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Byline: Erik N. Nelson

JERUSALEM - THERE'S a kind of twisted logic that governs everyday life here, so it seemed quite natural to stand on stones carved at the time of Jesus and watch Los Angeles city officials urging fellow Angelenos to stop worrying and vacation in Israel.

That's what I did Wednesday, and it was great fun. As City Council President Alex Padilla, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and Councilman Jack Weiss stood next to the Second Jewish Temple's massive stones and did video promos for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, I was saying in my head, Visit Israel - It's moving, it's fun and, best of all, it's free.

Of course you ordinary folks will have to pay your own $3,000-plus airfare and hotel, and ignore the U.S. State Department's travel warning, which is the Israeli tourism industry's biggest enemy these days.

It's easy to see why. The three haverim from City Hall, a representative of the Cesar Chavez Foundation and 11 assorted Jewish leaders rarely had to wait in line for anything except falafel and security checks on their nine- day visit, due to end today. If you think California's tourism industry is hurting, imagine what it would be like after a terrorist bombing at Universal CityWalk.

In Israel, the danger adds to the closeness-to-God feeling. It worked for me at the end of the archaeological tunnel that follows the buried part of the Western Wall. Our Tourism Ministry guide told us we couldn't use the exit to the Muslim Quarter because we might disturb the faithful leaving the Noble Sanctuary, as they call it, during the holy month of Ramadan. I thought it might have been interesting, but we went back the way we came, exiting through the Jewish Quarter.

``This trip has changed my life and I believe it will change the lives of many others who come here,'' said Weiss to the ministry's camera, and as he's a Jew visiting for the first time, I have no reason to think he was being dramatic. I'm sure the same was true for Padilla, a Roman Catholic, and Delgadillo, a Presbyterian. Padilla did a second spot in Spanish, declaring that Israel was a ``pais seguro,'' or safe country.

But Mike Sepiashieik, a high school senior at a Tel Aviv magnet school, would have probably made a better video for victims of terror or army recruiting. On June 1, 2001, he was at a beachfront night spot and decided to leave an hour before a friend and 20 others were killed in one of the three-year-old Palestinian intifada's more than 100 suicide bombings. ``So God saved me, I guess you could say,'' he told the L.A. delegation Tuesday after they heard about Arab-Jewish coexistence, low dropout rates and the school's 220 war dead during its century as the world's first all-Hebrew-language secular high school.

On Tuesday, the delegation also visited the collection of rough black stones that comprise the memorial to Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin on the site where he was murdered in 1995 by one of his own countrymen. Rabin's offense was that he attempted to make peace. Earlier this month, as most of the nation lit candles in observance of the assassination's anniversary, another one of his countrymen was seen on national television spitting on the memorial the day after it was defaced by vandals.

Israel needs a lot more than your tax and tourist dollars.

As always, Israel needs support from our government. Educating rising political stars like Padilla and his fellow travelers is one way the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, which paid for the trip, helps support the Jewish state. While snapping photos of the L.A. delegation at a panoramic picture spot overlooking Jerusalem, I ran into another group of Israel boosters from Boston. It's about the only thing that keeps tour guides busy these days.

Members of the delegation got a big helping of politics from former Israeli army general Amram Mitzna, whom they met with in private Wednesday. In March, the dovish Labor Party parliament member lost miserably to hawkish Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in his bid to lead the nation. Now Mitzna is supporting a privately engineered peace agreement that has caused minor embarrassment for the conflict-mired victor. His talk was balanced by one with a right-wing Knesset member I'd never heard of, and the Palestinian Authority's finance minister provided another kind of balance to an otherwise lopsided itinerary.

The trip wasn't just about tourism and politics. The group visited military facilities, learned about emergency management during terror attacks - something Weiss said L.A. could learn a thing or two about - and visited Yad Vashem, the nation's Holocaust memorial.

The group even went to Tel Aviv City Hall to endure hours of lectures, photo ops and a tour of blighted areas in Jaffa, the seaport of four millennia that is now one of Israel's urban renewal headaches. The plan is to lure private investors to fix up its old port and other decaying spots under a sister version of the public-private Genesis L.A. project, which Delgadillo worked on before he was elected.

Rocky told Tel Aviv officials about how even police were afraid to cruise Blythe Street in Van Nuys before a similar type of renewal project brought investment to the nearby closed General Motors plant and police took back the street.

That got me thinking about Israeli tourism: If you've ever driven through Pacoima at night, you oughtn't be so nervous about visiting the Holy Land. Just do what you do at home: Stay off the buses and avoid large crowds, unless it's a really sweet movie opening, something even Israelis admit is rare here.




(color) Los Angeles City Council President Alex Padilla prays at Jerusalem's Western Wall last Wednesday.

Erik N. Nelson/Special to the Daily News
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 16, 2003

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