BY ELISSA EINHORN
Protests over a controversial new nation-state law. The denial of surrogacy rights to same-sex couples. Firebomb kites from Gaza. The shooting down of a Syrian jet.
Just another week in Israel.
However, all of the above happened to occur when nine California lawmakers — most of them first-time visitors — toured the Jewish state as part of a special delegation led by Assemblymember Marc Levine of San Rafael.
Funded by the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange, the legislators traveled the country from north to the south from July 21 to 27. Stops included Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Herzliya.
Back for his first visit in 18 years, Levine said, “Israel is a country that I feel a strong connection to. Creating a delegation of state lawmakers would create a meaningful, safe way to learn about issues and to ask questions about Israel and the Middle East.”
The group arrived at time when several high-profile issues hit the Israeli — and global Jewish — public sphere.
“These issues,” Levine noted, alluding mainly to the nation-state law and the denial of surrogacy rights for same-sex couples, “raise questions about what it means for Israel to be a democracy. This is a country on the forefront of civil rights for the LGBT community. Is this a step backward?”
July 24, 2018 – (Jerusalem, Israel) – With the goals of fostering technological innovation and boosting bilateral opportunities, a diverse, bipartisan delegation of California state legislators is visiting Israel for intensive dialogue and briefings with AJC (American Jewish Committee) Project Interchange.
Assemblymember Marc Levine represents the 10th Assembly District in California, which encompasses the North San Francisco Bay Area. He is also Chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus.
Why does California need a Jewish Legislative Caucus?
When I was first elected, there were not a lot of Jews in the Legislature. The two of us who ran were not supposed to win. We were the underdogs. It made sense to join together like the African-American, Latino, Women’s, LGBT, and Asian Pacific Islander Caucuses.
As Jewish history has shown, Jews have always come together around issues of concern; we are immersed and united about issues of concerns in California. At the same time, there was a rise in anti-Semitism around the world. We wanted to make sure the views of the Jewish community were heard.
What is the mission of the Caucus?
Our mission is to provide a Jewish voice for justice, equality, and progress. The mission distills Jewish values.
My son’s Torah portion for his Bar Mitzvah is tzedek, tzedek, tirdof (justice, justice, shall you pursue). There is a strong connection to justice for everybody, there needs to be equality for everyone, and progress defines the path we take to make sure we all are equal.
The Caucus has responded to issues ranging from college campus speech to Poland's Holocaust legislation to DACA and immigration. How do you identify issues that you want to consider and respond to?
In this era, there is so much going on that effects the Jewish people and everyone. Our work could be never-ending. In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Father), it says we are not responsible for doing the work, but we can’t ignore it. We have to have impact and meaning. There is no shortage of ways to do that. We joined with other ethnic caucuses around immigration and the Muslim travel ban in opposition to these policies.
Predating this, two laws protecting immigrants were passed and another one is on its way. This is something that speaks to the Jewish experience and compels us to act.
What are issues currently being addressed?
Jews are concerned about anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on college campuses. We worked directly with university leadership and have caucus allies around that. We educate our allies about Jews being victims of discrimination. Most other caucuses know what discrimination looks like.
The university system needs to protect students so Jewish students feel safe. We met with Janet Napolitano (President of the University of California) and Timothy White (California State University Chancellor). He got it. We also met with (San Francisco State) President Wong.
The most powerful tool is education and these are educators. We are educating them that what happens on campus is wrong. How do we do what is just in a way that doesn’t create a long path and one where the results are positive for students and the Jewish community?
We can’t snap our fingers; education is a journey. We have to have patience and continue the effort so the long-term resolution is a positive one.
You have an upcoming mission to Israel. Who will be joining you and what do you hope to accomplish?
We are bringing people who have never been to Israel, State lawmakers, and giving them an opportunity to learn about Israel. It’s never been done before. It’s been a goal of mine to lead a mission to Israel, to share the connections Jews have to Israel, and the innovation and entrepreneurship Israelis bring to the world around agriculture and technology, and the connection to California. It will be transformative.
How does your Judaism come into play in your day-to-day work as an Assemblyman?
Judaism was an important part of my upbringing. I had a great Jewish education, I went to Sunday School, I was bar mitzvahed, I went to Israel with USY (United Synagogue Youth). It was a great foundation. I’m grateful to my parents because I know who I am and what my values are. Now I get to do the same with my kids.
Who or what were some of your influencers (i.e., what is your "Jewish" story)?
Sandy Koufax really gave the Jewish people a gift. He was one of the greatest baseball players on one of the greatest stages. He put his Jewish identity first on one of the holiest days of the year. That story will be told for generations. He was modeling what he felt was the right behavior.
A Caged Child Moved Into a Cage with Parents is Still a Caged Child
SACRAMENTO, CA – Today, members of the California Latino Legislative Caucus were joined in unity by leaders of the Legislative Women’s, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Jewish and LGBT Caucuses in denouncing Trump Administration maneuvers on immigration policies that rip families apart at the border.
(Sacramento) – Today the California State Legislature approved the 2018-2019 State Budget, which prioritizes the needs of Holocaust Survivors, campus climate, the security of nonprofits, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The California Legislative Jewish Caucus, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jewish Family Services, JPAC, and Anti-Defamation League issued the following statements: