November 9, 2006
From pioneers, peddlers and politicians to cutting-edge community
(Page 3 - Previous Page)At the same time, struggles remain: the needs of 60,000 L.A. Jews living at or near the poverty level; providing for all segments of a diverse community, including singles, single parents, students, seniors and the differently abled; integrating newcomers, including large populations of Israeli, Persian, Russian, South African and South American Jews; engaging the interest and resources of the entertainment industry machers; and building relationships with our neighbors.
And population alone does not a Jewish community make. While an otherwise positive development, as elsewhere, the breakdown of social barriers, and dispersal over tremendous geographical distances, weaken identification with Jewish life, even as we attempt to harness new ways to stay connected with one another. The city's outward sprawl has resulted in what may be the greatest threat facing Jewish Los Angeles today: neither assimilation nor intermarriage, but traffic.
Why is the Los Angeles Jewish community different than all other Jewish communities? For one, in a media age, it is from Los Angeles that the image of the Jew goes forth to the world through film and television. But also because here, for the most part, Jews continue to talk with one another. The fabled Jewish ability to divide three opinions between two people hasn't changed. But perhaps nowhere else are individuals representing very different religious and ideological perspectives so willing to sit and discuss the issues. There is not always agreement, but there is usually respectful discussion and an ongoing, productive search for common ground.
Los Angeles' preeminence as one of the world's great cities is matched by its entry into the ranks of the world's great Jewish cities. Freedom unprecedented in Jewish history allows the more than 600,000 Jews of greater Los Angeles, about 6 percent of the local population, to be an integral part of our home, successfully intertwined with the region's growth and progress, enjoying with our fellow residents a place of challenges, pleasures and potentials. As we confront varied and complex issues, some faced by Jews wherever they live and some special to the Southland, may the angels and our pioneering spirit continue to be with us.
Stephen J. Sass is the president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California.