What Is The Future Of Zionism In LA?
I expected one of the benefits of moving to LA would mean that Israel’s birthday would be huge. I mean street party huge: lamp poles decked out with Israeli flags, al ha aish on every corner, awkwardly spelled banners and fliers plastering the walls, middle-eastern disco music blaring from storefronts. LA is home to the largest Israeli ex-pat community in the world, and the second largest Jewish population in North America. Beyond demographics, things for Israel are not a walk in the park right now.
But is today really Israel’s 63rd Birthday? On the streets of one of LA’s most Jewish neighborhoods, Pico-Robertson, I could not tell that it was really Israeli Independence day. Perhaps in Encino, aka Little Tel Aviv, things are off-the hook Israel? Maybe the pizza stores are selling blue and white pizzas? I don’t think so.
In the many temples and synagogues last night and this morning, you could enjoy special yom-tov services, Hallel and all. The Modern Orthodox and Community Jewish day schools undoubtedly had special Israel themed assemblies. The Consulate is throwing a huge party — I’ll be with the Govenator, Arnold Schwartenager, and hundreds others at the official Israel Celebration put on by the Israeli Consulate. (Arnold, why didn’t you call me for marriage advice?) But this celebration is not exactly open to the public— it included background checks on each attendee by the Shin Bet. Jewlicious is holding a Hip Hop Salute to Israel on Saturday night.
There are other events scattered throughout the week, a pool-party here, a disco-party there. The FIDF, one of LA’s largest pro-Israel groups, is sponsoring a Yom Ha’atzmaut Fashion Celebration. However, the largest pro-Israel event in the city, the Israeli Festival, was cancelled this year because of lack of funds. It also suffered from lack of vision and community buy in. Major Jewish groups including the Federation would not provide life-support and they folded. In fact, they are in minus. Gone is the LA Israel Parade that once blocked off streets and filled Rancho park. And now gone is the Israeli Festival that hosted tens of thousands just a few years ago. Where is the Zionist Mojo LA?
Is it that American Jews have become complacent, even callous, with political Israel? Are Israeli Jews too busy being Americans? Is there a feeling that we better keep a low profile so as not to inflame claims of dual-loyalty? There is no black and white answer, there are many factors that have contributed to the private nature of the celebrations this year for Yom Haatzmaut in LA for sure. But I cannot help but feel that we contributed to the anonymity of the celebrations by so closely aligning our pro-Israel stance with the political State of Israel, and not the spiritual promise of Yisrael. When Israel is a stock (or bond), which can be up or down depending on the complicated intersection of politics, national interests, and box-office success then it figures that it will have fair weather friends and investors who will stand by it depending on the level of commitment and buy in they have. Even if they believe that the stock will go up, they won’t hold it in their portfolio.
In Hollywood, no one wants to be seen even having coffee for a while with someone whose $200 million dollar film just burned and crashed at the box office. Well, when your State is getting pummeled in the ratings, and your loyal fans like Bible thumping evangelicals are the main ticket buyers, perhaps Jewish Hollywood, and maybe even Jewish America, tell you, “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
The return of the Jewish people en mass to Israel is beyond politics and stock options. The indigenous Jewish inhabitants of the land are joined today by 6 million Jews. Zionism is a modern fulfillment of the words of the prophets. You know those prophets that we read for our Bar and Bat mitzvahs. Those words of the prophets are part of the heart and soul of the Jewish nation, and our return to Zion, a chance to plow the holy earth, reap the fruits, is the actualization of our ancestors dreams and prayers. Israel is a precious and sacred vision that has been the light at the end of the tunnel during 2000 years of genocides, pogroms, forced-conversions, second-class citizen, Jews are the devil-incarnate years. It is the hope, the promise. Our love of Israel cannot be dependent on whether so and so is a good or bad politician, whether we love how she behaves or don’t. Our love of Israel is eternal.
Can you imagine if you were married to someone and you ask them, hey, don’t wear that wedding ring, I don’t want people to know we’re married.
Hey LA, Israel is part of our soul. We need to celebrate and show-off our love for her, and not be intimidated by the box-office ratings just this once.