Open to the Public
Twenty-Four Western Jewish Archives
6,000 Linear Feet
A Quarterly Newsletter
In the mid-1960s, ethnic history groups, offshoots of a worldwide civil rights movement, spurred American minorities, Jews among them, to document their lives as American citizens of diverse ethnicities and races. As a Jewish native Californian and a journalist, I was captivated. After reading the few books, memoirs, and articles available, I interviewed descendants of Western Jewish pioneers, then queried editors. Two of the six interrupted me to quip: "Were there any?"
In 1967, when Seymour Fromer (1922-2009) established the Western Jewish History Center in Oakland, California, he founded the first historical archive to focus on Jewish life throughout the American West. Five years later, the center published an annotated bibliography, Jews of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area, 1849 to 1919, compiled by Sara G. Cogan, with a forward by historian Moses Rischin, Ph.D. The work's 609 listings include businesses, organizations, congregations, individuals, family histories and biographies, et al. In 1987, a second work was released: Western Jewish History Center: Guide to Archival and Oral History Collections, by Ruth Kelson Rafael, archivist. The work includes 300 collections and 95 oral histories of women and men of diverse origins and occupations, the majority born in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. In keeping with the overall high quality of this endeavor, photographs abound and are beautifully presented.
Forty-five years after its inception, its archive, measuring 2,500 linear feet, is the largest historical collection of Western Jewish records. In 2010, the collection was donated to the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
In contrast, I offer a recently organized archive at a temple in one of the thirteen Western states rarely associated with Jewish life. I do so to make two points. Jews have settled worldwide, and once rooted, are likely to discover a history worthy of documentation. Secondly, researchers in pursuit of specific information may not find what they seek, but in the process, chance upon a telling new morsel of the Jewish experience.
In December, 2010, I came across an undocumented anecdote in a memoir by a grandson of Mary Ann Magnin (1849-1943), sole founder of the I. Magnin chain. I instantly wanted to include it in her profile in A Mixed Chorus: Jewish Women in the American West. Albeit brief, it touchingly recounts the Magnins' poverty upon arrival in California and, soon after, Isaac's foolhardy side-trip. What follows is the story, trimmed for brevity.
Born in Holland in 1849, Mary Ann Cohen met and married Isaac Magnin in London in 1865 when she was sixteen. She had her first child at seventeen, and six others by 1875. Scraping by, Isaac persuaded her to seek their fortune in California. After 4,000 miles in steerage, the Magnins finally landed in Oakland. A short time later, Isaac left Mary Ann to care for their brood while he sailed to Honolulu to search for his brother Aisle, purported to have married an Hawaiian princess. Upon learning that his brother's situation was no better than his own, Isaac speedily returned to Oakland and the only job he could find.
Hoping to confirm Cyril's story, I called the only temple in Hawaii with an historical archive, the Bernard Levinson Collection, Temple Emanu-El, Honolulu, and spoke to Patty Roth, its archivist at the time. After a brief search, she reported no files on either Magnin. In mid-May, 2012, I was in Honolulu to attend my granddaughter's graduation from the University of Hawaii. Intrigued with Hawaii's Jewish past, I arranged a visit to Temple Emanu-El. Situated on a busy boulevard, the structure was indistinguishable from similar contemporary temples in suburban Los Angeles.
Dedicated in 2006, the Levinson-Krupp Library resembled in books and furnishings Reform temples I'd belonged to, or taught at. Awaiting my arrival were the archivist, her two assistants, Mim Lang and Bob Brown, and the two librarians, Deborah Washofsky and Sally Morgan. Chatting over coffee and pastry, I learned the first Jews arrived in Hawaii in the mid-1850's, in search of opportunities as the California Gold Rush waned. By the 1860s, three Jews had established sizable enterprises, and despite financial fluctuations, inspired other Jews to take a chance. In 1898, following annexation of Hawaii by the United States, some 200 Jews settled there, and efforts commenced to establish and sustain the first Jewish religious and philanthropic organizations. By 2011, the Jewish population had grown to approximately 10,000.
