Healing’s Many Colors

Imagine the shock Temple Knesset Israel members felt when they came to Shabbat services five weeks ago and found scrawled on their wall, “Jews die” and a swastika. The Los Feliz congregation is largely elderly; many are Holocaust survivors.

A shock of a different sort awaited them last Saturday: scores of black and Latino teenagers and community leaders convened at the shul for a “Day of Healing.”

Inside the sanctuary, a comforting, yet uncomfortably familiar, ritual took place as one speaker after another deplored another act of hate crime. Angela Sanbrano of the Central American Resource Center likened the synagogue defacement to the persecution of immigrants. The Rev. Leonard Jackson of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church compared this forum to an ecumenical group in Jasper, Texas, coalescing to fight the Ku Klux Klan. Joe Hicks, executive director of the Los Angeles Commission on Human Relations, proclaimed that, “Any time a synagogue is desecrated, it’s a concern of us all.” Xavier Becerra, 30th District congressman, argued that fearmongers who commit acts of hate are truly the ones in fear. And David Lehrer, the Anti-Defamation League’s Pacific Southwest regional director, welcomed this coalition to the podium where he’d been bar mitzvahed and quoted the rabbis as saying, “a single reed can be broken, but many reeds bundled together cannot.”

Outside in the lobby, however, an equally notable community event was occurring. Non-Jewish students of color from nearby Marshall High School were setting foot inside a synagogue, most for the first time. They were here to support a part of their community they hadn’t even known existed.

“We were very interested because this [hate crime] could hurt a lot of people,” said 11th-grader Ludin Chavez, “and that could happen to us.” Chavez, along with about 15 other students, decided to come after discussing the defacement in class with teacher Steve Zimmer. “What happened to this synagogue isn’t right … I wouldn’t want it to happen to my church,” 10th-grader Doris Hernandez agreed.

To Zimmer, Service Learning coordinator at Marshall, this cross-cultural identification was a valuable lesson. “It’s hard sometimes when you’re attacked all the time — in a structural or institutional way — to reach out to another community that [you] might see as privileged.”

While washing dishes after the reception, the pony-tailed 29-year-old Zimmer described himself as Jewish, but not a member of the synagogue. The same is true of Lisa Blank, the dynamic young Los Feliz woman who instigated and organized the event. Both were publicly made honorary members by synagogue President Harvey Shield.

The significance of the students’ help — which also included publicizing the event in the community — was not lost on the grateful congregation. Retired restaurateur and 22-time Sisterhood President Helen Klasky claimed that, “[This event] made people aware that other people are in the same boat they are … [it showed] other minorities that they’re not alone.”