Religious diversity makes LA unique

“Did you have a good Easter?” I was waiting in a long line for coffee this morning, when the person in front of me made eye contact. We shared that awkward tight-lipped smile, the one you use when you are trapped in the same space and have nothing to say, but also don’t want to seem rude. Easter was an easy topic for her to bring up.

I’m Jewish (and was determinedly waiting in that line to buy an overpriced cappuccino as a reward for slugging through Passover), but in an effort to make things less complicated, I smiled and said I did. And technically it was true — yesterday I went to brunch at the Rose Cafe in Venice with friends, one of whom does celebrate Easter. I didn’t think anything of it when I returned the question to her.

“Oh, I’m actually not Christian,” she said.

It struck me as funny that two non-Christians were having a conversation about Easter. And it reminded me of how religiously diverse Los Angeles is.

Not to sound too cheeky, but thank god for that.

Last week, my newsfeed was flooded with the story about leaflets in East Ukraine that demanded that Jewish people over the age of 16 register with authorities. Soon, details came out that the fliers, which had been distributed in the city of Donetsk, were not issued by the government, but rather had probably been spread by Russian separatists in Ukraine in an attempt to vilify Ukraine in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

That these pamphlets were even distributed chilled me to the bone. It’s approximately 70 years after the Holocaust, and in many ways, the world hasn’t changed.

When I first saw the article, I emailed my dad who wrote back in his typically terse prose: “First I’ve seen of this specific development. But not a surprise to me as a student of history. Anti-Semitism is always to be expected anywhere in the world with but a few exceptions, e.g. U.S., Canada, etc.”

My grandfather’s entire family was murdered during the Holocaust in Lithuania. My grandpa was the sole survivor; he got to the United States before the world around him burned. He was sent by friends to a sponsor in Los Angeles where he was able to establish himself near Pico Boulevard and Crenshaw Boulevard, a burgeoning Jewish area. He opened a small jewelry and watch sales and repair shop, got married and had my dad. For my grandfather, as for other religious minorities, Los Angeles was a relatively tolerant religious oasis. And it still is today.

Timothy Conley, who works in the Office of Religious Life at USC says, Los Angeles is one of the most religiously diverse cities in the entire world.

“There is a lot of migration here from various parts of the world, most if not all countries here in Los Angeles, and when people come here they bring their culture and religious traditions,” Conley said.

Conley describes Los Angeles as covering a religious A to Z — from Atheist to Zoroastrian. For example, he said that there are more types of Buddhists here than in some Asian countries. This scope might contribute to the air of tolerance here for other faiths.

“Los Angeles is very embracing and accepting,” Conley said. “I think it has to do with Los Angeles being full of such diverse people. There is interfaith dialogue in churches, mosques, synagogues that help promote conversation.”

After I found out that the Ukrainian fliers were a hoax, I emailed my dad again, to ask for his perspective on the whole affair. His response was disillusioned: “Truth is always the first casualty of any conflict. But Putin-led Russia is the undisputed king of disinformation. Being a Jew in Russia or Ukraine is like putting yourself in the bull’s eye for both sides.”

I am so lucky to live here. Los Angeles is not perfect by any means, and as a city we’ve had our share of racist and anti-Semitic acts, both major and minor. But every morning, I wake up and on my walk to school, I pass by a Baptist church, a Mormon church and an Evangelical church, all existing almost on top of one another, in less than a mile radius.

So if someone asks me later today if I had a good Easter, when I go back in line for another cup of coffee (because without coffee I  don’t know what to do with myself), I’d rephrase my earlier answer. I’m not Christian, but I had a great Easter. And I’m proud to live somewhere where I’m free to celebrate.


Jackie Mansky is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “City of Angels,” runs Tuesdays.