The recent friendly fact-finding mission, which was hosted by the Jewish Federation Council's Israel and Overseas Relationships Committee (IORC), was a tightly scheduled introduction to Los Angeles. Its aim was to familiarize the five-person delegation with the following: the workings of the Federation; how Israel is perceived in Los Angeles; the area's synagogue community and Jewish educational resources; and the relationship between the local Jewish community, Los Angeles and the public sector.
The delegation consisted of Nathan Wolloch, first deputy mayor of Tel Aviv; Dr. Avi Reich, general director of the Tel Aviv Educational & Cultural Co.; Etty Lothan, project coordinator for the Tel Aviv Foundation; Dr. Hank Havassy, an independent organization consultant; and Marty Karp, director of the Federation's Israel Office in Jerusalem.
The ambitious program, which opened with an overview of some of the contrasts between American and Israeli contemporary Jewish life, offered an inside look at the Jewish Federation Council's structure, including some of its departments and beneficiary agencies and the staff and lay leadership of the United Jewish Fund.
The delegates met with educators at several Jewish day schools and with Bureau of Jewish Education leaders to discuss how Israel is taught -- and not taught -- in Jewish schools in Los Angeles. They visited the Skirball Cultural Center, the University of Judaism, the Israeli Consulate and Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, and met civic leaders, including Mayor Richard Riordan, Deputy Mayor Robin Kramer and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
The guests also learned about the city's public sector, visiting the Puente Learning Center in Boyle Heights, the Los Angeles Police Academy and a magnet school. At the home of Ken Krug and Andrea Scharf, they met with leadership and staff of the Federation's ACCESS young leadership group to talk about how younger Jewish Americans relate to Israel.
"I was amazed by the amount of Jewish life and the institutions of Jewish life here," said Reich, as the visit drew to a close.
Being a Jew in Israel is quite a different experience than in the United States, he noted. "If you are a Jew in Israel, you observe Passover because it is a national holiday. It's part of your cultural background."
The myriad choices open to American Jews, especially in Los Angeles, can lead to extraordinary commitment to their faith and community, or complete alienation from Judaism, or something in between, said Herb Glaser, chair of the IORC. "There is a sense of Jewish identity and renaissance in Los Angeles County that would have been the envy of Jews in Spain during the Inquisition," Glaser said at one breakfast meeting. "And there are those who don't know that last week was the holiday of Pesach. Both exist side by side in this city."
The ultimate goal of the so-called Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership is to create ongoing relationships and projects between the two cities. But, first, the two communities need to get to know each other in a "person-to-person" way.
"We have some cultural and semantic problems, which we'll have to overcome," Glaser said.
For example, most of Jewish life in Los Angeles is based on voluntary commitments of time and money to Jewish organizations and causes, whereas, in Tel Aviv, elected or appointed officials are in charge of educational and other institutions that serve the entire, predominantly Jewish populace.
The next step, said IORC Director Fredi Rembaum, is to create a steering committee and come up with some concrete proposals for programs, some starting as early as this summer. Among the ideas are: connecting young Tel Aviv and Los Angeles e-mail pals on the Internet; setting up "home hospitality" visits to Tel Aviv residences during the Los Angeles Golden Anniversary mission next November (when about 500 Southland Jews are expected to travel to Israel and celebrate its 50th year); video-conferencing on many topics; and sharing expertise in effectively addressing family-violence issues, a concern in Israel as well as here.
The Israeli delegates' trip represented "a very good beginning" to the relationship, Karp said. And it portends what is expected to be a long and mutually beneficial connection between the two municipalities, said Federation executive vice president John Fishel.
"It gives us the opportunity to use the cities of Los Angeles and Tel Aviv, with all their diversity and complexity, to build some meaningful and, hopefully, lasting bridges," he said.
"We believe that both sides can gain a lot from the partnership," said Wolloch. "When the Jewish people are strong in the Diaspora, it helps Israel be a strong country."