Caring and Controversy

Two olive trees grow somewhere in downtown LosAngeles. They are the lasting fruits — cynics would say the only fruits –of a peace demonstration organized by local Jews and Arabs at theoutbreak of the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, in 1989.

They are also a living reminder of the long andcomplex history of local involvement with Israel since the state’sfounding. For many years, the relationship was strictly drum-thumpingand fundraising. Local appeals raised millions of dollars.Anniversary celebrations at the Shrine Auditorium in 1958 and againin 1968, drew capacity crowds of some 6,000 supporters. During theSix Day War, a standing-room-only crowd jammed the Hollywood Bowl tohear appeals from celebrities like Barbra Streisand and Danny Kaye.Over the years, well-wishers, community leaders and local officialsregularly turned out to greet Israeli leaders whose first names werefamiliar as family: Golda, Moshe, Yitzhak.

Then, somewhere along the line, the honeymoonended. Now-defunct groups like Breira and the New Jewish Agenda beganopenly questioning Israel’s occupation policies. Hardline groups likeAmericans for a Safe Israel protested compromise. These rifts burstinto the communal conscience at a March 13, 1988 rally in RoxburyPark organized by Americans for Peace Now, with the two sides tryingto out-loudspeaker each other. Arab-Jewish dialogue groups sprung up,grabbing headlines with such events as the downtown tree-planting. Ahuge influx of Israelis to L.A.– some estimates put the number ashigh as 35,000– increased both the concerns and thecriticisms.

Even the Jewish institutional mainstream beganopenly challenging Israel’s policies, with delegations expressingconcern over everything from peace talks to religiouspluralism.

But at critical junctures, either of sorrow orjubilation, the depth of local support has been readily apparent. Atleast 10,000 people poured onto Wilshire Blvd. on Nov. 6, 1995 tomourn Yitzhak Rabin, and two weeks ago, a capacity crowd yet againfilled the Shrine Auditorium to hear another generation of starscelebrate Israel, at 50.

Photos from top to bottom: Edward G. Robinsonhelps celebrate Israel’s 20th at the Shrine, 1968. (Photo by Otto Rothschild, Jewish Historical Society ofSouthern California Archive). “Rally forIsrael’s Survival” at the Hollywood Bowl, June 1967 (Otto Rothschild, JHSSC); 5,000well-wishers greet Golda Meir in Los Angeles, Oct. 1969 (Photo by Ralph Samuels,JHSSC); Richard Dreyfuss at Americans forPeace Now Roxbury Park Rally, 1989 (Photoby Bill Aron); Mourners for Rabin, 1995 (Photo by Robert Schilling)