delshad said he hopes to give something back.
"I want to give back to my Beverly Hills community, because I feel blessed and fortunate to have been living here," he said. The City Council hopeful said he has experience as a business owner and leader of major nonprofit organizations that would "help protect and enhance our quality of life in Beverly Hills."
An energetic man with keen brown eyes, Delshad's rise mirrors many of those in the Iranian Jewish community who arrived here young and penniless and eventually thrived.
Born in Shiraz, Iran, Delshad immigrated to the United States when he was 18, and entered the University of Minnesota. He then decided to move to Los Angeles with his two older brothers and formed the Delshad Trio, a pop music band. The group played American, Hebrew and classical Persian music at bar mitzvahs and at Christmas and New Year's parties to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, he entered California State University Northridge, and earned a bachelor's degree in engineering, specializing in computer studies. In 1966, Delshad met Lonnie Gerstein, an Israeli-born student who was the president of the student Zionist organization. They married in 1968, and have two children, Debra, 28, and Daniel, 26.
After graduation, Delshad embarked on a career in computer technology in 1965, and by 1978 he went into business for himself, designing and manufacturing backup storage devices for large computers.
Delshad's involvement with the Jewish community began in college, and continued throughout his working years. In 1987, Delshad joined Sinai Temple's board of directors, and in 1999 was elected temple president.
He served both as president of Sinai Temple and his company, American International, for about half a year. In 2000, Delshad decided to sell his business so that he could devote himself full time to the needs of the synagogue.
"At that time, I told myself that the company makes money, but money comes and goes, while opportunities like this do not come very often," he said. "Then I chose the temple."
During his service as temple president (1999-2001), Delshad said membership grew by more than 30 percent. Delshad also aided in raising more than $4 million to help reduce the temple's mortgage, helped establish an endowment fund and oversaw the renovation of the temple in 2001.
Delshad currently serves on the board of numerous Jewish organizations, such the Sheba Medical Center, AIPAC, The Maple Counseling Center, the Iranian American Jewish Federation and Nessah Synagogue.
"Jimmy has tremendous energy and enormous dedication," said Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, who has known Delshad for five years and worked closely with him for two. "He is tireless in promoting the interest of Jews and the Jewish community."
Delshad is hoping to win one of two seats held by incumbents. He said he wants to improve school safety and traffic problems in Beverly Hills. Although many Iranian Jews live in Beverly Hills, Delshad said he is counting on the mainstream vote, because he does not believe Iranians are heavily involved in local politics.
"I want to show my gratitude to America and to my city, Beverly Hills," Delshad told The Journal.
However, he has been told that his bid for a City Council seat may face a problem. "One of the former councilmen of Beverly Hills told me, 'I don't think that Beverly Hills is ready for an Iranian-born candidate,'" said Delshad. Like his father-in-law's comment regarding Sinai Temple, Delshad was not deterred by the opinion. "I am going to change that impression," he said.
And he has set his sights even higher, looking beyond the City Council. "I look forward to becoming the mayor of my city, so that I can devote my life to my people and my country," Delshad said. "My message to young people is that everything is possible, all you need to do is to work for it."