Leading Jewish demographer disputes study of N.Y. Jews

Len Saxe, a leading Jewish demographer, said a widely cited survey on New York Jewry overestimated the number of Orthodox Jews in the city and its environs.

Saxe, a demographer at Brandeis University, told The New York Jewish Week that the data on the Orthodox in The Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011 clashed with that reported by the Avi Chai Foundation in 2009 on the number of Orthodox children in day schools.

The newer survey, which was commissioned by the UJA-Federation of New York and released last month, found that about 1.5 million Jews are living in New York City and three surrounding counties, and that about one-third are Orthodox. Saxe agreed with the finding that the city’s overall Jewish population has grown.

[Related: Rosner-Cohen ‎Exchange: So, how many Jewish people are there exactly?]

“Key outcomes of the study don’t seem to reconcile with ‘hard,’ non-survey data,” Saxe told The Jewish Week.

Steven M. Cohen, one of the study’s authors, told The Jewish Week that “the main contours of our findings” were correct.

The new face of Russian Jewry

When Tatyana Sharfman applied to immigrate to the United States, she was not yet sure that she wanted to leave her native country of Russia. Her aunt, who had left Russia in 1992 and now lives in the San Fernando Valley, was determined to bring over the rest of the family, and so Sharfman began to fill out the necessary documents.

“She kept asking us, ‘What are you doing over there?'” Sharfman recalled. “We didn’t take it seriously, really, but we filled out some papers just because we had these papers.”

Sharfman knew that it was typically a long process to emigrate from Russia, and she did not really expect to be accepted. However, one day the approved documents were returned by the government, and her family faced a life-changing decision: “To come or not to come?”

Life in Russia was good. Well, maybe not exactly good, but livable. Although Sharfman was a single mother living in an apartment with her parents, she worked as a cardiologist in a local hospital in central Russia, and both she and her father had jobs, which enabled the family to live a fairly comfortable lifestyle.

The decision to leave really came down to the future of her son, Aleksandr. Although he was only 8 years old at the time, Sharfman knew that when he turned 18, he would be required to join the army, a fate she did not desire for him.

“If we were just old people, we probably would have remained there,” she explained. “But when I thought about the future of my Alek, my son, I [was] so concerned about his future in my country.”

So four years ago, Sharfman and her family decided pack their belongings and move to California. She is one of the new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. She did not leave during the last great wave of Russian immigrants, which began after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and instituted his policy of glasnost. At that time, tens of thousands of Russian Jews fled their homeland and came to the United States, where they largely settled in densely populated urban areas, such as New York and Los Angeles.

According to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), the greatest number of Russian Jews immigrated to the United States in 1992, with 45,871 arrivals. After the peak, the number of Russian Jews entering the country declined steadily until 2001 — the last year documented by HIAS — when only 2,077 refugees resettled in the United States.

Largely due to the influx of Jewish refugees in the ’90s and the new immigrants who continue to come, the city of Los Angeles considers the Russian community the fastest-growing community in the city. Patricia Villasenor, immigration policy adviser for the city’s Human Relations Commission, said this information is based on the 2000 census, which actually measures population change from 1990.

“According to the 2000 census, one of the fastest-growing communities in Los Angeles County is the Russian and/or Eastern Bloc ethnicities, in particular Russian Jews,” Villasenor reported by e-mail. “Now, this isn’t saying it [is] the largest community but the fastest growing, the total population for Los Angeles County is less than 3.8 percent, but it has grown significantly in the last five years, a growth rate of almost 22 percent.”

Not everyone is convinced that the figures are accurate.

Despite Villasenor’s statement, it is impossible to gauge the exact number of Russian Jews immigrating to the United States, because official U.S. census information only records the number of Russian immigrants to the country. It does not break down groups according to religion.

There are a few guesses, however, and Los Angeles-based demographer Pini Herman of Phillips and Herman Demographic Research estimates that at the peak of the mid-’90s immigration wave, about 8,000 Russian Jews moved to the Los Angeles area annually.

