Will a new generation step up to civic leadership?


At first glance, Jews might appear to be enjoying a renaissance of political influence in Los Angeles. Eric Garcetti is the first elected Jewish mayor and the two other citywide elected officials — City Attorney Mike Feuer and City Controller Ron Galperin — are Jewish, too. So are three City Councilmembers.

But the era is long past when an energized base of African American and Jewish voters could team up to help Mayor Tom Bradley make history. Power in Los Angeles is more diffused, and thanks in part to the Jewish commitment to expanding and leveling the democratic playing field, a wide variety of diverse constituencies are better organized. This is a welcome change that has helped lift the voices of all Angelenos.

“Jewish heritage is American heritage,” Vice President Joe Biden said last May, crediting Jews for America’s progress in women’s rights, civil rights, science, law, and LGBT rights. Yet as Los Angeles political expert Raphael J. Sonenshein noted in his column in the Journal in June, Jewish support is “no longer a necessity for minority access to political leadership at the local level.” In other words, Jewish voters are not the deciding factor they once were in Los Angeles politics. Meanwhile, many of L.A.'s most influential Jewish leaders have turned from political pursuits to philanthropic initiatives.

Now a new generation of Jews is growing up in a new Los Angeles. Our region is more diverse than ever, and while serious inequalities and social divisions persist, many areas are seeing new integration. Jewish Angelenos, having left downtown for the Valley and the Westside, are returning to an increasingly integrated urban core, from the East Side to Pico-Union to Koreatown.

As Biden rightly noted, that spirit of integration pervades contemporary American Jewish identity—and so does civic commitment. Jumpstart’s latest research on charitable giving, Connected to Give, confirms the generosity of American Jews across all causes. The stronger our community connections, it shows, the stronger our commitment to the common good.

Like that of so many others, my own story—a co-chair of the Clinton Foundation Millennium Network leadership council who is the child of a Holocaust survivor, a new County commissioner who is the cofounder of an innovative Jewish nonprofit startup—reflects this synergy. Like so many others, I am inspired by a Jewish tradition that spurs us, indeed demands of us, that we help lead the conversation about where our city and society are heading, and how we all can get there together.

For me, as for a number of other Jewish Angelenos active in civic service, appointed office has offered the opportunity to bring my personal commitments and professional skills to bear for the broader good.  There are myriad city and county commissions that advise government departments and agencies. The City of Los Angeles alone has more than 50 commissions with more than 300 commissioners. They develop policies governing the LAPD and pensions for city workers, ideas for modern city planning, solutions for increasing affordable housing. Commissions are a key mechanism for citizen participation in and oversight of government, and they play a central role shaping the local agenda.

But we are a handful among hundreds. How can we ensure that rising leaders from across the diverse spectrum of the Los Angeles Jewish community have the skills and understanding necessary to earn an appointment and make a sustained positive impact? By making sure we're training the next generation of Jewish civic leaders.

And that’s where the Jewish Federation’s New Leaders Project (NLP) comes in.

For more than 20 years (and currently recruiting for next year’s class), NLP has helped train hundreds of Jewish leaders, many of whom have gone on to serve as elected and appointed officials (including commissioners), nonprofit directors, business executives. NLP helps young Jewish leaders broaden their understanding of the complex issues and diverse communities across the region. Participants meet with innovators both inside the Jewish community and out. And they get to work hands on with elected, civic, community and business leaders, forming crucial relationships and learning the nuances of the city's power structures — all through a lens grounded in Jewish values. NLP has helped inspire similar civic efforts in other minority religious communities, such as the SikhLEAD Leadership Development Program and the American Muslim Civic Leadership Initiative.

The future of our community—both Angeleno and Jewish—depends on creating more opportunities for us to live out our values for the benefit of the broader world. My own training as an NLP fellow in 2012 helped broaden my civic horizons and prepare me to take on the obligation of building a better Los Angeles.

The echoes of the Bradley era still resonate today as Los Angeles’s diversity continues to be a source of our strength. Whether through training programs like NLP or service through commissions, each of us can make a powerful statement that we care deeply about our society and that we will keep fighting to repair the world. Jewish values—American values—call us to act.


NLP is currently recruiting for 2014. For more information, go to www.JewishLA.org/NLP.

Wanted: A General in the Obesity War


Obesity is the fastest growing health threat in this country, currently on track to overtake tobacco as No. 1.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 30 percent of American adults older than 20 (more than 60 million people) are obese. The percentage of youths ages 6-19 who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980 to more than 9 million.

The lifetime risk of Type II diabetes is headed toward 30 percent for boys and 40 percent for girls, putting these kids at greatly elevated risks for debilitating health problems, like kidney and heart disease, amputation and blindness.

