Meet Dora Levy Mossanen

Dora Mossanen Levy

Dora Levy Mossanen was born in Israel and moved to Iran when she was nine.  Her family was forced to leave Iran at the onset of the Islamic Revolution. They eventually settled in Los Angeles.  She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and a Master’s of Professional Writing degree from the University of Southern California (USC).

Dora is the bestselling author of the widely acclaimed novels Harem, Courtesan, The Last Romanov, and Scent of Butterflies, translated into numerous languages, and is the recipient of the prestigious San Diego Editors’ Choice Award.  She has been featured in various publications and media outlets, including Sh’ma, The Los Angeles Times, KCRW, Radio Iran, Radio Russia, JWT, and numerous television programs. In 2010, Dora was accepted as contributor to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

She writes for the Huffington Post and reviews fiction for the Jewish Journal. Dora’s widely anticipated novel Scent of Butterflies was published in January of 2014 and is now available online and in bookstores.

I had the chance to interview Dora recently:

When did you move to the United States?

I came to the United States for a short visit with my daughters in 1978, unaware that fate had other plans in store for me and that Los Angeles would become home. 

What is your education and background?

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from University of California Los Angeles  (UCLA) and a Master’s in Professional Writing from University of Southern California (USC).

When and how did you become an author?

I became an author by chance, since I once dreamed of becoming a reporter.  But at the end of the first semester at the USC School of Journalism, my professor looked me straight in the eyes and announced that I’d better forget about becoming a reporter because I’d end up being a lousy one – not her exact words but not far from what she meant to convey.  I didn’t have the required chutzpah, she added, to shove the microphone in someone’s face at the moment of tragedy and ask difficult questions.  I was offended at the time, although in my heart I knew she was right.  Having delivered her verdict, she suggested I apply to the Master’s of Professional Writing, since my talents lay elsewhere.  The rest is history.  My thesis ended up being my first novel Harem, and for many years now, I can’t imagine doing anything but writing.

Where do you find inspiration for your novels?

My richest source of inspiration is the Persian community and culture, as well as my colorful extended family, my great grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles.  In addition, I’ve been blessed with an invaluable source of knowledge and history in my late grandfather, Dr. Habib Levy, a renowned historian, who wrote The Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran.  The Outset of the Diaspora.  He was the one who introduced me to Mahaleh, the Jewish Quarter, recounted his experiences as the dentist of Reza Shah, and what he went through as the first Jewish man in Reza Shah’s army.

I am also inspired by everyday life, both the ordinary and extraordinary.  Events others might not notice, or dismiss as unimportant, end up becoming rich fodder for my stories.  Having said that, books remain a constant source of inspiration I cannot do without.

How long do you usually spend on each project?

As long as necessary until I am certain I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish, which is to create the best work I am capable of producing.  The time I spent on each of my novels varies.  Courtesan took me three years.  Scent of Butterflies took me nearly 20 years.  Why it took me so long to write Scent of Butterflies is an interesting life story that space here won’t allow.

What advice do you have for the next generation, particularly for aspiring writers?

Become a writer only if this is your passion and you must write and there’s nothing else in the world you’d rather do, because writing can be difficult and disappointing and fraught with rejection. But if this is your passion, the rewards can be wonderful.  In order to succeed, make sure to get your stubborn backside on that chair in front of your computer and keep it there for a few hours a day, no matter the lure of the outside world.  Be disciplined, work hard, and persevere. Be engaged with the world, and you’ll find inspiration in the most unexpected places. Take in and digest every unfolding detail because life is the skeleton around which your stories are built.

Meet Carolin Sahimi

Carolin Sahimi

Carolin Sahimi

Carolin Sahimi, Esq. is the youngest woman featured on this blog.  Having been admitted to The State Bar of California in 2008, Carolin is a successful attorney who has worked with the firm Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP as a Litigation Associate for the past two years and has practiced law for the past five years.  She works in all areas of complex commercial litigation and has experience in litigating contractual disputes, real estate litigation, product liability cases, and consumer and employment class action defense.  Carolin’s many honors and accomplishments include: the Albert and Judy Glickman Scholarship, Moot Court Honors Program, Articles Editor for the UCLA Women’s Law Journal, Writing Advisor for the UCLA Lawyering Skills Clinical Program, U.C. Berkeley Regent Scholarship, National Merit Scholarship, U. C. Berkeley Dean’s Honor List and Berkeley Honor Students’ Society.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the lovely and soft spoken Carolin recently:

What is your background and education?

