Los Angeles is a city in S. California with approximately 4,000,000 inhabitants occupying 469 square miles of territory; the third most populous city in the U.S. and the largest city in area in the world. Los Angeles County is the home of some 565,000 (2022) Jews, an increase of 9% since the last survey in 1997. Only New York City has a larger American Jewish population.
The origins of the city go back to the early Spanish colonization of California. Los Angeles was formally dedicated as a pueblo on Sept. 4, 1781, with 44 inhabitants. The town grew slowly to 1,100 inhabitants by 1840. A year later the first party of pioneers traveled overland to Los Angeles from the Middle West of the U.S. With them was Jacob Frankfort, the first Jewish resident of Los Angeles. The accession of California to the U.S. in 1850 as an aftermath of the Mexican War and the discovery of gold brought a surge of Jews from Western Europe and the Eastern U.S. to seek a quick fortune. The majority did not engage in gold mining but opened stores in the small towns and mining camps of northern California. The prosperity filtered down to the rancho country of southern California and to the small town of Los Angeles, which was its marketing and commercial center. A Los Angeles census of 1850 revealed a total of 1,610 inhabitants of which eight are recognizably Jewish: Morris Michaels, aged 19, Portland, Oregon; Abraham Jacobi, 25, Poland; Morris L. Goodman, 24, Germany; Philip Sichel, 28, Germany; Augustine Wasserman, 24, Germany; Felix Bachman, 28, Germany; Joseph Plumer, 24, Germany; and Jacob Frankfort, 40, Germany; all were unmarried and merchants, except for Frankfort who was a tailor. The Jewish population, in the wake of economic expansion, increased rapidly. Jews came from San Francisco and the East and directly from Germany and promptly set up businesses, or, procuring carts and wagons, began to trade with the prosperous Spanish rancheros. Jewish services probably began on the High Holidays in 1851 and were more formally established with the arrival of Joseph Newmark (1799–1881) in 1854. Rabbinically trained and traditionally oriented, he was the patriarch of the Jewish community until his death. Services were held in various rented and borrowed places until the first synagogue was built in 1873 at 273 N. Fort Street (now Broadway). The first visit of the artist S.N. Carvalho, in 1854, directly stimulated the founding of the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles. Carvalho influenced his host, Samuel Labatt, to establish a philanthropic society and a Jewish cemetery. Thirty charter members elected S.K. Labatt as president; Charles Schachno, vice president; Jacob Elias, secretary and treasurer; and S. Lazard and H. Goldberg, trustees. This was the first social welfare
Population Growth and Communal Development
At the beginning of the 20th century large numbers of East European Jews began to migrate to Los Angeles to begin in their turn the ascent to prestige, status, and security. Their movement to Los Angeles was aided by the Industrial Removal Office in New York, which sent them as part of a grand dispersal design. Approximately 2,000 Jews went to Los Angeles through this source of assistance, and subsequently brought their families. In 1900 the Los Angeles population was 102,000 and the Jews numbered 2,500. Twenty years later the Jews constituted 40,000 out of 576,000, and by 1930 the Jews numbered 70,000 out of 1,200,000. The rapid increase of population created for the first time recognizably Jewish neighborhoods. By 1920 the three major areas of Jewish concentration were Temple Street, Boyle Heights, and the Central Avenue district. The early Jewish community organizations, Congregation B'nai B'rith, B'nai B'rith Lodge No. 224, which had been established in 1874, the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society established in 1870, and the Hebrew Benevolent Society were by this time insufficient to meet the needs of a new era. The high percentage of Jews coming west for their health made the establishment of medical institutions the first order of communal business. In 1902 the private home of Kaspare Cohn was donated to become the Kaspare Cohn Hospital. A few years later, the hospital was forced to move outside the city when the treatment of tuberculosis, its main business, was declared illegal within the city limits. In 1911 the Jewish Consumptive Relief Association was established and began to build a sanitarium at Duarte for consumptives who came to seek relief; this evolved into today's City of Hope Medical Center. For the elderly people the Hebrew Sheltering Home was established, to become the Jewish Home for the Aged. In 1910 B'nai B'rith was the moving force for the establishment of the Hebrew Orphans Home, whose name ultimately became Vista Del Mar. In 1912 the Federation of Jewish Charities was established to unite all fundraising for Jewish institutions. The Kaspare Cohn Hospital gradually transformed itself into a general hospital. It gradually altered its character as a charity hospital and began to charge patients. In 1926 it moved to facilities on Fountain Street near Vermont Avenue and was renamed the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. The first meeting of the Federation of Jewish Charities was held in 1912 with Ben R. Meyer, the son-in-law of Kaspare Cohn, as president, and included Dr. David W. Edelman, son of Rabbi Edelman and the president of the Reform congregation; Louis M. Cole, son-in-law of I.W. Hellman; M.N. Newmark and Isaac Norton, members of pioneer families; and S.G. Marshutz of B'nai B'rith, the founder of the Orphans Home. They typified the local Jewish leadership, to whom philanthropy was central in Jewish community life. The first decade of the 20th century was marked by a transition from charity aid to social welfare. During World War I overseas needs began to assume a large role in the philanthropy of the Jewish community. In 1934 the United Jewish Community was organized alongside the United Jewish Welfare Fund and the United Community Committee, which was established to fight antisemitism. The new leaders were mostly lawyers and not men of inherited wealth. Men like Lester W. Roth, Harry A. Holzer, Benjamin J. Scheinman, and Mendel B. Silberberg
In the early 1900s Congregation B'nai B'rith, which had served the entire community since 1861, was joined by the first Orthodox congregation, Beth Israel or the "Olive Street Schul." In 1906 Congregation Sinai, the first Conservative congregation was organized and built its first edifice three years later. Isadore Meyers was rabbi and his successors included Rudolph Farber, David Liknaitz, Moses Rosenthal, and Jacob Kohn. The congregation grew and moved in 1930 to an imposing edifice at 4th and New Hampshire streets. Two rabbis and two congregations towered over the religious life in Los Angeles Jewry until World War II. Wilshire Boulevard Temple was founded in 1860. It was classical Reform, with a magnificent structure erected in the 1920s on Wilshire Boulevard representing the affluence of its membership, including many of the movie colony. It was the "established" congregation of the Jewish community. Hushed worship, the garments of the minister, the mixed choir, the centrality of the sermon, and the absence of bar mitzvah, all marked the Reform temple. Its rabbi was Edgar F. Magnin (1890–1984). Under his influence membership rose from 300 to 2,000, to become reputedly the largest congregation in the United States. In 1930 Dr. Jacob Kohn (1881–1968) arrived at Congregation Sinai. He became renowned for his liberal forthrightness, philosophical depth, and Jewish scholarship. Rabbi Oser Zilberstein of the Breed Street Shul (1891–1973) was the preeminent Orthodox rabbi of his generation. At the end of World War II 150,000 Jews lived in Greater Los Angeles, an increase of 20,000 since the war began.
The major growth of the Jewish population in Los Angeles began after 1945 when thousands of war veterans and others moved West with their families. The city's population multiplied and the Jewish community grew apace. By 1948 the Jewish population was a quarter of a million, representing an increase of 2,000 people a month as Jews moved West in one of the great migrations in Jewish history. The Middle West was the major area of origin; perhaps 38% of the Jewry in Los Angeles in 1951 were from the Chicago area. In 1951 it was estimated that 330,000 Jews lived in Los Angeles. Dozens of suburban communities founded during this period were swiftly absorbed in the spreading Los Angeles metropolis. By 1965 the Jewish population of Los Angeles had reached half a million and the community had become one of the largest centers of Jewish population.
The vast increase in the Jewish population resulted in a proliferation of congregations, synagogues, and religious functionaries. The national movement of the religious denominations "discovered" Los Angeles as the United Synagogue established its Pacific Southwest Region, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations established its Southern Pacific Region, and rabbis by the dozen wended their way West. By 1968 there were 150 congregations and even more rabbis in Los Angeles. The largest congregations were Wilshire Blvd. Temple, Temple Israel of Hollywood, Temple Emanuel, Temple Beth Hillel, and Temple Isaiah (Reform); Temple Beth Am, Valley Jewish Community Center, Sinai Temple, Hollywood Temple Beth El, and Valley Beth Sholom (Conservative); and Beth Jacob and Shaarei Tefillah (Orthodox).
All three branches of Judaism established schools of higher Jewish learning after 1945. The Jewish Theological Seminary established the University of Judaism, which in turn developed a Hebrew Teachers' College, a School of the Fine Arts, the Graduate School, and an extensive program of adult Jewish studies. Hebrew Union College similarly developed a branch in Los Angeles with a rabbinical preparatory school, cantors' training school, and a Sunday school teachers program.
