Jewish leader Nan Rich is Florida Senate minority leader

Democratic state senators in Florida elected national Jewish leader Nan Rich as their minority leader.

Rich was elected to lead the 12 Democrats in the state Senate, down two from the previous session following an election in which Florida Democrats also suffered losses in the state House and in the congressional delegation.

Rich, 62, has served as the national president of the National Council of Jewish Women, and as a board member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

She also has been active in the American Jewish Congress and the Florida Association of Jewish Federations.

In a profile this week, the Sun-Sentinel noted Rich’s “decades as a national leader in the Jewish community” and quoted praise from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a congressional leader on Jewish issues.

Food Poverty Grows in Israel

When, not so long ago, the director of an Israeli nonprofit organization noticed that an employee would appear at work every Sunday morning so fatigued that he could barely function, he issued him a stern warning to "stop partying so hard on Saturday nights."

The gaunt-looking employee burst into tears, explaining that he had not eaten since Thursday afternoon, when he received his last hot meal of the week at work.

That sad tale is one of the stories that got Laurie Heller, the Israeli representative of the Baron De Hirsch Fund, to establish a new group to investigate and address the rising hunger and poverty in the Jewish State as the economy has fallen.

The Forum to Address Food Insecurity and Poverty in Israel brings together a number of groups to help match philanthropists with soup kitchens and other organizations that feed those in need.

The sponsoring groups include federations and foundations investing money in Israeli nongovernment organizations; the Brookdale Institute, which is the research arm of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; and Israeli government organizations. The forum is funded primarily by the Los Angeles Jewish Federation, the San Francisco Jewish Federation and the Rochlin Family Foundation.

The forum’s mission is to "make funding opportunities for many philanthropists to find their place in the range of solutions for food insecurity," said Heller, the group’s co-chair.

Using available research, the forum will determine "which problems are not being addressed by existing programs, where we need to put our emphasis collectively, where people can channel funding," she said.

To that end, the Brookdale Institute began a national survey in March to ascertain nutrition habits among Israelis. The study focused on three factors: food consumption in the general population — quantity, variety and types of food consumed; the nutritional components consumed, including both calories and various nutrients; and household difficulty in accessing adequate and appropriate food due to economic constraints.

The Brookdale survey interviewed Israelis age 22 and up in a national telephone survey of 1,490 households between March and May of this year.

The study examined the impact of hunger on focused groups of veteran Israeli families, immigrant families and Arab families, and within those groups, on children, the elderly, single-parent families and families with large numbers of children.

Although the results of the survey have not yet been released, some conclusions were leaked from the Ministry of Health and the report has been discussed around the country.

Consequently, the director of the Brookdale Institute, Jack Habib, issued a three-page summary of the findings.

"With the worsening of the economic crisis during the past two years," the summary states, "food poverty has again become an issue." Food poverty is defined as severe food shortages that lead to malnutrition, requiring emergency medical treatment.

"There is enough food, but 22 percent of the population doesn’t have enough money to purchase it on a regular basis," Heller said.

The Brookdale study found that while there are more than 125 organizations addressing the problem of food poverty through food distribution, such as canned food drives and recycling food, such as leftovers from restaurants, there is virtually no coordination or shared information between the organizations dealing with the problem.

Heller’s new organization seeks to coordinate the efforts of each organization and also sponsor new laws that will encourage organizations to help.

For example, the forum wants to introduce the equivalent of the United States’ Good Samaritan Law, which protects institutions from lawsuits in the event that people get sick from donated food.

Cheri Fox, who is co-chair of the forum, executive director of the Fox Family Foundation and co-chair of the Jewish Funders Network, emphasizes that she, Habib and Heller are not trying to provide an alternative to the government’s response to hunger, but working to enhance it.

"The study was done with a team of researchers from the Ministry of Health and in partnership with National Insurance and Social Welfare," Habib said. "We now have fairly intensive discussions with government ministries with the hope that they will move to develop more effective responses to the situation."

The effectiveness of these responses, said Heller and Fox, is an urgent matter.

"In school-age children," Heller explained, "malnutrition lowers IQ by 10 points."

"When malnourishment is found in the 0-5 age group," Fox added, it "can create severe, irreversible problems in physical and intellectual development."

As such, she notes, Israel is beginning to see "enormous gaps between rich and poor."

Whereas the gap used to be 10 points out of 100 on standardized tests, it is now 20 points.

