Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library

Cosmopolitans: A Social and Cultural History of the Jews of the San Francisco Bay Area

Fred Rosenbaum
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 462
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Levi Strauss, A.L. Gump, Yehudi Menuhin, Gertrude Stein, Adolph Sutro, Congresswoman Florence Prag Kahn--Jewish people have been so enmeshed in life in and around San Francisco that their story is a chronicle of the metropolis itself. Since the Gold Rush, Bay Area Jews have countered stereotypes, working as farmers and miners, boxers and mountaineers. They were Gold Rush pioneers, Gilded Age tycoons, and Progressive Era reformers. Told through an astonishing range of characters and events,Cosmopolitansilluminates many aspects of Jewish life in the area: the high profile of Jewish women, extraordinary achievements in the business world, the cultural creativity of the second generation, the bitter debate about the proper response to the Holocaust and Zionism, and much more. Focusing in rich detail on the first hundred years after the Gold Rush, the book also takes the story up to the present day, demonstrating how unusually strong affinities for the arts and for the struggle for social justice have characterized this community even as it has changed over time.Cosmopolitans,set in the uncommonly diverse Bay Area, is a truly unique chapter of the Jewish experience in America.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94502-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    F. R.
  5. ONE Boomtown: Tumult and Triumph in Gold Rush San Francisco
    (pp. 1-35)

    SAN FRANCISCO CAME INTO BEING with the suddenness of an explosion. The discovery of gold in the Sierra foothills in 1848 triggered an influx to Northern California of a quarter of a million people, and the initial destination for nearly all of them was the Golden Gate. A remote and inconsequential Mexican outpost of fewer than a thousand inhabitants was rudely transformed into a monstrous center of commercial activity.

    San Francisco swelled to thirty-five thousand by 1851, and by the eve of the Civil War it ranked as the nation’s fifteenth largest city and sixth busiest port. In New York...

  6. TWO Woven into the Fabric: The Confident Community of the Gilded Age
    (pp. 36-68)

    FOLLOWING THE GOLD RUSH DECADE the area west of the Rockies emerged as a mighty commercial region with San Francisco at its vortex, and the city’s domination of the hinterland was aptly compared with that of ancient Rome.¹ By 1880 San Francisco’s economy outstripped that of the other twenty-four western American cities combined; it manufactured 60 percent of the goods and handled nearly all the imports and exports of the three West Coast states.²

    The city profited immensely from the Comstock silver strike in the eastern Sierras in 1859, which yielded hundreds of millions of dollars. Nevada, whose mines were...

  7. THREE Rooted Cosmopolitans: The Cultural Creativity of the Second Generation
    (pp. 69-100)

    EVEN AFTER THE GOLD RUSH had become a distant memory, the ethnic diversity, physical beauty, and venturesome spirit of the San Francisco Bay Area continued to set it apart. In the late nineteenth century an almost Mediterranean ethos prevailed. Theaters, restaurants, and bars were more numerous per capita than they were back East—and morals looser.¹ In converted lofts around Montgomery Street, a bohemian subculture took root, not merely tolerated, but in some ways imitated throughout the city. Even nearby Chinatown was no longer as forbidding as it had been a generation earlier. The arts flourished as young people in...

  8. FOUR Eden on the Pacific: The Challenges to Judaism at the Turn of the Century
    (pp. 101-131)

    ONLY FOR A FEW CULTURAL LUMINARIES in the Bay Area’s second generation of Jews was Judaism of primary importance. To be sure, only a handful converted to Christianity, including Alice Toklas and actor David Warfield, who converted long after they left San Francisco.¹ But while the large majority remained Jewish, they tended to be lax in observance, unschooled in the classical texts, and disaffected with the synagogue. Invariably, their religious sensibility was profoundly different from that of their European-born parents.

    Nor was the alienation from Judaism among young people in the last third of the nineteenth century limited to artists...

  9. FIVE Healing California: Jewish Reformers and Revolutionaries in the Progressive Era
    (pp. 132-166)

    EARLY IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, Northern California Jews hearkened to their rabbis’ pleas for social justice, but they were influenced even more by the clamor for reform outside the synagogue. They were energized above all by the Progressive movement, which transformed California after Hiram Johnson’s gubernatorial victory in 1910.