Yeshiva University established a branch specializing in teacher training and adult education. All three institutions had extensive programs of public education and public lectures and exercised a maturing effect on the growing Los Angeles Jewish community. Brandeis Camp Institute, near the city, with a college camp, children's camp, and weekend cultural retreats exerted a cultural influence on the Jewish community; other summer camps were educational influences for children. The Bureau of Jewish Education did much to raise the level of teaching and encouraged and subsidized Hebrew secondary schools. By 1968 the Los Angeles Hebrew High School, the largest, had more than 500 students.
The community centers were organized under the Jewish Centers Association, founded in 1943. By 1968 there were the following neighborhood centers: The Olympic Jewish Center and the Valley Cities Jewish Center, the Los Feliz Jewish Center and the Bay Cities Jewish Center, the West Valley Jewish Center and the North Valley Jewish Center, all under professional direction. The directors of the Jewish Centers Association since the Second World War were Meyer E. Fichman, Bertram H. Gold, who later became the long-time head of the American Jewish Committee, and Charles Mesnick.
Los Angeles has been the capital of the movie industry. The development of films moved from New York to Los Angeles beginning in 1912. Film distributors or exhibitors like Marcus Loew, Adolph Zukor, William Fox, Carl Laemmle, Lewis Selznick, Samuel Goldfish (later Goldwyn), and Louis B. Mayer, many of whom had started in the clothing business,
Jews, too, were strongly represented in the research, electronic, aircraft, and educational institutions that dotted southern California. The University of California at Los Angeles, for instance, which reputedly had only one Jewish professor in the 1930s, had over 400 Jewish scholars on its faculty 30 years later. As elsewhere, Jews founded thriving practices in medicine, law, and accounting, and were heavily concentrated in furniture, food, sportswear, and retail merchandising. By 1968 Jewish mobility had brought an end to the formerly Jewish Boyle Heights, Adams Street, Temple Street, Wilshire District, and other areas of Jewish concentration. Jews settled in the western and newer sections of sprawling Los Angeles – Westwood, Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills. In the San Fernando Valley 100,000 Jews resided in communities from North Hollywood westward to the city limits. Other Jewish communities had been established in the San Gabriel Valley, while thousands moved to Orange County.
Swift currents of change that swept over the Jewish community during the 1970s and 1980s profoundly affected Jewish life in Los Angeles. In summary they were (1) the drastically reshaped demographics of a city which at a mind-boggling pace underwent an immigrant-driven transformation into America's first Third World city. This ethnic revolution had powerful Jewish consequences including the need for reexamination of Jewish self-identity; (2) profound internal religious changes, marked by significant movement toward increased adherence to historical traditions, alongside equally striking departures from traditional views and practices; (3) the assumption by the Los Angeles Jewish Federation of responsibilities and objectives commensurate with newly perceived qualitative needs of the world's second largest Jewish community (after New York).
THE DEMOGRAPHIC REVOLUTION IN LOS ANGELES
California in the 1980s grew by six million people, the biggest human surge in any state in U.S. history, with estimates of an additional million immigrants by the end of the century. One-third of the new arrivals settled in Southern California, increasing its population to 14.5 million. Greater Los Angeles had abruptly become the largest metropolitan center in the country. It also had ceased to be a European outpost and was now a multi-racial world nation. Some 75% of the immigrants were Hispanic, Asian, and black. By the end of the 1980s, 51% of Los Angeles residents were Hispanic or nonwhite. Between 1980 and 1998, the Latino population of the United States doubled to 30 million, establishing Hispanics as the single largest minority community in the country. By 2003, 38 percent of L.A.'s population identified itself as Hispanic, resulting in portentous shifts in the city's political, economic, and cultural tectonics. The renaming of Brooklyn Avenue in the pre-war Jewish stronghold of Boyle Heights to Avenida Cesar Chavez in 1995 was one early indication of this demographic change. The election in 2005 of Antonio Villaraigosa, the city's first Hispanic mayor in over a century, signified a demographic sea change, although the vagaries of identity politics did not solely determine the outcome of this contest.
The city's Asian community, largely Chinese and Japanese, who in the 19th century had been viewed as ignorant, laboring class "coolies," had begun immigrating to the West Coast as colonizers of the Pacific Rim. Many were well educated, with massive investments in corporations and real estate. Others from Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, and dozens of other countries seemingly overnight established and built retail businesses, bought homes, and transformed neighborhoods. As examples, Monterey Park, a former Jewish enclave, became the Western world's first Chinese suburban city. Elite San Marino, which once staunchly restricted Jews, became 46% Asian. Congregation Judea in the midst of the Jewish Fairfax area was transformed in 1975 into a robust Korean Presbyterian church. California State University, Los Angeles, in 1989 had the following student profile: of 20,000 students, 30% were Latino, 11.5% Asian, 11.5% black, and 30% white. The vice president for academic affairs of the state college system announced that: "Cal State-L.A. is probably close in its student body representation to what any university campus in California, public or private, is going to look like in the early 21st century." These demographic estimates were inescapably destined to be among the powerful determinants of the character of Jewish life in the coming century.
THE JEWISH POPULATION OF LOS ANGELES
By 1989, Los Angeles Jewry was stable after a period of rapid growth. Another 90,000 Jews had settled in neighboring Orange County. The Greater Los Angeles Jewish community was now numerically larger than the Jewish population of any country other than the United States, Israel, and the Soviet Union. Some of the population increase represented the sunbelt-driven migration from the East and Middle West to Florida and the West Coast. A substantial portion of the new immigrants came from Israel (probably 50,000, although estimates ranged as
In 1991 2,900 Jews from the Soviet Union came to Los Angeles. By 1997, the number of Russian Jews arriving went to well below 1,000. Jews from the former Soviet Union were estimated at 24,500 according to the 1997 LAJPS, making this the third or fourth largest concentration after New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. Their presence in West Hollywood earned the neighborhood the nickname "Little Odessa." The Iranian Jewish presence is believed to number 18,000, the largest such concentration in the U.S. The Persian community, which has almost exclusively settled in the city's wealthy West Side and San Fernando Valley, is religiously, socially, and culturally distinct. Many have brought with them the skills of merchants. Others live in more humble circumstances, with trouble adjusting to their adopted country. Shops with Farsi and English signs dot the West Side. Their supermarkets and shops have the feel of Teheran. Eighty percent of the Iranian refugees coming to the U.S. resettled in L.A. and they transplanted to L.A. much of the leadership of the Tehrani Jewish community including the chief rabbi and Iranian Federation.
In addition, there are sizeable contingents from South Africa (the bulk of whom settled in Orange County and San Diego), Central Asia, South America, Australia, and Mexico. Like their Israeli counterparts, these immigrants have provided unique challenges to the Los Angeles Jewish community in matters of integration and acculturation. In contrast, a small but not insignificant community of Canadian Jews, most having arrived since the election of the separatist Parti Quebecois provincial government in 1976, many also highly trained professionals in pursuit of the material advantages offered by the American Dream, has blended into the existing community with such consummate ease as to render them nearly invisible.
Comprising half the Jews in California and perhaps as many as one in ten of the American Jewish population, Jewish Angelinos continue to enjoy pride of place in the finest sections of the city, including Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Westwood, the San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica, and Pacific Palisades. The Fairfax area continued to contain the largest single concentration of Jews in the city; Encino/Tarzana is a very close second. However, by 2005 the Fairfax area's Jewish ambiance came under siege, in part due to the influx of other ethnicities and also because various Jewish storefronts found themselves having to move out due to exorbitant rents due to the development of a new shopping mall, The Grove, in the heart of the old Jewish neighborhood. In terms of Jewish ambiance and vitality, the area has long been supplanted by Pico-Robertson and La Brea/Beverly – which is home to the more Orthodox community and has created the largest Jewish day school, Toras Emes, and numerous kolelim – some three miles to the southeast, which has emerged as the city's primary bastion of Orthodox Jewry. Synagogues, large and small, are found on Pico and Olympic Blvds. Elegant kosher restaurants and Judaica shops are also to be found along with fast food places, only distinguishable because of their kashrut certificate.
North Hollywood/Valley Village is a second Orthodox area, which also has many synagogues, restaurants, shops, etc.
