The shape of things to come: Jewish L.A. in 30 years


In commemoration of the Jewish Journal’s 30th anniversary, Jewish leaders discuss their hopes and predictions for the next 30 years of L.A. Jewish life.


Melissa Balaban

Executive director of IKAR

balabanMy greatest hope for the Jewish community in Los Angeles in the next 30 years is that we come together to rededicate ourselves to finding areas of commonality, rather than focusing on our divisions. We are at our best when we work toward common goals, using the wisdom of our tradition toward achieving a shared vision of the world. I would love to see an end to the divisiveness surrounding Israel, as we all work toward ensuring that Israel is a thriving Jewish, democratic and secure state, which reflects its highest Zionist ideals.


Rabbi Amy Bernstein

Kehillat Israel

When I spoke with KI congregants who have lived here for 30 years about what they hope the Jewish community will be like in the next 30 years, they said that they hope it will be a community that is warm, close, inclusive, vibrant, prosperous and safe. They hope that it will be a community that is socially engaged, as well as engaged with the larger community—where all factions get along, where there are no “others,” and where we can truly celebrate the diversity of the Los Angeles Jewish community.


Mayim Bialik

Actress and scientist

I cannot even imagine personally what 30 years from now will look like but I guess I would like to see Los Angeles Jews continue to be what I see as an example of the openness and the inquisitiveness and the beauty that Judaism really models and provide for us as a guide – I would hope that in 30 years no matter what happens politically or globally that L.A Jews continue to lead the way as part of a very significant and thriving community that we always have been.


Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

Pico Shul

Most of the growth in the community, as it has been for the past 10 years, is going to be within what is called the more traditional side of the equation on the spiritual, cultural and religious continuum. … I do have a fear that we will lose a substantial portion of millennial Jews to assimilation … but I also feel like we have the ability to do a lot to prevent that from happening. But it’s going to require a lot of dedication on the part of the community and to approach it with multiple means.


Rabbi Noah Farkas

Valley Beth Shalom

I wish day school tuition wasn’t a hindrance for people going to school.


Jesse Gabriel

Attorney and Jewish community leader

The energy, idealism, and optimism of young Jews is going to reinvigorate our communal institutions and enable us to be guided by our hopes rather than our fears. Their embrace of diversity, commitment to pluralism and inclusion, and willingness to move beyond past divisions will allow us to navigate the inevitable challenges and build a stronger and more deeply engaged community. We have much to be optimistic about!


Rabbi Emerita Laura Geller

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

geller2

[I predict] there will be fewer synagogues because the current funding model will no longer work. … Instead of membership in a particular synagogue many people will join a “kehilla” which would be a collaboration of many different synagogues that would hire clergy and teachers. … The large and growing cohort of older Jews will create alternative housing arrangements, including new ways to age in place. … What I hope will also happen is that our community becomes more inclusive, welcoming all kinds of Jews, and that we will have learned to talk to each other about difficult issues with civility and respect, including what it means to love Israel, which has remained Jewish and democratic.


Arya Marvazy

Assistant director of JQ International

aryaMy sincere hope and prediction is that these next few decades will encompass a greater wave toward radical inclusion – embracing others and their unique differences, understanding that at our core, we are all carbon copies of one another. What we express and how we identify with respect to race, religion, sexual orientation and lifestyle will serve far less to divide us, and we will truly focus on those elements of our humanity that make us one gigantic global family.


Patricia Glaser

Attorney and Jewish community leader

glaser-patty-hi-res

Over the next 30 years, I expect the Jewish community to continue to make a substantial contribution to the culture, business and very fabric of Los Angeles. Within the Jewish community, I hope that there is a conscious effort to better understand each other; that a movement emerges to bring together the disparate views and various religious groupings within Judaism in order for an intrafaith dialogue to develop that helps all of us to better understand our community and each other. I hope that younger Jews learn to understand the significance of being a Jew in America and support the State of Israel and to understand that –  whether it is $50, $500, $500 – giving is not a choice; we all must give.


Brian Greene

Executive director of the Westside Jewish Community Center

brian-greene

My hope is that in 30 years – if not sooner – Jewish communal life in L.A. will be inclusive and collaborative. Cultural and denominational divisions between Jews will feel so “ancient.” Our strength will be our commitment to being a unified community that is open and welcoming to all.


Sam Grundwerg

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles

Given the fact that the Jewish people make up only less than half of 1 percent of the world’s population, it is nothing short than a miracle that we are able to contribute to the world in so many ways, from lifesaving discoveries to high-tech innovation and medical advances. In the next 30 years, may we see Jewish L.A. become more unified, spreading that spirit and passion. When we work together as a community we grow together and we are able to better serve the incredible Los Angeles community. Just like Israel, L.A. is truly a melting pot, and provides us all an opportunity to build stronger bonds with the communities around us.


Aaron Henne

Artistic director of Theatre Dybbuk

Jewish L.A. will be the fertile soil from which provocative, challenging and adventurous artistic work from a Jewish perspective grows. We will be rich in diverse viewpoints, expressed through a variety of forms and techniques, colliding, collaborating, and contradicting each other.  We will dive deep into our Jewish narratives in order to then turn our gaze outward, engaging in the world in humane, empathetic, and mindful ways.


Samara Hutman

Executive director of Remember Us

Marie Kaufman

President emeritus of the Child Survivors of the Holocaust, Los Angeles

hutman

Our hope for them [this generation of young adults] and for all of us is that we honor all communities, that we remember our roots and how we all got here and bring that to our daily work, our lives and our community.


Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

B’nai David-Judea

kanefskyI hope that the next 30 years bring a more affordable cost of Jewish living to Los Angeles, so that the exodus of our children to other cities might slow down. I also hope that we make the effort to really listen to each other, and learn that right and left both love Israel, that traditional and liberal both love Judaism, and that in the long run, we will pay a bitter price for the momentary pleasure we receive from screaming at each other.


Jessie Kornberg

President and CEO of Bet Tzedek

jessica-kornberg-special-to-the-daily-journal-4At Bet Tzedek, as in so much of L.A.’s Jewish community, our identity has been indelibly shaped by our commitment to meet the needs of aging Holocaust survivors. Our identity for the next 30 years will similarly reflect how we respond to the needs of new populations seeking refuge in our city from violence, war, and persecution.


Kosha Dillz

Rapper

kosha-dillzThe next 30 years of Jewish L.A. are quite vibrant. I predict that … more and more Jews from around the world will migrate to our beloved, sunny Los Angeles. Tech, music and film will continue to thrive and grow to the forefront of their respective industries. We will continue to be unapologetic in our support for Israel, yet continue to engage in our criticism to be better at it, and always engage in conversations with those most critical in an educational way.


