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Jewish Journal

Jewish, Latino leaders gather for summit

by Ryan Torok

October 5, 2011 | 6:17 pm

Local Jewish and Latino community leaders convened at UCLA on Sept. 22 for “Common History, Shared Future: A Summit for Leaders of the Latino and Jewish Communities in Los Angeles,” a meeting that featured closed-door discussions on topics such as “Israel,” “The Impact of Global Anti-Semitism,” “Empowerment and Engagement in Economy, Media and Politics” and “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.”

Held at UCLA’s Kerckhoff Hall, the daylong event drew 60 community leaders — 30 Jewish and 30 Latino participants, representing 12 organizations. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) organized the meeting with the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the National Council of La Raza and the New America Alliance, an American Latino business initiative.

ADL Pacific Southwest Regional Director Amanda Susskind said the timing of the summit was tied to the Los Angeles mayoral race.

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was unable to attend the event, steps down in 2013 due to term limits. Three of the eight candidates currently in the race are Jewish: L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti, whose mother is Jewish and whose father is of Mexican descent; Austin Beutner, first deputy mayor and economic policy chief for Villaraigosa; and L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who converted to Judaism almost 30 years ago.

The Latino and Jewish communities share a connection to Boyle Heights, and coalitions between the two groups date back more than 60 years. In 1949, Los Angeles’ Latino-Jewish coalition helped elect Ed Roybal as Los Angeles’ first Latino city councilman.

More recently, Latino leaders in Los Angeles have participated in delegations to Israel; ADL and AJC programs have paired Jewish and Latino leaders in Los Angeles; and Israel’s previous consul general in Los Angeles, Jacob Dayan, worked with Villaraigosa on a number of city events, including the raising of the Israeli flag outside the Israeli consulate on Wilshire Boulevard.

During a press conference that followed the discussions, Israeli Consul General David Siegel said that like Israel, Los Angeles’ Latino population absorbs immigrants and holds language and culture in high regard.

“We should embrace diversity and find pragmatic solutions to problems of mankind,” he said, referring to the Jewish-Latino partnership.

Maya Entertainment CEO Moctesuma Esparza agreed: “We both have communities that are in tremendous Diaspora. We look to build a future that is based on human values, tolerance and embracing our differences.”

Esparza said that media networks Univision and Telemundo can help increase awareness about Israel in the Latino community by offering more in-depth coverage of events there, as opposed to “30-second sound bites.”

The consensus among attendees was that the summit was productive and that another one would likely happen in the future.

“We dug deeper,” said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. “It was not about platitudes.”

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