"The impact of the economic crisis in this country is long-term," Heller argues. "We are losing another generation to poverty."

Find the Gems

There once was a man who could provide only potatoes for his family’s subsistence. As the monotony and the poverty wore on, he prayed, and his prayers were answered. There fell into his hands a mysterious map to a magical Island of Diamonds.

Begging a boat, he set sail on a long and difficult voyage. One day, he spotted the island, gleaming on the horizon. Upon landing, he discovered a pristine beach covered with diamonds. His heart leapt as, carrying a dozen potato sacks, he pulled his small boat ashore and began to fill the sacks with diamonds.

He was so busy, he didn’t notice that the people of the island had come to watch.

"What are you doing?"

"I’m gathering diamonds; I’m going to be rich."

"Rich? Those won’t make you rich! The whole island is covered with them. If you want to be rich here, you have to find something much more rare and valuable. The most valuable thing here is potatoes."

"Potatoes? I know potatoes!"

So he dumped all the diamonds from his sack, and ran into the forest. In 15 minutes, he found a dozen potatoes. The crowd looked on in awe. They carried him from the beach, and installed him as king of the island.

After a year, he remembered his family and informed the island people that he would soon be leaving for home.

When finally he arrived in his home port, the whole town turned out to meet him. Fearing him long lost, he was greeted with tears of joy. Finally, his wife mustered the courage to ask:

"Did you find the Island of Diamonds?"

"I became king of the Island of Diamonds!"

"Did you bring back diamonds? Diamonds from the island?"

"Diamonds? Heavens no! I brought back something much more valuable than diamonds! Behold, potatoes!"

Why do we set out in life to find diamonds, only to return with bags full of common potatoes? How were we persuaded that potatoes are more valuable than diamonds? How were we enticed into collecting potatoes when we stood upon a beach covered with diamonds?

The most common Hebrew word for "sin" is het. This word comes from archery. Het literally means missing the mark, missing the target. This is not a failure of intent, nor a failure of fundamental morality. There are other words for that. Het indicates a failure of vision, a problem of distraction. And distraction may be the greatest spiritual problem.

"The great danger facing us all," wrote the American preacher Phillips Brooks, "is not that we shall make an absolute failure of our life. Nor that we shall fall into outright viciousness. Nor that we shall be terribly unhappy. Nor that we shall feel that life has no meaning. The danger is that we shall fail to perceive life’s greatest meaning, fall short of its highest good, miss its deepest and most abiding happiness, be unable to tender the most needed service, be unconscious of life ablaze with the light of the Presence of God, and be content to have it so."

Our nation has embarked on a great campaign to cleanse the world of terrorism and find some measure of justice in response to our tragedy. We certainly have the means. The question is, will we have the resolve? America’s attention span is notoriously short. We live for distraction. Soon, there will be new stories, new scandals, new crises to displace this tragedy from our headlines. Can we sustain the commitment to achieve this great goal? n

Contrary to the popular conception, Yom Kippur is not the holiest day of the Jewish year. Today is. True, Yom Kippur is the most severe. Yom Kippur demands fasting, self-denial, prayer and repentance. Its stringency supersedes even Sabbath. On Yom Kippur, we are all saints — all our intentions pure, all our resolutions robust. Because on Yom Kippur, it’s only abstract, theoretical, hypothetical. Today, we go back to the workplace, to the carpools, to the routine. Today, we go back to normal. And today, we discover if Yom Kippur really changed anything. Today is the holiest day of the Jewish year because today we see if we shall come home with potatoes or if we shall come home with diamonds.

The Honeymoon is Over

Nine months after Ehud Barak took office as “everybody’s prime minister,” the honeymoon is over — with his voters, coalition allies and Arab partners in the quest for peace. It is too early to write him off, but the Labor leader can no longer rely on loyalty or goodwill to see him through.

On the domestic front, he shows no sign of delivering to the neglected, mainly Sephardi, citizens in the rundown development towns and city slums to whom he promised jobs and a fair share of the national cake. Unemployment is still running in double figures in these backwaters. Firms are still closing unprofitable textile factories. The old women in overcrowded hospitals, a potent symbol in Barak’s election campaign, are still sleeping in the corridors.

