Jewish Journal


February 26, 2008

LA’s mayor a member of the Tribe?


The Forward has a short profile this week of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, whom reporter Rebecca Spence calls “something of an honorary member of the tribe.”

Los Angeles is a small town, and with half a million Jews in the greater L.A. area, it’s no surprise Villaraigosa has leaned heavily on many Jews along the way, whether it was high school teacher Herman Katz or his best friend on the City Council, Jack Weiss, or chief of staff Robin Kramer.

His predecessors, most notably Tom Bradley, benefited similarly. But Spence presents a man whose philo-Semitism goes a good deal further than political expedience (though he’s still no Mark Paredes).

According to local Jewish leaders, the mayor himself has made a habit of attending synagogue services, beyond the public appearances L.A. mayors tend to make at High Holiday services. He has been spotted at Temple Valley Beth Shalom and at Adat Ariel, both located in the San Fernando Valley — a region that tends to skew somewhat more conservative when it comes to local politics and that, unlike the Westside, went for Villaraigosa’s predecessor, James Hahn, in 2005.

The mayor has also attended Friday Night Live, a popular Sabbath service with live music held at Sinai Temple, a 2,000-family Conservative synagogue located on the Westside. In fact, said Sinai’s rabbi, David Wolpe, when Villaraigosa showed up this past September at his synagogue for Kol Nidre services, he sat in the back, didn’t come up to the bimah and left quietly. “In my experience, that is unprecedented,” Wolpe said. “It’s unheard of that a political figure should desire to come just to be there.” (Despite the frequent synagogue attendance, Villaraigosa, it should be noted, is a practicing Catholic.)

Villaraigosa also has made a point of attending major Jewish events, from Super Sunday to a major rally for Israel during the war with Hezbollah to the recent groundbreaking of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. And he’s developed political relationships with some Israelis, including Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal. (I asked Villaraigosa’s office for an interview last August when I wrote about life in Sderot; they got back to me in late December.)

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