Jewish Journal

Community to the Jewish World’s Youth

by Pini Herman

August 8, 2011 | 12:13 pm

Parisian teenagers sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during… (Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

LA may be getting more Jewish young visitors than Birthright Taglit is getting in Israel. We are surrounded by wandering young Jews, largely invisible to us, and we Jewish Angelenos, to them.

My relative, David Boross, lives in Budapest, Hungary and came to LA in 1996 at age 16 for a Jewish summer camp experience at Camp Hess Kramer.  At the end of camp I picked him up. David was frustrated that not one of his camp mates, the best and brightest LA Jewry had to offer, knew where his country, Hungary, was.

During camp everyone was following the 1996 Summer Olympics.  David’s parents, Istvan and Hedvig founded a company OAZIS, which happened to be a corporate sponsor of the Hungarian Olympic team. Rather than be with his parents in Atlanta, David chose a Jewish camp experience. David had bragging rights to three Olympic gold medals for swimming that Hungarians had taken away from, among others, American swimmers.  Even with that, David reported that Hungary as a place didn’t seem to register on American Jewish youth. At most, some knew it was in a place called Europe, on the way to Israel.

Hungary by jet is just a three hours from Israel versus the thirteen hours to Los Angeles.  It seems that for Jewish identity building and maintenance David prefers to get on a longer flight to LA.

A 31 year-old David messaged me a few weeks ago on Facebook that he was coming from Budapest to LA. David was coming to participate in a opening a time capsule at Camp Hess Kramer that he had sealed in 1996.  Well, things hadn’t changed.  It was David’s impression the people he met back at the camp still didn’t know where Hungary was and probably don’t know a lot about an active resurgent European Jewish community estimated at 50,000 to 150,000.  Hungary’s Jews are like LA and haven’t done a recent Jewish population survey and also don’t know their community’s vitals.

Open up the LA Times and Chris Erskine writes about French Jew’rney, a Paris based Jewish non-profit with the slogan Vivez L’American Dream (Live the American Dream) which gives French Jewish teens an LA experience.

This goes without mentioning the yearly 350 thousand Israeli tourists and business travelers to the US, of whom at least 50 thousand wind up visiting LA.  Compare this to the 20 thousand Birthright Taglit visitors expected this summer in Israel from 31 countries.  I would wager that more young Jews visit LA from 32 countries (Israel included) than visit Israel.

Just the Brandeis Collegiate Institute (BCI) at the Brandeis Bardin campus of the local American Jewish University has 70 young adult participants from 10 countries and 15 of the US states this summer, not to mention foreign students at Hebrew Union College and other Jewish educational institutions.

The thousands of young Jews from around the world on the double decker Starline buses who regularly pass the Jewish Federation building on Wilshire without knowing what it is, on their way to Rodeo Drive, unaware it is in the middle of the only majority Jewish city in the U.S.

As as Jewish community we don’t take advantage to our young coreligionists presence and largely remain invisible to them during their American adventure.  Where’s Hungary, France, Germany, Australia and Klal Yisrael.  Our LA American Jewish kids, and even their LA parents, may never know.

Pini Herman is immediate past President of the Movable Minyan a lay-lead independent congregation in the 3rd Street area. To email Pini: pini00003@gmail.com  

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Bruce Phillips is Professor of Sociology and Jewish Communal Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. He has conducted Jewish population...

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