The Jewish Community in Los Angeles
Compiled by Clifton L. Holland
Los Angeles is home to the second largest population of Jewish people in the United States. Many synagogues of the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist movements can be found throughout the city. Most are located in the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles. The area in West LA around Fairfax and Pico Boulevards contains a large amount of Orthodox Jews. The first Jewish synagogue (B'nai B'rith) was organized in 1862 by Rabbi A. W. Edelman. One of the oldest synagogues in Los Angeles is the Breed Street Shul (founded in 1923) in East Los Angeles, which is being renovated.
Congregation Bnai Brith (later known as Wilshire Blvd. Temple) was organized on July 13, 1862. The Congregations first synagogue site on South Fort Street (now Broadway) between 2nd and 3rd. This was the first Jewish building in Los Angeles. The cornerstone was laid on August 18, 1872.
The building itself was of Gothic architecture. In front were two massive buttresses surmounted by ornamental stone, with carved spires. A five-pointed star set in a circle fronted the building The interior was seventy feet long, forty feet wide, and thirty feet high, and the sanctuary seated 365 persons.
In 1894 the building was sold due to its cracked walls and antiquated appearance in a busy commercial street, [that] was not conducive to worship. [Destroyed]
In 1896 Congregation Bnai Brith built a larger synagogue at 9th and Hope. The cornerstone was laid on March 15, 1896 and it was dedicated on September 5. The architect was Abraham M. Edelman, son of its long-time rabbi.
The synagogue, which was long regarded as the finest church edifice in Los Angeles, was of red brick with twin towers and pomegranate domes, characteristic of mosaic architecture. The sanctuary seated 600. The floor was carpeted in deep red, the pews were plush-cushioned, and the chandelier, containing sixty bulbs, was the largest in the city. Stained glass windows were presented by H. W. Hellman, Harris Newmark, Kaspare Cohn, and Mrs. J. P. Newmark.
(Descriptions from Vorspan and Gartner, History of the Jews of Los Angeles, 1970. Bnai Brith Congregation officially joined the Reform movement around 1900.)
The third synagogue of the Bnai Brith Congregation was built between 1922 and 1929 at the NE corner of Hobart and Wilshire, designed by Abraham A. Edelman, S. Tilden Norton and David C. Allison, and the name changed to Wilshire Blvd. Temple Congregation Beth Israel was formed in 1899 by the merger of three congregations and is the oldest Orthodox congregation. Its synagogue at 227 Olive Street was dedicated on April 13, 1902, and it was used until 1940. It was a large building with twin towers with domes at the tops, also called the Olive Street Shul. The building was located on Bunker Hill, an area that was redeveloped in the 1960s.
Congregation Talmud Torah was established partly due to a need in the community for a Hebrew School close to the growing population east of downtown. In 1904 a house at 114 Rose Street was used as a synagogue. After 1910, with the Jewish population moving to Boyle Heights, property on Breed Street was purchased. The Beth Hamedrash was built there in 1915; this building still stands today at the rear of the property. The large Breed Street Shul was erected at this site at 247 Breed Street beginning in 1920, and dedicated in 1923. This was once the largest Orthodox congregation west of Chicago. The Jewish Historical Society of Southern California is raising money to renovate the building so that it can be used to serve the community.
Anshei Sephard Congregation was established by immigrants from Romania and used a house on Banning Street. Later it was known as the Custer Street Synagogue, and eventually merged with the Olive Street Synagogue.
Agudath Achim Congregation was incorporated in 1908 at 21st and Central. It established a Chevra Kadisha (burial society) and a cemetery on Downey Road in East Los Angeles. In 1936 it moved to 2521 West View Street.
Sinai Synagogue arose out a conflict between Orthodox Jews, and broke away from Beth Israel (Olive Street Shul) around 1906. It was the first Conservative congregation. They used facilities at 521 West Pico, then purchased a lot at Valencia and 12th in the Pico Union area, and dedicated a new synagogue there on February 5, 1909. The new temple had weathered oak furnishings and tinting in blending shades in brown and blue, with splendid art glass and windows and magnificent pipe organ. (Vorspan & Gartner) A large Star of David still exists in a window and above the interior chandelier.
