Friday, August 25, 2006

St. Joe sold their homes

From: Los Angeles Daily News

St. Joseph must sense the housing market is in a slump.

For more than 500 years, home sellers have turned to Jesus' earthly father for help locating a buyer. Like a litmus test, sales of his 4-inch statues - which sellers plant head down on their property - ebb and flow with the tides of the real estate market.

Lately, they've been flying off Christian gift store shelves. And sellers testify they've turned into believers.

"Whether it is divine intervention or faith - or who knows? - definitely something is working," said Brian Moore, a Glendale real estate agent.

Moore, who was raised Catholic, first heard about the St. Joseph phenomenon six months ago from a colleague who, like him, was having trouble selling a home.

Moore bought and buried a statue on each of six properties he was listing. Each entered escrow that week.

Because some people think the practice is a silly superstition, Moore said, he sometimes buries the statues without telling the homeowner.

"You don't know how people will react," he said. "But I believe that it works - absolutely."

Since 2000, few homeowners had needed supernatural support to sell property. With annual double-digit price appreciation throughout California, homes were selling within days - sometimes hours - of appearing on the Multiple Listing Service.

All that came to an end late last year.

The median price of a home sold last month in the San Fernando Valley was just 1.2 percent more than in July 2005 - and 2.9 percent, or $18,000, lower than in the month before. Only 809 homes were sold this July, the fewest for that month since 1993, amid the last housing downturn.

"Coming off of several years of very strong sellers' markets, this looks shocking. And it is a dramatic turnaround, no doubt about it," said Steve White, president of the Southland Regional Association of Realtors.

Against historical measures, however, the housing market is returning to normal, he said.

Still, hopeful sellers are getting nervous. With a current inventory of 5.7 months, it has become common for a house or condo to go 60 days to 90 days without an offer.

Before Isabel Nu¤ez put her Winnetka town home up for sale in mid-June, she repainted the walls and updated the fixtures. No buyer. She shampooed the carpets and cleaned the patio. Nada. Finally, she dropped the price by $6,000 from $465,000. Still, no luck.

Hoping to comfort his client, agent Jeffrey Billinger sent her a St. Joseph statue. The Catholic woman buried it in front of the "for sale" sign Friday and waited.

Suddenly, real estate agents began calling, and looky-loos actually attended an open house.

"If you have faith in something, it will work," the 28-year-old customer-service representative said.

Joseph, the husband of Mary and earthly father of Jesus, is a Catholic saint, though the home-selling tradition is not endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church.

"Catholics often make use of saints' images in meditating on their lives and asking them to pray for us," said Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. "I'm not aware of any place in the Gospel or in Christian tradition that justifies using saints' images to sell real estate. At best, it is probably a harmless superstition."

Legend has it that St. Joseph entered the real-estate market in the 16th century, some 1,500 years after his death. In need of land for a convent, St. Teresa of Avila dug a hole in the ground and buried an image of the saint.

"I'm only assuming it was a seller's market back then and there was no land available," said Phil Cates, owner of "Since she wasn't a real-estate mogul, she called on St. Joseph for help, and she buried a medallion of St. Joseph, and they got the land for the convent."

At some point, the saint crossed over to the seller's side to provide assistance during buyer's markets. Some real-estate agents use the statues "religiously," said Cates, who said his Modesto-based distributor has seen business double in each of the past three years. A few have printed business cards with a picture of St. Joseph on them.

Though some homebuyers have used the statues to ensure the close of escrow, there is no known saint through whom prayers will soften a seller's market.

"The market can do that on its own," said Cates, who also is a mortgage broker. "We're talking `St. U.S. Economy' there."

The statues aren't just for the Christian faithful. Take the Jewish man who recently visited Zimmer's Religious Art & Gifts in Toluca Lake after his home had gone almost a year without getting a nibble.

"He didn't want to enter the door because it is a Christian store, so he opened the door and stuck his head in," said owner Margie Murphy, who sold him a St. Joseph statue and gave him a prayer to recite. "Five days later he came back and said activity was hopping."

At St. Peter's Pier in Canoga Park, only one statue remained in a green box that read, "Faith can move mountains ... and homes!"

But don't expect that $9.95 purchase to add thousands of dollars to the sale of your home, said store owner Hal Storey, who deep-sixed a statue to sell his Minnesota home in 1964.

"You can't list your house $10,000 over the market and just use one of these and pray it will sell," Storey said.

"Sometimes," his wife, Barb, chimed in, "God says, `No."'

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Jews of Persia

From: Los Angeles Daily News

They live in the United States, loved Iran and refer to Israel as the motherland.