To the dismay of Internal Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, who tried to persuade him to reactivate Labor’s social agenda, the prime minister and the Treasury conservatives are relying on a “peace dividend” to stimulate the economy. In the best Reagan-Thatcher mode, they put their faith in a trickle-down effect. The rich will get richer, the poor will be a little less poor. But not yet.

Barak is not, as some of his detractors would have us believe, a Bibi Netanyahu clone. For starters, most Israelis still credit him with genuinely seeking peace and a readiness to pay a heavy price for it. But Barak is starting to suffer from the Bibi syndrome.

The professional politicians, whom he treated with ill-concealed contempt when he was forming his administration, are rubbing their hands. His junior coalition parties are flexing their muscles. The heads of three of them — Shas, the National Religious Party and Natan Sharansky’s Yisrael B’aliya — have signed an opposition Likud draft bill, which would block any compromise with the Palestinians over Jerusalem. So has Roni Milo of the Center party. Sharansky and the NRP’s Yitzhak Levy are also campaigning against withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

At the beginning of this week, Shas’ back-benchers voted against the prime minister on a Likud no-confidence motion. Ostensibly, they were warning Barak not to tamper with Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. In fact, they were protesting because leftist Meretz Education Minister Yossi Sarid has refused to give his Shas deputy minister, Meshulam Nahari, any work to do.

With an aura of success and the peace process moving forward, Barak could stifle many of these challenges. His trouble is that peace is floundering on every front. The much-decorated ex-chief of staff set targets and timetables for the Syrians, Palestinians and Lebanese. He thought that if he tempted them enough, they would let him write the script. It hasn’t worked that way. They have their own agendas, and they are rigorously pursuing them.

Syrian President Hafez Assad is sticking to his maximalist demand. Israel, he insists, must withdraw not just from the Golan plateau, but to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. And he is making it more difficult for Barak to sell a deal to the Israeli public — by forbidding his diplomats to shake Israeli hands, by accusing Israel of behaving like Nazis, by hinting that peace would be no more than a staging post toward the ultimate Arab goal of destroying the Zionist state.

For their part, the Palestinians are declining to accept whatever slices of the West Bank Barak deigns to give them under the delayed Oslo accords. They want areas closer to Jerusalem. They want to be consulted. They want to bargain. Otherwise, they won’t play ball — and the security services are already warning of renewed Palestinian violence.

This week, Yasser Arafat publicly accused Barak of being no better than Netanyahu. The Palestinian leader is reported to have told Miguel Moratinos, the European Union’s roving Middle East troubleshooter: “Barak tried and failed to assassinate me three times when he was serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Now he is trying to kill me by means of my own people. He is humiliating me and trying to coerce me into accepting his surrender terms.”

In Lebanon, bombing civilian power stations has boomeranged. The Hezbollah guerrillas are still shooting Israeli soldiers (though they have been deterred, for now, from firing Katyusha rockets at civilian communities in Northern Israel). But Beirut has exploited the air strikes to rally the Arab world — and much of the West — against Israel. The escalation has provoked a crisis between Barak and President Hosni Mubarak, who flew to Lebanon for the first visit there by an Egyptian leader in half a century.

Barak is keeping his nerve. He is setting new deadlines, working to revive negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians. He still promises to “bring the boys home” from Lebanon by July. But he is looking more and more like the boy on the burning deck.

Israeli commentators are uniformly gloomy. The nearest to an optimist this week was Hemi Shalev, who suggested in Ma’ariv that “Arab public opinion discerns in its gut that the peace process is coming of age, and that the time for decisions is approaching.” On this reading, Shalev dubbed it, “The storm before the calm.”

The alternative, he might have added, would not be a return to the old bromide of no-peace, no-war.

Rich in Spirit

There’s a Yiddish saying that goes: “I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich. Believe me, rich is better!” In the Midrash we read: “Nothing in the universe is worse than poverty; it is the most terrible of sufferings.” (Exodus Rabbah 31:14)

Los Angeles is a city that glitters with gold and at the same time is tarnished with dirt. The billboards up and down Sunset Boulevard with their perfect models wearing the latest fashion fall in sharp contrast with the homeless and hungry of our city.

