Community Briefs

Peres Pays Visit to Southland

In addition to celebrating his 80th birthday, former Israeli Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Shimon Peres spoke with members of the Los Angeles Jewish community on two separate occasions this week.

Peres’ first speaking engagement took place at Stephen S. Wise Temple on Sunday, Oct. 13 and was sponsored in part by Israel Freedom of Religion in an effort to gain support for a bill currently awaiting review by the Knesset that would require the Israeli government to acknowledge practices — such as marriage and burial — performed by rabbis in non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, in addition to those performed in a civil ceremony.

“It is vital for the future of the Jewish people to have greater numbers,” Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin said.

Michael Milken introduced Peres to the audience of nearly 1,000 people, including distinguished guests and American heroes in Israel’s War of Independence Lou Leonard and Al Schwimmer.

“When Prime Minister Peres speaks tonight I suggest that you listen closely because it will give you a chance to think about the future,” Milken said. “Every time I hear him speak I gain insight, I gain energy and I gain a better view of what the future holds and the opportunities available for those that have an opportunity to experience his knowledge of eight decades.”

That sentiment was apparent at the Jewish Federation on Tuesday, Oct. 14, where leaders of the Jewish community listened as Peres spoke about current events in Israel and possibilities for the future.

Peres greeted his audience with both good and bad news. The good news, he said, “is that the Palestinian society is moving to become a democratic one, that the U.S. has become Israel’s immediate neighbor in Iraq and that Israel had finally achieved ideological unity.”

“After 25 years of refusing the right wing of Israeli politics, the Likud party, we’ve reached the conclusion that we cannot go on without a Palestinian state,” Peres said.

The bad news, Peres said, is that Israel continues to face many challenges, including the continued threat of terrorism and a weak economy.

Despite difficulties, Peres noted that he hopes the peace process will continue.

“In 55 years we’ve had so many problems, but we are the only nation that grew in problems of war,” Peres said. “Every time we become stronger and stronger and larger and larger because you should never give up.”

He also made a plea to leaders to invest in Israeli science and technology.

“Israel in the future means two things: peace and science,” Peres said. “Let’s sail, not to the unknown, but to a promising future.” — Rachel Brand, Staff Writer

AJC Meet With Mormon Elder a Rarity

As befits an ice-breaker, the mood was warm when members of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) met Elder Jeffrey Holland, a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormons, on Sept. 22.

Holland is one of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which together with church President Gordon B. Hinckley and his two closest counselors make up the leadership of the 12-million member church. AJC organizers said the appearance by so senior a member of the church hierarchy was rare, if not unprecedented, in the L.A. Jewish community.

The tall, charismatic Holland used the opportunity to recount the amity Mormons feel toward Jews, even if that sense of closeness has not always been reciprocated. Mormons see their own flight across the western United States in the early 19th century as a continuation of the Exodus story. Their Christianity has held fast to the Bible’s Jewish roots, he said.

Holland said the scriptural appreciation has echoed throughout history. Two of the earliest Jewish mayors and governors in the American West were Jews elected in Utah, a Mormon state.

And Mormons have been staunch Zionists, Holland added. A Mormon missionary who arrived in Jerusalem in 1841 wrote a prayer for the church liturgy on the return of Jews to Zion.

“Let them come like clouds and like doves to the window,” Holland quoted. “Let them know it is Thy good pleasure to restore them to Israel.”

Holland also quoted David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, as telling a church elder, “No Christian organization in the world understands us like the Mormons.”

The warm relationship turned rockier when Holland, then-president of Brigham Young University, sought to open a satellite student center in Jerusalem. The effort brought stiff opposition from mainly religious Jews who suspected the Mormons of using the center as a base for proselytizing. Only the staunch support of Jerusalem’s then-mayor Teddy Kollek saw the project through, and no charges of proselytizing have been leveled since. — Staff Report

L.A. Businesses Encouraged to Connect With TelAviv

Two Tel Aviv University MBA students recently returned to Israel after spending the summer under the mentorship of various Los Angeles business and government leaders as part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Community Redevelopment Fellowship.

The new program, sponsored by the Economic Initiatives Committee of the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, is part of an effort called Genesis L.A., which hopes to bring about the redevelopment of neighborhoods in Jaffa and south Tel Aviv via the exchange of public/private financing tools and urban development methodology.

Over the course of seven weeks the students, Aviad Arviv and Michael Gofman, interned at the Milken Institute, met with experts in real estate development, tax incentives, business improvement districts, low-income housing development, enterprise finance, the arts and transportation, and visited a range of Los Angeles redevelopment sites.

“Israel’s economy is in the dumpster and we have to do what we can to attract non-Israeli money to induce foreign flow of capital into Israel for redevelopment,” said Michael Schwartz, a partner at George Smith Partners, who created an intensified training program to give the fellows an overview of the real estate finance industry.

Glenn Yago, outgoing chair of the Economic Initiatives Committee, said that the program is only one of several initiatives that the group has spearheaded in the Jaffa area as part of Genesis Tel Aviv. Based on the model used in Los Angeles after the riots, other projects have included issuing revenue bonds to finance public parking structures in Tel Aviv and environmental rehabilitation of the HaYarkon River. — RB