I have known Wendy Greuel for almost 30 years, since she was a young UCLA graduate working for Mayor Tom Bradley. Wendy didn’t just get the tough assignments in the mayor’s office; she sought them out — especially if she could help those less fortunate or those without a voice in desperate need of one.
In the mid-’80s, Wendy led the effort to address the burgeoning problem of homelessness in Los Angeles. I remember being very impressed when Wendy ventured into dangerous areas essentially consisting of tent encampments to meet the people living there and to determine what kind of services they needed. She also focused on homeless veterans, many from the Vietnam War, working closely with Judge Harry Pregerson to create housing options for them.
In the late ’80s, to address the proliferation of gang violence, Wendy also used her amazing skill of bringing people together in helping to create LA’s BEST After-School Enrichment, now a model nationwide, serving 189 elementary schools in LAUSD and 28,000 kids every day who live in the most socio-economically challenged areas of our city. These were difficult assignments, which drew on Wendy’s greatest assets — determination to make a difference and empathy informing that determination.
Wendy’s successes from the outset of her career were not surprising to anyone who knew her. She was the first to show up at work each day and the last to leave. Everyone knew that Wendy never wasted time and never let anything stop her from accomplishing the task at hand. Wendy’s diligence, productivity and disciplined focus have always been her hallmarks; those traits, coupled with her passion for social justice, have enabled Wendy to make meaningful change. And, because she is blessed with modesty and humility, Wendy has always pitched in to do the “grunt” work or unpopular tasks in order to get the job done. As she moved up the career ladder and moved into elected office, nothing about Wendy or her character changed. She remains one of the hardest workers I have ever known. Her humility, sense of compassion and commitment to social justice remain steadfast; her decisions are guided by basic ethical standards; pursuing justice, treating every human being with dignity and respect, and treating others as you yourself would like to be treated.
While Wendy is not Jewish, she has a passionate affinity for Judaism and for Israel. Wendy has persistently stood with the Jewish community in support of Israel, even when many of her elected colleagues would not.
When she was an L.A. city councilwoman, Wendy sat on the dais at the pro-Israel demonstration in front of The Jewish Federation building during the second Lebanon War. In fact, it was disturbing when Wendy was criticized in the L.A. Times for being there, the reporter quipping that she wasn’t even Jewish, suggesting that a non-Jew’s support for Israel could not be sincere. Nothing could be further from the truth. That Wendy is not Jewish hasn’t stopped her from standing and speaking out in support of Israel repeatedly; after the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara attempted to run through an Israeli blockade, Wendy once again stood in front of the Israeli Consulate and spoke out in solid support of Israel. As any friend of Wendy knows, she is a leader who maintains the courage of her convictions.
Although already having a strong connection to the Jewish community in Los Angeles, Wendy’s connection was further strengthened when, 10 years ago, she married Dean Schramm, who is Jewish and actively engaged in Los Angeles’ Jewish communal life. Wendy and Dean have an adorable and wonderful 9-year-old son, Thomas, who they are raising Jewish and who loves to go to religious school at Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH), where they are members. Wendy shared with me recently how much she enjoyed family day at TIOH, watching Thomas absorb the values of Judaism and excel in learning Hebrew. That she has embraced a more intimate connection to Judaism is not surprising, for those Jewish values Thomas is learning are values Wendy already possesses.
I’ll close with one final thought about Wendy. Several years ago, the twin sister of a mutual friend of ours was murdered, a woman with two small children. In the midst of this crisis, this horrific situation and despite the demands of her job, Wendy was there for our friend and her sister’s children, unflinching, unwavering, ever helpful and terribly caring. I was watching. Wendy’s actions spoke volumes. Above all, Wendy is a fine human being … a mensch.
Inherent in Wendy’s being is her moral compass that guides all of her relationships and all of her actions. At the core of that compass are the values of fairness, compassion and justice. She will be an amazing mayor, and we, the residents of Los Angeles, will benefit and will watch her with pride.
Janice Kamenir-Reznik is the co-founder and president of Jewish World Watch, a leading organization in the fight against genocide and mass atrocities worldwide.