Tourists stand in front of a grafitti depicting U.S President Donald Trump on the controversial Israeli barrier in the West Bank town of Bethlehem August 4, 2017. Photo by Mussa Qawasma/REUTERS.

Why we need more history lessons


In the cascade of one major news story after another, President Donald Trump has decided somewhat quietly to send his son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kusher, along with chief negotiator Jason Greenblatt, back to the Middle East to try to revive peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

While the chances of success are not high, this nonetheless is a salutary development on at least two scores: First, it reveals that the president has not given up all hope and does seem to regard the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as worth his attention; and second, in this conflict, stasis, or the perceived absence of diplomatic movement, often is a catalyst for violence.

And yet, there is a concerning element to this plan. Several weeks ago, in a talk with a group of congressional interns, Kushner reportedly said of diplomacy: “Everyone finds an issue … ‘You have to understand what they did then,’ and ‘You have to understand that they did this.’ But how does that help us get peace? Let’s not focus on that. We don’t want a history lesson. We’ve read enough books. Let’s focus on how do you come up with a conclusion to the situation.”

It is tempting to imagine that in a conflict weighed down by competing historical narratives, one can begin with a tabula rasa and then move on to a shared understanding of a peaceful future. I fear that this won’t work in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two sides cling tightly to their accounts of the past — and for understandable reasons. The Jewish/Zionist/Israeli story of liberation from exile and reclamation of the ancestral homeland contains a great deal of truth. But so does the Palestinian story of the flight from homeland to exile. In this sense, both historical accounts have a great deal of veracity, although they are mixed with myth and, often enough, denial of the legitimacy of the other side’s narrative.

Researchers have found that in post-conflict situations such as Northern Ireland and the Balkans, a key and difficult step toward reconciliation is to acknowledge the existence of multiple narratives and to work at all levels of society to educate toward an inclusive, rather than exclusive, view of the past. As I argue in a forthcoming book, “The Stakes of History,” history is not only not to be avoided in such settings, it can be an important tool of reconciliation between warring sides. Failing to acknowledge the history of the other will induce anger and indignation at every turn. And repressing difficult chapters from the past may be gratifying in the short term but ultimately will return with a vengeance, like a festering wound.

Recognizing the story of the other as part of the quest for diplomatic resolution is one sense in which history is important. There are other uses for history. The past, as the German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin noted, is a huge repository of discarded, but interesting, ideas. The current state of affairs between Israelis and Palestinians is a stalemate. The long-regnant model of a two-state solution is increasingly undesirable to both sides; the alternative Israeli and Palestinian visions of a single state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean seem to be so divergent as to be unbridgeable. Returning to the dustbin of history can help to surface old ideas worth reconsidering in the present quagmire, even if only as interim solutions. These include, as Israeli historian Benny Morris explored in his book “One State, Two States,” confederated arrangements in which autonomous areas are joined to existing states or even a canton system that grants autonomy to different parts of the region according to ethnic, political or cultural cohesion.

There is a third way history can be of value — and this is of most direct value to Jared Kushner. American policy is far better off with a rich sense of history than an enfeebled one. Had military and political planners possessed a more refined sense of the history of ethnic and religious conflict in Iraq and the region, there might have been a greater sense of restraint before the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 — and a more realistic awareness of the challenges of governing the country after it. By extension, it would seem responsible to take a deep dive into the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as into the attempts to solve it, before embarking on a new diplomatic initiative.

In fact, it might be worth reviving a proposal raised by two distinguished scholars in the waning months of the Barack Obama presidency. Political scientist Graham Allison and historian Niall Ferguson called in September 2016 for the creation of a Council of History Advisers to serve a function akin to the Council of Economic Advisers. The two proposed a number of ways in which history could be of great value to policymakers, recalling the valuable recourse to history made by former Federal Reserve Board chairman Ben Bernanke in response to the 2008 economic crisis.

As in that case, so too in the present, we stand to benefit greatly from more rather than fewer history lessons.

DAVID N. MYERS is the president and CEO of the Center for Jewish History, as well as the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA. He is the author of “Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction” (Oxford University Press).

Anatol Josepho leads a group of Scouts on a wagon ride on his ranch in Rustic Canyon. His two sons are the Cub Scouts (dark uniforms) in the front of the wagon. Photo © crescentbaycouncil.org

Anatol Josepho: The immigrant who introduced us to the selfie


At a time when we are obsessed with selfies, where would we be without Anatol Josepho, a Russian Jew from Siberia, who in 1925 invented the photo booth?

Josepho’s contraption, which for a quarter produced a strip of eight photos, introduced Americans to the immediacy of producing variations of one’s self-image. Today, his invention’s descendants still can be found in amusement parks and tourist zones, and they have morphed into a must-have for b’nai mitzvah parties.

When Josepho first came to Los Angeles in 1921 to gain experience in the city’s film industry, who could have predicted that the rough plans he brought with him for an automated photo booth would bring inexpensive photography to the masses, changing the way Americans saw themselves?

Anatol Josephewitz was born on March 31, 1894, in Omsk, Siberia, to a prosperous jeweler and his wife, who died when Anatol was 3, according to “American Photobooth” by Nakki Goranin. As a child, he showed an interest in cameras and photography, and attended a technical institute. In 1909, at age 15, with financial support from his father, he went to Berlin and talked his way into a job at a photo studio, where the owner trained him as a photographer. At 19, he opened his own studio in Budapest, Hungary. After the Russian Revolution and World War I, seeking a new life, he traveled to Shanghai, where he opened a successful photo studio around 1921. There, he drew up plans for his invention, but he knew he would need to go to the United States to realize his dream.

“I decided to come to America and hunt for backers,” Josepho told The New York Times in 1927. “I landed at Seattle. It struck me that I ought to go to Hollywood and get motion picture experience.”

Realizing he needed more funding for his invention, he traveled to New York. In March 1925, he filed a patent for “Developing apparatus for photographic film strips” (Patent No. 1,656,522 was granted in January 1928) and in September 1925, he opened his Photomaton Studio on Broadway a few blocks from Times Square.

“Almost since the studio was opened last September crowds have stood in line to put the quarter in the machine and take a strip of eight sepia photos of themselves,” The New York Times reported.

With his success, Josepho began courting silent film actress Hannah-Belle Kelhmann, known as “Ganna,” the daughter of a New York printer. On July 22, 1926, they were married.

Anatol Josepho sits at the Photomaton photo booth he invented — eight photos for a quarter — which made its public debut in September 1925 in New York. Photo from Flickr Commons Project

Anatol Josepho sits at the Photomaton photo booth he invented — eight photos for a quarter — which made its public debut in September 1925 in New York. Photo from Flickr Commons Project

With the Photomaton attracting customers (one source estimated 2,000 people per day) and press, in 1927 Josepho sold the North American rights to his invention for $1 million (more than $13.5 million in 2017 dollars) to a business group led by Henry Morgenthau Sr., a prominent Jewish New Yorker and former ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. “We will begin to dot strategic points in this country with studios at a rate slightly more rapid than one a week,” Morgenthau told the Times.

Pegged in the press as a “get-rich-quick genius,” Josepho nonetheless perplexed them with his altruism. He had a “plan to create a trust fund of half of the first million dollars to be devoted to general charity based along economically sound lines,” Josepho told the Times. In the same article, the paper labeled him a “Socialist,” which was echoed in other New York media during the Red Scare 1920s and was a potentially damaging epithet. Hardly considered was that Josepho’s generosity possibly had been motivated by his Jewish heritage — with a tradition of giving to the poor — or his exposure to the plight of other immigrants and refugees who had fled their countries in the post-World War I era.

In Josepho’s defense, a first-person column about his rise to success — under the headline “The Jewish World,” in the June 12, 1927, edition of the Syracuse Herald by Rabbi Jacob Minkin — stated: “[H]e is not a Socialist as has been declared; in fact, has no political affiliations whatsoever.”

In 1928, Josepho returned to California to stay permanently, moving with his wife into a home overlooking Mandeville Canyon. According to a book by Betty Lou Young, “Rustic Canyon and the Story of the Uplifters,” Anatol and Ganna often rode horses on the area’s mountain trails. On one such outing, Anatol found an area in Rustic Canyon near a spring that was suitable for a home site. The couple’s friend, famed humorist and actor Will Rogers, who owned property nearby and wanted them as neighbors, “even flew with him over the canyon in a plane and helped him plot out the site,” Young wrote.

Closing the deal, in 1932, Josepho bought 100 acres in Rustic Canyon from the Mountain Land Co., owned by Alphonso Bell (whose son later served eights terms as a congressman representing L.A.’s Westside).

After carefully clearing the land but preserving as many trees as possible, Josepho, who operated the steam shovel himself, contracted for a comfortable home, an “inventor’s cottage” and a barn to be built. He later called the ranch “Ganatolia,” after his wife.

In 1928, the couple had a son, Marco (who died in 2016). Two years later, they had a second son, Roy, whose birth was announced in the social column of the May 16, 1930, edition of the B’nai B’rith Messenger.

In 1941, Josepho purchased another 110 acres to the north of his property for what would become a Boy Scout camp. He may have given the land to the Boy Scouts (his sons were Cub Scouts) “to express his gratitude to his adopted land,” as Young wrote, or because he foresaw the property — if developed “with separate water tanks and access road” — could “act as a first line of defense,” buffering wildfires that came roaring down the canyon, as an article on the Crescent Bay Historical Project website speculated. Most likely, it was a bit of both. The land, plus an additional gift of $30,000, made Camp Josepho a reality that today has programs in moviemaking and robotics.

After their sons became teenagers, in 1946, the Josephos sold their home but remained in the L.A. area. Like a series of shots emerging from his photo booth, the next decades showed a series of images of the couples’ participation, leadership and contributions to the L.A. Jewish community and Israel.

In 1957, according to the B’nai B’rith Messenger, the first Anatol Josepho award, a Torah made in Israel, was presented by the Los Angeles Israel Bond Committee to Congregation B’nai David (today Congregation B’nai David-Judea): “In token of the congregation’s outstanding High Holy Day Israel Bond sales.”

In 1962, the Josephos, living at 1801 San Vicente Blvd., in Santa Monica, hosted a cocktail hour and dinner in their gardens saluting Ort’s Tel Aviv Vocational Training Center; and in 1966, Ganna was elected to the executive board of the Bay Cities Jewish Community Center.

Seeing that the Technion, Israel’s Institute of Technology in Haifa (established in 1912), was an institution focused on areas of innovation that had made his career, Josepho gradually became more involved with the Los Angeles chapter of the American Technion Society. In 1968, he was elected one of the national organization’s vice presidents .

In 1971, as a part of a California Day, a large delegation of Southern Californians, including the Josepho family, gathered in Haifa to participate in the dedication of the Ganna and Anatol M. Josepho Building on the Technion’s campus, a building for which they had made a major financial contribution. At the time, said an article in the Messenger, the building was “the largest on the campus.” Today, the nine-story building is called the Josepho Industrial Research Center.

Josepho died at a rest home in La Jolla, Calif., following a series of strokes, on Dec. 16, 1980.

As a place for new generations of immigrants — as well as Israel’s future technicians and scientists and those from developing counties — to dream and develop their own ways of picturing the future, the building he left behind at the Technion could not be more connected to the booth that Josepho had devised so many decades before.

Have an idea for a Los Angeles Jewish history story? Contact Edmon J. Rodman at edmojace@gmail.com.

Max Factor: Father of modern makeup


The night Max Factor premiered his new makeup studio in Hollywood — Nov. 26, 1935 — many of the glamorous stars in attendance had him to thank for improving their appearance on film.

Located on Highland Avenue — just around the corner from where today the Academy Awards are presented at the Dolby Theatre (and close to Factor’s Walk of Fame star on Hollywood Boulevard) — the event attracted thousands to what the invitation proclaimed as the “world’s greatest cosmetics factory.”

Documenting their presence that night, Claudette Colbert, Bela Lugosi, George Burns, Judy Garland, Carole Lombard, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson and many other stars celebrated the opening by signing their names to a “Scroll of Fame.”

With the opening of the studio, Factor — a Polish Jew who had escaped from czarist Russia to emigrate to the U.S. with his wife and children in 1904 — was poised to expand both his makeup and wig business, which served Hollywood studios and movie stars, and his celebrity-endorsed line of retail makeup, to an even greener shade of
success. It was a Hollywood success story writ large with greasepaint, rouge and lipstick.

“He had to make his own way,” said Donelle Dadigan, founder and president of the Hollywood Museum, which is housed in the former Max Factor Makeup Studio on Highland. “And he was determined.”

Factor was born to Abraham and Cecilia Faktrowitz or Faktorowicz (depending on the source), circa 1877 in Lodz, Poland, according to the biography “Max Factor: The Man Who Changed the Faces of the World,” by Fred E. Basten. Coming to America in 1904 to escape working as a beautician and wig maker for the czar’s family, Factor used his skills to sell cosmetics and hair preparations of his own making at that year’s St. Louis World’s Fair.

After his first wife, Lizzie, died in 1906, and a second marriage failed in 1908, Factor, father to five children, married a neighbor, Jennie Cook, in 1908.

Aware of the growing popular interest in silent movies and that filmmakers were heading to Los Angeles, Factor joined them that year, hoping there would be a need for wigs and makeup. Soon after arriving in L.A., he opened a business called “The Antiseptic Hair Store” at 1204 S. Central Ave., where he sold made-to-order toupees and a couple of lines of theatrical makeup not his own, according to the 2008 Basten biography.

Downtown L.A. then, like today, was a place to shoot movies, and Factor, according to Basten, who interviewed him, observed that the theatrical makeup in stick form used by that era’s movie actors was heavy and dried into a stiff, mask-like surface that easily cracked and did not allow for much facial expression. Looking for a solution in a lab in the back of his store, Factor began to experiment, and in 1914, created a greasepaint in the form of a cream that was thin, flexible, and came in 12 shades.

However, in 1913, it was his wig making that got Factor into the movie business. Factor worked a deal to rent wigs to Cecil B. DeMille, who was set to co-direct the first feature-length film to be shot in Hollywood, “The Squaw Man.”

As for the new greasepaint, it was movie comics such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Ben Turpin who first gave it a try, coming to Factor’s shop to buy it and have him personally apply it, Basten wrote. Soon the new greasepaint was accepted by actors and studios alike, resulting in a blossoming demand for Factor’s makeup and services.

Wanting to be more in the center of things, Factor moved his shop to the Pantages Building on 534 S. Broadway, and then to 326 S. Hill Street, where it occupied a ground-floor storefront.

Adding to his innovations, in 1918 Factor introduced a Color Harmony line of 11 shades of face powder, and also started selling his greasepaint in tubes. One of his testers for the powder was screen actress Carmel Myers, daughter of Rabbi Isidore Myers of Sinai Temple.

Wanting to live close to his business, Factor, who did not drive, in 1922 bought a house at 432 Boyle Ave. (still a residence today) in the growing Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights, where he and his family lived until the late 1920s.

After the turn of the 20th century, the popularization of makeup had been slowed by the perception that it was mostly worn by actresses and prostitutes. Yet, with the advent of movies, women saw the makeup applied by Factor on such gorgeous stars as Mary Pickford and Greta Garbo and began to ask, “Why not me?” Soon, Factor and his sons heard that noticeable quantities of their products were disappearing from movie sets and studios.

“Normal people wanted to take it home,” said one of Factor’s grandchildren, Jerry
Factor.

Through a deal with Sales Builders in 1927, Factor’s makeup began selling in drug stores across the United States. By 1935, acceptance of makeup was widespread, including in the L.A. Jewish community, where at the Social Center at 2317 Michigan Ave. in Boyle Heights, a trained representative from Factor’s Hollywood shop, named Mr. Shore, was calendared to give a one-hour demonstration on society makeup.

“Be you blonde, brunette or redhead, Mr. Shore can give you pointers on how to appear lovelier than you really are!” said an item in the Aug. 15, 1935, edition of the B’nai B’rith Messenger.

In the early 1930s, the Factor family moved to a two-story house at 802 N. Elm Drive in Beverly Hills. Jerry Factor recalled that the house had an impressive swimming pool and a monkey cage in the backyard. On weekends, he remembered, the house was “filled with people for Sunday breakfast.”

To expand, Max Factor & Co. soon was looking for property in Hollywood, eventually purchasing the building where the grand opening took place, after a complete makeover by movie palace architect S. Charles Lee (born Simeon Charles Levi) was completed.