These Jews were fleeing a Russia that offered no freedom of religion. Even the government practiced discrimination as part of its official policy.

However, Sharfman, her parents and son did not flee this earlier Russia. The immigrants who have come since 2000 left a somewhat reformed Russia. At the time they left, there was even a new synagogue built in the town were Sharfman lived.

Sharfman is typical of this fast growing immigrant group, of Russian-born Jews in Los Angeles, especially the San Fernando Valley. These newer arrivals are more savvy, educated, and able to deal with the system. They are not the “poor Russian Jews” from decades past, who needed to be the local Jewish community’s first priority, in getting them out of communist Russia and in resettling them here.

But for people like Sharfman, the new realities of the Russian community present a problem: because they are no longer a priority, sometimes they are left to flounder on their own. And the local Jewish community still needs not to forget them.

“The American Jewish community is not as interested anymore in the immigrants as they were when we were coming, and there is not as much help,” said Helen Levin, executive director of the West Hollywood Russian Community Center who came to Los Angeles in 1988 after being a rufusenik for nine years. She and her husband, Eugene Levin, publisher of the Russian-language newspaper, Panorama, have thrived in their new country, but she fears adjustment may be harder for the new immigrants.

Although it would seem that life in the United States would be easier for the new immigrants, because there are many established sources of information and already a sizable community of previous Russian immigrants, this is not always the case. “Then, there were calls coming in from employers who [specifically] wanted to hire Russian immigrants,” Levin said.

Upon arriving in the United States, Sharfman moved into a small apartment in Van Nuys with her son and parents. In her new country, the 38-year-old doctor was not licensed to practice medicine and has since returned to school in hopes of getting a nursing degree. But first, she had to learn the language.

Sitting at a Starbucks in a strip mall in the San Fernando Valley, the petite brunette, wearing a red shirt under a bright pink vest, blends in with the rest of the morning coffee crowd. It is not until she begins to speak that her broken English, still tinged with Russian inflections, reveals her immigrant status.

Sharfman was never a rufusenik. She did not lose her job when she applied to leave Russia, was not harassed by the government and was not trapped. Sharfman said that her decision to leave Russia had nothing to do with her Jewish heritage.

This is not to say that there is no anti-Semitism in Russia. Sharfman acknowledged that her sense of safety came from the fact that she did not tell anyone that she was Jewish, and she did not practice Judaism. Sharfman also thinks that she blended into the Russian population, so people did not know she was Jewish.

“I am not look like, maybe completely like, Jewish,” she said tentatively, as if searching for the right words. “Maybe that is why I didn’t feel it so hard, because people, of course, think negatively about Jewish people.”

Sharfman said at times co-workers would tell her negative things about Jews, not realizing that she was also Jewish. Although she does not claim anti-Semitism as a factor in her decision to emigrate, Sharfman is grateful for the religious freedom she found in the United States.

Many of the new immigrants do claim anti-Jewish attitudes play a role in their decision to leave Russia. For Michael B., a 29-year-old doctor who prefers to remain anonymous, it was his Jewish roots that caused him to leave his home in central Russia two and a half years ago and move to the Valley with his brother and parents.

“We had some problems there,” he said. “Well, to be sincere, I didn’t see any future there. I had just graduated from university, and I became a doctor, and I saw that I won’t be able to achieve anything else in my life — to become the head of a department or to have a good salary.”

Michael B. attributes this glass ceiling to the fact that he is Jewish. Although his hometown also had recently built its first synagogue and there seemed to be some movement toward religious tolerance, on a professional level, it is still considered detrimental to be Jewish. In Russia, he said, there are only a few prominent figures in every industry.

“If you are not Russian, this is much harder to obtain any higher position,” he said. “Especially when you are Jewish.”

Michael B.’s grandparents lived in the United States, so when the rest of the family immigrated, they settled in the San Fernando Valley, where they already had family. Although Michael B. did not speak or read much English when he arrived, he began to both learn the language and study for his U.S. medical boards.

