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Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

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Chaver Paver (Gershon Einbinder): Friendship in Bygone Years in California (Zalmen Pt. 11)

Friendship In Bygone Years in California (Di khavershaft yene yorn in kalifornye)

from Zalmen the Cobbler: Chapters about his 70 years of Life in America (Zalmen der shuster: kapitlen vegn zayne zibtsik yor lebn in Amerike) by Chaver Paver (Gershon Einbinder). Los Angeles: Chaver-Paver Book Committee, 1955: 238-242.
Translated by Caroline Luce, edited by Hershl Hartman.

California is a precious land. One grows to love her in a profound love. As for the Hamans*? We will outlive them just we have outlived all the previous Hamans.
I loved California every day, in the mornings and in the evenings, when I awoke and when I went to bed. The main concern then was a bit of income, but in those years one never needed a lot. Everything was so cheap, both rent and food. Now it’s almost more expensive than in New York.
When still back in Nashville, I used to go outside at dawn and watch as the city awoke. Here, in California, just as a devout Jew who never fails to say the morning- prayer, I have not yet failed to come out of my house early in the morning and, if the sky is clear, watched as the sun rose. Workers on my street, who also appear every day at dawn with their lunch boxes to go work, know me well. They see me often standing so entranced, entirely immersed in the rising sun, that they no doubt think I was one of those who prayed to the sun.
I really do pray to the sun almost every day. In my thoughts I pray for myself and for all those who toil and struggle to shoe, clothe and feed the world, and who soon need to enter the workshops and factories. I pray that justice may shine down on all equally, just as the brilliance of the sun shines down on all equally...and more and many more thoughts come to me as I regard the golden purity of the sun that rises in the east predicting good fortune and joy.
And when I would come back into the house, I would smile to my wife and children and say to them: “A new day is being born and we are all becoming renewed with fresh strength and desire to live and to do.”
Nowadays when I go out at dawn to watch the sun rising, I think entirely different thoughts. I wonder if, in the future, when the sun rises in the early morning, it will encounter any living thing on the earth, or whether it will instead meet a devastated world burned to ashes, which the people destroyed and burned with their own hands. But I often drive such thoughts out of my mind. I cast them out, because I have always believed in the good sense of people, and that they would never allow such a thing to occur. And again a joy comes to me and I see as in prophecies, that in the future my great-great-great-grandchild will stand at dawn and become enraptured by the brilliance of the sun, just like his great-great-great-grandfather, Zalmen the Cobbler.
Yes, I love California every day, in the mornings and in the evenings, when I arise and when I go to bed. But it is the truly good taste of those years, those first years, that remains on my palate.
In those years in California I met Jews, and also people of other ethnicities, who had endured enough hard times, tortured and sick in the northern states, and they came here in order to come to themselves a little, and as a result there was a great camaraderie among everyone. One could see this friendship on Sundays in the parks and at the shores of the sea.
Even to this day in parks and at the beaches entire landsmanshaftn gather together, and I don’t mean groups of countrymen from the same shtetl or city on the other side of the ocean, I mean associations of those who came from the same city or even the same state in North America.
More people came here from Iowa than from any other state. The climate there was really hostile and violent, and in those times (maybe now too, I don’t know), people conducted an annual giant picnic in Sycamore Park at which thousands of countrymen from the state of Iowa would gather together.
Jews at that time clung more tightly to one another, as they do at the present time. In Hollenbeck Park and Lincoln Park on Sundays, landsmanshaftn from Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and other cities used to converge. People would meet at the stone grills that the city had built especially for the parks and cook various delicacies, to sit together at the long tables, also especially built by the city, and to celebrate a feast of comradeship. People back then didn’t play cards as much as now when they get together. At that time people sang songs together, recited poems, discussed political or literary matters. Now, when people gather together in parks, they partake avidly in a “geymke” [little game], as it’s called in card-language. Almost every table is occupied by the “Sons of Cards Congregation” — men and women alike.
In those years, however, Boyle Heights was populated in part by pure idealists. All Yiddish radicals nested there. Clubs for sports and literature, for singing and for drama, were immediately established. I have already told you of the Jewish Hiking Club that had the goal of climbing the tallest mountains in California. My Goldie really liked the Song Society. In general, she loves when people sing. She didn’t sing when alone, but in the parks at the picnics she sat near a group where people sang and she would listen and laugh. When anything gave her pleasure, she laughed.
It was through the Song Society of that day that we became acquainted with the beach in Ocean Park. The Song Society conducted an outing to the beach in Ocean Park. And Sunday morning, our friend, Khayim Baker, a member of the Song Society, picked us up and took us to the ocean. He drove to us in an old jalopy. Six people were already inside: his four kids and his wife. And when I, my Goldie, and our two younger kids were inside, there were ten. We sat crowded together but in good cheer and set off to Ocean Park. The people in the passing cars made fun of our old, barely-breathing jalopy, and of us, the big old gang. But what difference did their making fun of us make? It was to us “khorosho” [Russian: very good].
But we were not the only ones. Many similar old jalopies, packed with large families, were headed to the ocean. The ocean in California is endless. It is everywhere, the Pacific, and everywhere on the sandy coasts on summer Sundays there arise cries of human children mixed with the roars and the beat of tempestuous waves crashing on the coast.
Ocean Park, near Venice, was the Jewish beach. Practically all of Boyle Heights was there on a Sunday, stretched out on the sand half-naked, taking pleasure in God’s earth. We, too, spread out on the sand half-naked, in the area where the Song Society assembled, and soon a large mass of strangers gathered around us, because we sang Yiddish songs. We were young then. We, the “biednota” [Russian: poor farmers], the poverty stricken, used every tiny bit of good, that the riches of nature in California gave us.

* Hamans is a symbol of anti-Semitism. As told in the Book of Esther, In the story, Haman and his wife Zeresh instigate a plot to kill all of the Jews of ancient Persia. Haman attempts to convince the King, Ahasuerus, to order the execution of Mordecai and all the Jews of the lands he ruled, but the heroic Queen Esther, the king's recent wife who is herself a Jew, foils their plot. 
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