An Art Deco showplace complete with a laboratory, offices, factory space and an area for wig making, it had a room specifically decorated and lit for “Blondes Only,” and one each for “Brownettes,” “Redheads” and “Brunettes.” The night of the grand opening, Jean Harlow “cut the ribbon for the blondes-only room,” said Dadigan, the Hollywood Museum head.

Today, the building houses a collection of Max Factor products, photos and devices, including a beauty micrometer (a metal contraption designed to measure the face), as well as additional exhibits devoted to movie and TV history.

“I used to go and watch the ladies making wigs. And I liked to ride the [freight] elevator,” said Jerry Factor, recalling his childhood visits to the building. He now works in property management and is an emeritus trustee of the Max Factor Family Foundation.

Sometime after Max Factor merged with Norton Simon in 1973 (today the brand is owned by Coty), “The Scroll of Honor” disappeared. “Turns out,” Jerry Factor said, “my cousin Barbara had somehow got it out of the building, and it was under her bed for years.” Since its re-emergence, the scroll has been put on display in the Jewish Federation building and as part of an exhibit on Jewish Los Angeles at the Autry Museum of the American West. Today, it is on loan to the Skirball Cultural Center.

Factor died at his home on Aug. 30, 1938. Rabbi Edgar Magnin of Wilshire Boulevard Temple officiated at the funeral, and later his family dedicated the synagogue’s chapel in memory of him and his wife Jennie. Though he was the man who gave Joan Crawford her lipstick “smear,” and Lucile Ball her first shade of red, “Max Factor’s goal was not just to glamorize movie stars,” Dadigan said. “Culturally, he changed the look of
women all over the world, in every station
of life.”

Have an idea for a Los Angeles Jewish history story? Contact Edmon Rodman at edmonjace@gmail.com. n

The lessons of Europe


To walk through the great cities of Europe is to consort with ghosts. Where once the great homes and businesses were in Jewish hands, where within blocks there was a constellation of Jewish genius, now one visits museums commemorating the loss. 

It is too much — too much beauty, too much betrayal. Too much music, too many death marches. Too much faith, too much waste. Too much art and literature and charm, too much cruelty and hatred and pain. Vienna, that glorious city, sparkling and self-assured, had some hundred synagogues before the second world war, and one survives. Fortuitously built beneath an archive, it could not be burned by the Nazis. For the others, you can visit a museum with an imaginative reconstruction of their location and design.

There is something heartening about the Jewish cemetery of Prague, the famous old burial ground where more than 100,000 Jews are interred, going back 600 years, sometimes as much as 12 layers deep. At least there, most of the deaths were “normal” deaths. Of course, there was persecution and hatred for a thousand years in the city, but at least in that sacred ground the dates of death differ. Unlike the burial ground outside the synagogue in Budapest, where one after another, no matter the birthdate, you can be sure the second date on the tombstone, after the year of birth, will be 1944 or 1945.  

I was in Vienna and Budapest with the Joint Distribution Committee, that marvelous organization that continues to look after poor and needy Jews throughout the world and helps foster Jewish life where seeds still sprout. 

First, we visited families in need, whether they lacked basic necessities or medicine or a guiding hand to enable them to live decently. In Budapest, we also visited a Moishe House. That is a sort of post-college dorm where Jewish young professionals live together in a subsidized place and periodically host Jewish events for the community. It was filled with the energy of rediscovery in the small community. In Hungary, it is not unusual for people to learn of their Judaism in their teens or 20s. Their parents, or even grandparents, having suffered so much, simply never told them. 

The charismatic director of the Jewish theater in Hungary, Andras Borgula, who later served four years in the Israel Defense Forces, discovered he was Jewish in his teens when a long-lost relative called from Israel. After repeatedly insisting the man had the wrong number, his grandmother asked who it was on the phone. When Andras told her the name, she turned white: “That’s your grandfather’s brother. We haven’t seen him since the war. By the way, you’re Jewish.” 

Hungary was exceptional because the Jews survived for most of World War II and it was only in the last year of the conflict that the Jews were rounded up and sent to camps. It also is exceptional, even in that brutal time, for the ferocity and glee with which, according to the Nazis’ own testimony, Hungarians cooperated with the German troops. Adolf Eichmann used to say he took Hungary with some 100 SS men. The result was that fewer than a third of Hungary’s Jews survived, mostly because the Nazis ran out of time. Budapest, once nearly 10 percent Jewish, is perhaps 0.5 percent Jewish today.  

For a Jew, nothing in Europe can evoke uncomplicated love. We took a night cruise on the Danube, that fabled waterway so integral to Western civilization. The lights of Budapest sparkled. The next day, we stood on the bank of that same river before the metal shoe memorial, bronzed shoes of children and adults scattered along the pavement rimming the river, recalling the day the Jews of Budapest were lined up along the Danube and shot en masse. 

Prague celebrates Franz Kafka on every corner. The city is immeasurably enriched by the fact that the Kafka family moved a great deal, so there are lots of opportunities for “Kafka slept here” tourist snares. But while promoting the surreal nightmares of his fiction, it is little noted how “fortunate” he was to die young. Kafka’s three sisters died in the camps, a fate he surely would have shared had he lived. 

There is a special poignancy to visiting the cultural capitals of Europe. These are not backwaters where prejudice reigned out of ignorance, or even Germany, where military defeat was turned into imperial fantasies and the Jews were spun into the simultaneously subhuman and superhuman monsters of history. This is where Beethoven composed and Schubert is revered and Mozart premiered his greatest works. This is the cafe, right on the corner in Vienna, where Freud and Mahler and Schoenberg sipped coffee. 

In other words, this is where it was proven, forever and beyond any doubt, that no level of cultural accomplishment inoculates you against the basest hatred and its vicious results. There are a thousand villages and small cities across Eastern and Western Europe that prove the durability and savagery of anti-Semitism. But here is the proof that sophistication is no shield, that intellect is no arbiter of decency. As critic George Steiner noted soon after the war, this is where the idea that art makes us better went to die.

It will not do to draw facile comparisons with the United States. There is anti-Semitism here for sure, and lately there have been disturbing eruptions. But part of the story of Europe is that the Jew was practically the only outsider — there were Hungarians and Jews, Czechs and Jews, Austrians and Jews. The U.S. is a quilt, and in the proliferation of many groups is part of the protection of each. But there is this lesson: Decency, goodness, is not commensurate with anything else. Professors are not more ethical than farmers, and artists are not necessarily any more kind than engineers. Goodness is goodness is goodness. Jews across Europe were saved by diplomats and by nuns, by schoolteachers and by soldiers. Only kindness and daring mattered. 

The small museum in Terezin in the Czech Republic holds the art, music and some of the literature that survived the war, although it is only a fraction of what was created in the camp. Those who survived went on to be leading artists and composers in their native lands, and in Israel and the U.S. A short walk from the museum is a small river where the ashes of 22,000 Jews murdered there were dumped during the war. And you wonder not only at the unfathomable pain and suffering, but the deep self-inflicted wound from which Europe has never recovered. 

Throughout Europe, where so many churches, once seats of prayer, have become concert halls, the lesson is reinforced: Neither piety nor artistry really matter when souls are tested. Then and now, character and courage are everything.


DAVID WOLPE is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple. His most recent book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).

Yamashiro: The mountain palace built by Jews


Yamashiro, the famous Hollywood restaurant with a Japanese-style building and name, served its last meal by its longtime owners recently, before changing hands and reopening under a new operator. The venue has long been known to generations of Angelenos and tourists as an Asian-fusion restaurant with a hilltop view of Hollywood and beyond, but what is less known is that the building and terraced grounds, both historic cultural landmarks, were the creation of two German Jewish middle-aged bachelors, Adolph and Eugene Bernheimer.

Walking the paths and stairs of Yamashiro’s surrounding gardens, stopping to take a photo of the site’s more than 600-year-old imported Japanese pagoda, or its giant golden Buddha, a visitor wonders how this “mountain palace,” as the name Yamashiro means in Japanese, came to be. Originally the Bernheimer residence, it was completed in 1914, when Hollywood still had orchards and fields. The Los Angeles Times, describing the main villa in 1914 as both a “Wonder-house of California,” and a “feudal fortress with a metropolitan setting,” noted the “striking strangeness of it all.”

The Bernheimer brothers, Eugene Elija (1865-1924) and Adolph Leopold Avraham (1866-1944), were born in Ulm, Germany, and came to the United States in 1888. Their father, Leopold, was in the dry goods business. Along with their brother Charles (1864-1944), at the turn of the century they were the principal owners of Bear Mill Manufacturing Company of New York, a maker of cotton products and an exporter-importer of “Oriental goods” for the American market, which made them wealthy. In 1904, a list of members and contributors of United Hebrew Charities of New York includes Eugene and Adolph in both categories.

Adolph Bernheimer 1943

Traveling extensively throughout Asia, Adolph and Eugene developed a taste for Chinese and Japanese art and began to collect it. Much of their history was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, and the building is also on the list of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monuments. 

The brothers arrived in Los Angeles in 1911, and in 1913 they purchased from prominent developer Hobart J. Whitley seven acres of hillside property overlooking the former Rollins estate, which today is the site of the Magic Castle. The brothers hired New York architect Franklin M. Small (with supervising local architect Walter Webber) to design an appropriate house to exhibit their growing collection of Asian art. Completed in 1914, it preceded the nearby Asian-inspired Chinese Theatre, which opened in 1926.

Japanese craftsmen lived in tents on the property’s hillside while helping to build the house and gardens, according to Tom Glover, whose father bought the building and surrounding property from Leo Post and Bernard Brown in 1948, and whose family only recently sold it. The building was authentically Japanese, Glover said, and designed after a temple near Kyoto. The Department of the Interior application notes “the design [is a] prominent example of orientalism as applied to architecture,” and “is based on seventeenth-century Japanese architectural traditions.”

Yet, it also had touches that were modern for its time, including hot water and vacuum systems. “A lot of the interior,” selected by Adolph Bernheimer, “was supplied by a Kyoto art dealer,” Glover added.

In an article in the Times on Nov. 15, 1914, a writer exhorts the charms of the “Japanese Villa.” Adolph’s den is described as “done in red silk, with a dazzling painting of a woman” predominating. There was also a bedroom light (we don’t know whose) and an electrolier in the form of an “inverted athlete swinging from a trapeze.”

The main house was square and two stories high, with its exterior clad in Japanese-inspired half-timbering and smooth white stucco. There were two wings with living quarters — one for each brother. In a touch of what the Times in 1914 called “sinister romance,” the newspaper reported it was “rumored” that the brothers had “made a pact that no women shall ever enter the place as an invited guest.” Dispelling that rumor, however, the Aug. 11, 1915, edition of the Los Angeles Herald reported that “Marcus M. Marks, president of the borough of Manhattan, Greater New York City, and his wife and family” and “[Los Angeles] Mayor and Mrs. [Charles] Sebastian” were invited as “guests of Eugene and Adolph Bernheimer, at their Hollywood villa.”

Creating for their mountain palace a movie-like setting, the terraced grounds were filled with lush gardens, waterfalls, goldfish and a private zoo of exotic birds and monkeys. Miniature bronze houseboats floated along tiny canals and through a miniature Japanese village.

The Bernheimers had succeeded in raising the flag of Asian art and design in L.A., but their own foreign backgrounds flagged a different kind of attention. With the rise of strong anti-German sentiment during World War I (a rise in anti-Semitism may have played a role, as well), the German-born brothers were suspected of some kind of espionage up in their serene foreign-looking retreat. “For weeks, ever since war was declared,” read a piece in the Herald on April 25, 1917, “it has been a favorite pastime of rumor circulators to proclaim the home as an arsenal. … A thorough search at the request of Mr. [Adolph] Bernheimer disclosed nothing of more importance than the usual appurtenances of a well-ordered home.”

Perhaps to stop the suspicions, in 1918 each brother bought a $5,000 Victory Bond. In 1921, their home was “thrown open to the public,” as the article in the Times put it, for the Committee of Foreign Relief to conduct an afternoon and evening benefit “for the children of Poland and Serbia.”

Around 1924, apparently still upset over the war-time suspicions, as well as the city’s building an unsightly water tower behind their home, the Bernheimers sold their palace.

In 1924, Eugene, living in San Francisco as a “retired capitalist,” died unexpectedly. (Both brothers are buried in the Salem Fields Cemetery in Brooklyn along with other prominent Jewish families like the Guggenheims and Shuberts). In Eugene’s will, the millionaire, in addition to leaving bequests for family members as well as his nurse, left $5,000 to the Jewish Philanthropic Society of New York. In 1925, with much of the brothers’ art collection and furnishings having been auctioned off, Adolph’s attention turned to the Pacific Palisades, where he had purchased from Alphonso E. Bell an ocean-view property for another Asian-themed project called Bernheimer Oriental Gardens, turning it into a tourist attraction where, as the brochure said, “the Orient Meets the Occident.” But this project lost favor during World War II due to anti-Asian feelings and because Adolph was of German heritage. By the early 1950s, all of the structures were demolished.

In the 1920s, the Yamashiro property became headquarters for the “400 Club,” whose members included Hollywood’s motion-picture elite, such as actors Lillian Gish and Ramon Novarro. Later in the ’20s, it became a brothel, and during the Depression, tours of the garden were offered for 25 cents.

During World War II, after Pearl Harbor and with the rise in anti-Japanese sentiment, the Yamashiro house and gardens were vandalized and many of the decorative elements were stripped. Yamashiro’s distinctive Asian architecture was disguised and the estate became a boys military school.

By the time Glover’s father purchased the property, the house had been turned “into an apartment house,” according to Tom Glover. “He began to tear off all the coverings; he was going to tear it down, but when he started to pull off all the sheetrock, underneath was silk wallpapers and carved wood,” said Glover, who recalls at age 9 helping to dig sewer lines on the property. Eventually, his father won a liquor license in the state’s lottery, opened a little bar, and as the place grew in popularity, he opened up more rooms.

 “Gray Line tours, sometimes six buses a night, would come up,” recalled Glover, who for several years lived in an apartment on the property that had been fashioned from the monkey house. By 1972, Tom Glover had taken over and started serving food along with the drinks.

This year, Yamashiro was sold for nearly $40 million to the JE Group of Beijing, “a hotel operator known for refurbishing historic properties on its home turf,” according to the Times. There will be few changes to the site, except for sprucing up the aging buildings, Kang Jianyi, chairman of JE, told the Times.

Yet, on June 12, the restaurant closed. Glover said it “will be taken over by another operator.” 

“I didn’t want to sell,” said Glover, who managed the restaurant for 50 years. His extended family had gone to court and forced the sale.

Over the years, he added, Yamashiro has also “been the location for many bar mitzvah parties and Jewish weddings.”

It’s “been heartbreaking to leave,” he said.

Have an idea for a Los Angeles Jewish history story? Contact Edmon J. Rodman at edmojace@gmail.com.

Lithuanian mayor dismantles building made from Jewish headstones


The municipality of Vilnius in Lithuania began dismantling a Soviet-era structure made from Jewish headstones.

On Wednesday, Mayor Remigijus Šimašius removed the first stone from the structure housing an electricity and heating generator on Olandų Street, his office said in a statement.

The generator was built by the Soviet authorities of Lithuania between 1965 and 1968, when it was part of the Soviet Union. The headstones had been removed from a Jewish cemetery.

 

“After 26 years as an independent country it is now the time to remove these stones, which are a clear mark of disrespect to our Jewish community,” Šimašius said. “The stones will be removed from the generator and moved to a memorial, which will be built on Olandų Street with the cooperation of Vilnius’ Jewish community.”

The Vilnius municipality also confirmed that the smaller fragments of the gravestones will be reburied in the cemetery. The headstones are to be moved to a memorial made from marble stones that is to be finished this fall.

Last year, Šimašius met with Faina Kulansky, the head of the city’s Jewish community, and Cultural Heritage director Diana Varnaite to discuss dismantling structures built from Jewish gravestones in Vilnius during the Soviet period as a mark of respect to the city’s Jewish history.

The municipality is also consulting with the owner of the generator, energy supplier Vilniaus Energija, in order to find a solution on how to replace it.

The building is expected to be fully dismantled by August.

Last year, Lithuania’s then-chief rabbi urged the country’s Evangelical Reformed Church to remove Jewish headstones being used as stairs to a Vilnius church.

Rabbi Chaim Burshtein’s call concerned a 30-foot-long staircase made out of Jewish headstones that leads to the main entrance of the church’s largest building in the Lithuanian capital, on Pylimo Street. The headstones also were installed when Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union.