Esther Kustanowitz

Jewish Journal contributing writer and editorial director at Groknation.com

esther

I hope that Jewish L.A. will comprise and embody the best that both terms – “Jewish” and “L.A.” –  have to offer; that it will continue to be a bright example of creativity, innovation, diversity and community, and that the geography of this place continues to inspire and reflect the potential that we all have.


Shawn Landres

Co-founder of Jumpstart Labs, senior fellow at UCLA Luskin, and chair of the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission and the city of Santa Monica Social Services Commission

shawn-landresHere in Los Angeles, our continuing mandate will be to connect our core values with the aspirations and needs of our neighbors of all backgrounds and creeds, especially the most vulnerable. No doubt, individual Jewish Angelenos will continue to contribute across all sectors of our vibrant region. Our broader task is to deepen our  relationships – as a Jewish community and as stewards of Jewish tradition – with everyone in the L.A. mosaic. In 2017, too few Jewish communal leaders (and not only in Los Angeles) are willing to say “Black lives matter” or “Muslim and immigrant lives matter” without qualification or apology. Whether more of us can do so in 2047 – with whoever may need our solidarity – will define L.A. Jewry’s significance in this century.


Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz

Adat Shalom

I pray that our community plays a greater role in modeling how we can love Torah, love Israel, love one another and love our greater community without conflicting values.  


Adam Milstein

Philanthropist and Israeli American Council board chair

milsteinThe Israeli-American community will be an integral part of Jewish Los Angeles for the next three decades. It will serve as an important connector to the State of Israel, as a vibrant home for pro-Israel advocates, and as a source of strength for the broader Jewish community in our great city.


Moishe House Residents

Downtown Los Angeles

moishe-house-residentsMoishe House DTLA hopes the next 30 years will bring greater unity to the Jewish L.A. community, allowing our community to be a symbol of hope and acceptance for others in the L.A. area.


Ayana Morse

Executive Director of Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center

In 30 years, I see a Jewish L.A. that is a model for the best in local engagement, innovation and creativity. Let’s open our city’s metaphorical gates to each other and delight in the knowledge and mastery that emerges.


David N. Myers

Professor at UCLA

myers

 

I think the next 30 years will bring an intensification of two noticeable trends in L.A. Jewish life: more drift away from institutional affiliation for the majority of L.A.’s Jews, and growing prominence and market share for the Orthodox population in town. In between, we may well see a blurring of the boundary between Reform and Conservative institutions. In this way, L.A. will be like the rest of the country, except more.


Sharon Nazarian

President of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation

nazarianJewish L.A. will mirror our great city of Los Angeles, a city reflecting reflecting the richness of its immigrant communities. When we refer to the Jewish Community of Los Angeles, we will be referring not only to European Jews, but also Russian Jews, Persian Jews, Israeli Jews, Iraqi Jews, Syrian Jews, Argentine Jews, Mexican Jews, Ethiopian Jews. While we will continue to celebrate the strength of our cultural uniqueness, we will have consolidated our Jewishness and our cohesion as one community.


Julie Platt

Board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

plattOver the next 30 years, The Jewish Federation will continue to be a convener for the Los Angeles Jewish community, bringing us together from every spiritual region and every geographic region, casting as wide a net as is necessary. Our Federation will continue to strategically impact this community, informed by our Jewish values and with clear and nimble focus and mission. We will always continue to work together to care for Jews in need, ensure the Jewish future and engage positively with our broader community.


Bruce Powell

Head of school at de Toledo High School

My hope and prediction for the Jewish future of Los Angeles in 2047 is simple: I believe that the thousands of students now in our Jewish day schools will become the leaders of our community and thereby create a vibrant and even more brilliant L.A. Jewish life and vision.


Jay Sanderson

President and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

As the president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, I live with every day with the question of where we will be over the next 30 years. We are focusing on looking at the greatest challenges and the greatest opportunities facing our community and the Jewish people. And the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity facing the Jewish people is how do we connect to the next generation of Jews? How do we connect to millennials? How do we make Judaism relevant, and how do we make the Jewish community open and accessible to all Jews?


Rabbi Lori Shapiro

The Open Temple

lori-shapiroWe are going through a Jewish renaissance in Los Angeles and these seeds will proliferate. Los Angeles will become a center of Jewish spiritual creativity and art, and our ritual practice will include film and new media. I predict that our spiritual communities will have not only rabbis on staff but universalist ministers as well as artists and media producers.


Rachel Sumekh

Founder and CEO of Swipe Out Hunger 

I predict that over the next 30 years, L.A. will see the peak of its burgeoning cultural renaissance and there will be a beautiful Jewish component to it –– and one thing I know won’t change is that, Persian Jews will hold the title for greatest Shabbat dinner parties.


Amanda Susskind

Anti-Defamation League regional director 

So for the next 30 years of Jewish L.A., my hope is that we will continue to work in coalition with other minority communities as the city continues to thrive as one of the major diverse communities in the world. But my fear is there will be so many issues to deal with around the world, from climate change to hate to nuclear proliferation, that we will have very, very big challenges to stand up to injustice, and that’s why I think the work of the ADL is going to be so critical, because we do build those coalitions and bridges to other communities.


Craig Taubman

Founder of the Pico Union Project

craigtaubman-2The future of the L.A. Jewish community will bring to us what we bring to it. Rabbi Harold Schulweis said it best: “Think ought. Not what is a Jew, but what ought a Jew to be?” This could be the anthem for our children who, unlike us or our parents, don’t determine their future on what was done in the past. They ought to be inspired by the City of Angels they live in, and like angels strive to be messengers of goodness, kindness, righteousness and beauty. This is the Jewish community I aspire to build.


Rabbi David Wolpe

Max Webb Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple

Today we will play prophets
Tomorrow, we’ll be fools:
Who will and won’t belong?
We’re certain to be wrong.
Whose words will never fade?
Predict, and be betrayed.
Triumphs may bring tears
‘Lasting’ disappears.
Who knows in thirty years?


Sam Yebri

Attorney and Jewish community leader

When I think of the next 30 years of Jewish Los Angeles, I think of my own daughters and look at that question through their lens. What I hope for in Jewish Los Angeles is there to be a Jewish community that represents the best of our values as Iranian-American Jews – love of family, tradition, and of Israel – as well as the best of our American-Jewish experience –  a community that is progress-oriented and open-minded, that is engaged civically, Jewishly and philanthropically – and also that cares deeply about the greater community and the greater world.


Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback

Stephen Wise Temple

Jewish life 30 years from now? Well, in addition to colonizing space, I have two words for you: rabbi robots. I’m joking, of course, that would be awful for me, personally. What I really see happening over the next 30 years is growth. I think our Los Angeles Jewish community, given its diversity and creativity, is going to grow, both in terms of the number of Jews engaged in Jewish life and in terms of how deeply they are engaging in Jewish life. Because actually now, more than ever before, people need meaning and purpose and that’s what Judaism offers. I’m very excited to be part of that story.

David Siegel leaves impressive legacy as his diplomatic tenure in L.A. ends


Later this summer, David Siegel will return home to Israel after five years serving as Israeli consul general for the southwestern United States from his base in Los Angeles. So, what has he been doing during that time?

At the request of the Journal, Siegel’s office compiled a rundown of the diplo-mat’s public activities, which include the following:

• Some 1,500 speaking engagements, mostly in the evenings, at times logging three speeches on the same day.

• Appearances at least once, sometimes more frequently, at every major synagogue in the Los Angeles area.

• Meetings with the principals of nearly all Jewish day schools throughout his jurisdiction, which stretches westward from Colorado and Wyoming to Southern California and Hawaii.

• Seventeen regional town halls, mostly for audiences that generally have had little contact with Israel.

• Attendance at nearly every regional dinner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the annual galas of other Jewish organizations.

In truth, this list skims only the surface, but it gives a picture that Siegel, now 54, did not accept the Los Angeles post in 2011 for surfing and cocktail parties.

In addition to his public appearances, Siegel worked mainly behind the scenes on many of his key accomplishments. These include a landmark accord for joint entrepreneurial collaboration between Israel and California, working with rabbis to promote religious pluralism in Israel, and bringing the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition to Los Angeles.

It is a given that Israeli diplomats around the world often face international crises of one sort of another on a regular basis.

For Siegel, a few months after his arrival in Los Angeles, he saw as his overriding task to impress upon the nearly 40 million Americans in his region that Iran’s nuclear program was a threat not only to Israel’s
existence, but also to the entire Middle East and beyond.

A seasoned diplomat, Siegel had previously been stationed at Israel’s Foreign Service headquarters in Jerusalem, as well as at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., where he was involved in formulating and implementing Israel’s foreign policy during parts of the Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.

Nevertheless, five years ago, given the choice of returning to a senior position at the Israeli embassy in Washington or becoming consul general in Los Angeles, the Siegel family unanimously chose the latter option.

“Los Angeles is considered one of the most important assignments in our foreign service, as a world communication center whose movie and television studios impact every country,” Siegel said during a recent interview in his West Los Angeles office, which is lined with award plaques and citations, alternating with photos of his family.

During Siegel’s first day after arriving in Los Angeles, he met with the editorial staff of the Journal and, in short order, laid out a list of his goals and priorities. Asked to review this wish list five years later, Siegel cited the Israel-California Partnership Agreement as his most important achievement and a real “game changer.”

After two years of laying the groundwork, in March 2014, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and California Gov. Jerry Brown signed an agreement that provides for a working partnership in such areas as water conservation — in which Israel is a world leader — cybersecurity, biotechnology, agricultural technology and cultural/educational exchanges.

This master treaty has since been buttressed by additional agreements between Israel and the cities of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, Los Angeles County, the Southern California Association of Government and others.

Siegel gives credit for achieving the agreement to the backing of Jewish community organizations, as well as Brown, state legislators including Assemblymen Bob Blumenfield and John Perez, and L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer, among many others.

On the priority list of just about every Israeli diplomat, since the opening of L.A.’s first consulate in 1948, has been to channel some of Hollywood’s worldwide clout to the benefit of Israel.

While past consuls general have often focused primarily on enlisting big-name celebrities to speak out in defense of Israel against propaganda attacks, Siegel has focused more on actual productions.

He has met with stars and studio heads, but also worked with production and location executives on movie and TV projects. Thus, he counts as signs of the “prospering relationship” between Israel and Hollywood the shooting of the TV series “Tyrant” and “Big” in Israel, and the openings of offices for Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency in Tel Aviv and Israel’s Keshet mass media company in Los Angeles.

A major event in bridging the 8,000 miles between Hollywood and Tel Aviv was a visit by Israel’s then-president, elder statesman Shimon Peres, to the DreamWorks studio in 2012, where Peres addressed 1,000 Hollywood executives and actors.

Like all of his predecessors, Siegel has been fascinated by the vibrancy and diversity of Los Angeles and its Jewish community, despite the latter’s occasional fractious infighting.

Siegel takes considerable pride that the Israeli consulate has frequently served as a kind of neutral ground, bringing together rabbis of different denominations and organizational heads who, at least, can all join together in their support of Israel.

Born in Burlington, Vt., and the son of a rabbi who was a founder of the Masorti (Conservative) movement in Israel, Siegel was educated in a Chabad school and in an Orthodox yeshiva in Israel, and later taught at a Reform school. His background enables Siegel to comfortably move among the denominations, and he was able to pull together a task force of rabbis who otherwise rarely interact.

Another of his priorities has been to facilitate trips to Israel by present and future leaders, Jewish and gentile, among them some 7,000 college students. 

Nothing, Siegel said, is more important for Americans, who may know Israel only through newspaper headlines or brief TV news segments, than to see the Jewish state “with their own eyes, in order to understand the complexity and gravity” of the Middle East situation.

“Israel, now a country of close to 9 million people, with 7 million of them Jews, is the culmination of 4,000 years of Jewish history, and we need to show what we have achieved in two generations, especially in one of the most difficult regions in the world,” he said.

While David Siegel has warm words for Los Angeles, his wife, Myra, strikes a positively exuberant note.

“We didn’t know what to expect when we came here,” she said. “The warmth, the commitment, the can-do attitude of the people from every walk of life are beyond everything I have ever seen,” she said. “It has been an enormous privilege to represent Israel here and to meet so many amazing people.”

Quite amazing, too, were Myra Siegel’s commitments during her stay. She continued working full time at her job with the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange, while also assuming the social responsibilities of a diplomat’s spouse and shepherding three kids, currently ages 9, 13 and 16, through three separate Jewish day schools.

Asked what aspect of his job has been most frustrating, the consul general first maintained a diplomatic silence, then allowed that the American media, with their emphasis on crises and occasional violence in Israel, rather than on the country’s many accomplishments, can be tremendously frustrating.

He followed up with a shrug, “That’s the nature of the media.” 

