Behzad Behzadpour and his wife, Lila Aneri, could not hold funerals for all of the relatives they lost in Iran's earthquake -- 180 in all. So, to ease their pain, he helped sponsor a memorial service Sunday to honor all who died -- at least 35,000 -- in the Dec. 26 temblor that destroyed his hometown, the historic city of Bam.
"I lost my mother and uncle and cousins, every memory I have," Aneri said as she waited for the Los Angeles service to begin. "I lost my city, my home. My father's home," she said, adding that she hopes to soon bring the only three relatives who survived the Bam disaster to the U.S.
Her husband described Bam as "a very tightly knit community, so when I add all my friends from boyhood and growing up there, it is more like 700 or 800 people that I have lost."
He spoke in Farsi through an interpreter before the service at the Iranian Muslim Assn. of North America center on the Westside.
A popular singer in Iran and in the Iranian American community in Southern California, Behzadpour, 47, came to the United States four years ago and settled in Huntington Beach.
Behzadpour said he was "very grateful to the American people for their support and help ... for the people of my dear land."
Like many of the at least 500 others who came to the service, M. Sadegh Namazikhah lost no relatives in Bam, but he said he and others strongly mourn for the dead.
"To us, everyone who was lost there is family. That is our culture," said Namazikhah of Woodland Hills, who was born in Iran and moved here 26 years ago. He is president and founder of the center and served as master of ceremonies at Sunday's service.
Mourners trickled in throughout the two-hour ceremony, which was part tribute to the dead, part promise to continue helping the survivors and part celebration of an ancient and resilient culture.
Namazikhah brought smiles to those who were weeping quietly as he told of an 11-year-old local girl who, determined to help victims she had never met, went to the medical office her mother manages and talked to staff and patients about the quake. She raised $690 for the relief fund.
Ali Mohajeri of Woodland Hills, one of several speakers at the service, learned he lost at least 36 relatives -- first and second cousins "and a lot of friends" in the earthquake. A businessman who has lived 30 years in the U.S., Mohajeri said he visited Bam, his father's birthplace, many times. His last visit was in 1997.
"It was beautiful to be there. We saw many of my father's family," Mohajeri said. "Now we must try to help" those who survived.
Although not at the service, also mourning the loss of a loved one was the sister of the only American to die in the quake. She talked about her brother and his fiance during a telephone interview over the weekend from her office in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Tam Dell'Oro said that the care and warmth the Iranian people showed her fatally injured brother, Tobb Dell'Oro, has somewhat tempered her grief.
Tam Dell'Oro said Saturday that her brother, a 41-year-old resident of Redwood City, was an adventurer. He had proposed on Christmas Eve to his longtime love, Adele Freedman, 39. Freedman, also of Redwood City, was traveling with him when the temblor struck, but she survived and is hospitalized with a shattered left foot.
"They made such a heroic effort to save Tobb's life and Adele's life," Tam Dell'Oro said, noting that her brother and his fiance were among the first people rescuers pulled from the rubble of their hotel.
"When she [Adele] got to the hospital, they didn't shove her to the back.
"They put her up in the front and the best doctors took care of her," Dell'Oro said. She added that the hospital waived all fees for treating the two Americans, a step the State Department told her was highly unusual.
"If there is any goodness that can come out of Tobb's death, I think the American people need to know that the Iranian people are reaching out their hands in friendship," she said.
The traveling couple fell in love with Bam and changed their plans so they could spend the night there, Dell'Oro said.
When the earthquake hit, her brother and Freedman were pinned beneath the crushed walls of their hotel. Their driver and tour guide gathered others to help dig them out. Both were alive and coherent when rescuers freed them, Dell'Oro said, but her brother bled to death in the back of the car on the way to the nearest intact hospital, in Kerman.
Dell'Oro said her brother spoke Arabic and studied at Cornell University and earned degrees in engineering and business administration. He worked for oil companies in Texas and Louisiana and, in 1997, joined his sister's market research firm in Redwood City.