A Love Letter to Los Angeles Jewry

The many pressures so many American Jews are under only made me appreciate my Los Angeles welcome even more.
April 10, 2024
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I just returned from Los Angeles, as part of a North American speaking tour. A thank you letter to the many individuals who encouraged me, inspired me, and showed how much they love and support Israel, is not enough. As penance for years of underestimating “West Coast Jews,” this New York-born Jerusalemite feels compelled to write this love letter to an extraordinary Jewish community, which is meeting the challenge of the moment magnificently.

Consider my angriest moment in LA. Shanni Suissa, the podcaster, hosted an informal meeting with half-a-dozen other influencers and young activists. Going around the table, they discussed the trauma of October 7, the ongoing betrayal of American anti-Semitism, how even some rabbis, Jewish educators and communal leaders are demonizing Israel. But unbowed and uncowed, these young creatives were pushing back, working the problem, and singing a new, hip, song of Zion.

“HOW DARE YOU!” I bellowed. “I’m supposed to return to Jerusalem complaining about how weak and sniveling American Jews are – especially the young hipsters. And you’re all the exact opposite: creative, courageous, committed!”

Similarly, I braced myself for a long Shabbat at VBS, Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. I miss my family when away for Shabbat. Last Saturday was particularly anxiety-provoking with rumors spreading through Israel about possible Iranian retaliation for the most-deserved assassinations of seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps killers.

Entering, I proposed that the ritual committee have VBS celebrate “Shushan Purim” with us in Jerusalem: “Your fortified compound here is a Walled City too!”

It’s not the fault of the Jews, of course, but the Jew-haters – and their quiescent fellow citizens. It’s outrageous that American — and Canadian – Jews keep “hardening the target,” reinforcing schools, synagogues, and communal institutions. Our non-Jewish fellow citizens should be Broadening the Target instead, patrolling voluntarily, escorting us, wearing yellow hostage pins and Jewish stars, so the haters can’t pick out the Jews to pick on, and the pro-Palestinians start experiencing some backlash for their anti-American, undemocratic, hooliganism.

Fortunately, the walls work, keeping the world’s ugliness outside. Inside, there’s so much joy, warmth, love of Israel, Torah, the Jewish people, and Zionism.  Rabbis Ed Feinstein and Nolan Lebovitz set the tone – embracing Zionism, mobilizing for Israel, and not just defending the Jewish people but celebrating us.

I was honored to address a congregation deeply-rooted in Los Angeles and in Israel too. The congregants were open to my vision of Identity Zionism, our opportunity now to reaffirm a Zionism of meaning, building Israel and rebuilding us, based on our rich history, loving community, inspiring values, and extraordinary homeland.

The happiness pulsing through the Friday night service exorcised the week’s tensions. In my sermon, I evoked Miriam Peretz, who lost two soldier-sons to terrorists. She explains that the terrorists seek to rob us of our joy. That’s why, she notes, she keeps laughing, singing, dancing, loving life – refusing to give the haters and killers victories they don’t deserve.

Such Jew-biliation is the Jew-Jitsu we need. And it twins with the expressions of solidarity with Israel throughout VBS and other institutions i visited, such as the Milken School, where love of Israel decorates one wall after another with Zionist values.

Similarly, Thursday night, I felt very at home at Loyola Marymount University – despite the security guards my hosts had to hire.  One sobering moment occurred during my otherwise exhilarating post-lecture conversation with that other LA Zionist hero, the Jewish Journal’s David Suissa.

Discussing the crisis in academe, I said, “I don’t understand why any professor would want students just spitting back what they heard, parroting some party line.”  I love watching students take what I teach, run it through their sensibilities, their values, their life experiences, then draw their own conclusions.

As I critiqued the professors, two students nodded in agreement. Afterwards, I told them I wished they had interrupted me, insisting:  “it’s not true, that’s not my experience.” Sadly, usually students thank me, saying it’s rare to hear professors invite them to think independently.

Those propagandizing professors who turn the professorial podium into a political platform are guilty of educational malpractice. We should inject that consumer-rights concept into the discussion, demanding the quality education our students deserve.

By contrast, throughout my North American jaunt – in Toronto, Chicago, and New York – I often confronted the gap growing between many American Jews and Israel. Israelis are steeped in our soldiers’ heroism and our enemies’ evils. American Jews feel pounded by the media pile-on constantly caricaturing Israel as evil. We Israelis see the fight as Israel versus Hamas and its Jihadist supporters; more and more American Jews are being bullied into seeing the fight as Israel versus the “innocent” Gazans.

Israelis are so conscious of the excruciating moral dilemmas facing our soldiers and generals – do you knock down another building or risk killing more Gazan civilians being used as human shields — or do you risk another Israeli funeral, another soldier’s amputation? Those conundrums don’t get covered as even Senator Chuck Schumer unfairly demonizes Israel for warring on the innocent.

The many pressures so many American Jews are under only made me appreciate my Los Angeles welcome even more. So I say thank you – I love you Angeleno-Jews, even though this time, I was so busy, I only made it to one of your amazing kosher restaurants, thanks to the inimitable David Suissa.

Professor Gil Troy, a Senior Fellow in Zionist Thought at the JPPI, the Jewish People Policy Institute, is an American presidential historian and the editor of the new three-volume set, “Theodor Herzl: Zionist.”

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