SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA, including San Francisco, a combined city-county in N. California, and surrounding area. In 2001 the San Francisco city population was 776,733, with the Jewish population 49,500; an additional 160,000 Jews lived in the surrounding area.
Following the discovery of gold in Northern California in 1848, thousands of Jews were among the quarter of a million people making the long and arduous trip to one of the most remote regions on the continent. Although a few came overland, most of the Jewish pioneers chose the sea route: The four- or five-month long, 16,000-mile journey "around the Horn" often shortened by a land crossing of malarial swamps at Panama or Nicaragua.
Gold Rush San Francisco was engulfed by peoples from all over the world, and the town's Jewish community was itself highly diverse. The majority was from the German-speaking lands of Central Europe, especially Bavaria and the Prussian province of Posen (seized from Poland in 1793). Others hailed from England or the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, and a few were Sephardim from the West Indies or the American South.
In the coarse mining towns of the Mother Lode, along the western foothills of the Sierras, Jews established businesses, burial societies, and synagogues. In the gateway boomtown that was San Francisco, rife with prostitution, gambling, and gunfights, about 30 Jews held High Holiday services in a wood-framed tent as early as 1849.
Despite the frequent fires, sandstorms, and epidemics that ravaged the fledgling city, a number of the pioneer Jews became immensely successful. Antisemitism was less salient than in many other parts of America, and Jews, rarely perceived as interlopers, were well represented among the early political leaders, judges, and sheriffs. Others distinguished themselves in business, amassing fortunes in dry goods, banking and utilities, real estate and insurance, mining and overseas commerce, tobacco and produce. In later generations the extensive philanthropy of these first families – Fleishhacker, Haas, Koshland, Stern, Steinhardt, Dinkelspiel, Zellerbach and others – made their names well-known in Northern California to Jew and non-Jew alike.
The most famous pioneer Jew is the Bavarian Levi Strauss, whose jeans have become one of the most recognizable symbols of America around the world. The brothers-in law Louis Sloss and Lewis Gerstle headed the enormous Alaska Commercial Company, which for decades held a highly lucrative, federally granted concession for the territory's sealskins. Another early arrival, the Westphalian engineer Adolph Sutro, designed and built a four-mile mining tunnel through the Comstock silver lode in Nevada. He invested the profits in San Francisco real estate, became one of the wealthiest men in the state, and was elected mayor in 1892, the first Jewish mayor of a major American city. At the end of the 19th century, Julius Kahn was elected to the House of Representatives from San Francisco and served 12 terms. Following his death in 1924, his wife, Florence Prag *Kahn, was elected to his seat, the first Jewish woman in the U.S. Congress.
Many of the children of the pioneers, Bay Area Jewry's second generation, distinguished themselves in the arts. David Belasco, an innovative playwright and producer, set designer and director, became one of the leading theatrical personalities in the country. Toby Rosenthal, a consummate portraitist and genre painter, was one of a half dozen gifted San Francisco Jewish painters who came of age in the late 19th century. A.L. Gump, as a purveyor and connoisseur of Far Eastern art, jewelry and furnishings, literally changed the taste of San Franciscans, even while an impenetrable social barrier existed between whites and Asians.
The religious expression of this frontier community was decidedly liberal, and the two earliest synagogues, Emanu-El and Sherith Israel, both formed in the first week of April 1851, came to embrace Reform Judaism, the former within a decade of its founding, the latter by the turn of the century. Soon after the Civil War, Emanu-El erected the magnificent Sutter Street Temple, its twin gothic towers a prominent feature of the young city's skyline. In 1925, the congregation moved to the Lake Street location it currently occupies and built another architectural masterpiece, harmoniously blending Byzantine, Moorish, and Spanish mission styles. The domed sanctuary, influenced by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, is one of the most noted houses of worship on the West Coast. Sherith Israel constructed its grand synagogue, even more eclectic in style and filled with vivid stained-glass windows, in 1905. It withstood
While San Francisco, with a Jewish population of almost 20,000, was the second largest Jewish community in the United States by 1880, Oakland, across the Bay, grew more slowly. But the city of fewer than a thousand Jews produced two extraordinary personalities: the maverick Reform rabbi Judah L. *Magnes, a passionate advocate for social justice in New York and founder and first president of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the irreverent author and avant-garde art critic, Gertrude *Stein. Both attended the Sunday school of the First Hebrew Congregation, today's Temple Sinai. Magnes and Stein lived most of their adult lives abroad, but, by their own admission, their path-breaking careers owed much to their exuberant formative years in the East Bay.
