Posted by Karmel Melamed
The L.A. Times recently named L.A. area Iranian Jewish businessman Sam Nazarian as the most powerful nightclub owner on the West Coast after his company, SBE Group recently acquired its largest Los Angeles night-life competitor, Syndicate Hospitality. The move now gives Nazarian’s SBE a total of 12 popular club venues primarily located in the Hollywood area and gives the company control of a total of 25 trendy hotels, restaurants, lounges and nightclubs. According to the Times article Nazarian has said his privately held company will own or operate 35 venues by April of 2012. The now 35-year-old Nazarian made headlines back in 2007 when his privately-held company acquired the iconic Sahara Hotel in Vegas for an estimated $300 million. He recently announced plans to shut down the hotel but reopen it in 2014 as an SLS Las Vegas, with six restaurants and two nightclubs.
For many Southern California young Iranian American Jewish professionals, Nazarian from the start of his success has been an icon they have admired. Their main interest is in the fact that Nazarian is someone from their generation who has gone outside their community’s traditionally desired career path of medicine, law or engineering and ventured into the hospitality industry, quickly rising to the top. I believe the younger generation of Iranian American Jews has also had admiration for Sam Nazarian because over the past several years he has also opened his nightclubs here in L.A. for fundraisers on behalf of the “Friends of the I.D.F.” and to benefit Israeli victims of terror during the 2006 Hezbollah war. Likewise Nazarian comes from a Zionist Iranian Jewish family that has been well known for being very philanthropic to Israel related causes and universities in Israel for many years. In October 2010 his parent’s philanthropic “Y & S Nazarian Family Foundation” donated funds to UCLA for the created of the university’s new Israel Studies Center.
On a side note I have interviewed Nazarian on a number of occasions and found him to be one of the few down to earth, genuine and straight forward individuals in Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community. Overall I think he has been unfairly portrayed in the media over the years as some sort of flashy or slick night club owner, when in reality he is quite the opposite.
My 2008 exclusive podcast interview with Sam Nazarian can be heard here
Read about SBE’s desire to open an SLS Hotel in Tel Aviv.
4.29.13 at 7:52 pm | Another member of the local Iranian community has. . .
4.1.13 at 6:26 am | "Shahs of Sunset" producer and other media ignore. . .
3.31.13 at 11:16 am | San Francisco based non-profit video interviews. . .
3.29.13 at 12:02 pm | Photos captured of various No Rooz celebrations. . .
3.15.13 at 10:38 am | Couples find Judaism is a key to keep their. . .
3.11.13 at 6:13 am | ADL recognizes achievements of Iranian Jewish. . .
10.25.07 at 9:11 pm | (45)
1.28.08 at 10:30 pm | (42)
4.3.08 at 7:12 pm | (30)
April 16, 2011 | 1:01 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
This blog probably receives more traffic and inquiries from Muslim bloggers in Iran and just plain curious individuals living in Iran than perhaps any other blog on the JewishJournal.com site. Unfamiliar with the lives of Jews living in the U.S., these non-Jewish Iranian visitors to my blog are surprised and often proud with their “fellow Iranians” success outside of Iran. I am also constantly bombarded with e-mails from Iranian bloggers opposed to the current regime and other pro-democracy individuals living within Iran who wish to share their insights, feelings and thoughts with the Jewish world and Americans in general. They write their messages with English letters that when read are words and sentences in the Persian language.
One frequent visitor to this blog is a student opposition leader living in Tehran who vents the frustrations of many young individuals in Iran have with the Obama administration and its inconsistency with regards to human rights and democracy issues in the Middle East. I recently asked him to go on the record with me about the true sentiments of his compatriots living in Iran regarding President Obama and he agreed to an interview on the condition that I not use his real name. The following is a translation of my recent telephone interview in Persian language with this student opposition leader who I will refer to as “Hassan P.” because he fears arrest and retribution from Iranian officials if they discover his true identity.
So why did you agree to this interview with a Jewish publication’s blog based in Los Angeles regarding Iran?
