In an evening that mixed Hollywood glamour with serious intellectual conversation, the UCLA Younes & Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies celebrated its five-year anniversary.
The sold-out event welcomed 500 supporters to attend a deeply felt awards ceremony and dinner banquet. The gala raised closed to $900,000 for the center, confirming its vital role as an independent, nonpartisan forum which serves to promote scholarly research and education about “Israel as it is, with all its achievements and challenges.”
Sharon Nazarian, chair of the Advisory Council of the Center, began the evening with welcoming remarks and introduced Israeli journalist and writer Ari Shavit, who served as guest host of the ceremonies. Shavit set the tone for the evening by saying that Israelis were neither angels nor demons. “We are humans,” he said. “Humans with a remarkable story that must be told.”
After a short video was shown about the Center and its work, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block presented the Center’s inaugural Visionary Award to philanthropists Younes and Soraya Nazarian. Block noted that, in just five short years, the Center had become nationally and internationally recognized for the study of Israel. In accepting the award, Younes Nazarian remarked, “We are getting exactly the result that [we wanted],” and offered one word to all in attendance, “Thank you!”
University President, Amos Shapira, joined in the festivities and thanked them for their contribution to the University, the establishment of the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Library and the student scholarships to perpetuate the 121 soldiers fallen in the Second Lebanon War.
Oscar award–winning actress Natalie Portman then presented Israeli novelist Amos Oz (pictured at right) — author of more than 41 books translated into 43 languages — with the Center’s Israel Studies Award.
“As both an Israeli and an American, I understand well the importance of teaching Americans about Israel as it really is,” said Portman. “I am proud and privileged to be here tonight to present the UCLA Israeli Studies Award to my dear friend, Amos Oz,” she said. After reading a poem translated from Hebrew by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, she concluded, “Thank you, Amos, for packing your suitcases for this long Jewish travel, for putting words to our longings, and for never losing to cynicism in your insistence on peace, even when it is not as popular as it should be.”
Virtually all of the members of the Community and Faculty Advisory Boards of the Y&S Nazarian Center also attended, as well as many visiting faculty and UCLA students. Finally, the event drew the participation of many leaders of the Jewish community of Los Angeles and the Israeli-American community, including the current and former chairs of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Leslie Bider and Richard Sandler, respectively; publisher and editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, Rob Eshman; and entertainment industry leader Haim Saban — to name but a few.