The Siegel family arrived in L.A. in September 2011 as the 2012 United States presidential election was beginning to crank up, and they are leaving just as the 2016 election promises a full display of fireworks.

Asked for a comment on the ongoing political campaign and candidates, Siegel raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, “God forbid,” adding “Israel must stay above the fray and must never be seen as a partisan.”

Siegel said he was surprised by how many young men and women from the L.A. region are volunteering to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, and he helped launch an organization to support the so-called “lone soldiers” while in Israel, as well as to provide moral encouragement to their parents and grandparents back home.

Upon his arrival, Siegel also inherited the long-festering problem of anti-Israel agitation and hostility on college campuses, especially, in his early days, at the Irvine campus of the University of California.

Over the past five years, the situation on the UC campuses has improved considerably, with visits to Israel by UC chancellors to meet their Israeli counterparts, and UC Irvine has now signed 12 agreements for joint research projects with Israeli universities in agriculture, water conservation and stem cell research.

Siegel and his family will return to Israel at the end of July, but before doing so, they are first embarking on the traditional round of farewell parties, with 15 scheduled so far.

In May, the first of these took place at the Skirball Cultural Center at a celebration marking Israel’s Independence Day, where Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and a string of public officials heaped praise on Siegel, citing his impact on L.A.’s general populace as well as its Jewish communities.

Other farewells are being hosted at L.A. City Hall as well as by a group of Hollywood friends, AIPAC and by San Diego’s Jewish community, among others.

Asked about future plans, Siegel said he is “looking at various possibilities,” but whatever he does, he said, will be in line with his commitment to Israel.

Sam Grundwerg, a native of Miami Beach, Fla., will succeed him in August. Coincidence or not, the two are the first American-born envoys to serve as Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles.

In addition, Israel’s current ambassador in Washington is Ron Dermer, who was born in Miami, and the two have been friends since their childhood days in Miami Beach.

Asked what advice Siegel might pass on to his successor, he mentioned the importance of the continuing fight against the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. He also urged creation of a long-range program to engage the energy and idealism of the millennial generation in the Diaspora. Noting that some 30,000 civic organizations currently exist in Israel, including some focused on Jewish-Arab ties, Siegel said a ready connection is available for any overseas volunteers or immigrants interested in strengthening and improving Israeli society.

‘Cloth Peddler’ comes to U.S.


On Sept. 7, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion downtown, the curtain went up on the Muslim world’s first operetta, “The Cloth Peddler” (“Arshin Mal Alan”) a comic work by Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov.

The event actually marked at least two firsts. It was the first full production of the 1913 work in the United States. And it was the first time a Muslim nation had invited essentially a city’s entire Jewish community as guests to an opera.

The Consul General of the Republic of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles produced the operetta, and the State Oil Co. of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) funded the elaborate, full-scale production. Azerbaijan, once part of the Soviet Union, sits on the northern border of Iran. Like Iran, it is a majority Shiite Muslim nation. Unlike Iran, it has established trade and political ties with the State of Israel. 

The consulate saw the event as a chance to further the country’s image as a culturally innovative, tolerant nation, and as part of that effort, brought cast members to perform scenes from the operetta to area public schools. It also took out several advertisements in the Jewish Journal, inviting members of the Jewish community to attend the performance, which was free and open to the public.

“Azerbaijan is Israel’s second largest supplier of natural gas,” a line at the bottom of the advertisements read.

The response, said Consul General Nasimi Aghayev, was excellent, though he couldn’t provide exact numbers of Jewish guests among the capacity audience.

“The Cloth Peddler” tells the story of a young, wealthy unmarried man in a traditional society who yearns to marry, but who wants to flout convention by meeting his bride first. He disguises himself as a poor cloth peddler and falls in love with the daughter of a rich merchant. She falls for him, too, and defies her father in choosing him.

It’s a universal story of modernity confronting tradition, and if the words had been written in Yiddish rather than Azerbaijani, it would have been essentially the same story. The operetta was first staged in 1913, about 20 years after Sholom Aleichem published the “Tevye the Milkman” stories, which share similar themes.

Producer and director Michael Schnack adapted the performance not just for today’s audiences, but also the place: When the girls dream of the perfect suitor, silhouette images of California surfers and bodybuilders appeared on the backdrop. The performers spoke in vernacular English, then lapsed into the Azerbaijani songs, whose subtitled were projected on a screen. The original score tacked nimbly between European classical and Azerbaijani folk traditions — the latter prompting the audience to clap along, horah-like, in lighter moments.

Of the cast, Asha Lindsay, as Gulchora, was the standout, a piercing, emotional soprano. James Judd, as Asgar, carried both the romantic and comic burdens of the peddler’s role.

“We are proud to share this aspect of our heritage,” Aghayev said after the performance. 

Pogroms interrupted: The era of Jews fighting back


As I’ve been watching images of Hamas rockets falling on Israel, I’ve asked myself: If Hamas had the ability to murder thousands of Jews, wouldn’t they? And if Israel didn’t have a strong army, wouldn’t we surely witness another pogrom? 

Since the destruction of the Second Temple some 2,000 years ago, has there been a more physically abused people than the Jews?

How many Crusades and Inquisitions and pogroms have been recorded where Jews were virtually helpless to defend themselves?

Oh sure, we always managed to survive and pull through. We were strong with our values, our Torah, our culture and our wits in adapting to whatever limits were imposed on us.

But physically? We were always at the mercy of our landlords.

My ancestors in Morocco survived only because they knew their place. You never heard of a Moroccan Jew fighting for the same rights as Moroccan Arabs. Jews were the dhimmis, the second class citizens of the state. And still, there were stories of pogroms against Moroccan Jews.

The physical abuse of Jews reached its darkest and most murderous hour with the Holocaust.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say you have to reach your own bottom before you can turn things around. Well, the Holocaust was our absolute bottom.

Perhaps not coincidentally, within a few years we were blessed with our own sovereign state. What would happen now? Would our enemies still come after us?

Indeed they did, but this time, something weird happened.

The Jews fought back.

A ragtag band of Jews fought mano a mano against five invading Arab armies and won.

That miraculous victory saved Israel and signaled a new era in the story of the Jews.

The era of Jews Fighting Back.

We’ve been in that era now for 64 years, and the truth is, we’ve become pretty good at it.

This has shocked our enemies. After 2,000 years of seeing Jews cower so as not to get slaughtered, they've seen these weak Jews transformed into fighting warriors.

This doesn't seem very “Jewish.”

Even among Jews, this success has created a lot of handwringing and intellectual agony: What shall we do with all this power? Are we using it responsibly? Will it corrupt us?

