Posted by Karmel Melamed
It is heartbreaking for any normal human being to see the death and destruction that occurred this week in both Israel and Gaza. While the news media has been quick to blame Israel as the cause for the civilian deaths in Gaza, most of these media outlets have totally overlooked the biggest culprit of the destruction unleashed on Gaza-- the current Iranian regime and the mullahs that run Iran! Why haven’t the journalists asked why Iran has poured millions of dollars’ worth of short and long range missiles as well as other weaponry into the hands of Hamas terrrorists in Gaza? Why have the media outlets not traced the millions of the dollars that support the Hamas terrorists back to Iran? Would Iranian-made “Farj” rockets have been shot into Israel had Iran not furnished them into the hands of Hamas terrorists? Would stockpiles of weapons not be stored in homes, schools, mosques and other civilian locations in Gaza had Iran not furnished them to Hamas? Where is the outrage of the international community at Iran for sponsoring the terrorism perpetuated by Hamas? All the financial and military roads lead back to Iran and the regime’s ruling clerics and they must be held accountable for these crimes against humanity.
It is common knowledge that Hamas’s primary lifeline has been directly from Iran since 1993. The Iranian regime openly admitted that in 1993 they first provided Hamas with an annual subsidy of approximately $30 million, in addition to military training. In January 1995, outgoing Director of the Central Intelligence Committee James Woolsey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that Iran had provided more than $100 million to Hamas. By November 2006, amidst an international embargo against Hamas, the organization announced that Iran had already given $120 million. During a visit by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to Tehran the following month, Iran pledged $250 million in aid to compensate for the Western boycott. Today analysts estimate that the Iranian regime provides anywhere from $300 to $400 million in financial and military aid to Hamas in Gaza!
Aside from the heartbreak of innocent lives been destroyed in both Israel and Gaza, what is even more tragic is the suffering that the poor people of Iran must endure under this current regime. None of the western news media have dared to cover the stories from thousands of average Iranian bloggers and individuals in Iran using social media to convey their rage at the Iranian regime that is using millions of the country’s petro-dollars to fund this senseless proxy war against Israel while average Iranians are living in extreme poverty. I’ve read many Iran-based blogs that are posting “No to Gaza, No to Lebanon, I die for Iran”-- a popular slogan began in 2009 when protestors in Iran were furious that the Iranian regime had pour billions of dollars into terrorists groups such as Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, instead of helping average Iranians suffered at home with these funds. Hundreds of thousands of average Iranians in Iran cannot publicly voice their opposition to the regime for fear of being imprisoned or killed, but they are anonymously speaking out online and in social media sites against the regime.
The future outlook of the Iranian regime's funds and weaponry to Hamas is questionable right now. Since the outbreak of a ruthless civil war in Syria with the Assad regime attacking Palestinian camps in Syria and killing thousands of Sunni Muslims, Hamas has distanced itself from Assad who is also a puppet of Iran. Moreover Hamas has refused to openly support Assad’s regime after they were directed to do so by their Iranian puppeteers. The Syrian war has no doubt strained relations between the Shiite clerics in Iran and the Sunni followers in Hamas, but time will only tell if their mutual hatred for Israel can keep their unholy alliance together for long. Yet Hamas is not worried a bit about their source of revenue since the emir of Qatar, in late October, promised more than 400 million dollars to the Hamas government for developmental projects
Instead of media scrutiny and U.N. pressure mounting on Israel, the international community must start asking Iran’s radical Islamic leadership what substantial role they have played in bringing the latest round of death and destruction to the people of Gaza. Iran’s regime is the cancer in the Middle East that must be removed; otherwise the entire region will slowly be pulled into more death and destruction from the chaos created by Iran’s mullahs.
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November 4, 2012 | 11:47 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Several hundred Los Angeles area Iranian American fans had packed UCLA’s Royce Hall this past week on November 1st as they danced and joined in singing with popular Iranian-Israeli singing superstar, Rita Jahanforuz. Known simply to her fans in Israel and worldwide as “Rita”, she indeed brought the house down singing her well known Israeli songs in Hebrew as well as the long popular Persian songs. Her heart-pounding powerful performance of popular Persian songs such as “Gole-Sangam” and “Shah-Doomad” had fans at the concert singing and dancing along with her the whole time. The concert’s attendees included local Iranian Americans of various religious backgrounds who were hardcore fans of Rita. The evening’s performance also featured a number of solo performances by Rita’s brand members who played traditional Persian music instruments such as the “tar” a long-necked three-string instrument that is similar to a lute.
