I would be remiss indeed if I did not take this opportunity to note the recent passing of two important figures in the LA Jewish community, both of whom I had the honor of knowing.
Gen. Shimon Erem (bio), the “patriarch” of our city’s Israeli community, was one of the pioneers in Jewish outreach to Evangelical Christians. He realized before many other Jewish leaders did that Christians needed to be welcomed into the pro-Israel fold, and traveled around the world to promote Jewish-Christian ties. I spoke with him privately on a few occasions, and was blown away by his passion, energy and vision. He told me several times that he held Mormons in high esteem, and regretted that he was not able to conduct meaningful outreach to the LDS community due to anti-Mormon sentiments expressed by some of his Evangelical supporters. Shimon was a mensch, and I will miss him.
LA Activists on the left side of the Israel debate have generally mastered the art of disagreeing without being disagreeable (e.g., David Pine of Peace Now). This was not a priority for Arthur Stern (bio), the co-chair of Peace Now’s LA chapter. He and I debated once at a dinner sponsored by the Hillel students at CSUN. Neither the students nor I found his arguments particularly convincing, and he refused to shake my hand afterwards. When he saw me on another occasion after I had started working for the ZOA, he used an ugly epithet to describe my new employer. However, I found it impossible to dislike Arthur. As far as I was concerned, a Holocaust survivor who attended two Jewish seminaries before coming to this country and enjoying remarkable success in electronics was entitled to hold whatever views he wanted on the peace process.
One of the things I love about the Jewish community is its passionate debates about all aspects of Jewish life, including Israel. Two irreplaceable voices on both sides of the Israel debate have now been silenced. I have no doubt that Shimon and Arthur are now resting from their many labors in the olam ha-ba. May their memories be a blessing for all of us.