Since the 1970s, Jewish Angelinos have played a major role in the political life of the community: the City Council,
These new realities contrasted sharply with the years from 1900 to 1960, when no Jew was elected to the City Council or the Board of Supervisors or to represent California in Sacramento or Washington. Nor were Jews considered worthy to be mentioned in the society pages of the Los Angeles Times or in the published social register. Their new status now meant that the organized Jewish community was, as a minority, enjoined to protect and advance its own interests but equally responsible, as a principal member of the white establishment, to seek the peace of the city, recognizing, to paraphrase Jeremiah, that only in its welfare, would they be at peace. This double identity was bound to create ambivalence and tension in the Jewish community in the years ahead. The Waxman-Berman machine, led by two veteran Jewish Congressmen Henry *Waxman and Howard *Berman, drew Jewish support for political campaigns. Zev Yaroslavsky made a seamless move from Jewish leadership to county commissioner. Three members of the City Council were Jewish in 2005 including an African American Jew by choice and the son of an Italian father and a Jewish mother. The national leadership of AIPAC has come from Los Angeles including Edward Sanders in the 1970s; he later served as the Jewish liaison for President Jimmy Carter. Lawrence and Barbara Weinberg played a unique role from Los Angeles in the expansion of AIPAC and Barbara, known as Barbie, in the establishment of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
A major implication for the local Jewish community, which became crucial by the turn of the 21st century, was that Los Angeles had become a multi-racial metropolis with ethnic ties to every race and region in the world. The Jewish community, representing some 15 percent of L.A. voters, had thrust upon it a double identity. It had the obligation to assert itself and protect its rights. But in a situation without precedent, it came to be seen by many ethnic groups, including its former allies in the African-American community and by the newly assertive Latino bloc it had hitherto overlooked, as an integral representative of the white establishment. While Jews and Hispanics shared some communal interests, such as quality schools, safe neighborhoods, economic development, and civil equality, they have parted on various religious and educational issues, and have clashed in the political arenas. Characteristically, Jewish liberals have proved vulnerable to charges within some Latino quarters that they are integrally right-leaning whites unsympathetic to Latino aspirations. This vulnerability, the result of demographic pressures, a discernible shift by Jews to the political right and, especially in the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, growing insularity and wariness, portends a decline in Jewish political power. Valley Jews tend to be middle class, ethnically diverse, somewhat conservative yet still supportive of public schools. Despite their predilection for progressive politics, West Side Jews remain staunch members of the city's power elites, and retreated from the public school system during the late 1970s, when school busing generated "White Flight." The defeat, in 2002, of efforts by the San Fernando Valley to secede from the Los Angeles municipality helped forestall the dramatic dissipation of Jewish clout.
The arrival of the Hispanic population, coupled with the withdrawal of Jewish stores and landlords from African-American neighborhoods, tended to dilute Black-Jewish tensions in the political arena.
The Religious Community
Judaism in Los Angeles was decisively shaped by a number of rabbis of varying denominations who were drawn westward by personal visions of what they might accomplish in a city largely unbeholden to Eastern power structures and patterns of organization. In a community capable of providing considerable human and physical resources if properly motivated, these rabbis created an opportunity to concentrate their energies as religious leaders along lines of personal interests and concerns. They became what might be termed rabbi-institution builders, rabbi-communal leaders, rabbi-social activists, rabbi-educators, and rabbi-visionaries. The following is a sampling of the impact on Judaism in Los Angeles by a few of the over 200 Los Angeles area rabbis.
The Orthodox leaders in Los Angeles before World War II had such little faith in their own future that their leading synagogue was called "the modern synagogue," and their significant events were given enhanced status by the participation of a local Reform rabbi or his president. The resurgence of Orthodoxy in post-war Los Angeles was fueled by some determined rabbis, who were confident that American Jews, however acculturated, would be receptive to a return to authentic tradition if it were attractively clothed in American values, if it secured serious media attention, and if it could be identified as the natural heir to the Jewish heart.
The most significant of centrist Orthodox synagogues, the Beth Jacob Congregation, was led by Rabbi Simon Dolgin who arrived in 1938 and relocated Beth Jacob from West Adams to Beverly Hills in the 1950s. He also established the Hillel School and had a distinguished career before moving to Israel in the early 1970s. He was one of the very few rabbis who moved to Israel, neither at the beginning nor at the end but at the prime of his American career, where he became director general of the Ministry of Religion and a rabbi in Ramat Eshkol.
Rabbi Marvin Hier moved into Los Angeles from Vancouver in 1977, intending to establish a yeshivah, but ultimately founded the *Simon Wiesenthal Center, which became the Los Angeles community's first national and international Jewish organization. Rabbi Hier came to Los Angeles just as what Jonathan Woocher termed "the Judaism of sacred survival" was
When Rabbi Hier came, lay leaders of the Rambam School approached him to take charge of the school. It reopened as Yeshiva University Los Angeles (YULA) and the school grew significantly. In 2002, Hier moved the YULA contingent that had shared the Wiesenthal Center's original building on Pico Boulevard into a new $12.6 million facility and a second school for girls on Robertson Blvd. Hier himself has been alternately criticized and credited for commandeering the bread-and-butter issues of longer-established organizations. There is little doubt, however, in his ability to interject himself as a key player on the world stage and in his cultivation of prominent state legislators (Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger once called the diminutive Hier "my hero"). He developed a broad based membership organization, mirroring the tactics used by political organizers so successfully, and he presents a self-confident, right-of-center American Orthodoxy. Taking seriously the organization's mission of tolerance, he has kept the Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance open to all groups. For example, it hosted a 1997 exhibition on Jackie Robinson's integration of baseball. Much to the chagrin of Federation leadership, who have not fared well in the entertainment community, he has navigated Hollywood celebrity and mastered documentary film-making (the center has won several Academy Awards for Holocaust-related films produced by his in-house film unit). Hier is an unflagging Jewish juggernaut, feared, respected, and taken quite seriously. He is also a well-established spokesman on Jewish issues. Unlike many professionals who need clearance from lay leaders for statements and must achieve consensus, Hier operates with great freedom.
Hier was the first to establish a Los Angeles-based national organization that rivaled and soon outgrew in membership many long-established East Coast organizations. Instead of establishing himself as a West Coast branch of Yeshiva University and living in its shadows, Hier worked independently and over 15 years ago the school severed its ties with YU. The original hopes for a West Coast university-level campus did not materialize beyond the high schools for boys and girls and adult learning.
Los Angeles has two Holocaust Museums and a Memorial. In addition to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum was established by the Federation and influential survivors as the Martyrs Memorial Museum, and after a 1994 earthquake forced the Federation to renovate its building, the Museum never returned. It has been independent since 2004. A Memorial of Six Pillars has been built in Pan Pacific Park adjacent to the Fairfax neighborhood. It is the site of the annual community Yom HaShoah observance. The Wiesenthal Center hosts its own. There are significant Holocaust education programs also at the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which in 2006 became part of the University of Southern California, at UCLA, and at the University of Judaism in addition to neighboring universities in Los Angeles suburbs such as Chapman University and Claremont-Mckenna College.
Rabbi Baruch Shlomo Cunin came to Los Angeles in the 1960s as the Rebbe's (Menachem Mendel *Schneersohn) emissary. His predecessor came in the 1950s, but did not last long. In subsequent years, Cunin became a major religious force in the state with an operating budget of $15 million from 50,000 contributors and was supported by a rabbinic staff of 106 impassioned young graduates of their yeshivah in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He established and controlled an imposing and growing array of synagogues, day schools, adult Torah study centers, and social projects such as a shelter for the homeless, a counseling center for battered women, and two drug treatment centers financed substantially by federal grants. Woven into the program were public relations sorties, featuring Judaism in the streets such as mitzvah mobiles, and Hanukkah lighting celebrations in shopping malls and city halls. The annual climax was a hyperkinetic telethon in which movie and television personalities vied for the mitzvah of raising five million dollars a year for their particularist form of hasidic Judaism. The death of Schneersohn in June 1994 split the Chabad movement between those who believe he had been and continued (despite his manifest physical demise) to be the long-awaited Messiah, and those who preferred to avoid unambiguous pronouncements as to his exalted status. However problematic theologically (the Rebbe's cult of personality, which he did little to contain during his latter years, sometimes skirted the Christological), such speculation has done little to daunt Chabad's outward expansion. The organization continues to inject itself into some of the least hospitable communities imaginable, which in Southern California include such hedonistic fleshpots as Malibu, Pacific Palisades, and Santa Monica, Huntington Beach, Irvine, and Yorba Linda. There are now 79 Chabad centers statewide, and despite occasional setbacks and resistance, no lessening in zeal for achieving a hasidic version of Manifest Destiny. Indeed, Chabad's high birthrate and unceasing generation of successive waves of energized, inner-directed missionary cadres suggests that growth and expansion have become vital organizational imperatives, perhaps even linchpins of continued survival.
