California Dreamin' with Governor Jerry Brown
Living in Los Angeles and especially Beverly Hills one expects from time to time to run into a well-known celebrity or politician at a Starbucks or a fund-raiser. One thousand members of Temple Emanuel turned out on Yom Kippur afternoon to hear a politician who one doesn’t usually expect to see in a synagogue – particularly not on the holiest day of the year: Governor Jerry Brown.
Earlier this year Rabbi Laura Geller decided that the one person who could talk about how “California Matters,” the theme for this year’s Yom Kippur Contemporary Issue Forum, was our governor and he graciously accepted her invitation.
Governor Brown began by reminiscing about his days as a Jesuit Priest and joked a bit about how he spent long periods in silence, as compared it with the loquaciousness of his present life. The governor spoke about the early days in California and it’s history. The Gold Rush, in particular, was a time of endless spirit and he believes that same spirit is still alive and well here. He also spoke about how relatively recent it has been that citizens of this state have come to know equal opportunities to obtain employment, purchase property, and qualify to vote. California has grown rapidly and its population has doubled since 1965 to over 37 million people now. This rapid growth sets California apart from the rest of the country and presents some very complex problems to be solved by our governor and legislature.
Although it has been many years now since California has had a balanced budget, there have been times in the past when money was readily available to pay for Medi-Cal or to fund our state schools. Governor Brown truly seems to share the frustration and anxiety that we all feel as we see cuts being made to many of our most cherished programs. An important part of his solution to this huge problem is Proposition 30, which will be voted on this November. He strongly advocated passage of this ballot initiative, which includes a raise in our sales tax and a raise in income tax rate for high earners. He claimed that, if it does not pass, the state will face more huge cuts to education and to the funding for our schools.
The governor’s opening was followed by a conversation conducted by Rabbi Geller and Rabbi Jonathan Aaron, posing questions collected from congregants. He was asked to distinguish between various California propositions to clarify them for the audience.
Another question for Governor Brown was in regard to the law the “Divest from Iran Act” sponsored by our Temple Emanuel congregant Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) and Bob Blumenfield (D-San-Fernando Valley). Mike Feuer was present on stage and the Governor spoke about the message of disapproval he wanted to send to Iran.
Temple Emanuel has had a congregation-based community organizing committee for several years now and is a member of One LA. One congregant asked the governor about his priorities for a special session of the legislature being called for in January. Our committee has worked closely with members of the California Health Benefit Exchange to ensure that people of all incomes will have access to an affordable health plan. He is proud of the work the exchange has done and knows that California is working hard to be ready for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The governor said that this holy time of year, just after the Jewish New Year, was a good time for us all to think about the betterment of humanity.
Rabbi Geller surprised him with one final question: she asked him to compare his current job to that of a congregational rabbi. He commented that it was more difficult to pastor a congregation than to shepherd a state. “You have to see them in person,” he said with a smile.
Many of our congregants worked hard to ensure that this event was successful. We knew that the governor enjoyed books so, Rabbi Aaron presented the governor with The Women’s Torah Commentary, a groundbreaking Bible commentary written exclusively by women. He was moved by the presentation and we were honored to have been able to share this day with him at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.
After careers as a professional singer and Marriage and Family Therapist, Diane Vanette is currently VP of Programs on the Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills board and social justice chair. She is enjoying her first grand child and she and her husband live in Encino, CA.