Posted by Karmel Melamed
On Rosh Hashanah, more than 1,000 Iranian Jews at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills cheered the unveiling of a new hand-carved Mahogany wood hechal (Torah ark), which was recently completed after a year of construction. Nessah board member Abraham Shofet, who funded and organized the project, said it is a replica of one in Amsterdam constructed in 1675.
“We chose to copy the design of the Portuguese Synagogue, because we wanted to find a hechal that was most suitable for the classical type architecture that matches our synagogue’s building,” said Shofet, brother of Nessah’s Rabbi David Shofet and son of the late Hacham Yedidia Shofet, spiritual leader of the Jews in Iran for nearly six decades.
The cost of constructing the new Torah ark was not revealed but said be substantial. Shofet said additional Nessah members donated the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments above the ark, as well as other features. Previously Nessah’s 40 torahs were housed in a plain compartment with drapes on the bimah. In addition to the new Torah ark, Nessah’s main sanctuary has in recent years been renovated with new lighting fixtures and new wood seats imported from Israel. The current site of the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills was originally a Mormon church but was purchased and transformed in 2002 with the contributions of affluent Iranian Jews living in Los Angeles.
Also on hand for the ark’s unveiling was Nathan Moked, general secretary of the Portuguese Synagogue. “The Iranian community here is very friendly and welcoming,” Moked said. “I have rarely found so much warmth from another Jewish community”.
Moked said he was surprised when Shofet informed him that Nessah and constructed a replica of his synagogue’s Torah ark, as most visitor who photograph the Portuguese Synagogue’s ark only talk about reconstructing it but never follow through. “When I looked into his (Shofet’s) eyes I saw something special and I knew he was going to do something special,” said Moked. “The ark at Nessah is not just similar to ours, it’s exactly the same in color, shape and design—ours is just a bit wider and of course older”.
Believe it or not, the Portuguese Synagogue is the only synagogue that was not destroyed by the Nazis during their occupation of Holland during World War II. Moked said the synagogue was spared because a young Jewish boy persuaded a Nazi officer not to transform the old Jewish site into a military barracks since the synagogue lacked electricity, running water and was too cold for living purposes. Miraculously the Portuguese Synagogue survived the war intact and is now a place of prayer for some 500 remaining Dutch Jews, many of whom are of Spanish and Portuguese descent dating back to 1492. Moked said the shrinking Jewish population in Amsterdam has made raising funds for the maintenance of the 17th century synagogue difficult in recent years. The congregation is also struggling to raise funds to restore a number of rare Torahs from the 13th century.
Moked also said he hopes that the Dutch Jewish community which shares the same Torah ark with Nessah’s congregation, will increase their ties in the coming years. “I would like to see a kind of exchange between our community in Amsterdam and the Iranian Jews here at Nessah, now that we have something in common that connects us,” he said.
After the High Holy Days Nessah will begin construction of a tevah, a secondary bimah at the center of the main sanctuary, which also will be modeled after one in the Portuguese Synagogue.
Those seeking to contribute to restoration projects of the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, are asked to contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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September 29, 2007 | 11:22 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in New York Monday preparing to speak at the United Nations, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the U.N. talking about global warming, but the governor took time out to release a prepared statement saying he would sign into law a bill requiring state pension funds to divest an estimated $24 billion from nearly 300 companies doing business with Iran.
“California has a long history of leadership and doing what’s right with our investment portfolio,” the governor said in the statement. “Last year, I was proud to sign legislation to divest from the Sudan to take a powerful stand against genocide. I look forward to signing legislation to divest from Iran to take an equally powerful stand against terrorism.”
Schwarzenegger’s representatives said he will likely sign the bill into law later this week, upon his return from New York.
The bill, known as AB 221, unanimously passed the California State Senate earlier this month, as it had in the California Assembly in June. It specifically secures the California Public Employees Retirement (CalPERS) and the State Teachers Retirement (CalSTRS) pensions, which together are valued at nearly $400 billion and are funded by taxpayers.
