The Jewish Culture Club of Elsinore, Part 2
The Jewish Culture Club of Elsinore Part 2
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 personal stories, starting with Golde Kusher Maymudes’ personal memories from her oral history, and then, Abraham and Golde's recollections of L.A. in the 1920s and 1930s. (Please note, this is their oral history, so all comments, opinions and explanations are their words, and have not been edited.)
Golde Kusher was born in 1903 in the same small town as her future husband, Abraham Maymudes.
“Our town was on the Bug River, which is Poland's large river. They used to ship lumber from Poland to Germany on that river, because Poland was richer in lumber than Germany was.
Grandfather Mottle worked for the men who owned the trees; his job was to keep track of the wood they cut and shipped for the year.
Grandmother Hinde had a yard goods store. She was a great business lady. She did her business in the store, and Grandfather was mostly on the road with the lumber.
Grandmother gave birth to 14 children and seven of these lived to a ripe old age.
My mother’s name was Rebecca Lewenstein. Mother used to tell us that they made a match for her with a man who came to their house. She looked through the window to see him and she saw a very tall man. She was little, and she got so scared that she told her mother she'd never marry anybody like that!
Then she married Father, who was an exceptional human being. His name was Sevenyea, or Samuel, Kusher.
They had a store with the help of my mother's parents.
They were very good parents. When we were little there were five of us girls and Thursday nights my father used to heat up a big pot of water for the large bathtub. Then they would wash our hair and Father would help Mother put braids in our hair with new little ribbons.
At the beginning of 1914, my father left for America, leaving my mother with the five children. It was difficult for us after my father left. We still had the store open and we still did business. It was a hard life, but it was easier for us than for those that were left without any means. The Maymudes family had a more difficult time.
We were very much aware of the First World War. Abraham and I were 12 and 13 years old at the start of the war. We were both politically very much aware.
We all went into regular government city schools to learn the language and to become more worldly. This was a great change in our life. It was a short but a very great period, when we stepped out of the boundary of our parents’ religious life and rules. We were growing up in our own way. Boys and girls got together in the Hertzleah organization, which never happened before. Abraham was the leader of the boys section and I was the leader of the girls, but we had activities together. It was a short period, but it was great time.
What did I like about Abraham? He was a leader and I appreciated that.
Abraham and I both came to America in 1920, on the same boat.
LIFE IN AMERICA
In the following section, Golde’s comments are shown in italics; Abraham’s in standard type.
When I came to America I wasn't fully two weeks here and I was begging my father to find me work in the needle trade. I was very anxious to work and be independent. I was 18. So I was taken to a place where they made bloomers.
I tried different occupations, because my father couldn’t support me. My father was not a good tailor so he sold apples on a pushcart. Then he tried to get me work as a clockmaker, and I couldn't make it. Since my grandfather was a tailor, he thought I could become a tailor, but that didn’t work out. Finally I ended up working as a furrier, working on fur coats.
At the same time, I was going to a Yiddish teacher's seminar that was organized by the Workmen's Circle. [From Wikipedia: “Formed in 1900 by Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, The Workmen's Circle at first acted as a mutual aid society, helping its members to adapt to their new life in America. It provided life insurance, unemployment relief, healthcare, social interaction, burial assistance and general education through its branches throughout the U.S. as well as through its national office. Soon, the organization was joined by more politically focused socialists who advocated the anti-assimilationist idea of Yiddish cultural autonomy, led by education in Yiddish and socialist ideals. During the 1920s, members sympathetic to the Communist Party formed a separate organization, the International Workers Order.”]
In the daytime I worked as a furrier, and in the evening I took the elevated and went to the classes, and I became a teacher.
Golde also attended the teachers' seminar of the Workmen's Circle. So we were both teachers. We both taught everything in Yiddish–literature, history-everything. We were sent to Cleveland and then Philadelphia to teach, and finally, because our older son had terrible bronchitis, we asked to be transferred to Los Angeles. That was in 1933.
We lived on Ganahl Street in Boyle Heights, in a little house with another couple. Each couple paid $15 a month rent.
Initially I was teaching in West Adams at a shul there.
Los Angeles was a big village. You could wait for hours for a street car. We went to the beach and to the Santa Monica Pier where there were games that you could play for a nickel!
