By Rabbi Arye D. Gordon
You know what brought you to Los Angeles.
Ever wonder how other religious Jews made their way out West?
How and when did the Orthodox community become a presence in Los Angeles?
Who were the movers and shakers?
What events had a major influence on the road less travelled “that has made all the difference”?
If your interest has been piqued, Rabbi Einhorn’s series of lectures, an overview of the history of orthodox Los Angeles, is a must.
On Monday evening March 17th, 2014, Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn, Dean of Yeshivat Yavneh, began a repeat of his first-rate 14 part “Series on the History of Orthodox Judaism in Los Angeles”. Originally presented over a 4 month period on Shabbos afternoons before Mincha, the response was so phenomenal that Rabbi Einhorn decided to repeat the series on Monday evenings so that others can relive or discover the history of their Los Angeles Jewish community.
A native of L.A., Rabbi Einhorn began the task of researching the history of the orthodox communities in Los Angeles from its early days to the present as a result of a personal interest. The research developed and grew and before long it took on a life of its own. In an effort to add substance and interest into the series, Rabbi Einhorn interviewed Los Angeles old timers, who fleshed out many of the attention-grabbing events in the last 80 years of LA’s orthodox development.
The first in the series, “Oy Vey Kabom: The Wild West”, Rabbi Einhorn laid the groundwork by presenting the first Jews who came out west and wanted to maintain a connection to their Jewish upbringing, by establishing a synagogue, hiring a rabbi and providing many of the trappings required to create a true Jewish presence in Los Angeles. This was over 150 years ago.
The second in the series covered the depression era and Hollywood, aptly titled, “From the Depth I Call Out”. These two events were held at the Young Israel of Century City.
In speaking of the series, Rabbi Einhorn stated, “I really started this as a small series, but as I began my research and was given the opportunity to use the UCLA archives, I uncovered far more information than I originally anticipated. I discovered that we have a most remarkable history and many of us do not realize it. LA didn’t start the way most communities do. It wasn’t the result of an influx of a large group of Jews that came out west as an existing community, reestablishing themselves in Los Angeles. Nor was it the accomplishment of one individual Rabbi who came out west and built up a community.”
Rabbi Einhorn pointed out that, “LA’s Jewish history started as a collaboration of individuals, consisting of business people, merchants and lay leaders, who came together and established the community and made it grow. In the year 1900 there were about 2,500 Jews in Los Angeles. By 1920 the number grows to 20,000. Although a small group, they were extremely visible. A handful of Jews create a tremendous impact on the world.”
It was the creation of Hollywood with the creativity of the 3 Stooges, The Marx brothers, Sam Goldfish (Goldwyn), Adolf Zukor, Laemmle, Fox, Mayer and a slew of Jewish writers, producers and lawyers. They were, says Rabbi Einhorn, “a group of people who wanted to run away from their Orthodox upbringing in Eastern Europe, but they couldn’t entirely escape it.” Rabbi Einhorn relates the fascinating story of Zukor who was influenced by a religious uncle and by a teacher who awakened his imagination with stories from the Torah, its biblical personalities and events that became the source of numerous movies. An interesting side note was the discovery of a bag by the son of Adolf Zukor among his father’s things. Looking inside, Eugene Zukor discovered a talis and tefillin, kept in the front of his father’s closet, suggesting that it was something used by his father from time to time and not just an item buried in the back, out of sight and mind.
Remarkably, members of the Warner Brothers family did not reject their Jewish past completely. Their father, Benjamin, who was religious, maintained a Shabbos table and engaged in Jewish practices, imparting Torah values to his children. While some of his children were positively influenced, others were not.
The next session on Monday Evening March 31, 8:30pm at the Bnai David, was, “Boyling Point: Jewish Life in Boyle Heights”. Rabbi Einhorn delved into a part of Los Angeles History that was now getting closer to home. People of that era are alive today and remember it well. Details of that period came to light in the interviews that Rabbi Einhorn had with some of the”old-timers”.
The next session at Anshei Emes will not be until April 30, at 8:30 pm, titled,
”3 Rich Jews at Canters Deli: The Shift to Fairfax”. The story of the Fairfax Jewish community is one closer to home for many of us and should be of immense interest.
With 11 more sessions to go, it is not too late to spend a number of educational and entertaining evenings learning about L.A.’s past. It is a journey of discovery and one you will not forget.
Future sessions will be listed as they occur. For more information, call 323-931-5808.