Yesterday nearly 50 of Southern California’s prominent Iranian Jewish community leaders and activists gathered in the L.A. area for an informal breakfast meeting with Israel’s Consul General for the Southwest region, David Siegel. The gathering allowed Siegel, who just last year assumed his post based in Los Angeles, to connect on a closer level with the area’s Iranian Jewish leaders who have for the past 33 years been strong supporters of Israel. “I’ve been here for a quarter of a year already and there isn’t a day where I haven’t come across your community’s leadership, friendship and hospitality,” said Siegel to both young and older leaders at the meeting. “What an incredible story of success your community has had after moving to the U.S. and all along you have not forgotten Israel”. Some of the community’s prominent leaders included Nessah Synagogue’s Rabbi David Shofet, former Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad, former L.A. DWP C.E.O. David Nahai, Beverly Hills Public Works Comissioner Joe Shooshani and “30 Years After” president Sam Yebri.
Siegel also gave extensive insights about Israel’s tremendous technological growth in recent years, even mentioning that the computer chip manufacturer, “Intel” that has just announced the creation of its sixth plant in Israel’s city of “Kiryat Gan”. Likewise Siegel discussed the unrest in the Middle East as well as the threats Iran’s nuclear program possess to Israel’s existence. More importantly Siegel announced the Consulate’s upcoming program to outreach to younger Iranian American Jews through a series of new exciting events and activities. “Having the younger generation connect to Israel after the Birthright trip and in college is a priority for us,” he said. “We will be focusing on the Persian Jewish community and calling on their young leadership to help us connect”.
After the meeting with community leaders, I had an opportunity to interview Siegel about his impressions of L.A.‘s Iranian Jews and their connection to Israel. I found his desire to embrace this tight-knit Jewish community which has tremendous sense of Zionism to be quite refreshing. Siegel, like many of Israel’s past Consuls in L.A., realizes the substantial economic, philanthropic, cultural and even political impact Southern California’s Iranian Jewry have in the region. The Consulate of Israel’s efforts to outreach to the younger generation of Iranian Jews growing up in L.A. must be applauded because (with the exception of Sinai Temple in west L.A.) many in the larger Ashkenazi Jewish community in the city have made little if no effort to build bridges with local Iranian Jews. No doubt the substantial impact local Iranian Jews have had for Israel’s betterment cannot be ignored. After all it was L.A.‘s Iranian Jews that first established the “Magbit” organization that for the last 20 years has been offering millions of dollars in interest-free loans to college students in Israel. Or Newport Beach Iranian Jewish philanthropist, David Merage, who’s Merage Foundation, established the “Ayalim” program in Israel that has helped fund the building of new settlements in Israel’s Negev region. Or the Iranian Jewish “Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation” that has poured millions of dollars into establishing UCLA’s newest Israel Studies Center. The list of L.A.‘s Iranian Jewish contributions to Israel goes on and on, not to mention the tremendous Israel philanthropy done by New York’s Iranian Jewry.
Yes many in the Iranian Jewish community often close themselves off to non-Iranian Jews, but I have found they are increasingly opening up and assuming a leadership role when it comes to issues of Israel. Perhaps the best example of this opening up process comes from the L.A. based “30 Years After” organization that has motivated many young Iranian Jewish professionals to get involved with civic and political activity. In fact this year’s AIPAC Conference had a large contingent of Iranian Jews from L.A. and New York in attendance, reflecting the community’s growing political involvement with all things Israel. What I hope to see is a larger number of Iranian American Jews in the coming year opening up to Americans of all backgrounds about the painful experiences they endured while living under and escaping from the current regime in Iran. I think no other group in the U.S. would have a greater impact on public opinion when it comes to issues of Iran’s nuclear weapons program than Iranian Jews living in the U.S. who know firsthand the very serious dangers the regime of the ayatollahs in Iran posses to the world.
The following is a portion of my recent chat with Siegel about his thoughts on L.A.‘s Iranian Jews…
Here is another discussion I had with Siegel about the attitude of average Israelis regarding the people of Iran…
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