Nessah president blazing trail for Iranian women


Dr. Morgan Hakimi has a variety of roles — psychologist, Jewish activist, wife and full-time mother. But it’s her position as president of the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center in Beverly Hills that has captured the attention of the L.A. Persian Jewish community.

In this Persian Orthodox culture, where leadership is traditionally dominated by men, opposition followed Hakimi after she was first elected president in 2004. However, Hakimi’s recent reelection has inspired her to step up her challenge to other women to get involved.

“I have always felt that Nessah could be an incredible bridge for more women to participate in our community, for younger American Jews of Iranian descent to connect with her heritage and for American Jews to become more familiar with us,” she said.

Skepticism from critics has died down since her initiatives have led to a substantial increase in membership within the last two years. People are packing Nessah’s two sanctuaries during Shabbat services, and crowds of previously disenfranchised women — both younger Persian Jews and non-Persian Jews — are participating in greater numbers in center programming Hakimi developed.

She credits outreach to and inclusion of the larger Jewish community for the synagogue’s growth. Hakimi has turned to a more American model of running a synagogue — setting up a membership system, establishing support groups for single parents and adding more events for its younger congregants.

“My greatest asset is having a diverse staff of Iranians, Americans, Hispanics and African Americans that are not afraid to work together,” Hakimi said. “We purposefully chose a new executive director in Michael Sklarewitz and new program director in Robin Federman, who are American, in order to better serve our community and bring us closer to the greater American Jewish community.”

Nessah’s Rabbi David Shofet praised Hakimi’s outreach efforts to younger Iranian Jews and said he has noticed more women at the center since she took office.

“In my eyes, women are more important because they are the mothers of the next generation,” he said. “If they are committed to Judaism and are affiliated, they can hand it on to the next generation. Otherwise there will not be a continuity of Judaism.”

After Hakimi’s election two years ago, participation of women in religious services became a lightning-rod issue on both sides of the mechitza in the Orthodox congregation. Traditionalists sought to keep women out, and more liberated women demanded greater involvement. Hakimi has approached such situations with diplomacy in mind, talking with both sides to find acceptable common ground.

“I am not here to create a revolution. I’m here to bring awareness and understanding about a lot of issues in our community, including those involving women,” Hakimi said. “I was raised in an egalitarian family, so I’m not bitter toward men, and I don’t have an attitude of fighting when I approach the rabbis or men. That’s why they are welcoming of my suggestions to include everyone in our programs.”

Hakimi’s election as president set a precedent at Nessah, which she continues to build on slowly. Eight women now sit on the center’s board of directors, with more women serving in committee and staff positions. At the congregational level, young women are now welcome to celebrate a bat mitzvah by giving a d’var Torah during the daytime Shabbat service.

Nahid Pirnazar, a member of the Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization, said that Nessah could stand to have greater inclusion of women in religious services.

“But Dr. Hakimi has certainly helped [us] take a lot of positive steps toward greater participation of women,” she said.

Pirnazar, a UCLA professor of Judeo-Persian history, said Hakimi is the first from her generation to achieve a leadership role in the local Iranian Jewish community, and that she shares good company with Jewish women in Iran who took leadership positions in the early 20th century.

Hakimi is also encouraging young women to develop their own programs at Nessah and to make their voices heard.”Dr. Hakimi has been an incredible mentor in my life in demonstrating to me the unique qualities women in leadership can bring,” said Rona Ram, a 22-year-old Nessah volunteer. “What we, as young females, have noticed is the overriding respect and appreciation the entire congregation gives her as she speaks.”

Hakimi said that when issues of change come up, she anticipates resistance. But she says her aim is to slowly press for greater involvement of women in community activities.

“The Iranian Jewish woman has a quiet strength that is only now coming to the surface. I’m here to say they can have it all, but it will take time _ it will not happen overnight, and they must show a desire and commitment to taking part in leadership roles,” Hakimi said.

For more information about the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center, visit www.nessah.org or call (310) 273-2400.

Latin American Jews Create L.A. Oasis


Imagine that you live in Latin America and you’re Jewish. Typically, you and your family would belong to a full-service Jewish club with cultural, recreational, educational and athletic activities for all ages. The club is reasonably priced, promotes Jewish identity in a secular manner and is the backbone of your social life.