Well first and foremost, the vast majority of average Iranians living in Iran do not hate Jews nor do we hate Israel. The murderers controlling our country have that hate only. Your blog not only reflects positively on the lives of many Iranians living in American but you consistently tell the true about the horrors of Iran’s regime. I thought this may be a good forum for me to outreach to your readers because of our common Iranian background. Plus I would say no people on this planet have endured more suffering than the Jews during the course of human history—so many of us who are not Jews but suffering under a horrible government like this one in Iran like to think that your readership would understand with our current plight.
Hassan, why do you consider Obama unfriendly to those in Iran who are opposed to the Iranian government?
It’s very simple, just look at his actions and words during the last three years—they have been very tame toward the brutal regime in Iran. For example, in 2009 when we protested in the streets because of the fraudulent elections and the regime sent its thugs to beat and kill us. Many lost their lives including that famous girl “Neda” seen on YouTube who was shot by Iranian government militia. And what did Obama do or say? Not much. In very mild language he condemned the crackdown on us by the regime but did nothing more. We believe he was very tame in his response because he was trying to extend an olive branch to the mullahs ruling Iran so they would negotiate with him on the nuclear issue. We now know this was a failure by Obama because the mullahs never came to the negotiating table for the nuclear weapons program. Well, Obama’s move was the stupidest because it sent a clear message to the government here in Iran that they could get away with beating and murdering their own people and the America nor the West would raise a finger for the people of Iran. So in the eyes of the regime in Iran, Obama is seen as weak and in the eyes of most people who hate this government he is seen as someone who doesn’t care about us.
So is this just your opinion of Obama, or do you know other young people who feel the same way as you in Iran?
It’s not just my views, just look at the YouTube videos online of the thousands of young Iranians marching in the streets after the fraudulent 2009 elections and chanting “Obama, you’re either with us or you’re with them!” Here is just one of those videos….
With the protests in Iran earlier this year, do you think the Obama administration’s attitude or behavior toward those who seek democracy in Iran has changed?
No it hasn’t. It has only reinforced our earlier belief that he’s no friend to average Iranians who want to live free in our own country. In general he has shown that America turns its backs on its friends in the Middle East and doesn’t have the stomach to come down on its enemies in the region.
Why do you say that?
Well look at the example of Egypt. For the last 30 years Egypt has been a moderate Arab friend of the U.S. in the region. Now I am not defending Mubarak because he’s no different than many other dictators in the region. But when the protests began in Egypt, Obama came down hard almost everyday on Mubarak and his government and called for him to step down immediately. Obama rallied the European countries to pressure him to step down because of the human rights violations and the need for more freedom in Egypt. The world’s attention and pressure was on Mubarak and it ultimately forced his government to collapse. Now look at Obama’s behavior toward the Iranian leadership, who are not America’s friends in the region after they cracked down on the student opposition protests this February. He and Hillary Clinton did condemn the violence against us protesters but that’s it—he did not forcefully call for the regime to be removed, he did not rally the Europeans and the United Nations against the regime and his administration did nothing to place the international media spotlight on the Iranian government’s crimes against its own people during the protests. Where was his outrage at the slaughter of young men and women in the streets of Tehran? Was it not worse than what people endured while protesting in Cairo? Is this how Obama or America treats its enemies and friends? So Obama’s actions speak louder than his words and he’s proven to us not to be a friend of average people in Iran who hate the mullahs running our country. Obama’s administration has only emboldened the Iranian regime to continue their killing and terror against its people because they know the U.S. under Obama will do little if nothing to them for their crimes.
What would you like to see done differently by the Obama administration or the U.S. Congress to help your cause?
I think the most important thing for U.S. leaders to do is to express a very strong and unified voice against the human rights abuses the Iranian regime is committing against its people. Obama and his team have been “too nice” and “too diplomatic” in their public talk about the Iranian government. America and its leaders need to say very clearly and frequently in the media that they will not stand by and not allow for the mullahs and their thugs to continue killing innocent people in Iran who just want to live free. Your leaders need to keep the world’s pressure and media spotlight on Iran. Why don’t they call for the International War Crimes Tribunal to bring charges against the Iranian leadership for crimes against humanity? Why don’t you expose the thousands of innocent people they kill everyday on false charges of marital infidelity, treason, homosexuality and supposed crimes against Islam? This I think is very important rhetoric that needs to come from the American leadership and will give encouragement of the heart to average Iranians who will not feel hopeless in standing up against the current Iranian regime. I think that if we feel America is truly behind us and the U.S. government will do everything on the diplomatic end to pressure the Iranian government, then this regime cannot possibly continue its campaign of terror against its citizens and their house of cards will eventually collapse.
