Ronnie Katz Gerber
Communications Chair, Hadassah Los Angeles Metro Region

Attending JPAC-CA 2023 Was a Life-Changing Experience

Margie Lunt, co-president, Hadassah LA Metro with the author, Ronnie Gerber, marketing and communications chair, Hadassah Southern California. Photo courtesy of the author.
Margie Lunt, co-president, Hadassah LA Metro with the author, Ronnie Gerber, marketing and communications chair, Hadassah Southern California. Photo courtesy of the author.

In early May, I spent about 48 hours in Sacramento on a whirlwind experience, attending the Jewish Public Affairs Committee-California (JPAC-CA) 2023 Capitol Summit as marketing and communications chair for Hadassah Southern California. There were over 300 attendees this year, about twice as many as last year. JPAC-CA brings people to Sacramento every year to advocate for bills and issues relevant to the Jewish community. What an astounding organization and what an invigorating experience! The Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento was filled with our energy.

Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America,  of which I am a longtime member, has a long and venerable tradition of advocacy. Our mission is to connect and empower women to effect change, putting our Jewish values into action. From championing a strong U.S.-Israel relationship to fighting antisemitism and standing up for women’s health equity, Hadassah is making a difference, bringing healing and justice to the world.

As a JPAC-CA “newbie,” I discovered the conference room was about one quarter full of others like me along with about 20-odd members of Hadassah representing various parts of California. There were also senators, representatives, lobbyists, caucus chairs, staffers – even a 14-year-old who had been brought by his politically-charged mother.

I tried to speak to many of them and some have become new friends I hope to continue meeting. But to do all this in a two-day conference was mind-spinning. I think it must be like speed dating – meet, greet, state your case, move on and repeat. At least, that’s what the second day was like.

Let me walk you through the entire event.

In order to make the meet-and-lunch-with Hadassah on Tuesday, May 9, I left for Los Angeles International Airport at seven that morning. Of course, our hotel rooms weren’t ready when we got to Sacramento, so schmoozing in the hotel lobby as attendees trickled in was the pastime. Lots of coffee.

By one o’clock or so, many of us had arrived and checked our bags with the bellhop, so we could walk unfettered to a local eatery. Here’s where I met my Hadassah sisters from Marin County, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Orange County, Long Beach and other points on the California map.

Lunch was chatty and full of new ideas, but most of us were JPAC-CA “newbies” so no one knew what to expect or how to prepare for our upcoming lobbying experience. A nervous twitter ran through the group, but only momentarily. We had Hadassah folders and agendas and were armed with the passion and purpose that this would all come to pass well.

That evening, JPAC-CA hosted a legislators’ reception where we might meet and greet VIPs and friends and start making plans for the following day. Speeches and awards were presented to a fairly attentive audience. State Senate President Pro-Tempore Toni Atkins (San Diego) presided. We were packed like sardines trying to swim through our tins.

Almost 300 politically minded people were vying for an hors d’oeuvre or a drink. But we managed. Hands shaken, ideas exchanged, relationships formed. My posse included my good friend and travel buddy Margie Lunt, co-chair of Hadassah LA Metro as well as co-chair of our South Bay L’Dor V’Dor; Hadassah National Advocacy Chair Stacey Dorenfeld, National Grassroots Advocacy Team California Liaison; and Cindy Hailpern, who serves as Hadassah Southern California  Advisory Chair.

I recognized many of the members of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus and was thrilled to know they were in the room and schmoozing among us, with us, for us – in particular, Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel (Encino) and Assemblyman Scott Wiener (San Francisco).

Wednesday, May 10 was all about fast-talking politics between fast friends who formulate and advocate social and fiscal issues for California’s well-being with the Jewish values and needs in mind – values like inclusion, equity, justice, women’s rights, taxation. So many important issues.

