Century City lawyer Donald Etra has been appointed to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council by President Bush, a close friend since their undergraduate days at Yale.
Etra is joining the governing body of the Holocaust Memorial Museum as the Washington landmark celebrates the 10th anniversary of its founding. During the past decade, there have been approximately 19 million museum visitors, of whom 13.8 million were non-Jewish.
In a sense, Etra's appointment marks a generational change. "We are the first generation that didn't see what happened during the Holocaust," said the 55-year-old attorney.
A native of Manhattan, Etra came to Los Angeles as assistant U.S. attorney in 1978. He has been in private practice since 1981, primarily in criminal defense and occasional civil litigation. Among his clients have been actors Eddie Murphy and Fran Drescher.
Etra first met the Bush at Yale, when they attended some of the same classes and shared the same dormitory. According to press reports, they both belonged to Skull and Bones, but in keeping with the secretive rules of the society, Etra declined comment.
Though close friends for more than 30 years, the two men are on different sides of the political fence.
"I am a liberal Democrat," Etra said. "When the president and I talk politics, we disagree, but we both agree on Israel."
Bush and his wife, Laura, attended the Etras' wedding at Shaarei Tefila, an Orthodox congregation, in 1985, and the Etras have reciprocated with visits to Texas and the White House.
The nuptials were one major payoff for Etra's Jewish activism. He met his wife-to-be, Paula, on a Jewish Federation mission for singles to Israel.
"There were 21 singles on that trip, and 10 ended up marrying each other," recalled Etra.
He has been involved in Federation activities since as former chairman of its Legal Division, member of the planning and allocation committee and vice chairman of the United Jewish Fund. Etra currently is a member of the Jewish Community Relations Committee and has also served as chairman of the regional Jewish National Fund chapter.
During the coming weeks and months, the Holocaust Memorial Museum will mark its 10th year with special exhibits commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the Nazi book burnings of the 1930s and with the first display in the United States of Anne Frank's writings.