As if the task were not arduous enough, Michael B.’s family also had to deal with the added complications of immigrating in the post-Sept. 11 world of strict border policies.

“We had some problems when we came here, because we came right after that incident in New York — Sept. 11 — so we couldn’t obtain our legal documents for a long time,” he remembered. “The INS told us that we came in the wrong time, so we are illegal here because the president ordered to close the borders.”

For many new immigrants the problem is no longer getting out of Russia, as it was in the case of the rufuseniks, it is gaining legal entry to the United States.

Michael B. and his family lived in California illegally for six months without many basic necessities, such as driver’s licenses. At first, they also were unable to rent an apartment, because they did not have Social Security numbers.

“That was a very difficult time for us,” he said.

Despite the hardships, Michael B. studied for his medical boards “day and night” and now is a doctor about to embark on a three-year residency at a Brooklyn hospital.

According to Sima Furman, director of the immigration and resettlement program for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, Sept. 11, 2001, marked a turning point in the migration of refugees to the United States.

“The number has diminished since Sept. 11. That slowed the flow to the United States dramatically,” Furman said. “Our numbers are getting smaller and smaller. For this calendar year from January to April, so far we have had only 94 arrivals — and that is from the former Soviet Union and Iran.”

Furman thinks that refugees like Sharfman and Michael B., who are coming to the United States at a relatively late date compared to the vast influx of refugees before, stayed in Russia for personal reasons, such as taking care of an older family member who did not want to leave or perhaps because they did not have enough money to leave. She is not surprised that they are coming over now, however, and cites anti-Semitism as the main reason for leaving.

Even though most people left the Soviet Union because of religious freedom, the new immigrant experience is vastly different from those who came over in the past two decades, said Si Frumkin, a self-described “real old-time Soviet Jew.” Frumkin immigrated to the United States in 1949 and created the Southern California Council for Soviet Jews.

“The people coming over these days, by and large, they are middle age, they are not very poor and they are well acquainted with the system and how to get along,” Frumkin explained. “It is not like 25 years ago. [Now] they are much better informed, they are coming from a society that has become capitalist. In the past, for an immigrant to come here, it was like coming from another planet.”

Today, it is like coming from another country, Frumkin said. The new immigrants not only know about government programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, he explained, but they often speak English and even know about the subtleties of Southern California real estate. For example, he said, they know it is less expensive to live in the Valley than in the city–spreading out from their traditional West Hollywood community.

Herman, the Los Angeles-based demographer, said this is predominantly because of the reduced cost of living.

“For a condominium in the West Hollywood, you can have a house in the Valley,” Levin said.

While the American Jewish community may not be as focused on the plight of Russian Jews as it was a decade ago, the city of Los Angeles considers Russian Jews to be the fastest-growing community in the county. This fact is surprising in light of the well-documented growth of the Latino population in Los Angeles.

At about 3 million and 32 percent of the population, Latinos are the largest population. But according to Villasenor of the Human Relations Commission, the Latino population is growing at a rate of only 3 percent, while the Russian and/or Eastern Bloc population is growing at a rate of 22 percent.

While Villasenor stands behind this math, Furman of Jewish Family Service does not think this information is accurate, based on her own observations.

“I wonder about that,” Furman said of Villasenor’s statement. “In terms of newly arrived refugees from the former Soviet Union, the rate of arrivals has diminished over the years, and the number of refugees has dropped. Our experience is contrary.”

Demographer Herman, an expert on Los Angeles’ ethnic communities, also questions the data. He said that the census does not measure communities based on religion, so there is no way to determine that the 22 percent growth rate from Russia and the Eastern Bloc reflects refugees from the Jewish community.

The fact remains that while their plight is no longer in the spotlight, Russian Jews are still immigrating to the United States, and they still face the same challenges of acculturation as the rufuseniks.

“Even a penny has two sides,” Sharfman says, concerning the process of becoming an American.