Once breakfast was cleared, we went to the plenary session, where the Honorable Anthony Rendon (Southgate/Lakewood) spoke. Laurel Rosenthal, Sacramento Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times, and Dan Walters, an opinion columnist for CalMatters, had a conversation about California’s budget issues and how they will probably impact our hopes and plans. We learned about the State’s miscalculations about unemployment, how postponing income tax filing delays fiscal decisions and how the continuing drought and rain, as well as COVID, have shuffled the financial deck and left things a bit untidy just now. So, we were informed and warned.

Next came the Lunch Plenary, where our speakers included Daniel Schnur, Annenberg School of Communications; Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (Contra Costa/Alameda); Assemblywoman Lori D. Wilson (Suisun City) and Assemblyman Evan Low (Silicon Valley). The legislators discussed politics, communication and leadership, women’s rights, Black Caucus, AAPI and LGBQT issues and how they work together to form policy. And why. A wonderful, thought-provoking session.

But it was the advocacy meeting, which came last, that I was most energized by. So much to get done. We were divided into about 30 tables, assigned randomly. Like all the tables, ours had a well-informed young JPAC-CA leader guiding us. We also had two Hadassah members, three ADL spokespeople and a very well-informed lobbyist who helped us prepare for our first lobbying visit. Really bright, engaging people, most of them young (except for me!), but that didn’t matter at all.

We reviewed the issues assigned to us and developed presentations to persuade our legislators and/or their staff that they should support our positions and that money, time, thought and effort should be spent to support bills we discussed.

Our group visited three California state legislators, Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (Irvine), Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson (Compton/Gardena) and Assemblymember Josh Lowenthal (Long Beach). My group also visited a new staff member who did not have much knowledge of the bill we had come to discuss (she was putting her eggs in the anti-fentanyl basket and was not interested in our requests).

Next came Assemblyman Mike A. Gipson, who welcomed us warmly.  He told us he planned to support the bill we were promoting, AB 1185, California’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program. It would allocate $80 million in grants to institutions vulnerable to hate crimes, including synagogues, mosques and abortion clinics. While we were in our meeting with Mr. Gipson, I shared my belief about the need to teach teachers, as well as students, about the Holocaust to help stem the rising tide of antisemitism.

(At one point, I said that the public school system has really failed us in spots. The assemblyman made note of that and said he plans to use it and credit me while campaigning for this bill. Needless to say, I was very excited.)

Last, but not least, was our meeting with Assemblyman Lowenthal’s chief of staff, Guy Strahl, who was very knowledgeable and welcoming. He advised us that we had Assemblyman Lowenthal’s support for AB 1185  but explained what our challenges might be. As we had heard from others, postponing the state income tax filing and underestimating the fiscal impact of COVID and unemployment have made the California state budget process much tighter this year. The state has some other funding sources and even perhaps some reserve, but it’s going to be a lean year.

Being at JPAC-CA 2023 was of a piece with the work I and my fellow Hadassah members do every day in speaking out in multiple ways, from sending messages to legislators to meeting them face-to-face, both locally and on Capitol Hill. Hadassah’s founder, Henrietta Szold, saw suffering and took action, bringing much-needed health care to refugee mothers and infants in pre-State Israel. Her passion is in our DNA and continues to unite and impassion us.

I learned a lot at JPAC-CA 2023. I loved the energy. I am excited by the process. I want to go back.

About the Author
Ronnie Katz Gerber is currently Communications Chair for the Hadassah Metro Los Angeles Region and a member of the Hadassah Writers' Circle. A retired English and drama teacher for one of the largest school districts in California, she has written, directed and produced a handful of curriculum-based plays for her students and received a Los Angeles Awards nomination for her educational outreach through the arts. She has now turned her attention to columns, articles and short stories. Ms. Gerber is active in the community doing volunteer work and also spends her time pursuing her avid interest in travel. She has visited most of Europe, Russia and Africa, China and a bit of South America as well. Most springs, she hosts foreign exchange students for a month while they take an American culture and language crash course at a local university. As a result, she has spent time with them and their families abroad. Her family, especially her grand girls are the best activity of any day.
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