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Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

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Sh. Shulman: Notes from a Former Teacher in the Folk-shul, Pt. 1

“Notes from a Former Teacher in the Folk-shul [Yiddishist, Labor Zionist elementary school]” by Sh. Shulman, Pt. 1.
As appears in Khesbn (The Reckoning), vol. 1 (1946): 84-88.
Translated by Mark L. Smith.
[Translator’s note: words underlined were written in English, but with Yiddish letters; names of well-known persons are spelled as they usually appear in English.]

When I came to Los Angeles in 1919, it was then almost the very beginning of the local folk-shul movement (at that time, “the national radical shule1 ).
I say almost, because an attempt had already been made in 1913, before the outbreak of the First World War — so we were told by our older colleagues in the local Poale tsien [“workers of Zion,” affiliated with the pioneering Labor Zionist movement of pre-state Israel].
The meetings for the founding of a folk-shul would be held at the house of our colleague, Y. Naumov [I. S. Neumov] — who is still active to this day — at the corner of Breed and Michigan streets in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, then the chief center of the local Jewish community.
We were even successful in getting classrooms in the Cornwall public [elementary] school.
The teachers were volunteers. Colleagues from the P.Ts., Noah Mishkovsky, L. Steinberg, and Dr. L. Blass (Dr. L. Blass at that time belonged to the P.Ts.); at the same time, they published a paper, “Di idishe folk-shul,” edited by A. Tanis and the director, Dr. Ostrovski. Unfortunately, it did not enjoy length of days. Only two issues appeared. The school, unfortunately, also did not last long. After the outbreak of the First World War, it closed.
As everyone knows, after the outbreak of the war, a wave of hatred spread across the entire country against the foreign born and especially against their languages. And the folk-shul was driven out of the public school building.
With that closed the first chapter of the local shule.
But the idea of educating our youth as nationally conscious progressive Jews lived on in the hearts of our colleagues. They did not abandon the hope of reopening the shule at the first opportunity.
And the opportunity came with the end of the First World War.
Many young people streamed to the shores of the Pacific, and particularly to the southern part of California. Los Angeles became the mecca of Jewish youth and dreamers. The small Jewish community quickly became a warm corner for such people. Among them was a goodly number of poale-tsien members. With their youthful energy, they made it possible to reopen the folk-shul — on a sounder basis.
The shule reopened as a Saturday-Sunday school, downtown, at Third and Spring Streets, in a large building, on the fifth “floor.”
The shule was opened downtown in order to give an opportunity for all Jews in the far-flung Jewish community of Los Angeles to bring their children to shule, not considering how unfortunate such a place is for children.
When the children were given a breaktime, the teachers were always afraid that something unfortunate, God-forbid, might happen. Children are still children, and they would climb onto the roof and everywhere else . . . and the teachers were more concerned about the breaktime than about their cultural stewardship.
This forced the teachers to become the agitators and initiators of the drive to buy a home for the Yiddish folk-shul. Simultaneously, it should serve as a cultural center; and this should be in a concentrated Jewish neighborhood.
In truth, at the beginning, the “big businessmen” ridiculed them and derided the practicality and achievability of being able to secure such a house, which could be transformed into a daily shule and simultaneously into a cultural center.
But the lowly teachers found such a house at 420 North Soto Street; however, the business wizards argued that it was too expensive: the price of the house is too high. For a time, they put the “deal” on hold and tried to find something cheaper. The end result was that they returned to the above-mentioned house.
When negotiations were restarted with the homeowner, the price had already risen. They threw in another $500.00 — a reward for their commercial farsightedness.
The house began to be rebuilt. Our friends among the common people contributed their free weekend time to help break out certain walls and make space for large daily classes, and also space for cultural events.
With this work, our friends’ enthusiasm increased for building a center for all national activities of the neighborhood.
All of this was done under the leadership of the very modest and diligent scholar, the teacher [Solomon L.] Skoss (incidentally, Mr. Skoss is now instructor of near-eastern languages at Dropsie College, Philadelphia); and the modest and very active colleague Nathan Raider. N. Raider was the purchaser and financial genius in borrowing from friends — five, ten, at most fifty, dollars. With these loans the first sums were gathered together for the down payment on the house.
The lender friends were given the following pitch:
1) When, God-willing, the official opening of the folk-shul takes place, people with money will pour in to buy mitsves [“good deeds”] . . . and a bit of honor. And even the poorest will still want to buy an aliye [the honor of being called up to join the public reading of the Torah], which will bring in enough money to cover the first expenditures, and still leave something in the bank.
2) Each will get his money back with honor.
Overall, it was partially accomplished. The first part — less well. There was much commotion — little money.
Troubles began to pour down on poor Raider. But he received this all with love, as it was his custom to the last days of his life.
Finally, the building was completed and the folk-shul was converted into a daily school...

1Shule is the Yiddish word adopted by secular left-leaning Jewish organizations for supplementary Jewish schools with a non-religious Yiddish orientation, as distinguished from the more traditional term shul, which can mean either school or synagogue.
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