She worries that her son will forget how to write in Russian, that she does not speak English very well, that she will not be granted U.S. citizenship. And Sharfman worries that she will not be able to return to Russia to see her friends.

But still, she counts herself as lucky that she now lives in a place where each individual is judged based on abilities and not religious heritage.

“[In America] it does not matter if you are Jewish or Mexican, it just matters who you are, who you are inside, what are your skills,” she said. “Everything depends from you, nothing from your relation to some nationality. It is very nice.”

Bad News: Things Are Fine

A new study of national Jewish population trends was completed recently at the University of Miami, by one of the nation’s leading experts in Jewish demography, and it’s a bombshell. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t look at the Jewish future the same way.

Simply put, the study shows that intermarriage isn’t the problem everybody thinks it is. Firstly, Jews aren’t marrying non-Jews at a annual rate of 52 percent. That was a statistical error in a 1990 national Jewish population survey. The true figure is lower, perhaps much lower. Moreover, surprising numbers of intermarried couples raise their children as Jews. The 1990 survey said 28 percent do so. The new study shows it’s as high as two-thirds in some major communities.

The study doesn’t draw big conclusions, but they’re obvious if you do the math. The American Jewish community is growing, not dying.

Don’t pop those corks yet, though. The study’s sponsor, the newly-formed United Jewish Communities of North America, is sitting on the document.

They’re “reviewing” it. They can’t predict the publication date. Meanwhile it’s under wraps. Only a handful of copies have leaked — “illegally,” gripe UJC officials. They won’t discuss the contents.

For good reason. These are the folks who, in their previous guise as the Council of Jewish Federations, brought you that 1990 survey. They’ve touted it ever since as the biggest and best Jewish demographic study ever done.

Its 52 percent intermarriage figure sparked a nationwide panic over impending Jewish disappearance that continues unabated. They’re planning a Year 2000 update at 10 times the expense, using the same methods.

Now they’re sweating bullets. The Miami study raises big questions about their methods. Partly as a result, UJC recently put Survey 2000 on indefinite hold, weeks before polling was to begin, over the research department’s bitter objections. Officially the delay is to let UJC’s new committees study the questionnaire. In fact it reflects new doubts about Survey 1990.

This is serious stuff. The 1990 intermarriage figure utterly transformed American Judaism. It moved Jewish spiritual survival to the very top of the Jewish community agenda. It put liberals on the defensive. It inflamed communal tensions, as Jewish movements blamed each other for the looming disaster.

Now it appears there’s no disaster. Whoops.

The news puts the UJC and its researchers on the spot. They weren’t just wrong. They fought bitterly to defend their blunder. A few respected Jewish population specialists (plus, ahem, one stubborn reporter) have challenged the data for years. The CJF-UJC researchers responded by vilifying the critics. Everyone else kept quiet, convinced it was too complicated to follow, yet ready to believe the worst.

The Miami study is different. It isn’t an outside attack. Its author, geographer Ira Sheskin, is a member of the survey’s advisory board. He’s a key architect of Survey 2000.

Sheskin’s study isn’t meant to debunk Survey 1990. It merely summarizes local Jewish population surveys conducted in various cities in recent decades. His tables compare individual findings from 40 cities, with the 1990 national findings alongside for comparison. Only in passing, in a footnote, does he note the intermarriage error.

What’s the problem? “The much cited 52% figure for intermarriages,” Sheskin writes, “would be 43% if calculated only for Core Jewish households.” “Core Jewish households” is survey-speak for homes that contain an actual Jew.

Besides Jews, the survey interviewed hundreds of others who had some Jewish ancestry but never considered themselves Jewish. Inexplicably, the survey included those gentiles’ marriages in the intermarriage rate.

True, 43 percent is still high. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Critics have found other flaws that exaggerate intermarriage in the survey.

Sheskin’s comparative charts seem to strengthen some of those claims.

