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Jewish Journal

Rallying

by Rob Eshman

April 11, 2002 | 8:00 pm

Number of Jews who live in Toulouse, France: 23,000.

Number of Jews who live in Los Angeles, Calif.: 550,000.

Number of Jews who attended a pro-Israel rally last week in Toulouse: 5,000.

Number of Jews who attended a pro-Israel rally last week in Los Angeles: 2,000.

I got a phone call on Monday. "Why can't we do any better than Toulouse?" asked an accountant who attended the rally at the Federal Building the day before. "What is the matter with this community?"

It's a common refrain. "You simply can't get people off their butts in this town," a community activist complained to me. At a meeting of the Council of Israeli Communities (CIC) in Tarzana, one woman on the verge of tears asked, "What does it take to wake people up?"

The second intifada has produced two mass rallies. The first, organized last July largely by The Jewish Federation, was meant to pack two blocks of Wilshire Boulevard, but the turnout was around 3,000.

The crowd at last Sunday's rally, organized at an even more dire moment by the grass-roots association StandWithUs, was about 2,000.

The people who do come out to wave the flag tend to be the same from rally to rally. Israel's Orthodox supporters have shown up in large numbers, as have many in the Persian community, and those who work or volunteer significantly in the Jewish organizational world.

But thousands more, from the Valleys, the Westside, the Hollywood Hills, were elsewhere. Many Israeli emigrants attended; many more did not.

Not showing up for rallies is not just a Jewish phenomenon. All community organizers complain about the difficulty of mobilizing the masses in a city that lacks good public transportation, a central square, cheap parking. When the Police Commission voted on Tuesday against a second season for Chief Bernard Parks, where was the march on downtown from his many vocal supporters? According to KPCC, one angry woman showed up at City Hall. Urban sprawl dampens urban activism.

But sub-urban activism -- that still takes place in Los Angeles. People are upset, but the "Big Rally" is perceived as too blunt and unwieldy a tool for self-expression.

Many Jews want to show support for Israel without signing up to all of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policies. There is deep disagreement here, as there is in Israel, over the level of collective punishment Israel is wielding and over Sharon's political agenda. Organizers in Paris and Toulouse said they would have attracted more Jews if the rallies had just opposed the anti-Semitic attacks in those cities, and not supported Israeli policies.

Even those who do support Sharon's policies didn't turn out en masse Sunday. Jews of all political stripes have simply found other means of showing support:

  • A major Hollywood agent -- the kind of agent whom stars thank by name, along with God, from the Oscar podium -- has called an emergency meeting with a leader of the American Jewish Committee, just so his fellow Industry colleagues can learn more about what's happening, and perhaps do something. Another agent hurried together a meeting this week between Industry friends and representatives of the Seeds of Peace program.
  • At Sinai Temple last Shabbat, congregants raised $700,000 in 25 minutes for Israeli victims of terror, an amount matched on the spot by the Persian Jewish philanthropy Magbit (see story p. 10).
  • The Jewish Federation has launched a $10 million fundraisng appeal for Israel, part of a national $200 million effort.
  • Groups like American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Americans for Peace Now and Zionist Organization of America are getting more and more, "What can I do?" phone calls, are organizing events and engaging in e-mail actions.
  • At pulpits throughout the region, rabbis are urging their congregants toward actions and donations. The Board of Rabbis, in a show of solidarity,just sent a group of 13 area rabbis to Israel.
  • Jewish leaders have met privately with editorial boards at the Los Angeles Times and The Daily News to express concern over instances of biased coverage and inflammatory cartoons. Meanwhile, those papers are deluged, as is this one, with Letters to the Editor and Op-Ed pieces from people anxious to speak out.
  • Grass-roots groups, like StandWithUs and medialine.com (see story p. 15), have sprung up to provide more outlets for communal expression. A prime example is the CIC, which took the lead in organizing the Israel Festival on Sunday, April 21, at Woodley Park.

In years past, the Festival has been just that, a chance to celebrate Israel, meet people, have fun. This year the size of the crowd will also be a measure of communal support (see story p. 11). It doesn't matter who or what you support in Israel, organizer Morrie Avidan told me, "We will all be there together."

See you there.

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