Jewish Journal

Mediator Making Peace Between Iranian Jews

by Karmel Melamed

February 10, 2007 | 11:15 am

By Karmel Melamed

With Los Angeles County being named among one of the most litigious areas in the country by the American Bar Association for the past several years and lawsuits being more commonplace nowadays, its not often you find anyone willing to help parties revolve their problems outside a courtroom. Yet local mediator Yoram Hassid has become the exception to the rule after his many years of voluntarily working to settle disputes arising in the Iranian Jewish community.

For the last 20 years, Hassid, a 60-something financially successful general contractor, has been quietly helping scores of local Jews and in particular Iranian Jews to settle everything from their multi-million dollar real estate suits to their challenging family conflicts.

“I’m not a storyteller, I’m only here to help solve people’s problems,” replies a humble Hassid when asked how many people he has aided or how much money he has had his clients donate to international Jewish charities in lieu of receiving fees for his services.

While Hassid has helped the local Jewish community with their disputes on his own over years, he had also served as a mediator in the Iranian Jewish Federation’s committee that helped local Iranian Jews resolve their business troubles without having to go court or pay legal fees.

After the death the committee’s chairman Eliyahu Ghodsian, Hassid and other committee volunteers more recently formed the “Arbitration and Mediation Committee” an independent mediation group based in Beverly Hills.

“I initially brought in Mr. Hassid into the Federation’s mediation committee because he knew a lot about the business of real estate,” said Ebrahim Yahid, a volunteer for the Arbitration and Mediation Committee. “Through the years he’s helped many many people and there are even some parties coming in from Washington D.C. just to meet Mr. Hassid for help because of his reputation in successfully resolving disputes”.

Hassid said that he primarily handles cases where there may have been misunderstandings between the parties rather than intentional fraud because when fraud is involved one of the parties are most likely unwilling to attend mediation secessions.

“I would say that I’ve had success in resolving 80-percent of the cases that have come to me where I was able to convince both parties to accept a mutual settlement,” said Hassid.

But Hassid refuses to take all the credit for his successes and said local rabbis, community leaders, and even attorneys have been instrumental in referring cases to him and providing their support during mediation secessions.

Due to reasons of client confidentiality Hassid said he was not able to disclose the specifics of any of his previous cases, but in the past he has handled disputes involving properties valued at more than $40 million as well as inheritance quarrels over estates valued in the millions.

Those who have benefited from Hassid’s efforts said they were surprised at his tremendous patience, even-handedness, and understanding of the Iranian business norms of bargaining.

“He knows the ‘bazaar mentality’ from Iran and is able to speak with people with that in mind,” said Noah P., an L.A. area real estate broker and former Hassid client. “Getting the money was not important to me, but I will forever be grateful to him because of the fact that he voluntarily came forward to help me and spent a substantial amount of time on my case when others were not able to do so”.

Noah P., who asked that his name be withheld for fear of loosing future business, said he originally came to Hassid for assistance in retrieving a substantial amount of unpaid commissions owed to him from his Iranian Jewish clients who had received his brokering services. Ultimately Hassid was only able to recover a fraction of what Noah P. was entitled to had he filed suit in court.

“I could have sued but I didn’t want to take the path of hurting another person,” said Noah P. “Don’t get me wrong there are many good Iranian Jews but there are some in the community that are unfortunately very materialistic and don’t care who they crush”.

Other clients said Hassid takes a very simple and non-legal approach in conveying a message to his clients that a prolonged legal battle would not beneficial to either side.

“He says forget the legal stuff and asks ‘is it worth it?’” said Henry J., a current Hassid client who asked that his name be withheld because his case has not yet been settled. “Mr. Hassid asks you if it’s worth loosing your sanity, your health, and money to the lawyers because in the end even if you get what you want in court you may end up the real looser”.

Many of Hassid’s clients said they were at ease with him handling their disputes because unlike many attorneys, he had no ulterior financial or ego-related motives in prolonging their cases.

In addition, Iranian Jewish leaders said the community has tremendously benefited from Hassid’s efforts not only because of the funds he has generated for worthy causes, but because his non-confrontational style and fair decisions have kept many families together.

“Mr. Hassid has been very instrumental in resolving several tough cases which others have not been able to conclude,” said Rabbi David Shofet, of the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills. “His activities are a blessing for many who might otherwise land in the court system and we are grateful for his help”.

The American litigation process is a unique concept to Iranian Jews whom for centuries in Iran had traditionally resolved their business disputes peaceably with the aid of elders in their communities. In Iran, their cases were heard by their leaders and all parties were persuaded to find a fair compromise, since often times Jews did not have access to the country’s Muslim dominated courts, said Yahid.

While Hassid has never had any formal legal education, four of his six children are coincidentally attorneys and they said he has a special gift for spotting between right and wrong when cases come to him for review.

“The first thing he has is an incredible ability to go inside the heads of both the parties and understand their perspectives, this is not a gift that everyone has,” said Hassid’s daughter Yifat, a Century City attorney. “He also has an uncanny ability to skip through all the great nonsense and force the parties to get to the heart of matter with the goal of finding a solution”.

Hassid said he will continue his mediation work for as long as possible because of the gratification he receives after giving closure to his clients who may have otherwise suffered through nasty court battles.

Karmel Melamed is an internationally published freelance journalist based in Southern California.

Portions of this article were published in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles:

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Karmel Melamed is an internationally-published freelance journalist based in Southern California.

Since 2000, Melamed has specialized in covering the growing influential...

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