Latinos, Jews to Join in Historic Boyle Heights Celebration
The Jewish and Latino communities will join Sunday at Fiesta Shalom, celebrating their joint past, present and future ties and the achievements of the State of Israel since its independence.
A combination of street fair, live music and dance, food booths, interactive workshops, exhibits, children’s activities and a few rousing speeches, the fiesta will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and play out, appropriately, in front of the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights.
It was at the historic synagogue that the Israeli flag was hoisted for the first time in Los Angeles on May 15, 1948, the day after the Jewish state declared its independence.
For nostalgia buffs, there will be a one-time return of Canter’s Deli, a Boyle Heights institution before it moved west to Fairfax.
Stressing Jewish/Israeli and Latino connections will be Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Sheriff Lee Baca, Israel Consul General Yaakov Dayan, LA City Councilman Jose Huizar of Boyle Heights and John Fishel, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
For the first time, the Jewish Journal and the Spanish-language daily La Opinion have jointly published a bilingual English-Spanish insert in their May 15 editions, with both publications looking toward future collaborations.
Planning for the fiesta started last year, shortly after Dayan took up his diplomatic post in Los Angeles and advanced the idea in a meeting between Huizar and Gil Artzyeli, the Israeli deputy consul general.
“As a Latino growing up in Boyle Heights, I know very well about the community’s storied Jewish and Latino histories,” Huizar said. “Fiesta Shalom gives us the unique opportunity to come together to celebrate these two cultures that have been so influential in making Boyle Heights the vibrant community that it is today.”
Boyle Heights evolved into Los Angeles’ largest shtetl in the five years following World War I, when the city’s Jewish population rose from 19,000 to 45,000, and remained predominant until the late 1940s.
Before the Jewish exodus westward after World War II, Boyle Heights boasted 27 synagogues and shtiebels. The Breed Street Shul, formally Congregation Talmud Torah, was the jewel in the crown and is now being restored, after years of neglect, at the initiative of the Jewish Historical Society.
In those earlier days, Brooklyn Street, the main thoroughfare, was lined with stores advertising their wares in Yiddish, and the “official” Jewish bordello stood at the corner of First St. and Boyle Ave.
As a growing number of Latinos, as well as African-Americans and Asians, moved in, Boyle Heights became a vibrantly diverse community, as Rosalie Turrola, a high school counselor and life-long resident of Boyle Heights, recalled.
“I remember everyone lighting candles on Friday nights, and I loved the potato pancakes,” she told The Journal. “I had a nice neighbor who always called me ‘a shayne maidele’ [a pretty girl].”
Fiesta Shalom has a couple of historical antecedents. In 1894, Max Mayberg organized the first Fiesta de Los Angeles, featuring a carnival and parade, to make the city’s multi-ethnic citizenry forget the economic miseries of the 1893 Depression.
In the late 1940s, the Soto-Michigan Jewish Community Center in Boyle Heights pioneered the Jewish community’s outreach to other ethnic groups through the Friendship Festival, which brought together 12,000 “Mexicans, Japanese, Negro and Jewish youths in a cooperative venture,” wrote historian George Sanchez.
In its modern incarnation, Consul General Dayan said, “Fiesta Shalom will, we hope, send the message of unity and mutual support between communities and Israel from Los Angeles to the entire United States.” The Jewish Federation’s Fishel noted that “the festivities in Boyle Heights celebrate the many community projects that are strengthening bonds between the Latino and Jewish communities throughout Los Angeles.”
Among the sponsors of Fiesta Shalom are the Israeli consulate and tourism office, Jewish Federation, El Al, Jewish Journal, Canter’s Deli and various Latino organizations and officials.