In an evening that mixed Hollywood glamour with serious intellectual conversation, the UCLA Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies celebrated its five-year anniversary Tuesday with a gala that raised nearly $900,000.

The sold-out event at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, welcomed 500 supporters of the Nazarian family and the Nazarian center, an independent, nonpartisan forum that promotes scholarly research and education about “Israel as it is, with all its achievements and challenges.”

Sharon Nazarian, chair of the advisory council of the Nazarian Center, launched the evening with welcoming remarks and introduced Israeli journalist and writer Ari Shavit, who served as guest host of the ceremonies. Shavit set the tone for the evening by saying that Israelis were neither angels nor demons. “We are humans,” he said. “Humans with a remarkable story that must be told.”

After a short video was shown about the center and its work, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block presented the center’s inaugural Visionary Award to philanthropists Younes and Soraya Nazarian. Block noted that their idea for an Israel studies program had become a nationally and internationally recognized center for the study of Israel in just five short years. In accepting the award, Younes Nazarian remarked, “We are getting exactly the result that [we wanted],” and offered two words to all in attendance, “Thank you!”

Oscar award-winning actress Natalie Portman then presented Israeli novelist Amos Oz — author of more than 41 books translated into 43 languages — with the center’s Israel Studies Award. The award recognizes individuals of extraordinary character and merit who have contributed to a greater understanding of Israel or have made outstanding contributions to Israeli society and/or culture. 

“As both and an Israeli and an American, I understand well the importance of teaching Americans about Israel as it really is,” Portman said. “I am proud and privileged to be here tonight to present the UCLA Israeli Studies Award to my dear friend, Amos Oz.

The gifts are part of the Centennial Campaign for UCLA, a $4.2 billon fundraising drive scheduled to conclude in 2019, the university’s 100th anniversary.

Read the full story and watch videos of the event.