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California: a promised land for Jews

November 18, 2003

Image of the front cover of "California Jews"The cover of the recently published book "California Jews," co-edited by Jewish studies endowed chair Marc Dollinger, features a photo of a stained-glass window depicting an ancient tale with a West Coast twist: Moses holding the 10 Commandments in descent from the mountains of Yosemite.

"This is a proclamation that California is the new promised land," Dollinger said of the window at San Francisco's Congregation Sherith Israel.

As the majority of Eastern European Jewish families emigrated to New York in the 1800s and 1900s, American Jewish history is commonly documented from a New York point of view. Until now. "California Jews" breaks significant ground as the first book to offer historical perspectives exclusively from the Golden State.

The book, co-edited by historian and one-time SFSU Jewish studies Lecturer Ava Kahn, features essays on Jews and the Gold Rush, synagogue architecture, Latino-Jewish relations in Los Angeles, kibbutzniks in San Fernando, Hollywood’s Jewish organizational leadership, Jewish response to Japanese internment during World War II, and more.

Dollinger, who wrote a chapter on the Jewish activist counterculture that emerged in the 1960s, is not the only SFSU faculty member to contribute to "California Jews." History Professor Bill Issel wrote a chapter on post-war affiliations between Jews and Catholics in the Bay Area. Emeritus history Professor Moses Rischin wrote the forward.

Dollinger, a fifth-generation San Franciscan whose family embarked on an eight-year journey from Romania to San Francisco in the late 1800s, outlines his family tree and genealogy in "California Jews." Journal entries and family photos from the early 1900s are also included. Dollinger and Kahn, whose genealogy also appears in the book, believe academics all too often conceal personal connections to the topics of their works.

"Academics have a responsibility to put their perspective on the table," said Dollinger, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Chair in Jewish Studies and Social Responsibility. "This is a way to announce and reveal myself to readers so they could better understand what the book is about."

Dollinger said his students' favorite lectures tend to deal with his personal family history because they can relate to it and make connections to their own.

"Who you are and where you are is connected to the decisions your family made and the larger trends of the times," he said.

"California Jews," part of a Brandeis University Press series on American Jewish history, culture and life, is a coffee-table style book full of historical and contemporary photos of families, community leaders, genealogies, posters, fliers, artwork and synagogues. Unlike many books in academia, it is written intentionally in lay language so the average reader can easily understand it.

For more about "California Jews," visit the Brandeis University Press Web site.

-- Matt Itelson





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Last modified November 18, 2003, by the Office of Public Affairs