Friday, July 4, 2014
Young Jewish Leaders of Los Angeles
In 1948, the 700,000 Jews living in Palestine were faced with a decision. Having just lost 6,000,000 Jewish lives in the Holocaust, should they make the risky choice to fight against attacks from all the surrounding Arab countries or should they save themselves and leave? In true Jewish spirit, they chose the former. But without desperately needed weapons, they stood absolutely no chance in defending themselves. In January 1948, Golda Meir got on a plane and spoke in front of the Council of Jewish Federations in Chicago. She communicated the urgency of the situation and pleaded with the American Jews to do something to save the Jews living in Palestine.
In just six weeks, Golda received over $50 million from Jews across America. She returned to Palestine, which soon became the State of Israel, and the rest is history.
Our group leader told us this story as we drove out of Jerusalem and into the desert. He ended with, “Without the help of American Jews, YOU PEOPLE, those 700,000 Jews would have been killed and the State of Israel would not exist today.” Driving through the Negev, it was hard not to feel a burst of emotion and pride for the long history of partnership that American Jews have had with the State of Israel.
I was travelling with the Community Leadership Institute, a Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles group of Jewish young professionals who are leaders in Los Angeles. The group is divided into four tracks- real estate, entertainment, Russian-Jewish, and universal. Each participant receives a mentor in their field and besides this leadership training in Israel, they take part in events in Los Angeles. During the week I spent with them, we met with influential Jews and Israelis and toured places to remind us of the importance of our leadership as Jewish Americans.
I was impressed by the depth of the participants’ conversations as I moved through the different tracks. There were conversations about how the Russian speakers constructed their Jewish identities both in the Former Soviet Union and now in Los Angeles. Others discussed Israeli politics in light of elections that took place while we were there. There were also conversations about how the participants can work together both within and outside of the professional tracks once they return home.
We had the privilege of having Natan Sharansky, a hero for many of us, speak to the group. He told us, “A leader is not defined by his title. He is defined by his passion and capabilities to spark passion in others.” After spending a week with Jewish doctors, musicians, lawyers, social workers, real estate brokers, educators, and entrepreneurs, I witnessed these young Jewish leaders’ ability to do just that. Their professional success and excitement to be a part of the Jewish community sparked passion in me, and I am confident that they will be successful in doing the same for other Jews when they return to Los Angeles.