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East Meets West

by Naomi Pfefferman

April 3, 2003 | 7:00 pm

About six months ago, Gregory Rodriguez, a contributing editor to the Los Angeles Times opinion section, phoned his friend, Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, West Coast regional director of the American Jewish Committee (AJ Committee). Rodriguez had attended events purported to promote intellectual fellowship among diverse Angelenos, but had found them not-so-diverse. "There's a lot of lip service paid to crossing barriers in this city, but many gatherings are organized around political or ethnic lines," Rodriguez said.

To mix things up a bit, the two friends went on to launch a program, co-presented by the Los Angeles Public Library. The series, Zócalo, which means "public square" in Spanish, will gather Eastsiders and Westsiders for private discussions and public lectures on crucial civic issues. It kicks off at the downtown Central Library's Mark Taper Auditorium on April 9 at 7 p.m., when the Economist's Washington correspondent Adrian Wooldridge, co-author of "The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea," will describe his take on the corporation as "an engine that can work for the public good as well as ill," Greenebaum said.

Four more speakers through July will include the preeminent African American essayist Debra Dickerson and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the Oscar-nominated director of "Amores Perros."

The series joins a burgeoning trend of L.A. programs devoted to the intellectual life, from Lunchtime Art Talks at the UCLA Hammer Museum to the literary salon Beyond Baroque.

"But we don't want to be labeled a salon," Rodriguez said. "We want to create a nonpartisan, multiethnic place in a city that has few neutral, welcoming places."

Like Zócalo, its conveners represent East and West Los Angeles. Rodriguez, 36, is a Mexican American who lives in a Northeast neighborhood, Hermon, near Highland Park. Greenebaum, who is in his 50s, promotes intergroup relations through the regional office of the AJCommittee, located in West L.A. The two men met when Rodriguez interviewed Greenebaum for a piece that touched on Latino-Jewish relations several years ago.

They're hoping Zócalo -- sponsored by groups as varied as The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and Citibank -- will introduce Angelenos who wouldn't normally meet. "A group devoted to fostering fellowship and new ideas will be a powerful contribution to the new L.A.," Rodriguez said. 

For information about Zócalo events, which will be broadcast over KPCC 89.3 FM, call (213) 228-7025.

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