I also think that the U.S. and the world need to apply much more economic pressure on the Iranian government. The United Nations Security Council sanctions have scared the regime’s leadership and tightened the screws of their financial lifeline a little. But more needs to done. Banks in Europe and Asia need to decline major transactions from the Iranian regime’s companies. International companies need to stop their billion dollar contracts with the regime. The Arab Gulf states need to refuse or reduce their refining of Iranian oil to gasoline that is sold back to Iran. In Iran we do not refine our oil into gasoline, so all of our gasoline must be imported. Without gasoline the country will come to a standstill and bring the regime to its knees. All of these economic measures will gradually squeeze the current regime and lead people in Iran to stand up against the government which has failed them. It saddens me to say it but Iran is already in financial ruin because the mullahs running the country have been so corrupt and for years have been using funds from the sale of our natural resources to fund the Palestinian terrorist causes or Hezbollah’s terrorism instead of building up the country. I think that just a few more economic pushes will bring the regime to near collapse.
Do you have hope that one day Iran will be free of the current regime?
Of course. We never loose hope. We as a people have had a long history of being ruled by dictators and conquerors, but we have always overcome them. The majority of Iranians living in Iran today are younger people who want better lives for themselves and as they continue growing up, they will not want to endure these current hardships. Also don’t forget that Iran is the birthplace of human rights and equality. It was under Cyrus the Great, the ancient ruler of Iran who declared human rights for all of the world’s inhabitants. We are of course the descendants of Cyrus and will eventually rise up against these murderers who have taken over our country.
April 4, 2011 | 7:41 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Last week I had the opportunity to hear my friend and talented fellow Iranian American journalist Lisa Daftari discuss her expertise on the human rights abuses gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders encounter today in Iran at the hands of that regime’s radical fundamentalist Islamic leaders. Daftari spoke to the LGBT political group the ”Stonewall Democrats Club” based in West Hollywood about the the lack of freedoms that homosexuals face in Iran and elsewhere in the Islamic world. Daftari is a seasoned journalist and Iran expert having appeared on CBS, NBC, PBS and Fox News television programs. She’s also a frequent contributor to the Washington Post and Front Magazine online. She discussed the reality that many individuals living in the West are unaware that Iran’s current fundamentalist Shiite Islamic laws consider homosexuality to be a disease. (Her interesting article about the Gulag for Gays in Iran can be found here). Gays, lesbians and transgenders live secret lives in Iran and are often harrassed, beaten and imprisoned if their sexual identity is discovered by the Iranian authorities. Over the past three decades dozens of men have been promptly executed for the “crime of homosexuality” in Iran. In fact Iran’s current laws require men who are publicly discovered to be gay, to have sex change surgeries so that these indivduals can “live normally in Iran’s society as women” and the government will even pay for such surgical procedures.
Kudos to the Stonewall Democrats Club for engaging the local LGBT community on the issue of abuses that homosexuals face everyday in Iran. Andrew Lachman, the past president of Democrats for Israel group in L.A. who is also on the Stonewall’s board, shed light on the LGBT community’s interest on the topic of human rights abuses in Iran. “There is a natural alliance between the LGBT community and the Iranian community here in Los Angeles in opposing the current regime in Iran,” Lachman said. “This kind of outreach really helps everyone find out just how much they share a revulsion to a regime that locks up and executes gays and political dissidents alike, merely for being who they are.” On an interesting side note, Daftari also explained how Israel was the only country in the Middle East that has provided LGBT with significant equal rights and freedom to live their lives as they wish without fear of abuse. In fact Israel every year has a “Gay Pride” parade in the captial city of Jerusalem unlike the other countries in the Middle East that kill or torture individuals who are LGBT.
