Two years ago Elena J., a middle-aged, impoverished Iranian-Jewish woman in Los Angeles, was stricken with a rare illness that forced surgeons to amputate one of her legs. With no family and no friends locally to help her, Elena faced a grim future, as she did not have enough money to purchase a prosthetic leg or the means to get around town. Through word of mouth, she found Jaleh Naim, a San Fernando Valley-based Iranian-Jewish volunteer, who, in just a week’s time, helped Elena acquire a prosthetic leg with assistance from California’s social services agencies. Naim also raised enough money from others in the Iranian-Jewish community to help Elena purchase a special car outfitted for the handicapped.
This type of effort is not unusual for Naim, who for more than a decade has worked part time and also volunteered much of her day for various local nonprofit Jewish organizations aiding the underprivileged. Yet, her greatest impact has come in the last four years, during which time she has raised substantial amounts of money from local Iranian Jews and distributed those funds to struggling Iranians of all faiths.
“People don’t really know who I am and the type of work I do — I prefer it that way because we are able to help raise money just through word of mouth from different circles of friends and family that contribute whatever amounts of money they can afford to give,” Naim said.
Four years ago, Naim and her volunteer partner Afsar Mogahdam helped start a Jewish emergency fund with the help of the leadership at Beith David Educational Center in Tarzana. “We realized that many people in our community could have their problems simply resolved with a little bit of financial help to get them back on their feet and moving again,” Naim said. “There are different situations, where they lost their jobs and are behind on rent, they have family problems and no way of feeding themselves, or they have encountered medical issues and have no means to pay for the care they need. We try to help as many people as we can with our limited resources.”
Naim said that, through her volunteer work for various local nonprofit groups, she encounters daily Iranian Jews, Muslims, Christians and Baha’is who need financial help. She personally conducts background checks on them to make sure they truly are needy.
“I raise money among friends and family I know on an individual or case-by-case basis, and they give anywhere from $100 to $1,000,” Naim said. “We disburse the money fairly quickly for each individual person in need that I have checked myself, so there really isn’t a large amount of money in this account at any one time,” Naim said of a special bank account for the donated funds that she and Mogahdam set up for this purpose.
Others who work with Naim in aiding Iranian-Americans in need in Los Angeles say she is a rarity, as many Iranian-Jewish women of her generation are not heavily involved on a day-to-day basis in helping homeless or poverty-stricken people.
“Mrs. Naim is an incredible asset to the larger Iranian community in this city because she is able, in a remarkable way, to truly help individuals and families that are really in need and struggling to survive,” Mogahdam said.