I have an undergraduate degree in Economics and Political Science from U.C. Berkeley and a law degree from UCLA.

What drew you to law?

I thought it was a good way to exercise my critical thinking skills and to gain exposure to different topics based on the subject of the litigation.

What type of cases does your work entail?

I practice litigation so I am exposed to a variety of cases in different fields, but I mainly deal with business disputes.

What type of volunteer work do you perform?

All lawyers are encouraged to perform pro bono work. We usually work with organizations to help out on cases where disadvantaged clients need legal services and can’t afford to pay their fees.

What is your advice for young professionals, particularly those who are trying to succeed as attorneys?

There are a lot of different areas in law, so do try and find what you’re most passionate about and don’t be afraid to explore where your interests lie.

Meet Homa Sarshar

Homa Sarshar

Homa Sarshar is a published author and an award-winning journalist, writer, media personality and lecturer. She is the author of two books and editor of twelve other volumes, including five volumes of the Iranian Women’s Studies Foundation Journal and four volumes of The History of Contemporary Iranian Jews. Her book Shaban Jafari was the number one best seller Persian book in Iran and abroad in 2003.

Homa Sarshar was as a correspondent, a reporter and a columnist for Zan-e ruz weekly magazine and Kayhan daily newspaper in Iran, where she also worked as a television producer, director, and talk-show host of National Iranian Radio & Television from 1964 to 1978. In 1978, Sarshar moved to Los Angeles where she resumed her career as a freelance journalist, radio and television producer, and on-air host. Since 1998, Sarshar has been working with a satellite television network in the United States as a writer, producer, and host of numerous programs. Her show is broadcast weekly throughout the United States, Europe, and Iran.

In 1995, Homa Sarshar founded the Center for Iranian Jewish Oral History in Los Angeles, an organization that has succeeded in collecting a wealth of information and documentation about the life and history of Jews in Iran.

Throughout her 40 year career with Iranian print, radio, and television, Sarshar has conducted more than 1500 interviews and has produced and anchored as many radio and television programs.  She has also produced a collection of twenty video documentaries on exiled Iranian writers, poets, and artists, some of which has been acquired by the Library of Congress.

Sarshar has received numerous awards for her work, including the Medal for Special Achievement in Women’s Rights, awarded by The Iranian Women’s Organization of Tehran, Iran; Journalism Award: Distinguished Iranian Women by The Encyclopaedia Iranica, and Commendation for community affairs services by County of Los Angeles.

Homa Sarshar has dedicated much of her life to various philanthropic ventures and has actively campaigned for human rights and women’s rights issues.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Homa Sarshar recently.

What is your background and education?

I was born in Shiraz on 1946 and raised in Tehran. I earned a BA degree in French literature from Tehran University, a Master’s Degree in journalism from the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California, and an honorary Ph.D. degree in journalism from American World University.

What drew you to journalism?

Actually it happened by accident.  A classmate at the Meli University in Tehran told me about an opportunity at Zan-e  Ruz magazine. The weekly magazine was looking for translators.  I spoke French so I started working as a translator and later wrote articles for them. I became interested in journalism and decided to pursue it as a profession.

Tell our readers about the Center for Iranian Creative Arts.

This non-profit center replaced the Center for Iranian Jewish Oral History, where we conducted interviews, produced films and documentaries and published books.  When we completed the 10 year project we decided to change the mission statement to support and train artists who need assistance and promote them in their artistic endeavors.

Congratulations on receiving the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

I didn’t know I had been nominated.  A former recipient of the Ellis Island Medal nominated me. The nomination committee reviewed my resume and work history.  I was very surprised when I received a letter congratulating me for being one of the Medal’s recipients.

What advice do you have for young adults?

My advice is to work hard, aim high, stay focused and have a goal.  The U.S. is a land of opportunity, where you can succeed if you work hard and have the patience and persistence to follow your goals.

You can contact Homa Sarshar at Homa@HomaSarshar.com or her Facebook page (facebook.com/pages/Homa- Sarshar)

Dark Tourism

My family and I visited Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia last summer.  All three countries were part of the former Yugoslavia.  I was interested in learning about the war that started in 1992 and ended in May 1995 with the Dayton Peace Agreement.

In Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the remnants of war were everywhere.  The building across our hotel, the Bristol, was filled with bullet holes.  The people of Bosnia have decided to keep reminders of the war, in order to honor the memory of those who perished.  As we walked in the beautiful city of Sarajevo, the host of the 1984 Winter  P1020769

Olympics, we encountered numerous memorials for the 11,000 people who died during the four year war.

Red colored spots called “Sarajevo Roses” are dedicated to places where five or more people lost their lives.  A Sarajevo Rose is a concrete scar caused by a mortal shell explosion that was later filled with red resin. Mortar rounds landing on concrete create a unique fragmentation pattern that looks almost floral in arrangement. Because Sarajevo was a site of intense urban warfare and suffered thousands of shell    Sarajevo Roses

explosions during the Bosnian War, the marked concrete patterns are a unique feature of the city.

It’s a grim reminder of Sarajevo’s recent history.

It’s surprising to learn that modern Bosnia has three Presidents: a Bosniak (Moslem), a Croat (Catholic) and a Serb (Orthodox).  There needs to be a unanimous vote among the three in order to accomplish the passage of any legislation and each president has the veto power.  Sarajevo has 4 million people and 85 political parties as well as the Parliament. The population consists of 47% Bosniak, 41% Serb and 14% Croat.

We met our guide, Neno, in the town square on our second day in Sarajevo, where he gave us a history lesson about his hometown. Sarajevo has a rich history dating back to the Ottoman empire. It is split by the Milijacka river, which is 35 kilometers long. Sarajevo became a city under the Ottoman rule, which was followed by the Austro-Hungaraian empire in the 19th century.

Next on Neno’s walking tour was the site of Prince Ferdinand’s assasination by Gavrilo Princip, which led to  World War I.  A new country was formed called First Yugoslavia when the Austro-Hungarians lost the First World War.  In 1922 it was called Second Yugoslavia or Tito Yugoslavia – a socialist country.  When Tito died in 1980 the country faced economic and political crises as Tito did not have a successor. Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence in 1991. Bosnia became independent a while later. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina are two separate entities divided by imaginary borders. We then walked to the Children’s Memorial, a structure that was built from mortar shells used during the war. It features a sculpture of a mother and child in the circular pool. Children’s footprints in cement line the edge of the pool. Next on the tour was the building on Tito Street housing The Eternal Fire – erected when the city was liberated on April 6, 1945.  Ironically, the Bosnian War started on that same day, April 6, in 1922.  The Eternal Fire did not burn between 1992 and 1995 since there was no fuel in Sarajevo. Further up was a red memorial wall dedicated to citizens of Sarajevo who died on February 5, 1994 in one of the bloodiest days during the four year siege of Sarajevo.  The United Nations delivered canned foods to the people during the war.  Neno, who hid in the basement during the bombing, said that his family had to burn books, plastic shoes and other household items to heat their food since there was a gas shortage.

Eternal Fire

Eternal Fire

The Sbrebrenica tragedy (Sbrebrenica genocide) occurred in July 1995.  More than 8,000 Bosniaks, mostly men and boys were systematically rounded up and killed in and around the town of Srebrenica. From the exhibition preserving the memory of Srebenica tragedy

Another guide, Zijad (pronounced Ziyad), enlightened us with some numbers: There are still 2000 American soldiers in Bosnia & Herzegovina. There is 15% unemployment in Sarajevo and 45% unemployment in the country.  Zijad believes that the transition from communism to capitalism was very difficult for Yugoslavia–that the people were not ready. The country is still deeply divided over historical ethnic and religious divisions.

Zijad and our driver Ibrahim told us about a dark secret of the war known as “Dark Tourism.”  During the war, tourists from other countries came by and paid the soldiers for their guns and bullets in order to hunt civilians!  Zijad, who worked for the Red Cross during the war, said that many are still suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  He also said “there are killers walking the streets among us.”  He admitted that he doesn’t have inner peace because of what he has experienced.

I shall be forever haunted by his words and by what I learned about Dark Tourism,” but I promised him to write about the war and to raise awareness about this horrific concept.  I wish him and his people lasting peace as well as inner peace.

Information about Neno: http://www.sarajevowalkingtours.com/pages/about-me

Information for Zijad Juicsufov: http://tourguides.viator.com/tour-guide-zijad-jusufovic-25884.aspx

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 Zijad Juicsufov

Meet Karmel Melamed

Karmel Melamed is an award winning internationally published journalist and attorney based in Los Angeles. As a journalist since 2000, he has given a new voice to the emerging and successful Iranian community in the United States as well as having covered issues relating to Iran and the Middle East.  His articles have appeared in the Jerusalem Post, JTA International Wire News Service, Beverly Hills 90210 Magazine, Orange County Register and the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, as other prominent online publications.

