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….