Billionaire entrepreneur and Iranian Jew Izak Parviz Nazarian passed away this past Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017. A lifelong philanthropist, Nazarian attributed his benevolent perspective to his mother, who urged him to always think about how to help others, a motto that he lived his life by. Born in an impoverished neighborhood in Tehran in 1929 and raised by his grandparents following the death of his father, he left the country for Italy at the age of 17, joining the Jewish brigade Haganah and training as a soldier. The Haganah evolved into the IDF and Nazarian would end up fighting in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Following a combat injury, he even worked as a chauffeur for former foreign minister Golda Meir.
Stationed in Israel, Nazarian began helping members of his family in Iran make their way over by truck, a practice that he would later develop into a transport business. By the time he moved back to Iran in the late 50s, he had garnered enough acumen and experience to contribute to infrastructure and development concerns in the country, which coincided with the Shah’s campaigning of national reform during The White Revolution.
Although Jews continue to represent one of the smallest percentages of religious minorities in Iran (potentially as low as 9,000 as of 2015), the nation possesses the largest Jewish community in the Middle East, a quality perhaps related to the Shah’s circulated religious tolerance in the period prior to the 1979 revolution. Nazarian had close ties to the Shah’s government as a result of his civil engineering efforts and was allegedly on a list for execution; it’s opined that he might have been killed had he not been visiting Israel at the time the revolution began.
In response to these events, Nazarian came to California with his wife and three children, working in tool manufacture before returning to the transport/trucking business. His background and continued work in these sectors led to a meaningful tech partnership, one that eventually merged into Qualcomm, which would become one of the largest makers of computer chips in the world.
Although Nazarian’s wealth grew, his investments and attention to humanist concerns were a lifelong trend. While building his entrepreneurship in Iran and Israel in the 50s, he campaigned for women’s rights and helped Jewish refugees. After living in the US, he worked to help Soviet Jews make their way to Israel through Armenia, and founded the Magbit Foundation to provide scholarships to Israeli students. In summation, the Jewish Journal described Nazarian as one “of the most prominent Jewish givers in America during the 20th century.” In addition to these and other philanthropic efforts, he founded The Citizens’ Empowerment Center In Israel in 2003, a non-profit and non-partisan organization dedicated to electoral reform.
A memorial service will be held this Wednesday August 30th at Sinai Temple in Westwood, Los Angeles. Nazarian is survived by his wife, four children, his grand-children, and great-grand-children.