Fluent in Farsi and familiar with Iranian culture and history, Melamed has successfully interviewed various influential leaders and news makers in the U.S. and in the Middle East. In 2004 he landed an exclusive interview with Empress of Iran, Farah PahlaviHe frequently appears on various radio news programs, including National Public Radio and K.I.R.N. Radio Iran 670 AM, to discuss the contributions of the larger Iranian American community. As an Iranian American journalist, Melamed is frequently invited to speak at various venues across the U.S. about the human rights violations perpetrated by Iran’s regime against members of unions, religious minorities, women, LGBT and journalists living in Iran. He also authors the popular “Iranian American Jews” blog online.

 Over the years Melamed has received numerous journalism awards namely from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Hearst Foundation for excellence in news reporting.  In June 2011, two of his articles were named finalists in the Los Angeles Press Club’s annual news reporting competition.

I met Karmel Melamed when we were contributing writers at The Iranian Jewish Journal. It’s a pleasure to profile him on this post.

What is your background and education?

I have a B.A. in Journalism and a doctorate in law, so I’m both a journalist and an attorney.

What sparked your interest in journalism?

From a young age I enjoyed doing all kinds of writing because it was always a fun and creative outlet for me to express myself.  My interests as well as fantastic teachers all the way through school led me to a path of journalism. Telling a great story has always been a passion of mine and continues to this day through my writing.

How long have you been a reporter for The Jewish Journal?

I’ve been writing for the Journal since 2004 but working as a freelance journalist for different publications worldwide since 2000.

What advice can you give to young aspiring journalists?

Find an area or topic that you really love reading and writing about, then do your research about it and slowly start the creative writing process on your own. You should also start your own blog to get your creative or journalistic writing out there even if you are not getting paid for it. Lastly start pitching story ideas to local newspapers or news websites to see if they will publish your work. Slowly and gradually as you obtain more published articles, you can build your portfolio and build a career as a full-time journalist. This is not a career that pays mega-bucks, so be ready to sacrifice a lot of time and energy in order to have success as a journalist –  you have to do this because you honestly and truly love it. You should also have an alternative source of income if you want to have a more comfortable lifestyle in the long run.

Meet Mitra Nehorai

Mitra Nehorai

Mitra Nehorai

Mitra Nehorai is an architect based in Los Angeles, California.  Since working for R. Duell & Associates in 1984, Mitra’s work has spanned design,construction and management of award winning institutional, commercial and residential projects in both the private and public sectors.  As a leader in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED AP), her emphasis is on institutional facilities, promoting the role of high performance “green” environments as a child’s “third teacher,” one which supports the educational goals, promotes student learning and integration with the surrounding environment. Currently Mitra works at Parsons as senior project manager, positioned within Los Angeles Unified School District, Asset Management Division, planning and developing facilities improvement projects.  Her passion for student learning and growth carries over to her service to the community.  Mitra has served as a Member of the Board of Directors at The Growing Place Preschool and Bridges Charter Elementary School.  She has curated a number of multi-media art exhibits for non-profit fundraisers, showcasing up and coming young artists’ work to the community.  On a more personal level, Mitra enjoys photography, furniture design and fabrication.  Recipient of a bronze medal of photography from UNESCO, her work has been recognized and exhibited internationally.

I had a chance to interview Mitra recently:

1) When did you move to the United States?

My family and I moved in 1980 from Iran to Los Angeles (Santa Monica).

2) What is your education and background?

I went to Santa Monica high school.  After graduation, I enrolled at UCLA  for a year for general studies and then transferred to the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-ARC) and got my Bachelor of Architecture. It’s a five year specialized architecture program.

3) How did you become interested in the field of architecture?

I have always been fascinated with design as well as the impact that space can have on one’s psyche.  My fascination started with our home in Iran.  I also loved going to different expos with my family and experiencing different spaces.  That has led me to architecture.  I’ve been working in this field since 12th grade.

4) Which of your designs are you most proud of?

It’s difficult to say; each project is like a child.  When I first started working it was for an architectural firm specializing in theme parks–including the Spruce Goose Dome and Six Flags theme parks across the United States.  But I have to say that I really like single family residential homes and educational facilities where I can make an impact. Schools are were I have the opportunity to help children and their growth through the built environment .

