Jewish Journal


June 7, 2001

Searching for a Response


College student Jonah Weiss.

College student Jonah Weiss.

Here in Los Angeles, 7,590 miles away from Israel, many Jews feel the conflict as if it were happening at home.

And they don't know what to do about it.

While New York Jews gathered on Sunday somewhat spontaneously for a 10,000-person rally to protest the situation in Israel, West Coast Jews attended the biannual Valley Jewish Festival, planned months ago around the theme of the environment.

Thousands of people came to the California State University, Northridge, campus to enjoy more than 50 display booths put up by synagogues, Jewish organizations, social-action groups, and vendors of tasty food and beautiful artwork. With rides for kids, contests, music and dance performances, the festival had something for everyone.

Many at the festival also searched for a way to deal with Friday's bombing in Tel Aviv, which killed 20 Israelis, most of them teenage girls.

United Jewish Communities (UJC) officials had discussed a rally to coincide with the festival, which would have featured Israeli government leaders. With the situation in Israel intensifying, UJC has postponed plans for a rally until senior Israeli leaders are available to participate.

At the festival, many people expressed concern about the situation escalating to full-scale war. "Israel has to do something," said Marilyn Goldstein, 64. "I don't approve of violence, but short of war I don't know what they can do."

Carrol Cohen, 54, said she is writing to President George W. Bush, to tell him that America must do more. "Not only am I upset about people who live in Israel, that they don't feel safe, but people here and in Europe [who] aren't going."

Others told The Journal that they felt the need to take more concrete action. "I want to protest, I want the Jewish people to protest in a very public way, to show the American people that we are with Israel," said David Saraf, 41, who was walking with his daughter Rachel, 3. Saraf suggested the protest should be "not only among ourselves, but in public, like in front of the Federal Building."

Nestled among the festival booths -- from synagogues to summer programs to singles groups -- one new organization hoped to enable Los Angeles Jews to take direct action in support of Israel.

The Israel Emergency Alliance, founded by Jewish leadership, including staff and members of The Jewish Federation and the Anti-Defamation League, along with JCC representatives and rabbis, met on May 21 to unite the community and its organizations into one force.

"We're trying to come up with the answer to the question, 'What can we do?'" said Roz Rothstein, a spokesperson for the grass-roots organization, which is centered around a Web site, www.standwithus.com.

The organization's plan includes lobbying the media in a "preemptive" fight to improve Israel's public image, "not just when a suicide bomb goes off," Rothstein said.

"We must also demand action from our leaders," she said, referring to a letter addressed to Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, demanding strong denunciations of terrorism. The Emergency Alliance will also take action in classrooms, Rothstein said, teaching schoolchildren about Israel and involving them in support campaigns for Israeli soldiers, sending letters and care packages.

In addition, the Alliance plans to hold a public meeting focused on journalism the week of June 18 at Westside Jewish Community Center, where community members can discuss Israel's negative image and possible remedies. Register at the Web site for more information.

San Diego State University student Jonah Weiss, 21, just returned from studying in Israel and plans to go back after he finishes college. Weiss sees a larger force at work in recent events in Israel, from the bombing to the wedding hall collapse. "This is God trying to tell us something," Weiss said. "When the wedding hall fell in, the whole country came together. We're Jewish people, we just need to come together now."

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