(J. The Jewish News of Northern California via JTA) — The year was 1968. Young people from around the country were descending on San Francisco looking for ways to express themselves, making efforts — sometimes heroic, sometimes tragic — to free themselves from the bonds of American society.
At the same time, a group of Jews came together in the city to create something new.
“After painfully realizing that the Jewish leaders and especially, in San Francisco, are only interested in lectures on the terrible lost generation, but have no wish of giving them a helping hand, we opened, on our own, a house of love and prayer in San Francisco.”
Those words, by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, are on a handmade brochure from 1968. It’s only one artifact in a treasure trove of documents and photos displayed in a new, online exhibit out of the University of San Francisco called “Mapping Jewish San Francisco.” Much of the historical material is being seen publicly for the first time.
“We really want people to get a sense of the unique elements of Bay Area Jewish life,” said Oren Kroll-Zeldin, lead curator of the project and assistant director of the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice at the university.
The San Francisco project was inspired by “Mapping Jewish Los Angeles,” a UCLA endeavor that for more than a decade has been bringing multimedia stories of L.A.’s diverse Jewish neighborhoods to life.
“I thought, oh my goodness, we need to do this about San Francisco!” Kroll-Zeldin said.
He brought the idea to Aaron Hahn Tapper, director of USF’s Swig Jewish studies program.
“He was immediately excited and supportive of it,” Kroll-Zeldin said.
They got to work, but executing the projects was a bit more daunting than expected, including making sure the multimedia elements of the website worked perfectly.
But now the site has launched with two inaugural exhibits: Kroll-Zeldin’s deep dive into Carlebach’s synagogue and religious commune known as the House of Love and Prayer, and a comprehensive look at the Karaite Jewish community in the Bay Area and beyond.
“Through ‘Mapping Jewish San Francisco,’ we aim for people to better understand how today’s Bay Area Jewish community came to be and the role that Jews have played in the creation of this major American city,” Hahn Tapper said in an email.
Kroll-Zeldin said a key factor in the effort was the access he had to personal papers, stories, photos and anecdotes, provided to him by the people who were there. He calls it “one-of-a-kind archival material.”
“This is only possible based on the willingness of these people to tell these stories,” he said.
There are also videos, including a series of oral histories with locals who experienced communal living, and archival audio recordings of Carlebach’s teachings and music. The exhibit covers the reach of the rabbi’s impact, but also touches on the controversies around Carlebach, who was accused of sexual assault by many women.
The second exhibition, led by Hahn Tapper, highlights the history of the Karaite Jews, a small but distinct and vibrant community of Jews who are the inheritors of a little-known branch of Judaism.
They split from the mainstream, theologically, somewhere between the eighth and 10th centuries. While they follow Torah, they do not follow the rabbinic interpretations in the Mishnah and Talmud. Karaite Jews have many customs and prayers that set their religious practice apart.
The largest group of Karaites lived in Egypt until the 1950s, when tensions, violence and war drove many of them out. Some moved to Israel and others to the Bay Area, where they built a tight-knit and active community.
Only 50,000 or so Karaites are left in the world today, with an estimated 1,000 in the Bay Area, site of the only Karaite synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.
“They are a very important subcommunity of Jews,” Hahn Tapper said. “In addition, as a religious studies scholar who focuses on contemporary social identities, the ways this Jewish community has re-established itself here in the Bay Area is astounding.”
Hahn Tapper said he went through mounds of documents and hundreds of hours of video interview footage to put together the online exhibition, called “Out of Egypt.” He said the videos are invaluable because so many of the Karaites who immigrated to the United States have died in recent years.
“Through this exhibit we have documented their lives, lives of Jews in Egypt that no longer exist,” he said. “These interviewees paint a picture of what it was like to celebrate Jewish holidays in Cairo, some of whom did so with their Muslim neighbors.”
Kroll-Zeldin said each exhibit takes up to two years to prepare, in collaboration with academics, students and community leaders; scholars first collect and digitize the material, then do the research, writing and bibliography work.
The next project is being led by Rabbi Camille Angel, USF’s rabbi in residence, who is working with her students to collect stories of Jewish LGBTQ life in San Francisco. Their research and findings will help tell that chapter of Bay Area Jewish history, a form of storytelling that will continue to be central to the project as it unfolds.
“People like stories,” Kroll-Zeldin said. “Stories connect people. And there are so many interesting stories to tell.”
A version of this piece originally ran in J. The Jewish News of Northern California, and is reprinted with permission.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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