by Alisa Roberts
“We’re here to answer the following question,” said Daniel Gryczman, chairperson of the Federation’s Community Engagement Strategic Initiative. “How can Jews in Los Angeles continue our community’s legacy of civic engagement, and how is our community’s role changing?” He was introducing the panel discussion held recently at University Synagogue and hosted by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The evening’s topic was the changing civic and political role of the Jewish community of Los Angeles, and the panel included Bob Blumenfield, Third District Councilmember; Richard Bloom, Assembly member for District 50; and Ana Guerrero, Chief of Staff for Mayor Eric Garcetti.
The discussion was moderated by Dr. Raphael Sonenshein, Executive Director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles. “The roots of the Jewish community,” he said in his opening remarks, “were on the east side of Los Angeles, and then eventually the mid-city area, and then the west side and the San Fernando Valley. The Jewish community is always in motion, and so is its relationship to politics.”
Panelists answered questions about how they became politicians, how extensive they felt anti-Semitism is today, and what causes they would like to see prioritized by Jews who want to become involved.
While each panelist had come into politics in a different way and had different experiences during their time in public office, there was one question they all answered similarly. When asked whether they thought it really mattered if there are Jews in public office, the panelists – not surprisingly – were unanimous: Yes, it matters.
Blumenfield expressed a balanced view, “I think it does matter; at the same time, it’s not the be all and end all…it’s more about having an active Jewish community involved in the issues you care about, engaging with public officials – whether they’re Jewish or not.” He went on to emphasize that while Jews holding office may not be essential, Jews will be more passionate than other about Jewish issues.
Bloom agreed strongly with this. He spoke about having our own issues as Jews, and how we can present a personal context. “I think it’s extremely important,” he said. “We’re part of the quilt of diversity… we need to be represented.” Guerrero was the most emphatic, “I think one of the reasons that Los Angeles is one of the most progressive cities in the country, and maybe the world, is because of the impact of Jewish leaders.” She went on to emphasize the commitment Jews have to social justice issues, and closed with the idea that we should be identifying and supporting the election and functioning of the next Jewish elected leaders.