May 21, 2019

Newsom Addresses Shooting, Other Issues at Encino Gathering

Gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom spoke Sunday in Encino at an event organized by the Jewish Center for Justice. Photo by Taylor Sherry

Nearly 300 people turned out on the morning of Oct. 28 to listen to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom speak at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. The free event was organized by the Jewish Center for Justice, a year-and-a-half-old Los Angeles based organization that does social justice advocacy and education.

The original plan for the event, which was weeks in the making, was that Newsom would talk about poverty, homelessness and LGBTQ issues among other things, all of which are central to his campaign and are also part of the Jewish Center for Justice’s legislative agenda. And while Newsom, California’s outgoing lieutenant governor, did address those topics, the tragedy in Pittsburgh that had taken place a day earlier, was very much felt.

Before Newsom took the podium, Los Angles City Controller Ron Galperin, who is also a trained cantor, sang the prayer for the departed. Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom read the names of the victims and urged the audience to honor their memory by continuing to embrace and share Jewish rituals and values.

“In the history of our people, we have often said the word ‘Jewish’ with a whisper,” Farkas said. “I think the time has come. … We have to do this differently. We have to be Jews in public. We have to bring our values into the public square. We have to be out as Jews. We have to be willing to stand forth in the public square and say these are our values, this is what we care about, and this is what we stand for.”

Newsom began by acknowledging the many young people in the audience. It was a sizable group, including students from Valley Beth Shalom, Temple Beth El in San Pedro, UCLA, USC and the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY).

“Leadership can be found anywhere,” Newsom said. “You don’t have to be something to do something. It’s an important point I want to impress upon on the young folks here. … Folks talk so often about leadership in terms of formal authority, not enough in the terms that we need to talk about, and that is leadership as moral authority. … What’s missing in our country is moral leadership.”

“Fear cannot be an impediment to resolve. Otherwise the fear prevails, and we can’t allow for that.” — Gavin Newsom

Newsom touted what he said is good about California. “Our ability to live together and advance together and prosper together is what makes California a special place,” he said. “At our best, we don’t tolerate that diversity; at our best we celebrate that diversity. Remarkable resilience. Remarkable adaptability. California, where we are today. And it’s also the antidote to the cynicism and the negativity and the fear and the anxiety we feel. We’re not just surviving. We’re thriving.”

But, he added, “I’m not naive about the challenges this state faces. … Despite the extraordinary progress we have made as a state, we are still leaving too many folks behind.”

Among the sobering statistics Newsom shared: 134,000 homeless and 46 percent of California’s children living at or near poverty. “You can’t live a good life in an unjust society,” he said.

Newsom also focused on the need for early childhood education and, even before that, a prenatal plan to ensure parents understand, for example, the value of talking, reading and singing to their kids. “The number one predictor, if you are going to end up in the criminal justice system, is how many words you speak in kindergarten,” he said. “People aren’t left behind in society. People start behind.”

In a brief interview following the event, Newsom was asked what would he say to people who may have been afraid to attend the event.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “I mean, fear, they win. That’s what acts of terror are about — instilling fear. … Fear cannot be an impediment to resolve. Otherwise the fear prevails, and we can’t allow for that. And it’s why I was honored that people did show up today. Everyone was wondering if people would.

“I hope today everybody here felt united in terms of our resolve to be held to account at this moment, to be participatory in the life of our city, our state, our nation, and to call out hatred and anti-Semitism.”