“We regret the deplorable state and destruction of the last remnants of the memory of Lithuanian Jewry,” Burshtein told JTA.

Lithuania, he added, “has many places built out of Jewish headstones. I think the authorities and the Jewish community need to perform thorough research and correct at least this historic wrong.”

Birds of a feather: Jews in the poultry business


The weeks before Thanksgiving, when our thoughts fly to fowl, are a fine time to discover that local Jewish families were and are major producers and innovators in the Southland’s poultry business.

Making a buck off of clucks and gobbles, Jewish families who came to the Los Angeles area built chicken ranches, egg empires, and raised and marketed turkeys. Most have closed because of urbanization, but a few families, like the Zackys, sellers of chickens and turkeys since the 1920s, are still in the business today.

Samuel Zacky, born to a Jewish family in Kiev, Russia, in 1897, immigrated to the U.S. in 1903 and entered the poultry business in 1928, when he opened Sam’s Poultry Market on the corner of Slauson and Western avenues. There, he sold chickens, turkeys and ducks to un-squeamish customers looking for very fresh birds. At that time, to prepare for Turkey Day, a customer didn’t poke through icy bins of frozen birds at Ralphs or Trader Joe’s, but instead would go to Sam’s, pick out a live bird and wait till it was dressed.

According to records, the Zacky family’s port of entry was Philadelphia, where the 1910 Census shows the  family living. Sam thought he wouldn’t be let in because he was sick at the time, said Lillian Zacky, wife of Robert Zacky, one of three sons of Sam and his wife, Esther.

By 1920, the Census shows him living in Los Angeles, downtown on Figueroa Street, and by 1940, in the City Terrace/Boyle Heights area.

“They belonged to the Breed Street Shul,” Lillian said.

Lillian Zacky, the CEO of Zacky Farms.  Photo courtesy of Zacky Farms

To stock his poultry market, he started by going out to what is now the San Fernando Valley, which was hardly inhabited then, yet “had a lot of chicken farms,” said Lillian, today the CEO of Zacky Farms, which now mostly sells turkeys.

During World War II, Sam and family moved out to a ranch in Sherman Oaks on Sherman Way and Haskell Avenue, where they raised chickens and sold eggs.

Lillian met her husband, known as Bob, at Fairfax High School, from which they both graduated. They married in 1956.

In the early 1950s, the business moved to Monterey Park. Around 1955, the year the business was incorporated, Bob expanded his father’s business by taking it into wholesale. He convinced his father to buy a truck, “and that was the beginning,” Lillian said. Soon, they purchased a poultry processing plant in South El Monte.

Lillian started working in the company’s business office part time, and then went full time. In a one-person office, she answered all calls. The business was so small that when callers asked for different accounting departments, “I started changing my voice, and I became accounts receivable, accounts payable, whatever they needed, so it would sound like a bigger business,” she said.

The business grew, distributing throughout California. But with Sam’s death in 1964, Bob and his brother Al took over management. In 1967, they built a chicken hatchery, and in 1971, with the acquisition of a feed mill, their other brother, Harry, along with Hank Frederick and Saul Brand, added expertise to the business.

Then, with Al’s death in 2001, they sold the chicken side of the business to Foster Farms, to help pay off inheritance taxes Al’s son Richard would owe, Lillian said. “It was a very tough decision,” Bob told the Los Angeles Times at the time.

In 2010, Bob Zacky died. In 2012, citing rising feed costs, the business entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy. But at auction in 2013, the Robert T. and Lillian D. Zacky Trust purchased the business, keeping it in the family.   

Today, Zacky Farms is one of the largest players in the turkey business. According to the Zacky Farms website, the company “is a completely integrated poultry grower, processor, distributor and wholesaler, with net sales in excess of $350 million annually.”

At Milken Community Schools, which Lillian’s grandchildren attended, a building bears the family name. One of those grandchildren, Leo Zacky, the fourth generation in the business, has been learning about sales and the turkey-ranching operation, now located largely in the San Joaquin Valley.

“I don’t call it a business. It’s a way of life,” Lillian said. Still passionate about her work, she gives out turkey-cooking tips and, for the last 15 years, has appeared on KTLA on Thanksgiving morning to help viewers with their turkey problems. The most common question: “What temperature to cook the turkey,” she said, adding, “Be sure to cook the turkey breast-side down.” 

Her grandfather had a poultry shop on Brooklyn Avenue in Boyle Heights, and she recalled that there “were a tremendous amount of Jews in the poultry business,” including two major players: Egg City, owned by Julius Goldman, and Norco Ranch, started by Harry Eisen.

Eisen, a Holocaust survivor, began with a backyard operation in Arcadia, then moved to Riverside County in the 1950s and built his business into one of the state’s leading egg producers. In 2000, when he sold the business, customers included Ralphs, Vons, Albertsons, Costco, Trader Joe’s and Jack-in-the-Box. Eisen, who was a contributor with his wife, Hilda, to the building of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, died in 2012 at 95.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Goldman’s Egg City, which was located in Ventura County, produced “2 million eggs a day, laid by 3.5 million hens,” according to an article in the Los Angeles Times. After the Nazis shot his father, Goldman, who was trained as a metallurgist, escaped Germany to Poland, then to Switzerland.

Goldman “pioneered a fully integrated egg production and processing plant that became a benchmark for the world’s egg industry,” the L.A. Times said. Once the “world’s largest egg farm,” Egg City ceased operations in 1993, leasing their production facilities to a competitor.

Not all egg ranches owned by Jews were so jumbo-sized.

Dennis Gura of Santa Monica recalled growing up on the family chicken ranch in Baldwin Park. “We had about 25,000 chickens. It was down the street from the original In-N-Out Burger,” he said.

His parents, Sol and Esther, having saved Sol’s service pay from the Korean War, and wanting to go into business, called on the Los Angeles Jewish Free Loan Society, Gura recalled. “They basically were offered two options for the loans: One would be a liquor store in an urban environment, and the other would be to purchase an egg ranch.” 

Esther Gura feeds the flock. Photo courtesy of Dennis Gura

At the time, the loan association had “Ben Shames, who had trained as an agronomist [and who, in the 1970s, would be executive vice president of Egg City], as a consultant,” said Gura, who works in property management.

They named the business Day-O’-Laid, and to help sell the eggs produced by their flock of 25,000 chickens, “Very early in the game, my uncle had an egg route with a truck with a cackling hen soundtrack,” Gura said.

Similar to the community of Jewish egg ranchers in Petaluma, Calif., in the 1930s, in Baldwin Park and surrounding areas, leftie politics was served up alongside the eggs. A substantial number of the Jewish ranchers were left-wingers, Gura said. Many egg ranchers were also Holocaust survivors, including the Guras’ neighbors, Bernard and Celine Volkas, who were survivors of Auschwitz.

As for Jewish life in the farming community, Gura recalled attending a Kindershule in West Covina, and joining Hashomer Hatzair, a secular Zionist youth group, when he was 9.

In the early 1960s, while holding onto the Baldwin Park ranch, the Guras opened a larger ranch in Norco with around 250,000 chickens. However, with urbanization closing in on the Baldwin Park ranch, the family closed it down in 1964. “Chickens are not good neighbors,” Gura said.

In 1965, with further consolidation in the business, like some of the other Jewish ranchers, the Guras sold the farm in Norco and moved to Los Angeles, where they invested in apartment buildings.

In addition to learning what it meant to be “economically productive,” Gura, who was 12 when his family moved, recalled, “We had eggs with some regularity, so much so that when we moved, I would not eat a cooked egg until I went to college.” 

Joseph L. Young: Jewish knight of religious art


For many of us seeking a connection to our synagogue environments this High Holy Days season, the work of a mid-century Jewish Los Angeles artist, Joseph L. Young, will once again be giving us an assist by opening our eyes to the possibilities of religious art.

Joseph L. Young.  Photo courtesy of Leslie Young

Neither kitschy nor sanctimonious, Young, working in his Melrose Avenue studio from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s, designed many of the sanctuary interiors and artwork of Southland synagogues, Jewish community centers and monuments, as well as several important civic installations. He even made works for churches, among which is a major mosaic he created for the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Although in his lifetime he was well known both nationally and internationally, in recent years his work may have become “a little invisible,” according to Ruth Weisberg, a well-known Los Angeles artist herself, and the former dean of the School of Fine Arts at USC.

Young’s work, in fact, is such an often-seen, yet under-acknowledged element of the Southland’s Jewish landscape that although he designed the ark and large stained-glass window at Temple Beth Emet in Anaheim, where I grew up, I did not recognize his works when I saw them in other Jewish settings.

Above: Ark and the Twelve Tribes of Israel sculpture at Temple Beth Emet in Anaheim. Below: Detail from  the Twelve Tribes by Joseph L. Young. Photo by Edmon J. Rodman

At my bar mitzvah, I gave my speech standing behind a mosaic lectern Young designed, and at my wedding, I stood under a chuppah flanked on either side by a white marble column inscribed with six of his iconographic renderings of the Twelve Tribes. Yet, I did not know that this artist’s work extended far beyond my own synagogue into the public sphere: He is the same artist whose design credits include the multicolored fantastical “Triforium,” located in a Civic Center mall downtown, and the glooming granite towers of the Holocaust memorial monument that stands before the entrance to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in Pan Pacific Park.

I contacted one of the artist’s daughters, Leslie Young, and learned that among her father’s many commissions was artwork — arks, lecterns, eternal lights, mosaics and stained-glass windows — created for several Southland synagogues, including Congregation B’nai B’rith in Santa Barbara; Temple Beth Torah in Alhambra; Temple B’nai Emet in Montebello; Temple Sinai in Glendale; Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach; Sinai Temple and Temple Tifereth Israel in West L.A.; Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills; Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad of Los Angeles; Temple Solael in Canoga Park; the Brandeis Institute; Congregation Beth Knesset Bamidbar in Lancaster and many others, as well as the chapel design for Heritage Point, a Jewish retirement community in Mission Viejo.

“When he got a chance to do what he wanted, he would do everything down to the knobs,” another daughter, Cecily Young, a practicing architect, told me. He took spaces that lacked a special quality, “and his goal was to elevate them into the spiritual realm,” she said. “He would take blank vanilla spaces and transform them.” 

In fact, seeing his architectural models as a child, and learning from them what her father could achieve was, in part, what inspired her to become an architect, she said.

“He used lighting, color and materials with specific references to inspirational passages in the Bible to guide what he was thinking of for a particular synagogue,” she said. “He loved to draw flames. One of his favorite themes [was] the flames of the Burning Bush.”

“His relationship with Judaism was mostly expressed through his work,” daughter Leslie said. And unlike some artists of the mid-century era, a time when anti-Semitism in America was more prevalent, he “was not afraid to be identified as a Jewish artist,” Weisberg, who knew Young, said.

Young also was highly principled. When offered a teaching job at UCLA in the 1950s, during the McCarthy era, he turned down the offer because the school required him to take a loyalty oath.

Young was born in 1919 in Pittsburgh. He grew up in an Orthodox home in Aliquippa, Pa., and had a bar mitzvah. His father, Louis, a Ukrainian immigrant, was a merchant who ran a variety store. His mother, Jennie, a Romanian immigrant, studied design and millinery at what is now Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Young graduated with a degree in English and journalism from Westminster College, in New Wilmington, Pa., in 1941, the school from which he would later receive an honorary doctorate of letters for his professional accomplishments. He worked as a journalist in Pittsburgh and New York City from 1941 to 1943.

In Pittsburgh, he met pianist Millicent Goldstein at a concert and they married in 1949. In 1952, they both won fellowships at the American Academy in Rome, she to study music and he to study fresco and stained glass. While in Italy, Young discovered the Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna and Venice that would influence his use of mosaic tile ever after.

In 1952, the Youngs moved to Los Angeles after getting fellowships from the Huntington Hartford foundation. Their two daughters, Leslie and Cecily, both live here.

Young’s studio was at 8426 Melrose Ave. along with his gallery and retail space, where he sold Italian mosaics and mosaic supplies, Leslie said. That was where he designed his commissions, including one he received in 1953 for the Parker Center, the Los Angeles Police Department’s headquarters, and another 16-panel mosaic illustrating the history of mathematics for UCLA’s Math Sciences Building, which was installed in 1968.

Because his mosaic designs, for which he was best known, were so labor intensive, Young would often enlist the help of student artists, said Leslie, whose own career has been as a marketing executive and producer in advertising and commercial film production.

Detail from Young mosaic in foyer of Temple Emanuel. Man, woman and baby represented are loosely based on Joseph Young, wife Millicent and baby daughter. Photo courtesy of Leslie Young

Sometimes the mosaic work even required the help of the whole family, including their mother and grandmother, Cecily said; she added that, as a child, she helped complete the work on the “brain” portion of the UCLA math building mosaic, which is represented by concentric circles. “My father knew I loved mazes,” she said.

As for “Triforium,” which Young called the “poly-phonoptic kinetic tower,” it was “one of his greatest achievements and also one of his greatest disappointments,” Leslie said. The six-story sculpture, installed in 1975, is located in the Los Angeles Mall, at Temple and Main streets, near the Civic Center. Using lighted-glass prisms imported from Venice and a carillon that played music operated by an underground computer, Young thought of the piece as a new symbol for Los Angeles.

“It was groundbreaking in terms of public art,” Weisberg said.

However, not everyone welcomed the work. Referring to its high cost, which Leslie attributed to a redesign in the wake of the Sylmar earthquake in 1971, a writer from the Los Angeles Times referred to the piece as a “million-dollar jukebox.”

Renovations of Young’s high-relief mosaic and granite mural on downtown’s Los Angeles County Hall of Records, and his mural “The House of Prayer, the House of Assembly, The House of Study,” in the foyer of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, have preserved these works for future generations. However, Young’s work has not fared as well in some other locations.

At Eden Memorial Park, where Young is buried — he died in 2007 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s — a mosaic arch he created depicting symbols of the Twelve Tribes of Israel has been damaged. “Some of the stones have been removed by some people who wanted to put them on graves,” said Leslie, who said she has informed Eden’s management that the work is in need of repair and protection.

Most in jeopardy is Young’s monumental 6-by-36-foot mosaic at Parker Center. When the building was shuttered in January of 2013, the city wanted to demolish it, raising the call for preservation of Young’s work, which depicts iconic Los Angeles landmarks such as the Griffith Observatory, City Hall and the Angel’s Flight tramway on Broadway. “We’re pressing for the preservation of the building and the retention of these artworks,” said Adrian Fine, director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy, who noted that both Young’s mosaic mural and a bronze sculpture on the exterior of the building by artist Bernard J. Rosenthal are an “integral part of Parker Center.”

Fine added, “The question is still very much in a decision process with the city right now.”

More hopeful is the story of Young’s mosaic depicting family, which once hung in the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center. After the center closed in 2009, the work was put up for auction. Fortunately, Leslie was able to buy back the work. Meant for public enjoyment, like much of her father’s work, she is interested in finding the “right home for it,” she said.

Among Young’s many awards is one for his contributions to a resurgence in the United States of the use of Italian mosaic and stained glass in mid-century art, for which he was knighted by the Italian government.

Boyle Heights and City Terrace: Musical bridge to East L.A.


As the Los Angeles-based klezmer band Mostly Kosher began a summer afternoon concert at the Skirball Cultural Center on Aug. 9, few in the audience knew that what they were about to experience had roots in the Jewish neighborhoods of Boyle Heights and City Terrace going back more than 75 years.

As Janice Mautner Markham, the band’s violinist and self-described yenta, comically set the scene by appearing with a shmatte covering her head and a circa-1930s radio by her side, she could have been tuning in to the era of her grandparents Eugene and Celia Mautner, who bought their first home in City Terrace in 1934.

Janice Mautner Markham and her grandfather Eugene Mautner on the porch of his City Terrace home in 1967. Photo courtesy of Janice Mautner Markham

For Markham, who grew up in Woodland Hills, klezmer music was not her first inclination; as a young adult, she preferred classical music, folk and rock. But after a klezmer gig with clarinetist and future bandleader Leeav Sofer, she found a musical style that connected her to her family’s tradition.

That August day, fiddling though Yiddish theater classics such as “Donna Donna” and “Dos Keshenever Shtikele” presented Markham and her audience an opportunity to embrace the culture of musicianship passed down from her grandfather and father.

“It was a different way of life then,” she said, recalling her visits to her grandparents’ home in City Terrace. For them, Markham said, “Music was not a choice,” and without those choices, “I wouldn’t be a musician today.” 

