The Jewish Culture Club of Elsinore
The Jewish Culture Club of Elsinore Part I
During World War II, a group of Jewish residents of Los Angeles, primarily needle trade workers, established the Jewish Culture Club of Elsinore. The members traveled to Elsinore for two reasons – first, because they were often excluded as Jews from other resorts, and second, because the water from Elsinore's sulphur springs was healing for their overworked hands. The club's gatherings nourished and stimulated their mostly progressive-leaning minds. They held cultural and intellectual events, primarily in Yiddish– lectures, concerts and readings, all based on their shared commitment to social causes and their love of life. As they retired, many settled full time in Elsinore, greatly increasing the Jewish population in this small town (and changing the politics there). The club flourished until the 1970s.
In 1994, the six remaining members of the Jewish Culture Club of Elsinore were interviewed to record their memories and stories— about their lives in Eastern Europe, and how their paths ultimately led them to Lake Elsinore. Most of the story tellers have passed away, but their recorded memories live on. Here is a taste of their stories, starting with Abraham Maymudes’ personal memories from his oral history.
Abraham Maymudes was born in 1901 in Brock—a small town located in what later became Poland.
“My father was Yankel Maymudes. Our children are the sixth generation that carry the name Maymudes. A strong belief in their religion was something that kept them going for six generations. We were able to trace the name Maymudes to the time of the Spanish Middle Ages, where there was a great Jewish learned man, Maimonides, and now our children seem to appreciate that heritage.
My [paternal] grandparents lived in a village and they had some land, but my grandfather was too weak to manage it. To make some money, he used to go to people and fix their clothing. He was, I would say in Yiddish, a latootnik, which meant he repaired clothing; he didn't make new clothing for them but he could patch a hole in the pants, or something like that. Once, in my little town, I saw him. The grandmother came twice. I remember that she brought us, the grandchildren, an egg. From her little farm! My grandfather came to America because he couldn't make a living–the little land he had didn't bring in enough.
I remember that my father once took me to see my great grandfather. He was a very old, old, old man. He also made a living sewing for poor peasants who brought their torn clothes to him. The story went around that he sewed with the light of the moon. He was too poor to buy kerosene or candles, so he was outside fixing the holes when the moon was shining. Before we went home, my great grandfather put his hand on my head and he blessed me.
My mother’s name was Zicel. She had a shtikl–a piece of land that was nearby the house that she planted. My father worked in a factory to make wooden boxes. These wooden boxes were packed with the small papers that the peasants would fill with tobacco to make their cigarettes.
When my parents started to have more children, my father left the factory job and worked at a hardware store owned by Mandel, the richest man in the town. I remember once that I had a couple of pennies and I bought a little knife at that store. That knife was the greatest thing in life—something I owned!
In 1905, my father left our home to serve in the Russian-Japanese War. In order to support us, my mother nursed other people’s children. At one time, she stayed in Warsaw to nurse the children of some rich people, so I lived with my [maternal] grandparents for a while.
I remember when my grandmother took me on the train to see my mother in these wealthy people’s home. It made such an impression, I can't forget it. My mother walked up to the wall and turned a faucet and water ran out! When we needed water at home, we had to go to the well, so we had a hard time getting water; and here I see water come out from the wall! There was one more thing that impressed me. At home, my mother was too poor to get milk for me and my brother and sister. When she sent me to buy milk, we could only afford an eighth of a quart. And here in the rich house, she gave me a whole glass of chocolate milk!
When my father came back from the army, my mother came home. My father had different jobs, but then worked again in Mandel’s hardware store. He worked very hard, carrying ten foot bars of steel for construction and was paid four rubles a week. When it came to Pesach, he was given a raise. One ruble. At the end of the year, at Rosh Hashanah, my father asked Mandel for a raise of another ruble. Mandel refused to give my father a raise. My father decided that's the end. I don't know where he got the money, but in 1913, he left for America to join his father, who had left a few years before, because he couldn’t make a living from their little piece of land.
I was 13 at the start of the First World War. Originally I went to religious school, but I left that school and went to a German school for boys. I learned the language and I became more worldly.
While the Germans were still occupying our town, there built up among the Jews an organization with the name Maccabi. It was one of the first times that boys and girls were in the same organization. We called it Hertzleah. Hertzl was the father of Israel, and we named the organization under this name. There was a parent organization, and this parent organization helped us organize. I was the leader of the boys’ section of the organization and my future wife, Golde, was the leaders of the girls.
I would say the group was political and social. There was a working class for Israel and there was a religious class for Israel. We were in the working class. We kept it up, until the Poles started a war against Russia. Then the Hertzleah dissolved.
In 1920, my mother and I joined my father in America. I remember it was Hanukkah, the second candle. That was my first step in America.”
To be continued…. Part 2 — Golde Kusher Maymudes