In fact, Sheskin’s charts make it clear how assimilated American Jews were made to look in the 1990 national survey. Nearly every table, from intermarriage to Sabbath candlelighting, shows a broad range of religiosity among Jewish communities, from old-fashioned, deep-rooted communities like Cleveland to newer, more transient ones like Orlando. Somehow, the national numbers always land near Orlando.

That can’t be right. Older Jewish communities in the Northeast still outnumber Sunbelt transplants by two to one. The national averages shouldn’t resemble Orlando.

Sheskin claims the national survey was simply more thorough than local studies. But the numbers don’t compute. Critics, by contrast, argue that Survey 1990 used mistaken methods that exaggerated signs of assimilation.

The most important of these was data “weighting.” All surveys “weight” or over count responses from blacks, Southerners and rural folks, to compensate for their tendency not to cooperate with pollsters. But black, Southern and rural Jews are more educated and probably more likely to cooperate, not less. On the other hand, all three groups are less likely to eat kosher food or marry Jews.

According to Hebrew University sociologist Steven M. Cohen, one of the survey’s critics, removing the weights puts intermarriage at 38 percent, a figure now gaining acceptance.

But that ignores a critical question. What kinds of Jews avoid pollsters? Nobody’s ever checked. Still, certain groups come to mind: the Orthodox, immigrants, Holocaust survivors. Weight those groups, and intermarriage might be as low as one-third.

The difference is critical. If half of all Jews marry non-Jews, and only 28 percent of them raise Jewish children, the prognosis is demographic disaster. That’s what Survey 1990 reported, and what most Jews believe. But if intermarriage is one-third — and if half the interfaith couples raise Jewish children — then the community is growing. That’s what the Miami study seems to show.

What made the surveyors choose the gloomier path at every turn? One reason is personnel. Some of America’s leading demographers were involved, but few specialized in Jewish population. They followed standard procedure, even when logic said otherwise. Most leading Jewish demography specialists became critics.

Some critics suspect it wasn’t coincidence. They say the 1990 survey was assembled with an eye toward raising Jews’ consciousness, not finding the truth.

The issue isn’t just intermarriage. Survey 1990 initially called 125,000 households and asked their religion. About 5,000 said “Jewish.” After eliminating false positives — pranksters, schizophrenics, Bible-thumpers calling themselves the children of Israel — they were left with 2,441 interviewees. That’s how they calculated 5.5 million Jews in America, another sign of stagnation.

But they never called back the other 120,000 to weed out the false negatives. How many Jews heard the religion question and simply hung up? A hint came in 1991, when New York’s Jewish federation ran a local population survey. After the polling began, the federation started receiving calls from area police. The cops were hearing from frantic Jews who thought the P.L.O. was out to get the Jews by pretending to be the UJA.

They were wrong. It was the demographers.

J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal

Coming to Our Census

Eli Broad (left) is the primary moving force behind thefinancing of the downtown Disney Concert Hall designed by architectFrank Gehry, lining up corporations to drop megabucks into theproject..

For most of this century, Los Angeles has been a city of twoelites — one predominately WASPish, the other predominately Jewish.Although they occasionally collaborated on projects such as the MusicCenter, the two worlds remained largely separate and indifferent toeach other, living in a ruling-class version of institutionalapartheid.

But to Eli Broad, a native of New York and a University ofMichigan product who came here 35 years ago, neither Los Angeles northe Jewish community can any longer afford such a division. TheSunAmerica president and CEO thinks it is great that Jews arebuilding new schools, museums and other institutions, but he wonderswhat they’ll be worth if the city around them collapses intolong-term decay.

“There are many people who have gotten wealthy, who are Jewish,but don’t think of themselves as part of anything else,” Broad says.”Some members of the community just seem to want to stick bythemselves. For some, it’s fashionable to be negative about thecity.”

But Eli Broad is anything but negative about Los Angeles. Althoughclearly a member of the Westside elite, Broad has emerged as perhapsthe first Jew in this century to stand as the city’s leading businessvoice. As the primary moving force behind the financing of thedowntown Disney Concert Hall, he has been, along with Mayor RichardRiordan, the key player who’s helping persuade many largecorporations — including Times Mirror, Arco, Ralphs/Food for Less,Wells Fargo and, most recently, the Walt Disney Company — to dropmegabucks into the project.

“Eli Broad is a huge leader who does more than any organization,”says one longtime aide to Riordan, who counts Broad among hispersonal friends and advisers. “Without him, the Disney Hall wouldnever be anything but a parking lot.”

In many ways, it might have been tempting for Broad and others inthe heavily Jewish Westside business community to allow downtowncontinue to go to the dogs. Broadly speaking, Jews fared far betterthan the WASPs in the last recession. As Cal State Northridgedemographers James Allen and Eugene Turner point out in theirrecently published study, “The Ethnic Quilt,” Jews are vastlyoverrepresented in the entertainment and business service fields,which were relatively unscathed in the early 1990s and have thrivedever since. In contrast, the aerospace industry, which was wallopedduring the recession and is now only holding its own, boasts,according to Allen and Turner’s research, a notableoverrepresentation of white Protestants.

The same pattern can be seen in the economic geography where theJewish-dominated Westside has also vastly outperformed the old WASPstrongholds downtown. With entertainment leading the economicrecovery, the Westside now boasts a third more office space thandowntown. The prestige business addresses in Los Angeles — measuredboth by rental rates and fashionability — are predominately inBeverly Hills, along Ventura Boulevard, Century City, West LosAngeles and Santa Monica while the big empty blocks remain in andaround downtown. Today, according to the Los Angeles BusinessJournal, three of Los Angeles’ zip codes with the highestconcentrations of households with more than $500,000 in assets are inBrentwood, Pacific Palisades and Beverly Hills, which are also amongthe most Jewish.

Yet this success, Broad notes, also has brought with it perils.Many affluent Jews who work in these glitzy areas don’t even considerthemselves Angelenos; they see themselves as citizens of theWestside. And with the growth of these centers and emergence of anincreasingly well-developed Jewish education system, there is ampleincentive to turn our back on downtown, the increasingly ThirdWorld-minded City Council and the bumbling Los Angeles Unified SchoolDistrict bureaucracy, and instead simply further feather our ownnest.

But such disdain would also be a repudiation of our own rich andcomplex history here in Los Angeles, a history that too few Jews areeven aware of. Although its future will be as an increasinglyLatino-Asian-dominated metropolis, Los Angeles has, perhaps more thanany city in the nation, been largely shaped by Jewish influence.

In the rough and heady pioneer days of Los Angeles, Jews were atthe city’s commercial epicenter. The Hellman family virtuallyinvented banking in Los Angeles, at one time controlling both theFarmers and Merchants Bank and Wells Fargo in San Francisco. Anotherlandsman, Karspare Cohn, founded the Union Bank, which, for decades,stood as the city’s premier middle-market bank.

Jews also operated at the highest levels of the political andsocial leadership. Members of the Jewish Newmark clan served duringthe 19th century variously as city attorney, city councilman andcounty supervisor.

“Anti-Semitism was virtually unknown in 19th-century California,even in the most exclusive circles,” says Kevin Starr, California’spremier historian. “The Bohemian Club in San Francisco and theCalifornia Club in Los Angeles each had prominent Jews among theirfounding memberships.”

It was only early in this century, Starr notes, with the massiveinflux of largely Midwestern WASPs to the city, that the bacillus ofelite anti-Semitism common in older cities began to infect LosAngeles. Soon, even prominent Jewish families found themselvesmarginalized and barred from the leading clubs and bestneighborhoods. The treatment of the more ethnically distinctivenewcomers from Eastern Europe — including the founders of the movieindustry — was, if anything, even more dismissive. Having nurturedLos Angeles in its pioneer days and created its most glamorousindustry, Jews remained politically marginalized; not a single memberof the community sat on the City Council for more than a half centurybefore the election of Rosalind Weiner in 1953.