 Markham’s father, Ray Mautner, who grew up in City Terrace, remembered how it was important to his father, Eugene, that his sons have lessons because he was a self-taught violinist. To help achieve this, he drove a bread truck by day for the Davis Perfection Bakery, and repaired clocks and watches by night in their two-bedroom, one-bath, 1,000-square-foot home on Mandalay Drive.

“My family loved music,” said Mautner, who, along with his brother Arthur, became a teacher specializing in music for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

His father, who had been taught to repair timepieces by Jack Feldmar, the founder of the Feldmar Watch Co., then relocated downtown on Fourth Street and Broadway (today on Pico Boulevard), eventually opened Eugene’s Jewelry and Gift Shop in 1940, in a storefront next to Barbanell’s Pharmacy on Miller Avenue. Around 11 years later, he moved to a store in his own building on City Terrace Drive and Hazard Avenue, which also housed his new tenant, a branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.

“I always thought that my grandfather was extremely wealthy, richer than anybody, because most people only had one watch, and my grandfather usually had three,” Markham said. “It wasn’t until I got a little older that I realized he wore those watches because he was making sure they were keeping time,” she said.

At 16, Mautner started giving piano lessons to the Jewish and Italian kids in the neighborhood, some of whom he keeps in touch with today.

“One of my students was Zev Yaroslavsky,” said Mautner, who remembers his former student “Zevy,” the just-retired Los Angeles County Supervisor, “as a little on the distracted side.” 

Mautner had been taught Hebrew at the nearby Folk Schule, where Yaroslavsky’s mother, Minna, was his teacher. “I had my bar mitzvah at their synagogue, right in the heart of the plaza of City Terrace,” Mautner said.

In his teen years, during World War II, Mautner worked as a soda jerk in nearby Boyle Heights, at Louie Abramson’s Soto Drug Co., at First and Soto. “I made great malts, sundaes and banana splits,” he said.In the drug store side of the business, he sold “everything from prophylactics to hair cream,” Mautner said.

He also recalled attending events at the Menorah Center at the corner of Wabash and Alma avenues (today, the Salesian Boys and Girls Club).

Speaking of the boundaries between Boyle Heights, a community where, according to “History of the Jews of Los Angeles” by Max Vorspan and Lloyd Gartner (Huntington Library, 1970), “Yiddish was freely used” and Saturdays and Jewish holidays were marked by “festive appearances,” and City Terrace, which “was well known as a Yiddish secularists enclave,” Mautner remarked that, at times, it was “hard to say where Boyle Heights ends and City Terrace begins.” Today, he placed his old neighborhood near where CSU Los Angeles now stands.

When Mautner goes back to the neighborhood to see his old house or to attend the yearly City Terrace neighborhood picnics, he exits the 10 Freeway at Eastern Avenue. “It was an amazing neighborhood to grow up in. We had Italians, Hispanics, Jewish, a real mix,” Mautner said.

Midway through the Skirball concert, which featured such classics as “Ikh Hob Dikh Tsufil Lib” (“I Love You Too Much”), Bruce Bierman, a Yiddish dancer who had been waiting in the wings, stepped forth to teach the audience the hand and arm motions that give expression to Yiddish dance. Moving to a slow-metered dance in a Chassidic style called a Khosidl, Bierman led the audience in steps that, for him, circled back to East L.A.

Bruce Bierman teaches the audience a Yiddish dance at the Skirball Cultural Center. Photo by Edmon J. Rodman

“[For] my bubbe, Fannie Newman,” who owned a candy store off of Brooklyn Avenue in Boyle Heights, “music was so important,” Bierman said. “My mother played piano until her last breath.” He talked of his uncle, David Newman, who studied the accordion and became a klezmer musician before becoming a court reporter, and of his father, Frank, an electrical engineer by profession, whom Bierman said is a “total Borscht Belt comedian.”

In the late 1950s, the Newmans moved out of Boyle Heights and closed the store. It was at the family gatherings at his uncle’s home in Sherman Oaks where, Bierman said, he got his “first taste and love for Yiddish klezmer culture.”

Bierman’s first steps in his return to Yiddish culture came as a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz, when he wrote his master’s thesis on a theatrical adaptation, complete with a live klezmer band, of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool,” which Bierman also produced. That, and discovering a recording by the klezmer revival band Klezmorim, helped awaken Bierman, who had grown up in WASP-ish San Juan Capistrano, to his Jewish musical roots.

 After college and around five years touring with the Aman Folk Ensemble, Bierman realized that “with all the ethnic dances that we learned, ethnic costumes that we wore, we never did any Jewish dance.” 

Realizing he was illiterate “in my own cultural dances” and not content with the Israeli dance that he had experienced while living in Israel for a year before he began college, in 1985, Bierman looked to Martin Buber’s “Tales of the Hasidim,” for a different approach. From these stories, he said, “I was blown away by the power of dance. Each
gesture was aflame with meaning.” After a meeting with Felix Fibich, who choreographed the dance sequence for the 1937 classic
Yiddish film “Der Dybbuk,” and studying with Steven Weintraub at KlezCalifornia, a Yiddish culture group in the San Francisco Bay Area, Bierman choreographed his first event — a friend’s wedding — using Yiddish dance.

In 1997, his mother, Marcella, took him to Boyle Heights to show him the neighborhood, including to the Breed Street Shul and the neighborhood of the family candy store. “It helped place the story of my family for me,” said Bierman, who occasionally returns there with his husband and co-Yiddish dancer, Gilberto Melendez. The duo even approached the Breed Street Shul, now a cultural center in mostly Latino Boyle Heights, about collaborating on projects between Latinos and Jews, Bierman said.

Back in the Sepulveda Pass, with Bierman gracefully leading the audience in Yiddish dance while Markham and the band, as well a contingent of younger players, including Markham’s two daughters, sat in on a lively rendition of “Simkhes Toyre,” it was easy to hear and see how far the beats of the old neighborhood have traveled.

Have an idea for a Los Angeles Jewish history story? Contact Edmon Rodman at edmojace@gmail.com

Cesar Chavez gave Salinas a sense of its own power


In the new hit musical Hamilton, a frustrated Aaron Burr sings an anthem for all those who are shut out, denied a chance to shape their own destiny: “I want to be in the room where it happens.”

For a brief time decades ago in the Salinas Valley, farmworkers were in the room where it happened. For those workers, just as for the “young, scrappy, and hungry” Founding Fathers who sing their story in the Broadway musical, being in the room was the path to power.

The sledgehammer that broke down the door for the overwhelmingly Mexican and Mexican-American farmworkers in Salinas was the United Farm Workers. Cesar Chavez and the union he founded sparked a movement that spread fast and far beyond the fields. That spark, the chispa, threatened to upend not only the economic equilibrium, but the social structure and fabric of the valley.

In 1970, roughly one-third of Salinas’s 60,000 residents were Hispanic; in the smaller agricultural cities farther south in the valley, the percentage was as high as 75. A Spanish surname meant you were half as likely to have graduated from high school and far more likely to live in poverty. Overt racism in housing, jobs, and education was pervasive.

The laborers who tended and harvested vegetables in the Salad Bowl of the World were accustomed to work in teams and more militant than their counterparts in other agricultural areas of California. But until the UFW came along, their only recourse to protest unjust treatment was to withhold labor—and lose their jobs. No health, safety, or labor laws protected farmworkers. They could be fired at will. Then in the summer of 1970, the growers outsmarted themselves. They signed secret sweetheart contracts with the Teamsters Union to preempt Chavez. In response, 5,000 farmworkers joined Chavez’s union and walked out of the fields, shutting down the lettuce industry in the biggest strike of its kind.

That huelga was just the start. The strike and the threat of a boycott forced several large growers to sign contracts with the UFW, and a dozen more followed suit a few years later. Farmworkers experienced the power of collective action. Veteran organizers taught basic tactics, and fledgling worker-leaders improvised new ones. When a supervisor at a union ranch clung to the old ways and tried to exercise power unilaterally, the tortuga (turtle) showed up: Workers harvested so slowly that production dropped by 80 percent. Lettuce wilted in the fields, until the workers’ demands were met. Chavez loved it. He called them “liberated ranches.” 

The rise of the UFW in the Salinas Valley ushered in an exhilarating and frightening time, depending on your point of view. In my research on the union, there is one tape I have played over and over to help me viscerally absorb the drama of the high-stakes clash. On the evening of Dec. 6, 1970, Ethel Kennedy went to visit Chavez in the Salinas jail, where he was being held in contempt of court for refusing to call off a lettuce boycott. Robert Kennedy’s widow prayed at a makeshift shrine on the back of a pickup truck, then navigated a tense gauntlet on her short walk to the jail. On one side of the street, leading citizens of Salinas waved signs and chanted “Reds go home” and “Ethel go home.” On the other side, thousands of farmworkers prayed and sang, emboldened and inspired. 

I have listened to veterans of the Salinas fields recount the conditions they endured before the union came along—the back-breaking work, the drugs many took just to keep going, the rage at their inability to control the most basic aspects of their work life, the utter loss of dignity.

And then, they were in the room where it happened. Farmworkers sat across the table from their bosses, negotiating a contract. By 1979, the union had negotiated a basic hourly wage of $5.25, and the fastest lettuce cutters could earn $20 an hour. Contracts included a provision that a farmworker at each ranch served as a full-time paid union representative.

One Salinas grower recalled how the workers’ elected ranch committee would find reasons to call meetings with management almost every day. After a full day in the fields, workers rushed home, showered and changed, and returned to the office to negotiate. The grower shook his head, grimacing at the memory. Every night, they wanted to talk, he told me in amazement. For hours!

They wanted to talk every night because they had been waiting a long time, and now they were finally in the room where it happened. Chava Bustamante was a teenager when he left Mexico in 1967 and went to work in the lettuce fields, hating every minute. He joined the union in the 1970 strike. A few years later, he sat at the negotiating table and watched the brilliant, brash UFW attorney outsmart the once-invincible grower. Chava wrote a poem dedicated to the lawyer. It ended with this verse: 

Poor fools! Those who think that power comes from money

Without contemplating

That real power

That which is real and lasting

That is the one which is given through justice

 

The power through justice spread, perhaps most significantly into the schools. Schools that farmworkers saw as the hope for their children. Schools that still too often treated Mexican kids as if they didn’t really need an education because they were just going to work in the fields anyway. 

Juanita Miranda understood those issues in 1973 when she arrived in Salinas to teach at Sherwood Elementary School, where 80 percent of the more than 800 students were Mexican-American. She was a farmworker kid, too; one of 11 in her family, the first to go to college. At Sherwood, she found no curriculum, scant materials, and only a handful of teachers who spoke Spanish.

Chava’s older brother Mario was head of the parents committee at Sherwood. He learned that the district lost money if students were absent, and that was all Mario needed to know. Parents staged a huelga, pulling their kids out of school for a week and marching in picket lines outside the building. The district hired more bilingual teachers. “We had no one to support us except the parents,” Miranda recalled. “They were the ones who did it. They were our stronghold.”

But after little more than a decade, all that power dissipated. By the mid-1980s, the UFW had lost its strength in the Salinas Valley, largely from self-inflicted wounds. Each year brought new and younger workers, and the lessons of the 1970s faded further away. In 2013, farmworkers picketed the UFW’s Salinas office to protest the firing of a popular union organizer. The UFW called the police and tried to get a court injunction to bar the pickets. Just as the growers used to do. 

Juanita Miranda taught at several schools and ended her career back at Sherwood. When she returned in 2000, she said, things were worse than when she had first arrived. She found low expectations, ineffective remedial programs, high dropout rates, and an absence of hope. Parents wanted to help their children succeed just as badly as they had decades earlier, but they didn’t know how.

Today, the generation of farmworkers that grew up with a sense of its own power has passed into retirement. In Salinas, the average age is 29. Homicide is the second-leading cause of death in East Salinas, the most dense and dangerous area of the city. Last year, more than half the students in the Salinas elementary school district were English learners, 80 percent qualified for free lunch, and one-third reported being homeless at some point in the past year. 

No organization or individual has come along to instill in young people, on a broad scale, a sense of their own power or teach them the resilience to make ¡Sí se puede! more than just a slogan. The jail where Chavez stayed 45 years ago is on the National Register of Historic Places and there are proposals to turn it into a museum; for now the shuttered building stands as a fading testament to another time.

Sooner or later, a new spark will come along. As Aaron Burr counsels Alexander Hamilton in the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical: “Wait for it. Wait for it.”

Miriam Pawel has written about farmworkers and the UFW for the past decade. She is the author of The Union of Their Dreams – Power, Hope and Struggle in Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker Movement and The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, the first biography of the union founder. This essay is part of Salinas: California's Richest Poor City, a special project of Zócalo Public Square and the California Wellness Foundation. 

L.A. history: The days of beach, baseball and Frankenstein


The season of long hot days signals an opening of the many tents of the Los Angeles Jewish community. Slathering on some sunblock, we go down to the sea in groups, to the park for a picnic or to Dodger Stadium for Jewish Community Day (this year, it’s Aug. 30). Teen groups plan outings to amusement parks, and 20-somethings bubble up to rooftop bars. But was the good old summertime always so?

Flipping back the years of the Jewish calendar to peek at an earlier age’s summer diversions, we can see that at the beginning of the 20th century, although bathing suits offered more coverage and the Dodgers batted in Brooklyn, summer’s pastimes were not all that different.

Selig Zoo. Photo courtesy Bison Archives

For picnics in that earlier age, we could go to the Selig Zoo, a popular meeting place for Jewish groups. In 1913, motion picture pioneer William Selig purchased 32 acres on land next to Eastlake Park (today, Lincoln Park in Lincoln Heights) and turned it into a studio and zoo to house the animals that appeared in his films. By 1915, around 700 species of animals, including elephants, lions and tigers, were kept in the northern portion, and in the southern there was an area equipped with benches and bathrooms, according to film history consultant Marc Wanamaker.

In the summer of 1916, Selig Zoo was the location for a “Joint Zionistic Picnic,” which scheduled “a lively baseball game” between the Young Men’s Hebrew Association and the Young Hebrew Social Club, according to a blurb that appeared in the events column of the B’nai B’rith Messenger.

In 1916, the Jewish War Sufferers Relief Society was invited to the park for a baseball game between the Universal Film Co. — whose president, Carl Laemmle, was Jewish — and another popular film company. “It is expected that Mr. Charles Chaplin will act as umpire,” the blurb announced.

In June 1918, on “probably the hottest day this summer,” the Jewish Consumptive Relief Association held its sixth annual Picnic in the Park, with about 5,000 people attending. Showing that the Jewish tradition of volunteerism at such events was very much in play, the Messenger article reported that “every truck, every man and woman that worked [for] the picnic, worked gratuitously,” on behalf of the Duarte Sanatorium (today’s City of Hope National Medical Center) and the “unfortunate consumptives.”

For a summer day’s amusement, we can head south of downtown to Chutes Park (today the neighborhood of the Los Angeles Mart), which advertised regularly in the B’nai B’rith Messenger. At around the turn of the 20th century, it was a 35-acre amusement park, which featured a waterslide for small flat-bottomed boats (Shoot the Chutes), a roller coaster and a ride called Mystic Cave of Winds, plus a Laughing Gallery and a foreboding House of Trouble.

When we just wanted to relax by the shore, there was Ocean Park, which, as we see from checking out the society column of the B’nai B’rith Messenger, was a desirable locale for Jewish families to take up summer residence. “Israel Schorr, cantor of Temple B’nai B’rith [today, Wilshire Boulevard Temple], has been living at Ocean Park since the early part of June. He has taken rooms at the beach for the summer,” read an item dated 1906.

For tunes in 1906, we could take the downtown streetcar to the Orpheum Theater, then at 227 S. Spring St., to hear the city’s largest theater band under the baton of Jewish conductor Abraham F. Frankenstein — the man who would write the music for “I Love You, California.”

The Orpheum Theater. Photo courtesy Western States Jewish History

At the Orpheum Theater, in addition to providing accompaniment for the vaudeville performers — the quintets, boy tenors, animal acts, jugglers and bird-call imitators — you could hear “professor” Frankenstein strike up the band before and after the performances as well as during the intermission.

From 1920 to 1925, according to Western States Jewish History (WSJH), Frankenstein could be seen conducting for such vaudeville stars as Ethel Barrymore, Jack Benny, Fanny Brice, Houdini and the Marx Brothers.

During one memorable evening, according to a 1934 piece in the Los Angeles Times, Frankenstein stopped the show when he “clambered over the piano and up on the stage to do an impromptu cake walk.”

