SAN DIEGO, combined city-county in S. California; county population 3 million (2005), Jewish population 89,000.
Jewish life in San Diego started in what is called Old Town, near the San Diego River and just below the hill on which the Spanish built the first California mission in 1769. The first Jew arrived at this remote frontier site in 1850, the same year the city received its charter. In this town of 800, there were, perhaps, 25 Jews until the 1860s. Most were very visible for their number, both as businessmen and civic leaders. When, in the 1870s, the center of town moved southeast, to its permanent location, on San Diego Bay, the Jewish population moved also. They set up stores and lived nearby; the first synagogues were in this downtown area. In the 1920s the reform congregation, Beth Israel, moved uptown to the west side of Balboa Park, and by the mid-20th century the Conservative and Orthodox congregations had moved up-town to the north and east sides of the park. The neighborhood of North Park became the center of Jewish life with a kosher butcher, bakery, a Jewish Community Center and the homes and businesses of many of the patrons. By the late 1970s the community had migrated primarily to the east, near San Diego State University, to the South in Chula Vista, and a little to the north. With the coming of the University of California San Diego to La Jolla in the late 1960s, the Jewish community began to move there as well. Prior to that, beginning in the 1940s, the residents of La Jolla had a restrictive covenant against Jews and other minorities in their property deeds, which was enforced by the real estate agents. At the beginning of the 21st century there was no Jewish area, and the population was very spread out. Jews congregate throughout San Diego County, from the Mexican border to the northern boundary, the Marine Base at Camp Pendleton. As a matter of fact, Jews even congregate at Camp Pendleton and south of the border in Tijuana.
Louis Rose, the first Jewish settler, arrived in 1850. A multi-talented
Marcus Schiller was a businessman, public official, and Jewish community leader for 40 years. During his tenure on the City Board of Trustees, along with his business partner, Joseph Mannasse, 1,400 acres were set aside for Balboa Park, the main park in the city center. In 1861, Schiller organized the first congregation, Adath Jeshurun (Orthodox), the oldest congregation in Southern California, which in 1887 incorporated as Congregation Beth Israel (Reform). The Jewish population at this time was approximately 300. In the midst of planning its synagogue, the congregation hired its first rabbi, Samuel Freuder, in 1888. Within a year he left and became a Christian missionary. Twenty years later, he realized his mistake and wrote a book called A Missionary's Return in Judaism (1915). Built of wood in the gothic style, Temple Beth Israel was completed in 1889 and used for 37 years. Moved to a county park in 1978, it is one of the two oldest synagogue structures extant in California. With the Jewish population of San Diego increasing to 2,000, Congregation Beth Israel built its second home, a Byzantine-style synagogue, in 1926, near Balboa Park. Its "Temple Center" became the focal point of Jewish communal life for over 25 years. When the congregation moved to its third home in 2001, its previous building was saved from demolition, because of its eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places. At the beginning of the 21st century, Beth Israel was the only congregation in the American West to have its three synagogues still in use.
In 1905, East European immigrants formed an orthodox congregation, Tifereth Israel Synagogue. When, in 1939, this congregation became Conservative, another Orthodox congregation was formed, Beth Jacob. These three congregations, which were led out of the war years by three influential rabbis – Reform, Morton J. Cohn (1946–61); Conservative, Monroe Levens (1948–74), and Orthodox, Baruch Stern (1947–77) – were the only ones until the 1950s, when the Jewish population increased to 6,000 and new congregations formed. By the beginning of the 21st century, there were over 30 congregations, including the three original ones, covering all the trends in Judaism, from Humanistic to Chabad.
As the Jewish community grew, so did the need for social and communal service. At the beginning, men and women took separate paths to this end.
Forty men, led by Marcus Schiller, formed the first Hebrew Benevolent Society of San Diego in 1871. Twenty-six signatories received the charter for the B'nai B'rith Eduard Lasker Lodge #370 in 1887, with Simon Levi as president. By mid-20th century there were seven men's lodges, some named for prominent citizens such as Samuel I. Fox, Edward Breitbard, and Henry Weinberger. In 1929 Anna Shelley organized the Birdie Stodel B'nai B'rith Women's Chapter which grew by mid-century into five chapters in the county. AZA Fraternity and B'nai B'rith Girls followed in 1930, and Hillel in 1947. In mid-century Zionist groups were also strong, but by the end of the century, most of the organizations, except for Hillel, were in decline.
In 1890, Mrs. Simon Levi organized the Ladies Hebrew Aid Society, with 20 members "to render relief to the sick and needy, to rehabilitate families and to aid the orphan and half-orphan." This group joined with the Jolly Sewing Circle, Hebrew Sisterhood and Junior Charity League in 1918 to form the Federated Jewish Charities. In 1936, the Charities split into two: the Jewish Welfare Society, later to become Jewish Family Service, incorporated, and the United Jewish Fund, predecessor of the United Jewish Federation of San Diego, was formed. The Jolly 16, a women's social and benevolent group, started a ten-bed San Diego Hebrew Home for the Aged which opened in 1944. A much larger facility opened in 1950, in partnership with the Jewish Community Center, and in 1989 the Hebrew Home expanded and moved to northern San Diego County. The first Jewish Community Center opened in 1946 in a storefront in North Park. Within six years a new building with a pool, gymnasium, classrooms and a library opened in the eastern part of the city, which served the community for almost 50 years. A larger facility opened in the La Jolla area in 1985 and was expanded in the late 1990s.
Mrs. Abraham Blochman started formal Jewish education for Beth Israel's children in 1887. Education remained the purview of individual congregations until the 1960s, when the San Diego Hebrew Day School and the Bureau of Jewish Education were created. The Bureau became the independent Agency for Jewish Education in 1986. In 1979 the San Diego Jewish Academy began, and 20 years later it opened as a full-time school at a large campus in northern San Diego.
In 1970, with the Jewish population at 12,000, a Judaic studies program began at San Diego State University. Fifteen years later this program grew into the Lipinsky Institute for Judaic Studies, sponsored by arts patrons Bernard and Dorris Lipinsky. Lawrence Baron, the director of the Institute since 1988, holds the Nasatir Professorship in Modern Jewish History, named for Abraham P. Nasatir, an Orthodox Jew who was the first Jewish professor at the university (1928–1974). When he arrived, most of the students and faculty had never met a Jew before, but by the end of his tenure, Nasatir Hall
A group of women, under the direction of Irene Fine, began the Women's Institute for Continuing Jewish Education in 1977. It pioneered the teaching of Torah, Talmud and Midrash by women. The San Diego Women's Haggadah (1980), the first women's text for a feminist seder, was followed by other publications which led the way for Jewish feminists.
With the Jewish population at 30,000 in 1980, a small group led by historian Henry Schwartz founded the Jewish Historical Society of San Diego. Its archive for local Jewish history was established in 1999 by Stanley and Laurel Schwartz in cooperation with the Lipinsky Institute. The archive's opening in 2000 celebrated 150 years of San Diego Jewry.
The year 1914 saw the first weekly Jewish newspaper, The Southwest Jewish Press, which later became the San Diego Jewish Press Heritage, concluding its run in 2003. In 2005, there were two Jewish newspapers: the bi-weekly San Diego Jewish Times, formerly Israel Today, and the monthly San Diego Jewish Journal. Rabbi Aaron Gottesman brought the community a Jewish radio program called "Milk and Honey" during the 1980s.
The following people are some of those who have made contributions which have had a lasting effect on the community and beyond.
French immigrant Abraham Blochman and his son Lucien started the Blochman Banking Company in 1893. By the late 20th century, it had become Security Pacific National Bank, one of the largest banks in California. The Blochman family took various leadership roles in the Jewish community and in civic and communal affairs. Lucien was a director of the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 which gave Balboa Park its Spanish architecture. He and his sister Mina Blochman Brust helped found the San Diego Chapter of the American Red Cross at the turn of the century, and Mina started the First Aid Program in 1919.
Abraham Klauber, who arrived in 1869, was an early merchant and San Diego booster whose descendants were prominent into the 21st century. Daughter Alice Klauber, an artist, directed the arts pavilion at the 1915 Exposition. A business partner of Abraham Klauber, Sigmund Steiner moved to Escondido in north San Diego County to open a store and became mayor (1894–1906). Under his leadership, the grape growing industry flourished with an annual Grape Day Festival and parade, one of the largest in Southern California. The festival at Grape Day Park was still celebrated at the beginning of the 21st century.
The five Levi brothers, two of whom had long lasting effects in San Diego county and were also business partners of Klauber, came to San Diego in the 1870s. Simon was a civic and religious leader who started the Simon Levi Company, wholesale grocery and liquor. Adolph, whose interests spread from the Pacific Ocean to the easternmost reaches of the county, was in the livery and ranching business. Also a civic and religious leader, his descendants carried on the family's communal spirit into the 21st century.
Samuel I. Fox owned the Lion Clothing Store, which was located next to the Hog and Hominy Store operated by a Mr. Baer on what was known as the "Zoo Block." From 1886 to his death in 1939, he was a civic, communal and religious leader who promoted the business community by helping to secure local control of the port and the water supply. In 1930 he was the first president of the San Diego Community Chest and was one of the organizers of the 1935 Exposition in Balboa Park which helped pull the city out of the depression.
Brothers Henry and Jacob Weinberger were communal and religious leaders. Jacob became the first federal judge in San Diego in 1946 and was the founding president of the United Jewish Fund (1936–45). The restored 1917 federal bankruptcy courthouse is named for him. Judge Edward Schwartz was appointed to the U.S. District Court by President Johnson in 1968, where he remained until his death in 2000. During his term he became chief justice, and in 1995 the U.S. Courthouse was named the Edward J. Schwartz Courthouse and Federal Building.
In the later part of the 20th century, several business people made their mark on the national scene and became local philanthropists. Sol Price, 1976 founder of the first national retail membership warehouse, The Price Club, along with his family, has funded much neighborhood redevelopment and university growth. Pioneering scientists, Irwin Jacobs and Andrew Viterbi, founded LINKABIT, in 1968, a breakthrough company in the development of digital technology. In 1985 they went on to start Qualcomm, the cell phone industry giant. Both men, their families and their companies became major philanthropists, with the Jewish Community Center, synagogues, the San Diego Symphony, Qualcomm Stadium, theaters, public broadcasting and universities as some of the beneficiaries of their gifts.
Jews have participated in the arts with internationally renowned conductor, David Amos, who directs the Jewish Community Orchestra, and Ian Campbell, the San Diego Opera director since 1983. Under his direction the opera commissioned local composer Myron Fink to write the music for The Conquistador, the story of a family of secret Jews during the Inquisition in Mexico, which premiered in San Diego in 1997.
Robert Breitbard founded the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum, in 1961. Located in Balboa Park and with Breitbard still its driving force at the beginning of the 21st century, it was the nation's largest multi-sport museum. The Park is also host to the Museum of Photographic Arts, whose founding director, Arthur Ollman, has brought world class exhibitions to the museum since 1983 and into the 21st century.
Jack Gross started the first TV station in San Diego, KFMB, in 1949, and along with his son radio talk-show host and critic, Laurence Gross, Jews have maintained a long and steady presence on local TV news into the 21st century, with newscasters Marty Levine, Susan Taylor, and Gloria Penner.
In the national public sphere, former industrialist, Colonel Irving Salomon came to San Diego County after World War II. In 1953 President Eisenhower appointed him as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, for which he worked until his death in 1979. He and his wife Cecile, a classical pianist and composer of Jewish music, entertained notables at their ranch in Valley Center and were benefactors for cultural programs.
