Dipping his apple in honey this Rosh Hashanah will have a special meaning for Southern California Iranian Jewish businessman Izak Kharrazi, who marks his 30th year in the unique and challenging bee-removal business.
Affectionately known as the “bee man” by his client base, which includes such celebrities as Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Taylor and Charlize Theron, Kharrazi has made a name for himself and for his company, All Valley Honey and Bee, over the years. His unusual profession has been turning heads in the Iranian Jewish community, as well.
“Once I found the bee business, I set my mind to it. And the more people joked around about it, the more it got under my skin to make it a success, and it has become a success,” said Kharrazi, who immigrated to the United States in the 1970s as a teenager.
Success is an understatement for Kharrazi, who said that he is typically bombarded with more than 150 telephone calls every day for his services. His 25 employees work around the clock to fulfill their clients’ needs. His accomplishments are remarkable. Kharrazi began this business single-handedly as a bee novice, at the tender age of 17, out of his home garage.
“I learned about this business the hard way, at the Brandeis Bardin Jewish summer camp [in Simi Valley, Calif.], when I was 15,” Kharrazi said. “My boss basically dared me to remove a beehive from one of the buildings. I covered up real well and removed the hive, but got stung 30 or 40 times. Later on, I read about bees and how to handle them.”
While Kharrazi once collected honey from his own beehives in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah, he said that he stopped in 1986 because the endeavor was too costly, and because vandals repeatedly would destroy the hives he had placed in different locations.
“During Rosh Hashanah I would always give the honey to my relatives, but it was just too much work for too little profit,” Kharrazi explained. “It’s a risky business if someone trespasses on the property and gets attacked by the bees, because you are liable.”
Nevertheless, the bee removal end of his business has thrived, as Southern California’s climate is ideal for bees to breed. According to Kharrazi, it is typical for a family of 10,000 bees to triple in one year if not eradicated.
Kharrazi’s father, Moussa, said that his son’s career choice has surprised many Iranian Jews in the family’s community, which has countless doctors, lawyers and real estate developers.
“In Iran we never had this type of bee business, and there really wasn’t a need for bee removal there like it is here,” Moussa said in Persian. “People tell me it is a very unique business and ask me what his job entails, because they’ve never heard of anyone doing what my son does.”
Despite the often dangerous aspects of his business that require removing bees from high structures, Kharrazi said he still receives great satisfaction when he arrives at a job site to meet a client: “People are actually happy and grateful to see you when you get there, because these bees have infested their living spaces or businesses. To me, it’s a great feeling to know I am helping them.”
Karmel Melamed is an internationally published freelance journalist in Southern California.