A few hundred of Los Angeles’ Iranian and American Jews gathered on June 2nd at a UCLA Hillel dinner gala honoring the L.A.-based Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization (IJWO) because of the groups long standing financial and community support for the UCLA Hillel center. The gathering was unique and special because it was one of the few occasions where both Iranian Jews and other Jews in the L.A. area came together to support a group that has helped foster the growth of Judaism among young Jews in the city. Indeed a sense of Jewish unity filled the room that evening that is rare to come across nowadays. According to Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, director of UCLA’s Hillel Center, Iranian Jewish students make up a plurality of the Jews on the UCLA campus and their interaction with Hillel was critical to the group’s continuity.
For their part, the Iranian Jewish women of the non-profit IJWO have been quite active in fundraising on behalf of UCLA’s Hillel center. About 10 years ago the IJWO provided the funds for the creation of the current lounge area at UCLA’s Hillel center and offered countless donations for UCLA’s Jewish students to enjoy Friday night Shabbat dinners at the center. At the same time the IJWO has raised money to provide college scholarships to Iranian Jewish students who have recently emigrated from Iran to the U.S. through the HIAS organization’s help. The group has also offered scholarships to students of Iranian origin or students studying Iranian Studies at Hebrew University and Netanya College in Israel. At the same time the IJWO had donated to the “Iranica” program at New York’s Columbia University that has a focus on Iranian Studies. On an interesting historical note, the IJWO was established in the late 1940’s in Iran by Jewish women in the country who were seeking to have a positive impact on the lives of other Jews in their community. Subsequently the group was revived when a substantial number of Iranian Jews emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1970’s. The members of the IJWO at the gala event said they were proud to financially support UCLA’s Hillel Center which has been critical in helping younger Iranian Jewish students at the university to retain their Jewish identity.
Speaking at the event, both former Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad and the Nessah Synagogue’s head Rabbi David Shofet praised the IJWO and Iranian Jewish women in Southern California who have helped to strengthen the bonds of Judaism among their children and families. “I’m a proud to have been born from an Iranian Jewish woman,” said Shofet at the gala dinner. The following is a portion of Shofet’s speech that evening…
Here are some additional photos from the evening I captured….