Sign in or register
for additional privileges

Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

You appear to be using an older verion of Internet Explorer. For the best experience please upgrade your IE version or switch to a another web browser.

Itshe Nokhumzon: Los Angeles Jewish Community Council, Pt. 1

"Los Angeles Jewish Community Council" by Itshe Nokhumzon [Itche Nochomson] 
As appears in Khesbn (The Reckoning), vol. 1 (1946): 25-31.
Translated by Mark L. Smith.
[Translator's note: words underlined were written in English, but with Yiddish letters.]

Writing about the Jewish Community Council of this city, one could easily prepare a thick book and yet not give a suitable picture of the growth of Jewish communal life here in the city. A kehile [organized Jewish community] or a community council does not establish itself; a community is not born overnight; it begins with something and it undergoes various levels of growth; there is always a beginning and certain developmental phases until it reaches the status of a kehile or a council. Our Jewish community in Los Angeles began to form about a hundred years ago. And certain institutions were formed on the initiative of individual groups that were entirely separate from each other.
 And to write separately about each institution would lead us far astray, and in any event that this not the purpose of the present article. I will, therefore, give a brief outline of how our local community began to form and then turn to the actual theme, jumping over many stages of development that are not relevant to the article because I have in mind chiefly to write about the Council as it is presently configured and how it functions. In that case, the words of the Hagode [Passover Haggadah] are altogether fitting — be-mate me’at [from a few people] — the Los Angeles Jewish community began with a very small number of Jews. It’s well known that there were already a few Jews in Los Angeles before California came under the jurisdiction of the United States.
It is recorded that in 1845 (a year before the annexation) there were already a number of unmarried Jews here, and, of course, none who were permanently established. In the American census of 1850, six Jews were counted in the California Territory.1
It is reported that in 1851, in Los Angeles, the Jews Hermann Schlesinger, Baruch Marks, Hilliard Lowenstein and Solomon Lazard were active in business. Arriving in L.A. in 1852 was Joseph P. Newmark, who settled here and became the force that began to breathe a soul into Jewish communal life here in the city. Through the initiative of Joseph Newmark certain institutions emerged, such as those for philanthropic, cultural, social, and also religious purposes. He founded the first “Hebrew Benevolent Society.” The Newmark family was blessed; it increased and developed, it expanded, and took part in every important institution here in the city. One can say that for nearly a century they grew and observed the growth of our local Jewish community. They were the witnesses to the mighty growth from barely a minyan [prayer quorum] of Jews in the fifties of the past century to more than 200,000 Jewish souls in the present day, and the large number of important institutions, such as hospitals, sanitariums, orphans' home, old-age home, teaching organizations, synagogues and many others, which give prominence and prestige to a city. When organizations and institutions begin to emerge in large numbers, a certain coordination becomes necessary in order not to step on each others’ toes. A certain systematization is needed, although all of the institutions can remain autonomous. Such coordination can be achieved only with a kehile or a community council. Such a connection was indeed also achieved with the rise of the local Jewish Community Council.
With the rise of Hitler in 1933, many things happened. The Jews outside of Germany sensed strongly that a great cloud hovered over all Jews, wherever they may be. They felt in their bones that for the Jews it would be much healthier if all of the splintered groupings joined together in a common body to mount resistance to hateful external assaults with unified strength. Thus, here in 1933 an organization was founded that gave itself the name, “Jewish Community Council of Los Angeles.” The provisional president was George Harry Holzer, with Walter S. Holborn its secretary. Of course, such an organization, which bears the character of a kehile, cannot exist unless it is representative of the different organizations in the city. And it was not at all easy to bring together many organizations; many had doubts and were concerned for their own autonomy — a great many doubted whether it would come into existence. But it was after all a success in attracting a number of organizations, and a program of specified functions was adopted. In March 1934, a permanent organization was created and officials were elected: president, George Holzer; vice presidents, Chaim Shapiro, David Familian, Mrs. Ferguson, Dr. L. G. Reynolds, Samuel Briskin; secretary, Walter S. Holborn; treasurer, Philip Stein.
 In the fall of 1934, George Lester Roth organized a program of activity, but it was understood that the program would not be limited; that improvements could be introduced as the time and circumstances might require. From the start, the Council was engaged in the question of “mushroom synagogues,” meaning those tiny synagogues that sprout overnight and arise from the greed of one person, or a few, to make a few “dollars” in certain seasons. One of the burning questions was also the question of kashres [kosher certification of businesses], which is such a tangle that it is difficult to disentangle. Jewish education was also on the agenda, and more than everything, occupied the Welfare Board. In 1935, the question arose of founding a Jewish education bureau under the name, “Bureau of Jewish Education.” In 1936, the fight again “mushroom synagogues” took an important place. It was of interest to the “Board of Jewish Rabbis.” Of course, the rabbis of the established synagogues looked askance at new synagogues. But the main thrust of the fight was against the immoral people who called themselves “rabbi” or “reverend,” those who had never received ordination nor graduated from any rabbinical seminary. People who had no connection to synagogues, if they were religiously observant, also had to become interested in the fight, because the problem would lead to lawlessness, and one area of lawlessness leads to a second and a third. To a degree, the fight, which continues to the present day, was successful. In 1938, the “Jewish Division” was founded. The chief aim in founding the division was to engage the youth of the city in helping with the fundraising work of the Welfare Board, and also to coordinate the various youth activities that took place in our city. In all of the organized bodies, there were constantly friction and differences of opinion, as a result of which the name of “The United Jewish Community of Los Angeles” was changed in 1936 to “The Los Angeles Jewish Conference.” Thereafter, it was changed again to “Los Angeles Jewish Council.” Later, it was changed to the present name, “The Los Angeles Jewish Community Council.” In July 1937, it was incorporated under this name. One could say that since then the local Council began to become the actual body that occupied the place of a city kehile. Since then, the Council introduced coordination to the healing institutions of our city. It was occupied with fundraising, with charitable institutions, and many other aspects of communal and society activity.

1 See article by Samuel C. Kohs, "The Jewish Community in Los Angeles," Gedank un lebn/The Jewish Review (July-October, 1944). [Translator's note: in addition to the statistics cited, this paragraph and the subsequent four sentences are translations into Yiddish from the aforementioned article by Kohs, page 88.] 
Comment on this page

Discussion of "Itshe Nokhumzon: Los Angeles Jewish Community Council, Pt. 1"

Add your voice to this discussion.

Checking your signed in status ...

Previous page on path Khesbn (Reckoning), page 6 of 31 Next page on path