Home September 2020 Asking a Beautiful Question

Asking a Beautiful Question

Why would a former yeshiva bocher (a young man enrolled as a full-time student in a school of Judaic studies) want to run for city council in Santa Ana? Why would he want to live there in the first place? What would he want to achieve if he got elected as Santa Ana’s first Jewish city councilman? It was a matter of questions.

After their wedding at the Heritage Museum using a sukkah as a chuppah, Jeff Katz and his wife, Suzee, settled in Santa Ana Ward 3’s Floral Park. Suzee, a Jew by choice, had insisted that the couple would make their forever home in Santa Ana.

While immediately falling in love with his neighborhood, the kindness of his neighbors and the character of Santa Ana, Katz was troubled by the challenges in other parts of the city. He often asked, “Why can’t they do something about the homeless in Santa Ana?”

Now a 7-year Floral Park resident, Katz thought about the many questions his Jewish mentors asked, as well as part of an e.e. cummings poem quoted by his favorite college English professor, “Always the beautiful answer / who asks a more beautiful question.” By simply changing one word, Katz arrived at the more beautiful question: “Why can’t I do something about the homeless in Santa Ana?”

That question inspired Katz to become involved with Second Chance Orange County, a non-profit committed to helping individuals experiencing homelessness become productive members of society by providing individualized supporting services. Volunteering his time and resources, Katz has worked with a number of Santa Ana residents who have fallen on hard times.

Katz’s personal engagement was the “beautiful answer” to the “beautiful question.” It was an answer that was the result of a lifetime of commitment to his community. As he explained, “Jews, by nature, care about the downtrodden.”

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Katz graduated from Alexander Hamilton High School, which had an integrated student body that gave him cross-race compassion and the ability to work with all members of his community. Then he attended a seminary in Jerusalem, began his college career at U.C.L.A. and transferred to Yeshiva University in New York City. While earning three degrees, Katz remained extremely involved with student government and local politics.

In his junior year, Katz worked on connecting Yeshiva’s student body with the local residents in Spanish Harlem. He started a tutoring program at the junior high school across the street from the college. As student body president, he introduced a number of creative initiatives which remain in effect today. Katz worked closely with the mayor and the police department to address violence that plagued the campus because of rampant drug activity in area.

After graduation, Katz worked in an accounting practice. Then he was accepted to Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, a breeding ground for future civil servants. He did volunteer work throughout law school with the Hastings’ General Assistance Advocacy Project, where he provided legal services to low income residents of San Francisco.

Katz’s legal career has included government relations and complex business litigation. In 1999, he served as the general counsel for Western Dental located just outside Ward 3. When he needed meditation and quiet, he turned off the computer and took long walks in the Park Santiago, Floral Park and Riverview neighborhoods. As general counsel for numerous Orange County companies, Katz has advocated before United States Senators, Congressmen, the Federal Trade Commission, the C.F.P.B., the Department of Justice, more than 20 state Attorneys General, 10 different governors and multiple federal and state regulatory agencies.

Twenty years after taking walks through Floral Park, Katz is now the president of the Floral Park Neighborhood Association (“FPNA”). Katz emceed the first home brewing contest—an event he conceived—at the Floral Park 2019 Freedom Fest. He performs a Shabbat service and hosts a menorah lighting at this home, open to Jewish and non-Jewish people. “I want everybody to feel inspired, and I want other nationalities to be proud of who they are too,” he said.

When Suzee battled cancer in 2016, neighbors walked the dog and made meals for the Katz family – “even people who didn’t know us,” he said. Understanding that “everything starts with neighborhoods,” Katz hopes to create inclusionary initiatives all over the city.

“If I am elected as a council member, I want to revitalize neighborhoods, so that there is closeness, so that everyone knows people’s names, so that people know that their home is part of a larger community,” he said.

In the nonpartisan race, Katz – who described himself as a centrist—said that he is running as a Jew. “As an elected official, I will be holding up the standards of the Torah as well as voting for ordinances,” he concluded.

For more information on Jeff Katz’s campaign for the Santa Ana City Council, check out the website at http://vote4katz.com.

Ilene Schneider is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.

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