    Few states were more in need of reform. By the 1880s, the Southern Pacific Railroad, the “Octopus,” to its enemies, controlled much of the natural resources and maintained power by bribing politicians, judges, and journalists. City governments—San Francisco’s was an egregious example—were corrupted by the railroad as well as...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. SIX Trials: Firestorms and Corruption, Terrorism and World War
    (pp. 167-196)

    FOR ALL THE OPTIMISM DURING the Progressive era, the thirteen years beginning with the earthquake and fire of 1906 were rancorous. Municipal government was discredited throughout much of this period, labor and capital were in combat, and war abroad deepened the divisions at home. In this combustible atmosphere no one could predict who would be the targets of an angry and frustrated populace, and the Jewish community’s high standing was tested as never before. Moreover, the social unrest widened existing rifts between Jew and Jew, intensifying class conflict, inflaming political disagreements, and isolating native from newcomer.

    Paradoxically, the natural disaster...

  12. SEVEN With a Yiddish Accent: East European Jewish Neighborhoods
    (pp. 197-232)

    VISITORS TO THE BAY AREA often note the lack of a Jewish neighborhood such as Los Angeles’s Fairfax District or Chicago’s Devon Avenue. But in earlier days there were four traditional Jewish areas: South of Market, the San Bruno Avenue area, Fillmore-McAllister, and West Oakland. There was also a rural Jewish colony composed of chicken farmers in Petaluma. These communities were filled with East Europe an Jews—not the half Germans from Prussian Poland who had arrived in the decades after the Gold Rush, but Yiddish-speaking immigrants mostly from Russia, Austria-Hungary, or Rumania.

    In addition to housing a high concentration...

  13. EIGHT Good Times: The Jewish Elite between the Wars
    (pp. 233-265)

    THE GERMAN JEWISH MERCHANT CLASS had dominated the American Jewish community since the mid-nineteenth century, but after World War I its power began to erode. By 1924, the flood of East European immigration had rendered those of German origin only a tenth of American Jewry. The Reform movement, with its Americanized liturgy and refusal to embrace Zionism, held little appeal for Yiddish-speaking newcomers and faced a dwindling membership. Moreover, East European Jews were finally entering politics. Following Meyer London’s election to the House from the Lower East Side in 1914, an increasing number won seats in Congress and state legislatures....

  14. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  15. NINE Both Sides of the Barricades: Jews and Class Conflict during the Depression
    (pp. 266-297)

    THE DEPRESSION HIT THE DIVERSE Bay Area economy with less ferocity than it struck the cities of the East and Midwest, or even Southern California. In 1931 unemployment in San Francisco was 12.5 percent, compared with 15.3 percent nationwide and almost 17 percent in Los Angeles.¹ Jews in the Bay Area were also less reliant on the hard-hit manufacturing sector than were their neighbors, and thus not as vulnerable to the steep economic decline.²

    Nevertheless, thousands of Jews—professionals and small business owners as well as blue-collar workers—lost their jobs. In 1932 theEmanu-Elreported that one in ten...

  16. TEN Cataclysms: Responses to the Holocaust and Zionism
    (pp. 298-332)

    WORLD WAR II AFFECTED CALIFORNIA MORE than any other state. The defense industry became the mainspring of the state’s economy, and the population grew 30 percent in the first half of the 1940s alone. The boomtown atmosphere led newsmen (and, later, historians) to speak of a “Second Gold Rush.”¹

    As in the rest of America, life now included gasoline rationing, women at work in factories, victory gardens, and war bond drives. But West Coast cities also contended with the fear of enemy attack. Soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, sensational news headlines spurred people to sign up as air...

  17. Epilogue: Legacies of the First Century
    (pp. 333-358)

    IN AN ARTICLE IN 1950, Earl Raab referred to “a mysterious ingredient . . . an ‘x’ factor,” to explain the Bay Area Jewish community’s often unconventional behavior. He related an adage then making the rounds: “If half a dozen Jews of similar background, Jewish intensity, and ideology were settled three in Los Angeles and three in San Francisco, they would be found to be very different groups in outlook and activity after five years.”¹ Fresh in Raab’s mind was the near-assimilationist, ultra-Reform mentality of the overwhelmingly German Jewish leadership, which had rejected Zionism and responded timidly to the Holocaust....

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 359-414)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 415-439)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 440-440)