Sinai Congregation moved to a site at 405 S. New Hampshire in 1926. This very large synagogue was designed by S. Tilden Norton. A mixture of eastern Mediterranean areas Byzantine, Moorish plus other odds and ends. A dome dominates the interior and exterior, and hand-cut bricks of various colors create a textured busy facade. (A Guide to Architecture in Los Angeles)
Sinai Temples third and current synagogue is at 10400 Wilshire Blvd. in Westwood. Website: www.sinaitemple.org
Bnai Amunah Congregation established a synagogue in 1914 at Broadway and 40th, then moved in 1921 to 4200 S. Grand Avenue.
Congregation Tifereth Israel held services in homes, halls and theaters, but finally dedicated their synagogue at the NW corner of Santa Barbara and La Salle Avenues in 1932. (Photo in Sinai Yearbook 1946 in JGSLA collection, Los Angeles Family History Center). The Sephardic community was made up of immigrants mainly from the Island of Rhodes, Asia Minor, Salonica, Constantinople, Smyrna, Morocco and the Balkans. Later the congregation moved to 10500 Wilshire Blvd. Website: www.sephardictemple.org
Temple Emanuel was organized in 1919 as the second Reform congregation in Los Angeles, but with a desire to adhere to historic Judaism, modeled on the style of the Free Synagogue founded by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise in New York. After meeting at first at the Wilshire Masonic Hall, a synagogue was dedicated on Manhattan Place near Wilshire Blvd. in 1924. Despite growing rapidly for a few years, due to the Depression and the new Wilshire Blvd. Temple opening nearby, the synagogue was closed, and the building was occupied by Christ Church. However, the congregation was revived in 1939 and a synagogue was built at 8844 Wilshire Blvd.
Beth David, or the Cornwell Synagogue, was founded in 1918. Services were held on Brooklyn Avenue at the beginning; the temple was built in 1923 at 336 Cornwell Avenue in Boyle Heights.
Bnai Jacob, 2833 Fairmont Street in Boyle Heights. Dedicated August 14, 1927, with a meeting hall adjacent to the synagogue. Now used as a church. Photo courtesy Jeff Bock (See Tour of Boyle Heights with Hershey Eisenberg, Roots-Key web edition Summer/Fall 2003).
Hollywood Temple Beth El, founded in 1920, held services at a bungalow at 1414 North Wilton Place. In 1922 a synagogue was built at 1508 North Wilton Place. A later site was 1317 Crescent Heights Blvd
Bnai Zion Congregation met in rented stores in City Terrace and by 1928 had sufficient members to erect a synagogue. However, the group was split in two factions, the Bnai Zion group and the Menorah Center group. The Bnai Zion group built a synagogue at 3364 City Terrace Drive, though they had financial difficulties, especially during the Depression, but became very active and paid off their mortgage in 1935.
Congregation Tifereth Jacob began in 1922 with fifty families, rented space at first, and in 1925 purchased a building at the corner of 59th Street and Brentwood in the southern part of the city. After two years, the old building was replaced by a new and larger one, which served 1500 families.
Beth Jacob West Adams Congregation was organized in 1925 at a meeting in a house at 5175 West Adams Blvd. under the name West Adams Hebrew congregation. Services were held at 4759 West Adams. The name was changed in 1928 and a building was erected at the SE corner of West Adams and Hillcrest. By 1931, it was necessary to enlarge the synagogue to seat 800 people.
Temple Israel, the third Reform congregation, was founded in 1926 by four men from Temple Beth El who wanted to create a more modern temple. Services were held in the old Susue Haijakawa mansion at Franklin and Argyle Avenue. In 1929 they moved to 1740 Ivar Avenue, and in 1945 they acquired a site for a new temple at Hollywood and Fuller. The temple became very progressive, and Rabbi Nussbaum created the Inter-Faith Forum in 1943 with the Hollywood area churches to foster better relationships. The website is www.tioh.org
Etz Jacob Congregation opened at 7659 Beverly Blvd. in 1932 under the name Congregation Share Torah. Jacob Tannenbaum led a group in organizing a Talmud Torah in the same year, and the congregation was named in his honor. In 1946 they joined with the oldest Orthodox congregation, Beth Israel, which sold its Olive Street synagogue to build a new temple and educational center on Beverly Blvd.
Bnai Moshe Congregation, 2744 Wabash Avenue in Boyle Heights.
University Synagogue was organized in 1943 with services conducted by one of the members at 574 Hilgard Avenue near UCLA. The present site of the Reform congregations large synagogue is 11960 Sunset Blvd. Website: www.unisyn.org
Temples in the City Directory of 1930
* Former sites - no longer in existence.