5) How do you manage your time between your family and career?

It’s with a lot of support from my family, especially my parents and my sister who are always there for me as well as my friends.  My children are my inspiration.

6) What advice do you have for young people especially aspiring architects?

Like any other field, architecture requires a lot of patience, love, hard work and dedication. Moreover, building and maintaining relationships are very important.  Architecture is about collaboration. Hundreds and hundreds of people help develop a project from its inception.

Meet Bita Milanian – Founder and President of BMG Consulting

Bita Milanian is a dynamic and driven team builder and outstanding communicator whose passion is helping people and businesses thrive. A marketing and business development professional with extensive experience in strategic planning and maximizing market opportunities, Bita has contributed to the growth and success of many organizations.  She is a 15-year telecommunications industry veteran, having worked at various start-up, fortune 500 and multi-national corporations within telecommunications, consumer electronics, construction development and real estate industries. She has a solid track record of working with non-profit and cultural organizations as well as artists to help produce events, fundraisers and special projects.  She has also helped such groups organize their processes and integrate technology into their daily activities to become more efficient. 
 
Bita Milanian is the Executive Director of Farhang Foundation (farhang.org), a non-religious and non-political not-for-profit organization that promotes Iranian art and culture within Southern California. She is also the Founder/President of Butterfly Buzz (bflybuzz.com), a global public relations and marketing consulting agency with a focus on promoting artists within the Iranian Diaspora, and the Founder/President of BMG Consulting (teambmg.com), which services corporate and SME clients with consulting, creative, communication and production needs.  Bita serves as the vice president of marketing at Women in the Channel (womeninthechannel.com) a grassroots, non-profit, organization made up of women who are in leadership, ownership and revenue generating roles in the alternate sales channel sector of the telecommunications industry.
 
I had the pleasure of interviewing the beautiful and accomplished Bita Milianian recently.
When did you move to the United States?
I moved to the U.S. in February of 1989.  I left Iran in 1986 and went to Germany first before my family and I moved here.
What is your education and background?
I attended middle school in Germany followed by high school in the United States.  I studied Business Administration at California State University, Northridge.  However, I would say that I’ve done most of my learning on the job.  I do hope to pursue higher education in the future.

How and when did you become interested in creating an Iranian cultural platform?

I was raised within an art loving family in Iran and in the U.S., where dance was part of every gathering. I studied it as a young child and then later as a young teen through my high school years and even performed and choreographed pieces, as part of a dance production I belonged to. I choreographed classical Persian dance and trained non-Iranian students to be part of the performance. I learned to play the accordion as a young teen in Tehran; a musical instrument I love, but unfortunately gave up playing once we left. So, I guess it’s in my nature to love art and culture.

In 2008, a traditional Persian musical ensemble was brought to the U.S. by a philanthropist who was producing their concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall on July 3, 2008. I was referred to their team and was hired to manage their production and publicity needs.  The event received rave reviews in LA Times and other media outlets and turned out to be one of the fastest selling concerts within the summer months in that venue.  I realized that our community could benefit from a professional production & public relations agency that can help showcase our art and culture on a global level, which was the inspiration point for me to start Butterfly Buzz (bflybuzz.com) and focus on just doing so, which lead me to my role at Farhang Foundation (farhang.org).

Tell us about the Farhang Foundation and how it came about.

Farhang Foundation was founded in 2008 as a result of the coming together of a group of successful Iranian Americans who cared deeply about their heritage and wanted to share it with the next generation and the community at large.  The purpose was to give back to the community and to help promote and celebrate our culture. In a nutshell, the Foundation’s mission is to celebrate Iranian art and culture for the benefit of the community at large here in Southern California.

How do you manage your time between family and career?

I’m really lucky to have a supportive husband and parents who care for me and support me unconditionally.  I love what I do and spend many hours at work, but I try to do my best to be alert and aware to take care of my personal life. I try to make time for family gatherings where I cook for my loved ones.  I’m passionate about food and eating healthy.  For the past five years I’ve not been taking care of myself as I started a new chapter in my career life, but I’m working on having a more balanced life.

What is your advice for young entrepreneurs?

These are challenging times for recent graduates who wish to start their careers and their own businesses.  My advice is to stay focused and don’t give up quickly.  It’s important to have a tough skin and work hard. It’s also important to have ambition and desire in order to succeed.

Bita Ardalan

Photo by Jahanshah Ardalan