On Monday, local Jewish leaders and elected officials gathered in front of Beverly Hills City Hall for a press conference to praise Schwarzenegger’s decision to sign the bill and said they would encourage other states and cities to enact similar Iran divestment laws.
“By signing this legislation, the governor is sending a great big message to Iran that we’re watching you,” Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad said.
After his re-election to the Beverly Hills City Council in February, Delshad who is of Iranian Jewish descent, led the way for passage of a similar Iran divestment measure in Beverly Hills for employee pensions, which was adopted by the City Council in July.
Ron Leibow, chairman for the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said The Federation has worked with both Jewish and non-Jewish groups in the city and state to pool support for AB 221.
“After [Assemblyman] Joel Anderson contacted us to support this bill, we reached out to the Los Angeles Chapter of the Jewish Public Affairs committee, the Catholic Archdiocese, the Episcopal Church and Muslim groups to support this very important legislation,” Leibow said.
Other local Jewish leaders in attendance included Rabbi Abraham Cooper from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the L.A.-based Iranian American Jewish Federation; elected officials included California Assemblymen Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) and freshman Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon), AB 221’s author, who praised the bipartisan efforts in the California Legislature for the bill’s passage.
“I am thrilled the governor will sign this legislation to squeeze Iran,” Anderson said. “I couldn’t have done this without the help of all my colleagues, including Mike Feuer. We want to send a clear message that we will not sit through another Hitler.”
Anderson initially drafted and introduced the bill last December in the State Assembly’s committees after discovering how California state investments in certain companies were directly supporting Iran’s regime. For months various committees have heard public testimony of the AB 221’s effectiveness, as well as a modified bill.
The legislation has since received wide support from 17 state and national Jewish organizations and local Iranian Muslim groups stating their opposition to the Iranian government.
“We believe that a strong moral and cultural resistance to the policies and practices of the Islamic Republic will help weaken and transform it without resorting to a violent conflict and military intervention,” said Jabbari, an Iranian Muslim spokesperson for the L.A. based Center for the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights.
Reza Pahlavi, son of the late Shah and the former Iranian crown-prince, also submitted a formal letter to Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez supporting passage of AB 221, calling it “a shining example and a great way to demonstrate solidarity with 70 million Iranians seeking freedom, democracy and a better life.”
The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a Washington D.C.-based pro-Iran lobby, has been one of the few groups opposing AB 221. In addition, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have voiced opposition to AB 221, arguing that their pension fund boards should be the ones to make divestment decisions, not the state legislature.
Support for divestment from Iran has been ongoing among Jewish lawmakers. On Sept. 9, 15 Democratic California legislators and a few municipal leaders were honored by the Democrats for Israel Los Angeles at a private home in the Beverly-Fairfax area for supporting AB 221 and Iran divestment city measures. Among those honored by the group were L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles City Councilmember Jack Weiss, Feuer and Delshad.
In June, Los Angeles became the first city in the country to approve its own Iran divestment measure. In May, Florida became the first state to pass legislation to bar $1 billion in pension funds from being invested in companies doing business with Iran and Sudan. Currently 12 other states have similar Iran divestment bill pending in their legislatures.
In late July, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2007” encouraging government pension plans, private pension plans and mutual funds to divest from companies doing business with Iran’s oil production, lending money to the government or selling munitions to the country.
September 27, 2007 | 1:19 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
It’s taken 13 years and a presidential election, but the Argentine government is finally taking a brave stand against Iran for the regime’s involvement in terrorist activities that claimed the lives of innocent Argentine Jews during the 1990’s. Tuesday during his address to the U.N. General Assembly, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner denounced the lack of Iranian cooperation in identifying the responsible parties for a 1994 terrorist attack against a Buenos Aires Jewish community center.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who spoke immediately after Kirchner did not refer to the Argentine leader’s comments. An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman today said Kirchner’s remarks were either misinformed or based on influences from the Jewish community amid Argentina’s upcoming presidential elections. Iran and Hezbollah have repeatedly denied any involvement in the 1994 bombing.
