By Letisia Marquez for the UCLA Newsroom
WHEN YOUNES NAZARIAN arrived in Los Angeles with his wife, four children and a few suitcases in 1979, the son of an Iranian seamstress vowed to succeed in the United States and make enough money so his children could obtain a college education.
Nazarian and his family, who are Jewish, had fled the violence and demonstrations that led up to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, fearful that the oppressive regime would target the family for their ties to Israel.
"We left our business, our home, everything," said Nazarian, 79, who was born in Iran.
Thirty years later, Nazarian, who started and built various manufacturing, technology and real estate enterprises and who was an early investor in and board member of Qualcomm Inc., has made more than enough to pay for his children's education.
And education continues to be a priority for the family, which established a foundation to support numerous causes.
UCLA has now officially named the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies in honor of the couple. The Y & S Nazarian Family Foundation has made donations totaling $5 million to the university, which helped establish the Israel Studies Program in 2005 and created an endowment for the center.
"I am thrilled with this generous gift from the Y & S Nazarian Family Foundation," said University of California President Mark Yudof. "It will help establish UCLA as a leader in Israeli scholarship and enrich the campus's already impressive efforts to foster a better understanding of the world through education and research."
"Younes and Soraya's desire to give back is wonderful and inspiring for others," said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. "International education is a top priority at UCLA, and Israel studies is an important addition to the many programs of study that are part of the university's International Institute.
"UCLA is committed to establishing the preeminent center for Israel studies, not only in California but in the nation," Block added.
Formerly the Israel Studies Program, the center is the first full-fledged center of its kind on the West Coast and one of three such centers that are named and endowed in the nation. It offers courses on such varied topics as Israeli politics, law, economics, film, theater, environmental policy and the early history of Zionism. The center also presents speakers and organizes conferences that highlight Israel's history, cultural diversity, and economic and technological achievements.
"The Israel Studies Program on campus is already highly regarded for its teaching and scholarship, and with the additional support from the Nazarian family and the community, the new center will be able to add faculty and graduate students," said Arieh Saposnik, the center's incoming director, who holds UCLA's Gilbert Chair in Israel Studies. "Israel in many ways stands at the nexus of central issues in a range of academic disciplines, helping to shed light on modern nationalism, politics, environmentalism and a wide range of other contemporary topics."
Saposnik added that the center welcomes diverse perspectives on Israel.
"Because discourse on Israel is so contested, it can be very difficult to obtain a dispassionate and balanced view on Israel," he said. "The center is committed to fostering dispassionate, scholarly, academic discourse on Israel."
Sharon Baradaran, the Nazarians' youngest daughter and the president of the family foundation, led efforts to establish UCLA's Israel Studies Program.
"Our goal was to provide students with a more nuanced and rich understanding of Israel that went beyond newspaper headlines," said Baradaran, who also serves as an adjunct professor in UCLA's political science department. "That is why the program had, and the center will now continue to have, a multidisciplinary approach to teaching about Israel, so students can learn about Israel through as many lenses as possible.
"We want them to not only know Israel through the conflicts it faces, but also through its achievements and successes," she said.
As a young man, Younes Nazarian left Iran for Israel to be part of the establishment of the State of Israel. While there, he also served in the army and worked in the tool-and-die sector, training that would lay the foundation for his future work and successes back in Iran and, later, in the U.S.
The Nazarian family continues to feel a close connection to Israel. While their foundation is headquartered in Los Angeles, the family has also established the Ima Foundation in Tel Aviv. Both foundations contribute extensively to a wide variety of academic, public policy and community-based social and artistic programs.
"I owe a lot to Israel," Younes Nazarian said. "It helped make me who I am today, and I want to give back to my spiritual home."
Nazarian family members also serve on numerous boards, including the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, the Pacific Council on International Policy, the University of Haifa, the Los Angeles Jewish Federation and the RAND Corp.
The UCLA International Institute serves as the focal point for international research and teaching at UCLA and houses a number of multidisciplinary centers and programs dedicated to the study of world regions and global issues. From Europe and the Middle East to Africa and South America, the institute's educational mission encompasses activities dedicated to diverse teaching, research and community service.
UCLA is California's largest university, with an enrollment of nearly 38,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university's 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer more than 323 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Five alumni and five faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize.