Jews of the Pacific Coast

Ellen Eisenberg, Ava F. Kahn, and William Toll

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  • Published: 2010
  • Subject Listing: Jewish Studies; History / Western History
  • Bibliographic information: 336 pp., 58 illus., 8 in color, 8.50 x 10 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

From the California Gold Rush of 1849 to the explosion of population centers in the Southwest in the 1980s, Jews have played a significant role in shaping the Pacific West. Through their mercantile networks, cultural innovations, philanthropic institutions, and political leadership, western Jews created a distinctive identity. In Jews of the Pacific Coast, Ellen Eisenberg, Ava F. Kahn, and William Toll have joined together to write the first interpretive history of the Jews of this region.

In the West, Jewish men and women were less restricted in their pursuits than they had been in Europe or in the eastern United States. Unlike in the East, where Jews arriving in large numbers had to accommodate themselves to preexisting local elites and Jewish communities, in the Pacific West they were full participants in the civic lives of new and rapidly developing societies.

Drawing on manuscript collections, oral histories, newspapers, and private papers, the authors examine the distinctive roles that Jews played in the Pacific West, especially the innovative roles of women. Personal stories and anecdotes give the authors the opportunity to compare and contrast the nature of the Jewish experience in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the small towns of the West. They explain the important differences among these cities, the significance of the regional shift of focus in the early twentieth century from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and, after 1960, the importance of Jewish contributions to new population centers like Las Vegas.
Ellen Eisenberg , Dwight and Margaret Lear Professor of American History at Willamette University, is the author of The First to Cry Down Injustice? Western Jews and Japanese Removal during WWII, a 2008 National Jewish Book Award finalist. Ava F. Kahn is the editor of Jewish Voices of the California Gold Rush and Jewish Life in the American West and co-editor of California Jews.

"By highlighting Jewish leaders they effectively demonstrate that western Jewish communities pioneered 'a new relationship between Jews and America' (p. xi). That new relationship . . . offers a welcome challenge to the prevailing narrative of American Jew's 'three-generational assimilation struggle' (p.xi)."
-Walter C. Stern, Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Winter 2010/2011, Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Winter 2010/2011

"Jews of the Pacific Coast embraces the entire Pacific West. It places the Jewish experience within a regional context; it highlights points of regional distinctiveness; and it makes the case for a more nuanced, regional approach to the American Jewish experience as a whole."
-Jonathan D. Sarna, Brandeis University

"Jews of the Pacific Coast adds significantly to the understanding of Judaism in the West and will be an important book for anyone trying to understand the larger contours of religion on the West Coast."
-Dale Soden, Whitworth University

Introduction: Western Landscapes, Western Jews
1. Histories Collide: Jews and the Pacific Frontier
2. A Birthright of Elite Status
3. Eastern Europeans, Sephardim, and the Belated Creation of Jewish Space
4. From Charity to Philanthropy: A Regional Model, 1870s-1930s
5. Consolidation, Integration, and Divergence during the Interwar Years
6. Jews of the Western Sun Belt, 1945-1980
Epilogue: Aspiring to National Leadership

"By placing Jews in the American West within both a national and a distinctive regional context, this interpretative work advances our understanding of a region that has received insufficient scholarly attention. . . . will interest both scholarly and general audiences."
-Arlene Lazarowitz, Southern California Quarterly, Spring 2011

"The book offers an excellent bibliography that can provide a starting point for anyone who wishes to delve further into West Coast Jewish history."
-Abraham Hoffman, Los Angeles Corral, Spring 2011

"Eisenberg, Kahn, and Toll have enriched and complicated, while simulatenously making more coherent, the history of the West and the history of the Jews, as well as the way the region and theJews influenced each other."
-Pacific Historical Review

"With its emphasis on building distinctive western forms of Jewish community, Jews of the Pacific Coast encodes a vision of the West and western history in order to offer a new interpretation of Jewish history. . . . hews closely to Frederick Jackson Turner's ideas about frontier and section, including his conceptualization of the West as contributing to both American democracy and the ideal of making a better world for the future. . . . Eisenberg, Kahn, and Toll stress the creative freedom Jews found in western society, unburdening them from past constraints."
-H-Judaic H-Net

"This impressively constructed volume, with a welter of photographic and artistic renderings, provides an encyclopedic explication of its subject from the mid-19th century to the present...a valuable, even an invaluable, work for undergraduate and graduate students, researchers, and faculty. Essential."

"Lavishly illustrated, full of portraits of interesting and notable individuals who played a role in the construction of Jewish life in the Pacific Northwest and who helped build up the region itself, this book stands as a kind of state-of-the-art of western Jewish history."
-American Jewish Archives Journal

"... the authors have selected regional history as the best means to convey the highly significant and widely diverse West Coast Jewish experience. They accomplish this task in a manner that is equally informative, readable, well illustrated, and impressively referenced.... The book's thematic orientation places historical growth into the context of emergent social interrelationships, as opposed to simply assembling a succession of individual histories. The writers also explore the complex demographic processes that are only now being fully appreciated as to dimensions, range, and influence."
-Canadian Journal of History

"Drawing on manuscript collections, oral histories, newspapers, and private papers, the authors examine the innovative roles that Jews played in the Pacific West, especially the innovative roles of women."

"The research is both thoughtful and challenging, an engaging combination that leaves the reader wanting more."
-Western States Jewish History

"The Jews depicted in this volume crafted a unique, Pacific western identity, different from their brethren in the Northeast, whose experiences have been put forth as paradigmatic for all American Jews."
-Western Historical Quarterly

"The insights contained in Jews of the Pacific Coast, especially the fruitful efforts in understanding the western Jewish American experience in a broad, comparative framework, will benefit students of both American Jewry and ethnic groups and racial minorities. The uniqueness of the American Jewish experience in the West, so compellingly articulated.. also offers valuable insights into the importance of the West for understanding the transformation of American society since the Gold Rush."
-American Jewish History

"Jews of the Pacific Coast is a welcome addition to the small but growing body of work on the history of Jews in the American West that helps broaden our understanding of the American Jewish experience as a whole.... It is written in an accessible and engaging style."
-The Oregon Quarterly