Jews could be found on both sides of the violent class conflict that gripped the Bay Area during the Progressive era and later in the Depression. They included the agrarian reformers David Lubin, his son Simon Lubin, and half-brother Harris Weinstock; the socialist Anna Strunsky; the suffragette Selina Solomons; and labor organizers such as Lou Goldblatt and Rose *Pesotta. At Sherith Israel, Rabbi Jacob Nieto and his successor, the young Jacob *Weinstein, spoke out forcefully on behalf of the disadvantaged. But corporate titans such as I.W. *Hellman, Jr., and the brothers Herbert and Mortimer Fleishhacker were mainstays of the conservative, anti-union forces in the Bay Area.
The turn of the century saw an influx of thousands of Yiddish-speaking immigrants, although for many decades they accounted for a relatively low proportion of the total Jewish population compared with other major American cities. In San Francisco, shanties of East European Jews sprang up in the South of Market area before it was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. Two newer neighborhoods took its place after the disaster: the outlying San Bruno Avenue quarter, and the more populous Fillmore-MacAllister district, a vibrant Jewish neighborhood in the heart of the city until well after World War II. The Fillmore produced one of the century's greatest child prodigies, the violinist Yehudi *Menuhin, while another violinist destined for worldwide fame, Isaac *Stern, grew up in the nearby Richmond District. In Oakland, a colorful East European Jewish neighborhood arose in the aging Victorian houses west of Broadway, centered on the Orthodox Congregation Beth Jacob on Ninth and Castro Streets.
Most of the city's Jewish immigrants left the ethnic enclaves by the 1940s for more mixed, middle class neighborhoods, such as the Richmond and Sunset Districts in San Francisco and the Grand Lake District in Oakland. Still, a thick social barrier remained between them and the German-Jewish elite, many of whom lived in exclusive Pacific Heights with commanding views of the Bay. The two groups differed on the proper response to the Holocaust and fought bitterly over the merits of Zionism. During World War II, Rabbi Irving Reichert of Emanu-El, along with key lay leaders of his congregation, founded the local chapter of the American Council for Judaism, dedicated to preventing the creation of a Jewish state; it soon became the strongest branch of the ACJ in the country. The forceful young Rabbi, Saul White, a Polish immigrant who served the Conservative synagogue Beth Sholom, which was comprised largely of East Europeans, countered Reichert.
After the birth of Israel in 1948, and American recognition, a community consensus was reached, and nearly all the pioneer families transferred their full support to the Jewish state. The eloquent, new rabbi at Emanu-El, Alvin Fine, advocated Zionism from the pulpit.
Fine and his close friend Benjamin Swig, owner of the historic Fairmont Hotel, helped shift the leadership of Bay Area Jewry into the mainstream of American Judaism. Swig was the son of a Lithuanian immigrant, but two descendants of pioneers were no less active in invigorating Jewish life: Walter Haas and Daniel Koshland, cousins, brothers-in-law and co-owners of Levi Strauss and Company. Meanwhile, thousands of young Jewish newcomers from the East and Midwest, and refugees from the Nazi terror, also infused the community with a new sense of pride and unity with world Jewry. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Bay Area Jewry was especially assertive in the rescue of Jews from Ethiopia and the Soviet Union. Today, many tens of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union live in the region, in San Francisco and on the Peninsula in particular, having been aided by the Jewish Community Federation and its agencies.
In the post-World War II period, the Bay Area continued to be a fertile field for audacious Jewish artists such as the "beat" poet Allen *Ginsberg, the comedian Lenny *Bruce, the sculptor Jacques Schnier, and the rock impressario (and Holocaust survivor) Bill *Graham.