The basics in place, I was introduced to the Bernard Levinson Archives, named in honor of an attorney who became an Associate Justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court.The following is a small sampling of Hawaiian Jews who, like Levinson, bore the markings of their colorful cultural mix. All are drawn from archival documents prepared according to instructions assembled by Kevin Proffitt, Ph.D., Senior Archivist for Research and Collections at the American Jewish Archives.
Theresa (Guenther) and Morris Louisson, of San Francisco, are said to be the first Jewish family to settle permanently in Hawaii. They arrived in 1866 with two small sons. Five more children, two daughters (one named Lahela, Hawaiian for Rachel) and three sons, were born in Honolulu. Socially outgoing, the couple were frequent guests of King Kalakaua. Morris belonged to, and served a term as the president of, the German Club of Hawaii, and the first Jewish wedding in the Islands was held in their home. Two hundred guests dined and danced in a pavilion built for the occasion.
Elias Abraham Rosenberg, a San Franciscan, brought his own Torah and pointer when he resettled in Hawaii in 1886. Disturbed by political unrest, he returned to San Francisco a year later, leaving both in the care of King David Kalakaua. For decades the king's heirs loaned the ceremonial artifacts to various Jewish groups until 1959, when the pointer was donated to the newly completed Temple Emanu-el. In 1972, when the missing Torah was recovered, it too was gifted to the congregation. Both are now proudly displayed at Temple Emanu-El as the Kalakaua Torah and Pointer.
In 1923, Alexander and Jeannie "Mama" Linczer headed the first Jewish Welfare Board (JWB). The Linczers were succeeded in 1930 by "Pat" Weinstein, who worked to organize the civilian Jewish community, then totally dependent on the military and JWB. By 1938, civilians had founded the Honolulu Jewish Community (HJC). Together, the JWB and the HJC converted a chapel into a synagogue and recreation center, which later becameTemple Emanu-El.
In 1943, Lillian Ariel traveled from New Jersey to Honolulu to marry Morris Malzman, who she'd met in her home town while training as a nurse. Soon after, Mrs. Malzman joined the Jewish Women Club of Honolulu (now Sisterhood). While raising two sons, she worked as a nurse and a nursing home administrator, colliding on rare, albeit memorable, occasions with anti-Semitism. She also taught Sunday School, raised funds for needy children, ran a rummage sale for the Sisterhood, and hosted an Israeli family in her home for three years. At ninety, she was a B'nai B'rith chaplain and attended Bible Study and weekly services at the Aloha Jewish Chapel.
Long-established Western Jewish collections expand their files and create new programs.
The University of Denver's Penrose Library, Special Collections has launched a new online exhibition platform called Penrose Presents. Of the three exhibits already available, the Beck Memorial Archives of the Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society is presenting two: The Lowenstein Family: A Story of Survival and Colorado Jewish Women Pioneers. The former recounts the family's experiences in Berlin under the growing threat of the Nazi regime, their remarkable survival during the Holocaust, and their ultimate migration to Denver. The latter exhibit demonstrates how the "more fluid social structure of the west" heightened the aspirations of Jewish women for themselves and for Colorado, from its territorial days to the present. The exhibitions can be seen here and here.
The Jewish History Museum in Tucson is archiving its collection of over fifteen thousand paper artifacts - photos, newspaper clippings, certificates, oral histories, newsletters, and correspondence. Gathered over three decades by the JHM and its predecessors, the collection was held unprocessed in the museum. Now, thanks to a startup grant from the Arizona Humanities Council and the dedication of Athol Cline, Ph.D., the project's volunteer archivist, the collection is being scanned, preserved and made available in person and online. For more information, view the museum's website.
In other archival news, the Oregon Jewish Museum has received a Community Impact Grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland to fund the planning of The Oregon Jewish Sound Archives (OJSA), which will be dedicated to the collection and preservation of the community's historical and contemporary sound and to Jewish musicians.
Finally, the Bloom Southwest Jewish archives, one of the first to go online, has updated its website: http://swja.arizona.edu/. Check it out.
For a complete listing of all twenty-four Western Jewish Archives, view the Rochlin Guide.
Our January, 2013 newsletter will feature current Western Jewish books and films. If you have one to submit, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Cyril Magnin and Cynthia Roberts, Call Me Cyril (San Francisco: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1981), 6-7.