Jewish Homegrown History:
Immigration, Identity and Intermarriage
Skirball Cultural Center
March 29 - September 2, 2012
In February, 2011, Marsha Kinder, Executive Director of The Labyrinth Project, USC School of Cinematic Arts called me. She identified herself as the founding director of Jewish Homegrown History: Immigration, Identity, and Intermarriage, a study on the diversity of Jews in California. Kinder had read Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West and wanted to interview me for the Jewish Homegrown History website. I agreed. Next question: "Do have home movies?" In abundance, and photographs galore. "That's great! Expect me and my staff at ten A.M. on March 12th." Phone cradled, I googled her. Kinder was not only affable and unpretentious, she was a prolific, multifaceted scholar, and the author or co-author of ten academic books and more than 100 essays.
Pleased with my photographs and gaga over my home movies, she and crew agreed I was better suited for the installation to be presented on three large screens at the Skirball Cultural Center. When I asked why my ordinary home movies stirred such interest, I was told: "They record Jewish life in the West, individual differences intact." Months later, viewing my segment, diversity abounded --most vividly at my wedding, a simple, three-generation family event. A description of key participants follows:
Wedding of Harriet Shapiro and Fred Rochlin
1043 Sentinel Avenue, Los Angeles, California
Sunday, July 7, 1947.
Setting: The small living room is packed to capacity with relatives and friends.
Under the huppah stands Emil Bernard Cohen, a German Jew, an esteemed Reform rabbi, playwright, Zionist, and father of Miriam, Fred's sister-in-law. Early in the Holocaust, the rabbi and his family traded prestige in Bonn for safety in California. Behind Cohen, is my mother's father, Frank Holtzman, an Orthodox Jew wearing a fedora and a grimace. Grandpa Frank, his wife, Mindel, and their first-born, my mother, left Belarus for St. Louis in 1898. Twenty-four years later, the father of five more children, although illiterate in English, a successful businessman, he moved to Los Angeles determined to change his life. He did so via thrice-daily attendance and fund-raising efforts on behalf of the Orthodox Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights. At my left, wearing a new suit and hat, is the bridegroom, Fred Rochlin. Born and raised in Nogales, Arizona, he is Jewish, twenty-three, and an architectural student at the University of California, Berkeley. A recent graduate of the same university, I'm twenty-two, and a native of Boyle Heights. My maiden name is the same as his mother's; we share a birthday, November 4th, and both speak English, Spanish, and some Yiddish. At my right, stands my father, Mike Shapiro, an immigrant from Brest L'Tovsk, Poland. Son of ultra-pious Chia Katzenellenbogen Shapiro, he readily participates, albeit long gone from her observant home. Fred's father, Jake Rochlin, born in Mogilev, Belarus, Russia, a self-schooled intellectual and atheist, refuses a place under the huppah. As does my mother, Sarah Holtzman Shapiro,for two reasons. She wanted me to marry my first boyfriend whose parents were American-born. My second offense was that I, sans her approval or financial support, went to Berkeley and, of all things, got a degree in Hispanic America. Fred's mother, Annie Shapiro Rochlin, a native of Schredin, Russia, a sweet-natured woman, stands to the left of the bridegroom.
Before the final ritual, the breaking of the glass, the rabbi pauses to express pleasure in officiating at the wedding of a World War II Air Force navigator, shot down twice and once reported lost at sea. Fred's mother, knuckles in her eyes, quietly weeps. While Fred, a stranger to Jewish rites, eyes the cloth-wrapped glass, raises his foot and with a single, forceful stomp, ends the ceremony, and seizes me in his arms.
Unnoted herein, differences between the other guests also existed. And would become increasingly apparent as Jews sought participation in businesses, professions, and government at every level. Further diversification came with the eruption of new kinds of Jewish religious and cultural entities, including the state of Israel, as well as Jewish participation in nationwide movements: civil rights, ethnic history, women's rights, gay rights...
And sixty-five years later? Surviving guests and their descendents individually cling to their traditional practices or seek ones more compatible with their twenty-first century life style
For descriptions of the ten presentations on view at the Skirball Cultural Center, click here. For further information on events related to this exhibition, view the museum's website: www.skirball.org.
Exhibitions at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, and the Oregon Jewish Museum, Portland, further deepen our understanding of the Jewish experience in the West.
The Contemporary Jewish Museum's California Dreaming: Jewish life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to Present demonstrates how the Jewish community of the Bay Area shapes and is shaped by the pioneering spirit of the region. The exhibition, as described by former Museum Director Connie Wolf, presents an evolving story intended to promote consideration of "how the past and present is linked" and "engage visitors in thinking about their own role in creating and sustaining community." Five question-themed sections break up the show: "What Does it Mean to Be First?;" "If I am Only for Myself, What Am I?;" "What Is a Promised Land?;" "What is a Jewish Leader;?" and "Is There a There There?" Each covers topics as diverse as the Bay Area, ranging from the region's earliest synagogues with mixed-gender seating to the emergence of JewBu, a blend of Judaism and Buddhism created by San Francisco Rabbi Alan Lew over a century later. Also featured is a documentary film presenting personal narratives representing diverse facets of the area's Jewish community and Site Reading, a commissioned artwork by artist and historian Rachel Schreiber, uniting a minor historical figure with a contemporary photo of where their story occurred. There's also a Community Photo Wall where visitors are invited to post their own photos. California Dreaming runs through October 16, 2012. More information can be found on the Contemporary Jewish Museum's website: www.thecjm.org.
In the Game, an exhibit at the Oregon Jewish Museum, explores sports and Oregon's Jewish community. The show is organized into 4 sections - "Intro (Game Plan)," "Community (The Huddle)," "School Life (Be True to your School)," and " The Business of Sports (Game Plan)." Presented are stories gathered from oral histories and interviews undertaken for the exhibit, as well as films, photographs, objects, clothing, and documents culled from the museum's extensive archives and personal collections. Examined are the origins of athletics in the state, the achievements of its star athletes, and individuals like Harry Glickman, founder of the Trailblazers. A slew of special events are scheduled: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game!," the exhibition's Kosher hot dog and beer fueled tailgate party cum opening reception; a screening of Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story; live Olympics coverage in the museum's historical auditorium; Museum Olympics, an OJM family day devoted to fun and games; and a screening of World Wars, a documentary film on competitive SCRABBLE. The show runs June 7 through September 30, 2012. For detailed information, view the OJM's website: www.ojm.org.
Other exhibitions and programs in the west are: Growing Up Jewish in Russia: Photographs by Nadia Sablin, at the Plotkin Judaica Museum, Phoenix; The Mystery of the Hidden Artifacts at the Jewish History Museum, Tucson,and a new permanent exhibition, 4,000 Year Road Trip, including a section on Jewish Colorado, is now open at the Mizel Museum, Denver. For more information on each of these intriguing events, see The Rochlin Guide.
# # #