You spend a lot of time in club-sponsored activities with your nuclear and extended family, and with friends from the club: Friday night dinners, Sunday afternoon barbecues, weekends in the country, vacations at the seashore — a full and active communal life.

Now imagine that — mainly for economic reasons — you emigrate from such a country and come to Los Angeles. You have your nuclear family, but you’re separated from your extended family and friends. You may know enough English to earn a living, but you’re not at ease with the language. As a result, it remains difficult for you to have a social life with English-speaking friends, or participate fully in an American cultural life — whether you’re a new arrival or have been in the country for a number of years.

And even though you have a strong Jewish identity — you may speak Hebrew and/or Yiddish — you’re not really interested in a communal life that revolves around a shul: first, you’re not observant and you don’t want to make a shul the center of your life; second, it would be in English, not Spanish; and third, it would mean spending more than you feel you can afford. The Jewish Community Center (JCC) might be a possibility, but in the last few years there has been a cutback in JCCs in Los Angeles, and what they offer is not exactly you’re looking for.

So what do you do?

What you could do is start your own Jewish organization, using the Latin American model. That’s what happened in early 2005 when the Latin American Jewish Association (LAJA) was founded by several people with exactly that idea.

Omar Zayat, director of LAJA and one of its founders, said the “drive to create this organization came from the fact that after 2001, with the economic crash in Argentina, many Jews left there, and a lot of them came to L.A. Once here, they wanted to recreate the kind of community they’d left behind, and creating their own club seemed a good way to go about it.”

In Argentina, Zayat had worked for Jewish groups, organizing children’s summer camps and programs for seniors and other age groups, so it was logical that he would continue doing that kind of work here. He’s not a hands-off administrator: LAJA presents evening dance workshops that are both energetic and sweat-inducing and where about 20 to 30 people get a good workout in Israeli and other kinds of dance. Zayat himself leads these groups.

“For now,” he said, “we have 85 families signed up and many more come when we have special events. We have the names of 400 families that we contact for these events, like movies that someone has brought from Argentina or casino night or a tango show.”

One of the challenges for LAJA has been to adapt to Los Angeles’ sprawling area, which has meager public transport. Here, a parent needs to drop off and pick up a child, which takes getting used to by Latin American parents whose children were accustomed to using good public transport or cheap taxis to navigate their own way around a city like Buenos Aires. It also means scheduling activities to fit working parents who double as chauffeurs.

LAJA divides its activities into youth, Jewish education, university student programs, adults, sports, arts and drama and marketing. Youth activities are handled by teenage madrichim, Hebrew for guides. Zayat said that “using the Latin American model, older kids are trained to guide the younger ones, encouraging Jewish identity and having fun while doing it.”

LAJA is co-sponsored by The New JCC at Milken in West Hills, which has provided office space and other facilities. Since many of the new immigrants arrived with limited resources, the JCC has permitted them to become members at a discounted price.

If you go to The New JCC at Milken nowadays, you’re as likely to hear Spanish as English. There’s an unmistakable spark of creative, communal energy in the air, whether one attends a workshop that helps new arrivals get oriented to life in Los Angeles or a Latin American-style barbecue or a musical recital.

Michael Jeser, director of development and community affairs at The New JCC at Milken, noted that “one of the most exciting pieces in working with the Latin American Jewish Association is that the JCC, historically, has been a home for new immigrants and a venue for the absorption of new immigrants into American society. And here we are in 2006, and it’s really no different. When the Latin American group came to us and said, ‘We’re looking for a home,’ it was a really natural partnership, and we’ve sort of adopted them, made them into one of our own programs, and have watched them flourish.”

Jeser said that “seeing how the members are interacting with our other JCC members, it’s the extension of a real family, and the feeling of a real international ethnic Jewish community, even beyond Los Angeles’ typical ethnic diversity. The JCC has been home to a large Russian community, a large Persian community, a large Israeli community, and now with the growing Latin American group, it’s just getting larger. And we are very proud to have this community [because] they have a strong history with Jewish community centers in Argentina, which lent itself to this partnership.”

“Having them here is like having a piece that we were missing,” Jeser said. “Now we’ve filled that void in the community and are looking to expand it.”

?LAJA is located at The New JCC at Milken, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. They can be contacted at (818) 464-3274. Their Web site (in Spanish) is

Iranian Muslims Brush Up on Shoah


The Simon Wiesenthal Center hosted more than two-dozen representatives from local Iranian Muslim news outlets this month to provide them with information about the Holocaust that they can, in turn, use to educate their readers, listeners and viewers.

