Hundreds Attend Town Hall Denouncing Antisemitism

Alarmed by recent anti-Jewish attacks in Pico-Robertson, approximately 400 people attended a town hall focused on denouncing antisemitism and violence.

The community-wide event was convened by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles in the wake of two shootings that targeted Jewish individuals leaving morning prayer services in Pico-Robertson on Feb. 15 and 16.

The gathering was held in the gymnasium of YULA Boys High School, an Orthodox school adjacent to the Museum of Tolerance.

“We’re here, locked arms, against all forms of hate, bigotry and discrimination,” Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said during the evening event, garnering applause from the packed crowd seated in the gym’s bleachers. “Because antisemitism goes against the values of our city–and goes against our humanity.”

Bass was one of more than a dozen speakers at the town hall, which drew elected officials, Jewish leaders as well as local and federal law enforcement officers. 

The forum at the local high school addressed the concerning rise of local, national and global antisemitism. Speakers condemned the most recent attack in Pico-Robertson, a predominately Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles. 

The suspect behind the recent shootings–28-year-old Jaime Tran–was arrested by local police on Feb. 16. The shootings resulted in non-life-threatening injuries to two victims. 

Open to the public, the Feb. 20 event began with Rabbi Noah Farkas, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, expressing disbelief the Jewish community continues to be targeted. But he emphasized the community’s resilience.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky, whose district includes Pico-Robertson, said, “I share your fear, your anger, your frustration and resolve.”

Yaroslavsky, a recently elected city official, shared plans to introduce a motion to secure additional funding for the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Community Security Initiative, a network of Jewish schools, synagogues and summer camps that share security information in the event of an emergency.

Additional local leaders in attendance included Simon Wiesenthal Center Founder and CEO Rabbi Marvin Hier; LA City Council President Paul Krekorian; Jewish Federation of Los Angeles Board Chair Orna Wolens; Beverly Hills City Councilmember Sharona Nazarian; and Rabbi Arye Sufrin, head of school at YULA High School–Boys Division. 

“Tonight, we’re reminded antisemitism exists, even in our own backyard,” Sufrin said.

The YULA head of school offered a commentary on the Torah – specifically, one focused on the story of Moses killing an Egyptian taskmaster who was beating a Hebrew slave. He connected the Torah portion to the necessity of not looking the other way when an injustice occurs before one’s eyes. 

State Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, and Assemblymember Isaac Bryan, a member of the African American community, stood together behind a podium emblazoned with the logo of YULA High School. The two elected officials emphasized Jewish and Black communities standing together in the face of antisemitic violence and other forms of bigotry.

“Pico-Robertson is no different from Leimart Park,” Bryan said, referring to a predominately African American community in South Los Angeles. “We both want safe, healthy and thriving communities.”

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore responded to questions from those in attendance. He outlined details of LAPD’s investigation into the shootings and shared how it evolved over the course of two anxiety-ridden, eventful days. 

The LAPD chief spoke about the differences between “hate instances” and “hate crimes.” He said license plate detection technology led to the suspect’s arrest in Riverside, CA. He encouraged community members to combat hate where it’s most frequently disseminated nowadays–social media.

L.A. County Sheriff Robert Luna; Anti-Defamation League Regional Director Jeffrey Abrams; Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Hillel Newman and Donald Always, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, also attended. 

The evening began around 5:30 p.m. and continued until 7:30 p.m. 

Ivan Wolkind, chief operating and financial officer at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, is a Pico-Robertson resident. Wolkind sends one of his children to a local Jewish day school and belongs to a local synagogue.

In an interview with the Courier after the town hall, he said he could empathize with those feeling nervousness and anxiety in the aftermath of the shooting, but he urged people to not let recent events deter them from leading their daily lives, including visiting their places of worship. 

“Don’t opt out of Judaism,” Wolkind said. “Stay cautious and take basic precautions.”

The implications of the shooting–that Jewish people could be targeted simply for being Jewish–resonated with Southern California Congressman Adam Schiff, who was not in attendance at the community gathering but expressed solidarity with those shaken by recent events.

“My heart and my prayers are with Los Angeles’ Jewish community as it recovers from the trauma inflicted after two recent shootings,” Schiff told the Courier via email. “I am extraordinary thankful both victims were not fatally wounded, and their families and friends are in my thoughts. Initial police reports indicate that the shooter intentionally targeted the victims because of their Jewish faith, making these attacks part of a concerning trend of increasing antisemitic violence in our communities. We must all stand together in condemning this bigotry and speak out against all acts of hatred and antisemitism.”