East Meets West


About six months ago, Gregory Rodriguez, a contributingeditor to the Los Angeles Times opinion section, phoned his friend, Rabbi GaryGreenebaum, West Coast regional director of the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee). Rodriguez had attended events purported to promote intellectualfellowship among diverse Angelenos, but had found them not-so-diverse. “There’sa lot of lip service paid to crossing barriers in this city, but manygatherings are organized around political or ethnic lines,” Rodriguez said.

To mix things up a bit, the two friends went on to launch aprogram, co-presented by the Los Angeles Public Library. The series, Zócalo,which means “public square” in Spanish, will gather Eastsiders and Westsidersfor private discussions and public lectures on crucial civic issues. It kicksoff at the downtown Central Library’s Mark Taper Auditorium on April 9 at 7p.m., when the Economist’s Washington correspondent Adrian Wooldridge,co-author of “The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea,” willdescribe his take on the corporation as “an engine that can work for the publicgood as well as ill,” Greenebaum said.

Four more speakers through July will include the preeminentAfrican American essayist Debra Dickerson and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, theOscar-nominated director of “Amores Perros.”

The series joins a burgeoning trend of L.A. programs devotedto the intellectual life, from Lunchtime Art Talks at the UCLA Hammer Museum tothe literary salon Beyond Baroque.

“But we don’t want to be labeled a salon,” Rodriguez said.”We want to create a nonpartisan, multiethnic place in a city that has fewneutral, welcoming places.”

Like Zócalo, its conveners represent East and West LosAngeles. Rodriguez, 36, is a Mexican American who lives in a Northeastneighborhood, Hermon, near Highland Park. Greenebaum, who is in his 50s,promotes intergroup relations through the regional office of the AJCommittee,located in West L.A. The two men met when Rodriguez interviewed Greenebaum fora piece that touched on Latino-Jewish relations several years ago.

They’re hoping Zócalo — sponsored by groups as varied as TheJewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and Citibank — will introduce Angelenoswho wouldn’t normally meet. “A group devoted to fostering fellowship and newideas will be a powerful contribution to the new L.A.,” Rodriguez said. 

For information about Zócalo events, which will be broadcastover KPCC 89.3 FM, call (213) 228-7025.