Here is video I captured of Iranian American journalist Lisa Daftari exposing the extent of abuse LGBT encounter at the hands of Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime…
March 29, 2011 | 3:18 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
For the last seven years Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas has been one of the few local elected officials who has championed the recognition of “No Rooz” or the secular Persian New Year at L.A.’s City Hall. This year’s honoring of No Rooz on March 18th by Cardenas and the L.A. City Council was no different and drew more than 100 local Iranian Americans of various faiths to officially mark the new year with a proclamation and a dessert reception afterwards. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaragosia was also on hand to address the council and acknowledge the leadership of countless Iranian Americans working in city government and contributing to the continued growth of the city’s business. Cardenas’ embracing of No Rooz and the local Iranian American community is indeed unique as he has very few if any Iranian Americans living in his district. City officials should be applauded for honoring No Rooz which not only marks the beginning of Spring but also encourages a sense of harmony, mutual respect and love among all peoples. No where else but Los Angeles, which has so many different immigrant communities is the message of No Rooz more important.
The following is a brief message on video I captured of Cardenas sharing his No Rooz thoughts with local Iranian Americans at L.A.’s City Hall:
Here are some of my photos of the L.A. City Hall No Rooz celebrations…
Likewise on March 27th, the No Rooz festivities in Los Angeles continued with Persian food, music, dancing and live media broadcasts from Westwood Village’s “Persian Square”. The gathering that drew more than 1,000 local Iranians was organized by local Iranian American businessmen and Westwood’s “unofficial Iranian mayor” Alex Helmi, who over the years have been pushing to have a public honoring of No Rooz. Likewise countless city and state officials including L.A. City Council members Paul Koretz and Dennis Zine were on hand for the celebrations as well as L.A. City Controller Wendy Gruel and California Secretary of State Debra Bowen. More than a dozen Iranian radio and satellite television programs were broadcasting at the venue while local Iranians enjoyed cultural foods and music.
The following is a video I captured of the No Rooz “haf seen” table which contains many of the symbolic items Iranians put on display in celebration of the new year….
Here are some of my photos of the No Rooz festivities in Westwood Village this year…
February 23, 2011 | 10:18 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Since demonstrations and political upheaval enveloped Iran last week just as in 2009, again worldwide Jewry and particularly thousands of Iranian Jews living in Southern California have been concerned about the safety of some 10,000 to 20,000 Jews still living in Iran today. My piece in this week’s Jewish Journal sheds light on the dangers the Jews of Iran are living with an recent threats certain Iranian militia forces have made to destroy the tombs of the Esther and Mordechai, the heros of Purim.
I recently spoke with Frank Nikbakht an Iranian Jewish activist in Los Angeles and head of the Committee for Religious Minorities in Iran concerning the current status of Jews in Iran and the unrest in that country. Nikbakht is perhaps one of a handful of Iranian Jewish experts in the U.S. and worldwide who closely follow and research the actions of Iran’s radical Islamic government towards Jews and other religious minorities in Iran. His documented research has been used by U.S. government officials in the State Department and by other prominent community leaders to shed light on the Iranian regime’s behavior towards Jews, Christians, Bahais still living in that country.
The following is a segment of my latest interview with Nikbakht about the recent developments in Iran…
How safe is the Jewish community in Iran during violent crack down on demonstrators in Iran?
The Jewish community in Iran, being considered as a sort of hostage population may be facing new pressures soon, even though they were not involved at all with the demonstrations. This is because of the repeat of the now famous street chants of “neither Gaza, nor Lebanon— Tunisia, Egypt and Iran” and it ends with “my is life dedicated only to Iran”. This was chanted on the Quds day of 2009 by regime opponents. Now the paranoid Iranian regime thinking Israel had a hand in the riots, may pressure the Jewish community to stage pro-Palestinian and pro-Hezbollah demonstrations, issue statements and hold rallies, like in 2009. The regime may, may make certain arrests connected with Israeli sensitivities or by reviving the Islamo-Nazi threats as was the calls for the destruction of Esther’s Shrine in the Western city of Hamedan.
Why are Jews such a target for different forces in Iran during times of turmoil?
Small minorities and in particular hated minorities such as Jews are always in danger of being wiped out. In times of turmoil, war and revolution are the most dangerous because not only may a Nazi-like government such as the Islamic Republic of Iran decide to use its Jewish hostages for deterrence or revenge— but smaller groups of fanatics within the society or the armed forces may decide to do something themselves during a chaotic situation.
How is the Iranian regime different from the Mubarak regime as far as cracking down hard on protestors and clamping down on the telecommunications/internet? And how much more difficult will it be for the “people” to bring down the Iranian regime with their demonstrations?
