By: Donald H. Harrison | San Diego Jewish World | January 9, 2024
SAN DIEGO – Oz Laniado and Ashley Levy have been at the helm of the San Diego regional office of StandWithUs for less than a year and already have built a diverse advisory committee, forged alliances with segments of the non-Jewish community, and have raised significant amounts of money for the ongoing work of their pro-Israel organization.
Laniado, the regional director, told me that correcting lies and misinformation about Israel while fighting domestic antisemitism are missions so urgent that without such an effort, “in five years, we won’t be able to put the mezuzahs on our doors,” maybe even sooner than that.
Israeli-born Laniado is married into a Mexican Jewish family. Seeing within his own family how the interests of diverse Jewish ethnic groups coincide when it comes to the defense of Israel and Jews in the Californias, Laniado set about building an advisory committee and a separate honorary committee that together includes not only members of the Mexican Jewish and Israeli communities but also native-born American Jews, evangelical Christians, Jews by choice, Holocaust survivors and their progeny, and the local South African Jewish community.
Members of these committees are males, females, Orthodox, Reform, younger, older, professors, marketing people, lawyers, doctors and real estate experts, Laniado said. Each advisory board member has made a substantial contribution and takes a hands-on approach to organizing rallies, hosting parlor meetings, or making introductions to politicians and opinion leaders who can help tell Israel’s story.
“In just under a year, we are 400 percent higher in revenue,” Laniado said. “We brought about 500-600 more people into the organization, and this is with the help of our leadership. We see there are many members of the community who want to become involved.”
Levy, the associate director, is the daughter of David Levy, the cofounder with Barry Robbins of Milton’s Delicatessen, and has a strong business background in her own right. She complements Laniado’s Israeli outlook with that of a native-born American. She said that in the wake of the Oct. 7 Shabbat massacre by Hamas of 1,200 Israelis, many organizations wanted to participate in a StandWithUs rally for Israel. “We had to change the flyer five times” to add the names of sponsoring organizations, she said. “Oz is great at uniting people.”
Outreach is made to non-Jewish communities including Evangelical Christians who “love us (Jews) more than we love ourselves sometimes,” Laniado said. “We need to bring them on board. The Hindu American community became very strong allies of ours.”
“The longest meter is the one between the heart and the pocket,” Laniado quipped. Nevertheless, the StandWithUs gala on Oct. 15 was oversold, “which was amazing, a good surprise,” he said. “The biggest surprise was that 20 percent of the people there weren’t Jews, including some Muslims. So, it was refreshing. You had different communities, people coming and joining us. We appreciate every person that donates.”
The money will fund programs to tell Israel’s story at universities and high schools, in the public media, and to elected officials, among other audiences.
“I would say that we are getting a lot of support from dignitaries who understand that this is a fight for humanity, not just Israel, not just the Jews. It is about fighting for western civilization as we know it,” Laniado said.
When antisemitic incidents happen locally, Laniado said, there are different ways to react. If for example an employee of a store expresses hostility to Jewish customers, the store’s owner may not even be aware of the conduct. So, before taking any action, we try to meet with the business’s top official, perhaps even to make an ally of him or her and let that official take corrective action. If, on the other hand, the antisemitic incident reflected the owner’s point of view, then StandWithUs has more than 400 lawyers “working for us pro bono and we can take legal action.”
“You have the carrot and the stick,” Laniado added. “The carrot is education, but if it doesn’t work, we have the legal department and community support. We also have social media, which is very important.”
The San Diego-headquartered region of StandWithUs includes Orange County, the Desert communities of Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage, the state of Nevada, and the Four Corner states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Strategies and events developed by the staff in San Diego are replicated in the other areas, and vice versa, Laniado said.
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