Walking the streets of Manhattan, it’s not uncommon to hear snippets of Hebrew conversation every few blocks or so — a young dad pointing out the “kelev gadol” [big dog] to his toddling son — or to witness an Israeli waitress serving hummus to pay for her university studies.
A similar influx of young Israelis has emerged in Los Angeles, but unlike 20- and 30-something Israeli New Yorkers, the L.A. group lacks a sense of community and remains largely isolated from local Jewish organizations, local experts say.
This is where Dor Chadash, which has brought together 30,000 Israeli and American Jewish New Yorkers in the past six years, comes into play.
“The vision is to create a national community that shares a passion for Israel,” said Tzameret Fuerst, a founding member and chairwoman emeritus of Dor Chadash, who conceived the idea of expanding the organization beyond New York. “It was clear that Los Angeles was an important target.”
Since its establishment in 2003, Dor Chadash has catered to New York’s growing community of Israelis and American Jews, aiming to bridge cultural gaps and unite the two groups as one, with nearly 200 different programs thus far. At the outset, the organization had three primary goals: to embark upon social action missions, engage both young families and young singles who share a passion for Israel and then replicate this successful model elsewhere in the country, according to Fuerst. Most Dor Chadash members are between 25 and 40 and are Israeli, Jewish-American or some “hybrid” combination of the two. Among the different programs they enjoy together are Jewish holiday celebrations and Israeli political discussions spanning everything from the elections to the suffering Bedouin community.
In addition to Los Angeles, other American cities in need of some Jewish-Israeli infrastructure like Dor Chadash are Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., according to Fuerst. Initially, Dor Chadash was very close to making Boston its next home and was already actively engaging with the consulate there.
But just as it was about to agree to a Boston expansion, Dor Chadash received an unprecedented offer from the Israeli Leadership Council in Los Angeles, an organization conceived by local Israeli entrepreneurs that provides the basic infrastructure to cultivate a community of Israeli leaders in the area explained Erik Levis, national executuve director of Dor Chadash. Thus far, however, the Leadership Council had only worked with a teenage population and an older group, and it wanted to get together something more concrete for young professionals scattered around the area, according to the organization’s executive director, Shoham Nicolet.
“There is a gap here, a vacuum between the ages of 25 and 45,” Nicolet said. “We approached Dor Chadash and said come to L.A., and we’ll provide you with all the necessary funds, with our connections and do what you know how to do.”
For the next two years, the Israeli Leadership Council will cover all costs, strategize financial plans, apply for grants and raise funds to enable Dor Chadash to transplant its model to the Los Angeles Israeli and Jewish community. Though Nicolet’s organization only has 65 members, they are predominantly wealthy business entrepreneurs whose $3,600 annual dues allow the Leadership Council to fund projects such as the upcoming venture with Dor Chadash.
“The partnership became an obvious and seamless possibility, because ILC was looking to supplement its infrastructure with programming,” Levis said. “They looked all over the country for a program that would be able to bring a real authentic slice of Israel to America.”
His Dor Chadash predecessor agreed. “We have such confidence in their partnership and in their capabilities that it made it a no-brainer for us to embark upon this path,” Fuerst said.
Although the Leadership Council will remained involved in the development process by connecting Dor Chadash with local Los Angeles organizations, Nicolet has no qualms about giving Levis and his staff largely free rein in terms of programming.
“Our goal is not to get so involved in their programming,” Nicolet said. “They’re bringing to the table their secret recipe. What we bring to the table is the funding.”
Levis’ first ingredient in the secret recipe will be a Los Angeles director, and he hopes to solidify his choice within the next few weeks. After that, he said, the new staff and volunteers will simply need to spend a few months in Los Angeles, to determine what the community wants and needs — which may be quite unlike the population’s needs in New York.
“We bring a raw authentic feel from Israel to the States,” Levis said. “The populations are a little different in New York and Los Angeles, so we don’t necessarily have a precise series events lined up.”
Nicolet agrees, adding that young professional Israelis are much less visible in Los Angeles than they are in New York City, in part due to the scattered geography. Whereas the New York branch of Dor Chadash focuses primarily on the island of Manhattan, the Los Angeles sector will need to bridge gaps among members throughout the entire valley.
Though most specific activities will depend upon the local constituency’s requests, Levis envisions business networking conferences, book salons and perhaps a big welcoming party. Many of the events, Levis predicts will involve more entertainment-oriented themes than similar soirees in New York.
“We’re really just trying to bring Israel to America in a very authentic way, and however that takes shape it will take shape,” Levis said.
Dor Chadash leaders are confident that their New York model will repeat its success in Los Angeles, and in many other American cities to follow.
“The significance and the potential for having a national community of Israeli and American Jews that are connected together, that can really be a force for positive change and for positive interaction with Israel,” Fuerst said. “If we’re united, there’s really no limit to what we can accomplish as a community.”