Nearly 200 local Iranian Jews, academic scholars and community members packed a banquet hall at Sinai Temple in West Los Angeles on November 17th to hear a panel of experts discuss the dynamic growth of Southern California’s Iranian Jewry during the last 30 years. The gathering was one of nearly a dozen during a three-day academic conference that focused on the current state of Sephardic Studies and was organized by the Hebrew Union College. Moderated by Sinai’s Rabbi David Wolpe, the gathering’s panelist included Iranian Jewish author Gina Nahai, UCLA professor of Judeo-Persian Studies Nahid Pirnazar, Iranian Jewish Beverly Hills City Councilmember Jimmy Delshad and Iranian Jewish film producer, hotelier and night club entrepreneur Sam Nazarian.
The panelists delved into sensitive topics such as gossip, different forms of religiosity and difficulties with money and marriage that many Iranian American Jews deal with today but rarely discuss in public. “We were incredibly pleased with the type response we received from the community and I don’t think we quite expected it to hit the nerve it hit, said Mark Kligman, the Conference Director. “One reason we had this conference in Los Angeles was to feature a living Sephardic community like the Iranian Jewish community”. Many of those in attendance said they came to hear Nazarian, the 33-year-old successful businessman share his views about the changes among the generation of younger Iranian Jews living in Los Angeles since he has not typically spoken at community events. In addition to hearing him speak the gathering, I had a chance to chat with him for our blog’s podcast and found him to be quite down to earth and friendly.
Listen to our podcast program’s exclusive interview with Sam Nazarian here.
Nazarian is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of SBE which includes hotel, restaurant, nightlife, and real estate divisions; as well as Bolthouse Productions and Element Films. As a film producer, real estate financier, hotelier, and restaurateur, Nazarian has produced numerous major motion picture releases including the 2007 thriller “Mr. Brooks” with Demi Moore and Kevin Costner and owns several Southern California nightclubs and restaurants, as well as SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills, The Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and the Ritz Plaza in Miami. In 2006, Nazarian was the youngest executive to be named one of the “Top 100 Most Powerful People in Southern California” by West, the Los Angeles Times’ Magazine and was named among “The Influentials” in Los Angeles magazine. Nazarian’s first entrepreneurial venture was in 1998, when he founded Platinum Wireless, a telecommunications business specializing in the distribution of Nextel software. Within one year of its founding, Platinum Wireless was the number one Nextel distributor in Southern California. Nazarian then entered the world of real estate by diversifying his family’s assets into real estate holdings, beginning with the establishment of 3Wall Development in 1999 which has become one of Southern California’s largest owners of multi-family housing.
Scores of young Iranian American Jews in Southern California often bring Sam Nazarian’s name up in conversations they have with me. They admire him not just because of his obvious financial success in different areas of business that Iranian Jews haven’t yet ventured into, but also because he has remained in touch with the community and given back. During the past few years he has opened up his various nightclubs including “Privilege” on the Sunset Strip for several party fundraisers on behalf of Israeli victims of Hezbollah rocket attacks in 2006 and the Friends of the I.D.F. At the same time he has also made his venues available for political related activities and in August of 2007 his company’s venues were made available for a events after a democratic presidential forum in Los Angeles for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community.
For more photos of the Hebrew Union College’s panel on Iranian Jews, visit photographer Jon Vidar’s website: here
For more information on the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion visit there website: here