Following Rita’s performance, nearly three dozen private guests including Israeli Consul General David Siegel welcomed Rita and praised her efforts as an Israeli ambassador of goodwill with her music. Rita serves as a remarkable ambassador of goodwill from Israel not only because she speaks and sings in Persian, but she represents the Iranian segment of Israeli society that embraces their cultural heritage from Iran and would one day like to renew relations with individuals in their former homeland. Rita and her music also enable Israel in a non-political atmosphere to directly outreach to the people of Iran with their message of peace despite the Iranian regime’s repeated calls for Israel’s destruction.
The following is a segment of Siegel’s brief and very special welcome to Rita that night…click here
In 2012, her album "All My Joys," also sung in Persian, has been tremendously popular in both Israel and Iran. Interesting enough Rita’s music is prohibited by the Iranian regime along with all music which is banned under the radical Islamic laws of the country-- yet thousands of Iranians listen to Rita’s music online or on bootleg versions of her C.D. Her legions of fans in Iran bombard her daily with e-mails of praise and even call into Persian-language radio and television programs based in Israel or the U.S. asking hosts to play her music.
Rita, who was born in Iran in 1962 and immigrated with her family to Israel in 1970, represents a certain smaller segment of the Iranian community in Israel who never firsthand witnessed the Iranian revolution and therefore still feel a strong sense of nostalgia for Iran and Iranian culture. The nostalgia some Iranian Jews have for Iranian culture also stems from the significant tolerance and prosperity they enjoyed while living in under the Pahlavi dynasty for more than 50 years. What is truly remarkable to me about Rita’s music today is the fact that for centuries many Jews living in Iran were musicians that kept the country’s music alive despite the national Islamic prohibition against Muslims listening to or performing music in Iran. Ironically today, you have a Jewish person like Rita keeping Persian music, songs and culture alive with her albums and performances!
(Hundreds of fans pack UCLA's Royce Hall to enjoy Rita's concert).
(Iranian-Israeli pop superstar singer "Rita", photo by Karmel Melamed)
(left to right; Iranian-Israeli singer Rita, former Iranian Jewish mayor of Beverly Hills Jimmy Delshad and Israeli Consul General David Siegel).
(Israeli Consul General David Siegel honors Iranian-Israeli singer Rita for her work as a goodwill ambassador to Israel during her latest concert at UCLA's Royce Hall, photo by Karmel Melamed)
October 26, 2012 | 2:04 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
The Iranian Jewish community in the U.S. has long looked down on their children pursuing careers in the arts or entertainment. Yet a new generation of young Iranian Jewish professionals in the last decade have gone against their family’s desires and pursued their dreams of being artists and creative forces in their own rite. One such Iranian Jewish artist making waves is New York-based Josephine Mairzadeh whose work was recently exhibited in the popular “Light and Shadows” exhibit at UCLA’s Fowler Museum in Los Angeles.
Her work is indeed unique because it combines objects from the ancient Jewish culture of Iran with the Persian culture of Iran, showing the beauty of both worlds. Her lastest piece featured at the Fowler is a photograph printed on Kodak Metallic Paper and coated with an optically clear glossy laminate. The images of fruits in her photograph were taken from paintings she had hand painted beforehand.
The following is a brief interview I had with Mairzadeh during the opening of the “Light and Shadows” exhibit at UCLA…click here
October 15, 2012 | 1:26 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Yesterday roughly 1,000 individuals attended the third Biennial Civic Conference for the “30 Years After” (3OYA) Iranian Jewish organization based in Los Angeles. As in years past, 30YA made a splash yesterday hosting a series of local, state and federal elected officials as well as community activists to discuss pressing issues that young Iranian American Jews professionals are passionate about. The 30YA panels included speakers such as U.S. Ambassador Mark Wallace, U.S. Ambassador Dennis Ross, L.A. City Controller Wendy Gruel, U.S. Congressmen Howard Berman, Brad Sherman and Henry Waxman. The interesting panels discussed the future of Jewry in L.A., dealing with the Iranian nuclear crisis and even candidates running for the 2013 L.A. mayoral race. In addition, 30YA also honored L.A. County volunteer Sherriff’s Deputy Shervin Lalezary for his efforts in arresting an arsonist that was terrorizing L.A. earlier this year. Aside from the panels, the highlight of this year’s 30YA conference was the Gala dinner which included comments from Israeli Consul General David Siegel.
