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In memoriam: Younes Nazarian, 91, vital supporter of Israel studies at UCLA

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Younes Nazarian passed away on March 18th, 2022, at the age of 91. He and his wife Soraya's generous contributions helped to establish UCLA's Israel Studies Program and, in 2010, they created a permanent endowment that led to the naming of the university's Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies.

To contribute to the Younes Nazarian Memorial Fund, please click here. On the form, please check the Tribute Gift box, and indicate that your gift is a memorial tribute. Thank you.


We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our center's co-founder, Younes Nazarian


Younes Nazarian, a businessman who helped build up research and scholarship about Israel at UCLA, died March 18. He was 91.

Nazarian supported the creation of the Israel studies program and with his wife, Soraya, in 2010 created a permanent endowment, which led to the naming of UCLA’s Younes & Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies. 

Nazarian, whose business ventures included a construction and aerospace manufacturing company, was active in the Persian Jewish communities in Los Angeles and Tel Aviv. He and Soraya sought to educate others about Israel.

“Younes was a brilliant entrepreneur, a kind and generous person, a builder of bridges between people and nations, and a firm believer in the power of education to transform one’s life,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “His contributions to UCLA — especially his efforts to promote a deeper understanding of Israeli history, society and culture — have had a powerful impact that has reverberated far beyond our academic community. He will be deeply missed.”

Nazarian, who grew up in an impoverished household in the Jewish ghetto of south Tehran, was influenced by his experiences living in the newly created state of Israel.

“Younes Nazarian led an amazing life — a true rags-to-riches story — and has left an incredible legacy,” said Dov Waxman, director of the Nazarian Center and the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation Professor of Israel Studies. “He and his family’s philanthropy has helped so many causes and institutions, including UCLA. Younes played a key role in establishing Israel studies at UCLA, and as a result, thousands of UCLA students have been able to learn about Israel in an academically rigorous way. Along with being a generous donor, he was also a very warm, kind and compassionate person. Everyone at the UCLA Younes & Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies mourns his passing.”

Nazarian was born in Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 26, 1931, to Davoud and Golbahar Nazarian. After his father’s death in 1935, Nazarian and his older brother grew up in poverty on their mother’s earnings as a tailor. To help support the family, he sold and replaced lightbulbs in the residences and bazaars of his local community.

As teenagers, the brothers traveled to Israel to support the newly formed country by working in the construction industry. These formative years influenced Nazarian and cemented his lifelong support for Israel.

After returning to Iran, the brothers started a construction business. They later formed Techno-Is, a distributor of  construction gear in Iran, Europe, the United States and Israel. But the Nazarians fled Iran during the 1979 Islamic Revolution and came to Los Angeles.

Nazarian used funds from Techno-Is to buy Stadco, an aerospace manufacturing company. He also invested in and served on the board of directors for Qualcomm.

After expanding their businesses, the Nazarians established the Younes & Soraya Nazarian Family Foundation in the United States and the Ima Foundation in Israel. The philanthropic mission of both foundations is to promote education to help bridge socioeconomic gaps.

They later established the UCLA Younes & Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, the Younes & Soraya Nazarian Center for Performing Arts at Cal State Northridge, the Nazarian Pavilion in Doheny Library at University of Southern California, Beit Midrash at the Milken Community High School, and supported the Hammer Museum at UCLA.

In Israel, their foundation helped to create the Younes & Soraya Nazarian Library at Sapir College and the University of Haifa, and it has supported Haifa University scholarships, the Bezalel Academy of the Arts, the Hebrew University and Israel’s National Library. In 2009, Nazarian was selected among 12 recipients to receive Israel’s highest honor of the torch-lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl.

“Younes’ passing is a great loss to UCLA. His life has touched so many around the world through his humble beginnings, his hard work, his navigation of different cultures and societies, his philanthropy, and his commitment to education and to helping others,” said Cindy Fan, vice provost for international studies and global engagement at UCLA. “His legacy will continue to inspire others to honor their roots and to give back.”

Nazarian is survived by his wife of 61 years, Soraya Sarah; four children — David, Shula, Sharon and Sam; daughters-in-law Angella and Emina; son-in-law Fernando; 11 grandchildren — Ariel, Aaron, Phillip, Elan, Sarah, Eli, Layla, Adam, Ella, Mia, Sha; and great-grandson Lev.

The memorial service will be held on March 24 at Sinai Temple at 6:30 p.m. The shivah will take place from March 21 through 23 at Sinai Temple at 5:45 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the UCLA Younes & Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies in support of grants for student travel to Israel or to WIZO Los Angeles in support of Israel’s Ukrainian children’s refugee relief efforts.

This tribute was also published by UCLA Newsroom.


Younes and Soraya speaking at the center's 5-Year Anniversary Celebration.


Younes and Soraya with UCLA Chancellor Gene Block at the signing ceremony for the establishment of the center.


Younes and Soraya with their daughter Sharon and Israeli author Amos Oz at the center's 5-Year Anniversary Celebration.