Quarterly Newsletter/ July 2013

A New and Provocative Film on the History of San Francisco's Jews

American Jerusalem: Jews and the Making of San Francisco is the epic story of pioneer Jews in San Francisco, a number of whom played a significant role in the transformation of a tiny village to California's first metropolis. This long-awaited and newly-released film will be shown once in Los Angeles. To reserve tickets, see info below:

Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90049
Sunday, August 11, 2013, 2:00 P.M.
General Admission $6.00, Students' Seats $5.00, Members Free.
For Tickets, driving, and parking info, call 310-440-4500

Additional Screenings:
San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
July 31, 6:15 pm, Castro Theater, San Francisco.
August 3, 4:20 pm, Cinearts at Palo Alto Square, San Francisco.
September 3, 5:00pm, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art & Life, Berkeley.
(View the American Jerusalem website for additional showtimes as they're added.)

View the trailer here.

    With books galore available on the subject-from scholarly tomes to captioned images of San Francisco's Jews-Jackie Krentzman, Executive Producer, imagined a film, her first. A Jewish journalist from Cleveland, Ohio, she is currently a resident of Berkeley. When she learned that San Francisco's first Jews arrived in 1849, and were followed by thousands of their kind, she was astounded.

    As her knowledge of Jewish participation in the growth of the city expanded, she envisioned a film vividly brought to life by eight engaging scholars and storytellers. Intimately acquainted with San Francisco's Jewish history, she imagined them in an historic building, recounting events in the lives of their Jewish predecessors. Someone like Jewish historian Fred Rosenbaum, who could confirm accounts of the city's Jewish population with a simple statement: "Most remarkable was the uncommon degree of acceptance, indeed respect, accorded San Francisco Jewry by the larger society."

    Bent on accuracy as well as entertainment, to serve as Board of Supervisors, Krentzman also enlisted a ten-member mix of authorities on the history, biography, and politics of her diverse male and female subjects. Given the expertise involved in the making of this film, I look forward to seeing Jews of varied origins, personalities, aspirations, abilities, and achievements. These visions will unfold in a 16,000 square-foot manor in Oakland, former summer home of the Hellman family, heirs of the monumentally successful pioneer, Isaias W. Hellman, (of whom you'll learn more in the ensuing paragraph). The property is now owned by the City of Oakland.

    Below are slim samplings of profiles likely to be recounted in the film in greater length:

    Isaias Hellman (1843-1920) was the premier Jewish banker and financier in the West from the mid-19th to the early 20th century. After immigrating to Los Angeles from Bavaria in 1859, he formed the city's first bank, came to control the city's water, gas, and electricity, brought the Southern Pacific Railroad to California, and became one of the region's largest landowners. He moved to San Francisco in 1890 to take over the failing Nevada National Bank. Ultimately, he oversaw 17 banks along the Pacific Coast and $100 million in capital. Exemplifying how Jewish pioneers both maintained their religious identity and assimilated, he mingled freely with other non-Jewish business elite of the day, was a lay leader of Temple Emanuel-El, a regent at the University of California, was charged with rebuilding the city after the 1906 earthquake and fire, and was one of the city's great philanthropists.

    Isadore Choynski (1834-1899) owned and ran several newspapers in the city, and was also the San Francisco correspondent for the American Israelite. Known for his acidic columns, he attacked the hypocrisies of the city's Jewish community and mocked the Irish, wealthy Christian merchants, and Chinese, going so far as to call Jesus "The Hanging One." In addition, he owned a saloon and a bookstore, tried his hand at gold-mining, and fathered Joe Choynski, perhaps the greatest Jewish boxer of all time.

    August Helbing (1824-1896), son of the official court jeweler for King Ludwig I of Bavaria, reached San Francisco in October 1850. Although he became a successful merchant, he is remembered for his philanthropy, having established the oldest extant nonprofit west of the Mississippi, the Eureka Benevolent Society, now the San Francisco Jewish Family and Children's services.

    Mary Goldsmith Prag (1846-1935) was seven when her family left Poland to settle in San Francisco. An avid student, she graduated Girls' High and State Normal School. She also worked in marriage to Conrad Prag and a daughter. Eventually, she taught at a public school and two synagogues, and served as vice-principal of San Francisco Girls High. As a member of San Francisco Board of Education, she unceasingly campaigned for teachers' rights and pensions.

    Elizabeth Fleishmann (1867-1905), who never graduated from high school, was a 28-year-old bookkeeper in San Francisco when she learned of radiology, a new field. Months later, she opened the first x-ray laboratory in California. In 1900, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a full page on her tireless work for ailing or wounded American soldiers. Five year later, the Chronicle lamented the death of the "Famous Radiophotographer," its cause, unshielded x-rays.

    Adolph Sutro (1830-1898), raised in Aachen, Prussia, at twenty joined the rush to San Francisco. A loner, his businesses failed until he opened tobacco stores. By then, he had a wife, three children, and more lucrative plans: a four-mile tunnel through the famed Comstock Lode, to drain the water and allow the silver to be extracted. After a fifteen-year struggle, in 1878, the tunnel was approved. Sutro sold his shares for $5 million in 1880. By then the mines were drying up.

    Esther Rosencrantz, M.D. (1876-1950), a gifted San Francisco native, in 1899 she graduated from Stanford University, and five years later, received a medical degree from Johns Hopkins University. After devoting a decade to clinical research on tuberculosis, from 1913 to 1937 Rosencrantz efficiently headed the University of California tuberculosis wards. In 1943, the white plague under control, she was forced to retire. Her medical skills no longer needed, she devoted herself to cataloging the collection of her esteemed mentor, the renowned Dr. William Osler.

    Levi Strauss (1829-1902), born in Bavaria, moved to New York City with his family in 1847. Six years later, on his own, he moved to San Francisco where he built a thriving clothing business. In 1872, Jacob Davis, a tailor, asked Strauss to co-venture with him on work pants reinforced with rivets. The pair shared a patent. The jeans, long-known as Levi's, are as popular as ever, and Strauss is the West's best-known Jewish pioneer.

    As a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and a devotee of Western Jewish history, I look forward to viewing this extraordinary new film on Jewish life in the West's first metropolis. I also hope to hear from recipients of this newsletter who see the film.

    Harriet Rochlin