Donna Bojarsky pursues her political passions
Donna Bojarsky is on the hunt for a muffin.
It’s about 11 a.m., and she’s been running around all morning having not eaten anything. But the lobby at the W Hotel in Hollywood doesn’t serve breakfast food.
At least, they don’t serve it until Bojarsky asks. Ten minutes after she makes her case for an off-menu pastry, a waiter wends his way between black-leather ottomans to drop a blueberry muffin off in front of her. Looking around conspiratorially, he leans over: “Don’t tell my boss,” he says.
Bojarsky seems surprised at her own persuasiveness. “Oh!” she says, smiling. “Thanks.”
In fact, though, this is nothing out of the ordinary for Bojarsky. As an entrepreneur, freelancer and major player on the Hollywood political scene, she tends to get what she wants.
Bojarsky, who is in her early 50s, has a career that finds her working all over the city, often from the early hours of the morning until late into the night. At the moment, she’s an adviser to broadcasting entrepreneur Norman J. Pattiz. She’s also an editorial consultant at Los Angeles magazine, and she is director of the Foreign Policy Roundtable, a salon series that invites players in the entertainment industry to get more involved in international affairs.
Bojarsky’s interest in politics began before she was even old enough to vote — in fact, she’s fond of saying it started when she was just a child. Growing up in Beverly Hills with a mother who stayed home to care for her and a father who worked in the insurance industry, she was raised with the expectation that she would place a high importance on making a difference in her community.
“I always tell the story that I handed out a Bobby Kennedy button to George Burns when I was 6,” she says. Of her childhood in 1960s Beverly Hills, she adds, “We had playground arguments after Bobby Kennedy was assassinated about who was for McCarthy and who was for Humphrey … I’m sure reflecting our parents.”
She and her peers, she says, understood how important it was to be politically engaged at a young age.
“There was a very serious expectation that you would be involved, you would be giving back, a big part of your life would be charity.”
After graduating from Beverly Hills High School and going on to attend Brandeis University in Massachusetts, Bojarsky did a brief stint in Washington, D.C., before heading back to the Golden State to work for then-California state Assemblyman Richard Katz. From there, she landed a job working for L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley, where she became very close to a number of people with whom she continues to work to this day — including onetime L.A. mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel.
In a phone interview, Greuel was effusive about her longtime friend and colleague. When the two met working in Bradley’s offices, Greuel said, they were part of a group of young women who deemed themselves “The Bradley Girls.”
“We used to go out and get together,” Greuel said. “It was a very special time in the city and in the mayor’s office. We had a group of young people in our late 20s, early 30s, who were getting to make public policy, figure out how we make the city better — it was a pretty exciting time, so many of us felt lucky that we were part of that.”
For Bojarsky, it was a time to solidify her place in the world of politics, particularly in Los Angeles, where major contributors are often big names in the film industry as well. She honed her passion for making a difference in the world, as well as her natural ability to get people together in arenas she cares about.
“Donna is a connector,” Greuel said. “She connects people on issues. … Donna knows how to get to a person or talk to a person. They all have seen firsthand Donna’s passion and her ability to get from A to Z really quickly, and connect people for the right cause.”
Bojarsky went on to work for actor Richard Dreyfuss for 16 years, running all of his philanthropic and political activities, and she eventually began her path of having myriad jobs, all connected by one prevailing theme: a deep-seated love for the city that made her who she is, that saw her father go from a young man living in Boyle Heights to a successful businessman in Beverly Hills, and that welcomed her mother, a Holocaust survivor. Bojarsky continues to see Los Angeles as a place brimming with promise, but unlike many people who come here with stars in their eyes, she has the connections and the savvy to make real, lasting change in the nitty-gritty world of Los Angeles, beyond the glitter.
It was with that change in mind that Bojarsky founded the New Leaders Project at The Jewish Federation 20 years ago, and while she no longer leads the program, which Federation continues to run, to this day she cites it as one of her proudest accomplishments. Designed to usher young professionals into positions of leadership in the Jewish community, the program has helped hundreds of participants find their way into more meaningful work or volunteerism.
Among them is 32-year-old Sam Yebri, an attorney and a founder of the Iranian-Jewish group 30 Years After, who credits Bojarsky with encouraging him to become far more involved in the community, including becoming a city commissioner.
“She’s been a resource for ideas and programs and contacts,” he said. “There are very few people in the Jewish community who share Donna’s passion for civic involvement. She’s opened a lot of doors for people … in terms of my own life, she’s been a mentor and a friend.”
Bojarsky believes in the importance of the New Leaders Project because she senses that civic engagement in Los Angeles — particularly within the Jewish community — isn’t what it used to be. Specifically, she says, it’s “not yet where it was in the Bradley days.”
And yet, she’s optimistic about the future.
“I’m hopeful with the new mayor, and new efforts to outreach, and a general feeling that things might actually be moving this time in Los Angeles … well, hopefully it will all help.”
The future is something in which she has a personal investment — long separated from husband Jonathan Jacoby, they co-parent their “adorable yet impossible” 11-year-old son, Joshua — and Bojarsky brings Joshua with her whenever she travels, instilling in her son, in turn, a sense of culture and worldliness, as well as a strong sense of family togetherness.
It’s an activity that her busy schedule makes even more precious — and, at the end of the day, Bojarsky said she wouldn’t trade her unique lifestyle for anything.
“I’ve never figured out how to make this an incredibly lucrative career,” she says, “but the exchange is I have freedom to pursue passions and interesting things that would be hard to do if I had made a lucrative career my primary purpose.”