I have to confess, I’ve had very little agony over this. The Jews’ ability to finally fight back has been a source of great satisfaction for me.

Of course, I’d be a lot happier if we were at peace and didn’t have to fight in the first place– if we weren’t surrounded by enemies trying to destroy us.

I wouldn’t have to shed tears when I’m alone in my car, thinking of Israel at war, or talk to my daughter in Herzliya about bomb shelters.

But if Israel is destined to live, at least in the near term, surrounded by enemies, what are we to make of this dark circumstance?

Is it possible that all this fighting might be serving an additional purpose, beyond the essential one of defending the country?

As I’ve been reflecting on all this, the thought occurred to me that maybe Israel is more than a country.

Maybe it’s also a statement.

An official statement that says to the world: The Jews will never go away.

This statement of strength after 2,000 years of weakness is so astonishing that it needed a singular, dramatic instrument to make the point.

And what better instrument than a strong country?

A country so powerful it has managed to thrive on so many levels despite being virtually under siege for 64 years.

So, that is my Jewish take on all this ugly fighting: Our enemies need to see, once and for all, that the Jews will never go away.

Maybe only then will there be peace.

The other night, at a Technion event at the home of Frank Lunz, our Consul General, David Siegel, said: “Our enemies have tried for thousands of years to destroy us, but they’ve always failed.”

The difference now is that we’re surviving on our own terms, not by cowering but by holding our heads high.

I’m sure some people will find this tone of defiance a little unseemly, not very nuanced.

But there’s no nuance in hatred. There’s no nuance in the desire to murder Jews. There never has been.

The statement that the Jews will never go away is a statement that must be made. We can thank Israel for making that statement in the most compelling way possible, even at the risk of upsetting a world not used to seeing Jews fight back.

At the Technion event, they played a video showing some of Israel’s global accomplishments, such as finding renewable energy, curing diseases and helping crippled people walk.

We can thank Israel for that statement, too: A world in which the Jews survive is not just good for the Jews, it’s also good for the world. 

Fighting for religious pluralism in Israel


[UPDATED on Nov. 15, 2012 at 11:50 a.m.]

The arrest of Israeli feminist Anat Hoffman at the Western Wall last month sent ripples of alarm across the Jewish world, and leaders in Los Angeles will address their concerns about religious pluralism in Israel to Los Angeles’ Israeli Consul General in a public forum Nov. 26 at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills.

Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center and founder of the monthly prayer group Women of the Wall, was arrested Oct. 16 while leading 250 women in prayer at Jerusalem’s iconic holy site. Israeli law forbids women from wearing prayer shawls or reading aloud from the Torah at the Wall; Hoffman was arrested for allegedly disturbing the peace.

Hoffman alleges that she was handcuffed, strip-searched and dragged across the floor before spending the night in a tiny cell. Israeli police say her account is not accurate.

She was released on condition that she not pray at the wall for 30 days.

[Related: 

Opinion: They said it couldn’t be done


They said it couldn’t be done; that the rebirth of an ancient nation would be like growing fish in the desert. But, 64 years later, Israel has accomplished both. Just ask Dotan Bar-Noy, CEO of Israel’s Grow Fish Anywhere Advanced Systems, which develops innovative water technologies for arid fish farming that can help feed millions around the world. 

With a population of only 7.8 million, less than that of Los Angeles County, Israel is breaking ground in so many areas, and the world is finally taking notice. Israel is exporting wine to France, durum wheat for pasta to Italy and water technologies to nations with an abundance of water. 

In the last six months, Israel won its 10th Nobel Prize; Apple inaugurated its first-ever research and development center outside California, in Haifa; Intel announced a $3 billion upgrade to its southern Israeli research and development center producing its most innovative chip; information systems company EMC announced a new cloud technology development center in the Negev; and IBM, Google and Microsoft launched Israeli high-tech incubators. Meanwhile, Cornell University partnered with the Technion, winning an international bid to build a world-class science and engineering campus in New York City.

This year, Israelis also made strides in unlikely places. With Israel’s 10th Academy Award nomination and 11 television formats in development for the United States, Israel is becoming a permanent fixture in Hollywood. “Homeland,” the Israeli-inspired Golden Globe-winning drama, will be filming several episodes in Israel. Madonna is launching her global tour in Tel Aviv this summer, while Waves, an Israeli company creating audio technologies, has become a music industry standard. 

What’s more, Roberto Cavalli launched the first-ever Tel Aviv Fashion Week; Tel Aviv was voted one of the top three world destinations and most gay-friendly city; Tel Aviv Museum of Art won Travel & Leisure’s Best Museum Award for its new Herta and Paul Amir Building; and Israel’s Recanati Winery won the highest prize at the Oscars of the wine world. 

It should be no surprise, then, that tourism to Israel is shattering records, approaching 4 million visitors a year.

Maybe these tourists know something that world headlines aren’t revealing. 

Maybe it’s worth taking a fresh look at Israel. 

It’s not just about accolades; it’s about real solutions to real problems, such as the environment, world hunger and humanitarian issues. Israel has become a world leader in responding to these challenges. 

Eco-innovation may be the new buzzword, but Israel has vast experience with solar and alternative energy, waste treatment and recycling innovations. It’s not just the Better Place electric car. Israel is a super-power in all things water-related, a pioneer in drip irrigation while recycling 10 times more water than most countries. Is that important? Just ask any water expert here in Southern California, a region facing severe water challenges.

And last week, the United States and Israel signed another agreement to cooperate on food security in Africa. 

Organizations such as IsraAID, Israel Flying Aid, Magen David Adom and Save a Child’s Heart are all components of Israel’s “global first responders.” These are volunteers constantly on call, providing assistance in some of the most difficult disasters around the world. Israeli doctors and relief workers were among the first on the ground after earthquakes struck Haiti, Turkey and Japan. And, they are still there.

Closer to home, there has been a strengthening of academic ties and more scientific exchanges, as USC President C.L. Max Nikias and UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake both led high-level delegations to Israel, with faculty and deans. Both signed a host of agreements with several Israeli universities.

You may be skeptical about all this good news, and argue Israel faces multiple security and societal challenges, and you would be right. There are certainly very serious challenges: continued rocket fire from Gaza aimed at our southern cities, the unraveling of the entire Middle East, the rise of extremist Islam, political stalemate with the Palestinians, uncertainty in Syria, and the growing threat of a nuclear-armed Iran with severe implications for the region and the world.

Internally, social, economic and religious challenges are difficult to resolve. But Israel’s civil society is vibrant and makes its voice heard. These debates are very real and should be embraced as part of a robust and diverse democracy.