The Jewish community became intertwined with both the counter-culture and gay rights movement, which took hold in the Bay Area beginning in the late 1960s. The House of Love and Prayer founded by Rabbi Shlomo *Carlebach, and later the Jewish Renewal Movement of New Age rabbi Zalman *Schachter-Shalomi, drew many spiritually minded young Jews disaffected with traditional synagogue services. Jewish mysticism and mediation have remained common features of Bay Area Jewish life, both within and outside synagogues.
In 1977, one of the first synagogues in the country formed expressly for homosexuals was founded in San Francisco, Congregation Sha'ar Zahav. The following year, a member of the Board of Supervisors, Harvey Milk, a New York-born Jew and the only openly gay officeholder in the country, was assassinated in City Hall (along with Mayor George Moscone) by former supervisor Dan White. The shocking tragedy energized many homosexuals, and since then there has been an increasing number of openly gay rabbis and lay leaders in the Bay Area. The general Jewish community has shown great sensitivity to the AIDS crisis since a pivotal, widely circulated Yom Kippur sermon on the issue was delivered at Emanu-El in 1985 by its senior rabbi, Robert Kirschner.
San Francisco's and the East Bay's Jewish Community Federations and their fast-growing endowment funds, as well as family foundations such as Koret, have tried to meet the rapidly increasing and changing needs of the diverse Bay Area Jewish community. By the mid-1980s the Jewish population numbered around 223,000, 4% of the entire Bay Area. In 2004, it was estimated to have doubled (as had the general population in the past two decades) as a result of huge suburban gains: Contra Costa County, Marin and Sonoma Counties, and the Peninsula. A particularly large and vibrant Jewish community, including many immigrants from the Former Soviet Union as well as Israelis, has emerged on the Sourthern end of the Peninsula, with the city of Palo Alto as its hub. With about 72,000 Jews, the South Peninsula (essentially Santa Clara County) has passed San Francisco and contains the largest Jewish population of any region in the Bay Area. A large percentage of the Bay Area Jewish community is intermarried; a recent demographic study revealed that about a quarter of those living in Jewish households is non-Jewish.
Jews are prominent in almost every phase of the region's robust economic, cultural, and professional life. They are highly represented among the Nobel laureates of UC Berkeley and Stanford; they are leading corporate executives; they are on the cutting edge of bio-medical research and technological innovation in Silicon Valley. In 1992, two Bay Area Jewish women, Dianne *Feinstein and Barbara *Boxer were elected to the United States Senate, and they have both been twice reelected. Since 1995, Michael Tilson *Thomas (grandson of the great Yiddish actor Boris Thomashefsky) has been the music director of the San Francisco Symphony, the third Jew to serve in that capacity.
Recent decades have witnessed a virtual renaissance in Jewish education. Illustrious scholars teach in Jewish studies programs at the Bay Area's many institutions of higher learning – particularly Stanford (Steven Zipperstein and Arnold *Eisen), UC Berkeley (Robert *Alter and Daniel *Boyarin), and nearby UC Davis (David *Biale). The day school movement, moribund until the 1960s, has burgeoned in recent decades and in the early 2000s counts 13 schools in the area. Lehrhaus Judaica, a school for adult Jewish education, spans the entire Bay Area with its offerings. Public intellectuals such as Michael Lerner, founder and editor of the leftwing Tikkun magazine, have enlivened the debate in the Jewish community on Israel and other Jewish issues.
The recent growth of cultural and recreational centers has also been impressive. With the Judah L. Magnes Museum and the Contemporary Jewish Museum, A Traveling Jewish Theater, the Jewish Film Festival, and its myriad of new, well-equipped JCCs and residences for seniors, the Bay Area has emerged as one of the most dynamic Jewish communities in North America.
F. Rosenbaum, Visions of Reform: Congregation Emanu-El and the Jews of San Francisco, 1849–2000 (2000); I. Narell, Our City: The Jews of San Francisco (1981); A.F. Kahn, Jewish Voices of the California Gold Rush, 1849–1880 (2002); A.F. Kahn and M. Dollinger, California Jews (2003); F. Rosenbaum, Free to Choose: The Making of a Jewish Community in the American West, Oakland, California (1976).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.