“We are looking to introduce the Iranian media to the Wiesenthal Center and to respond to the hatred of Jews in Iran,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, said in remarks to the group. “We want you to expose the lies and hatred coming from the Iranian government.”

Cooper was referring to recent statements by Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian leader has implied that the Holocaust is a myth; on another occasion he asserted that Israel should be obliterated and that a homeland for Jews could be located instead in Europe or America.

Ahmadinejad’s comments have recently energized the Southern California-based Persian-language media to support Israel publicly and to speak out against anti-Semetic remarks made by Iranian government officials for the first time in the 26 years since the Islamic revolution. A pro-Israel rally in Westwood drew nearly 2,000 Iranians from various religions last November.

At the weekend gathering, Iranian journalists talked of a duty to learn more about the Holocaust so they could properly relay the full extent of Nazi atrocities to their audiences.

“It is our responsibility to give people in the Iranian community the correct information about this issue,” said Parviz Kardan, a Persian-language media personality and host of the radio program “A Spoonful of Sugar” on KIRN 670 AM. “We must be a window for young Iranians everywhere to show history in the proper light.”

Those in attendance were given an electronic card with the name and photograph of a child who lived during the era of the Holocaust. At the end of the tour, they discovered what happened to that child.

“I was aware of the Holocaust, but not to the extent of what I learned from this visit,” said Assadollah Morovati, owner of Radio Sedaye Iran (KRSI), a Persian-language satellite-radio station based in Beverly Hills that broadcasts news into Iran and worldwide. “In Iran we have a dictator like Hitler who is behaving like him and speaking like him.”

The journalists’ tour guide was Holocaust survivor Peter Daniels, who had his own perspective on Ahmadinejad.

“We’ve dealt with Holocaust deniers for years,” Daniels said. “The president of Iran is not anything new. It’s a way for them to be heard and get attention. I try not to take it personally.”

In a question-and-answer period following the tour, Cooper noted that Ahmadinejad’s statements may be an attempt to divert attention from Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. But he urged the Iranian media representatives to respond to them nevertheless.

“The average American thinks the president of Iran speaks for all Iranians,” Cooper told them. “They don’t know the region well, so you need to have a core message.” He also urged them to reach out to U.S. elected officials “to voice your concern for the safety of your friends and family in Iran.”

Local Iranian Jewish leaders George Haroonian and Bijan Khalli were involved in setting up the Museum of Tolerance event. They said they felt a responsibility as Jews to inform their non-Jewish Iranian compatriots about the truth of the Holocaust.

“Forgetfulness about the Holocaust is like committing a crime,” Haroonian told the crowd of Iranian journalists in Persian. The Iranian government is “trying to teach hatred for Jews. We hope this tour will be a step to awaken the Iranian people.”

 

Splintered Persian Groups Merge


Long troubled by infighting, the Los Angeles Iranian Jewish community is working toward less conflict as three prominent Iranian Jewish organizations recently merged with the hope of speaking with one voice.

The Iranian-American Jewish Association (SIAMAK), Eretz Cultural Center and the Neria Yomtoubian Foundation came together under the banner of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center on Feb. 21 in Tarzana.

The merger of the three groups signifies a desire within the Iranian Jewish community for greater participation in the larger Jewish community and a desire to attract Jewish youth to its cause. After more than two decades in the Southland, Persian Jews are organizing to present a united front for their community.

“This is actually a historical event. I do not remember anything like this happening before, and I truly believe that this is a bridge to the future of our community,” said Manizheh Yomtoubian, founder of the Neria Yomtoubian Foundation.

SIAMAK co-founder Dariush Fakheri said he first approached Yomtoubian and Ruben Dokhanian, co-founder and president of Eretz Cultural Center, after he realized the true growth potential of the three separate organizations. The three leaders said that while they have encountered a variety of challenges from logistics to reorganizing their volunteer base in the merge, their primary desire has been to generate more interest in the Tarzana center.

“We have numerous volunteers who give their time, money and effort for the betterment of the community,” said Fakheri. “But we need new members who want to come along with us as we go through this transformation.”

Fakheri said it’s taken a long time for Iranian Jewish organizations to unite because the community has been trying to adapt since its arrival in Southern California nearly 25 years ago.