Congregation Talmud Torah 114 Rose Street *
Congregation Talmud Torah (Breed Street Shul) 247 N. Breed St., Boyle Heights
Cornwall St. Shul 336 N. Cornwell St.
B'nai Jacob 2833 Fairmont St.
Congregation B'nai B'rith (Wilshire Blvd. Temple) 214 S. Broadway * (pictured above)
Congregation B'nai B'rith 9th and Hope Sts. *
Sinai Temple 12th and Valencia Sts.
Sinai Temple (C); 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 474-1518; www.sinaitemple.org .
Hollywood Temple Beth El 1414 N. Wilton Pl.
Hollywood Temple Beth El 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd.
Congregation Etz Jacob (O); 7659 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 938-2619.
Agudath Achim 21st and Central
Beth Jacob 4678 W. Adams Blvd.
Beth Jacob Congregation (O); 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 278-1911; www.bethjacob.org .
Rodel Sholem Jefferson Blvd and Cimmaron St.
Sephardic Temple Tefereth Israel 1551 W. Santa Barbara Ave.
Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel (S/C); 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 475-7311; www.sephardictemple.org .
Sephardic Hebrew Center 55th and Hoover Sts.
Sephardic Jewish Center (S/O); PMB No. 2757, Beverly Hills 90213; (310) 275-1293.
Temple Israel of Hollywood (R); 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 876-8330; www.tioh.org .
Temple Beth Am (C); 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 652-7353; www.tbala.org .
For questions about Temple Beth Am, contact Executive Director Sheryl Goldman at Sgoldman@tbala.org.
Mogen David 1518 Gramercy Pl.
Congregation Mogen David (O); 9717 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles;(310) 556-5609.
University Synagogue (R); 11960 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 472-1255; www.unisyn.org .
Stephen S. Wise Temple (R); 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles; (310) 476-8561; www.sswt.org
Mishkon Tefilo 206 Main St.
Adat Ari El 5540 Laurel Canyon Blvd.
Temple Beth Hillel 12326 Riverside Dr.
Shaarey Zedek Congregation (O); 12800 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; (818) 763-0560; www.valleyshul.com .
Wilshire Boulevard Temple Irmas Campus (R); 1161 W. Olympic
Blvd.; (213) 388-2401; www.wilshireboulevardtemple.org
3663 Wilshire Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90010-2798 - 213-388-2401 Stephen Breuer Executive Director
Los Angeles Jewish History: http://flatiron.sdsc.edu/projects/jla/main.php?page_id=37
|11 November 2005|
|L.A. Jewry Needs More Exploring|
|by David N. Myers|
|Like any self-respecting
East Coast native, I arrived in Los Angeles more than a decade and a half ago armed with
the usual stereotypes of this city -- namely, it lacked intellectual and cultural
gravitas, was distinguished by its traffic and smog and defied all known logic
of urban organization. Almost immediately, I came to realize that while there was a
grain of truth in all of these claims, Los Angeles had many virtues. To begin with,
it was far more playful and open to reinvention than the solemn and self-serious East
Coast cities in which I was raised and educated. More substantially, it is the site
of immense cultural energy that encourages initiative and innovation.
Since arriving, Ive also shed another stereotype that I had brought with me as a historian of the Jewish experience. Trained as a Europeanist, I had been inculcated to believe that Los Angeles was to New York as America was to Europe a pale imitation of the real McCoy, a parvenu in a world in which antiquity and social stratification bestow merit. This view, unfortunately, is all too common among East Coast or Eurocentric academics.
It is quite surprising, for example, that Los Angeles, the site of frequent innovation, merits no place in the definitive account of American Judaism recently authored by Jonathan Sarna. What this lacuna suggests is that we are in need of more research on the L.A. Jewish experience leading to a new scholarly synthesis that blends cultural, political, social, religious, and institutional stories into one tale. This research must attend to both the local and national contexts of L.A. Jewry.
For it is hard to deny that America has been one of the most successful sites of Jewish settlement in history, if not the most successful of Diaspora communities. Nor can one quarrel with the premise that Los Angeles is one of the most interesting laboratories of urban experimentation today, including its Jewish community.
