Quarterly Newsletter/ January 2013 - Western Jewish Books & Films


Yesterday's Mavens, Today's Foodies:
Traditions in Northwest Jewish Kitchens
A Collection of Recipes and Stories
Published by Washington State Jewish Historical Society

    It's my pleasure to review an extraordinarily appropriate sequel to the Washington State Jewish Historical Society's Family of Strangers: Building a Jewish Community in Washington State, by Molly Cone, Howard Droker and Jacqueline Williams, published by the University of Washington Press in 2003. Richly illustrated, the work traces the growth of Jewish presence and participation, draws on all available data, offers extensive new information, and adds forty pages of detailed research notes. Shrewdly, the society's second book, Yesterday's Mavens, Today's Foodies, vividly individualizes Washington State's Jews, past and present, recalling the foods they ate, who prepared them, and who joined them in their kitchens and at their dining tables. Along with the recipes are poignant memoirs that reveal the origins and beliefs of this diverse Jewry.

    The first wave of pioneers, Ashkenazim, came from elsewhere in the United States, Eastern Europe, and Germany. Sephardim, evicted from Spain in 1492, began to settle in Washington State in the early twentieth century, still speaking Ladino, and adamantly adhering to Sephardic culinary customs and rituals. For decades, each group clung to its own practices until their offspring began to marry and add their mates' Jewish foods to their menus. In the new millennium, contemporary Jewish foodies adapt family recipes or create dishes of their own, using ingredients rarely, if ever, found on Jewish tables.
    What follows are five of more than a hundred memoirs that accompany the recipes. If you're as moved as I am by the candor of the contributors, you'll want to read the book.

CHULENT (Also known as Cholent)
Berdine Bender
"Growing up my mother's chulent recipe was a favorite Shabbos Friday night or Saturday meal for our whole family. Traditionally, chulent would be set up to cook prior to the start of Shabbos and left to cook in a wood stove with smoldering coals, or in a preheated oven that remained unopened until the family returned from Saturday morning services. . . . . Though she had long lost the facility to remember the way to cook the simplest recipe, she would repeatedly ask my family, one by one, ‘Tell me, do you like the chulent?'"

Rachel Almeleh
"Since my mom, Emily Capelouto Almeleh, died when I was just 12, my aunties, Glavina Almeleh, Matty Greenberg and Rachel Capelouto, taught me the methods of Sephardic cooking . . . . . My older sister Esther and I attempted our first Sephardic cooking recipe of ‘pink rice' for our father. . . . . The first attempt was mush and the second, burnt . . . . . When my cousin, Lucille Almeleh Spring, tasted my food, she said I had ‘bendichas manos' (blessed hands). That phrase went on my first business card."

Amanda Azous
"Paula Azous was born Peenya Priseler in Felshiu Visou, Romania, on April 25, 1928 . . . . . She survived the Nazi concentration camps and afterwards met Mordahi Azous, a Greek Jew from Salonika, in a liberation camp. Like many young people who suffered from the Nazis and survived, they quickly found each other, got married, and tried to make a normal life for themselves in Salonika. As a result, Paula became an expert cook in both Ashkenasic and Sephardic tradition . . . . . Once, a friend of hers, Vefa Alexiadou, came to visit Paula in Seattle, where she lived the latter half of her life. Vefa documented as many recipes as she could . . . . . including Mom's Marble Cake."

Elise Topp
"I grew up in Seattle, on Capitol Hill, very close to Volunteer Park. It was a lovely home with a substantial kitchen. I would like to say that it was in that kitchen that my interest in cooking began, I must admit that is not the case . . . . . My parents employed a cook named Dora, who always wore a stiff white apron and a chef's hat and had little tolerance for children underfoot . . . . . When Bill [Topp] and I married in 1946 I knew it was time to learn about cooking. . . . . We entertained quite a lot and on the day of a party, my daughters and I would arrange dozens and dozens of cookies on platter after platter. . . . .This recipe for Sliced Almond Bars is one that my daughters and I still bake today."

NOT YOUR SIMPLE GREEN SALAD (One of fifteen foodie salad recipes)
Mary Ann Stusser Martin
"I am known as the ‘salad queen' among my family and friends. Whenever we have potlucks, I bring the salad, and it is never a ‘simple green!" Here is my favorite combination." (Baby greens, arugula, strawberries, figs, green beans, goat cheese, almonds, maple syrup, plus olive oil. balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey).

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Napa Valley's Jewish Heritage
By Donna Mendelsohn and Henry Michalski

 Napa ValleyNapa Valley   In 2003, the newly formed Jewish Historical Society of Napa Valley released its first illustrated social history of the Jews of Napa Valley from 1848 to 2003. The success of that book inspired further elaboration. In July, 2012 Arcadia Publishing's America Series published a pictorial history, Napa Valley's Jewish Heritage, composed by Henry Michalski and Donna Mendelsohn. In 126 pages, divided into five periods, 1848 to the present, and illustrated with 200 vintage images, the authors present Napa's Jews, from the firstcomers to today's current population of 1,200. These photographs, generously and colorfully captioned, show, in all its diversity, Napa's 164-year-long history of Jewish life. Families, homes, weddings, religious holidays, schools, farms, stores, store owners, professionals, elected officials (men and, recently, women), and philanthropists are all represented, as is Napa's large and widely recognized wine-making industry. The book is available at area bookstores, independent retailers, online retailers, and through Arcadia Publishing.