In an interview on September 22, with Fox cable news, Miguel Angel Toma, the former head of the Argentina’s intelligence service, revealed that the Iranian government directly ordered terrorist bombings of the Buenos Aires Jewish community center that killed 85 people and injured 300. The Iranian President at the time, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and members of the Iranian Supreme Council of Security met in Mashhad, Iran, on August 14, 1993 to plan the bombing, Toma said.
Last November Argentine federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral issued an arrest warrant for Rafsanjani and eight other former Iranian officials. On March 15, International police agency Interpol issued so-called Red notices for the arrest of five former Iranian officials, including former Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian, and for a Lebanese member of Hezbollah. All have been put on an international watch list. Interpol however did not issue requested Red Notices for Rafsanjani, former Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Akbar Velayati and former Iranian Ambassador to Argentina Hadi Soleimanpour.
The 1992 bombing attacks against the Israeli Embassy in 1992 killed at least 29 people and wounding 200 others. This bombing incident has also remained unresolved.
Those in the West who think we should be having a dialogue and negotiating with the so-called “moderates” in Iran like Rasanjani, should think twice and remember that he and others like him in the Iranian government have Jewish blood on their hands!
September 26, 2007 | 3:27 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Last night nearly 200 Los Angeles area political officials, rabbis, Iranian Jews and American Jews gathered at the Iranian American Jewish Federation’s (IAJF) synagogue in West Hollywood to show their gratitude and bid a farewell to Ehud Danoch Israel’s Consul General for the Western Region. Since his arrival in Los Angeles nearly three years ago Danoch who is very media savvy and also speaks Spanish fluently, has been able to generate support for Israel from various diverse groups in the western part of the U.S. Immediately prior to arriving in Los Angeles, Danoch served as Chief of Staff to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom. Danoch received both a law degree and an MBA from Manchester University and specializes in corporate and finance law and business litigation.
Perhaps Danoch’s greatest success during his tenure came in engaging and winning support for Israel among major forces in the entertainment industry based in Southern California. Last night, Danoch received high praise from community leaders and even the Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who showed up to bid farewell to Danoch. “Ehud stands out, he’s a coalition builder, he understands it’s important to build bridges with many communities,” said Villaraigosa. “He’s going to have a bright future in politics in Israel”. Beverly Hills Iranian Jewish Mayor Jimmy Delshad also presented Danoch with a “Key to the City” and named him as an honorary member of the Beverly Hills City Council.
Danoch praised the support of his pregnant wife Michal for standing by him amidst his busy schedule and in particular acknowledged the camaraderie he received from the Iranian Jewish community. “I want to thank all of my friends in the Iranian Jewish community for your warmth, hospitality and embracing us,” said Danoch. “You made it a lot easier for us”.
Other local officials on hand included L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and L.A. Councilman Jack Weiss. Local Jewish community leaders visiting included John Fischel of the L.A. Jewish Federation, Rabbi David Shofet of the Nessah Synagogue, and Secretary General of the IAJF, Sam Kermanian. Local organizations presenting Danoch with proclaimations of appreciation included the Magbit Foundation, the L.A. County Sherrif’s Department, the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization, Haddassah, and the ORT organization.
September 24, 2007 | 8:16 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
With the visit of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to New York on Monday, local and state leaders as well as Iranian Americans living in Los Angeles voiced their opposition to his presence in the U.S. and the policies of Iran’s government. Earlier in the day California Assemblymembers Joel Anderson, Lloyd Levine, Mike Feuer as well as Jimmy Delshad, the Iranian Jewish Mayor of Beverly Hills held a press conference at Beverly Hills to praise California Governor Arnold for agreeing to sign California’s Iran Divestment Bill. The bill also known as AB 221 would require state pension funds to divest an estimated $24 billion in investments from nearly 300 companies doing business with Iran. Both the California State Assembly and Senate unanimously approved the bill which was authored by Anderson. “I am thrilled the Governor will sign this legislation to squeeze Iran,” said Anderson, who hails from San Diego county. “Money is the mother’s milk of terrorism. AB 221 will stop California’s investments from being used to fund Iran’s terror machine”. Anderson also said passage of the bill was only possible because of bi-partisan efforts in the California Legislature on the issue of divestment.