Frankenstein (1873-1934) was born in Chicago to Samuel and Dora (née Milloslowsky) Frankenstein. At age 15, he began his musical career by playing violin in public parks “under the auspices of the West Chicago Park Commission.” He became a member of the Illinois National Guard Band and later was an assistant to its director, having been put in charge of the string section. He served as a musical director to several organizations in Memphis in the 1890s, and a year after first coming to Los Angeles in 1897 to play a date here, he was offered the job of musical director at the Orpheum Theater, a job he held for 30 years.

Conductor Abraham F. Frankenstein (left) with the Los Angeles Police Band. Photo courtesy Western States Jewish History

At the theater, where he was known as “Frank,” according to WSJH, silent-film actors such as Charlie Chaplin and Charlie Murray “would sit in the front row and talk to Frankenstein between acts.”

By July 1906, the Los Angeles Herald reported that “Prof. A.F. Frankenstein, leader of the Orpheum orchestra, is now able to boast the largest theater band in Los Angeles and one of the best” and added that “since the Orpheum orchestra has been strengthened, more and more people remain in their seats during the intermission to hear the selections.”

On a summer’s Sunday evening. you might also hear Frankenstein and his band playing as you skated round the Panorama roller skating rink on Main Street, or playing a gig at Al Levy’s cafe at Third and Main.

In June 1903, if you went to Congregation B’nai B’rith, which then was at the corner of Ninth and Hope streets, to attend its confirmation, you could hear Frankenstein playing a violin solo during the blessing of the confirmands by Rabbi Sigmund Hecht.

In 1913, working with lyrics written by men’s clothier F.B. Silverwood — founder of Silverwood’s men’s stores — Frankenstein composed the music for what became, in 1951, the Golden State’s official song, “I Love You, California.”

On Sept. 16, 1914, the Oakland Tribune reported, tongue-in-cheek, that “I Love You, California” rang so harmoniously in the ears of Miss Gertrude Miller Scott that she decided to marry the composer.”(His first marriage, to Loretta B. Langdon, in 1892 when he was around 19, ended in about 1912.) However, after having two sons, Fred and Albert, the song wasn’t ringing so sweetly. Following an ugly and very public court battle, during which the Los Angeles Times reported that the theater orchestra leader drew a picture of “his young and attractive wife playing fast and loose with his affections,” a divorce was granted in 1920.

Locally, Frankenstein also organized bands for both the Los Angeles police and fire departments, which on New Year’s Day in 1923, joined together to march in the Tournament of Roses Parade. In 1913, Frankenstein was appointed to the Los Angeles Fire Commission, and after serving from 1925 to 1926, he became the commission’s president. Enjoying the perks of office, and in an era before such things were outlawed, when Frankenstein’s relatives would come out from Chicago for a visit, noted WSJH, “He would send a fire department limousine to provide them with transportation.”

In 1929, with the growing need for sound in movies, Frankenstein became a music supervisor for MGM Studios. However, that portion of his movie career was short lived; in November 1934, he died in an automobile accident. In the funeral announcement, the Los Angeles Times referred to him as “one of the most colorful characters in theatrical history.” Although he was eulogized as a “tough taskmaster” at his funeral, under the joint auspices of the Knights Templar (associated with Freemasonry) and the Christian Scientists, to which other Jews of this era had been attracted as well, it was also noted that “he never missed a cue in thirty-one years.”

What’s wrong with March of the Living?


The evening before we visited Auschwitz, over pizza with a group of young people in Oswiecim, the town on whose outskirts lies that infamous symbol, one of my students approached me with tears in her eyes.

Tears are hardly uncommon to visitors of sites of mass death. But for this student — a participant in a weeklong trip to Auschwitz undertaken as part of a course on Holocaust history and literature that I teach at Baruch College in New York City — the trip marked her first time on a plane, her first time in a foreign country, and her first time experiencing an academic setting that didn’t involve a laptop and a classroom located at a busy Manhattan intersection.

Unable or unwilling to bridge these two worlds — a crossing of time and space that seven decades after the war’s end enables a group of American students to casually dine with European counterparts at the edge of history’s most notorious killing center — she felt lost, detached from all that was familiar and unsure of what lay ahead.

Students on our trip were a diverse group, self-identifying as Latina, Jamaican, Polish, Israeli, Moroccan, Mexican and American, among others. By day we toured sites essential to a historical understanding of the Holocaust. In the evening we discussed readings connected to the places we had visited. Some students shared their own journals, which joined Primo Levi and Ruth Kluger as texts for analysis and reflection.

The great advantage of looking at the Holocaust in this way is that it eliminates the notion that this history belongs more to one person than another. This democratic take on the Holocaust makes the experience meaningful, even transformative, for everyone.

Typical Jewish teen tours hold themselves to a poorer standard. Confined to Jewish youth, the trips eliminate the diversity of voices essential to ensure that the imperative of remembrance is broadly observed. Aimed principally at Jewish identity building through the Holocaust, they offer a limited rendering of history, narrow in reach.

Trips like the March of the Living, which completed its 27th iteration in Budapest on Sunday, fail the objective of Holocaust remembrance itself through sheer simplification, making the genocide of European Jewry a subject to be explored among friends rather than the profound wrestling with history and its consequences that it could be. As a former participant in the march, I find its goals around Israel and Jewish identitylaudable. But the very fact that it even has such goals makes it doctrinaire by nature rather than inquiring.

In a diverse intellectual environment like our trip, it is the questions, not the answers, that define the approach. And by sharing the richness of their own varied backgrounds and perspectives, my students discovered that the unavailability of easy answers to the questions posed by the Holocaust is important — essential even — to their learning.

It’s not a comfortable place to be. Learning to live with ambivalence is a hard lesson for undergraduates, but an essential one. After we returned home, one student approached me about the final paper he was struggling to write. The sheer enormity of our trip was proving paralytic. He felt powerless trying to confine his thoughts and analysis in a tidy little paper — a reaction that in itself might be the most important lesson learned.

It may never be possible to fully imagine or understand this history, and doing so surely grows more elusive with time. But by actively studying, analyzing, visiting, speaking and thinking about the Holocaust, by refusing to make a trip to Auschwitz easy or comfortable by fully embracing the intellectual challenge it presents, may be the best way to best remember.

(Jessica Lang is an associate professor of English at Baruch College and the Newman director of the college’s Wasserman Jewish Studies Center.)

Imagining a seder in my home a century ago


With 30-minute seders, food drives for the hungry and boxes of perfectly baked matzah, we like to think that in 2015 we have finally achieved a modern, socially relevant and easy-to-observe Passover. But in Los Angeles, if we were to travel back 100 years to 1915, in any way-back conveyance of your choosing, we would see that our approach to Passover is really not so new. In fact, many of the current trends in holiday observance were already very much in place in the City of Angels of that time.

I live in a house a few miles west of downtown that has remained largely unchanged since it was built in 1916, so atmospherically, at least, it is not hard for me to imagine what the first night of Passover might have been like back then. A guest sitting down to a seder in our dining room sees that the walls are wainscoted with oak paneling, the lighting dim and the door to the adjacent kitchen swinging. During the seder, one can catch a glimpse of oneself drinking wine or eating maror in a built-in-mirrored sideboard.

Today, to prepare for the seder, we shop at Ralphs, Pavilions and Western Kosher, but recently, while bringing up our Passover dishes from the basement, I wondered where, in 1915, would I have shopped, and at the end of the holiday, where would I go to Yizkor services? What might have been my social concerns? And, most critically, if I ran out of matzah farfel, how close would I have been from a Jewish neighbor from whom I could borrow?

In the “History of the Jews of Los Angeles,” authors Max Vorspan and Lloyd P. Gartner estimate that in 1900, some 2,500 Jews lived in L.A. — out of a population of 102,000 — with one-third living downtown. By 1914, they estimate that a growing Jewish population — between 18,000 and 20,000 in 1918 — included “prosperous and acculturated Jews” who were settling westward, in such areas as Wilshire, West Adams and Hollywood.


Replica of the wooden cigar-style box in which Manischewitz matzahs were sold. Photo by Edmon J. Rodman

Growing with the Jewish population was the circulation of the B’nai B’rith Messenger (1897-1995), a Jewish weekly named for the city’s prominent Reform temple (in 1933, Congregation B’nai Brith was renamed Wilshire Boulevard Temple). In its pages for March and April 1915, I found most of the Passover provisions I would need for pantry and soul.

Among pages that featured an ad for Hellman Commercial Trust and Savings Bank, and a notice that Dr. Hecht (a reference to the synagogue’s Rabbi Sigmund Hecht) would be giving a sermon titled “The Hope of Nations” at Congregation B’nai B’rith on the first day of Passover, I found a display ad for the Palace Market at 622 S. Broadway. “Now on hand” were “Kosher Goods for the Passover,” including “Matzos, Matzo Meal, Cake Flour,” as well as a full line of “kosher sausage, smoked meats and delicatessen.”

But would it be the same bread of affliction that we have all come to adore?

Before the introduction of mass production methods, according to historian Jonathan D. Sarna, “most matzah had been round, irregular or oval-shaped.” Changing tradition in 1912, the Manischewitz Co. began to advertise its product, kneaded, rolled, stretched, perforated and cut by machine, as “Manischewitz’s Square Matzoths.”

What a relief. Although not any better for a sandwich than today’s product, at least it would be familiar.

For new yontif clothes, I found an ad for Harris & Frank, 437 S. Spring St. Previously called the London Clothing Co., the name changed when founder Leopold Harris took in his son-in-law, Herman W. Frank, as a general manager and partner. Although known for its dapper menswear, the ad promoted a “special purchase” of women’s dresses representing “the keenest of new styles” at $15.

The week before Passover, an appeal by the “Passover Supply Society” was published that, with only a change in diction, could have appeared in a Jewish paper 100 years later. Citing unemployment and high cost of living, the society sought by soliciting “our more fortunate coreligionists,” to “help worthy poor families and individuals in properly observing the approaching Feast of Passover.”

Along with Passover food, new duds and a start on helping at least a few who were in need, I also needed an era-appropriate haggadah.

At the suggestion of Kevin Proffitt, senior archivist at the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, I searched for the CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis, founded in 1889) haggadah that had come out as a section in 1892 in the Union Prayer Book. By 1903, according to Proffitt, more than 300 congregations, “not all aligned with the Reform Movement, used the prayer book and over 100,000 copies had been sold,” he wrote in an email.

Finding the book at Los Angeles’ Hebrew Union College library, I turned to the “Domestic Service for the Eve of Passover.” Mostly in English, and using a dialogue format where the leader reads longer passages, and the youngest at the table responds with a line or two, the text seemed quite modern in its approach to participation. At only 30 pages, it also looked to be a forerunner of several contemporary haggadot designed for seders lasting 30 or 60 minutes.

I did wonder, however, about later having to shake the matzah crumbs out of my siddur.


From left: Opening page from the CCAR haggadah and illustration of the Four Sons from the 1910 Hebrew Publishing haggadah. Photos courtesy of the Frances-Henry Library at the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College

Another haggadah, in a more familiar booklet style that would have been available at the time, was the “Form of Service for the Two First Nights of the Feast of Passover,” published in 1910 by Hebrew Publishing. With the entire text in Hebrew and English, and with illustrations, it was more to my liking, although the first of the Four Questions translated as, “Wherefore is this night distinguished from all other nights,” quickly alerted me to its vintage.

For Passover recipes, the San Francisco branch of the Council of Jewish Women offered an entire chapter in its “Council Cook Book” (1908-09) devoted to Passover dishes, including “Matzo Kloess,” (kloess is German for boiled or steamed dumpling) for soup, as well as recipes for sponge, date and chocolate matzah cakes.

As to where we might daven in 1915, two locations were possibilities.

In 1909, Congregation Sinai (which later became Sinai Temple) had dedicated its first house of worship. Designed in classic Greek revival style by architect Samuel Tilden Norton, according to “Sinai Temple: A Centennial History,” by Florie Brizel, it featured a pipe organ in the choir loft above the main pulpit; a “serious departure” for the time, as playing music, in traditional quarters, is considered a form of work. Because kashrut was observed, the temple also had two kitchens.

Located at 12th and Valencia streets (today, the same building has become the Pico Union Project), it was a couple of miles from where my house would be built in 1916, just a short yellow streetcar ride away. The congregation’s leader at that time, Rabbi Isidore Meyers, wrote Brizel, was a “brilliant, witty, clever and very independent-minded theologian.” 

Because it was a Conservative temple, I could sit next to my wife. If I were to nod off during one of the rabbi’s brilliant sermons, she could nudge me awake.

My other choice would have been Congregation B’nai B’rith. Founded in 1862, in 1915 it occupied an onion-domed Victorian structure downtown at Ninth and Hope. Looking through its yearbook for 1915-16, I found that “Strangers in the city are always heartily welcome to our weekly services,” and that Rabbi Hecht was available for consultation in his study “every afternoon (except Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) between 1:30 and 3:30.”

There was also a temple sewing circle that with the “hum of busy machines” turned out “work for the benefit of the needy.”

Two years before the United States entered the “Great War,” the yearbook also counseled that “Jewish Relief work undertaken in this country for the relief of the Jews in the war zones” had “thus far been woefully inadequate.”

Looking through the congregation directory, among the historically notable families are the Lazards, Meybergs, Newmarks, Nortons, Edelmans and Kremers, but I also found many potential neighbors living on my street, as well as on those adjacent. 

It was comforting to know that if I ever ran low on matzah, or wanted to chat over a bowl of matzah kloess soup, other landsmen would be just a few blocks away.

Have an idea for a Los Angeles Jewish history story? Contact Edmon Rodman at edmojace@gmail.com.

Punch-card love: Finding a match before personal computers


A generation before JDate, there was the Jewish Singles Computer Service. In the 1970s, the days when the mainframe computer ruled (do you remember punch cards?), eons before there was “an app for that,” a citywide, cross-denominational computer program helped single Jews of all ages find their match. For single Jews, Los Angeles can be an achingly lonely town. Spread between valleys, mountain ranges and freeways, it’s a diaspora within a diaspora, and its mountain-to-sea geography has always presented a challenge for co-religionists who wish to co-mingle.

According to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ 1977-8 “Jewish Los Angeles — A Guide” around 500,000 Jews were living in L.A. at the time. “Unfortunately,” it also pointed out, “difficulties abound for the Jewish single.”

The Jewish community, the guide concluded, saw “the single, regardless of the reason for their marital status,” as a “loser or a misfit, who is incomplete.”

Could the cold, calculating “brain” of an IBM computer recalculate that conclusion?

Rabbi Edward M. Tenenbaum (1918-2010), who served as the executive director of the United Synagogue’s Pacific Southwest Region from 1964 to 1983 and again in 1989 through 1990, had more training in performing weddings than in computer programming; yet he attempted to alter the hard math of Jewish matchmaking by leading an effort to create the West Coast’s first Jewish singles computer dating service.

In 1960, Tenenbaum had moved to Los Angeles from Pennsylvania, where he served as a rabbi at three synagogues; in 1977, he told the Valley News that his goal was “to bring Jewish singles together, encourage a stronger sense of Jewish identity, and introduce singles who might otherwise never come to know each other.”

“In a little village, the matchmaker knew people intimately — better than a computer could,” he added, but “the matchmaker was limited to the people he knew and how many people can one person know?” Tenenbaum is also remembered as having been the rabbi at Temple Beth Zion on Pico Boulevard from 1965 until his death.

As it turned out, the need for a Jewish single to expand his or her potential list of other eligible Jewish suitors was brought home to Tenenbaum in a very personal way.

As Susie Nusbaum, one of Tenenbaum’s three daughters, tells it, in 1975, “I was young, and my personal life was very static.” At the time, she was the only unmarried Tenenbaum daughter.

“You get out of college, and you start losing the ability to meet people, except at bars,” Nusbaum said. Adding to her difficulties in meeting people was that in 1971, she was in a terrible car accident and was no longer able to work at her job as a court reporter.

“My mother, Florence, was very worried about me,” explained Nusbaum, who recalls a conversation her mother had with her father.

“OK, Eddie, under your auspices in United Synagogue, you have a Women’s League, a Men’s Club and a camp for children,” Nusbaum’s mother said. “You don’t have anything for an adult Jewish single. Eddie you’ve gotta do something,” she said, recalling a computer dating program she had heard about on the East Coast.

“What she really wanted was for me to get married,” explained Nusbaum, who was in her 30s.

