Officials Urge Calm, Caution
In the wake of an Al Qaeda threat against Los Angeles and a widespread power outage, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William Bratton assured the Jewish community last week that a strong and highly visible police presence will provide both security and peace of mind during the upcoming High Holidays.
"We will raise our visibility to an even higher level than in past years," said Bratton during a news conference at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, attended by FBI, state and local officials.
Villaraigosa sought to buck up nervous Angelenos by declaring, "Los Angeles is as well prepared as any other city in the United States." The mayor, who addressed the local Anglo and Hispanic media in English and Spanish, broke into Hebrew to wish the city's 600,000 Jews a good year and a peaceful year.
John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, announced that a special $100,000 fund had been established to assist in security measures for smaller synagogues of 200 families or less during the High Holidays.
"Jewish institutions always feel a sense of heightened vulnerability," said Fishel in a later interview. "This is for those [synagogues] that really have a sense of vulnerability. It was an important Jewish gesture."
At the press conference, Fishel noted that his organization is taking the lead in establishing a Los Angeles Security Advisory Council for the Jewish community, as part of a broader national security program by 170 Jewish federations, coordinated by the umbrella United Jewish Communities.
The reassuring tone taken by the various officials sought to calm jitters triggered by three preceding events.
Just before the beginning of the late afternoon news conference, large parts of Los Angeles and some 2 million residents lost their electric power. Police went on tactical alert, but initial speculation about foul play was scotched when the power outage was traced to the chain reaction that followed the slicing of a power cable by utility workers.
The day before, on the fourth anniversary of Sept. 11, a supposed Al Qaeda spokesman who is a Southern California native released a videotape in Pakistan in which he threatened that Los Angeles and Melbourne were next on the organization's hit list.
A week earlier, three American Muslim converts and a Pakistani were indicted for allegedly planning to attack two synagogues, the Israeli consulate and military targets in the Los Angeles area.
There was palpable relief when the power failure was traced to innocent causes, though it raised new issues about how cutting a power cable could so easily unplug much of Los Angeles. How much worse would a real emergency be? And despite Villaraigosa's reassurances, the wake of Hurricane Katrina has left behind questions regarding the effectiveness of coordination between local and federal authorities.
Such questions are legitimate in the view of Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss who said, "The Feds keep stiffing us on [homeland security] funds."
Los Angeles needs to strive for self-sufficiency in an emergency, Bratton told The Journal. In the first 24 hours following a disaster, he said, survival would depend largely on local resources and planning.
Before the news conference, public officials met privately with West Side Jewish leaders on security measures, and a similar meeting was held Wednesday in the San Fernando Valley. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Federation's Katrina Fund Tops $1 Million
An event last weekend at the Westside Jewish Community Center raised $16,910 for victims of Hurricane Katrina. The money helped pushed fundraising totals by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles above $1 million.
More than 175 people attended the four-hour event, which included performances by the Moshav Band and comedian Avi Lieberman. There also was a silent auction whose offerings included auditions with casting directors.
The event was organized by Dan Witzling, the Federation's "younger" staffers and by Lala and Moe's, a startup group of young adults. Other sponsors included Young Israel of Century of City, the Mogen David, Beth Jacob and B'nei David Judea congregations, the Anti-Defamation League, Aish HaTorah and the Los Angeles Hillel Council.
Federation President John Fishel noted that the $1 million total hurricane donation is not likely to make "any significant dent in the overall needs, but I think it's important to be seen as involved." -- David Finnigan, Contributing Writer