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SHAI Celebrates 20 Years

By Pargol Nazarian Khadavi                                                                 


SHAI commemorated its 20th Anniversary Gala on March 27, 2012, at Temple Israel of Great Neck. SHAI (Sephardic Heritage Alliance Inc.) is a non-profit organization dedicated to meeting the needs of the local Persian Jewish community.  To that effect, SHAI has created relationships with local government, local schools, synagogues, and other non-profits for the embetterment of the Persian Jewish community and the community-at-large.  Throughout the last twenty years, SHAI has distributed over $1.5 million in need-based scholarship to over 1,000 financially-deserving students in the US and in Israel, through the SHAI Scholarship Fund.  SHAI’s community-wide environmental forums, educational panels, health and wellness seminars, holiday toy and clothing drives, blood drives, Persian cultural and language awareness programs, and senior citizen programming at the Great Neck Senior Center, have all enhanced the community’s well-being.  

Among the approximately 750 gala attendees were New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman, Nassau County Legislator Judi Bosworth, Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman Anna Kaplan, Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman Lee R. Seeman, Kings Point Mayor Michael Kalnick, Village of Great Neck Mayor Ralph Kreitzman, Village of Great Neck Plaza Jean Celender, Superintendent of Great Neck Public Schools, Dr. Thomas P. Dolan and members of the Great Neck Board of Education, and Mr. Bernard Kaplan, Principal of Great Neck North High School.  Congratulatory letters were received from United States Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

The evening’s Keynote Address was given by the son of the late Shah of Iran, His Majesty Reza Pahlavi II.  His Majesty, who has been in exile since 1979, focused his remarks on the current situation in Iran.  His desire is to achieve a peaceful solution to the threat of a nuclear Iran through change spurred from within the country based on internal, non-violent civil disobedience.  He discussed the high cost of war in terms of lives lost and stated that war would severely set back the cause of democracy in Iran.  His Majesty spoke of the importance of the support of the international community in advocating for human rights, freedom and democracy in Iran.  

SHAI’s bi-annual gala highlights the exceptional achievements of students from the Persian Jewish community.  Award recipients this year included Intel Talent Search second place winner Michelle Hackman who was presented with the Eli Sassouni Memorial Award, National AP Scholar Marc Eshaghpour and All-County Music Festival bass clarinetist Isabelle Sakhaie who were awarded the Albert Massachi Award of Merit, and National AP Scholar Rojeen Kohan-Ano who was awarded the Dr. Moussa Brookhim Award of Merit.  Citations for each honoree were received from Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel.  Student honorees also received an Israeli bond in the amount of $500 from SHAI.  Certificates for each student honoree were received from Councilwoman Anna Kaplan, who herself was awarded with the Parviz Ohebshalom Leadership Award, which is awarded to a member of the Persian Jewish community who has proven outstanding leadership abilities.

To commemorate SHAI’s two decades, SHAI presented the SHAI Award of Merit to two members of the community-at-large who have been true friends of SHAI throughout the years.  Town of North Hempstead Supervisor, Jon Kaiman has been a long-time friend and supporter of SHAI.  Supervisor Kaiman has been a tireless advocate for SHAI’s partnership with the Great Neck Senior Center, under the leadership of SHAI’s Vice President, Mrs. Parvaneh Khodadadian.  SHAI is proud to serve as the Great Neck Senior Center’s largest non-governmental donor.  Supervisor Kaiman is responsible for instituting Project Independence, a town-wide program to help senior citizens “age in place,” and access information of basic services such as health care, social worker assistance, and community programming.  As an advisory Board member of the Senior Center, Supervisor Kaiman has worked to broaden outreach to the entire community.  Central to his efforts to facilitate the Town’s day-to-day operations has been the 311 Constituent Response System which now offers a Farsi translator.

The SHAI Award of Merit was also presented to Great Neck Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Thomas P. Dolan.  Since its inception in 1992, SHAI has reached out to develop a true partnership with the local school systems.  Over the years,  SHAI has enjoyed close relationships with each of the Great Neck Public Schools superintendents and Dr. Dolan’s arrival three years ago solidified that relationship even further.  At SHAI’s request, Dr. Dolan has addressed the community-at-large during several SHAI sponsored community-wide educational panels, the next of which will be held on Monday evening, May 21st.   (Details to soon follow.)  Dr. Dolan’s open-door policy is unparalleled as he has built a lasting relationship with SHAI’s Board of Trustees.  SHAI appreciates that again, and again, Dr. Dolan has demonstrated his respect and understanding for the cultural and religious diversity that is Great Neck.

The SHAI gala brought to light two decades of dedicated service to the local Persian Jewish community and the community-at-large.  The SHAI Board of Trustees looks forward to the next twenty years of service and beyond.  For more information about SHAI, please visit www.shaiusa.org