This is like comparing apples and oranges. The Egyptian regime under Mubarak was perhaps a typical military dictatorship whereas the Iranian regime is a Theocratic one.
Whereas there may have been slightly more people killed in Egypt during their two week long uprising compared with a similar period in the Iranian events of 2009 or February 2011, there are several notable differences, namely the Islamic regime in Iran would go after, target, arrest or even assassinate the family members of street activists or even kill bystanders to spread terror among the whole population. In Iran tens of thousands were arrested even for chanting “Allahu Akbar” from their roofs and thousands were so severely tortured that their stories shocked the new generation who had no direct experience with the Islamic authorities.
Also in Iran, the government forces had almost a free hand in continuing the suppression or prevention of the demonstrations. Whereas in Egypt the main government instruments of force, such as the army, the intelligence and the police, were heavily prone to American pressures not to act against street demonstrations (as the Iranian Army was during the Shah) and even pressured Mubarak to leave. In terms of shutting down hi-tech communications, the Iranian government is much more capable. It must be added that following an initial interest by CNN and some other American media in 2009, they all reduced covering Iranian events that year as soon as Obama lost interest.
In 2009 there was criticism by Iranian Americans and others of the Obama administration failing to clearly voice show the Iranian people’s desire for freedom and true democracy in their country. What in your opinion has been the administrations biggest failure on the Iran issue?
In my opinion, the administration’s biggest failure is their self deluding belief that the Islamic Regime in Iran, is just another dictatorship. Iran is a theocratic dictatorship with no mercy and no consideration for people if they are against God’s government (as they call themselves) and its armed forces cannot be re-tasked or neutralized by American pressures. Successful “velvet” revolutions organized or supported by the US, have either succeeded in countries whose regime had already been dismantled— such as the old Soviet block, or whose regime and country had been destroyed by extreme violence—as the case with NATO having destroyed and fragmented Yugoslavia, or in places where their armed forces were loyal to America and thus easily frozen in place.
Why does the regime continue to use Israel and the U.S. as a scapegoat for the demonstrations and unrest in Iran and what purpose does it serve?
The regime is trying to keep its own supporters within the society, agitated and loyal. This tactic is still effective among millions of fanatics or obedient Allah fearing population but not among millions of regime opponents or liberal Muslims who are slowly learning that LIES are the main weapon of the regime for its survival.
What is the likelihood of successful regime change this time around in Iran from the “rioting”? Can it effectively snowball, or is this a doomed cause where thousands will be slaughtered by the regime?
This “rioting” has not yet developed into an “uprising”. Therefore there should be no rational expectations for any major accomplishments. The tactics associated with these “riots” are hit and run and therefore there will not be massive slaughter. However, what remains is the still irreconcilable conflict between regime factions, massive western pressures on the regime and a huge undercurrent of popular discontent, intensified by a run away inflation and unsustainable economic situation. Taken together, sometime soon, the regime will crack open.
December 11, 2010 | 1:05 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Last year I had the honor of interviewing Manijeh Nehorai as one of the L.A. Jewish Journal’s annual mensches for her work to support Iranian Jewish children with special needs. Nehorai is a remarkably giving local Iranian Jewish social worker and volunteer of the Etta Israel organization that supports children with special needs and their families with L.A.’s Iranian Jewish community. Nearly two decades ago, at a time when many families in the community with mentally disabled children would hide their special needs children away from the public, Nehorai was brave enough to tackle this taboo and educate these families that there was help available for their children. As in years past, she along with the help of a dozen Iranian Jewish volunteers organizes fundraising events for this important cause that no one in the community has been brave enough to champion.
A few days ago again I had the special opportunity to attend Etta Israel’s Iranian Jewish Capter annual Hanukah fundraising gala event at the Sephardic Temple in West Los Angeles. The gathering raised thousands of dollars to aid in funding the housing and other programs for the organization’s Iranian Jewish clients. While I am not one who is typically big on attending the countless Iranian Jewish community social events and fundraisers in Los Angeles, I always find that this fundraiser has been a pure delight because it is one of those rare events where the community gets together to collectively and unselfishly help others who are less fortunate themselves.
