The program, which graduated its first class a few months after the riots split the city asunder in 1992, aims to create an informative blend of civic instruction and Jewish values that appeal to its audience of about 15 to 20 men and women, ranging from their mid-20s to early 40s.
"I loved the idea of 16 of us sharing background and ideas and thoughts. It broadened my knowledge of this city."
-- Larry Greenfield, businessman, attorney and political activist
"Each year, we've attracted people into the program who I don't think would have entered into a traditional Jewishleadership program," said NLP co-founder and co-chair Donna Bojarsky. One of the main goals, she said, is to build bridges across the city between the civic and Jewish communities.
"As our cities have become increasingly complex and diverse places, it's important to call upon Jewish values to inform us as good Jewish leaders and also to be civic leaders," said Bojarsky, a longtime political and Jewish activist who is a public-policy consultant to actor Richard Dreyfuss.
As in the previous two sessions, the 1996 program, which ended in October, began with a weekend retreat in which speakers -- including rabbis, previous NLP graduates, Federation and civic leaders, and media representatives -- spoke about such topics as Jewish values and public policy, the meaning of Jewish leadership and spirituality, and, of course, the challenges facing Los Angeles. In the months that followed (usually on alternate Sundays), NLP participants met with leaders from the African-American, Asian and Latino communities, as well as with city officials, educators and Jewish leaders. Other events included potluck Shabbat dinners, a spiritual retreat, and a discussion on leadership from the Orthodox Jewish perspective.
One of the most meaningful parts of the program, according to some participants, was creating a community-service project that could be put into action and, presumably, would have some impact. Working on a project helped Dean Shapiro tie his business skills with Jewish activism. Shapiro is vice president of international theatrical sales at Metromedia Entertainment in Century City. He and another NLP member, Nicole Silverton, produced a reading of a new play titled "Magda's Story" at the Wiesenthal Center. Putting together the production, with actors Stockard Channing, Michael York and Larry Drake (Benny in "L.A. Law"), was "really thrilling," Shapiro said. The play, a Holocaust theater piece for schoolchildren about a righteous gentile's effort to save a former boyfriend from the death camps, proved popular and will be staged again this summer with a different cast.
For Shapiro, the play's message about people of different backgrounds helping each other "is the core of the New Leaders Project." The 27-year-old Los Angeles native, a member of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, said that the program was stronger in its civic than its religious components, but that he received "an excellent foundation on how political Los Angeles works, how the Los Angeles Jewish community works, and how they work together." It also proved invaluable as a networking tool. "I now know someone at AIPAC, someone who works in Israel Bonds and at City Hall. When, in the rest of my public life, I need to call them, I can. And when there's something I might know about, they can call me."
Scott Stone, another member of the class of 1996, was also impressed with how much he learned about the way the Los Angeles Jewish community works. Other than his involvement with his synagogue, Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, Stone, 41, who has his own television production company (Stone Stanley Productions), had had little understanding or connection with the organized Jewish community here. "For me, this was a way of being exposed to a much more Jewish approach to tikkun olam, to creating bridges between communities I was already involved in."
Stone's project, which is still a work in progress, grew out of his commitment to both the Jewish and gay and lesbian communities. He is making a documentary about successful gay and lesbian couples, where both partners are Jewish. "My hope is that by showing examples of couples in relationships of anywhere from six months to 50 years, I will be able to depoliticize and take the religious edge off the issue," Stone said.
Larry Greenfield, a businessman, attorney and political activist for international human rights and Jewish causes, refers to himself as "born and bred into Conservative Jewish life," in Los Angeles. Among other things, he is co-chair of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Leadership 2000 group, on JCRC's board of directors and co-chair of Unity '97, Los Angeles Young Adult conference commemorating Zionism's centennial. Being part of NLP allowed him to become more familiar with civic Los Angeles, Greenfield said. "I loved the idea of 16 of us sharing background and ideas and thoughts. It broadened my knowledge of this city."
At graduation, however, Greenfield made a speech in which he challenged the facilitators of the NLP program to seek out not only the "usual minority coalition partners...but also such groups as the Christian Right or the Libertarians or Cultural Conservatives or others with whom you do not often agree."
The New Leaders Project, however it evolves in the future, has already spawned programs in four other cities: Boston, Indianapolis, Detroit and Flint, Mich. Two additional cities, still unnamed, will offer the program later this year.
NLP in Los Angeles is funded by grants from the Charles I. Brown Foundation, the Hillside Foundation, Stanley Hirsh, the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Charitable Foundation, the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Righteous Persons Foundation through the National New Leaders Project, the David Polak Foundation, program alumni and many individual donors. Richard S. Volpert chairs the program, and E. Eric Schockman is the program director.
NLP applications are encouraged by May 16, but will be accepted until May 30. For information, call (213) 852-7730.