Panel discussion moderated by California State Sen. Ben Allen (far right), with (from left) L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis and L.A. Board of Police Commissioners Vice President Steve Soboroff. Photo by Andy Alt

New Jewish group vows fight to uphold democratic principles


new group called Jews United for Democracy and Justice (JUDJ) held its first meeting on May 21, as nearly 500 people, most of them Jewish, filled the pews of Leo Baeck Temple’s sanctuary for a day of activism, with a focus on opposing the Trump administration’s proposed immigration restrictions.

The event, called “Building Bridges–Building Movements: A Los Angeles Activist Summit” drew a broad coalition of participants committed to upholding the principles of democracy, justice and equality.

“Jews know what it’s like to be strangers in a strange land,” Leo Baeck Rabbi Ken Chasen said in his opening remarks. “Such is mentioned in the Torah 36 times.” He reminded the group that Jews have been at the forefront of social justice and civil rights issues in the United States for decades.

Chasen then recounted the genesis of the organization: At a Super Bowl party in early February at the Beverlywood home of UCLA Jewish History professor David Myers, more attention was paid to politics than the big game.

President Donald Trump’s two-week-old travel ban proposal and the ensuing chaos at airports was still in the day’s headlines. Chasen said everyone at the party viewed the executive action as an affront to “our American values and our Jewish traditions,” and they agreed they needed to respond in a way that went beyond an airing of grievances.

“We lamented the lack of a convening presence for Los Angeles’ Jews to act collectively under fundamental values,” Chasen said. “We felt the urgency to create that presence.”

Less than a month later, guests from Myers’ party, including Chasen, wrote a founding statement and put it online. The statement quickly drew more than 2,300 signatories and JUDJ was born. (The full text can be found on JUDJ’s website at judjla.org/action.)

At the May 21 summit, featured speaker Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) praised organizations like JUDJ for their support of local governments’ efforts to resist cooperation with the Trump administration’s new immigration and deportation policies.

“I’m hopeful that Jews United for Democracy and Justice will be at the forefront of the wave that changes the power provision and bends the arc back toward justice and freedom for all,” Bass said.

Following her address, California State Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), who represents much of the Westside and the South Bay, moderated a lively panel discussion with Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, L.A. County Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, and L.A. Board of Police Commissioners Vice President Steve Soboroff. The conversation focused mainly on local police involvement with Trump’s deportation policies and the human narratives concerning deportation within the city’s Latino community.

Solis, who served as the nation’s first Latino Secretary of Labor under President Barack Obama, told the crowd that in parts of East Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Valley and other areas with large Latino populations, parents routinely avoid grocery shopping during the daytime, fearing deportation forces. She said parents in these communities are taking precautions, such as leaving emergency contact information on the refrigerator in case their children return from school to an empty house.

“These are real people,” Solis said. “All I’m telling you is this is what I see and what I hear every day. I hope that all of you would understand that we’re here to find a solution. It doesn’t matter how we get it. Every little bit can help. That’s all I’m asking you to do, to listen to those voices you might not hear today, but they’re out there.”

Following the speeches, attendees were invited to participate in small groups focused on such activities as community organizing and a Jewish response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Rabbis met in a session called “Justice Beyond the Bima” and lawyer Randy Schoenberg led a lawyers-only strategizing and training session.

Danielle Berrin, a Jewish Journal columnist and senior writer, led a session called “The Fourth Column: How a Free Press Changes Everything.”

Participating organizations included Bend the Arc, the Anti-Defamation League, Bet Tzedek, Jewish World Watch, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Interfaith Refugee Project and NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.

Allison Lee — who was at Myers’ Super Bowl party with her husband, Chasen, and who co-chaired the event and serves on JUDJ’s coalition committee — said she was impressed by the summit participants’ enthusiasm.

“To see so many Angelenos do a deeper dive, to understand how they can inform their own activism, to commit and recommit to the work is really rewarding and shows the tremendous need out there,” Lee said.

Hal Reichwald, 80, of Brentwood and a University Synagogue member, who participated in a session on a Jewish response to refugees, said he came to the event partly to stop throw-ing his shoe at the television.

“I think it’s a very good step to energize a group of people who perhaps have been on the sidelines a bit in the last eight years,” Reichwald said. “They see the need, they feel the need, and now they want to take the next steps to do something. I think this gives them a focus.”

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