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The Jewish Pass

The Growth of Jewish Institutions in Los Angeles' Sepulveda Pass

Erik Greenberg, Author

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The View From the Pass

Studying the Jewish institutions that exist in the Sepulveda Pass offers physical evidence of LA Jewry’s westward movement and a glimpse into the beliefs and ideals that helped shape American Jewish observance and culture over the past fifty years.

Today the pass serves as a kind of bridge or connector that links the large and vibrant Jewish communities of West LA (south of the Santa Monica Mountains) with those in the San Fernando Valley (north of the mountains). That has not always been the case. Historical maps and other sources make clear the pass was a less than hospitable passageway for a very long time. On August 5, 1769, for example, the famed Portola Expedition, which helped establish the initial Spanish Mission system in California, crossed the pass northward from the Los Angeles Basin into the San Fernando Valley. Miguel Costanso, a soldier and engineer on the expedition, made clear the pass’ unrelenting climb when he observed in his diary that it took “much labor to ascend the summit." Those of us who have walked, or biked or driven up the pass with a manual transmission vehicle can, in some small way, sympathize with Costanso and his mates. At least they weren’t stuck in bumper to bumper traffic!

Time, necessity, and technology ultimately tamed the pass. Road construction began in the pass in the mid 1920s, and crested it in 1935. In the late 1950s, plans were already underway to create a massive interstate highway bypass over the pass, today’s 405 freeway. These roadways made possible significant development in the region. The pass today is surrounded by numerous housing developments, a Catholic University, the most recent incarnation of J. Paul Getty’s Art Museum, and five important Jewish institutions: Leo Baeck Temple, American Jewish University (formerly University of Judaism), Milken Community High School, Stephen S. Wise Temple and Skirball Cultural Center.

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