The Torah of Potholes

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Oct 26, 2012 No Comments ›› adeenab

May 13, 2009

By:David Suissa opinion/article/the_torahof_potholes_20090513/

Scott Krieger wasn’t always an Orthodox Jew. Before getting “turned on” to Torah observance in the early 1980s — after attending a summer program run by Dennis Prager at Brandeis-Bardin Institute — he was your basic casual Jew who would attend synagogue two or three times a year.

There was one thing, however, that he was never casual about: civic engagement.

It started when he was a kid growing up in Orange County, when he watched his father fight to save his Little League ballpark from being torn down to make room for a large development. His father had been a city councilman, so he knew the ins and outs of local government. After a long battle, Krieger saw his activist father prevail: The city built another ballpark to compensate for the lost one.

So it wasn’t too surprising the other night to see Krieger ask some tough questions of David T. Vahedi, one of the two final candidates running for the L.A. City Council’s 5th District seat. In partnership with his friend, Greg Spinrad, Krieger was hosting a meet-and-greet evening at his home in Pico-Robertson.

This week, they’ll be hosting a similar evening for Paul Koretz, the other candidate.

Krieger has civic engagement in his blood. Over coffee last Sunday afternoon, he matter-of-factly rattled off a mind-numbing list of neighborhood groups, shul boards and school boards that he has served on. But right now, his attention is on the May 19 runoff between Vahedi and Koretz to replace Councilman Jack Weiss, who he says was the “Jewish go-to guy.”

“We need to think of the day after the election,” Krieger told me. “You can’t suddenly have relationships on the day you need them. It’s important to engage the candidates now and get them on the record about the issues that are important to our community.”

Fair enough, I told him, but there’s a problem: When you’re worried about issues like Israel getting nuked by Iran, how excited can you get about potholes or tree trimming?

For Krieger it’s a ridiculous question. He just came back from the AIPAC convention, and he’s as committed as any Jew to the welfare of Israel.

It’s just that, for him, the small stuff of neighborhood activism is as natural as the high drama of global politics. He worries about Hamas rockets falling on Sderot, but also about the graffiti that was recently spotted on the Welcome to Beverlywood sign.

He also worries about issues that are particular to his Orthodox community, like getting approval for the expansion of YULA high school, getting more neighborhood security on Friday nights when many residents walk the streets, relaxing parking restrictions during Jewish holidays when Torah-observant Jews can’t move their cars, and getting city approval to build houses that are big enough for large families.

Beyond the particular issues, however, there’s the principle of simply getting involved.

That’s why he’s supporting a new initiative by Pico-Robertson resident and former City Council candidate Adeena Bleich, tentatively called Civicare. Its aim is to get more residents involved in local government and community organizing. One of their first projects will be to host, on an ongoing basis, “educational salons” in homes throughout the neighborhood that will demystify the world of local government and show people how and why they should get involved.

The initiative will also encourage local schools — private and public — to make civic engagement a bigger part of their curriculum, and not settle for just field trips to Sacramento or City Hall. A good model is Pressman Academy, which has focused this whole school year on the theme of citizenship.

Krieger and Bleich would love to see Jews of all denominations jump on the civics bandwagon to build stronger connections between their communities and local government.

But let’s be realistic — it won’t be an easy sell. Personally, I find it painful to slog through the tedious world of local politics — the never-ending meetings, the arcane rules, the committees, the reports, the slow pace, etc.

I’m sure glad, though, that I have a neighbor like Krieger on my side. In fact, as soon as I’m ready to declare war on that huge pothole in front of my house that has seriously set back the suspension system of my Acura NSX, I know who I’ll call.

When I asked Krieger my final question — Is civic activism part of your Torah observance? — he surprised me. Not really, he said, he would do it anyway.

But when I asked a couple of rabbis to address the same question, they gave me a resounding yes, and quoted several texts, including Deuteronomy (“Guard yourself from all bad things”) and Jeremiah (“Seek the peace of your city, for in its prosperity you shall prosper”).

Maybe when Krieger answered he was thinking back to his youth, when he didn’t need a Jewish reason to want his ballpark back.


Taken from the Jewish Journal Website. A copy of this also appeared in print.

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