Los Angeles has long had a special relationship with the state and the people of Israel. It is a partnership founded on innovation and common hopes; a bond defined by shared dreams for a future of peace, security, and sustainability; a connection that grows stronger each time we establish new ties with our counterparts in the Jewish state.
Over the past week, I led a delegation of civic, faith, business and community leaders on a trip that will help make Los Angeles stronger, safer, more secure and better stewards of the environment — and all Angelenos stand to reap the benefits of our efforts.
In just a few days, we signed agreements to strengthen security at our airport and enhance our counterterrorism capabilities. We initiated partnerships to protect our ports and reduce our carbon footprint. We took a series of steps to revitalize the L.A. River, expand the city’s water conservation and recycling initiatives and invest in the technologies of tomorrow. From homeland security and public safety to environmental innovation and green development, Los Angeles is set to receive the best Israel has to offer in the fields where the Jewish state leads the world — and Los Angeles will be better off as a result.
Some of the most memorable and moving moments of the mission came in our meetings with Israel’s top political leaders. President Shimon Peres told us about Israel’s drive to grow green and continue to rededicate its efforts to make the desert bloom. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert outlined the challenges of leading a democratic nation in a neighborhood of dictators and despots. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni engaged us in a discussion on the ongoing struggle for peace, while former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained what must be done to secure his country and develop a vibrant economy. Finally, the mayors of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv shared their visions for prosperity and vitality in Israel’s largest cities.
Beyond the lasting impact of our security and green technology exchange, and beyond the extraordinary sessions with living political legends, there was one experience — one set of images — that will remain etched in my memory forever.
During the second day of the mission, we traveled to Sderot — a city devastated by years of rocket attacks and red alerts, and a town representing the front line of Israel’s fight against indiscriminate violence and causeless hatred. There, in the midst of the terror we all see on the nightly news and at the epicenter of fear for so many families, children expressed their desire for normalcy before a backdrop of bomb shelters in their schoolyards. Students demonstrated a commitment to a strong education in schools forced to invest in reinforced rooftops instead of new books and materials. Parents looked on with joy and pride as their kids got the opportunity to dance and sing and perform for their guests. And when we looked into the eyes of Sderot’s youth, we could see the hope, spirit, innocence and exhilaration that emanate from the hearts of so many young people worldwide.
After this visit to Sderot and throughout the entire state of Israel, I came away with a powerful reminder of the unique character and incredible story of the Jewish people. It is a tale of resilience in the face of adversity; of a determination to succeed despite impossible odds; of a commitment to innovation; of a will to preserve their homeland; of an unflagging and unwavering faith in “tikkun olam” and “tzedakah,” in repairing the world and pursuing justice, in the values that have sustained Jews for thousands of years and made Israel a true “light unto the nations.”
After 60 years of constant threat and endless challenges, I can safely say that Israel today is stronger than ever. It is a state that remains a beacon of light and a bastion of promise for nations and communities across the globe. It is a country that believes in what’s possible and never falters in its struggle for a brighter future. This mission and these experiences brought the history of the Jewish state into focus and gave us all reason to join our brothers and sisters halfway around the world in the hope — hatikvah — that, one day soon, Israel would once again be a free nation, a secure state and a peaceful homeland.