Los Angeles’ Iranian Jewish community received its first Israeli shaliach (emissary) in November. Maccabi World Union’s Nave Chupkov will work out of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana for the next two years. Sponsored by Neria Yomtoubian Foundation and Eretz-SIAMAK, Chupkov’s mission is to help encourage Judaism and reinforce support for Israel among young Jews in the Iranian American community, as well as the wider Jewish community.
“My goals are to build a tradition for young people to attend our events on the Jewish holidays, develop leadership skills and also encourage young professionals to attend our trips that combine fun and education,” Chupkov said. For his part, Chupkov has had some success attracting many young Iranian Jews to his events during December and has trips to Big Bear and Israel planned for the coming months. “I am very excited about working in the Persian community, and the warmth I’ve received from them is incredible,” Chupkov said.
I had a chance to chat with Chupkov last weekend and found his optimism about helping to engage young Iranian Jews in Judaism and Zionism quite refreshing. Of course he has a tough road ahead of him because for the most part Iranian Jewish teens and young professionals in L.A. do not typically get involved with community activities unless there’s some sort of party involved. Sadly the parents of these young Iranian Jews are either too busy with their own businesses and social lives to encourage their children to be active in the community. Perhaps an outsider like Chupkov can more easily set a standard for local Iranian Jews to establish stronger youth programs that will encourage these youngsters not to leave the faith when they become adults. From my own observations as a journalist, I’ve come realize that Iranian Jews living in the U.S. in their late 20’s and older may have strong ties to Israel because of their family’s traumatic experiences with the 1979 Iranian revolution. Yet the younger generation of Iranian Jewish teens and grade school children do not seem to have the same powerful sense of Zionism. These teens have been born and raised in America—never fully appreciating the sense of belonging and hope Israel offered Jews fleeing Iran after the revolution. Therefore it seems as if Chupkov’s efforts in promoting pride for Israel is essential in order for future generations of Iranian American Jews to retain their bonds with the Jewish homeland. My hope that is that Chupkov’s excitement and planned Jewish events will catch on for all young people in the Iranian Jewish community.
On an interesting side note, the idea to even introduce a shaliach to the Iranian Jewish community was as a result of a chance interaction between young Iranian Jews from L.A. and Mexican Jews from San Diego! Last February, I was involved with this very interaction when the young professionals from the Mexican Jewish community shared a weekend of skiing and winter fun with Iranian Jews from L.A. in Big Bear. The getaway was incredible as both groups discovered they had so many things in common and it was then when representatives from the Eretz-SIAMAK organization met the regular shaliach who was supporting the Mexican Jewish youth with Jewish activities. This unique opportunity sparked the idea to have a similar shaliach help do the same for young Iranian Jews living in L.A.!
Eretz-SIAMAK will host a Tu B’Shevat brunch and tree-planting event on Jan. 20. For more information, call Chupkov at (818) 342-9303.