Her father, after responding that he “didn’t know anything about computers,” soon approached his daughter, who he thought had a head for it, with the prospect of starting a program.

She agreed.

But the original program used in United Synagogue’s Metropolitan Region “was not written very well,” Nusbaum said. “People were not matched up well.” 

Volunteering her time, Nusbaum got to work creating a new approach. Beginning in 1974, she interviewed psychiatrists, lawyers, educators, teachers and social workers to develop criteria for the dating program. She sought out “anyone who could give me some input as to what a good matching program would entail,” she said.

Along with areas that have become the norm in dating programs, such as occupation, income, education and whether you smoke, the questionnaire asked the respondents to define themselves, as well as their desired match, by Jewish background — whether they were affiliated with a denomination, level of kashrut, whether they had converted and which of their parents were Jewish.

This was prior to 1983, when Reform Judaism changed its definition of a Jew to include patrilineal descent — and while the Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Chavurot had already passed a resolution on this issue in 1968, self-definition nevertheless presented an issue. “People always didn’t think you’re Jewish if your mother was not Jewish,” Nusbaum said.

“Some people were very upset. And I understood that,” she said, and she explained to those whose only Jewish parent was their father that she felt obligated to operate under Conservative guidelines. “I had to take their applications out of the mix,” she said.

While she was developing the questionnaire, her father found a programmer, Myron Berliner.

Berliner, who grew up in Lakeview Terrace, was a football star at UCLA in the 1950s and is in the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, was a programmer who had gained experience with computers working in the aerospace industry.

Berliner recalls meeting Tenenbaum while working as “a volunteer for the Southern California Jewish Federation,” he said. Berliner partnered on the project with programmer Mel Kaye, who helped with the coding and processing.

“It took two and a half years to develop the questionnaire and the program,” Nusbaum said.

To gather participants, Nusbaum visited dances and various Jewish groups, including ATID, United Synagogue’s college-based organization, to speak and hand out brochures.

“You will be matched to those people with the highest degree of compatibility with you,” read the brochure, which promised the applicant would receive a list of “up to 5 names and phone numbers” for a six-month service fee of $18, which covered three computer match runs.

“$18, ‘chai,’ was my father’s touch,” said Nusbaum, who, after collecting 1,051 profiles was ready for the first run.

Except there was “a bug” in the program, said Berliner, and it wouldn’t run correctly.

Wanting to make good on her promise to get results back to the applicants within two months, Nusbaum came up with an unlikely solution — turning her family into a digital computer.

In November of 1977, she gathered together her sisters, brothers-in-law and parents and announced, “We are going to hand-match these people based on the program,” she said.

“I explained exactly how the program would work,” said Nusbaum, who told the assembled group how certain categories, such as levels of kashrut, age and whether an applicant would date someone who was “handicapped,” had to be “absolute matches,” she said.

With her family seated around a large table, she recalled starting with a large pile of questionnaires, and then category-by-category, as the forms were passed to the next person, resorting the shrinking files, until finally, each form was matched with at least one other.

While they were sorting, however, a glitch in even this method occurred.

“‘Where is your application?’” Nusbaum remembers her mother asking her.

“I don’t really believe in this stuff,” Nusbaum responded. “I don’t want to be matched by a computer.” 

“ ‘We are not sending these out until you put your application here and we match you up,’ ” her mother insisted.

Succumbing, Nusbaum filled out the form and became application 1,052.

With the “computer Tenenbaum” humming again, the matching took a week. Letters were then typed up and sent out.

Soon, Nusbaum began getting feedback.

“I was shocked. People called up with all kinds of responses,” Nusbaum said. It ranged from things like “I had such a good date,” to  “You didn’t send me what I ordered.”

For the people who were unhappy, she would look up their application, often finding that the applicants had not been exactly forthright in their responses, especially in describing their weight.

By the second run, in 1978, the programmers had gotten the program up and running well on an IBM 1401 mainframe computer located in the Bay Area. “I actually had some pretty good dates,” said Nusbaum, who was becoming a believer in the system she had created.

It was on the third computer run, in 1978, that she was matched with Bob Nusbaum. Bob said it was his first run, although he’d already gone out with two matches. “I was a believer,” said the computer salesman, systems analyst and programmer.

Bob said he called her up and the two went on their first date — on April 1 — to a Pico Boulevard restaurant and then to a Flamenco show at a Spanish restaurant. The two began dating.

However, there was another glitch. Susie Nusbaum, at the same time, was dating another match. “I dated both Bob and this other guy for a year and a half,” she said. Then, the “other guy” asked her to marry him. But “I really wanted to marry Bob,” she said.

Explaining the situation to Bob, she asked: “What do you think?”

Bob, who had been married before, asked for some time to think. “All the check marks were in the right place, but it didn’t work,” Bob said of his first marriage.

Finally, he proposed.

“The one thing nobody can predict, nobody can program, is the chemistry that two people have,” Susie said.

After only a three-week engagement, “I hardly had time to call my matches,” Susie said — a chuppah was spread in 1979. And theirs were not the only one. According to a list compiled by Susie, by August of 1981, the program, had found matches for “4,400 Jewish singles” resulting in “88 subscribers’ marriages.”

“I would like to know how many children and grandchildren came from all this?” asked Susie, who ran the service until 1983, when Roz Gidan took over.

The program, which was also run for Jewish singles in Seattle, ended its run in 2000 — JDate began in 1997. In 1998, the Jewish Journal reported that as a result of the service, “at least 150 couples have met and married,” though the number of offspring is a question best left for the demographers.

As for Bob and Susie Nusbaum, they have two children and one grandchild — and counting.

Edmon J. Rodman will be giving a presentation titled “Who Knew? The Remarkable Inventions and Innovations of Jewish Americans You Never Heard Of” on Feb. 22 at 2 p.m. at the Merage Jewish Community Center in Irvine. Tickets are $10 for JCC members, $12 for non-members. Call (949) 435-3400, ext. 303 for more info.

Three pioneering Jewish women doctors


A century before today’s fear of an Ebola outbreak, there was fear in Los Angeles of tuberculosis, and Dr. Kate Levy called out passionately to the Jewish community to aid those suffering from what was called the “White Plague.”

In fact, in the first decades of the 20th century, three Jewish women doctors treated Los Angeles’ afflicted, alerted the world to their plight and helped to establish what are now among Southern California’s premier health institutions.

Dr. Kate Levy  Photo courtesy of City of Hope

Another, Dr. Sarah Vasen, whose specialty was obstetrics, was the first Jewish woman to practice medicine in Los Angeles, and a third, Dr. Clara Stone, was a pioneer in treating the chronically ill.

Working in the earliest days of hospitals and a sanatorium whose origins were in L.A.’s Jewish community, all three doctors were medical pioneers.

Vasen is chiefly remembered as becoming, in 1905, the first paid superintendent and resident physician of Kaspare Cohn Hospital.

Created by the Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1902 to provide free care for tuberculosis patients, it was located in a two-story Victorian house, donated by Kaspare Cohn, at 1441 Carroll Ave. in the Angelino Heights area of Los Angeles. The hospital would later, in a different location, become Cedars of Lebanon Hospital.

“At the time, it was almost unheard of to have a female superintendent of a hospital,” said Jonathan Schreiber, the director of community engagement at Cedars-Sinai, and an organizer of the “Cedars-Sinai Historical Conservancy” exhibition, in which Vasen is included, that opened in June.

Angelino Heights, L.A.’s first suburb, was a well-to-do neighborhood in its day, and is today preserved as the city’s first Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ). According to an article in the journal Western States Jewish History by Reva Clar, a friend of Vasen’s niece, the neighbors complained about the new hospital in their midst, causing “the city council to pass an ordinance which prohibited the treatment of tuberculosis victims within the city limits.” Consequently, by the time Vasen became superintendent, “The hospital provided only for the needs of non-tubercular patients.”

The hospital had only 12 beds and a kitchen. In 1908, the B’nai B’rith Messenger reported that the hospital had 166 admissions, and at one point in 1909, 21 patients, including medical, surgical and maternity cases — the medical specialty of the new superintendent.

Vasen, the only daughter in a family of nine children, was born in Quincy, Ill., on May 21, 1870. After earning her medical degree in Philadelphia, she became the resident physician and superintendent of the Jewish Maternity Home of Philadelphia.

After leaving that position and taking up private practice in Quincy, she traveled to California in 1904 to visit her brother Nathan, who had moved to Aromas, near Watsonville.

In 1905, she traveled to Los Angeles to explore work opportunities and found Kaspare Cohn Hospital. Vasen was able to put her maternity home experience to good use in L.A., as reported in 1906 in a piece in the B’nai B’rith Messenger: “At the Kaspare Cohn Hospital there is a baby in the incubator. It is a week old and weighs 2 1/2 pounds. The superintendent, Dr. Sarah Vasen, states that it has good prospects to grow up.”

Vasen’s stint as superintendent also brought her into contact with Rabbi Sigmund Hecht of Congregation B’nai B’rith, who had served on the board of the hospital since its beginning. The two became friends and Vasen joined his congregation.

With the opening of the new Kaspare Cohen Hospital in East Los Angeles in 1910 — which eventually would become Cedars of Lebanon — Vasen decided not to continue as superintendent, and instead went into private practice, devoting her work to maternity cases only.

As to her private life, after what Clar describes as a “proverbial whirlwind courtship,” Vasen, at 41, married retired bachelor Saul Frank, 56, at Congregation B’nai B’rith, with her friend Rabbi Hecht officiating.

Making a communal plea to help those suffering from tuberculosis was a second woman physician, Dr. Kate Levy.

In 1912, when the Jewish Consumptive Relief Association (JCRA) had its first organizational meeting, Levy was elected to the board of directors of what would one day become the City of Hope, according to an article by Paul Dembitzer titled “Twenty Years,” published in 1934.

What had caused a “group of serious-minded Eastern Jewish immigrants” to begin such an undertaking? An “influx from the East” to the warm, dry climate of Southern California of “impoverished Jews,” who suffered from tuberculosis, many of whom had come from Russia and Eastern Europe, Dembitzer wrote.

“The Jewish Consumptive Relief Association aimed to build a sanatorium that could serve as an alternative to Kaspare Cohn Hospital,” wrote Caroline Luce, on “The White Plague in the City of Angels” website. The proposed sanatorium would be a place “where tuberculars could receive treatment regardless of their ethnicity, religion, partisan affiliation or ability to pay,” wrote Luce, a research assistant and coordinator of the Mapping Jewish Los Angeles Project.

Because news of a proposed free hospital for consumptives had alarmed both the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, an appeal would need to be made for understanding and support, and Levy’s medical training and interest in the welfare of the downtrodden made her the right person for the job.

According to the book “United States Jewry 1776-1985” and the 1930 Census, Levy was born in New York around 1882 and was of Russian parentage. She received her physician’s degree at Northwestern University and taught clinical medicine at the school’s Women’s Medical College.

Her interests included the Jewish Manual Training School and “other agencies dedicated to the welfare of Ghetto Jewry.” Not surprisingly, she researched and wrote a chapter of a book titled “The Russian Jew in the United States,” published in 1905, which described in muckraking tenor the “health and sanitation” of that population in Chicago:

“Boys and girls with faces and frocks besmirched, careworn women and men, disorderly shops, rickety shanties which bring on pneumonia and rheumatism all on streets shamelessly neglected by the city authorities, make up a scene which must cause us to blush for our much vaunted civilization,” she wrote.

As a board member of the new sanatorium, in 1914 she would again use her writing skills, this time to pen an appeal for support for the new institution in the B’nai B’rith Messenger:

“Can all classes of our people assimilate and work harmoniously for one great cause?” she wrote. “The writer asks in the simple way which God has only vouchsafed her, the cooperation of the whole Jewish public, regardless of caste or creed.”

As a result of the work of Levy and her fellow JCRA board members, by 1914, the sanatorium had gained support, patients and its first resident physician, Dr. Clara Stone.

By 1929, Stone would use her experience to work for another health institution, the Mount Sinai Home for Chronic Invalids located in the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Belvedere, where, according to “A Hundred Year History of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center,” she was named the home’s resident physician and superintendent, a job she kept at least until 1940.

Founded in 1918 by the Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick) Society in response to another feared epidemic — influenza — and previously called the Mount Sinai Home for the Incurables, the hospital offered relief to those suffering only from long-term and chronic illnesses.

“Clara Stone, the superintendent, is a fine compassionate woman, whose sympathy is wrung every hour of every day. These, her charges, are so pitiful,” reads an article in the Jan. 24, 1935, edition of the Los Angeles Times.

Stone, according to the 1930 Census and other sources, was born in France in 1884 and came to the U.S. in 1901; both of her parents were from Russia. She was married at 15 and had a daughter, Beatrice, a few years later. Her husband was Charles S. Stone.

According to a lead from Susan Yates, manager of the Archives Program at the City of Hope, and confirmed by Claude B. Zachary, archivist at USC, Stone attended USC and is listed in the 1911-12 USC yearbook as a senior in the College of Physicians and Surgeons. 

Stone died in 1944 at age 60. By the time of her passing, the Sinai Home had become well established, and in 1961 would join with the hospital that Vasen had helped establish so many years before, to become the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. 

‘Paper Love’: Paving the way for post-survivor storytelling


As the last generation of Holocaust survivors ages and dies, efforts to capture their final, untold stories have abounded. But in her new book “Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind,” Sarah Wildman has turned instead to the future, asking what it means bear witness in a world without Holocaust survivors.

“Paper Love” chronicles the author’s long and labyrinthine search for the fate of the woman whose black-and-white photos she finds amid her late grandfather Karl’s belongings. Wildman knew only the woman’s name, Valy, scrawled across the back of the photos, and that her grandmother bitterly called the mysterious dark-haired woman “your grandfather’s true love.”

It is only after her grandmother dies that Wildman discovers a trove of letters that her grandfather, a dashing physician who fled Vienna in 1938 for the United States, kept hidden and mislabeled.

“Correspondence: Patients A-G” reads the carton containing Valy’s letters, written in German from war-torn Berlin, as well as angry correspondences from extended family members who would never make it out of Hitler’s Europe.

Wildman’s hunt for Valy’s story takes her to far-flung cities, tiny villages and concentration camps throughout Europe, as well as to Ann Arbor, Mich., searching for people who may have known Valy, for documents that might refer to her, for experts who might shed light on her fate. She combs the archives for information and walks the streets of Vienna and Berlin in search of scraps of information about Valy’s life.

But “Paper Love” branches out at every turn — enfolding into its net more historical details, more stories, more locations, more human lives that vanished into World War II, never to be heard of again until now.

The book weaves together the historical with the intensely personal, redefining what counts as appropriate archival material and elevating intimate aspects from Valy’s life, and Wildman’s own, to new importance.

In the six years it took to complete “Paper Love,” Wildman, a journalist, gave birth to two daughters. The transition into new motherhood accompanied the one from consumer of Holocaust history to producer of it.

It’s a transition that took place in the shadow of loss — specifically the death of her grandparents, and also the gradual loss of the last generation of survivors.

“It’s been a very poignant thing for me that my kids won’t know them,” Wildman told JTA over the phone, her breast pump whirring in the background. “I am very much thinking of what comes next, in part because my children won’t have the opportunity of that visceral connection of listening to the story from the source.”

But “Paper Love” is revolutionary precisely because it could not have been written during the lifetime of Wildman’s grandfather.

“He never told us about the letters,” Wildman said, by way of explanation, “and my grandmother wouldn’t have been too pleased.”

Faced with the lack of stories “from the source” that her daughters’ generation encounters, Wildman chose to create something that could exist only in a world without Karl. It’s the kind of art bound to grow in the coming, post-survivor era — now that Wildman is paving the way.

Equal parts history, detective story, memoir and romance, Wildman’s book provides an absorbing account of what it was like to live in (and write from) Berlin as the Nazi grip tightened and conditions for Jews became increasingly worse — city by city, day by day.

Valy’s letters smolder with desperation, both to see her lover again and to survive the horrors that have befallen her city, country and continent. Most of the letters are reproduced in the text, alongside which Wildman decodes the writer’s attempts to fool the censors who were reading trans-Atlantic correspondences.

But they are also magical, magnetic and playful. Indeed, Wildman saw something of herself in the letter writer.

“She’s obsessed with her career, she’s not so super certain about kids, she’s incredibly well educated,” Wildman said. “She sounds like someone you might want to be with or hang out with. She doesn’t sound like someone far away. And she doesn’t sound perfect either. I think that’s important, too.”