What was amazing was the real desert climate. We never had a smoggy day back then. Most of the land in Los Angeles was occupied by walnut groves and other fruit trees, and there was little industry, so there wasn't smog. It was very beautiful. The palm trees all over, side by side with the pine trees. The Valley was full of growing seeds for flowers, practically for the world! There was one Jewish man who was cultivating them. When you walked up on Mount Wilson and you looked down, the floor down below looked like a carpet of flowers of all colors. It was beautiful.
This man's name was Matlin. He cultivated flower seeds first, and then he planted sweet potatoes. He was a famous agriculture expert. In fact, he was invited to the Soviet Union to teach them how to grow sweet potatoes.
On Temple Street there was the Jewish Community Center which then moved to 590 North Vermont. Golde organized a school in the shul there.
We were speaking Yiddish as much as teaching it. We wanted to acquaint the children with Jewish literature and Jewish customs and life, more than to teach them the Yiddish language. So, as far as conversation, the children spoke English.
The Jewish Community Center on Temple Street was more or less on the Right, and our acquaintanceship was more progressive… people who cared for the social welfare of all people. Most of our acquaintances were Yiddish speaking and they were the social-minded people. They were the leading people in the progressive movement.
When we came here, there were two very big struggles. First of all, there was Red Hines, who was an FBI man. He made up stories about the radicals so that he could arrest them. There was a children’s camp for the the workers’ children and he harassed them a great deal, and we fought to keep the camp open.
There was a lettuce strike in 1934, mostly by the Filipino workers who organized. Also, that year, there was a San Francisco longshoreman’s strike. We joined in sympathy with them. It was a bloody struggle. We supported them in every way we knew how, especially by raising funds. We took 25 pound brown bags, filled them with food and brought them to the strike headquarters.
Then in 1936, when Italy invaded Ethiopia, Emperor Haile Selassie spoke to the League of Nations for help against Mussolini. We were involved in this movement.
We were constantly supporting these struggles.
Society, in general, is divided into the poor and the rich. We are of the poor people and the social-minded. The rich people didn't care. If they did care, there wouldn't be a Mussolini or a Hitler. It was nothing new for people not to take these things seriously, but in those times, it took in a larger strata of the population than it had before.
There are some people who say, “There always are wars, there always are struggles, and this one will go away too.” We were among the people who thought that we could help to stop all that.
When Hitler came out with Mein Kampf, he said to kills the Jews, kill the gypsies, kill the retarded people. To him, the Arian race was the leading race. We were active with the people against Hitler.
To us, this felt like a continuation of the struggle in Europe. The war in 1914 caught us at a young age. We were already aware of the struggle of classes, and chose our road, so to speak. And that's what we brought with us over to America.
Wherever we were, we belonged to a working class organization.
THE INTERNATIONAL WORKERS ORDER, IWO
All my life I played as an organizer. The IWO was active in the school where I was a teacher. Somebody came around at one point and asked why I should be just a teacher? “Go in a little bit higher,” he said. So I became the secretary of the first organization that built up the IWO, the International Workers Order. .
Both the Workmen's Circle and the IWO expected both Golde and me to be leaders among the Jewish people because we were already teachers. That meant we were in a leadership position with the parents of our students as well.
When I stopped teaching, I became the head of the Los Angeles branch of the IWO. It was a terrific organization. When I came in, there were 200 members and I worked it up to 5000.
IWO consisted of 50 national sections, including Ukrainian, Russian, Hungarian, Polish, Swiss, Yiddish and Jewish. The Jewish was the main section, because many people turned away from the Workmen’s Circle, which was a more right-wing organization. At that time, people who came from Europe had a new spirit of the revolution and they became the Leftists. They were called the Linke, which meant ‘Left.’
There was a struggle going on in the unions. The union chief did everything for his own interests. It was just like in a shop between the boss and the workers. The boss in the shop is interested in having people produce more garments; he doesn't care if it's too hard. And the workers are interested in getting better pay. So it's a struggle between poor and rich, and this struggle went on for generations. Within the unions there were also struggles. The Workmen's Circle supported the reactionary guys in the unions and the IWO was more radical.
Our background is social-minded, and into the schools where we taught, we brought these ideas. Whatever we did, we had the idea of caring for the people. Later on, we struggled against Naziism and against Fascism.
to be continued… Golde and Abraham talk about World War II and what led them to Elsinore