Since 2007 30YA has blossomed and grown tremendously by awaking the influential Iranian Jewish community under the age of 45 who want to become more engaged in politics and civic activities. Sam Yebri, 30YA’s president had high praise for the organization’s volunteers and members who put together this year’s conference. “Our third conference built on our prior successes and helped us reach out to more members of our community and new community and political partners,” said Yebri. “ We were gratified to see so many new faces in the crowd - from high and college students to our parents and grandparents' generation” . The following is a brief conversation I had with Yebri about the outcome of this year’s conference:
August 30, 2012 | 9:43 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Former L.A. DWP general manager and Iranian Jewish attorney H. David Nahai was honored by the popular environmentalist organization Sierra Club on August 26th for his contributions to advancing the cause of water conservation and other environmental work in Southern California. Nahai was honored for his dedication to the environment and preserving L.A.’s water resources that have increasingly under pressure because of the city’s growing population.
Before his tenure at the DWP Nahai has been long involved in water issues as he served on local and state water commissions. Nahai is also among a growing group Iranian Jewish community activists who are increasingly looking to the policies and technology for water conservation and reclamation being implemented in Israel. For decades Israelis who live in a desert-like environment similar to that of Southern California have been successful in using their limited water resources to support a growing population. Nahai served several terms on the Regional Water Quality Control Board before being appointed to the DWP board of commissioners in 2005 by Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. In December 2007, Villaraigosa elevated Nahai to the post of DWP “general manager and chief executive officer” Nahai's approximately two year tenure was marked by a heightened emphasis on renewable energy sources and conservation. During his time at the DWP, the department increased its renewable energy portfolio to 14 percent and the city of Los Angeles saw its lowest monthly water use in 32 years. In October 2009, Nahai resigned as general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water.
Interestingly enough other elected leaders of Jewish background also honored by the Sierra Club included California State Senator Alan Lowenthal and California State Assemblyman Mike Feuer. Also on hand to honor Nahai was U.S. Congressman from Southern California, Henry Waxman.
(H. David Nahai, photo by Karmel Melamed)
(California State Senator Alan Lowenthal, phhoto by Karmel Melamed)
(California Assemblymember Mike Feuer, photo by Karmel Melamed)
August 2, 2012 | 4:45 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Iranian-Armenian pop singer Andy Madadian is perhaps one of the best known Persian language musical artists internationally. Whether in North America, Europe or even in his native Iran, this singer who is known to his fans worldwide as just “Andy”, has sold millions of records. He has also performed concerts at some of the world’s most prestigious venues and stadiums. Over the last few decades Andy has remained popular among both young and old in the Iranian American community with a sound and lyrics that fans of Persian language music adore. Andy also has a large following of fans among Southern California’s Iranian Jews who have hired him for entertainment at their weddings, parties and other events over the years.
At the same, over the years Andy has performed at countless worthy non-profit events that revealed his unique philanthropic nature. So when I recently discovered that he will be performing with pop Israeli singer Liel Kolet for an August 4th “Peace and Unity” concert here in Los Angeles to benefit an international children’s charity, I was not surprised one bit. While the paring of Iranian and Israeli singers at a concert may seem odd to most, given the two country’s hostilities, these two artists’ music reflect their message of hope and tolerance needed in the Middle East today. Despite the Iranian regime’s hatred for Israel and the Jewish world, the majority of Iranians living in Iran, in the U.S. or elsewhere worldwide are quite hospitable and good-hearted folks who harbor no ill will towards Jews or Israelis. Interestingly enough the concert should be nothing short of remarkable because Andy will also be performing with eight other pop singers from around the world for the event.
On a side note, Andy’s music is officially banned in Iran by the regime because music in general is prohibited by radical Shiite Muslim theology followed by the regime. While the radical Islamic leaders in Iran have labeled Andy’s music as evil and with “degenerate Western influence”, he still has an army of young fans in Iran who still listen to his music behind closed doors. By the way, many may not know that Andy recently recorded a version of the song “Stand by Me” with Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora to show their solidarity with the people of Iran, which can he heard here…
For more information on Andy’s Unity Concert visit his site.
July 22, 2012 | 9:55 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
He is the never ending musician, a perfectionist, the quintessential showman and entertainer with perhaps two of the most sought after musical bands in Southern California’s Iranian American community today. Alen Nazarian, popularly known to fans by his stage name of “Alen G.”, burst on the scene in 2007 with his creation of the “Kasha Ensemble Orchestra”, a 12-piece live cover band complete with singers and professionally trained musicians entertaining international weddings. The high quality of sound, wide selection of music and high energy his band brought to local Iranian community weddings and private parties quickly spread like wildfire and by the end of their first year, the Kasha Ensemble Orchestra had played at nearly 50 events. By the end of 2008, his band had performed at nearly 60 private events to rave reviews and a higher demand for more appearances from couples getting. To meet the demands of his clients, shortly thereafter Alen G. formed his second band, “Vibe” a smaller group of musicians and singers offering the same high quality of entertainment.