Regional conflict does not hinder our drive, alter our identity or define our purpose. The spirit of Israel is broader than that. But with the conversation about Israel being almost exclusively focused on the narrow confines of conflict and crises, it comes as no surprise that other aspects of Israel are unknown.

This year, let’s commit ourselves to a broader conversation, not one solely limited to the “gevalt” narrative.

Don’t just take my word for it. Go to Israel and see for yourself. If you want to learn more, “like” my Facebook page at facebook.com/CGDavidSiegel, and stay informed about Israel.

Here’s to 64 years of our Jewish homeland. Yom HaAtzmaut Sameach!


David Siegel is Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles.

Meet David Siegel, L.A.’s new Israeli consul general


David Siegel, Israel’s new consul general for the southwestern United States, along with his wife, Myra, and their three kids, arrived in Los Angeles on a Monday in late August and hit the ground running.

By Wednesday morning, Siegel had on his schedule a long day of meetings, starting with a morning discussion at The Jewish Journal with its editors and staff.

The following week, he was off to meet public officials and Jewish leaders in Colorado, one of seven states in the consulate’s territory.

Meanwhile, Myra Clark-Siegel had enrolled the three children in a local Jewish day school, was learning to navigate the city by car, praying for the family’s personal belongings to arrive by ship from Israel and starting on a job of her own.

Although husband and wife come from widely disparate cultural backgrounds — he was born in Burlington, Vt., and she in El Paso, Texas — neither anticipates any problems communicating with Angelenos.

Since joining Israel’s foreign service nearly two decades ago, the 49-year-old David Siegel has been assigned to Eritrea, on the Horn of Africa; to Israel’s embassy in Washington, D.C., as, successively, chief of staff, congressional liaison and spokesman; and, during the last two years, as chief of staff for Israel’s deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon in Jerusalem.

In the last position, according to Siegel’s official biography, “He was involved in policy formulation and decision-making at senior levels of Israel’s foreign policy establishment.”

During parts of the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations, Siegel participated in sensitive discussions between the United States and Israel, including at the 1998 Wye River peace summit, 1999 Israel-Syria negotiations and the 2000 Camp David Middle East peace summit.

As the official voice of Israel facing the demanding Washington press corps, Siegel learned to be succinct and stay on message. He recently demonstrated these skills anew during two interviews — one at his office, the other at a Beverly Hills cafe — and good-naturedly sparred with a reporter trying to dig into his personal background and attitudes.

Like many Israeli officials and Diaspora supporters, Siegel expressed his frustration that, to newspaper readers and TV viewers abroad, Israel appears to be all about conflict, shootings, U.N. resolutions and little else.

More sophisticated observers may have an idea of Israel’s technological innovativeness, as documented most recently in the best-seller “Start-Up Nation” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer.

“I would like people to also learn about the ‘normal’ Israel, about our social entrepreneurs who work with Palestinians and Bedouins in numerous medical, public health and education projects,” Siegel said.

Other countries, including the United States, can learn from Israel’s experiences and achievements in its absorption programs for immigrants from 120 countries, offering language training for newcomers, as well as advanced health care and a progressive family policy.

As one concrete example, Siegel points to the Wolfson Medical Center, a pioneer in children’s heart surgery, at which half of the patients and much of the professional staff are Palestinians.

“Israel is not just about crises; it’s also about opportunity,” Siegel emphasized.

Israel Consul General David Siegel with his wife, Myra

As a general rule, when career foreign service officers in Israel are due for new postings, they can compete for any two available assignments. Siegel pitched for Los Angeles as his first choice, and secondly for a senior position at the embassy in Washington.

Asked why, after being at the heart of crucial policy negotiations and decisions in his previous assignments, he would opt for Los Angeles — a pleasant enough spot but hardly a nerve center of global diplomacy — Siegel responded that for Israeli career foreign service officers, Los Angeles is considered one of the most important assignments, as a world communication center whose movie and TV studios impact world opinion.

“Besides,” he added, “Los Angeles is known for its warm and caring Jewish and Israeli communities, as well as its increasingly influential Latino population.”

In addition, there is the downtown political elite. Arriving late for a midafternoon interview, Siegel apologized that he had just come from a meeting with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and — discovering the city’s most popular conversation topic — explained that coming from City Hall, “the traffic was terrible.”

Shortly after the Six-Day War in 1967, when Siegel was just 6 years old, his family made aliyah, immigrating to Israel. There, his father became a founder of the Masorti (Conservative) movement in Israel and spiritual leader of Moriah Congregation in Haifa.

David’s own religious upbringing has touched the mainstreams of Judaism. Raised in a Conservative home, on arriving in Israel he was enrolled at a Chabad school in an absorption center, then attended an Orthodox grade school and yeshiva, and later taught at a Reform school.

Siegel also has been known occasionally to double as cantor during services. In high school, he played in a rock ’n’ roll band, but declined to elaborate further on his musical career.

After serving as an officer in the Israel Defense Forces, Siegel returned to his birth state, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Vermont and then a master’s degree in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Myra Clark met David Siegel in 1992 at a Rosh Hashanah gathering in Washington at the house of a mutual friend, and the first decision they had to make was whether she would attend services at his synagogue, or he at her shul (hers won out).

Her grandparents on both sides were from Russia and Poland and had found refuge in Cuba. Later, her parents and grandparents moved to El Paso, where Myra was born, and then on to Houston. “My first language was Spanish,” she said in an interview.

Myra and David were married in the fall of 1994, and the bridegroom came to Houston for the ceremony, while working simultaneously on a speech that Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was due to deliver at the United Nations. His bride was then working for AIPAC, and after winding up her assignments, joined her husband in Israel in 1995.

In his first post abroad, David Siegel was named deputy chief of mission at Israel’s embassy in Eritrea, and for him and his wife, the two-year stint was a lasting revelation on what a handful of Israelis could do to help a war-ravaged African nation.

Eritrea had recently won its independence from neighboring Ethiopia after a decades-long struggle, was impoverished, and has a variable climate that could top 120 degrees along the Red Sea coastal plain.

“As the No. 2 man in a small embassy, you did some of everything,” Siegel recalled.

“Everything” included involvement in the MASHAV program, Israel’s equivalent of the U.S. AID program, which introduced drip irrigation and other agricultural advances, setting up a marketing system for the country’s fruit exports and establishing the first medical emergency clinic.

At small Israeli missions abroad, it is common for wives of the diplomats to pitch in as secretaries, but Myra, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, wanted something more.

