LOS ANGELES (JTA) — UCLA formally inaugurated its endowed Center for Israel Studies, the first of its kind on the West Coast.
A $5 million endowment for the center, inaugurated at an event Wednesday evening, was donated by Iranian-Jewish immigrants Younes and Soraya Nazarian, in whose honor the center at the University of California, Los Angeles is named.
The center is one of three such endowed and named academic units in the United States.
Its need was expressed by Sherry Lansing, former head of the 20th Century Fox and Paramount studios.
"The Israel I love — the creative, intellectual, self-critical nation — is not the one I see in the news,” said Lansing, a regent of the University of California.
The center’s curriculum will feature courses in Israeli politics, law, economics, film, theater, environmental policy and the early history of Zionism, according to Arieh Saposnik, its director. In addition, the center will offer students and the general public an array of speakers, conferences and artistic performances.
Younes Nazarian, who left Iran following its revolution, arrived almost penniless in Los Angeles in 1979 with his wife and four young children. He built a large fortune through manufacturing, technology and real estate enterprises.
After mentioning his debt to Israel, which “helped make me who I am today,” Nazarian said he wanted “to use my own experience in life to make a difference for my family and for my two adopted countries, Israel and the United States.”
He paid special tribute to his youngest daughter, Sharon Baradaran, a UCLA adjunct professor in political science, who heads the family foundation and was instrumental in establishing UCLA’s Israel studies program, which led to the establishment of the center.