What make Los Angeles and its Jews so interesting and worthy of attention? Indeed, why should the L.A. Jewish community be a subject of serious study for researchers. Here are some reasons:
1) Size Los Angeles is the second-largest Jewish city in North America and one of the largest concentrations of Jews in the world. Starting with but eight young men in 1850, the L.A. Jewish community has exploded in population over the course of its 150-year history, reaching its current population of 500,000-600,000. It has developed a vast network of organizations to which Jews of different religious, cultural and political persuasions belong. It also has a sizable majority of Jews without affiliation of any sort, who represent an important and largely untapped source for those intent on studying the challenges facing the American Jewish future.
2) Diversity Similar to the larger city, the L.A. Jewish community is blessed with rich cultural and human resources. The arrival of thousands of Jews from Iran, Israel and the former Soviet Union over the past 30 years has injected tremendous diversity and energy into Jewish communal and institutional life. In Los Angeles today are some of the most textured and diverse ethnic Jewish neighborhoods anywhere in the world. We have an opportunity to observe in these neighborhoods, and among the recent arrivals, familiar patterns from the history of immigration to this country the initial desire to organize among ones own group, followed by a desire for integration into the mainstream, followed by a desire to reclaim parts of a fading or lost native culture. We also have the opportunity to juxtapose these recent waves of migration with the internal American waves that brought thousands of Jews to Los Angeles in early- to mid-20th century.
3) The Sunny Side Jews have come to Los Angeles for the same reasons that millions of others have: sunny weather and an accompanying sense of social optimism and economic opportunity. Los Angeles has been very good to its Jews, who have assumed positions of prominence in Hollywood, the real estate business and local politics. Moreover, Jews have thrived on the ethos of social mobility and cultural experimentation for which the city is known (and often mocked elsewhere). Thus, they have constantly moved, often westward, in search of open space. And they have constantly remolded themselves from new arrivals into city elders, political radicals, moviemakers, and neo-kabbalists. In this sense, the L.A Jewish experience may not diverge radically from the larger American Jewish template of opportunity and upward mobility. It is the same (in terms of seizing opportunity), just more so.
4) The Dark Side Some have observed that the sunshine narrative of Los Angeles must be tempered by a healthy dose of the noir. According to that darker story, evoked by Mike Davis in City of Quartz and more recently in the film, Crash, Los Angeles veneer of opportunity and mobility barely conceal the barrenness of a vast urban wasteland, marked by anomie, isolation and a glaringly absent center. This noir account of the L.A. Jewish experience cannot be dismissed out of hand. It pushes us to think not just of the Hollywood studio bosses, but of the blacklisted writers accused of communist sympathies; not just of the conspicuously affluent, but of the invisible working-class poor; not just of the self-assured guardians of the faith, but of those who struggle to find anything meaningful in their lives as Jews.
Ranging between the narrative extremes of sunshine and noir, the Jews of Los Angeles make for one of the most intriguing and complex Jewish urban centers around. This is all the more remarkable given how understudied L.A. Jewry is. To say this is not to diminish in any way the pioneering labors of Rabbi William Kramer and Norton Stern, who did much to preserve the historical legacy of L.A. Jewry. Nor is to take credit away from groups like the Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly or the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California, which work to continue the work of Kramer and Stern.
Rather, it is to say that the last major monograph devoted to the history of Jewish Los Angeles was written 35 years ago by Max Vorspan and Lloyd Gartner. Their History of the Jews of Los Angeles (1970) covers a great deal of ground, especially in tracing the institutional history of the community over the course of its first century. But much more remains to be studied and written, especially since the city has grown and changed in dramatic ways. Scholars ranging from Deborah Dash Moore to George Sanchez to Raphael Sonenshein have shed considerable light on one or another of the citys Jewish history. But we need more.
A step in this direction will take place this weekend when leading scholars, community activists and political officials gather for a conference, L.A. Jewry Then and Now, to be held on consecutive days at the Skirball Cultural Center, the Autry National Center and the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies. At the heart of the deliberations will be two sets of key questions. First, how do L.A. Jews, in all their ethnic diversity and geographic dispersion, fit into the larger cultural and social mosaic of Los Angeles? In what ways is the Jewish experience different from and similar to the experience of other groups in this explosively multicultural city (Mexicans, Chinese, Koreans, Armenians, etc.)? A second set of questions is refracted through a broader national lens: What is the place of L.A. Jewry in the larger narrative of American Jewish history? Is L.A. Jewry unique or typical of the American Jewish experience?
Answers to these questions will, of necessity, be provisional. But they will set the stage for more systematic work over the coming years, work that will begin to fill large gaps not only in the history of the city of Los Angeles, but also in the history of the modern Jewish experience.