The official Jewish establishment, acutely conscious of the strategic necessity of maintaining the historic separation of church and state, was likewise periodically constrained to
Rabbi Nahum Braverman came to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s to establish a western outpost of *Aish Hatorah, a Jerusalem yeshivah located near the Western Wall and founded by an American rabbi, Noah Weinberg. In a few short years he created an outreach program of one-to-one Torah learning. He established a chain of study sessions in private offices and conference rooms and began the process of organizing Aish Hatorah synagogues. The students were prominent business and community leaders as well as film and TV industry celebrities. The program created a non-ḥasidic network of intellectual Ba'alei teshuvah (newly Orthodox), sympathetic to "authentic" Judaism and often prepared to support it, even though not necessarily embodying it in their lifestyles. Aish has proved especially popular among young singles, who attend Shabbat services, Shabbat dinners at the homes of local congregationalists, post-dinner lectures, and occasional "speed-dating" evenings.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin arrived from South Africa in 1977. Although only a young man he was already an engineer, physicist, airplane pilot, sailor, and Orthodox rabbi. Together with Michael *Medved, bestselling writer, movie critic on public TV and, subsequently, radio talk-show host, they took over a minuscule store front synagogue on the Venice beach, operated by and for a few remaining elderly Jews, and established the Pacific Jewish Center. It was an unusually strict Orthodox synagogue in which financial participation was voluntary, participation in Torah study compulsory, and outdoors adventuring a mitzvah. At first the members were overwhelmingly single; in time they married, moved into the neighborhood to be within walking distance of the synagogue, and so created a living and learning community, which former and disaffected members described as "cultlike." The congregation split in the early 1990s, ostensibly after a spat involving a decision to move the center's day school out of the area. Lapin subsequently left a truncated congregation to the administration of his brother, David, and to his longtime assistant, Rabbi Avi Pogrow. Lapin and Medved moved to the Seattle suburb of Mercer Island, where, as talk-show radio hosts, they established a small group dedicated to forging a pan-Jewish coalition with fundamentalist Christians, and to weaning American Jews from their Liberal affectations. Medved generated particular consternation within Jewish circles for his own impassioned defense of actor/director Mel Gibson, whose blockbuster film The Passion of the Christ was widely perceived as an antisemitic assault and reaffirmation of pre-Vatican II charges of deicide. In 2003, David Lapin left for Washington, D.C., leaving PJC to the ministrations of Ben Geiger, a graduate of an ultra-Orthodox rabbinical school in Baltimore and the center's first full-time rabbi. Lapin accepted support from many sources included the Orthodox Jewish Washington lobbyist Jack Abramov.
On March 1, 2005 (20 Adar 5765), 2,000 men gathered in the new Walt Disney Concert Hall to celebrate the Siyyum ha-Shas, the seven-year cycle of studying a page of the Talmud each day, every day, which enables the devout and the persistent to complete the entire Talmud. If one panned the crowd in Los Angeles, one would have seen physicians and lawyers, accountants, real-estate investors, jewelers and professional men, as well as Jews from all walks of life, a cross section of Jewish life in Los Angeles. Even a few of the men – very few – earned their living in the entertainment industry. Many had come to Los Angeles only in the past three decades and all were comfortable in calling Los Angeles their home. Many, but not all, were raised in Orthodox homes. Others were the results of the success of the various outreach programs in attracting Jews to turn toward tradition.
While one would not ordinarily associate Los Angeles with the ultra-Orthodox community, there are some 5,000 families who constitute that community. They live in different neighborhoods on the West Side of Los Angeles, Hancock Park with its large and sprawling houses, Fairfax, the traditional Jewish neighborhood, Pico-Robertson with its large Orthodox community, and even Beverly Hills and Westwood. They live in North Hollywood and the Valley. They have established large schools for every segment of the community. Yeshiva Rav Isaacson/Toras Emes Academy is the largest day school in Los Angeles with 1,100 students, directed by Rabbi Yakov Kraus for more than three decades. Or Eliyahu Academy is another significant school. The Yeshiva Gedolah, the high school, occupies a prominent former Seventh Days Adventist Church on Olympic Blvd. in Hancock Park. Students can continue in the Kolel of Los Angeles. The Cheder of Los Angeles is for ḥasidic students who can go on to the hasidic kolel. The Beis Yaakov School is a high school for some 375 girls. Rabbi Avraham Teichman heads Agudat Israel on the West Coast. Dr. Irving Lebovics, a prominent dentist, is the leading lay leader of the Agudah on the West Coast. Rabbi Gerson Bess is regarded as the most prominent of the halakhic authorities.
In the Valley, the most prominent Orthodox synagogue is Shaarei Zedek, led by Rabbi Aron Tendler, the son of Yeshiva University's Rabbi Moshe Tendler. Emek Hebrew Academy is the home of more than 700 students. Valley Torah Center, headed by Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, serves some 300 students.
During the 1970s Reform rabbi Isaiah *Zeldin, who had come to Los Angeles to represent the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and subsequently became rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, left his congregation and founded
Conservative rabbi Harold *Schulweis moved to the Encino area of the San Fernando Valley from Oakland. With a rare combination of philosophical profundity and Jewish social engineering genius, he established a series of programs which stamped his congregation as a creative center of Jewish life: a havurah program in which the bulk of the members participated; a para-professional counseling center whose first lay counselors were volunteers from the board of directors who studied and trained for several years for this opportunity to serve; a para-rabbinic training program in which the synagogue leadership similarly learned to become rabbinic aides qualified to meet with members and teach them how to be Jews at home as well as in the synagogue; an outreach program which accepted the inevitability of an increasing proportion of interfaith marriages in our open society and chose to deal with it on the basis of inclusivity rather than a posture of exclusivity; and an assistant rabbi, engaged by the congregation after her ordination in 1990, who was herself a Jew by choice. Most of these and other innovative experiments were emulated nationwide. In 1994, Schulweis called on his congregation to accept Jewish homosexuals and lesbians as equal and accepted members of the community. Some years later, he bucked longstanding Jewish tradition by launching an effort aimed at urging Gentiles not necessarily involved with Jewish life-partners to consider conversion to Judaism. It was Jewish outreach to the unchurched. Most recently, he initiated Jewish World Watch, an effort to inspire Jews to emulate Righteous Gentiles by intervening on behalf of distressed or physically threatened populations abroad. The organization has been active in generating assistance on behalf of populations in the Sudan and Darfur. In 2004, the 80-year-old Schulweis stepped down as senior rabbi, turning his pulpit over graciously to longtime colleague and friend Rabbi Edward Feinstein.
Some of the city's rabbis transcended their responsibilities to their synagogue by sharing their energies with the larger Jewish community. Rabbi Jacob *Pressman arrived in Los Angeles in 1946 to assist Rabbi Jacob Kohn at Sinai Temple. A few years later he left to join a small congregation, which grew to become Temple Beth Am, one of the large and influential Los Angeles synagogues. He helped establish Akiba Academy, one of the first day schools in the Los Angeles Conservative community and initiated Herzl School, the community's first non-Orthodox day school. At Beth Am, he created a K-8 day school that was named in his honor as the Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy. Simultaneously he became a central figure in the building of Jewish institutions in the city. He was a key figure in the organization of the University of Judaism in 1947 and served as its volunteer founding registrar. He was one of the founders of Camp Ramah and the Los Angeles Hebrew High School, and helped start the Beverly Hills Maple Counseling Center as well as the forerunner of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, in Simi Valley. He established the synagogue Israel Bond Appeal program and headed the synagogue division of Los Angeles Israel Bonds. He was chairman of the Los Angeles Board of Rabbis as well as of the Western States region of the Rabbinical Assembly. When Jews were threatening to leave the Mid-Wilshire neighborhood after the L.A. riots in the 1970s, Pressman went door-to-door to sign up 150 families and pledged that the synagogue would remain in the neighborhood if they would pledge to stay; as a result, the Carthay Circle and South Carthay neighborhood, once threatened, is now a thriving Jewish community composed of traditional Conservative Jews who walk to synagogue and walk their children to the Pressman Academy. At Beth Am, he permitted and enabled the creation of religious alternatives for more traditional Jews; the egalitarian Library Minyan is without a formal rabbi but is the religious home of many rabbis and scholars at the University of Judaism, Hebrew Union College, UCLA, USC, and UC Northridge as well as rabbinical students at UJ and HUC. One holiday morning there were more than 75 rabbis, spouses of rabbis, and children of rabbis in attendance, a rarity for Conservative synagogues. Beth Am is now a Synaplex, offering multiple services: meditative services, family services, a Neshama Minyan with the melodies of Shlomo *Carlebach on Friday evening, as well as a mainstream Conservative service. Ten of Pressman's students became rabbis, including his successor Rabbi Joel Rembaum. Well into his eighties, Pressman is a master preacher, talented musician, and raconteur.
In 1997, after a period of changing leadership Rabbi David Wolpe took over as Sinai's senior rabbi. He introduced a single service called Friday Night Live that brings single Jews to synagogue for an exciting musical service. A captivating speaker, he ignites his audience.
