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Will 2021 Redistricting Bring an End to LA’s 70-Year-Old Jewish Council District?

The connection between cherishing our voting rights and the long, drawn out process of reviewing the census data every 10 years to draw voting districts often goes unnoticed by the larger population.

American history shows that only white, male, Christians could vote and attain equal rights under the law for way too long. It was not until 1964 and 1965 that the Voting Rights Act was passed into law, and even today we see discrimination and voter suppression rearing its ugly head, targeting minority and underserved communities in particular.

Too many in our city and the Jewish community again are disconnected from the difficult history of the Jewish communities in Los Angeles and how it directly informs the need for us to pay attention and speak up. 

The connection between cherishing our voting rights and the long, drawn out process of reviewing the census data every 10 years to draw voting districts often goes unnoticed by the larger population. Too many in our city and the Jewish community again are disconnected from the difficult history of the Jewish communities in Los Angeles and how it directly informs the need for us to pay attention and speak up. 

Following World War II and changing societal sentiments, Council District 5 was drawn and came to represent the first LA City Council District with a majority population of practicing Jewish residents. Council District 5 has taken modifications over time, but what has remained consistent historically is that it is anchored by Pico-Robertson and the Fairfax-Hancock Park area and made whole by the communities of Beverlywood, Westwood, Century City, Cheviot Hills, Mid-Wilshire and Bel Air. To be clear, there are vibrant Jewish communities all over Los Angeles, with diverse backgrounds and policy ideas, but these neighborhoods have traditionally been the anchor, particularly for the practicing Jewish community.

In September of 2021, LA City’s appointed Redistricting Commission had map proposals come up that would have broken this historic Jewish representative voice into three different districts. Many Jewish activists spoke up and helped the commission more fully understand why those maps would have been detrimental. Now the Commission’s final map, which keeps these neighborhoods together, is undergoing scrutiny and a new drawing of lines directly by the Los Angeles City Council. Some of the suggested ways to alter the commission’s proposed map would create a division of Council District 5. Specifically, some of the proposed maps being passed around would divide the linked areas of Pico-Robertson and Beverlywood from each other and into two different districts. This takes away the collective voice and opportunity for representative leadership that has been a great privilege for the Jewish community for 70 years.

Does this matter for Jewish Angelenos?

If we believe in the saying that “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” then, yes, indeed it matters. A 2019 poll of the Jewish community taken by the Pat Brown Institute in 2019 showed that 75% of respondents said they believe rising antisemitism is a current serious problem. “I think it’s a really striking result,” said Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director for the Pat Brown Institute. “Regardless of ideology, regardless of party, the overwhelming share of L.A. County registered Jewish voters are very, very concerned about what they perceive as rising anti-Semitism. I don’t remember a time in the years since I have started studying this when I think the temperature on this concern was so high.”

Currently anti-Jewish sentiment and hate acts have been the highest for any religion according to LAPD’s hate crime statistics. In the early 2000s, an LA Councilmember condoned trying to close down Jewish prayer services on Yom Kippur being held at a neighborhood Jewish school and to stop a neighborhood synagogue from continuing to stay open. It was thanks to the only Jewish Councilmember and his staff at that time that these awful acts were stopped. This incident happened before the outright attacks of anti-Jewish hate crimes that have recently happened on the streets of Los Angeles.

The staff within the Jewish district has also historically been the voice of positive diplomacy on behalf of the Jewish community city-wide. As Jews, we all practice differently, yet Jewish organizations and practicing individuals all need help with similar issues whether security or ritual based. The Councilmember from CD5 has historically been the keeper of this support, whether for LA’s Jewish American heritage month celebration, relaxed parking and extra security around the high holidays, unique needs for synagogues and schools when it comes to land use issues, automated crosswalks for safe crossing on the Sabbath and holidays, donations of palm fronds for Sukkot, and so much more.

The American constitution gave the states the right to decide voting rights, including voting districts, and many states denied Jews males and other minorities the rights to vote up until the early-19th century and beyond. In addition, once given the right to vote, official mandates all across Los Angeles and the United States were aimed at creating districts for which minorities, including Jews, would have difficulty gaining a collective voice and/or the ability to hold office.

The discrimination was not veiled either; in fact, “the Jew Bill” that in passing gave Jewish men the right to vote in Maryland was so contentious that it was debated for over eight years by the Maryland legislature before finally passing in 1828. Across the country, and right here in Los Angeles, land deeds had restrictive covenants against Jews and many other minorities. Los Angeles had widespread antisemitism beginning in the 1880s that continued to increase after 1900 as the Jewish population grew. Discrimination in housing, employment (insurance, banking and other professions excluded Jews), admission to universities and professional schools. Hospitals would not give admitting privileges to Jewish doctors. The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, a Federal New Deal agency intended to increase housing and home loans, called Jews in Boyle Heights and West Adams “subversive” and described foreign-born Jewish families as “infiltrating” and so engaged in redlining. 

Obviously, CD5’s support of the Jewish community shows that Jews have come a long way from the time when restrictive land deeds in Los Angeles prevented Jews from buying property. We’ve also made tremendous strides when it comes to employment discrimination that prevented Jews from getting good jobs. But this is no time to be complacent. 

Jews represent a minority of less than 0.2% of total world population and therefore cannot ever take representative government for granted. This is why now that the LA City Council is set to divide all Los Angeles Communities into districts based on the 2021 Census data Jewish Angelenos might want to pay attention. According to Stephen Sass, the President of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern CA, “Council District 5 has represented the heart of Jewish Los Angeles, including its stable core population, synagogues and organizations, such as ours, for almost 70 years, and it is critical for the Jewish community’s and our City’s cohesiveness, continuity and equitable representation to remain.” These institutions are the infrastructure that support Jews in need, including 3000 holocaust survivors, Jews who are food and rent insecure, many of them seniors, and Jewish immigrants, many of whom are refugees from authoritarian countries that persecuted Jews.

The reality is that redistricting and voting are part of a two-step process that maximizes each one. If you believe voting matters, then having a collective voice in a district is part of that. Keeping the historic Jewish communities together does not ensure the ability to elect political leaders that will hear us and speak up for us, but it gives a fighting chance to be heard. It also maintains infrastructure to allow first-time Jewish candidates to be supported in running for office.

The LA City Council now has the ability to completely start over with a new map and need to make their decision before December. Please let them know that we are a community that needs to be held together. I hope you will join me in expressing the importance of protecting this collective voice. 

The LA City Council will hold a subcommittee on Friday November 5 to decide how to draw the districts. Email your thoughts on redistricting to Council President Nury Martinez at [email protected] and  Mayor Garcetti at [email protected] To email and call the rest of the City Council please visit: https://www.lacity.org/government/popular-information/city-directory


Adeena Bleich is an organizational management professional, civic & Jewish activist and mom who believes in the triumph of the human spirit and in empowering and educating others about local politics.

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