“You have to look at our situation from so many angles. We are the survivors of a revolution,” Fakheri said. “Our main goal was to survive, so we did whatever we had to do to reach that goal. Now our situation is way different than even a decade ago so we can do more by putting our resources together.”

Lisa Daftari, an editorial intern for SIAMAK’s monthly magazine, The Iranian Jewish Chronicle (“Chashm Andaaz”), said Yomtoubian is the ideal 21st century Jewish activist since she has preserved the memory of her late husband, Neria, by engaging in various activities that encourage young Jews to embrace their Jewish identities.

“Through the creation of Eretz-SIAMAK Center, Manizheh is now determined and able to fulfill both her dreams and Neria’s,” Daftari said. “Her commitment and optimism regarding this project is genuine and unmistakable”.

Yomtoubian has also been very active over the years in an effort to feed nearly 100 Iranian Jewish families living in poverty in Los Angeles by gathering food for them on a weekly basis, Daftari said.

Fakheri said that in the last decade, Yomtoubian has collaborated with SIAMAK — the oldest Iranian Jewish group in Los Angeles — to subsidize food, medical and educational expenses for these needy Iranian Jewish families.

Most notably in 2000, SIAMAK and the Council of Iranian-American Jews were at the forefront of bringing to the world’s attention the plight of 13 Iranian Jews who were arrested by Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime on false charges of treason and were in danger of being executed, Fakheri said.

SIAMAK has also had an international presence, donating $20,000 last year to the Jewish community in Argentina, sending medical aid to earthquake victims in India and Iran, as well as providing humanitarian support to Muslim refugees in war-torn Bosnia during the recent Balkan wars.

Several Iranian Jews living in Los Angeles said they were surprised at the bold move by the three Iranian Jewish groups merging, especially since in-fighting is commonplace among many Iranian Jewish groups.

Fakheri and Yomtoubian said that despite differences of opinion among the diverse local Iranian Jewish groups, the new Eretz-SIAMAK organization will continue to reach out to all Jews in order to be more proactive in community and Israel causes. The group will host a variety of Jewish-oriented programs, including adult and youth Hebrew classes, marriage workshops, yoga classes, singles Shabbatons and cooking classes.

Fakheri said he was particularly looking forwarding to collaborating with as many other local American Jewish groups as possible.

“I would like to see a greater intermingling of Iranian-born Jews and other Jewish communities in the U.S.,” Fakheri said. “We can collaborate more with one another and contribute a lot to each other because of our common Jewish bonds.”

For more information about Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center, call (310) 843-9846.

Persian Arrivals


Tribes of Jews move through the history of Los Angeles in predictable cadences. First as new immigrants, raw and clannish and eager to succeed; then as successful citizens, integrated or assimilated, their accents lost in their children’s mouths. Finally they earn the right to choose the life they want: to identify themselves with their traditions or not, to shape the city or withdraw into its shapelessness.

My mind wandered in these directions as I sat watching stunning Persian Jewish men and women dance the night away at a gala event Saturday night inaugurating Neman Hall, a sumptuous ballroom at the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) in West Hollywood.

A ballroom is a ballroom, right? Wrong. Neman Hall, designed by architect Abdi Khoranian, happens to be quite elegant, more fairy tale than function-room, though its mirror-paneled walls do hide a state-of-the-art Internet hookup, satellite receivers and flat-panel displays.

But this night was, ultimately, not about celebrating architecture, but arrival. "It is a kind of renaissance," said Joe Shoshani, one of the evening’s organizers. "We are having freedom both in Israel and the United States, and our people are flowering in both."

To drive home that point, the honored guest Saturday night was Israel’s Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz. Mofaz, 56, was born in Iran and immigrated to Israel at age 9. His rise to the top of Israel’s army as chief of staff, and his subsequent appointment to what is widely considered the No. 2 post in the government, is a source of great pride to the Persian Jewish community here.

On a two-day visit, Mofaz spoke at a fundraiser at the Beverly Hills home of Parviz Nazarian for Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel, a pro-democracy project founded by Nazarian. Mofaz was the keynote speaker at a major fundraiser the next day for Israel Bonds, and in between he cut the ribbon at the Neman Hall event.

"I can’t speak Farsi," he told the crowd Saturday evening. Nevertheless, he said he shared in their pride and congratulated them on their achievement. He received several standing ovations.