Rabbi Maurice Lamm replaced Rabbi Dolgin at Beth Jacob Congregation in 1971. Under Lamm, the congregation became more observant as Orthodoxy become more observant. His congregants, who once rode to the synagogue, began walking if possible. Upon his retirement, Rabbi Abner Weiss, from South Africa, became spiritual leader of the congregation. He was also the representative of moderate Orthodoxy in Los Angeles communal, religious, and educational circles. Rabbi Weiss also took pride in the "upstairs minyan" in which younger members were given an opportunity to take charge of their own Sabbath service as a popular alternative to the more staid and formal sanctuary service. A psychologist who incorporated Kabbalah into his practice, Weiss departed for England in 2002; since that time, Rabbi Steven Weil has served as senior rabbi of Beth Jacob. Young Israel of Century City, initially a "break away" from Beth Jacob, was, by 2005, a well-established congregation of 400 members led, since 1986, by Rabbi Elazar Muskin. A few blocks away from Beth Jacob and Young Israel, in the Pico-Robertson area, B'nai David Judea Congregation, headed by Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky as by Daniel Landes before him, championed a progressive Orthodoxy, including greater opportunity for women's involvement in synagogue rituals.
Rabbi Harvey Fields, longtime senior rabbi of the venerable Wilshire Temple, the first and still arguably the largest Jewish congregation in Los Angeles, led his congregation in new directions. He became chairman of the Middle East Commission of the Jewish Federation Council. A congregation which historically had rejected many traditions now settled into a life style which was comfortable with Hebrew instruction, bar mitzvah, bat mitzvah, and a shofar. Under Fields' stewardship, music became a fixture of services, and a full-time cantor began to lead services in 1999. Despite the move toward more traditional forms of observance, Fields maintained his focus on issues pertaining to social justice and interfaith dialogue. He was instrumental, for instance, in the creation of Hopenet, a network of religious institutions in the Mid-Wilshire corridor that feeds about 200 people every Sunday out of the temple, and provides affordable housing, clothing, and furnishings. Fields stepped down in June 2003, handing over the reins he held for 21 years to Rabbi Steven Leder.
Rabbi Laura Geller is the senior rabbi of one of Los Angeles' most prominent Reform congregations. Temple Emanuel has a day school and innovative religious services including a Sabbath morning service that attracts many HUC faculty members. By the size and the prestige of her congregation and by her own stature, she is the most prominent of the first generation of women rabbis in the United States.
A number of rabbis, mostly in the Reform movement, became leaders in movements dealing with peace, poverty, racial harmony, and AIDS. Rabbi Leonard Beerman established a congregation in the spirit and name of Leo Baeck, which over the years fostered an environment that made involvement in human concerns a normal congregational function. As one example among many, Rabbi Beerman led his congregation to join forces with the All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena to establish a professionally run Interfaith Center to Reverse the Arms Race. For years they supported and maintained a peace movement, which gave serious attention to the world's ultimate long-term threat. When world events signaled a suspension of the arms race, both congregations shifted their energies to establishing a shelter for the homeless in downtown Los Angeles. Beerman retired in 1986, leaving the congregation to Rabbi Sanford Ragins, who would serve as senior rabbi for 18 years while maintaining an academic career teaching history and homiletics at HUC-JIR and at Occidental College, in Eagle Rock. Ragins welcomed intermarried, interracial, and gay and lesbian families into the communal fold and championed the peace camp in Israel and labor and interfaith cooperation in the U.S. He served as chair for the Central Conference of American Rabbis' Committee on Ethics, which investigates allegations of wrongful behavior by Reform rabbis, and taught German divinity students in Germany about Judaism. Ragins helmed his congregation until 2002, when Rabbi Kenneth Chasen, a former TV music supervisor and soundtrack composer who became a rabbi in 1998, took over as senior rabbi. Chasen's task at the 650-family-strong temple was to nurture its traditional ties to broad, generally liberal causes, while also serving young, sometimes apolitical, families seeking innovative, home-centered synagogue life.
Rabbi Alfred *Wolf, a long time associate of Rabbi Magnin at Wilshire Temple, set himself to bridge the gulf between the faiths. In 1975 he knit together the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles with the Southern California Board of Rabbis and the American Jewish Committee. Together they established the Los Angeles Roman Catholic/Jewish Respect Life Committee which annually issued pastoral statements on subjects like "reflections on abortion and related issues," "caring for the dying person," "the single parent family," "nuclear reality," and "a covenant of care." He was one of the architects of the Southern California Interreligious Council for rabbis, ministers, and priests, which met regularly with Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, and Bahai leaders. He also presided over the County Commission on Human Relations. When Pope John Paul II came to Los Angeles on a formal visit in 1989, Rabbi Wolf was chosen on behalf of the rabbinate to speak to him and he said, "we urge you, as we urge all our friends, to assist us in the continuing struggle against antisemitism – and in securing peace in Israel – including full diplomatic relations with the Vatican." Rabbi Wolf, upon retirement after 36 years of active service, became director of the newly established *Skirball Institute on American Values. He died in 2004 at 88.
Rabbi Gary Greenebaum of the American Jewish Committee took over the chairmanship of the Police Commission at a time when police actions were dividing the Los Angeles community and alienating its African-American citizens. He wisely walked the minefield with skill, determination, and integrity.
Rabbi Allen Freehling of University Synagogue was deeply immersed in social action issues. He received the Los Angeles social responsibility award from the Los Angeles Urban League, and the National Council of Christians and Jews honored him with the Humanitarian Responsibility Award. He was on the Los Angeles Commission to draft an ethics code for Los Angeles city government. He received the National Friendship Award by the parents and friends of lesbians and gays in 1989. When the AIDS epidemic began to spread, Rabbi Freehling became Los Angeles' heroic voice on behalf of Jewish religious action for AIDS victims. He was the citywide chairman of the Committee for AIDS, the founding chairperson of the County Commission on AIDS, and the founding chair of the AIDS Interfaith Council of Southern California. In 1998, Freehling led an interfaith pilgrimage to the Vatican to discuss Jewish history and antisemitism with Pope John Paul II. After the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and other American targets, Freehling expended fresh energies reaching out to local Muslims and rejecting attempts to characterize them as monolithic apologists for terror. Freehling retired in 2003, after 30 years as senior rabbi, leaving his 900-family-strong congregation to Rabbi Morley Feinstein. Upon his departure, he announced his intent to engage in community building in the areas of human rights and civil liberties.
Los Angeles is also the home of several new age religious leaders and charismatic rabbis. Some are local figures with a local following and others are national and indeed international figures. Among the most prominent is Philip *Berg, who was influenced by an Israeli kabbalist by the name of Yehuda Brandwein. Rav Brandwein died in 1969. Beginning in Tel Aviv during the 1970s and expanding, after the Internet boom of the 1990s, to Los Angeles, Berg succeeded in popularizing Kabbalah and attracting media celebrities such as Madonna to his cause. Berg is at the helm of 50 centers claiming hundreds of thousands of paying adherents who help generate millions a year in revenue. The Kabbalah Centre directs its teachings to Jews and non-Jews alike. It has generated a "buzz" to borrow a term common in the entertainment community.
In immediate post-World War II Los Angeles, there was no learning beyond bar mitzvah instruction and no employed Jewish scholars other than Dr. Samuel Dinin, who died in 2005 at the age of 103, then head of the Bureau of Jewish Education, and Rabbi Jacob Kohn (d. 1968) at Sinai Temple. Forty years later, the *University of Judaism was ensconced on 25 acres of land on Mulholland Drive, the Hebrew Union College was in the process of building a major cultural center in neighborly proximity, and Yeshiva University of Los Angeles (which is not affiliated with YU) was building a multi-story building on its site on Pico Boulevard. Additionally, UCLA and the state universities had developed serious programs of advanced Jewish studies as an integral part of their academic offerings, and a substantial community of Jewishly committed academics was helping to transform a Jewish desert into a possible oasis of Judaism. This came about largely through the efforts of rabbi-educators who put their lifetime learning and teaching experience to the task of building Jewish educational institutions.
The Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) in 1947 established in Los Angeles a college of Jewish studies to engage in teacher training and adult education. Five years later, the Cincinnati-based Hebrew Union College formed a degree-granting California school. Eventually, the school absorbed the UAHC College of Jewish Studies into a School of Education and Jewish Studies. In 1957, freshly ordained Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk was appointed dean of the school. He enrolled at the University of Southern California Graduate School of Religion to get a doctorate in Bible study. While there, he became good friends with the dean of the School of Religion. Their joint dream of the future bore fruit when in time an academic reciprocity agreement was negotiated whereby HUC would move to a major urban renewal site near USC, and the HUC students would receive a dual USC/HUC degree in selected graduate programs. HUC in turn would serve as the Jewish studies provider for the university. The campus was built and dedicated in 1971.