They are Iranian-American Jews, some 50,000 immigrants and their children, most living in Los Angeles - Encino, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Tarzana and Woodland Hills.

And they are pained by what they have seen recently in the Middle East: Israel fighting in Lebanon against an Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim militia; an Iranian president who has called the Holocaust a myth and Israel a "disgraceful stain" on Muslim countries; and Iran's fervency in continuing a nuclear program.

"I am not torn," said Farzaneh, a 44-year-old Encino mother of three who asked that her last name not be used because she fears retribution against her family in Iran.

"There is a definite distinction between Israel and Iran. I feel connected to Iran culturally. That is where I was born and picked up good, rich, ancient culture. But what Iran's regime has been doing for the last 20 years, I have nothing to identify with.

"I despise them."

Though the Hezbollah militia and Israel both accepted a U.N.-imposed cease-fire that began Monday, the sentiments behind the Middle East conflict remain salient.

Many Iranian-American Jews see the conflict as a clash of their identities - their native culture versus Western values. They vehemently support Israel, where an estimated 200,000 Iranian Jews live, and recently sent millions of dollars in support.

"Persian Jews, better than most, realize that what is happening in Lebanon today is a small part of a potential strategic confrontation between radical Islam and Western values," said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the L.A.-based Iranian American Jewish Federation. "We understand the cultures and the ideologies that drive both."

For half of the 20th century, Iran was a hospitable place for Jews. They had been there for 2,700 years, longer than Jews had remained in any one country. Much of that time was oppressive, but they always stayed.

After Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi came to power in 1941, Jews began to prosper. He gave them their best treatment since the 5th century B.C., when ruler Cyrus the Great freed Jews from captivity in Babylon and allowed them to return to Israel.

But then came the Islamic Revolution. The shah was deposed in 1979, and an estimated 70,000 Jews left.

"The younger generation of Persian Jews do not have an allegiance, so to say, to Iran. We have been living in the United States. We consider ourselves Americans first, then Jewish," said Karmel Melamed, whose family fled Iran after his father's cousin was executed for being a "Zionist collaborator."

Still, nearly 30 years after the revolution, Iranian-American Jews temper what they say about Iran, fearing retaliation against the 20,000 Jews remaining in Iran.

"All it takes is one crazy and irrational cleric to issue a fatwa, and people go and take Iranian Jews as hostages," said Ira Farnoush, 61, of Woodland Hills. "God forbid it happens."

There is also the concern that, if angered enough, the Iranian government might seize Jewish assets and businesses. Some local Iranian Jews still operate businesses there.

"They're not going to go on the record," said Melamed, who writes for the Iranian Jewish Chronicle. "Their lives will be jeopardized when they go back."

And in the past year tensions have escalated even further as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." He claimed the Holocaust did not occur. And he said the road to peace begins with the obliteration of Israel.

Muslim-American organizations have denounced Ahmadinejad's rhetoric as "reprehensible."

"I like all the comments he makes," said Tina Donay, a Jew who left Tehran in early 1979 when she was 19. "I feel like he is digging a bigger hole for himself."

Donay, who like many local Iranian Jews attends Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, dreams of the day Christians and Jews and Muslims focus on their commonalities instead of their differences. She notes that the three religions - known as the Abrahamic faiths - all descended from the patriarch Abraham.

"There is always hope," she said.

While some Iranian Jews keep a foot in Iran, more have completely cut ties. Their families have moved to Israel and the United States. And they long more for visiting the native land they haven't seen in almost three decades than for returning permanently.

"We are already Americanized. We can't live there the way we live here," said Janet Djalilmand, 45, of Encino, whose parents were raised in Hamadan, birthplace of Esther, the great biblical woman and Persian-Jewish matriarch. "But for my father and his generation, it is a big hope."

Scholars see a cause for optimism in Iran.

"The overwhelming majority of youths disapprove of this regime," said Eliz Sanasarian, a University of Southern California political science professor and author of "Religious Minorities in Iran."

"You cannot have this kind of a regime going for another 10 years with this group of young people growing up."

Dariush Fakheri, who was in graduate school in New Mexico when the revolution began, can't return to Iran until there is a change.

"I'm on the list. I'm one of those people who are not welcome in Iran," said Fakheri, editor-in-chief of the Iranian Jewish Chronicle and co-founder of an Iranian-Jewish cultural center in Tarzana.

Even if he were welcomed back, Fakheri said, he wouldn't stay long.

"I am an American citizen by choice. I pledge to the flag of America," he said. "Iran has some nostalgic value for me, and that's it. That is about it. I like the music. I like the food. I like to read the poetry. But that is about it."