The 38-year-old self-taught and highly motivated Iranian-Armenian musical director credits his bands success to sticking with his perfect recipe of bringing high quality “live orchestral concert style” music to private events and weddings. While other bands have since attempted to imitate both of Alen G.’s bands with their own groups, none have quite seemed to achieve the huge following, steadfast loyalty, endless praise of married couples and immense success of the Kasha Ensemble Orchestra and the Vibe bands. With their weekend calendars nearly booked for the entire year, Alen G. continues to the raise the bar for entertaining his clients and their guests with each performance of his bands.
In preparation of my latest article regarding new trends in Iranian Jewish weddings, I recently caught up with Alen G. right before one of his band’s performances to learn more about the secret to his bands’ successes. While he is not related to the well-known Iranian Jewish Nazarian family, Alen G. and his bands are well known for giving back by performing for free to a wide array of both Jewish and non-Jewish philanthropic fundraising events. In between rehearsals and prep for the event, Alen G. opened up to me about his work and some of his own interesting insights about what can make or break weddings. The following is a portion of our conversation….
How did you first get involved with music?
I first started playing piano when I was six years old and truly loved it. By the time I was nine years old I played at a wedding and everyone really enjoyed it. From that time on I decided I wanted to work in music for my career. In 1986 I immigrated to France from Iran and shortly thereafter I began working as a keyboardist in concerts for famous Persian artists. In a concert setting there is no room for error because it’s live and there’s an audience setting in front of you.
So what inspired you to start your own bands and what makes your bands so special?
In 2007 I had the idea of creating a concert orchestra for private parties. We didn’t know if it was going to work because there is really no time for stopping for breaks during a wedding or private event. After our first week of performing, we booked nine weddings and by the end of the first year we had done almost 50 events. Then the demand was so high for a specialized wedding orchestra that in March 2008 I started the ten-piece “Vibe” band which has become the alternative to the ‘Kasha Ensemble”. It has a very similar deep orchestra sound that is designed for a concert. The musicians in both bands are professionals in the industry with their own music projects and performing live in concerts worldwide. Many of the musicians in our two bands perform with famous singers like Yani and Andre Bochelli. In both of our bands all of the musicians can read sheet music and we do rehearsals before each event to make sure we are at the top of our game. This is something not a lot of live bands will do before a wedding or private party. I also provide couples with CDs of 150 songs we can play and ask them to pick 40 songs that they must have at their wedding. Then from there, we will handle the rest because we get an idea of what type of music they love. What I tell my clients is when you hire us, ‘just sit down in first class and enjoy the ride!’
Can you share with our readers some tips you typically give couples who are looking for good entertainment for their wedding?
The bride and groom must make a decision whether they want a D.J. or a live band. Budgets determine which they will go with. I tell clients to look for a live band with a vast repertoire of music they perform— like our bands can play more than 160 different songs. I also recommend that couples go hear the band they are planning on hiring to make sure the musicians play each instrument. You should also make sure your band interacts with the crowd on the dance floor well and asks the guests ‘are you have a good time?’ A good band will keep the energy of the party going. Also the bars need to be situated as close to the music as possible, that way there is more energy from the crowd and they have a more fun experience. In addition a good band will make sure there is proper accompaniment of the music they play with the vocals.
Your bands perform at a lot of Iranian American weddings and events. What are some of the more challenging aspects of working with these types of clients?
Persian-American weddings can be challenging because we want both sides of the family to have a good time. Also there are different generations of people, some that want Persian music and some that want top 40 American music. So a good band will balance the type of music well. I think the audience speaks to the band with their reaction to the band and reading a crowd is the single most important thing the band or musical director can do. A good band should know within the first 20 minutes of the event what type of crowd this will be and how to keep their energy level up.
You mentioned many of your clients are Southern California Iranian Jews, why are they so attracted to live musical performances for their events?
L.A.’s Persian Jewish community is very well in tuned with music. You will find that at least two musical instruments are played in their homes and their kids have music classes. So music is a very big part of their culture and lifestyle. This why they demand the best and we have thankfully been successful because our two bands have performed at very high levels to please our clients.
Do you only do private events or do also do live concerts for the public?
We are exclusively a cover band and do private events, but during the year we also perform at some charity fundraising events without any pay such as Hadassah, Etta Israel, HDC or the Park West Nursing Home where we play holiday music for the older people living there. We want to give back to the community that has given us so many weddings and parties to perform at.