The Rabbinical School was the centerpiece of the program. Joining it was the nation's first School of Jewish Communal Service, headed by Gerald Bubis, who launched the academic training specific to Jewish communal workers. The Rhea Hirsch School of Education graduated educational administrators and teachers. The Skirball Museum was transferred from Cincinnati to Los Angeles expanding considerably the educational and cultural horizons of the school. It now increasingly regarded itself, except for its rabbinical department, as an institution for the entire Jewish community. When Gottschalk moved to Cincinnati to become fifth president of HUC, Uri D. Herscher became executive vice president of the Hebrew Union College-JIR world-wide and dean of the local school. He took the lead in conceptualizing and implementing a plan to build an imposing HUC Skirball Cultural Center and eventually established it as a separate, independent institution. David Ellenson, a long-time faculty member of the L.A. School, became the seventh president of HUC. In the 1990s, the school, began ordaining rabbis, who no longer went to Cincinnati or New York to complete their training.
By 1990, the concept, the new campus, and the funds were securely in hand. The renowned Israeli architect Moshe Safdie was commissioned to design a cultural center on an acquired choice Mulholland area site. When it opened later in the decade, Herscher left Hebrew Union College to head the Skirball Cultural Center, which established itself as an independent, thriving cultural center.
The fruitful relationship between HUC and USC reflected a growing, if unexpected rapprochement between the former WASP bastion and the Los Angeles Jewish community, which had long regarded the campus as a conservative Anglo-American redoubt inherently inhospitable to Jewish students and faculty. Although the university has often sought to downplay this aspect of its history, there was some merit in these perceptions,
An early president of the downtown Methodist campus, Joseph Widney, had in 1907 articulated a vision of Los Angeles (with USC at its forefront) as the world capital of Aryan supremacy. Rufus B. von Kleinsmid, USC's president from 1922 to 1946, and chancellor until his death in 1964, was widely rumored to have been a Nazi sympathizer. Various deans, including those of the medical and dental schools, alternately discriminated vigorously against Jewish enrollment (the Law and Medical schools were rumored to permit only one Jewish student a year during von Kleinsmid's tenure) or, in one episode involving the School of Dentistry in 1972, found themselves besieged by alumni charging pro-Jewish favoritism. In 1978, the university sparked another furor when it announced plans to accept a million dollars from Saudi Arabia for the King Faysal Chair of Islamic and Arab Studies (the plan, which entailed Saudi involvement in faculty appointments, was shelved after concerted protest from local Jewish organizations). In 1986, a campus fraternity was suspended for chanting anti-Jewish remarks outside the residency of a Jewish fraternity on Greek Row.
Today, however, some 11 percent of the student body (at 3,000 students, greater than every school in the California State University and University of California system, apart from UC Berkeley and Cal State Northridge) and a third of the faculty are Jewish. This is the result of ongoing, even unique, attempts by USC to escape its checkered past (and not incidentally, to attract Jewish financial support). By the turn of the 21st century, USC and HUC had jointly established the Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life. This is reputedly the first academic research center on the West Coast to concentrate on contemporary issues in Jewish life, most notably the role that the American Jewish community has played in the development of the United States in general and the American West in particular. At the turn of the century, USC became the only university in the country, for instance, to hire a full-time Jewish student recruiter. At this juncture, the dean of religious life and the chairman of the board of trustees are Jewish. In October 2005, USC agreed to host Stephen Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, becoming the repository for 52,000 videotaped testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. Amassed since 1994, the archive is now the largest digital library in the world, containing testimonies from 56 countries in 32 languages and totaling 117,000 viewing hours. It is interesting to note that USC's vaunted film school did not accept the youthful Spielberg into its filmmaking program. The university subsequently awarded him an honorary doctorate and an appointment to its board of trustees.
UCLA remains the largest college campus in Los Angeles. It hosts about 4,000 students who identify themselves as Jewish. The largest Jewish group at UCLA is Hillel, which offers a range of student activity from Shabbat services to political advocacy and social action. Chabad has been active there for decades, and built one of its earliest local Chabad houses near the off-campus residencies in Westwood. In 2000, the university launched its UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, an initially modest program intended, eventually, to offer graduate degrees locally and doctorates throughout the University of California system. In 2005, the center joined the Autry National Center in a new research program to explore the Jewish place in the city's cultural mosaic. By 2007, the university expects to put an Israel studies program in place under the direction of UCLA political scientist Steven Spiegel, one of the field's eminent figures. The university has experienced considerable volatility between advocates and critics of Israel, and Jewish students there often feel they are on the front lines of confrontation with some Muslim and African-American students. Thanks largely to the efforts of long-time Hillel director Chaim Seidler-Feller, however, the campus has also seen the emergence of coalitions and joint programs involving moderate Jews, Muslims, and Arabs. The Jewish studies program, founded by noted Hebraist Arnold Band, thrives. There is a chair in Holocaust studies sponsored by the 1939 club. Its current incumbent is Saul Friedlaender who won the prestigious MacArthur Foundation's "genius award." Historian David Myers is among its faculty.
Jewish studies at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) enjoy a lengthy pedigree, dating back to 1969. In 2002, some 4,000 of the school's 31,000 students were estimated to be Jewish, and 400 students were registered in 14 different Jewish studies courses each semester. Jody Myers heads the program. In 2005, the Jewish Studies Interdisciplinary Program at CSUN offered 27 courses for students majoring or performing minors in Jewish studies. Jewish studies majors are also available at Cal State Long Beach.
The University of Judaism was founded in 1947 by the Jewish Theological Seminary in response to a visionary concept by Mordecai M. *Kaplan. He proposed to establish a Jewish institution with the academic rigor of a general university but devoted to specialized research, training, and education for Judaism defined as a civilization. It came into being just as Los Angeles was becoming a major center of Jewish life, second only to New York. At the same time, the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education was prodding the seminary to provide them with a school that could qualify prospective teachers who would be needed for the city's growing Jewish school system. Additionally, the university planners saw the mission of the university as providing adult education, stimulating Jewish artistic expression, and offering continuing education to the young rabbis now flocking westward. JTS Vice Chancellor Simon Greenberg volunteered to act as founding director, and Samuel Dinin as founding dean on behalf of the Bureau. David Lieber came to the University of Judaism in 1956 as dean of students, and in 1962 became president. Early on he formulated educational and management principles that guided him through the decades of university growth: uncompromising academic excellence; partnership with scholars and
By the 1990s, both the University of Judaism and the Hebrew Union College were thriving institutions with differing but also overlapping types of leadership and goals, which were beginning to establish modes of cooperation.
Robert *Wexler, a protégé of David Lieber, became president in 1992 and under his leadership he shaped UJ as a nondenominational institution serving all Jews, which increases its attraction to some, but diminishes the enthusiasm of stalwarts of the Conservative movement. A noteworthy recent example of this commitment was Yesod, an intensive two-year biblical and Jewish studies program established in partnership with ten local Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist synagogues. The university believes that charges against UJ for abandoning the Conservative movement are misplaced, and that apart from its rabbinical program and its involvement with Camp Ramah, it had always envisioned its mission as non-denominational. It also houses a mikveh used by non-Orthodox rabbis for conversion.
More than a half-century after its birth, the university has clearly set itself apart from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) in New York City, the Conservative movement's preeminent entity for ordaining rabbis. In 1996 the University of Judaism received an endowment of more than $22 million dollars anonymously from a prominent Los Angeles Jewish family for the creation of its own rabbinical school, which is named the Ziegler School of rabbinic Studies. Instead of celebrating its creation and the expansion of opportunities for would-be Conservative rabbis, JTS Chancellor Ismar *Shorsch forced a confrontation, which he lost, and the Seminary and UJ parted ways. UJ ordainees are automatically accepted into the Rabbinical Assembly and they are competing successfully with Seminary graduates for the same jobs. JTS lost its monopoly on Conservative ordination. Ziegler students are perhaps less academically rigorous, especially when judged by the standards of Wissenschaft, but their spirituality is deepened and their training is wholesome and they are equipped to meet the religious needs of their congregants.
Created by Los Angeles-based rabbis in 2000, the Academy for Jewish Religion, California (AJR/CA) began with the intent of revitalizing Judaism. The Academy is non-denominational and deems itself pluralistic. In the fall of 2003, it enrolled 55 students. In 2005, it graduated five rabbis, two of them also cantors. Indeed, the academy hosts the only cantorial school west of the Hudson. The academy launched an innovative Jewish Chaplaincy Program to provide a vital and much-needed Jewish presence at hospitals, secular schools, police, fire and health departments, senior citizen centers, and other communal institutions.