Locally, more than half the adults in Los Angeles are either overweight or obese, while 21 percent of the children are overweight, with an additional 19 percent at risk of becoming overweight.

And while Jews are far from immune, obesity is not an equal opportunity affliction — African American and Latino communities have obesity rates triple that of whites, and poorer Americans are almost 50 percent more likely to be obese than wealthier Americans.

The seriousness of the problem has begun to attract considerable attention both inside the public health community and beyond. Our state and local governments have been active in responding to this epidemic — from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Obesity Task Force and his tireless cheerleading for more physical activity to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) healthy beverage initiative, which notably brings healthier food and drinks to schools without diminishing snack revenues.

The nonprofit sector has also mobilized through a variety of projects that empower kids to lose weight by making smart diet and lifestyle choices, and through innovative organizations like Students Run L.A., where young Angelenos train for the L.A. marathon. Forward-thinking foundations have pitched in some of their considerable resources to fight obesity.

Meanwhile research/advocacy organizations like the Center for Food and Justice at Occidental College have expanded their missions to address obesity, noting that many of the same families at risk for hunger are also at the greatest risk for obesity.

So why the need for another alarmist editorial when we already find some of our best and brightest organizations fighting obesity? The answer lies in the dual nature of the epidemic.

At one level, obesity is an extraordinarily uncomplicated problem. According to Dr. Francine Kaufmann, head of the Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, obesity is on the rise because we simply take in more calories in food then we expend in energy. Yet finding a correspondingly simple solution has proved maddeningly difficult.

Reversing the tide requires taking on, in a coordinated manner, the variety of factors responsible for the epidemic, from unhealthy diets, insufficient exercise, reliance on automobiles, inadequate nutrition education, excessive junk food, scarcity of fresh produce to many other complicated, interrelated causes related to the way we now live. And while many of these causes are being addressed individually, success in fighting this disease requires a strategy that coordinates the present multiplicity of approaches.

To introduce this higher level of strategizing, we are proposing the creation of a joint county, city (and, if possible, LAUSD) obesity coordinator. The office would be modeled on the city’s AIDS coordinator’s office created by Mayor Tom Bradley, but would include the county to take advantage of its public health and health care resources and the LAUSD as one of the country’s largest educational institutions, while also leveraging the bully pulpit available to the mayor.

Following the successful AIDS coordinator model, the obesity coordinator would have various responsibilities:

• Education/Public Health. The coordinator would create an education campaign, leveraging the city and county media infrastructure, as well as the school system and a prevention program targeted at encouraging healthier food and lifestyle choices.

• Policy/Coordination. The obesity coordinator would spearhead the development of county-citywide obesity policies to ensure that governmental and nongovernmental responses to obesity are adequately coordinated.

• Analysis. The coordinator would analyze the efficacy of existing programs and facilitate long-term studies of the current approaches to identify and consolidate around the most successful ones.

• Programs. Following on the pioneering work of the food policy organization, California Food Policy Advocates, we would encourage the obesity coordinator to explore creative solutions, including programs to introduce green grocers into neighborhoods that currently lack access to quality fresh produce. These programs would require minimal capital (possibly leveraging new markets tax credits and other innovative financing sources) to help create and capitalize local businesses that sell fresh fruits and vegetables.

We believe that the Jewish community has a role to play in the campaign to appoint an obesity coordinator and to win the battle against obesity. Generating the political will to create an empowered obesity coordinator will require pressure from many communities, including our own.

In addition, many existing institutions can participate in this fight, from Koreh L.A., The Jewish Federation’s reading in public schools program that could incorporate obesity education curriculum, or Mazon, the anti-hunger effort, which could expand its mission to confront the obesity epidemic through its network of food banks.

Ultimately, this is a complicated and long-term problem that will require the kind of effort deployed against AIDS and smoking.

The appointment of an obesity coordinator would enable more effective cooperation and strategic management of our resources and hasten the day when we turn around this burgeoning affliction.

Brian Albert and Tanya Bowers are members of the New Leaders Project, which was founded in Los Angeles in 1990 and links Jewish values with a commitment to civic activism.

This op-ed piece is the first of three by members of
the New Leaders Project (NLP), a Jewish civic leadership training program of the Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee. Participants researched three pressing issues — education,
housing and health — and presented their proposed solutions to a panel of community experts.

L.A.’s New Leaders


If you’re a young Jewish leader who would like to know more about Los Angeles civic life, or if you’re a young civic leader who wants to be more in step with the Los Angeles Jewish community, the New Leaders Project might have a place for you. NLP, sponsored in Los Angeles by the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation Council, is currently seeking applications for its fourth class.

The program, which graduated its first class a few months after the riots split the city asunder in 1992, aims to create an informative blend of civic instruction and Jewish values that appeal to its audience of about 15 to 20 men and women, ranging from their mid-20s to early 40s.