July 21, 2012 | 10:26 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Some of Southern California’s Iranian American couples are increasingly turning to professionals in their own community to help with their wedding party arrangements. Perhaps one of the most popular photographers and videographers the community has turned to is Vahik Rostamian— the Iranian-Armenian owner of “Vahik Photography” in Glendale. Known to his clientele as “Vahik”, the soft-spoken, humble and easy going photographer shared with me some insights into his work with Iranian Jewish weddings for my recent article.
A professional through and through, Vahik’s studio is filled with photographs and photo albums of countless satisfied married couples— including 60 percent of whom hail from the local Iranian Jewish community. The modest artist, Vahik will not boast about his success, but one can see why he has been so popular by looking at his samples of work and the long list of very pleased clients that have been referring business to him regularly for the last 20 years. Here is a portion of my conversation with Vahik…
So can you tell us about how you first got involved with photography?
I have a little more than 20 years experience and first started with printing in Iran. I liked photography first as a hobby for many years and eventually got into it as a profession. I worked for myself in Iran and then when I worked here in the U.S. for others before starting my own studio. I really don’t look at my work as a business per say because I really enjoy what I do for a living. This work is really my passion. My field of education was in engineering in the oil and gas industry, which really has nothing to do with photography. But since I enjoyed photography so much as a hobby, I pursued it for work and thank god I’ve been very successful.
From what I understanding photographing people at weddings or high end events can be stressful with different personalities that can difficult. How do you handle the stress?
When I’m going to shoot an event, I prepare myself for that event or wedding so as to be in the right mindset. Therefore I don’t really have any difficulties shooting that day. I always get to the venue on-time or ahead of schedule to make sure I don’t have any stress before shooting. At the same time, I try to make an effort to reduce the stress level for the couple getting married that day or for the family members so together we can accomplish something great with the photos. I don’t claim to be some sort of amazing photographer but I make every effort when I can to bring others being photographed at ease so. When the couple is not relaxed they are only upsetting themselves. When they are more relaxed, the photos end up coming out great. I tell them to be at ease and not think about anything while they we are shooting. This is a day that you want to be memorable, so that you can share great memories with your kids and grandkids about that day.
What do you advise couples to look at when they are choosing a photographer for their wedding?
I show couples samples of my work and have them call a number of my satisfied customers, so they can get first hand knowledge of how I work and the caliber of my work. I recommend that couples meet with three or four different photographers to see who they like and if they like their photographer’s personality. You must like your photographer and the photographer must like the customers that he is shooting, otherwise the photos will not come out right.
What kind of things do couples need to be aware of in the quality of photos or albums that they are shown by a photographer?
Couples should realize that there isn’t just one type or one quality of printing for their photos. A photographer should show you different qualities of paper, bindings for the albums or types of printing for the photos. For example, there is inkjet printing that may be cheaper but often does not retain colors of the photos for a long period of time. While on the other hand there is photo-printer printing that this is a higher quality and has the colors lasting longer. Another photographer may not share what type of printing is used for the photos, but I like to share those details with couples so they have an idea of what quality work they will be receiving in their albums. I like to shoot natural photos and don’t like to photo-shop or digitally modify photos after I have shot them. You should also look into the type of lighting, angles for shooting photos as well as audio and high resolution film the videographer is using.
I understand many couples have additional lighting brought in for their weddings. What kind of impact does this lighting offer for the final quality of the photos or video?
Lighting offers you different backgrounds for your video. I do recommend additional lighting to my clients to obtain because the lighting at their venue may not be sufficient to provide a nice clear looking video. A good videographer should set his cameras to their lighting of the room. I prefer lighting that is bright, clear and crisp because it helps your video look nicer and cleaner. Different colors of lighting on the walls may look romantic or nice for that night, but depending on the photographer the different color lighting may not come out as well in the photos or the video. Those videographers or photographers who are professional know how to set lighting properly before shooting. I also advise my clients not to change the lighting in the room too much during their wedding because it affects the quality of video.
What advice do you have for young couples as far as preparing for their photographs to be shot before and during the wedding?
For the engagement photo secession before the wedding, I tell my couples to come relaxed and at ease, to smile and to laugh so the photos come out natural. This photo shoot beforehand also helps you before the day of the wedding because when you have already been in front of the camera it makes you more at ease. I also remind my couples that for their wedding day, ‘this is your day and from the second the day starts until it ends, just enjoy it because you’ve spent a lot of money and you want to make it memorable’.