She convinced the Israel ambassador to let her write her own ticket, which included active leadership in the agricultural and medical aid programs, running media outreach, and even writing and publishing a magazine titled Shalom Eretria.

An even more unusual contribution was a series of cooking classes she gave on local television. The idea was partly inspired by the Israeli introduction of cucumbers to the local agriculture, which produced a bountiful crop.

To the local housewives, the cucumbers were something of a mystery, and some decided to put them into pots for cooking.

Myra’s guiding motto is “Working, for me, is like breathing,” and during the past two years in Israel she has been the director of external relations for the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange.

The program, projectinterchange.org, brings international leaders in politics, business, media and academe to Israel for a week of intensive travel, learning and discussions with their professional Israeli counterparts. In Los Angeles, she is continuing her work as the project’s director of international communications.

Despite the Siegels’ workaholic schedules, Myra says that family and the couples'  three young children come first.

The move to Los Angeles was a family decision, Myra said, but to ease the transition, the parents — like Barack and Michelle Obama before them — promised the kids a dog once the family is settled down.

“There are so many similarities between this country’s Far West and Israel,” Myra observed. “We want to explore how the communities can best work together, while transmitting the millions of ways everyone can connect to Israel.”

Shahar Says Shalom


When she came to Los Angeles two years ago, Meirav Eilon Shahar thought that the immediate task before her as Israeli consul for communications and public affairs would be dealing with the follow up to the presidential election. She came to Los Angeles from a three-year posting in Nairobi, and her work seemed cut out for her: to promote the peace process and follow Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s government line, and learn about the Jewish community in Los Angeles. Responsible for public relations, the media and academia, she looked forward to the job of working under Consul General of Israel Yuval Rotem, covering six amd a half states: Southern California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Hawaii.

But she had little time to learn, and the presidential election soon became the farthest thing from her mind.

On Sept. 29, about a month after her arrival, the Al-Aksa Intifada broke out in Israel, and Eilon Shahar — along with the entire Israeli consulate — went into operating on "emergency mode," to cope with the backlash reacting to events abroad.

With no signs of abating, the second intifada shaped Eilon Shahar’s term, which ended last week (Yariv Ovadia took the new posting this week). The 32-year-old spoke to The Journal before heading back to Israel, where she will work at the foreign ministry’s department for U.S. Congress.

Jewish Journal: What happened when the intifada broke out?

Meirav Eilon Shahar: From that moment on, we basically changed modes. We started working on emergency mode; the content of our work was more focused on events in Israel. What we always do is to represent the government’s view, forming ties with the academic world, getting to know the media and getting to know people on a personal basis. When we changed modes — in the sense that everything was focused on what was going on in Israel at the moment — the content was different, the hours were crazy.

JJ: Did you think that difficult period would let up?

MES: Nobody knew it was going to be to that extent. We hoped [the situation] was something still workable. At that point, people said that peace process was irreversible, remember that? We believed it, we hoped it, and within two years, the terrorists developed and developed, and we realized that there is no partner for peace.

JJ: The government switched from Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Labor to a unity Likud-led Ariel Sharon government. Was it hard for you to switch? To defend difficult actions such as the bombing in Gaza that killed Hamas military chief Salah Shehadeh and 14 civilians including nine children?

MES: My personal views do not count. This is my work. I’m a diplomat, and there are some basic things that do not change from government to government: That we will fight Palestinian terrorism, that we will not surrender to terrorism….

There are some things that are harder to explain than others, but I believe that there is a way to explain it. For example, the bombing in Gaza, it’s been said afterward that this operation was postponed eight times in order to prevent civilian casualties; it was postponed eight times because we wanted to prevent civilian casualties. We had information that he would be there on his own or with other terrorists. Our intention was not to kill civilians. I think it’s a tragedy. It’s not only the PR line; I truly believe that I represent a country that is not interested in harming civilians; we are going after the terrorists. The intention was not to kill women and children.

I think that we have to convey passionately and compassionately the message of the government, emphasizing those policies that resonate well, and not emphasizing what doesn’t resonate well with the audience.

JJ: A lot of people got upset at Israel and the consulate for not spreading a good message. Does Israel have a PR problem?

MES: It’s a question that comes up all the time, not necessarily directed at the Consulate, but that the State of Israel is not doing enough, and they have some good points. However, I think that in the last two years it has improved.

One of the problems is that the hasbara budget is very low.

Also, you try to be proactive and set the tone, but — I think we are a reflection of the government….They give so many messages — one day Arafat is a partner, one day he is not a partner; that’s part of the PR problem, the fact that Israel is a democracy means we are not always talking with one message.

It’s much easier for the Palestinians to speak with one message. It’s also a reflection of a democracy that you have free press that is critical of the government, and is quoted all over. It’s a fact that every John Doe can get on CNN and say what they want. I think that in time, there was more coordination between various government entitities.

JJ: What do you think of the L.A. community?

MES: For me, it was my first time living and working with a community in the United States — very heterogeneous, spread out geographically. I can only tell you that we are working with organizations and individuals that are doing a lot for Israel. But there are many more individuals that can do more, from Israel’s point of view. When you have a rally and you have 7,000-10,000 [people], you should have 100,000. People within the Jewish community have to get more involved because the message is stronger. It’s frustrating.

JJ: Do you think that the community has changed during your term?

MES: You have groups like Standwithus, that were created in the last two years to be proactive for Israel. And that’s not a phenomenon that’s unique to Los Angeles (in Colorado they created Action Israel because they felt that there wasn’t enough done on behalf of Israel).

I think that in March, after the Passover massacre, there was a wave — people wanted to do more. Now it’s summertime, so it’s more dormant, and also, it depends on events in Israel.

People want to help. Everything done publicly is much appreciated.

We invested a lot in the academic world, and I sense changes. It’s hard to motivate the Jewish students, many of them are not interested in Israel, many do not have the knowledge. We’ve tried to connect on a few levels, tried to educate the Jewish students and [give them] skills on how to deal with the everything happening on campus.

JJ: What do you think the community should do?

MES: They tell us to write, but they should also write, they should call the radio to complain … it’s very different if it comes from us or the community. Because they are the consumers.

[There’s been a lot of] fundraising, sending funds to Israel. Fundraising is good, for all kind of entities — the Israel Defense Forces, hospitals, ambulances….The most important thing the community can do is to go to Israel. I know it’s not easy. I know they have their fears.

JJ: Do you have advice for your successor, Yariv?

MES: He should make personal contacts, and that goes for all levels, and he should know who the audience is. He’s coming at a tough time. He has his work cut out for him.

JJ: How do you feel about leaving Los Angeles and going back to Israel?