Also on hand at the Beverly Hills press conference were Persian language media outlets including the Voice of America television and KRSI “Radio Sedaye Iran” that broadcasts daily news reports into Iran from the U.S. Los Angeles area Jewish leaders were also in attendance including Sam Kermanian, Secretary General of the Iranian American Jewish Federation and Rabbi Abraham Cooper from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Nearly two dozen local Iranian Americans of various faiths protested in Westwood Boulevard against Ahmadinejad’s invitation to speak at Columbia University in New York. Cars passing by honked their horns in support for the protesters who held signs and displayed a female mannequin dressed in Islamic garb and hanging by a noose. “We are voicing our anger at Columbia University for allowing this insane man a forum to spout his hate—he’s does not represent the people of Iran who are suffering under this brutal regime!” said one Iranian American women protesting, who asked that her name be withheld because she travels back and forth to Iran to visit family.
September 23, 2007 | 3:48 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Nearly three dozen young professional Iranian Jewish women took to the bimah at the Nessah synagogue in Beverly Hills in front of several hundred young professionals this Yom Kippur in what I believe was an incredible show of courage and strength on their part. Nessah’s Associate Rabbi Hillel Benchimol invited the young women in the congregation seeking to get married to join him on the stage to receive a prayer so that they may meet their soulmates in the coming year. The curtains for the Torah ark were opened wide and the rabbi blessed the crowd of young women who received a loud applause from the entire congregation.
After having visited two other Iranian synagogues in the Los Angeles area on Yom Kippur, I had the unique opportunity to witness this scene unfolding at Nessah which put forth a remarkable statement by young women in our community. For the first in a long time young Iranian Jewish professional symbolically showed the community that while they were educated and independent, they were also interested in settling down and get married. Due to cultural norms or taboos which have long called for young Iranian Jewish women to remain quiet on the sidelines and wait till men approach them, young women in the community have not typically put themselves out there specifically seeking marriage but rather attended events to be seen by potential suitors. For this reason, the gathering at Nessah’s bimah was a brave bold move by these young Iranian Jewish women who showed personal initiative in seeking their spouses. In my assessment their appearance on the bimah also sent a powerful message to young Iranian Jewish men in the community to take notice of this generation of young women who are strong yet family oriented and seeking to start new Jewish families. These young Jewish ladies are no longer willing to stand on the sidelines and wait for their spouses to find them, but they are now perhaps actively seeking their soulmates.
This specific move at Nessah was so powerful that it has already reverberated in the community. I have since several phone calls from folks talking about the courage of these young women and from folks who are praising them. So I tip my hat to these young Iranian Jewish women and encourage them not to give up their searches for the right man. You go get’em ladies!
September 20, 2007 | 10:44 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Yesterday New York City officials sent a clear message to Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime by denying the request of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to place a wreath at the site of the World Trade Center (WTC) attacks. Ahmadinejad is slated to speak at the U.N. on September 24th. Ahmadinejad who has headed a regime that has fueled international terrorism and called for the destruction of Israel was correctly prohibited from this sacred ground. While city officials sited ongoing construction as the reason for denying Ahmadinejad’s request, the NYPD also indicate security risks with his visit to the site. New York City officials deserve our praise and admiration for standing up to the Iranian regime and letting them know they cannot use P.R. stunts to improve their tainted image in the world.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York are sponsoring a demonstration outside the U.N. during Ahmadinejad’s speech to protest his calls for genocide against Israel and denial of the Holocaust.
Perhaps the smartest response to this ordeal has come from U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Zalmay Khalilzad, who told reporters yesterday that the United States would not support Iran’s attempt to use the site for a “photo op.” “Iran can demonstrate its seriousness about concern with regard to terrorism by taking concrete actions,” said Khalilzad. “Such as dropping support for Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and suspending their uranium enrichment program”.
