At first glance, Jews might appear to be enjoying a renaissance of political influence in Los Angeles. Eric Garcetti is the first elected Jewish mayor and the two other citywide elected officials — City Attorney Mike Feuer and City Controller Ron Galperin — are Jewish, too. So are three City Councilmembers.
But the era is long past when an energized base of African American and Jewish voters could team up to help Mayor Tom Bradley make history. Power in Los Angeles is more diffused, and thanks in part to the Jewish commitment to expanding and leveling the democratic playing field, a wide variety of diverse constituencies are better organized. This is a welcome change that has helped lift the voices of all Angelenos.
“Jewish heritage is American heritage,” Vice President Joe Biden said last May, crediting Jews for America’s progress in women’s rights, civil rights, science, law, and LGBT rights. Yet as Los Angeles political expert Raphael J. Sonenshein noted in his column in the Journal in June, Jewish support is "no longer a necessity for minority access to political leadership at the local level." In other words, Jewish voters are not the deciding factor they once were in Los Angeles politics. Meanwhile, many of L.A.'s most influential Jewish leaders have turned from political pursuits to philanthropic initiatives.
Now a new generation of Jews is growing up in a new Los Angeles. Our region is more diverse than ever, and while serious inequalities and social divisions persist, many areas are seeing new integration. Jewish Angelenos, having left downtown for the Valley and the Westside, are returning to an increasingly integrated urban core, from the East Side to Pico-Union to Koreatown.
As Biden rightly noted, that spirit of integration pervades contemporary American Jewish identity—and so does civic commitment. Jumpstart’s latest research on charitable giving, Connected to Give, confirms the generosity of American Jews across all causes. The stronger our community connections, it shows, the stronger our commitment to the common good.
Like that of so many others, my own story—a co-chair of the Clinton Foundation Millennium Network leadership council who is the child of a Holocaust survivor, a new County commissioner who is the cofounder of an innovative Jewish nonprofit startup—reflects this synergy. Like so many others, I am inspired by a Jewish tradition that spurs us, indeed demands of us, that we help lead the conversation about where our city and society are heading, and how we all can get there together.
For me, as for a number of other Jewish Angelenos active in civic service, appointed office has offered the opportunity to bring my personal commitments and professional skills to bear for the broader good. There are myriad city and county commissions that advise government departments and agencies. The City of Los Angeles alone has more than 50 commissions with more than 300 commissioners. They develop policies governing the LAPD and pensions for city workers, ideas for modern city planning, solutions for increasing affordable housing. Commissions are a key mechanism for citizen participation in and oversight of government, and they play a central role shaping the local agenda.
But we are a handful among hundreds. How can we ensure that rising leaders from across the diverse spectrum of the Los Angeles Jewish community have the skills and understanding necessary to earn an appointment and make a sustained positive impact? By making sure we're training the next generation of Jewish civic leaders.
And that’s where the Jewish Federation’s New Leaders Project (NLP) comes in.
For more than 20 years (and currently recruiting for next year’s class), NLP has helped train hundreds of Jewish leaders, many of whom have gone on to serve as elected and appointed officials (including commissioners), nonprofit directors, business executives. NLP helps young Jewish leaders broaden their understanding of the complex issues and diverse communities across the region. Participants meet with innovators both inside the Jewish community and out. And they get to work hands on with elected, civic, community and business leaders, forming crucial relationships and learning the nuances of the city's power structures — all through a lens grounded in Jewish values. NLP has helped inspire similar civic efforts in other minority religious communities, such as the SikhLEAD Leadership Development Program and the American Muslim Civic Leadership Initiative.
The future of our community—both Angeleno and Jewish—depends on creating more opportunities for us to live out our values for the benefit of the broader world. My own training as an NLP fellow in 2012 helped broaden my civic horizons and prepare me to take on the obligation of building a better Los Angeles.
The echoes of the Bradley era still resonate today as Los Angeles’s diversity continues to be a source of our strength. Whether through training programs like NLP or service through commissions, each of us can make a powerful statement that we care deeply about our society and that we will keep fighting to repair the world. Jewish values—American values—call us to act.
NLP is currently recruiting for 2014. For more information, go to www.JewishLA.org/NLP.