April 18, 2002
Israel on Their Minds
Times are tense and emotions high for Southland residents with family living there.
For Jews in Los Angeles, the Middle East conflict in recent weeks has reached a frightening intensity. But for local Israelis with family residing in Israel, the emotional stakes have become particularly poignant.
An April 16, the Yom HaZikaron (Israel Remembrance Day) ceremony at North Hollywood's Adat Ari El synagogue drew more than 1,000 people, a majority of them Israeli Americans. Most, such as Mati Sade and Yehezkl Shalom, came to pay their respects to those who have paid the ultimate price for being Jewish.
"Everybody knows somebody who has been touched by the violence," said Sade, who has lived in Los Angeles for 11 years and is a volunteer for the Israeli Scouts. Twelve teens, representing local Jewish youth groups, such as the scouts, B'nai Akiva, United Synagogue Youth and the National Council of Synagogue Youth, carried flags up to the stage at the beginning of the two-hour memorial, which included poetry readings, songs by L.A. Shir choir and speeches by local dignitaries, such as Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President John Fishel, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Consul General of Israel Yuval Rotem. Shimon Erem, who will receive the Distinguished Community Service Award from the Council of Israeli Communities, read off the names of 61 people who died in service to Israel and have families in the Los Angeles area.
Many people in attendance have a connection to soldiers currently in the Israel Defense Force (IDF).
Shahar Gabay, a 26-year-old Israeli Scout leader visiting for three months, has a younger brother in the IDF stationed in Jenin, the scene of recent intensive fighting.
"It's scary," said Gabay, who said that he has been calling his parents daily for word about his brother.
Maayan Mcabian, who has been in Los Angeles for 16 years, also has a brother in the army.
"I've been getting immediate news from www.ynet.co.il," she said.
The last few weeks have been particularly emotionally taxing for Mcabian, whose immediate family is still living in Israel. She is thankful that the violence in Israel hasn't touched her world directly, but she still worries about the uncertainty of it all.
Some at the memorial event expressed their feelings about the political situation. A man who would only identify himself as David, a Haifa native in Los Angeles for 13 years, just returned from visiting family in Israel. He said he approves of the Israeli government's military retaliation for the recent wave of suicide bombings.
"We're doing the right thing. We're attacking them. That's what we should do," he said.
"We always share news," said Eli Lavan, a Los Angeles resident of 15 years, on communicating with his parents, brothers and sisters in Israel. The Even Yehuda native does not have much faith in the Palestinians' willingness to negotiate an earnest peace.
"I'm very pessimistic," he said, discussing the most recent mission to Israel.
"It's kind of hopeless, but when you're far away, it's worse," said Michal Shenizer, who still has friends in the central Israel town she grew up in. Shenizer spent a decade living in Kfar Aza, a kibbutz near Gaza, and she said that recently the area had been shelled with missiles.
"It's been a very emotional time for me," said Linda Garcini-Shemesh, who comes from a French family living in Israel. "Everything has changed. As a Jew, I fear for my family in Israel and my family in Paris," she added, referring to the recent wave of anti-Semitism in France. She came that night "to pay tribute to the people who died, and to gather with other Jews to show that we are all united."
Los Angeles has been filled with events this month. From rallies, to Holocaust memorials, to film festivals and Independence Day parties, Israelis attending have expressed worry about the situation in Israel. At the April 7 pro-Israel rally in Westwood, two Tel Aviv transplants -- film composer Shanon Farber and UCLA student Tali Tadmar -- expressed their frustration with the current situation.
"You've never seen an Israeli man or woman strap a bomb and blow up innocent people," Farber said. "Yet the media is still very anti-Israel, even after Sept. 11."
"We find that there's no partner for the peace process," Tadmar said.
"It's very difficult because I have family and friends there," said Miri Sayah, another rallygoer in her 20s, who is originally from Netanya. "It's very sad for me to read about the suicide bombings. I'm very worried."
The fact that recent L.A. rallies such as this one have been attracting an increasingly high number of supporters didn't surprise Meirav Eilon Shahar, consul for communications and public affairs at the Los Angeles Israeli consulate.
"We've been flooded with phone calls, not all from Jewish people, [asking] what they could do to help. In that respect, I was very happy," Shahar said.
"Within the Jewish community, overall there is always support for Israel, especially for the people of Israel," Shahar continued. "When you're talking about the general population, there is much more understanding of what people are going through, about what terrorism is, and how do you deal with terrorism, even if it's small things like long lines at the airport because we need our bags checked."