In Search of Fairfax

Jewish Defense League

Rabbi Meir Kahane established the Jewish Defense League (JDL) in New York in 1968 as a militant and ultranationalist organization dedicated to  strengthening Jewish life and protecting Jews against all forms of anti-Jewish aggression. In 1971, the organization, under the leadership of San Fernando Valley native and Air Force Veteran Irv Rubin, set up a headquarters in Los Angeles at 509 N. Fairfax Avenue. Within a few months, the organization claimed about 150 members, most of whom were between the ages of 18 and 25.

From the perspective of the Jewish Defense League, the leaders of the Jewish establishment prioritized affluence, middle-class conformity, and the ideal of assimilation into American society over the well-being of the Jewish community. Seeking to fill a supposed communal void, Jewish Defense League in Los Angeles pursued a range of activities under the guise of Jewish self-interest. This entailed vandalizing retail stores that sold Soviet products (as a way to protest the Soviet government's treatment of Jews) and initiating violent attacks upon white supremacist organizations throughout Southern California. 

Protecting the Beverly-Fairfax neighborhood from outsiders was also high on their agenda. To this end, they established a community patrol that aimed to "protect" the neighborhood from the African-American students that transferred to Fairfax High School and were supposedly assaulting, robbing, and harassing Jewish students and local merchants. While the JDL fashioned itself as an organization concerned with the wellbeing of Fairfax’s Jewish community, they were also accused of stealing merchandise and extorting money from shopkeepers as well as spreading false rumors about African-American students.

The JDL was routinely condemned and criticized by mainstream Jewish organizations as racist, delusional, and irresponsible. Trying to prevent JDL activists from assuming positions of respectability and influence within Jewish communal affairs, the Community Relations Committee and the Anti-Defamation League ran spy networks to track the JDL’s activities and publicly encouraged others to not “support financially or otherwise, or to affiliate” with the JDL. The JDL ultimately failed to attract widespread support throughout the Jewish masses. Nevertheless, by emphasizing Jewish survival and Jewish pride, the JDL helped to heighten forms of Jewish consciousness and ethnic awareness throughout Los Angeles and compelled mainstream organizations to dedicate more of their resources to specific Jewish causes such as preserving the ethno-religious character of the Fairfax neighborhood. 

Sources: John Dart, “Jewish Defense League Opens West Coast Headquarters Here,” Los Angeles Times, March 30, 1971; Skip Ferderber, “Jewish Defense League’s Roar Heard in Land: Role of Agency Both Praised and Criticized,” Los Angeles Times, June 18, 1972.; “Jewish Defense League, Los Angeles” 1971 (?), S/S Jewish Defense League folder, Box 223, Group 2, Series IV, CRC; “Jewish Defense League” memo, December 11 1971, Jewish Defense League Resource File folder, Box 226, Group 14, Series IV, CRC; “A Symbol of Cowardice,” Jewish Defense League Newsletter, December 11, 1971, Jewish Defense League Resource File folder, Box 226, Group 14, Series IV, CRC. 

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