Real estate developer M. Larry Lawrence bought and restored the famous 1888 Hotel Del Coronado in 1963. His philanthropy helped create the new Jewish Community Center in 1985 which bears his family name. President Clinton made him ambassador to Switzerland (1994–96).
Jonas Salk, originator of the poliomyelitis vaccine, started the Salk Institute in La Jolla in 1963 and created a haven for world renowned research, while enabling architect Louis Kahn to design one of the world's great buildings.
Though many Jews had served the city government as elected officials, the first Jewish mayor, Susan Golding, was elected in 1992, serving for two terms. Her father, Brage Golding, was president of San Diego State University from 1972 to 1977.
In 1993 two Jews were elected to congress, Robert Filner and Lynn Schenk. Schenk later became chief of staff for Governor Gray Davis, and Filner continued his tenure in congress into the 21st century. In 2000 Susan Davis was elected to congress. In 2005, two out of the five-person county congression al delegation were Jewish.
William Kolender, a career law enforcement professional, served as the chief of the San Diego Police Department for 13 years, beginning in 1975. After a short retirement, in 1995 he was elected sheriff of San Diego County, and he held the post into the 21st century. Together with Rabbi Aaron Gottesman, he started the San Diego Police Department Chaplaincy Program in 1968.
Former U.S. attorney, Alan Bersin, completed a tenure as superintendent of San Diego City Schools in 2005 and was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as secretary of education for California.
At the beginning of the 21st century, as California's population swelled, so did the Jewish population, with newcomers from all parts of the U.S. and other countries such as South Africa, Iran, and especially from Latin and South America. Cousins of first generation eastern European Jewish immigrants, who came to the U.S. at the beginning of the 20th century, found themselves welcomed in Mexico and other Latin countries, and eventually, in San Diego. Proximity to Mexico provided a distinct flavor, as Jewish residents moved back and forth across the border for business, social activities and worship. The migratory inclination of the community was broadened by snowbirds in the winter, "zonies" (Arizonans), refugees from the desert heat, in the summer, a growing retirement community, and a large military presence. Many had strong ties to other places, which sometimes restrained their participation in local community life. Close-knit alliances formed, based on origins, either native or immigrant, as extended families were far away.
N.B. Stern, "The Franklin Brothers of San Diego," in: Journal of San Diego History (1975); T. Casper, "The Blochman Saga in San Diego," in: Journal of San Diego History (1977); R.A. Burlinson, "Samuel Fox, Merchant and Civil Leader in San Diego, 1886–1939," in: Journal of San Diego History (1980); L.M. Klauber, "Abraham Klauber – a Pioneer Merchant (1831–1911)," in: Western States Jewish History (1970); H. Schwartz. "The Levi Saga: Temecula, Julian, San Diego," in: Western States Jewish History (1974); R.D. Gerson, "San Diego's Unusual Rabbi, Samuel Freuder," in: Western States Jewish History (1993); idem, "Jewish Religious Life in San Diego, California, 1851–1918" (unpublished thesis, 1974); L. Baron, "The Jews of San Diego State University, California," in: Western States Jewish History (1998); V. Jacobs and S. Arden (eds.), Diary of a San Diego Girl – 1856 (1974); L.G. Stanford, Ninety Weinberger Years: The Jacob Weinberger Story (1971); B'nai B'rith Centennial 1887 – 1987 Commemorative Booklet; W.M. Kramer, L. Schwartz, S. Schwartz, Old Town, New Town an Enjoyment of San Diego Jewish History (1994); S. Schwartz, A Brief History of Congregation Beth Israel. 135th Birthday 1861–1996, booklet; M.E. Stratthaus, "Flaw in the Jewel: Housing Discrimination Against Jews in La Jolla, California," in: American Jewish History (1996).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.