The 1997 Los Angeles Jewish Population Survey put the number of Persian Jews living in Los Angeles at 18,000. Others put the number at up to six times that, but demographer Pini Herman, who conducted the survey with Bruce Phillips, has said it is unlikely the number, if it is higher, is higher by much.

"You see the same people at every event," one partygoer at Neman Hall said. "Maybe there are only 200 of us."

But numbers — and there are more than 200 — matter less than impact. The Persian Jewish community has established itself economically, and as IAJF President Shokrollah Baravarian said at the event, it has successfully created mechanisms to transmit its values and concerns to the next generation. The IAJF building houses social-service outreach to new immigrants and the needy; organizations like Magbit and Nessah provide cultural and social support, there are singles groups, religious study groups and now, with Neman Hall, a social gathering spot open to the entire community, a room of one’s own.

There are other religious and cultural centers for Persian Jews of the Westside and the Valley, but one advantage is that the West Hollywood locale allows for festivities to continue until 2 a.m. That comes in handy, as dinner doesn’t appear at many Persian events until 10 p.m., following an onslaught of hors d’oeuvres.

"It brings the community together," Leon Neman said. Neman’s brother, Yoel, spearheaded the two-year effort to construct the $1 million hall, named for and largely financed by their late father, Feizollah Neman. Brothers Leon, John and Yoel run Neman Brothers and Associates, a major textile concern.

"The Persian Jews fled Iran, but here we’re showing what we can be," Leon Neman said.

David Nahai, an attorney who served as master of ceremonies, took the idea a step further.

"This hall bears silent witness to the fact that we have spread our roots in the community," he said. "We have gone from stunned, wide-eyed immigrants to an affluent community with incredible potential."

Nahai is a member and former chair of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, active in Jewish life and in political and environmental movements. Such involvement is the natural next step for a community that has, as Nahai said, already spread its wings so successfully.

"We can no longer be insular," Nahai said, "because we are not immune from the events that go on around us."

Nahai urged the attendees to apply their resources and skills to improving the lot of all Angelenos and Californians.

That, I realized, is the next step in the immigrant story: Immigration, success, organization and then outreach. Time and again Jews have come to this city and done just that — made the city work for them, then worked hard to make the city better. And that is when you know they’ve arrived.

A Persian Artist’s Crowning Moment


Yosef Setarehshenas wants to revive and introduce Jewish Persian art to the world.

And on the Jewish New Year of 5764, he plans to do it through a unique Persian calendar that will incorporate four different calendars: The Hebrew (Jewish); the Persian (Solar); the Arabic (Lunar) and the English (Christian), with complete explanations of Persian Jewish events for the past 126 years.

"Even the dates Jewish soldiers were killed in the Iran-Iraq war are mentioned," Setarehshenas said.

The calendar will be published by Iranshahr Association, a subsidiary of Sherkat Ketab, the biggest publisher of Persian books and text in Los Angeles. The calendar will be shipped to Persian communities in New York, Europe, Iran and Israel — and Reseda’s Ben David synagogue has ordered nearly 500 copies, said Setarehshenas, 41.

Art — and Iran — are in Setarehshenas’ blood: He only arrived in Los Angeles two and a half years ago. The eldest of five children, Setarehshenas’ mother, Malek Molayem, played the tar, a Persian instrument, and she took up the hobby of rug weaving.

From a very young age, Setarehshenas has been involved in writing and drawing; his short stories appeared in children’s newspapers in Tehran.

"Art is endless," he told The Journal. "Life without art is like heart without love."

Setarehshenas obtained a graduate degree in industrial design, and in his spare time he wrote poetry and played guitar.

Setarehshenas started to use his talents to serve the Jewish community. He designed copper plates of Moses holding the Ten Commandments, and donated several of them to the Iranian Jewish community to honor Persian students. His name, which means astrologist in Farsi, got him interested in the subject of calendars, which is the subject of one of his books, "Conformity of Seconds" (he penned other Jewish books such as "Haftara Treasures," a review of Jewish history, culture and philosophy).

Setarehshenas began in earnest to revive Jewish traditional works of art. He designed and prepared a silver pair of rimonim — the crowns that adorn the Torah scroll sticks — for a Sephardi Torah decoration. It took him almost nine months to produce both one-pound crowns made out of 90-carat silver. Each are adorned with beautiful Persian silverwork, as well as a small Stars of David, combining Persian and Jewish art.

