(JTA) – The American Jewish Committee cited Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for his work building bridges between the Jewish and Latino communities.
Villaraigosa was presented Wednesday with the AJC’s Latino and Latin American Institute Gesher Award, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal reported.
Leaders from the Los Angeles Jewish and Latino communities joined U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), local consuls general and the ambassador of Mexico in the audience for the awards presentation, the newspaper reported.
Villaraigosa, also a consistent supporter of Israel, emphasized his long-standing connections to the Jewish community.
“For many, many years I have stood with this community,” the mayor said, harking back to his youth in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood east of downtown Los Angeles that once was home to a large portion of the Jewish community before becoming more predominantly Latino. “Other than my mother and my Scout master, who was an Irish immigrant, I think of the people that were there for Antonio Villaraigosa as a kid, and they were all Jews.”
Consul General of Israel Jacob Dayan praised Villaraigosa for speaking out on Israel’s behalf during the Gaza War in 2009.
“He could easily have said, ‘No, I’m a mayor, this is not my issue. It’s a war in the Middle East,’” Dayan said. “But he came, he had a press conference. He took a lot of heat for that.”
The AJC’s Latino and Latin American Institute was created in 2005 to build connections between Jewish and Latino communities in the United States, to express solidarity with Jews in Latin American countries, and to improve relations among the United States, Latin America and Israel.