In this week’s Torah portion our people actually live through a fall from wealth to poverty. In it we read that Joseph — Pharaoh’s right-hand man — is put in charge of preparing for seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of scarcity. Then “when the famine was over all the face of the earth, Joseph opened all the places that had food in them and sold the grain to the Egyptians.” (Genesis 41:56)

According to the Midrash, when the famine in Egypt devoured the land, the first to recognize it were the wealthy, not the poor. Why so? Because the poor easily become accustomed to a lack of food, clothing and material goods. They are unable to see disaster when it hits since their lives are regularly filled with turmoil. But the rich are used to fine food, private school education, a house overlooking the ocean and exotic vacations. The rich are the first to feel the loss of a job or a fall in the economy.

This contrast of rich and poor is highlighted in the “December Dilemma” many families experience during this Chanukah season. Our children look around and see department stores and commercials advertising the latest, greatest items and parents feel as though we need to compete with Christmas and give our children eight presents for the eight nights of Chanukah.

Whether we are rich, poor or most likely somewhere in between, we get swept up in the corrupting consumerism of Christmas. (Not what Christmas is truly about, but what it has become.) Ironically, Chanukah is actually about the rejection of the pagan world (in modern times read: December consumerism) and the fight to maintain our Jewish set of practices. Our ancestors fought a battle because Judah Maccabee and his courageous followers refused to reject their faith in God, their customs, and their religious traditions. They saw the Jews getting drawn into the negative attributes of the larger culture, and risked their lives to uphold our unique ways. By participating in December’s gift giving madness, we are disregarding Chanukah’s main message. Instead of reaping the best of the secular culture, we are teaching our children that material goods are Chanukah’s reward, rather than Chanukah’s main message: We are unique and different, and proud of it. We as Jews need not fall into the corrupting paganism of our time. We have wonderfully rich traditions that teach our values and vision for the future.

When I share this approach with my congregants, I urge them to consider how they can create a special Chanukah tradition in their home to take the place of presents. One tradition I grew up with was that every night of Chanukah my parents would play the same Chanukah record as we sang along and danced in front of the burning lights. Then we all went into the bedroom while my parents hid three pieces of Chanukah gelt, one for each child, in the living room. Each night we would play “hot and cold” and try and find the gelt. We all knew that our Christian, and many of our Jewish friends, received many presents, but after a few years the excitement and ritual of our tradition became more meaningful than my friends forgotten gifts.

Then one day on the first night of Chanukah, years later in my college dorm room, my Christian roommate asked me to suddenly leave the room. When I came back in she said, “OK, now it’s time for hot and cold.” I couldn’t believe it. A huge smile came to my face, and I knew that my parents had truly taught me the meaning of Chanukah. Presents come and go, but memories of a rich Jewish tradition remain forever.

Michelle Missaghieh is rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

Spin Cycle

By J.J. Goldberg

Spin Cycle

A spate of new polls shows Jewsdivided, Arafat unpopular and pollsters getting rich

Some startling revelations have emerged aboutAmerican Jews and the way they view the Middle East, following lastweek’s publication of parts of a new American Jewish Committeesurvey.

First, the statistics prove that fascination withJewish opinion has reached an all-time high, at least amongpoll-takers. No fewer than four major surveys of American Jews havenow been released since the Hebrew year 5758 began last September.This breaks the previous record of three polls in a six-month period,set in 5752. And we’re not even halfway to Yom Kippur. Don’t cancelthose vows yet.

Second, opinions on the Middle East are evenlydivided. Of the four latest polls, two support aggressive U.S.intervention, while two warn against it.

Of course, this is a silly way to interpretsurveys. It doesn’t tell what American Jews actually think. Butnobody cares about that. The point of all this expensive pollingisn’t to explore Jews’ beliefs. The point is to influence policymakers by scaring them with imaginary Jewish bogeymen.

Why now? Because Washington and Jerusalem are on acollision course over how to break the yearlong deadlock inIsraeli-Palestinian peace talks. Having tried quiet diplomacy, theClinton administration now plans to announce its own peace plan.Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hates that idea. He saysthat it amounts to America pressuring Israel into concessions. Toblock it, he is playing every card he has, from toasting theChristian right to threatening angry Jewish politicalretaliation.

Unfortunately, it’s unclear how angry Jews mightget. Netanyahu wants President Clinton to believe that they’d behopping mad. Clinton wants Netanyahu to believe they wouldn’t.Everyone has polls to prove it. If nothing else, it’s a great time tobe a pollster.