In many areas of Los Angeles, the Jewish community has opted out of the public school system. The result has been a boon to Jewish day school education. There are now 10,000 students enrolled in Jewish day schools. For many non-Orthodox the debate is not between public education and private education but between a Jewish day school education and private school. Nine synagogues – five Reform: Emanuel, Wilshire Blvd., Stephen Wise, Temple Israel of Hollywood, and Beth Hillel; and four Conservative: Valley Beth Shalom and Adat Ariel in the Valley, Sinai/Akiba and Pressman Academy on the West Side – have day schools that are affiliated with the congregations and such an affiliation is central to the future of the congregations. There are two liberal high schools, the Milken School and the New Jewish Community high school both established by Dr. Bruce Powell. Orthodox schools, large and small, proliferate, among the 37 Jewish day schools of Los Angeles. YULA has
The Jewish Federation Council
The Federation of Jewish Welfare Organizations was established in 1912 to serve as the disbursement, coordinating, and lobbying body for the 12 Jewish recipient agencies of the Los Angeles Community Chest. In addition the Federation took responsibility for raising modest sums for supplementary assistance. Under this arrangement only local Jewish needs were served. In 1929, responding to appeals from European and Palestine Jewry, and to local needs not supported by the Federation, a separate funding mechanism was established – the United Jewish Welfare Fund. Its first campaign year produced $93,000. By 1933, it became increasingly evident that there was need for a representative body that would be empowered to unite the Jewish community, including newer arrivals, around local concerns not addressed by the Federation or the Welfare Fund, such as Jewish education, youth organization, kashrut supervision, and newly formed synagogues. In response an umbrella body called the United Jewish Community was founded which in 1936 comprised 92 constituent organizations, congregations, and societies. In 1937, the United Jewish Community and the United Jewish Welfare Fund merged into a new body called the Jewish Community Council, which a few years later was given the authority to allocate the monies raised by the United Jewish Welfare Fund. There was a Federation and a Council. The Council became increasingly preeminent as it attracted the new leadership in the growing Jewish community, while the Federation remained the bastion of the traditional and largely German-Jewish émigré leadership; 156 of the 350 eligible Jewish organizations joined the Council. The new Jewish immigrants now arriving from the East Coast in increasing numbers tended to be politically liberal, equal-rights oriented, and devoted to Zionism and overseas needs. This contrasted strongly with the Federation of Jewish Welfare Organizations, which was conservative, local-needs oriented, and lukewarm to Zionism. The spectacular increase in fundraising from $2,750,000 in 1945 to $10 million in 1948, and from 33 to 58 thousand contributors, convinced the Federation leadership that their future was dismal, especially since Community Chest support, their major source of Jewish institutional income, was increasingly inadequate and increased public Jewish support was essential. The Federation and the Council negotiated for three years; the result was the Jewish Federation Council (JFC). In the decades ahead the Federation Council moved to become not only the spokesman but also the driving force behind Jewish community growth and development. It continued to expand its sense of community responsibility. Its goals originally were quantitative and defensive: raising more money from each contributor and from more contributors; dealing with emergencies that upset Jewish unity and harmony and so affect fundraising; and helping to maintain good relations in the community at large. In the wake of the Yom Kippur War, the Federation leadership began to consider the responsibilities of the Federation as potentially transcending practical needs. The Federation was already deeply involved in Jewish education. Its Bureau of Jewish Education guided, supported, subvented, and served as chief advocate for Jewish schools. Since its organization in 1937, it had striven to establish and raise standards, attract and increase financial support, and help to create a teaching profession. Under the initiative of Emil Jacoby, its director from 1983 to 1993, a number of programs were established which sought to raise the level and standards and effectiveness of Jewish education. However some thought more could be done to establish Federation responsibility for the welfare of Judaism as well as of Jews. Sensitive to the danger of crossing the line between religious autonomy and Federation responsibility, they suggested that the Los Angeles Federation formally accept responsibility for a community stake in what they termed "the quality of Jewish life." This was to be a revolutionary departure. Until now Jewish communities were divided into "organized" and "religious." Jewish organizational life mandated mutual independence between "church" and "state." In 1973 a Committee on Jewish Life was established by the JFC with the avowed goals of reducing tensions and adding to the potential cooperation between the communal and the congregational sectors of Jewish life. A year later the committee made its report and recommendations; as a result, in the fall of 1974, the Council of Jewish Life was established to implement the report. Its mandate at the time was to improve relationships between synagogues and the JFC; develop an outreach program to the unaffiliated including promotion of synagogue affiliation; and support of existing adult education programs. In succeeding years the Council of Jewish Life expanded its program, which aimed at "raising the quality of Jewish life." It established a number of commissions, which undertook projects with cultural, educational, and religious goals. It established a commission on synagogue affairs which organized synagogue councils in outlying areas, developed a task force on synagogue finance and administration, and circulated widely a letter written by the president of the JFC to welfare fund contributors describing the synagogue as "an indispensable link for the preservation and transmission of an authentic Jewish way of life" and urging affiliation with a synagogue. Nine hundred responses were received in response to this unprecedented appeal by a Jewish community organization, which openly committed itself to the synagogue as essential to the creative survival of Jewish life in America. Over the years the council established commissions that operated in areas considered significant. In
In many respects, Los Angeles had become an innovative cauldron of new Jewish activity and organization entirely unbeholden to the East Coast, which in turn persisted in regarding itself as the sole arbiter of Jewish power in America and of national communal decision-making. It was this perceptual dichotomy, in fact, that resulted in several East-West spats that incensed the Los Angeles community. The first involved the Los Angeles regional chapter of the American Jewish Congress, which split from the national organization in 1999, reconstituting as the independent Progressive Jewish Alliance. Even more troubling was the impromptu dismissal, in 2002, of the Anti-Defamation League's regional director of 27 years' standing, David Lehrer, by the ADL's national director, Abraham Foxman. The latter's decision to terminate Lehrer without stated cause was taken as an affront to the entire community, not least of all by the ADL's regional board, which had achieved major strides in fundraising under Lehrer's stewardship, and resented being treated as a mere branch office. Lehrer was replaced by Amanda Susskind, a local attorney with a background in public policy.
Working against the community was the discovery that the Jewish population nationally was in decline. The Jewish population of Los Angeles has remained fairly constant from 1979 through today, despite significant immigration. The birthrate is extremely low. Affiliation rates, as in so many western communities, remain lower than those in the east. With intermarriage increasingly normative and the graying of the Jewish population proceeding farther apace than in many other ethnic communities, Jewish communal life and involvement inevitably became the purview of an increasingly smaller and self-limiting segment of the Jewish public. Secularization and assimilation occurred in parallel with fragmentation caused by a proliferation of new Jewish organizations and institutions; each determined to secure its share of an ever-diminishing pie. With Jews increasingly preferring to give to non-Jewish causes, federations became more dependent on a coterie of "big givers" for continued sustenance. In Los Angeles, attention to the needs and interests of this select, self-appointed, and sometimes self-serving few resulted not only in greater tensions between lay and professional leadership but in widespread malaise and alienation within the greater Jewish community.
Jewish Journalism Comes of Age in L.A.
The Jewish Journal is the flagship newspaper of the Los Angeles community. Prior to the Jewish Journal's appearance in 1986, Los Angeles had been served by three publications: the Jewish Community Bulletin, which had been the Federation's biweekly house organ, Heritage, a somewhat parochial, Israel-centered weekly established by Herb Brin in 1954, and the B'nai B'rith Messenger, aimed at the Orthodox community (the Israeli community, meanwhile, had its own Hebrew-language papers, notably Israel Shelanu, Shalom L.A., and local supplements of the Israeli dailies Yedioth Aharonoth and Maariv). The Jewish Journal was the brainchild of a group of "Benefactors" who had long lamented the community's lack of a first-class Jewish paper. Armed with its forerunner's 75,000-strong subscription list and with an assertion of editorial independence, the paper initially exhibited scant awareness of the scope of Jewish life in Los Angeles. The paper made some headway broadening its coverage during the 1990s, most notably through the efforts of the late Marlene Adler Marks and the late David Margolis, writers with profound roots and sincere interest in hitherto ignored, misunderstood, or otherwise denigrated segments of the community. It also stepped up its Israel coverage. It was only with the appointment of local journalist Rob Eshman as editor, however, that the Journal was finally able to more fully and inclusively reflect L.A. Jewry's diverse, variegated, and sometimes contentious character. Like many Jewish newspapers, its critics contend that it plays it too safe.