Valy writes to Karl from Berlin in April of 1940, “I lead my life the way I’ve been doing for the past 2 years: in a spirit of waiting, without much joy or hope. But, my darling, don’t feel sad for me; I want you to know that I have people around me — women, — you know that only women are left here?!, who still have something to say, who like me, who help me and who want to make life pleasant for me. But I do not succeed very often, and they never will be able to replace you, my boy! You are and remain far, far away, out of my reach, you exist only in my memories, wonderful, beautiful ‘sunny past.’ … You are no longer even a letter, such as tiny, modest piece of the present. Why don’t you write?”

Why didn’t he write?

Among the things Wildman discovers is how sanitized the story she had been told of her grandfather’s miraculous escape and instantaneous success in America. And “Paper Love” is also its author’s attempt to come to terms with her grandfather’s actions and the guilt that she suspects plagued him for the rest of his life.

And although her grandfather never spoke to his granddaughter about Valy, he unwittingly created an archive for her to plunder, turning himself into a partner in the creation of “Paper Love.”

As Wildman asked herself, “If the Nazi project was to erase these people, to render them unmemorable, to be wiped away from the rolls of history, was there some way that my grandfather had thwarted that by saving these letters, and was there some way I, with the privilege of having stumbled on them, could give this woman back her voice?”

Indeed, Valy comes to life on the page, and her story will haunt those who read “Paper Love” for a long time to come.

When asked what her grandfather would make of her book, Wildman answered, “I think he would be pleased to still be talked about. … Of course it exposes a vulnerable side of him that I don’t think he’d be thrilled with, but I do think ultimately he would be happy to be thought of.”

The early Israel-to-L.A. wave


In 1965, at just 16, Edna Botach (now Lee) packed up her memories of living in tents with 12 brothers and sisters, and moved from Beersheba to Los Angeles. When she arrived in the Fairfax area and moved in with her brother’s family, she spoke only Hebrew and Farsi, the language of her parents, Iranian Jews who immigrated to Israel in 1950.

“My older brother had married an American. They had four young children, and my parents wanted me to go and help them out,” said Lee, who remembers missing the flavor of the “lechem shachor” (rye bread), the price of which was subsidized by the Israeli government. “Something about that bread never leaves you,” she said recently.

Lee was part of an early wave of Israelis immigrating to Los Angeles, a group that some in Israel and Los Angeles pejoratively called yordim, a word derived from yerida that means “descent,” the opposite of aliyah, or “ascension.” She came here long before the opening of Israeli markets, the L.A. institution of celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut with Israel festivals, and the pita-everywhere environment to which Angelenos, Israeli or otherwise, have grown accustomed.

“Those were difficult years, when there were no Israelis,” Lee said. “Everybody thought I was Greek or Italian. After the Six-Day War, people became more aware [of Israelis],” she added.

She was by no means among the first to come, however. Decades earlier, a migration trail from Israel to L.A. had been blazed by Mandate-era Jews, including Shlomo Bardin, who moved to the United States in 1939 and founded the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley.

After Israel became a state in 1948, more Israelis followed, including Jona Goldrich, who came in 1953 and started a company that cleaned up construction sites, leading to a career in real-estate development and construction, and Dani Dassa, an Israeli-born choreographer and legendary folk-dance teacher, who came in the late 1950s and opened Cafe Danssa, a meeting place for Israeli dance on the Westside, founded in 1966.

Soon after arriving in L.A., Lee enrolled in Fairfax High School, and her acculturation began by taking an English as a Second Language course, along with about 12 other students, including a couple of other Israelis.

“I did not make a lot of friends. The Americans, if they were not religious, I could not connect. In values, philosophy, we were so different,” said Lee, who today affiliates with the Modern Orthodox movement.

After high school, she attended L.A. City College, eventually matriculating to California State University, Los Angeles, where she graduated with an education degree.

While in college, Lee found work at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital on Fountain Avenue. At the time, TVs were not standard in hospital rooms, and Lee got a job from an outside vendor renting them to patients. She recalled wearing a “cute little uniform” and going into hospital rooms to drum up business “with my funny accent,” she said.

“There were a lot of Jewish patients,” one of whom introduced her son to Lee, and the two eventually married in 1971.

Many Los Angeles Jews, like Rabbi Bob Golub, who grew up at Valley Beth Shalom and is executive director of Mercaz USA, the Zionist organization of the Conservative movement, recall that the first Israelis they ever met were teachers in their Hebrew-school classrooms. In fact the study “In Our Footsteps: Israeli Migration to the United States and Los Angeles,” published in 1981 by Pini Herman and David LaFontaine, found that around 66 percent of Israeli immigrants were working in professional and technical positions, including as teachers, medical professionals and engineers.

Lee went into real estate, and after a successful career as a Realtor — knowing Hebrew made her Israeli clients comfortable with the knowledge that she “would put them in a good place”— she now owns a shop on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks called Aunt Teek’s, where she sells pieces of the past.

 In the 1960s, once work or school was done, Lee and other Israeli immigrants like Rivka Dori would go to a cafe on Sunset Boulevard called Sabra to meet up with other Israelis or catch up on news back home.

It was “one of the first establishments my husband, Reuben [Reuven], and I visited,” remembers Dori, who came to the United States from Israel in 1966.

“This was the place to meet other Israelis, speak Hebrew, listen to Israeli music and eat Israeli food,” said Dori, director emerita of Hebrew Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR).

Another outpost of all things Israeli in the Fairfax area in the early 1970s, serving up a reminder of the flavors of home to a growing Israeli population, was a falafel stand called Me & Me. Located on the corner of Fairfax Boulevard and Rosewood Avenue, it was a place where many non-Israelis had their first falafel — and tested their limits with the accompanying hot sauce.

According to several sources, Me & Me was named for an Israeli restaurant called, in Hebrew, “Mi v’ Mi” or “Who is Who.” Transliterated into English, the name became Me & Me.

Mark Pahlow, who worked across the street at Lose the Blues Bookstore, describes Me & Me on his blog:The proprietors were loud and brash, with shirts unbuttoned and hairy chests puffed out. ‘American Woman’ by The Guess Who was usually blaring out of the establishment, and the staff was singing along, loudly and off-key.” 

The “Footsteps” study also found that, like Lee, “Most of the Israelis are living in areas of high Jewish population density,” with the majority in the early 1970s located in the city’s Metro region (roughly from Hollywood to Westwood), along with a growing number living in the San Fernando Valley. As the decade progressed, the Israeli community increasingly began moving into the Valley, including Lee’s family, who relocated to Studio City in 1975. By 1980, the number of Israelis calling the Valley “home” surpassed that of the Metro area.

However, as the number of Israeli immigrants grew, estimated in the study as between 10,000 and 12,000, but by others as the much-debated number of 120,000, a divide was growing in the L.A. Jewish community, over how to welcome them, with some disapproving of granting traditional resettlement aid.

So, in the early 1980s, a commission was formed. According to Gerald Bubis, the founding director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at HUC-JIR, it was Jerry Weber, director of the Council on Jewish Life, who was instrumental in bringing together elements of the community to create a commission on Israelis.

“The community was changing so rapidly,” Bubis said. People were asking, some “who never made aliyah themselves, ‘Why would they want to come?’ ” Bubis said.

A 43-member commission was chaired by Herbert Glaser, and included Bubis and Herman as well as ex-officio member Benyamin Navon, consul general of the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles. And after many months of meetings, which Bubis recalls as “always civil,” it issued a report in 1984.

It was a victory for those who favored a more inclusive approach, because the report, in addition to recommending that “demeaning terms such as yordim” not be used, suggested that community synagogues, Federation agencies and Jewish community centers should be “sensitized to their responsibilities” to the needs of Israeli immigrants. The report also recommended that “all eligible Jews residing within Los Angeles are entitled to participate in the programs and services of the Jewish Federation Council and its agencies.”

Lee, for one, always maintained ties to the local Jewish community — when she was younger she joined Yavneh, and when older, temples, and she sent two of her children to Jewish day school. On many Shabbats, acting as her own agency, she still invites guests to her home. “My home has been open to the world,” she said.

Have a lead for an L.A. Jewish history story? Contact Edmon Rodman at edmojace@gmail.com

This week in Jewish history: March 7-13


1421

March 12: More than 200 surviving Viennese Jews were burned to death after a year of persecution, forced conversion, expulsion, imprisonment in their synagogue and mass suicide. Contemporary reports described the Jews as singing songs and dancing before the pyres.  All relics of Jewish life in Austria were destroyed, and Jewish families did not return until the 16th century.

1959

March 9: Ruth Handler’s Barbie doll was introduced to society at the International American Toy Fair in New York. Handler’s creation represented a quantum leap in the understanding of doll play among preadolescent girls, who, judging from the sales figures, were less interested in “mothering” their dolls than in projecting their sexual and social aspirations onto them. The Mattel toy company, founded by Handler and her husband, Elliot, in their Southern California garage in the late 1940s, reported $6.5 billion in net sales last year. Handler died in 2002.

2009

March 12: Bernard Madoff was handcuffed and remanded to prison after pleading guilty to his multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. Among the heaviest losers in his large network of Jewish investors were Yeshiva University, $110 million; Hadassah, $90 million; the Shapiro Family Foundation of Boston, $145 million; American Technion, $72 million; Chais Family Foundation, $178 million; and the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, $15 million. On June 29, 2009, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison.

Source: jewishcurrents.org

Lacking long-term plans, many U.S. Jewish cemeteries in neglect


For years, the historic Jewish cemetery was so overgrown with weeds, plagued by toppled headstones, and littered with fallen branches, beer cans and snack-food wrappers that at least a quarter of its graves were impossible to reach.

Even now, after a $140,000 cleanup and improved maintenance procedures, the 35,000-grave cemetery relies on the generosity of a non-Jewish volunteer to repair its tombstones, fences and mausoleums.

The cemetery isn’t in Eastern Europe. It’s the Bayside Cemetery in the Queens borough of New York City, and it’s among countless Jewish cemeteries across the country in varying states of disrepair. Some 40 to 50 of them are in the New York area alone.

There are a plethora of reasons for Jewish cemeteries’ troubles. Many are owned by synagogues, associations or burial societies that no longer exist or are on their last legs. Once a cemetery stops bringing in revenues – i.e. fresh graves — the operating budget dries up unless sufficient money has been set aside for the long term. At Bayside, annual cemetery upkeep costs $90,000.

“Based on current practices, substantially all Jewish cemeteries will be unable to pay for their upkeep within 25 to 50 years after their last grave is sold,” said Gary Katz, president of New York’s Community Association for Jewish At-Risk Cemeteries, a group founded in 2007 and funded largely by UJA-Federation of New York.

[Related: Restoring Mount Zion Cemetery]

While most nonprofit cemeteries are required to put aside a certain percentage of their revenues into endowment funds for the future — ranging from 10 percent to 40 percent, depending on the state — most experts say that amount is not enough to ensure a cemetery will remain financially viable. Furthermore, many Jewish cemeteries are registered as religious organizations and wholly exempt from state regulations. At such cemeteries, plot owners have no way of knowing whether the family plot will be maintained two or three generations on.

Mark Stempa, who according to tax filings earned more than $500,000 in 2012 running two large nonprofit Jewish cemeteries in Queens — Mount Zion and Mount Carmel — and is a paid board member of a third, says his cemeteries are approaching capacity and already relying on investment income to cover operations.

“We conservatively invest, and hopefully that income generated from the trust funds is going to care for the cemetery in the future,” he told JTA. But, Stempa acknowledged, “What’s going to happen in 100 years, I really don’t know.”

By the time a cemetery is full, it should have 20 times its annual operating expenses in an endowment, says Stan Kaplan, chairman of the Jewish Cemetery Association of North America and executive director of the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts. But few do, he says.

“As the community changes, we’ll have more defaults,” Kaplan said.

In city after city, local Jewish communities – often, as in Bayside’s case, the local federation – are having to step in and put up money to save Jewish burial grounds.

“If the cemetery doesn’t have enough money and its owners abandon it, whose responsibility will it be to take care of it?” asked David Zinner, executive director of Kavod v’Nichum, a national organization that provides training to Jewish burial societies.

A number of communities are trying to ensure that their Jewish cemeteries are cared for in perpetuity by reshaping the way their cemeteries operate. The focus is on collaboration and long-term financial planning.

The Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati was established as a nonprofit in 2004 by pooling the endowments of struggling and financially viable cemeteries and raising $6 million. The organization now runs most of the Cincinnati area’s Jewish cemeteries.

“We were very fortunate to have the Jewish foundation willing to put up a lot of money to make this happen,” said David Hoguet, executive director of the organization. “If money were available in other cities, you’d see more of this happening.”

The Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts, created in 1984, now manages 108 cemeteries. It originally took over only insolvent cemeteries, but later absorbed several healthy and operational ones as well. It has raised $10 million to endow its operations — one-fourth of what is needed to cover its annual expenses in perpetuity.

A cemetery association launched in 2004 by the Jewish federation in New Haven, Conn., has taken ownership of eight cemeteries and created a centralized maintenance system that other Jewish cemeteries pay to use.

But cemetery collectives are the exception rather than the rule. Most Jewish communities don’t have any central association to deal with cemeteries, and those that do often have minimal funding or limited purviews. It’s also hard to get operational and financially healthy cemeteries that might be able to subsidize the care of other cemeteries to come under a communal umbrella.

Zinner says Jewish communities need to face the challenges of cemetery maintenance collectively – and ahead of time.

“Don’t wait until there’s a disaster,” he said. “Every Jewish cemetery should have a representative of the Jewish community at large on its board.”

Meeting John F. Kennedy


I was tutoring a student. We were reading about Colonial America. Every facet of life in that distant era seemed so bizarre to her 21st century sensibilities. She winced when we read that roasted squirrel was considered a tasty treat. She was visibly disturbed to learn that children got whipped for whispering in church. And she was shocked that even though most families had at least six children, they frequently lived in a one-room house. She kept saying “That’s not normal!”

I explained to her that what’s considered normal changes with the times. What was normal then may no longer be called normal now. She got me thinking. I didn’t have to go all the way back to Colonial Times to see a different normal. Within the span of my generation, so much has changed, …

My father was pounding the table for emphasis. He wanted to ensure that his in-laws realized the error of their ways. He bellowed: “How could you vote for Eisenhower?” It was not a question. It was an accusation. But his father-in-law, mother-in-law, mothers’ sisters and fathers’ brothers didn’t take the bait. They just stared, shrugged and  explained: “We Like Ike!” My mother drew her hands to her heart, as if in prayer, and quietly affirmed, “Adlai Stevenson was our choice.”

I was just a kid. Even though politics was not yet my cup of tea, my parents took their civic responsibilities seriously.

Four years later, their commitment was rewarded. This time, their man won. John F. Kennedy beat Richard M Nixon. Now, it was time for the young, handsome man to occupy the White House. Even a knucklehead kid like me could sense a new excitement in the air. I wondered what the fuss was about. I asked my parents, “Why does everyone like President Kennedy so much?”

My mother paused, got a twinkle in her eye and, as if reciting, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” she said, “We like the Kennedys because they live life to the fullest! They do things like water ski.” She was trying to put it in terms that I would understand. My father put in his two cents. “They’re like us. They don’t sit around the house, in rocking chairs, looking at antiques. They go out and have fun!” 

Fun was important to my parents. I didn’t realize it then, but now, looking back, I see that they were reacting against their own parents. Frequently, my father would explain to anyone who would listen, “With my parents, everything had to be educational. I don’t want educational for my kids. I want them to have fun.”

While my parents enthusiastically pursued “fun,” both sets of grandparents regarded it with suspicion. My maternal grandparents would get tense and anxious if the fun meter dared to exceed “peaceful.” My father’s parents were born in Eastern Europe, a place so dark and dreary that it was never discussed. After fleeing the Old Country, they didn’t care about fun; they were content just to be alive. 

But my parents had a more ambitious agenda. And the Kennedys fit right in with that worldview. A vote for the Kennedys was a vote for a certain lifestyle.

Every Sunday, my parents would take my brother, sister and me out for a drive. The Sunday Drive was our adventure. And it was a real adventure, not the thin gruel of virtual experience. We explored all aspects of our home city of Washington, D.C. We could hike along Great Falls, which flowed into the Potomac River. Or my parents might skim the real estate section of The Washington Post. With those leads in hand, we’d drive down to Embassy Row to check out the mansions that were for sale. Occasionally, we would tour downtown to visit the national monuments. I always got a thrill seeing the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool on the Mall.