The polling frenzy began last September, when thedovish Israel Policy Forum released results that showed strong Jewishbacking for U.S. pressure. Its most publicized figure was 84 percent,the number supporting pressure if applied equally on Israel and thePalestinians (a detail lost in most reporting). The findings werereleased days before a crucial White House meeting, where a forumleader presented them directly to Clinton as Israeli officialswatched helplessly.

In reply, the hawkish Middle East Forum conductedits own survey in January. It found Jews opposing American pressure,65 percent to 24 percent. “President Clinton is on a collision coursewith a majority of American Jews,” Middle East Forum director DanielPipes said, savaging the Israel Policy Forum survey as “garbage in,garbage out.”

In February, yet another poll was released, thisone by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), whichcoordinates the policies of the main Jewish organizations. The JCPApoll was a two-tiered affair, questioning community leaders and therank and file to test whether the mostly liberal leaders are in stepwith their constituents (they are, except on welfare reform andaffirmative action). JCPA found that 70 percent favored equalpressure on Israel and the Palestinians.

Now comes the American Jewish Committee’s annualsurvey, widely considered a reliable, objective resource on Jewishopinion. The AJC, like the Middle East Forum, found Jews against U.S.pressure. The margin was 52 percent to 45 percent.

The score, if you’re following: two favoring U.S.pressure, two against, all claiming to be the latest news on Jews’views. Is there anything believable in this morass of statisticalblather?

Actually, yes. The original surveys, devoid ofspin, are more alike than their sponsors let on. Studied carefully,allowing for differences in method, all four paint a similar pictureof American Jewry: devoted to Israel; suspicious of Arab intentionsbut none too fond of Netanyahu; hopeful that the peace process can besalvaged; and willing to see the Clinton administration do somethingabout it so long as Israel isn’t the fall guy.

Differences in method are important, though. TheAJC and Israel Policy Forum surveys worked with reliable nationalsamples of more than 1,000 interviews each. The other two were morelimited. The JCPA simply mailed a questionnaire to federationactivists, a narrow spectrum. Results reflect the views of those whobothered mailing it back.

Most limited was the Middle East Forum survey,which interviewed only 600 “likely voters” (“unsure” voters weredropped) in just nine states. How representative is its sample? Well,15 percent were Orthodox and 28 percent Reform; every other surveyshows about 7 percent Orthodox and 35 percent to 40 percent Reform.Researchers have long known that Jews’ political conservatism riseswith traditional observance. It seems the forum found the results itwanted to find.

Still, the four polls’ results are strikinglysimilar. Dislike of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat runs from 81percent in the Israel Policy Forum’s survey to 84 percent in theMiddle East Forum’s. Asked if Arafat really wants peace, answersranged from AJC’s 55 percent “no” (up from 31 percent “no” a yearago), to the Middle East Forum’s 60 percent “no,” to 70 percent “no”in the JCPA survey (which asked about the PLO, not Arafat).

But Netanyahu doesn’t do too well either. Hescores high on basic questions such as “what are your feelings towardhim,” a cue to praise Israel’s leader. But with probing, his numbersdrop. His Likud Party is viewed far less favorably than the Laboropposition, 39 percent to 59 percent in the AJC poll. When the MiddleEast Forum asked respondents to choose between Arafat and Netanyahuas “someone I admire,” Netanyahu got 43 percent. “Neither” got 44percent.

The one question where comparison is hardest isthe big one: U.S. pressure. Different polls phrased this differently,seeking different responses. The Israel Policy Forum and JCPA askedif Washington should pressure both Netanyahu and Arafat, and foundstrong support; support for pressuring only Netanyahu was much lower.The Middle East Forum and AJC polls didn’t ask about pressuring bothsides, because they didn’t want to know. Naturally, they found theJews against pressure.

But how strongly against? The AJC found that 52percent opposed the United States pressuring Netanyahu, and 45percent supported it. With the survey’s 3-percent margin of error,that could also be 49 percent to 48 percent. It’s a virtualtie.

The truth, if anyone cares, is that American Jewsare a complicated lot. They are deeply devoted to Israel — 74percent told the AJC that “caring about Israel” was a “very importantpart of my being a Jew,” and nearly 40 percent have visited — butare troubled about its future and divided over what to do. They trustClinton more than Netanyahu, but they’re wary of blaming Israel. It’san amber light for Clinton, and a “hazard” sign for Bibi.

It’s not clear who should be happy with thesepolls. Besides the pollsters, that is.

L.A.’s Ultimate Power Broker

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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