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At JPAC California summit, state leaders vow support for Jewish community

Security enhancements, means to fight antisemitism and support services for Holocaust survivors topped the list of concerns at the most well-attended such conference to date.

The State Capitol Building in Sacramento, Calif. Credit: sarangib/Pixabay.
The State Capitol Building in Sacramento, Calif. Credit: sarangib/Pixabay.

Some 500 Jewish leaders, community members and college students from across the state of California turned out to the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC) Capitol Summit, held at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento from May 14-15.

Speakers included California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who highlighted how his recently unveiled “Golden State Plan to Counter Antisemitism” is geared towards investing millions of dollars in preventing hate crimes, increasing funds for nonprofit security enhancements and providing critical support services for Holocaust survivors.

“Antisemitism is unique; it’s uniquely insidious,” he said, delivering prerecorded remarks via video. “It’s a uniquely insidious form of a hate that demands that kind of precise and aggressive action, and that’s why we created this extensive roadmap.”

Newsom was one of dozens of speakers at the conference. The other keynotes came from State Attorney General Rob Bonta; Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis; State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond; and Jewish Council for Public Affairs CEO Amy Spitalnick.

JPAC California Summit
Members of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, including Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel (center), appear at the recent Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC) Summit in Sacramento. Credit: Courtesy of JPAC.

While Newsom painted a broad picture of ways the state is stepping up to support Jews, Thurmond emphasized the importance of standing strong with Jewish students at a moment when Jew-hatred is pervasive on college campuses and K-12 schools.

“I’ve made a pledge that on my watch: We will never let any act of antisemitism stand in the schools,” he said in remarks.

Throughout the conference, the state’s elected officials addressed ways that the Hamas terrorist attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7 have impacted them. One of the breakout sessions, “Reflections from Israel and the Gaza Border,” focused on a recent three-day solidarity trip to Israel taken by a group of California legislators in February.

‘An army of people standing up for you’

Al Muratsuchi
California Democratic Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi. Credit: California State Assembly via Wikimedia Commons.

During their visit, which took place while Israel was conducting its war in the Gaza Strip just a few miles away, legislators toured Kibbutz Kfar Aza, one of the hard-hit communities targeted by Hamas and Palestinian operatives, and the site of the Nova musical festival massacre, in an open area also in the south.

“We heard the constant booming of artillery,” stated Al Muratsuchi—a Japanese-American Democrat assemblymember representing parts of the South Bay in Los Angeles—during the breakout session.

The conference kicked off on the night of May 14 with an appearance by 50 statewide elected officials—nearly half of the total legislators serving in the California State Assembly and Senate, which have 80 members and 40 members, respectively. State Sens. Scott Wiener, Ben Allen and Josh Newman, along with Assemblymembers Jesse Gabriel, Rick Chavez Zbur, Laura Friedman and Josh Lowenthal, among others, attended Tuesday night’s dinner in the hotel ballroom.

Chavez, who isn’t Jewish, has emerged as one of the most vocal supporters of the Jewish community in the past several months. Addressing the room of people seated at banquet tables, he likened the California Legislative Jewish Caucus to “an army of people standing up for you.”

Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, California
Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel in front of the California State Capitol Building. Credit: Jeff Walters/California State Assembly via Wikimedia Commons.

An annual event, the JPAC Summit provides representatives of Jewish communal groups an opportunity to hear from elected officials in the state legislature on hot-button issues. The conference wraps up with attendees lobbying officials in the State Capitol on bills they would like to see approved by the legislature.

JPAC—a coalition of 32 Jewish organizations from across the state—defines itself as “the voice of California’s Jewish community to the State Capitol.”

This year, it lobbied for a package of 10 bills, with a focus on the rise of statewide antisemitism. They include a $5 million request to establish and fund a Teachers Collaborative on Holocaust and Genocide Education for K-12 schools and an $80 million budget request toward the state’s nonprofit security grant program. Whether they will be approved remains to be seen, as the state is currently grappling with an estimated $56 budget deficit over the next two fiscal years.

‘There’s a lot of new engagement’

On the second day of the conference, Keely Bosler, who served as chief fiscal adviser to Newsom during the COVID pandemic, delivered a “budget briefing” in conversation with Joanna Mendelson, senior vice president of community engagement at the Jewish Federation Los Angeles. Bosler explained that the budget is highly dependent on capital gains, meaning profits earned by taxpayers in the stock market. With the stock market not performing as well as it was during the height of the pandemic, fewer funds are available in the budget, she said.

Nevertheless, Bosler said that Newsom was committed to funding nonprofit security grants, which allow for safety enhancements to synagogues and other institutions vulnerable to hate crimes.

David Bocarsly, JPAC
David Bocarsly, executive director of JPAC. Credit: Courtesy of JPAC.

David Bocarsly, executive director of JPAC, said this year’s summit was the most well-attended in the event’s history, with 300 of the conference’s 500 attendees joining for the first time. He attributed the growth to communitywide concern over what’s happening at schools, campuses, online and in Jewish neighborhoods.

“There’s a lot of new engagement, which is really amazing,” he said in an interview. “And I think that just demonstrates that people are trying to translate their fear into action.”

Jewish Federation Los Angeles brought 100 people, representing the largest delegation at the conference. They joined members of groups including the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and HIAS. Registrants traveled from San Diego, San Francisco and Orange County, among other cities across the state.

Many of the attendees were those who work professionally for Jewish organizations. Michael Chertok, chief advancement officer at Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay, said he appreciated the efforts of JPAC to advocate on behalf of the community.

“JPAC does an extraordinary job to bring together our California Jewish community to advocate for our interests and our values,” Chertok said in an interview. “Even as we lobby for a set of critical bills to protect our community from rising antisemitism, we are also supporting refugees and asylum seekers.”

Naomi Goldman of Los Angeles is actively engaged in local politics. As a member of Democrats for Israel California—a chartered club in the California Democratic Party—she expressed concern about progressive groups that have not stood with Israel as strongly as they could have since Oct. 7. In that vein, she appreciated the opportunity of being around likeminded people who care about Israel and the well-being of the Jewish people.

“Especially now, since Oct. 7, these have been such challenging months for so many people, and definitely for the Jewish community and definitely for anyone who feels Israel has the right to defend itself and feels these have been hard months in terms of antisemitism, in terms of some coalitions we thought were stronger than maybe they turned out to be,” she said. “And I think the JPAC Summit is so special because it’s just not about lobbying for bills and asking for budget dollars, which are hugely important, but I think this is about building community.”

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