“I loved the idea of 16 of us sharing background and ideas and thoughts. It broadened my knowledge of this city.”

— Larry Greenfield, businessman, attorney and political activist


“Each year, we’ve attracted people into the program who I don’t think would have entered into a traditional Jewishleadership program,” said NLP co-founder and co-chair Donna Bojarsky. One of the main goals, she said, is to build bridges across the city between the civic and Jewish communities.

“As our cities have become increasingly complex and diverse places, it’s important to call upon Jewish values to inform us as good Jewish leaders and also to be civic leaders,” said Bojarsky, a longtime political and Jewish activist who is a public-policy consultant to actor Richard Dreyfuss.

As in the previous two sessions, the 1996 program, which ended in October, began with a weekend retreat in which speakers — including rabbis, previous NLP graduates, Federation and civic leaders, and media representatives — spoke about such topics as Jewish values and public policy, the meaning of Jewish leadership and spirituality, and, of course, the challenges facing Los Angeles. In the months that followed (usually on alternate Sundays), NLP participants met with leaders from the African-American, Asian and Latino communities, as well as with city officials, educators and Jewish leaders. Other events included potluck Shabbat dinners, a spiritual retreat, and a discussion on leadership from the Orthodox Jewish perspective.

One of the most meaningful parts of the program, according to some participants, was creating a community-service project that could be put into action and, presumably, would have some impact. Working on a project helped Dean Shapiro tie his business skills with Jewish activism. Shapiro is vice president of international theatrical sales at Metromedia Entertainment in Century City. He and another NLP member, Nicole Silverton, produced a reading of a new play titled “Magda’s Story” at the Wiesenthal Center. Putting together the production, with actors Stockard Channing, Michael York and Larry Drake (Benny in “L.A. Law”), was “really thrilling,” Shapiro said. The play, a Holocaust theater piece for schoolchildren about a righteous gentile’s effort to save a former boyfriend from the death camps, proved popular and will be staged again this summer with a different cast.

For Shapiro, the play’s message about people of different backgrounds helping each other “is the core of the New Leaders Project.” The 27-year-old Los Angeles native, a member of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, said that the program was stronger in its civic than its religious components, but that he received “an excellent foundation on how political Los Angeles works, how the Los Angeles Jewish community works, and how they work together.” It also proved invaluable as a networking tool. “I now know someone at AIPAC, someone who works in Israel Bonds and at City Hall. When, in the rest of my public life, I need to call them, I can. And when there’s something I might know about, they can call me.”

Scott Stone, another member of the class of 1996, was also impressed with how much he learned about the way the Los Angeles Jewish community works. Other than his involvement with his synagogue, Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, Stone, 41, who has his own television production company (Stone Stanley Productions), had had little understanding or connection with the organized Jewish community here. “For me, this was a way of being exposed to a much more Jewish approach to tikkun olam, to creating bridges between communities I was already involved in.”

Stone’s project, which is still a work in progress, grew out of his commitment to both the Jewish and gay and lesbian communities. He is making a documentary about successful gay and lesbian couples, where both partners are Jewish. “My hope is that by showing examples of couples in relationships of anywhere from six months to 50 years, I will be able to depoliticize and take the religious edge off the issue,” Stone said.

Larry Greenfield, a businessman, attorney and political activist for international human rights and Jewish causes, refers to himself as “born and bred into Conservative Jewish life,” in Los Angeles. Among other things, he is co-chair of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Leadership 2000 group, on JCRC’s board of directors and co-chair of Unity ’97, Los Angeles Young Adult conference commemorating Zionism’s centennial. Being part of NLP allowed him to become more familiar with civic Los Angeles, Greenfield said. “I loved the idea of 16 of us sharing background and ideas and thoughts. It broadened my knowledge of this city.”

At graduation, however, Greenfield made a speech in which he challenged the facilitators of the NLP program to seek out not only the “usual minority coalition partners…but also such groups as the Christian Right or the Libertarians or Cultural Conservatives or others with whom you do not often agree.”

The New Leaders Project, however it evolves in the future, has already spawned programs in four other cities: Boston, Indianapolis, Detroit and Flint, Mich. Two additional cities, still unnamed, will offer the program later this year.

NLP in Los Angeles is funded by grants from the Charles I. Brown Foundation, the Hillside Foundation, Stanley Hirsh, the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Charitable Foundation, the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Righteous Persons Foundation through the National New Leaders Project, the David Polak Foundation, program alumni and many individual donors. Richard S. Volpert chairs the program, and E. Eric Schockman is the program director.

NLP applications are encouraged by May 16, but will be accepted until May 30. For information, call (213) 852-7730.

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