As late as the 1970s, says Broad, Jews still did not rank highinside the city’s corporate power structure (with the notableexception of MCA’s Lew Wasserman), even if they dominated the garmentas well as the entertainment industry and controlled much of the mostvaluable Westside real estate.

“When I got there, the giants were the Ahmansons, Mark Taper, EdCarter, Asa Call, and you had the energy companies — ThortonBradshaw at Arco, Unocal. It was all downtown, WASPy and they sat onall the boards,” says Broad.

Yet Broad does not harbor any resentments for these largelyAnglo-Saxon entrepreneurs, largely because their “pioneering spirit”not only built great companies but created much of the basicinfrastructure of our city — the freeway system, the ports, theairport and the County Museum. The problem, as he sees it, is that,by the 1980s, many of these pioneers were retired or dead. Many oftheir scions removed themselves from civic involvement, preferringoften to relocate to the less ethnically diverse and contentiousValhallas of rural Northern California or the Pacific Northwest.

In addition, many of the companies they started were eventuallyabsorbed by other entities or taken over by placeless professionalmanagers, for whom Los Angeles was nothing more than an anonymoussubdivision by the Pacific. The disappearance of onetime downtownpowerhouses such as Security Pacific Bank, First Interstate and theBroadway Department Stores — precisely the corporations that mighthave funded such an enterprise — further weakened the elite.

“Those banks were the glue of this community,” says DennisStanfill, the former president of 20th Century Fox and one of the fewHollywood figures close to the old downtown establishment. “When youlost all those firms — and I have seen it over the last 32 years –you suddenly found there were no leaders. They were gone.”

For art collector Broad, who once bought a Roy Lichtensteinpainting for $2.5 million on his American Express card, the failureof the old elite to raise money for the downtown Disney Concert Hall– much beyond
the $50 million endowment provided by Walt Disney’swidow, Lillian — epitomized this growing “void” in the powerstructure. As Los Angeles’ economy stumbled badly in the early 1990s,the outlook for this new cultural icon grew bleaker as more and morebusiness fled downtown for the Westside, Orange County, the SanFernando Valley or out of the region completely.

To a large extent, Broad’s own career casts him an unlikely saviorfor downtown. As co-founder of Kaufman and Broad, the area’s largesthome builder, he helped construct the sprawling suburbs that hasteneddowntown’s decline. More recently, he has built his CenturyCity-based financial service company, SunAmerica, into a major power– in the 1990s, its market value has risen from $184 million to morethan $8 billion — and a linchpin of the resurgent Westside economy.

Yet, as an Angeleno, Broad believes that the city must have somesort of unifying core. Downtown may never regain its status as theregion’s leading commercial center — both the Westside and arguablyeven Irvine seem destined to surpass it — but it does remain thehistoric hub, the common touchstone for the city. “No great city inthe world exists without a symbolic center,” Broad says. “It’s likethe Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House.”

To Broad, the Disney Concert Hall could become that signaturepiece for Los Angeles. “The success in building the hall is thedefining point for Los Angeles’ new leadership; it’s a newbeginning,” he says. “It’s a sign that the city is culturally cominginto its own.”

But it’s more than that. Disney Concert Hall — along with suchother ambitious building projects throughout the city, from theSkirball Cultural Center and the Getty Center in West Los Angeles tothe new sports arena and cathedral downtown — reflects a metropolisthat not only is recovering from the traumas of the recent past butis beginning to map out a new future that is quintessentially LosAngeles in its brashness and ambition.

But this time, Jews such as Eli Broad will not be merelyspectators, outsiders or incidental beneficiaries, but will be amongthe leaders and architects, just as they were when this city waslittle more than an obscure pueblo on the outer fringes of theAmerican continent.

Joel Kotkin, a senior fellow at the Pepperdine Institute forPublic Policy, is currently researching a report on the futureleadership in Southern California, in conjunction with the La JollaInstitute.

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