November 20, 2018

City Council Kicks Off Jewish Heritage Month

Did you know that Silver Lake was named after a Jewish man, Herman Silver, who served as president of the L.A. City Council in 1900? Or that South Los Angeles was once a center of Sephardic Jewry?

These were just a couple of the insights gleaned at “KLAL: A Celebration of Jewish-Angeleno Culture and Civic Engagement,” held May 4 at City Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

The celebration, which kicked off Jewish American Heritage Month, featured elected officials, community leaders and even a klezmer-Latino band.

“I take pride whenever any council member brings any kind of diversity to the chambers,” Fourth District L.A. City Councilmember David Ryu told the Journal. “Whether it is Black History Month, whether it’s El Grito [Mexican Independence Day], whatever it is, it is always an opportunity.”

Ryu, who organized the event with the help of other council members, added, “It is a teaching moment, for myself and for everybody else in the city of Los Angeles, and I think it is very important that as council members, we try to bring forth as much diversity as possible.”

The Korean-American councilmember displayed his knack for the ancient Jewish tradition of schmoozing at the event, shaking hands with guests like he was a macher at Saturday morning services.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garretti speaks at the Jewish American Heritage Month celebration at City Hall. From left: L.A. City Council members Bob Blumenfield, David Ryu and Mitch Englander, L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin, and L.A. City Council members Paul Koretz and Paul Krekorian join him. Photo by Betsy Annas, Los Angeles City Council Photography

After the meet and greet, the eclectic sounds of the Ellis Island Band, featuring an accordion, brass, strings and handclapping percussion, filled the cavernous space of the rotunda room.

“Nothing like a Jewish mariachi band to get us started,” L.A. City Third District Councilmember Bob Blumenfield quipped as attendees settled in for an array of remarks by elected officials.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti discussed how Jewish civic contributions to Los Angeles date back to Morris Goodman, who became the city’s first Jewish council member in 1850.

“This was a town that didn’t really care back then whether you were Jewish or not,” Garcetti said.

The Mexican-Jewish mayor was not the only one to delve into the Jewish roots of the city.

The Korean-American councilmember displayed his knack for the ancient Jewish tradition of schmoozing.

Fifth District Councilmember Paul Koretz discussed changes to the Fairfax neighborhood, where skateboard shops, trendy restaurants and hip clothing stores dominate the once-Jewish stretch of Mid-City.

Speakers delivered remarks peppered with Jewish history provided to them by Steve Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California. Sass worked with Caroline Luce, the digital project manager of the Mapping Jewish L.A. project at the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, to display an exhibition on L.A. Jewish history on the third floor of City Hall.

“We wanted to represent the breadth and depth of Jewish heritage,” Luce said.

The exhibition, which features information on the Los Angeles Jewish Home, Bet Tzedek and other Los Angeles Jewish institutions, will be on display for the remainder of the month.

Jewish American Heritage Month recognizes the more than 350-year history of Jewish contributions to American culture. In 2006, then-president George W. Bush proclaimed May as Jewish American Heritage Month at the urging of the Jewish Museum of Florida and South Florida Jewish community leaders.

Jewish American Heritage Month coincides with Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and Ryu celebrated both.

“Whether it is Asian heritage or Jewish heritage, it is about celebrating diversity,” Ryu said. “It is about celebrating everybody who makes us Americans.”