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Searching for a Stake: The Scope of Jewish Politics in Los Angeles from Watts to Rodney King, 1965-1992

  • Author(s): Baumgarten, Max David
  • Advisor(s): Reiff, Janice L
  • et al.
Abstract

“Searching for a Stake: The Scope of Jewish Politics in Los Angeles from Watts to Rodney King, 1965-1992” traces the intensification of local Jewish political activity as well as the factors that led to Jewish disengagement from local political and civic affairs. It does so by considering Jewish politics within the context of metropolitan social structures, localized ethno-racial hierarchies, and spatial scales. An insidious sense of defeat following concerted efforts to mesh together distinct ethnic concerns with broader civic ones, coupled with a heightened interest in seemingly remote issues, pulled Jews away from the local sphere. Herein lies one of the great ironies of late twentieth century Jewish political life in Los Angeles and beyond: as the American Jewish community enhanced their political clout on the national and international level, they sensed little to gain by participating in local politics.

This project commences during the mid-1960s as Jews, inspired by the rising tides of identity politics, were testing new ways to fashion themselves as a meaningful part of a diverse urban fabric. An array of Jewish leaders and activists saw local contests over electoral representation, public education, and neighborhood preservation as opportunities to wield political influence over their urban surroundings and articulate a distinct Jewish voice in local civic affairs. And yet, by the 1980s, Jewish leaders and activists began to question how to effectively remain engaged in the local political scene. In concert with the Jewish grassroots, they began to increasingly lack confidence in the public school system as an institution responsible for the education of Jewish children and doubt their ability to stem seemingly disruptive economic development and urban growth initiatives from transforming local neighborhoods. These sources of frustration not only exacerbated pre-existing inter-and intra-group tensions, but also forced Jewish community leaders and activists to question the efficacy and responsiveness of ethnic-based political models as vehicles for substantive local activism. Seeking to affirm the political relevance of the Jewish community, various organizations looked towards international and historical issues as a means to stay engaged, though such projects ultimately propelled Jewish communal resources away from the local arena.

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