Jewish Pioneers of Orange County:
The Jewish Community of Orange County, California from the 1850s - 1970s
Edited by Dalia Taft

    Edited by Dalia Taft, archivist for the Orange County Jewish Historical Society, Jewish Pioneers of Orange County: The Jewish Community of Orange County, California from the 1850s - 1970s is the first comprehensive book about the Jewish community in the area. The book includes updated versions of every article on Orange County from the Western States Jewish Journal, personal histories written by long-time residents, and a section showcasing Jewish ads and newspaper announcements from the 1870s to the 1960s. The book can be purchased through the Orange County Jewish Historical Society, at historical@jffs.org or (949) 435-3484, ext. 167.


Dressing Modern Maternity:
The Frankfurt Sisters of Dallas and the Page Boy Label
By Kay Goldman

    We're also looking forward to a biography, Dressing Modern Maternity: The Frankfurt Sisters of Dallas and the Page Boy Label, long in the works by Kay Goldman, PhD. The book tells how sisters Elsie, Edna, and Louise formed Page Boy Maternity Clothing in depression-era Dallas. Interspersed throughout are Goldman's insights into the history of maternity clothing in the US, American women in business prior to the 1930s, Jewish involvement in the garment manufacturing in Dallas, and the decisions that led to the company's eventual demise. Goldman expects to release the book in April through Texas Tech University Press.

The Tin Horse
By Janice Steinberg

    The Tin Horse, by Janice Steinberg, published by Random House, will be released today. Eight years in the works, this novel promises to be a true-to-life and artfully related story of Boyle Heights in the 1920s and 1930s, when it was the largest Jewish neighborhood in the West. I can't wait to read it!

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The World According to Seymour:
Reinventing Jewish Creativity & Identity
A Documentary Film

    Ava Kahn, Ph.D., historian, and author of four books on Jewish life in the American West, and Bill Chayes, producer/director of documentary, experimental and educational films, both worked at the Judah L. Magnes Museum in the early 1990s. Kahn served as Research Associate of the Magnes' Western Jewish History Center. Chayes was the Exhibition Designer and Curator of Film, Photography, Digital Art and Music. Working with Seymour Fromer, who with his wife Rebecca, founded the museum in the 1960s, they regularly participated in the museum's founding goal: to replace age-old stereotypes that led to the murder of some six million Jews in World War II with archives of real documents on Jewish lives, and exhibitions of Jewish art, drama and music. After Fromer's death in 2009, Kahn and Chayes partnered to prepare a half-hour documentary showing Fromer creating or shepherding diverse projects: The Western Jewish History Center, the largest depository of Western Jewish historical documents and memorabilia in the world, now at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; the Commission on Jewish Cemeteries to preserve seven Gold Rush Cemeteries; the world's first international Jewish Video and Photography competition; the publication of 75 books, etc. etc. etc. To contribute to this documentary on the accomplishments of this visionary leader, please send donations to:

Jewish American Hall of Fame
Attn: The Seymour Fromer Documentary
5189 Jeffdale Avenue
Woodland Hills, CA 91364
For questions, please contact:
Ava Kahn akahn@lmi.net or
Bill Chayes billchayes@gotsky.com, (707) 782-9131

A Series of Four Documentary Films
On Pioneer Jews in Southwestern Border Cities

    Isaac Artenstein, born in 1954 in San Diego, majored in painting and photography at UCLA and got his degree in film and video production at Cal Arts. Born to Mexican Jewish parents, he grew up in the border region and soon started directing and producing award-winning documentaries and independent features set in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. He's also taught film production and directing at the University of Southern California and the University of California, San Diego. His professional training and his cultural background, Ameri-Jew-Mex, ultimately led to new subject-matter for which he is uniquely suited: documentary films on Jewish pioneers on the Mexican border, starting with Tijuana Jews, a documentary on the little-known and colorful lives of Jews in the legendary Mexican-American border town. From there, he and his wife, Jude, have undertaken a four-part series on Jews who pioneered in Southwestern border communities, El Paso, Santa Fe, Tucson, and San Diego. In Artenstein's knowing hands, it's going to be an illuminating experience. The Leichtag Foundation has given the filmmakers a challenge grant of $15,000, and they are seeking matching funds. Contributions are tax-free, and will used to complete the Southern Arizona episode of Frontier Jews. To make a contribution, write a check to The Media Arts Center San Diego and send it to Cinewest Productions, PO Box 712217 San Diego, CA 92171-2217

American Jerusalem

Beginning in the mid-1800s, this documentary film delves into the story of Jewish pioneers in San Francisco. Lured by the prospect of riches during the Gold Rush and liberated from old-world prejudices, there they found acceptance, success, and a new Jewish identity. As poor peddlers became prominent merchants, politicians, civic leaders, and philanthropists, they helped transform the tiny village on the edge of nowhere into the cultural icon we recognize today. The film is 80% complete, but currently on hiatus, as the team raises the remaining funds. For more information, please visit the website, www.americanjerusalem.com, or contact producer Jackie Krentzman: jackie@americanjerusalem.com; (510) 524-7499.