Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community has long been divided over a host of social and religious issues, often discouraging hopes among the elders for community continuity. Eman Esmailzadeh, a 27-year-old engineer and community activist, is one of a small number of young people who are now focused on reuniting this immigrant community, in part by encouraging teenagers to identify with their Judaism.
Esmailzadeh volunteers his energy for a whole host of causes, including encouraging fellow Iranian Jews to become more involved with the local Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters programs, or creating his widely popular “Jew-losophy” classes, which offer easy-to-understand lessons about Judaism to young professionals through the Beverly Hills-based Nessah Synagogue. He has also brought together different religious factions in the community by developing programs for troubled teens through the Jewish Unity Network (JUN) organization in the Pico-Robertson area.
“I got involved because I saw serious problems in our community that could be solved through encouraging Jewish education and bringing young people back to their Jewish roots,” the always humble Esmailzadeh said.
What has impressed many in the community is Esmailzadeh’s ability to squeeze in time for community volunteering while still maintaining his own lighting business and helping his wife raise their newborn baby.
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“Young people really look up to Eman because he’s educated, has settled down with a family, is successful in his business and really cares about the well-being of the community with his different activities,” said Dara Abaei, director of JUN. A semi-professional Webmaster, Esmailzadeh has also taken his message of encouraging Judaism online by developing jthoughts.com, a Web site that provides dating tips for Iranian Jewish singles even as it offers insights on applying Jewish values to modern life.
In addition, Esmailzadeh is a co-founder of the Our Legacy Project, started last December through the Los Angeles-based advocacy group 30 Years After (30YA), videotaping hundreds of interviews with local Iranian Jews telling stories of their lives and struggles in Iran. With Esmailzadeh’s help, some of these video interviews have been placed online at ourlegacyproject.org
Through these efforts, Esmailzadeh’s leadership has helped inspire a new generation of Iranian American Jews here to become engaged in helping their community. “Deep down, I think more than anything else he just wants to help others experience a fraction of the joy and fulfillment he finds in his Jewish activities,” 30 Years After president Sam Yebri said.