“Israel’s story is part of who I am as an Angeleno,” Villaraigosa said. “The history of struggle, the fighting for freedoms, an exodus from the bondage of discrimination, those echo my own community’s struggle for civil rights. And on a more personal level when it comes to Israel, my roots run deep. They go back to my mother, who believed in the power of diversity and the value of every human being; to my childhood in East L.A., Jewish neighbors welcomed me into their homes and never turned a cold eye of bigotry toward my family; to Herman Katz, the Jewish teacher who saw potential in a high school dropout and sent me on a course to college, a strong education and a chance at success; and to the leaders in the Jewish and Israeli communities in L.A. who understand the dreams of peace and freedom, justice and democracy, extend from the shores of the Pacific to the beaches of Tel Aviv.”
Much has been made, or more accurately was made, of Katz’s influence on the delinquent young Tony Villar. It’s never been clear how much of the story is reality and how much is fable. Katz appeared in Villaraigosa’s 2005 campaign commercials and on stage at his inauguration. But this is politics, and, in case you hadn’t noticed, Los Angeles has a big Jewish community. And Villaraigosa knows this. So a bit of skepticism is understandable.
The Jewish Journal provided a bit of insight when the paper profiled Villaraigosa’s favorite MOT in 2006. Here’s what his former teacher had to say:
“I saw that he was a bright kid, and from what he had told me, he really didn’t know what he was going to do,” Katz said. “It was just a matter of encouraging him.”
“It wasn’t a ‘this-kid-could-be-mayor-one-day’ type of thing. But it just so happened that this was at a time when he needed somebody who showed a little interest, who would give him the encouragement, and that’s what it really was,” Katz said.