The following are some videos I captured on that evening of Nehorai and the special needs children participating in the program…
December 7, 2010 | 12:13 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Iranian Nessah Synagogue celebrates 30 years and honors founders
Last night I had a chance to witness a milestone in the history of Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community with the 30 year celebration of the establishment of the Nessah Synagogue located in Beverly Hills. The gala dinner was not just your typical fancy and over-the-top lavish Iranian Jewish party— it was rather a night for the Nessah and local Iranian Jewry to extend their appreciation to 27 individuals from their community who have been giving back to the Iranian Jewish community over the decades.
The honorees included a whole host of individuals but perhaps the most interesting to me was Mr. Ebrahim Yahid who worked as an unofficial liaison between the State of Israel and the Iranian government from the 1950s to 1979 at the start of the Iranian Islamic revolution. Yahid was one of the many Iranians who helped forge the indirect friendly economic and political relationship Israel enjoyed with Iran prior to the collapse of the Shah’s regime. Yahid, who also served in the British military during World War II against the Nazis while based in Iran is among the last surviving members of his generation. He used his position in the British military to help Jewish children fleeing Nazi Europe to find refuge in Iran and helped smuggle Jewish soldiers from the former Soviet Union through Iran to emigrate to Israel. During the last 30 years or so, a retired Yahid has continued to serve L.A.’s Iranian Jewish community as a community volunteer and still maintained his ties to Israel by taking local Iranian Jews on tours of Israel as well as raising funds for the Jewish National Fund.
At the same time another remarkable aspect of the evening was the history of the Nessah organization since it’s inception in December of 1980. The non-profit was started by Hacham Yedidah Shofet, the late chief rabbi of Iran’s Jews, who gathered a small contingent of local Iranian Jews to pray together inside the Ashkenazi “Beth Jacob” synagogue in Beverly Hills. As the synagogue’s members at daily minyans and Shabbat morning services grew, the group’s events took place inside the current “Saban Theatre” near the Miracle Mile. Several years later the synagogue raised enough funds and bought a site in Santa Monica. Finally in 2002, with the help of the affluent members of the synagogue and the local Iranian Jewish community’s contributions, enough funds were gathered for the group to purchase its current $14 million site situated in Beverly Hills. Interestingly the synagogue’s building used to be used for worship by “The First Church of Christ” before Nessah acquired the location. According to Nessah’s out going president, Mehdi Soroudi, Nessah was able to pay down its $6.9 million mortgage this year by $1.9 million despite the poor economy. This ablity to pay down their debt is by all means a remarkable achievement for any non-profit organization and speaks volumes about the financial strength of Southern California’s Iranian Jews who have been supporting this religious non-profit over the past three decades.
On a final note, Nessah is no doubt one of the prime hearts of Southern California’s Iranian American Jews because it has held onto the ancient Jewish traditions of the past but also adapted to some of the modern ways of Jews living in the U.S.— including its push for synagogue membership, which is a new concept for Iranian Jews.
The following are just a few photos I captured from the gala event at Nessah….
November 12, 2010 | 12:37 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
I have known Dariush Fakheri, the president of the L.A.-based International Judea Foundation (SIAMAK) for the last 10 years. During that time I’ve come discover that he is by far is one of most out-spoken and dynamic leaders of Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community. SIAMAK under his leadership has without fear tackled some of the most controversial, taboo and downright difficult challenges our immigrant community living in L.A. has encountered. Whether it be drug abuse, pre-martial sex among youngsters or issues of divorce, SIAMAK’s board members and Fakheri have been unafraid to seek real solutions to these problems plaguing L.A.’s Iranian Jews. With the local Iranian Jewish community well established, SIAMAK, along with other community groups are increasingly turning their attention to aiding Israel in different ways.
Earlier this year, the organization along with Israel’s Ben Gurion University unofficially launched “Project Jacob”, a program to fund, nurture and develop innovative medical, high-tech and alternative energy research at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University (BGU). The longstanding objective of the program is to help spur economic growth in Israel and job creation in the country.
Earlier this week my piece in the Journal highlighted Fakheri’s efforts to develop “Project Jacob” and the following is portion of my interview with him…
Can you give us some background on your organization, SIAMAK?