"I have had the best Persian artists make these rimonim," Setarehshenas told The Journal. "Some parts have been done by the best silver-making firms in Isfahan."

"In Iran when I wanted to start making the rimonim or other religious works of art, I would explain the Jewish meaning of the object to the Muslim workers and artists who were going to do the job … they did the job with great appreciation and respect. Even when they wanted to put a piece of work down, they considered it a holy object and would do it very carefully," Setarehshenas told The Journal.

Setarehshenas came to Los Angeles in 2001, joining his wife, Hayedeh, and their two children, Shahrooz and Caroline. He runs a business in the Valley, and still spends much time in art and writing — including contributing to various Persian publications in Los Angeles.

He wants to use the same style of the rimonim to make more traditional Jewish silver objects such as mezuzahs and wine jugs. His latest work, inspired by his mother, was a Persian rug using the copper plate sketch of the figure of Moses holding the Ten Commandments on the rug.

He will stop at nothing to produce Jewish Persian art.

"I want to introduce Persian Jewish culture to those who do not know about it. My wish is to keep the rich Iranian Jewish heritage alive and pass it on to the next generations," he said.

Shooting in Cheviot Hills


A dispute between two groups of young Persian men, one Jewish, one Muslim, erupted in a shooting at Cheviot Hills Park the night of June 3.

Approximately 40 young men gathered in a back parking lot at the park, reportedly to resolve an ongoing dispute. Witnesses interviewed by police say the two groups had agreed before meeting not to bring any weapons. But a verbal argument quickly escalated into a brawl, and at around 10:30 p.m., shots were fired.

The shooting is reportedly the result of an ongoing dispute between two small Persian groups in Westwood — one Jewish, the other Muslim. Witnesses interviewed by police described arguments and a fistfight over the past few weeks and an alleged incident in which the group of Muslim men spit on a rabbi in Westwood.

The victim’s brother, Aaron Sinai, says he and the victim first met the suspected shooter about two months ago, during a weekend basketball game at Emerson Middle School’s courts, where an argument broke out over who would play next. The animosity between the Muslim and Jewish groups reportedly escalated over the following weeks, culminating in the spitting on the rabbi and finally the shooting.

The park’s field supervisor, Sean Caster, was at the park removing bases from the baseball fields when he noticed the fight and went to call 911. While waiting to be connected, Caster reported hearing at least three gunshots. Caster, a former lance corporal in the Marine Corps, identified the first two shots as "small arms," most likely a .25-caliber handgun, and the third "sounded like a shotgun." Caster rushed to clear other patrons out of the park, and, seeing a group carrying the wounded man, drove the victim in a golf cart to the front parking lot, where he was taken by ambulance to UCLA Medical Center.

Suspected shooter Jansha Cohen, 25, arrested by police at the park and positively identified by numerous witnesses, has been charged with attempted murder. He is being held on $2 million bail and is scheduled to appear at a preliminary hearing on Jan. 19.

Victim Farzad Sinai, 19, who is Jewish, is in stable condition, after suffering two bullet wounds in the chest, one of which punctured his stomach and liver.

LAPD Detective Jim Willis says the accused shooter has official identification with the name of Cohen. However, Aaron Sinai told The Journal that he does not believe the suspect’s name is really Cohen. Police and Sinai agree that shooting suspect has multiple tattoos on his arms and chest. Sinai claims that at least one of the tattoos features Arabic writing. Attempts to confirm this at press time were not successful.

Willis recovered a handgun at the park, which is being tested to determine if it is the weapon used in the shooting. Willis believes that the incident in the park is an isolated one. "We’ve tried to connect it to a lot of other things going on, but this is not related to any other incident." The detective also said that the shooting was not being investigated as a hate crime, and that neither the Jewish nor Muslim groups of young men were "recognized criminal street gangs."

City Councilman Jack Weiss, whose 5th District includes parts of Westwood and Cheviot Hills, though it curves around the park, is concerned that the incident may signal a developing problem. "This is a Westside story straight out of ‘West Side Story’ — that’s really bizarre. Tensions may be high in other areas, other parts of the world, but I don’t believe this is representative of the level of tension in Los Angeles," Weiss said. He added that his office would continue to monitor the investigation to determine whether the violence was part of a larger conflict.