The U.S. also has denied a visa to Iran’s United Nations ambassador in Geneva to attend next week’s General Assembly meeting because he was involved in the 1979 U.S. hostage crisis. Also a great move to send a clear message to the Iranian regime!
Ahmadinejad’s request to place a wreath at the WTC site is only the latest in a series of damage control public relations moves the Iranian government has been taking to whitewash his horrible image in the international community after he has repeatedly denied the existence of the Holocaust and called for Israel to be “wiped off the map”. The following are just a few other BOGUS and very obvious publicity stunts undertaken by Iran’s mullahs to repair their tainted image in the media:
Producing and broadcasting “Zero Degree Turn” a television series on Iranian state-run network which accepts the existence of the Holocaust and shows an Iranian-Palestinian man saving a Jewish woman’s life in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. Despite the show’s efforts to show that Iran is supposedly tolerant of the Holocaust, it is full of inaccuracies and attacks “Zionists”.
Announcing that the Iranian government supposedly “loves the Jews” by publicizing their plans earlier this month to build a new 73,000 square foot cultural and sports complex for the Jewish community in central Tehran.
Putting out press releases and sending their lackeys in the Western media to say that Ahmadinejad’s comments about Israel being wiped off the map were “incorrectly translated”. What a bunch of horse manure! We all know very well what Ahmadinejad said and what he meant, there’s no way to back track on it.
Sorry Mahmoud, you can’t place a wreath at ground zero because we all know your motives are disingenuous and your goals are genocidal!
September 19, 2007 | 12:55 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Amidst the increasing hoopla created by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has repeatedly been denying the Holocaust, Yad Vashem in Israel earlier this week announced plans to reconsider honoring the late Iranian diplomat Abdol Hossein Sardari the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” for his efforts in savings Jews from the hands of the Nazis during World War II. Sardari headed the Iranian Consulate in Nazi-occupied France in 1941 and forestalled the deportation of 200 Iranian Jews living in Paris. At the time he saved the lives of several hundred non-Iranian Jews in Paris in 1942 by giving them Iranian passports to escape Nazi persecution.
The Wiesenthal Center posthumously honored Sardari in April of 2004 for his efforts in savings Jewish lives. The award was presented to Sardari’s nephew, the late Fereydoun Hoveyda, who served as Iran’s ambassador to the UN in the 1970s. The ceremony was attended by the late Ibrahim Moradi, an Iranian Jew who said that Sardari had helped him and the other Jews escape from the hands of the Nazis without requesting money. In April 2004, the Iranian Jewish Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills also posthumously honored Sardari in a ceremony.
Two years ago, Yad Vashem considered bestowing the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” to Sardari but did not do so citing that while Sardari had helped Jews living in Paris during the Holocaust, it was still unclear if did he did so at any risk to himself. In April 1978, Saradi himself wrote a letter to Yad Vashem explaining his efforts during the war.“As you may know,” he wrote, “I had the pleasure of being the Iranian consul in Paris during the German occupation of France, and as such it was my duty to save all Iranians, including Iranian Jews.” In 1981, Sardari passed away in London.
The issue of Sardari’s actions on behalf of Jews has resurfaced more recently after the airing of a new popular mini-series on Iranian state-controlled television dealing with the Holocaust called “Zero Degree Turn”. The program is loosely based on Sardari’s efforts as it involves an Iranian-Palestinian Muslim man who saves his French Jewish girlfriend from the hands of the Nazis with the help of Iranian diplomats in France who provide forged passports for her family. However, the Iranian government has used “Zero Degree Turn” to besmirch Sardari’s good name and down play his efforts on behalf of Jews since the program shows the Iranian diplomats only giving the passports in exchange for money. We know from the personal accounts of the late Ibrahim Moradi that such was not the case with regards to Sardari.
On an interesting note, in 2004 I discovered and interviewed Menashe Ezrapour, the only known Iranian Jews to be held in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Ezrapour who is now 88 and living in Los Angeles, was studying in France as a university student during the war when he was gathered by the Nazis. He was later sent to the infamous “Gurs Concentration Camp” in Southern France. My article can be found here