One Sunday, we were driving around the Ellipse, which is another term for the Presidents Park on the south side of the White House. Dad was in the driver’s seat, where he liked to be, literally and figuratively. Mom was by his side, scouting the terrain. Dad said Mom had eyes like a hawk, and she did. 

She spotted President Kennedy taking an afternoon stroll on the sidewalk, outside of the black wrought iron fence that encircled the White House grounds. He was dressed in an elegant suit, walking with a cane. The cane seemed to be more for style than for support. His thick chestnut brown hair caught the rays of a mild winter sun. Spotting him was like spotting a rare bird. He seemed to be walking alone. There was nothing between our family and our president. No obstacles. Looking back on that day, I’m sure the Secret Service men were nearby. But for the life of me, I don’t recall their presence at all.

Dad rolled down the window of our little VW Bug and stuck his arm out and waved, “Hello Mr. President!” President Kennedy walked over to our car.  He extended his hand inside our car for my father to grasp. Dad said, “How do you do, Mr. President.?”

How did my father know to call him Mr. President, instead of Mr. Kennedy?  Probably because Dad just knew stuff like that. President Kennedy responded by saying, “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”

I was in the back seat. I was 9 years old and so excited that I thought I’d burst. I blurted out, “We voted for you!” My parents and JFK had a chuckle over that one. I just glowed. President Kennedy continued on his walk. And we drove home.

When I look back on that Sunday afternoon, I realize it’s a snapshot from a bygone era. There is no way in today’s political climate that an American family could have a chance encounter with their president. All that spontaneity has been drained dry. Every presidential moment is scripted. Every exchange is planned and choreographed.   

It’s a bit like going to the zoo. You see the animals and you have fun, but think how much more exciting it would be to glimpse the animals in the wild. That afternoon, I saw the president in the wild, not caged in a zoo. He was radiant, and it was thrilling. And that thrill is something that we’ve lost. Meet the president of the United States by accident? That’s not normal.

USC-Shoah head named to genocide education chair


As the executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation-The Institute for Visual History and Education, Stephen Smith is known for his work preserving the memory of the Holocaust.

Now, the USC adjunct professor of religion is being given a platform to promote education about crimes against humanity on an even broader level. On Sept. 24, Smith was named the inaugural holder of the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) chair on genocide education. It was established in partnership by USC and UNESCO to promote research, training, information and documentation on genocide education and encourage collaboration among internationally recognized researchers and educators.

“I am a firm believer that education is the bedrock of our efforts to prevent genocide,” Smith said in a statement. “Through this partnership, USC and UNESCO are joining forces to develop the research networks and education programs essential to understand and limit genocide in future generations.”

Praising Smith’s and the Shoah Foundation’s awareness-building efforts, UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova said in a statement that she expects Smith to thrive as the program’s chair.

 “We anticipate that this new chair, placed under the leadership of Dr. Stephen Smith, will contribute to increased international cooperation on these matters by connecting with UNESCO’s network of university chairs and by supporting the activities of the organization in issues pertaining to the history of the Holocaust, genocide and to human rights,” she said.

Smith’s appointment is part of the UNITWIN (University Twinning and Network Scheme)/UNESCO Chairs Programme, which “enables chairs to serve as bridge builders between academia, civil society, local communities, research and policy-making,” according to a USC press release.

Established nearly 20 years ago, the USC Institute maintains an archive of nearly 52,000 video testimonies of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses from 57 countries and in 33 languages. Its collection also includes testimonies from eyewitnesses to genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia and Armenia.

Los Angeles history: Jewish dreamers, schemers of the San Fernando Valley


Have you ever been lost on Ventura Boulevard, a street that’s long on history? One night, I found myself west of the 405 Freeway, searching for the street on which to turn left to pick up my teenage son and realized I’d totally lost my bearings.

Separated from the San Fernando Valley by a range of mountains and life choices, I don’t come here often. A couple of Jewish weddings at the Sportsmen’s Lodge, visits to Valley Beth Shalom for our son’s Hebrew High School graduation, a family wedding at the L.A. Equestrian Center, and beyond that, for this Mid-City dweller, it’s the great ek velt (boondocks).

Trying to reset my compass as the storefronts rushed by, I searched for landmarks: a kosher restaurant, a synagogue, a large clock with Hebrew numbers. I remembered that I was supposed to turn left at a deli.

Demographically speaking, I knew where I was. Years earlier, I had edited a Los Angeles Jewish population survey. On a graph, a dense swarm of blue dots marked the area of Encino through which I was driving. Each dot represented a Jewish household, and each household represented a story of Jewish migration.

Some had moved there from Boyle Heights and the Adams District in the postwar boom years of the early 1950s. Others, since the 1980s, had moved from the city’s metro region looking for what they described in the survey as a “better area.”

But long before that, in the closing years of the 19th century and early decades of the 20th century — a time not counted in any survey — Jews also migrated to the San Fernando Valley, not so much because it was better, but because it was bigger and open, and they came to build dreams.

A few blocks later I found Jerry’s Deli and made my turn. But instead of heading up the street to get my son, I was drawn by the light of the deli case in the window and turned into the parking lot.

The case was jammed with stuffed cabbage, kugel and pickled tomatoes. But then I saw the pumpernickel. “An East Coast baker must have migrated to the Valley,” I remember thinking.

As I was discovering, the Valley was built on stories of Jewish migration, with even the wheat grown to make bread figuring prominently in its history.

Isaac Lankershim —yes, the boulevard is named after him — is introduced by the online Jewish Museum of the American West as both “Creator of the San Fernando Valley Breadbasket and Enigma.”

In the 1850s, Lankershim, who moved to the United States from Bavaria, made a name for himself in San Francisco, where he was known as the “Wheat King.”

In the late 1860s, Lankershim moved to Los Angeles, where, according to David Epstein, the co-publisher of Western State Jewish History (which created the online museum), Lankershim became associated with Harris Newmark and other Jewish businessmen. “The Jewish community thought of him as an idiosyncratic Jew,” said Epstein, who pointed out that though Lankershim had converted to the Baptist faith before moving to Los Angeles, “He thought Jewish,” Epstein said.

According to the museum, “In 1869, Lankershim and investors from San Francisco purchased 60,000 acres in the San Fernando Valley for $115,000, forming the San Fernando Valley Farm Homestead Association.” 

The ranch consisted of what we know today as Woodland Hills, Tarzana, Encino, Sherman Oaks, Van Nuys and North Hollywood. It stretched from Roscoe Boulevard down to the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains, and from the Calabasas Hills to the western city limits of Burbank.

At first, Lankershim used the land to raise sheep, but after a drop in prices, he turned to farming wheat. Following a few seasons of drought, he harvested a crop so large that he had to build a wagon road to carry it to the pier in Santa Monica. The current 405 follows some of that same path.

In the following decades, Jewish dreamers and schemers began to subdivide Lankershim’s map.

In 1923, Victor Girard Kleinberger, a former imitation-Persian-carpet salesman, founded the town of Girard, which in the 1940s would change its name to Woodland Hills.

The Los Angeles Times has called him “a land huckster with big dreams.” But, Betty Bowler, the historian for the Woodland Hills Country Club, which she said was founded by Girard in 1925, prefers to think of him “as a dreamer.” 

“We have Jewish weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs here,” she added.

In 1899, Girard — who had dropped his last name — moved to Los Angeles. According to Kevin Roderick’s book “The San Fernando Valley: America’s Suburb,” the young real-estate tycoon started Girard on 2,000 hilly acres. His plan was to subdivide and sell tiny lots — 25 feet wide, just large enough to build a cabin.

To attract prospects to the part of the West Valley that had no street cars and was accessible only via a Sepulveda Pass much steeper and serpentine than it is today, Girard booked “sucker buses,” to bring them to his development.

Wanting to create the illusion of an up-and-coming city, according to the Times, Girard erected false storefronts. On the corner of what is now Topanga Canyon and Ventura boulevards, Girard built a “Turkish city” — an assortment of minarets and gates.

In 1929, the stock market crash, as well as reports that he had double-sold some of the parcels, spurred Girard to leave, along with some of his town’s residents.

As to his legacy, in Woodland Hills today, many of the more than 100,000 eucalyptus, pepper and other trees Girard planted on the hillsides can still be seen along Canoga Avenue, south of Ventura.

Some of Girard’s original cabins still exist, though many have been modified. “I feel like I’m on vacation every day living here,” said Heide Bowen, who has rented one of the original cabins for the last six years. “It’s tiny, cozy and has a fireplace,” she added.

In the 1930s, another Jew, movie star Francis Lederer, would also leave his mark in the San Fernando Valley by building a mission-style home on a 300-acre ranch in what is today West Hills.

After a successful acting career in Europe on both stage and screen, Lederer came to America in 1932 to be on Broadway. Seeing what was happening in Europe, he decided to stay.

“The grim events in Germany are a lesson to the whole Jewish race,” Lederer said in 1934, as reported by JTA.

The handsome matinee idol, memorialized by a star on Hollywood Boulevard, played the lead in such films as “The Gay Deception” and “One Rainy Afternoon,” eventually appearing as the lead in “The Return of Dracula” in 1958. Also that year, he played Otto Frank in a theatrical production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” on a U.S. tour.

Lederer’s Spanish Revival home, built with the help of John R. Litke of natural stone and meant to look old, sits on a hilltop on Sherman Way. In 1978, the house was declared a Los Angeles landmark. A nearby mission-style stable, also built by Lederer, was also declared a landmark and today is an event site, known as the Hidden Chateau and Gardens.

Lederer’s house is now on the market, and, according to real estate agent Sarah Cartell, the Lederers used to “shoot up fireworks to let the neighbors know when cocktail hour had started,” she said.

Jill Milligan, the proprietor of the Gardens, who knew Marion Lederer, Francis’ third and last wife, said, “Marion would have liked to have the property seen as a tribute to Francis, who has had such a legacy in the West Valley.

“For many years, Francis was an honorary mayor of Canoga Park,” she added about the movie star who died in 2000 at the age of 100. 

Dan Brin, president of the West Hills Neighborhood Council and former editor of the now-late Jewish newspaper The Heritage, added of the home: “I’m very much in favor of somebody stepping forward and making it possible for the entire community to enjoy this resource.”

Back at the deli, where this journey through San Fernando Valley Jewish history began, I bought a loaf of bread and drove up the hill to retrieve my son. Taking the same route as Lankershim’s wheat to get home, we headed through the Sepulveda Pass. 

Yigal Kipnis on Yom Kippur War’s lessons


Yigal Kipnis is an Israeli historian; since 1978 he has been a farmer and a resident of the Golan Heights. He teaches at the University of Haifa and researches the settlement geography and political history of Israel. Kipnis also served as a pilot in the Israeli Air Force for 31 years (26 of them in the IAF reserves). The following exchange focuses on his book, “1973: The Road to War,” which came out in Hebrew in late 2012. The book has received fantastic reviews in the Israeli press by various acclaimed critics and is scheduled to appear in English later this year.

Shmuel Rosner: Your book, and this is no big secret, was immediately embraced by the Israeli so-called “peace camp.” I always find it a little disturbing that history books become a political tool, but in today’s political environment this is probably unavoidable.

The conclusion drawn by many of your readers was this: Israel wasn’t vigorous enough in pursuing peace back in 1973, and the result was devastating. It should therefore be careful not to miss such opportunities today, and be more forthcoming in its conduct when negotiating with its neighbors. 

Is this your conclusion as well? Are we in danger of repeating the mistakes of 1973?

Yigal Kipnis: Your question links the realm of my research — history — and the area you deal with: investigating and interpreting the present.

The book “1973, The Road to Waris entirely devoted to the events of 1973 (except for the Marwan story, which continues up to the present). As I wrote in my introduction, the findings relating to that year were that: “Decision makers in Israel had been mistaken in thinking that their military superiority and deterrence, along with the political support of the United States, would both prevent a political process which they did not want and uphold the favorable (to Israel) status quo. The Israeli prime minister and minister of defense did not comprehend that, in order to ensure Israeli security, military superiority was not enough; a peace agreement was also necessary.”

But I was careful to end the introduction with the following paragraph: “Despite the fact that the book discusses the events of 1973, the attention of many readers will be directed toward the present. History, as is well known, does not repeat itself, but it is important to be familiar with it, as such knowledge assists us in better evaluating current events.”

Nevertheless, many readers examined the book’s findings in accord with their own attitudes about the present-day political situation, a fact that you justifiably deplore. Members of the “peace camp” were indeed happy with these findings so that they could base their present positions on the lessons of 1973. Correspondingly, for the same reason, the “right-wing camp” found it difficult to accept the facts about 1973, some without even learning these facts. There were those who went further, ignoring the findings and viewing only the present, maintaining that Israel should not have considered coordination with the United States and should have launched a preventive attack. With regard to 1973, they are mistaken.

In this paragraph, I reply specifically to your question:

“The actions of the prime minister and the minister of defense that led to the Yom Kippur War evoke thoughts about the role of a national leader, about the relations between decision makers and evaluation bodies, about the price of silencing a mobilized or a paralyzed media, about the price of the ‘national euphoria’ that characterized Israeli society in the ‘euphoric period’ between the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, and, particularly, about the price of a sense that time is working in Israel’s favor.”

But the position that Israel should take at present must be investigated comprehensively considering the Zionist process and present realities, and not according to those of 1973.

I believe, and with no connection to the events of 1973, that Israeli peace agreements with the Arab states surrounding it were and have remained a strategic Israeli goal and thus, it had to act to achieve this goal and still should. These agreements must be based on the international border that defined, for the first and only time in history, the state entity of the land of Israel. This definition stemmed from a decision by the Israeli unity government in June 1967, nine days after the end of the Six-Day War. This decision also expressed how its ministers, both on the left and on the right, and including Menachem Begin, conceived of the way to turn the military achievement of the Six-Day War into a political achievement. This policy was implemented in the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. The withdrawal from Lebanon was based on this borderline, as were the negotiations with Syria, conducted by Rabin, Peres and Netanyahu in two terms of office, Barak and Olmert. The problem remaining is what happens within the international border of Israel — the west bank of the Jordan River. One state? Two states? If there are two states, how will we share the land?

In my opinion, without casting doubt on the historical connection of the Jewish nation to the entire land, realization of Zionist aspirations and ensuring the existence of the State of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people requires us to reach an agreement with the Palestinian leadership, if only to ensure proper security and freedom of entry to places that will not remain under Israeli sovereignty. The outline of this agreement is well known. The problem is how to achieve it. In this context I expressed my opinion a few weeks ago in an op-ed article in Ha’aretz: “The Arab initiative for comprehensive peace with Israel is one of the important political achievements of Zionism. Its implementation is likely to lead to regional stability, which will enable Israel to direct its resources and its efforts to the areas of education, society and the economy. No Palestinian leader will be able to reject an agreement that has been accepted in this discussion channel, under the patronage of the Arab world, the United States and the European Community. This patronage will make it easier for both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to compromise on issues that would have been difficult to agree on in direct negotiations between the sides. An Israeli leader who really aspires to peace and security must accept this initiative.”

In addition, I believe that the Israeli public will support a leader who adopts this policy. Not as a lesson drawn from the price we paid in the Yom Kippur War because the Israeli prime minister rejected a peace initiative from President Sadat, an initiative whose principles formed the basis of the treaty Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed six years later with Egypt, but as a vital interest of the State of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people at present in the land of Israel.

For more of this exchange, read Rosner’s Domain at jewisjournal.com/Rosnersdomain.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, please visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/Rosnersdomain.

Reza Aslan on Jesus, the Jew


Reza Aslan, an author and scholar of religion, has established himself as a familiar face and voice on American television, the go-to guy for commentary on the Islamic world, and he embodies all the right stuff: youthful good looks, depth of knowledge and the kind of media savvy that enables him to answer even the most nuanced questions in measured sound bites. So it was no surprise when Aslan showed up on Fox News last month to talk about his new book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” (Random House, $27).

But the Fox interviewer, Lauren Green, was apparently unaware that Aslan does not suffer fools gladly.

“You’re a Muslim,” the network’s religion specialist said at the start of her very first question. “So why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?”

“To be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament, with fluency in biblical Greek, who has been studying the origin of Christianity for two decades, who happens to be a Muslim,” Aslan admonished his inquisitor. “Anyone who thinks this book is an attack on Christianity hasn’t read it yet.” When Green pressed the point, Aslan deftly schooled her on the Islamophobia that suffused her questions: “I think it is a little strange that, rather than debating the arguments of the book, we are debating the right of the scholar to actually write it.”