January 20, 2010
Connecting L.A.’s Israeli and American Jews
Los Angeles may be home to one of the largest concentrations of Israelis in the United States, but many in this group, known as yordim (Israeli ex-pats) and hybrids (anyone who is a combination of Israeli and American) often find themselves feeling isolated. They long for a stronger organizational link to their Israeli compatriots even as they feel out of sync with the larger Jewish community.
Mainstream American Jewish outlets for networking, like LimmudLA, JconnectLA or JDate, don’t always satisfy the desire for links to the Jewish homeland, so many look for comfort in an Israeli chevre (clique), through Israeli cultural events and by making frequent trips to hangouts like Aroma Bakery and Cafe in Hollywood or Encino.
Enter Dor Chadash, an organization started in New York in 2003 as an effort to marry contemporary Israeli culture with the American Jewish community. The East Coast contingent now boasts 14,000 members, and, in December, the group made its first foray onto the L.A. scene with a sold-out Chanukah party.
The expansion to the West Coast took a lot of consideration.
“In New York you have dozens of universities and different industries,” said Ran Fuchs, Chairman of Dor Chadash USA. “It’s a diverse form of constituencies and it’s very condensed geographically. Los Angeles has the same needs and desires, but traditionally it’s more of a fractured community.”
Los Angeles became a practical and viable option when Dor Chadash leaders were introduced to the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC), an L.A.-based nonprofit that provides professional and financial resources to initiatives that further the ILC’s mission of fortifying relations between Israeli Americans and the State of Israel.
Impressed with the organization, the ILC took upon itself 100 percent of the funding to bring Dor Chadash here, while also providing logistical support and coveted connections. With Dor Chadash lending its reputation, experience and know-how, the partnership was a natural one.
The goal was simple: to create a place for like-minded people to connect. “You want to be where you can find people like you, that share the same culture and same background and same passion,” said Shoham Nicolet, ILC executive director. “We can say we’re going to form an Israeli young professional group, but that would miss the purpose of what we want to have. We want Israelis to be involved, but to have them not be apart from the American Jewish community.”
Hybrids, like Zev Barnoy — a community organizer who started the Israeli American social group HaMakom (The Place) before becoming the founding executive director of Dor Chadash-LA — form the natural bridge to the Israeli American gap. They make up more than half of the core group of 32 volunteers who set Dor Chadash-LA’s local agenda.
“There’s definitely a rift between not only Israelis and the American Jewish community but even within the ‘hybrids’ ... the sense is that often they don’t connect with the Israeli side or the American side; they’re in their own bubble. With these events and by bringing the communities together, the hope is that we’ll learn from one another and find a common bridge between the segments,” Barnoy said.
Since being interviewed for this article, Barnoy has stepped down as executive director, and Dor Chadash-LA already is undergoing a process of restructuring its governance to empower its core volunteer group and its vision as a volunteer-driven organization. Programming is continuing as planned.
Like its New York prototype, Dor Chadash-LA organizes events that have social, educational, cultural and social action components. Its first event was an intimate breakfast in early December with Harvard law school professor and author Alan Dershowitz. Cultural events are designed to expose participants to Israeli artists, as was the case with the Jan. 7 screening of the acclaimed Israeli film, “Ajami,” which was followed by a question-and-answer period with the directors, Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, and the local Consul for Culture, Media and Public Diplomacy, Shahar Azani.
In the coming months, Dor Chadash will host evenings with Israeli pop stars Rita and Idan Raichel. A dinner and discussion evening, called Dinner With Friends, is scheduled for Jan. 21, and will be a recurring program.
The group is careful not to brand itself as a single-only network: about 30 percent of its core group consists of couples.
“We’re really inclusive,” said Nicolet, “we don’t only approach one segment of the population.”
The Chanukah bash, Light My Fire, set against a panoramic view of Los Angeles at the penthouse-level Stardust Room at the Beverly Hilton, featured a DJ spinning American pop hits blended with remixes of Israeli pop and plenty of mingling in English and Hebrew with cocktails named after Israeli cities, like Tel Aviv Tequila Sunrise and Jerusalem Jungle Juice.
Partygoer Niloo, a lawyer of Iranian descent who has worked the American Jewish social circuit, said she welcomes the group’s entry into the Jewish social scene, saying she’s “burnt out” by existing organizations. “It’s a lot of the same people. There’s no common focus or interest,” she said.
Niloo said she is looking for new ways to connect to Israel. “The only kind of Israeli-oriented organization I know of is AIPAC, and it’s purely political; it’s great and it has its place, but I think having a social outlet for ‘Isra-philes’ serves a need in the community.”
Mike Levine, 31, said he feels more connected to Israel than to Judaism proper. His first visit to Israel, three years ago, changed his perception of what it means to be a Jew and led him to become active with AIPAC and Friends of the IDF. Still, he feels a need for something more.
“In Los Angeles there’s gotten to be many young leadership-type Jewish groups,” he said. “It’s beginning to be that none of them stand out from the next. The purpose of the charity kind of gets lost.”
It remains to be seen, he said, whether Dor Chadash-LA will maintain the strength of its identity.
Since any discussion of Israeli-ness in Los Angeles often leads to a few blunt assertions of Israeli stereotypes, such was the case here, provided by one partygoer, who asked to have his name withheld.
“I want to meet the kind of Israelis who don’t push me out of the way,” he said at the party. “I want to meet the kinds of Israelis who don’t play chakchaki [uncouth] music down Fairfax. I want to meet the kind of Israelis who don’t growl at me when I talk to their girlfriend. I want to meet Israelis who have nothing to do with moving and carpet cleaning.”
And he summed up another reason why he and his friends attended the party: “We basically like Israeli girls.”
For more information about Dor Chadash-LA, visit http://www.dorchadashla.org.