Latinos Invtited to Shul
Fifty-five pastors from Latino evangelical churches all over Southern California traveled to Los Angeles’s swank Sinai Temple to symbolically celebrate the harvest festival of Sukkot. The event was much more than a multicultural waving of the lulav, the traditional palm fronds that mark the holiday. Israel’s local consul general, Ehud Danoch, who spent part of his childhood in Montevideo, Uruguay, addressed the Christian crowd in Spanish, eliciting rousing applause for his comments about the need to snuff out terrorism and to stop the Iranian nuclear program.
There has been widespread cooperation between Jewish and mainstream evangelical groups — particularly on matters relating to Israel — but the organizers of this week’s event billed it as the first time a major American Jewish organization had reached out to the rapidly growing Latin American evangelical community. Invitations to the event were sent out by the L.A. chapter of the American Jewish Committee and the Israeli consulate.
The appearance of local luminaries, including the L.A. police department’s Cuban-born deputy chief, Sergio Diaz, and a senior adviser to Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa, the Rev. Leonard B. Jackson, lent the event political credibility, as did the appearances of the consul generals of Guatemala and Mexico. Diaz, who said he was there to represent the mayor, described the evening as “a watershed event.”
“L.A. is so physically segregated that, sadly, Latinos and Jews don’t have opportunities to come together,” he said.
Randy Brown, the AJCommittee’s director of interreligious affairs, conceived of the event after attending meetings of the L.A. county sheriff’s department’s clergy council, which brings churches together for faith-based community outreach. Brown said that until he began speaking at the churches of Latino pastors whom he met through the clergy council — one church, in Compton, even had an Israeli flag hanging outside — the only “Jewish” groups that had initiated contact with Latino evangelicals were messianic Jews.
“It’s intuitive that the Latino and Jewish communities would unite, but there hasn’t been any contact,” he said. “These aren’t ‘end of days’ people, these are true lovers of Israel.”
— Rebecca Spence
JNF Opens Up to Arabs
Jewish National Fund told Israel’s High Court on Monday that it will lease land to non-Jews. The court delayed a ruling for three months on whether JNF should be obligated to lease land to non-Jews in order to give the organization time to reach an agreement with state Attorney General Menachem Mazuz.
JNF, which helped found the State of Israel by buying land in what was then Palestine, has long had a policy of leasing its property to only Jews. This position has come under attack in recent years, both from Jews in the Diaspora community and from Israel’s attorney general, who has called the policy discriminatory.
To help salve the wounds, JNF and the Israel Lands Authority agreed to formalize an interim land-swap agreement wherein JNF will be compensated with land from the ILA whenever JNF leases land to non-Jews. This arrangement ensures that the amount of Jewish-owned land in Israel remains the same, a spokeswoman for JNF told the JTA.
JNF owns 13% of Israel’s land, or about 650,000 acres, some in high-population areas. The High Court case stems from a petition filed in 2004 by Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. Adalah said it would appeal JNF’s about-face Monday and instead seek a precedent-setting ruling to cement JNF’s obligation to lease land on a religion-blind basis.
Big Plans in Philadelphia
Philadelphia’s National Museum of American Jewish History is about to begin a massive expansion that will bring one of America’s most prominent Jewish museums within footsteps of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
A groundbreaking for the new museum, which will occupy 100,000 square feet, will take place this Sunday. The museum currently shares a small space with Mikveh Israel, a colonial-era synagogue.
“It will shift from being a smaller, more modest institution that primarily served the local community to a real marquee building that has the capability of becoming a major Jewish institution,” said Josh Perelman, who serves as deputy director of programming and as its historian.
The museum, which opened in 1976, claims to be the only one in the nation devoted to the history of Jews in America. Jonathan Sarna, a Brandeis University historian, is in charge of coordinating the new site’s permanent exhibit: a history of Jews in America, from the first Jewish settlers, in 1654, through the present day.
“The story is American history told through the eyes of one ethnic community,” Perelman said. “We want to create an institution that is relevant and accessible to anyone who walks through that door.”
The move provides a chance for the museum to interact with nearby monuments of American history.
“We are told that when the constitution was ratified, the rabbi of Philadelphia marched arm in arm with Christian clergymen,” said Sarna, the museum’s chief historian. “I see this museum marching arm in arm with the Constitution Center and the Liberty Bell.”
Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter and Governor Ed Rendell are scheduled to attend the groundbreaking. The building is scheduled to open to the public July 4, 2010.
— Marissa Brostoff