In Search of Fairfax

Celebrate Fairfax!

The fear that Fairfax would lose its distinct Jewish character started to mount in the early 1980s. In an effort to promote the neighborhood as an “ethnic showcase area" and market Fairfax Avenue as a culturally authentic shopping destination, the Vitalize Fairfax Committee organized “Celebrate Fairfax!” The occasion, held at the Fairfax High School Auditorium on November 2, 1980, was designated as the official kickoff event for both the Vitalize Fairfax project and the Los Angeles Bicentennial.  The gala exemplified the impulse to market Fairfax through its Jewish heterogeneity and its mixture of “traditional” Ashkenanzi and Israeli culture. As one such flyer for the event explained, “[Fairfax] butcher shops and bakeries….falafel and humus. It speaks with a voice that is Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian. FAIRFAX represents the past and the present to the Jewish community of Los Angeles and is now at long last addressing itself to the future!” 

The event was designed to mimic the look and feel of a classic movie premiere. As such,“Celebrate Fairfax" featured a short film “By the Rivers of Babylon” about the Fairfax community, a jazz dance performance, Yiddish theatrical presentations, and a gala street party. The event also included the presentation of Israel’s Bicentennial gift to the City of Los Angeles in the form of poster by famed Israeli artist Yaakov Agam. Perhaps due to the fact that the ticket prices for “Celebrate Fairfax" were beyond what most local residents could afford, the event, much to the chagrin of its organizers, did not sellout.  And yet, “Celebrate Fairfax” introduced and represented a new form of neighborhood engagement that sought to publicly mark and designate the area as a Jewish space. In the years following "Celebrate Fairfax” community organizations sponsored and spearheaded additional neighborhood-based cultural heritage projects such as the creation of the Fairfax Community Mural, the renaming the Fairfax Avenue/ Beverly Boulevard intersection Raoul Wallenberg Square (in honor of the Swedish Diplomat who helped rescue Hungarian Jews during the Second World War), and the "Treasures of Fairfax" festival, all of which highlighted and promoted the link between the area and its Jewish character. 

Sources: Celebrate Fairfax! (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Hal Sloane Associates, 1980); Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, The Fairfax Community Mural: An Intergenerational Project Celebrating the History of the Jews of Los Angeles. (Los Angeles: Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, 1985); Mathis Chazanov, “Jewish Historical Mural--Sans Color--to Be Unveiled Sunday: Dedication Sunday,” Los Angeles Times, September 5, 1985; Mathis Chazanov, “Keeping Memories Alive: Fairfax Intersection Named for Swedish Envoy Who Saved Thousands Wallenberg: Memorial Square,” Los Angeles Times, September 25, 1986; Chazanov, “Mural Panel Studies Jews’ Life in L.A.,” Los Angeles Times, October 25, 1984; Lynn C Kronzek and Southern California Jewish Historical Society, Fairfax Home, a Community, a Way of Life (Los Angeles: Jewish Historical Society of Southern California, 1990); Nancy Ackbarali, "Change and the Elderly in Fairfax," box 133, Barbara G. Myerhoff papers, University Archives, Special Collections, USC Libraries. 

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