MES: It’s not that I’m going to miss the place, but I’m going to miss the people here. I’m going home. Every time I land in Israel, I say to my son, ‘This is home.’ It’s time to go. Israel has changed drastically [since I left], and it’s time to go back and connect once again with the country.

Hugs From Hertzberg


Robert M. (Bob) Hertzberg will be sworn in as speaker of the California Assembly, the state’s second most powerful political post, at 9:30 a.m. on April 13.

The ceremony was originally scheduled for April 26, but, he notes, “I looked at the Jewish calendar and said, I can’t do this, that’s the seventh day of Passover.”

Hertzberg is ensconced in a booth at a fast-food chicken place on Beverly Drive, talking rapidly and taking slow bites of a late lunch. He has come from a meeting with Israel Consul-General Yuval Rotem and is heading for an appointment with Hollywood power player Michael Ovitz.

The 45-year old speaker-elect is young, energetic, forward-looking and attuned to the digital age.

Yet he retains some of the characteristics of the traditional politician. He is a hearty man, who hugs people on the slightest provocation. (“I call him Bobby Hugsberg,” says a close friend, outgoing speaker Antonio Villaraigosa.)

More to the point, Hertzberg is a master consensus- and coalition-builder, proven when the Democratic legislator was unanimously elected speaker by the usually partisan assembly.

Whether by chance or instinct, Hertzberg cut his political teeth by apprenticing himself to politicians who personified the ethnic diversities that characterize California’s population and political life.

After an introduction through his father, a prominent constitutional lawyer, Hertzberg first worked with Mervyn Dymally during his successful 1974 run for lieutenant governor. He followed by enlisting in the congressional campaign of another African-American politician, Julian Dixon.

Although Hertzberg still works with the legislative Black Caucus — whose number and influence have been declining — and the rising Asian community, his main coalition-building efforts have been focused on present and future Latino office holders.

In a state with 11 million Latinos, one-third of the population now and projected to become a majority within 25 years, it doesn’t require too much prescience on the part of a Jewish politician nowadays to seek Latino allies.

The difference is that Hertzberg started cultivating and working with Latinos more than 20 years ago, when they had barely begun to sense their future power.

The alliance extends to his personal life through his marriage to Cynthia Ann Telles, a physician, teacher and former city ethics commissioner.

Her father served as U.S. ambassador to various Latin-American countries under three Democratic presidents, and she is an influential Los Angeles Latina in her own right.

Characteristically, Hertzberg and Telles met at a trans-ethnic political party eight years ago, when they served as co-chairs of a Jewish National Fund dinner honoring then-dean of Latino politicians, Congressman Ed Roybal.

It’s the second marriage for both of them, with Hertzberg bringing two sons to the union, and Telles one. His boys, David and Daniel, attend day school at Stephen S. Wise Temple, and her boy, Raymond, is enrolled at St. Paul’s parochial school in Westwood.

The two parents have also found a solution to the Christmas/Chanukah dilemma. “We celebrate both,” says Hertzberg.

Although the representation of Jews serving on the Los Angeles City Council and Board of Education greatly exceeds their percentage in the general population, Hertzberg is concerned about the future, and not just because of shifting demographics.

“I’m worried about the Jewish community staying involved in urban and state issues, which we must do to remain a viable coalition partner,” says Hertzberg. “I spend a lot of time trying to convince Jewish kids to go into politics. It’s not easy when they can make a lot of money in the dot com world. Maybe after they’ve made their pile, some will jump into politics.”

Hertzberg thinks that one of the biggest challenges facing California is to close the “digital divide” between those in step with the new technology and those being left behind.

“The world is being reinvented, and so are newspapers and government,” he declares. “This is not the time to sit on your tochis.”

Hertzberg estimates that he puts in an average 100-hour work week, but he shuttles between Sacramento and his Sherman Oaks home two or three times a week. He tries to reserve Friday night and much of the weekend for his family, with Saturday evening dedicated to his spouse as “wifey night.”

If he can find the time, Hertzberg hopes to finish a popular history of Los Angeles, with lots of photos and vignettes. “It’s such a fascinating place,” he says. “Did you know that during the Civil War, Catalina was occupied by the Union army?”

Hertzberg gets high marks for his relationship to the Jewish community from Michael Hirschfeld, director of The Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee. The two men are planning a trip to Israel for legislators, to be led by Hertzberg.

But public policy analyst and columnist Gregory Rodriguez expresses some skepticism that Hertzberg’s vision of a Jewish-Latino partnership responds to reality.

The WASP elite has largely abandoned the city, Rodriguez reasons. Its place has been taken de facto by a “reluctant” Jewish elite, that doesn’t really want to acknowledge its true power.

Waiting in the wings is the “aspiring” elite of Latinos, but, warns Rodriguez, just because Jewish and Latino politicians work together doesn’t mean the grass-roots Latino community is being reached.

He sees a major disconnect between Latino legislators and the people they represent. In a recent poll, only some 6 percent of Latinos could identify Villaraigosa, arguably the most prominent Latino politician in California.

“Bridge building between communities is all very well, but let’s not mistake ties between legislators as reality,” says Rodriguez, who is a fellow with the New American Foundation.

Congressman Xavier Becerra is an old friend of Hertzberg and suggests jokingly that his hugging prowess points to some Latino blood coursing through the speaker’s veins.

Becerra rates the Latino-Jewish coalition in Congress as quite effective, and credits it with persuading the White House not to buttress a dictatorial regime during the civil war in El Salvador.

The congressman grants that there will be competition between Jews and Latinos for public office, but, he says, “That’s democracy, not hostility.”

Urban analyst Joel Kotkin evaluates Latino-Jewish cooperation in California as more realistic than “the obsession of Jews in the northeastern states with Black-Jewish relations.

“Latinos and Jews now live cheek by jowl, especially in the San Fernando Valley,” Kotkin says, and they interact closely in the garment and service industries. “Walk into a Jewish deli, and 90 percent of the workers are Latinos,” he says.

African-American State Sen. Kevin Murray, whose district includes large chunks of Orthodox and Russian immigrant Jews in the Pico-Robertson area, as well as the Jewish Federation building and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, does not believe that the black-Jewish coalition is dead.

“It may not be as close as during Mayor Tom Bradley’s time, but the Black Caucus in Congress is still the Jews’ best ally in supporting Israel,” he says.

Even Murray acknowledges that the “political landscape is changing” due to the growing number of Latinos, but he believes that it will take another generation before there is a real shift in the balance of political power.


Robert M. Hertzberg (D) will be sworn in as speaker of the California Assembly on April 13.