Sunday, January 11, 2009
This past Friday (1/9) night, Antonio Villaraigosa joined us for Shabbat Services. If you were there, you know how meaningful it was for the mayor of the second largest city in the nation to stand up before a Jewish community and affirm that he stands along side the Jewish community in its support of Israel. I'm sure that I wasn't the only one to feel the tears pool in my eyes. Mayor Villaraigosa didn't have to say anything. He is not involved in international politics, currently his ambitions may extend to governor which is also not a position that requires international participation. Nonetheless, he stood up firmly for Israel over the past week and subjected himself to vociferous objections from the city's Muslim population. Why did he do it?
The mayor told a story of growing up in Boyle Heights to immigrant parents. There he was guided through school by Jewish teachers, Jewish guidance counselors and Jewish administrators. Many of his neighbors in what was then a mixed Latino, Asian, Jewish community were Jewish and he remembers nothing but kindness and embrace from the Jews whose lives intersected with his own. He also spoke of his experiences as Speaker of the State Assembly and then later as mayor. Throughout his career, even until today, the Jewish community reached out to him with support, encouragement and cooperation. When Rabbi Herscher called the Mayor's office and invited him to our synagogue as an expression of gratitude for his support of Israel, it took him a few hours to arrange his schedule and commit to attending. You might say, it's good politics and that he's a smart politician. To which I'd say that it is and he is and so are we. But it also speaks to the painstaking work of relationship building that started when he was only a young boy in Boyle Heights.
You probably get where I'm going here: Our Boyle Heights-Stephen S. Wise Partnership Project is part and parcel of that relationship building with our city's Latino community. Latinos already play a significant role in the governance of this community along with many other ethnic representatives. Our relationship with them matters. Mayor Villaraigosa's connection to our community was built on a lifetime of positive, meaningful contact. Our partnershp project will affirm our synagogue's commitment to our Latino citizens not only in Boyle Heights but throughout the city. The dividends of that connection will be reaped in ways that we can't imagine today. Do you think that those Jewish teachers who touched little Antonio's life in the 1960's knew that he would one day be mayor? Of course not, but because they did our lives benefit.
I've said it before, I'll say it again. This is a partnership project for the long term and one that stands to make our city even stronger -- perhaps in our lifetimes -- but certainly for our children.
(Thanks to Paul Jesser for the photos!)