We were one of the first organizations formed more than 30 years ago. During these 30 years we were involved with some many projects with new Iranian Jewish immigrants to the U.S. to help them with acculturation, resettlement, find housing and work. It was a huge job, but we were a bunch of young energetic people and we took on that challenge head on. Thankfully we were successful with these efforts. Every decade our priorities changed, once people were settled they had families who could help them. We then turned our attention to young people in our community to encourage them to stick to Judaism, or help them with their drug problems or violence occurring in their home. Every ten years we changed our goals as the community became more settled and we tried to adapt to helping the community in different ways. Later on once we were settled, more affluent and comfortable in our settings, we started to help Israeli causes more than before. We were also involved in raising funds for Muslim refugees in Bosnia, different food banks in Israels, Rambam hospital in Hafia after the Hezbollah war in 2006 and even supporting the late professor Amnon Netzer’s research in Judeo-Persian language at Hebrew University in Israel.
Your organization two years ago separated from another local Iranian Jewish group, what about that split helped to bring “Project Jacob” to life?
After the split from that other organization, we ended up with having close to a quarter of million dollars. So what happened was for a few months was that we tried to get over the hurt of all of the ideas we had had and to bury many of them that were very dear for us. After a few months I realized that we were not going to reignite our organization (SIAMAK) anymore because we were short handed locally. So our board got together with how we could best use this money. We had seen that for the last 30 years we had many people from Israel who came to us begging for money because they were living below the poverty line. To me it was insulting for Jews to go around the world and begging for money in the 21st century! So we thought, why don’t we teach them how to fish instead of giving them fishes? If we explore the “oil wells’ that we do have in Israel— the talent and brains of the Israeli people, then Israel will become more successful. This were we came up with the idea for Project Jacob.
So Project Jacob will be funding and helping to spur the creation of new innovations at Ben Gurion University and Israel. What are some of the benefits and unique aspects of this program from other programs?
This is a multifaceted program. A portion of that money the innovators of these inventions make, will come back to fund the next generation of people involved with the project. We did this because we saw that a lot of inventions created in Israel are being sold for hundreds of millions of dollars around the world but not really benefiting Israel. So we wanted to create a solution to this problem where such inventions would benefit for Israel. For example, with Project Jacob will end up making a lot of people millionaires because they will sell their invention and fulfill their dreams. Also the Israel government will benefit from the taxes generated by the sales of these inventions and those funds that could be used for any use that the government sees fit. This project will also help to prevent “brain drain” from Israel because scientists and innovators will stay in the country when they know the money from their inventions will to stay there. The overriding effect of inventions created in Israel is also good for Israel’s image because it shows that Jews and Israel are interested in “Tikkun Olam”. Likewise, if we have a vibrant economy, then this may encourage more aliyah to Israel. Lastly, if we can help Ben Gurion University, then we can help the Negev region prosper, release the traffic that is suffocating Tel Aviv and encourage development with more young people moving to the Negev.
What are the overhead costs for running Project Jacob?
No one from our organization makes a penny working for this organizations and any costs associated with it are paid by us. If I have to visit someone to encourage them to get involved with this program, I will pay for it out of my own pocket— and there are no administrative costs. This project was not named after anyone’s family name because it will allow anyone interested to join the project. If we could sponsor an inventor or a brain, then one invention by itself could support the whole project.
Can you explain how Project Jacob will advance the concept of “Tikkun Olam” or healing the world?
This project is a humanitarian effort in our eyes— for example, if we support the discovery of a vaccination it will not just help sick Jews, but aid all people around the world who are in need of it. Whatever we are doing, the beneficiaries are humanity. Anyone who wants to come to join this crusade we are involved with is more than welcomed. This is something that will help all humanity. After working 40 years on behalf of the community and not spending as much time with my family I said it’s enough— but you can’t stand still and see an opportunity like this that can benefit so many people in so many ways and do nothing.
What feedback have you received so far from those who have been introduced to Project Jacob in the U.S.?
Everyone I have spoken to is very excited about it. We’ve even had an offer by a U.S. company to buy one of the inventions that we have sponsored in this project. I am totally convinced that this project will cause an avalanche. If we have one successful project that is offered to the market and is picked up it will create more. We paid $200,000 in February 2010 to start the project and have made a commitment of $1 million. But I believe the contributions to this project will be much more once people see the potential and success of these inventions.