May 20, 2009
Three Stops and a Chart
Fifty miles of driving, three very different experiences, a million jumbled thoughts about life in this very diverse city. One Sunday in Los Angeles.
It was a day of many opportunities too good to turn down. I spent the morning staring the future in the face at Young Israel of Century City (YICC), an Orthodox shul in Pico-Robertson. I ate lunch at a festival bringing together the Jewish immigrant culture that once dominated a neighborhood east of downtown with the newer Latino immigrant society that took over the area, and I caught a late-afternoon lecture by one of the most familiar news anchors on TV. Just another Sunday in Los Angeles.
At Young Israel of Century City, Rabbi Elazar Muskin brought together educators and visionaries to project into the Jewish future. The consensus: We need to get out more; we need to care more. We need to celebrate who we are. The final session of the morning was “Charting the Jewish Future,” an auspicious undertaking.
Rosalie Zalis, senior vice president of Pacific Capital Group, addressed the crucial importance of finding funding for Jewish education, pointing to reports that only 4 percent of Jewish Federation money nationally goes to education, even less to Jewish day schools.
Jewish Journal columnist David Suissa talked about how curiosity has convinced him we have much to learn from people different from ourselves, even if (and when) we disagree with them. Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, Jewish World Watch executive director, told of bearing witness to fresh stories of genocide in Sudan that she heard from a woman in a Chad refugee camp, bringing choking up all in the room. Seth Berkowitz, president of YICC and an executive vice president of Edmunds.com, talked of his belief that his own success stems from the encouragement of his own parents and about his belief in Jewish exceptionalism. This quiet, contemplative gathering offered much food for thought for its too-small audience.
In Boyle Heights, the temperature was rising at the Fiesta Shalom, a Jewish-Latino festival organized by the Israeli Consulate. Hundreds from the neighborhood shared musical entertainment and festive street food with equal numbers of visitors from all over the city. Jews once dominated this now-Latino neighborhood, and the event drew today’s Jews back to share a moment and visit the historic Breed Street Shul, a treasure being restored and transformed into a neighborhood center, spearheaded by the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California. (See article on Page 14.)
L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke in Spanish and English, joined by a host of civic leaders and Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan. You could eat a kosher schwarma, drink some horchata and munch a dill pickle from Canter’s Deli (which got its start in the neighborhood) — and get your face painted. It was approaching 100 degrees on the pavement, but that didn’t shatter the good-natured spirit of communities coming together.
Back on the Westside, the annual Daniel Pearl Lecture got going at 5 p.m., sponsored by the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which, in memory of the slain Wall Street Journal reporter, promotes peace and understanding through journalism and music. Run by Daniel’s parents, Judea and Ruth Pearl, it is a foundation with a very Jewish heart focused on learning, communication and understanding, but without a particular Jewish stamp so that it can reach out to the Muslim world to create dialogue and exchange. The newest Pearl fellow, a journalist from Egypt, Sherine El Madany, had just arrived in town to spend time working at the Los Angeles Times and The Jewish Journal.
But the event, co-sponsored at UCLA by Hillel and the Burkle Center for International Relations, belonged to this year’s speaker, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who drew an audience of about 1,000 for a talk that was as much a personal chat as a call to action. Cooper told of how he became a journalist after his brother’s suicide, filling his loss by traveling to war-torn worlds to witness others’ pain — to learn how they survive it. In the process, he learned that he could tell these crucial stories to the world and make a difference.
His theme: We need to get out more. To care more. To be curious, to be sensitive.
That’s a pretty good chart for our future, Jewish or otherwise.