The Rise and Fall and Rise of the JCCs
One of the earliest and most important points of entry into organized communal life in Los Angeles was the Jewish community center, the first of which, the Modern Hebrew School and Social Center, later renamed Soto-Michigan, came into being in Boyle Heights in 1924. A number of other centers followed, including one on West Adams, on Beverly-Fairfax, at City Terrace, and at Hollywood-Los Feliz. Initially underfunded and underused, these and subsequently created JCCs were placed under the aegis of a centralized organization, the Jewish Centers Association (JCA), in 1943. Subvented by the Los Angeles Jewish Federation Council, the JCA alternately bristled under the Federation's pecuniary oversight while holding tightly to the reins of individual centers that generated funds locally and often resented turning these resources and control over their own programming to the JCA. In 1952, the JCA flouted local opposition by closing the more ardently Zionist and overtly Jewish Menorah Center and merging it with the more intercultural Soto-Michigan Center. Declines in the Jewish population of the city's Eastside, and political
As Jews moved into the city's western reaches and into the San Fernando Valley to the north, new Jewish community centers cropped up in their midst, ultimately resulting in a network of seven JCCs and a residential camp, three (Valley Cities, North Valley, and West Valley) in the San Fernando Valley alone. A joint JCA-Federation study conducted in the early 1970s resulted in the withdrawal of funding in 1976 for the Hollywood-Los Feliz JCC and for the Israel Levin Senior Adult Center (later the subject of "Number Our Days," the Academy Award-winning documentary based on the work of the late Barbara Myerhoff). Community protests outside Federation headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Boulevard resultedin their reinstatement.
The JCCs continued to muddle along, under-funded and undervalued, yet providing scarce services to segments of the community not quite established financially or sufficiently rooted in Jewish life to join synagogues, yet interested in childcare, programs for the elderly, scouting facilities for the children of Israelis, Jewish day camps, and other programs. Indeed, the Jewish pre-school program at Valley Cities JCC in Sherman Oaks developed under Bea Chankin Weisberg into one of the crown jewels of early childhood education in Los Angeles. During the 1990s, the JCCS spiraled downward. Their programs and membership dropped dramatically despite steep cuts in Federation funding, from 25 percent to 30 percent of their budgets to 13 percent. The North Valley JCC in Granada Hills, meanwhile, had its mettle severely tested in 1999, after a shooting spree by white supremacist Buford Furrow on the camp children that wounded several children and camp counselors and killed a mailman several miles away. The center lost little time resuming operations and regaining its footing and the community's confidence. Bailed out with Federation loans on several occasions, the parent organization, the Jewish Community Center of Los Angeles, finally collapsed, ostensibly due to mismanagement, in 2001. Several of the city's prized JCCs, valued more for their property than the services they provided, found themselves dragged onto the chopping block. The Bay Cities center in Santa Monica and the North Valley Center were ultimately sold, and the Conejo Valley Center closed up shop. The Westside and West Hills centers, both situated in extremely affluent neighborhoods, became independent. Their respective communities, meanwhile, rescued the centers in Silverlake and Sherman Oaks, at the last moment, although their continued existence is deemed tenuous. It is remarkable that in a city as affluent and as athletically and culturally oriented as Los Angeles, Jewish Community Centers are not thriving and came perilously close to extinction.
A Bounty of Innovative Institutions
Renowned (or notorious) as a capital of glitz and ostentation as well as of homelessness and hunger, in 1985, Los Angeles became home to an innovative response to the excess and overindulgence of some of its wealthier segments with the creation of Mazon. A non-profit, grassroots agency created in the aftermath of an Ethiopian famine, Mazon (Hebrew for "Sustenance") provides millions of dollars to over 300 hunger-relief agencies, including emergency food providers, food banks, multi-service organizations, and advocacy groups that seek long-term solutions to the hunger problem. Over $3 million are now culled annually from Jewish families and organizations as a self-imposed three percent tax on catered events. Founded by Leonard Fein, Mazon cites as inspiration the Torah's demands for justice and the rabbinic tradition of forbidding the commencement of life-cycle celebrations until the community's poor and hungry have been seated and fed. Since 1986, Mazon has provided more than $31 million to the hungry in the United States, in Israel, and in developing countries around the world.
Another noteworthy local innovation is Beit T'Shuva (Heb. "House of Repentance"), a recovery and reintegration center that seeks to integrate Jewish spirituality with the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and with traditional psychotherapy. With a campus in West Los Angeles, Beit T'Shuva provides therapeutic in- and outpatient accommodations to alcoholics, substance abusers, and discharged prisoners. Beit T'Shuva began as an outgrowth of a non-profit organization called the Jewish Committee for Personal Service (JCPS). That organization came into being in 1921 to provide social services to Jews in California mental hospitals and prisons. Forty years later, a donation from a JCPS client led to the establishment of the Gateways Hospital and Mental Health Center, which subsequently incorporated JCPS as one of its programs. Harriet Rossetto, who joined the staff of JCPS in 1984, discerned in an article by Dr. Abraham Twerski on Judaism and the Twelve Steps a possible antidote both to the recidivism of many of her patients and to the Jewish community's apparent lack of concern and support (many Jews erroneously believing that Jews as a rule did not suffer addictions). In 1987, with a grant from FEMA and a loan from the Jewish Community Foundation, Gateways Hospital bought an old house at 216 South Lake Street in Los Angeles and opened the doors of Beit T'Shuva. The original mission was to provide transitional living and reentry services to Jewish men being released from jails and prisons. The program has expanded its attentions in recent years to Jews struggling with addictive behaviors. A capital campaign raised five million dollars toward the purchase and renovation of a new facility, which opened in 1999. Two years later, Beit T'Shuva gained its independence from Gateways Hospital, becoming a constituent agency of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation. Its spiritual leader is himself a Ba'al Teshuvah and UJ ordainee Rabbi Mark Borowitz, who returned to tradition after his own incarceration.
Justice may be a Jewish imperative, but its pursuit in 21st-century America can be prohibitively expensive and beyond the grasp of most consumers, Jews and non-Jews alike. Enter Bet Tzedek (Heb. "House of Justice"), a five-day-a-week
In 1982, Lowell and Michael Milken established the Milken Family Foundation. Active in education, medical research, and Jewish culture, the foundation has made noteworthy attempts to support and honor outstanding teachers locally and nationally, to foster school reform, and to generate enthusiasm for education as a lifelong process. The Milkens were also instrumental in founding the Milken Community High School, the crown jewel of the Stephen S. Wise Jewish school system.
In 2003, the foundation released the first of 90 projected compact disk recordings of Jewish music, under the aegis of the Milken Archives of American Jewish Music in New York City, established in 1990 to generate a $17 million compilation of over 600 pieces of Jewish music culled from over 350 years of American musical history. Of these, no less than 500are new recordings of lost or never-preserved music, commissioned from orchestras, choirs, and soloists in 15 cities in the U.S. and Europe. These include Sephardic liturgies from the American Colonial period; recordings of complete Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform services; Klezmer-influenced concert works; ecstatic Hasidic music; Yiddish theater work with reconstructed orchestrations; and works commemorating or otherwise influenced by the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel. Distributed under the Noxos recording label, initial offerings included works by Kurt Weill, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, David Krakauer, and Alberto Mizrahi, and orchestras led by such eminent conductors as Gerald Schwarz. The archive's artistic director is Neil W. Levin, of the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Jewish life – religious and secular, cultural and intellectual – thrives in Los Angeles, a city with intense affiliations and also a high rate of non-affiliation. The challenge of the early 21st century is how to preserve the intense core of Jewish life while attracting to that core those with but the most marginal of Jewish affiliations. It is not a problem unique to Los Angeles, but one acute in Los Angeles.
M. Vorspan and L.P. Gartner, History of the Jews of Los Angeles (1970); H. Newmark, Sixty Years in Southern California (19303); M.R. Newmark, in: Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly, 24 (1942), 77–97; 25 (1943), 5–65; 38 (1956), 167–84; S. Reichler, in: J. Meltz (ed.), Mount Sinai Year Book (1946); I. Soref, in: Reconstructionist, 18 (1952/53), 8–12; A. Laurie, "Social Adjustments of German Jewish Refugees in Los Angeles" (Thesis, University of Southern California, 1953); F. Massarik, Report on the Jewish Population of Los Angeles (1953); D. Bin Nun, Religious and Other Cultural Factors Affecting the Assimilation of Jews in Los Angeles (Thesis, University of Southern California, 1954); R. Glantz, Jews of California from the Discovery of Gold until 1880 (1960); E. Lipman and A. Vorspan, Tale of Ten Cities (1962); J. Turner, in: AJHSP, 54 (1964/65), 123–64; N.B. Stern, California Jewish History; a Descriptive Bibliography (1967).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
Asaf Shalev and Jackie Hajdenberg, “Landmark survey of Jewish LA reveals an increasingly diverse and engaged community,” JTA, (June 24, 2022).