Jewish power in Long Beach

March 27, 2008

A few weeks ago, I was driving down the 710 and talking with an old colleague about the person I was en route to interview. My subject was Josh Lowenthal, the self-styled black sheep of his Long Beach family.

See, Josh has done well: he attended Cornell, lived in Israel and started and sold a few telecom businesses. But he remains the only member of the Lowenthal tribe to not hold elected office. His father, Alan, is a state senator; mother, Bonnie, is a Long Beach Councilwoman, as is his sister-in-law, Suja. And her husband, Josh’s brother Dan, is a Superior Court Judge.

“What’s the angle?” my friend asked.

“Well,” I quipped, “I’m pitching the profile as a microcosm of Jewish world dominance.”

This of course was not my approach, though I’ve written a lot about Jewish power and political involvement (never as insightfully as J.J. Goldberg) and about that century-old canard of a Jewish plan to takeover the world. Instead here I focused on the reasons Josh has yet to follow in his family’s footsteps and why he eventually will.

Lowenthal, 38, grew up in a progressive Jewish family, the kind of home that sang Bob Dylan songs on Shabbat. His parents, now divorced, both taught psychology at Cal State Long Beach and were active in the community. On returning home in the afternoon from public school, he’d encounter community meetings in his living room, often organized by his mother to address homeless issues.

“There is a deeply felt sense of tikkun olam [heal the world] that is based in that family in ways that I wish all families would emulate,” said Assemblyman Mike Feuer, whose then-L.A. City Council staff Josh Lowenthal joined after returning from Israel in the mid-‘90s. “It may not be always exclusively stated, though it is evident in the way they live, but one mission in life is to reach out and help other people. It is more than a political imperative for that family. For the Lowenthals it is a moral imperative.”

The clearest example of this in Josh Lowenthal’s life can be found in a social service building with an industrial façade in the Port of Long Beach. The Long Beach Multi-Service Center is provided by the city to 14 agencies, including Goodwill, the Long Beach Rescue Shelter and Children Today. Here the homeless come to shower, do their laundry, check their voicemail, meet with social workers or, particularly in the case of children, simply get off the street.

Last month, Children Today served 762 children. Six weeks to 6 years old, they met from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with caregivers who help them cope with losses as seemingly trivial, though not insignificant, as their toys and as traumatic as a family member.

“It’s day care with a therapeutic component,” said Dora Jacildo, the charity’s executive director.

Children Today started in 1997, and Lowenthal joined the board four years later. It provided a channel for Lowenthal, who by the end of the dot-com boom was doing quite well, to give back to the people he thought needed the most help.

“Bye Josh!”

“Bye Josh!”

“Bye Josh!”

The toddlers parrot their teacher as he walks in and out of their classroom on a recent visit. Lowenthal wears a gray pinstripe suit and light-blue shirt, his beard trim and his prematurely gray hair gelled and spiked. He speaks as proudly of Children Today—the only homeless program accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children—as he does of the telecommunication companies he started or his nightclub, Sachi.

“For him, it’s a world of promise. And he looks for vehicles to bring that promise to fruition,” said his mother. “He experienced so much support as a youngster growing up in Long Beach, and I think he is trying his hardest to give back.”

And if Ellis isn’t recalled, this certainly won’t be the last time Josh Lowenthal is mentioned as a political candidate.

“I don’t have to be an elected official,” he hastened. “I really believe there are two types of elected officials: There are those who want to do something and those who want to be something. I really want to do something—and will, whether elected of not.”

(Image: The District Weekly)

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