“For A Constructive American Judaism:” The “B’nai B’rith Messenger,” Los Angeles, 18 November 1927

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This afternoon was a reprise of the “Take a Tour Through the Twenties” program, first offered in early October in lieu of the Homestead’s Ticket to the Twenties festival, presented in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Library system. This overview of the decade in greater Los Angeles used photographs from the museum’s collection to discuss in broad brush developments in economics (such as oil, real estate, the motion picture industry and agriculture), leisure (the mountains, beaches, sports, parks and museums, for example), and other areas of life, like transportation, religion, and Prohibition.

Towards the end of the talk was a section headed “Stories Passed By” and which looked at the underrepresentation of ethnic groups and women with photographs juxtaposing superficial or stereotypical representations of Latinos, Asians, and Blacks. There was mention, as well, of the fact that Jews in Los Angeles were also, despite opportunities not available to them in other parts of the world, held at arm’s length in certain arenas. It was mentioned that Jews were a major part of the population of the eastside community of Boyle Heights at a time when restrictive covenants severely limited where people of color, including the aforementioned groups could live. A recent post here noted the formation by Jews of the Hillcrest Country Club because of restrictions against their joining other such institutions in the city.


This evening’s featured artifact from the Homestead’s holdings is one that is evocative of much of Jewish life in Los Angeles during the latter part of the decade, being the 18 November 1927 issue of the B’nai B’rith Messenger, formed in 1897 and stating that it was “an American Jewish publication presenting each week authentic news of the Jewish world with special reference to Western viewpoints and Western interests.” A motto added that the paper stood “for a constructive American Judaism.”

The publication’s founder and general manager was Lionel Edwards, who sold it in 1929, its editors were rabbis M.N.A. Cohen and Edgar F. Magnin, the latter very prominent through the Temple B’nai B’rith, as well as B.M. Baker and Louis M. Cole, while there were eight associate editors including Marco R. Newmark and four women, such as Mrs. E.M. Lazard and Mrs. Addie R. Altman. Magnin wrote a short editorial, “Trying to Understand People,” in which he wrote of the “unnecessary trouble for outselves and others” in fighting other people and asked “Why fill our hearts with hatred and our mouths with abuse?” He gave the example of the Los Angeles Community Chest campaign which raised funds for a variety of charitable causes as an effort which “brings people of different races and creeds together” and where “prejudice and suspicion are dissolved.”


A separate article reported that some 15,000 volunteers engaged in raising money for the Community Chest with Magnin giving “an eloquent and inspiring address” at a luncheon held at the Bilmore Hotel and which reported on progress. Other local religious leaders were Bishop Bertram Stevens of the Episcopal Church and Father Robert E. Lucey of the Roman Catholic Church, who, along with Magnin, were said by the campaign’s chair, Edwin A. Meserve, to be “the inseparable trinity in welfare work for humanity in Los Angeles.” Magnin’s talk included the view that “the Community Chest idea will eradicate intolerance and bring the Jew and Catholic, and Protestant and Free Thinker closer together.” The piece observed that “the Jews of Los Angeles are doing their share . . . because of their own bitter experience” which meant that “they, as a race have deep understanding sympathy with the downtrodden and afflicted.”

Another feature concerned the appointment of Judge Elias V. Rosenkranz as president of the Jewish Educational Association of Los Angeles, which was formed the prior year “to create a city wide system of Jewish education for the youth.” Rosenkranz who was a municipal court judge “pledged his best efforts to the cause of Jewish education” and asked for the board’s support in pursuing its work. Later a vice-president of the B’nai B’rith lodge in Los Angeles, Judge Rosenkranz was killed exactly three years after the publication of this issue in an accident in which a car skidded on rain-soaked pavement and ran up onto the sidewalk striking him as he walked.


In a major article titled “No More Ford Attacks,” Louis M. Cole, who was the local representative of the American Jewish Committee, an important group formed in 1906 to “prevent the infringement of the civil and religious rights of Jews and to alleviate the consequences of persecution,” spoke of his approval of auto tycoon Henry Ford’s order to the European manager of the company’s publications to halt the printing of any material harmful to Jews. Specifically, the matter concerned “The International Jew” which was published in 91 installments in the Ford-owned Dearborn Independent newspaper and then issued in a four-volume set printed in a half million copies. These rantings blamed Jews for many problems and asserted that they formed a conspiracy to “infect” American life. While Cole noted that “there were some persons who questioned his sincerity of purpose” in his retraction of the statements his publications made, Ford went on, in 1938, to receive “The Grand Cross of the German Eagle” by Adolf Hitler.

Another pair of noteworthy articles concerned the closure of the club house of the Jewish Alliance social service organization, located on Temple Street at Bunker Hill Avenue, near where the Department of Water and Power headquarters is now, and its impending removal to a new building, costing more than $200,000, on Union Avenue and Girard Street (now 11th Place). The structure was not yet finished by “was far enough along to indicate to those interested just what a splendid background this club house will make for the activities of the Jewish Alliance.” The funds for the project were provided by the Hamburger family, whose landmark department store was sold just a few years previously and became the May Company.


The Messenger was a prominent advocate of Zionism and the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine and one example of this in the issue was the short report of the visit to the Holy Land by Joseph Y. Baruh of the Zellerback Paper Company, who was also a founder of Hillcrest Country Club. Baruh, noted in the piece as a board member at Temple B’nai B’rith, of which Magnin was the rabbi, and a member of the Federation of Jewish Welfare Organizations, was with his wife and others on a tour that included visits to Asia and Egypt. It was reported that “his party is enjoying a fine trip and that the sights in the Holy Land are of the greatest interest” and one of his photos of Jerusalem accompanied the piece.

Meanwhile, there was a brief note on the dedication on Thanksgiving, being the 24th, of a cornerstone for the Bakers’ Building at the Duarte Sanatorium, opened in 1914 in that San Gabriel Valley town by the Jewish Consumptive Relief Association. The foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains was long known for its sanatoriums treating patients with tuberculosis and other ailments from the late 19th century onward. The 20-room building, a gift of the baking industry, was built “for the benefit of the fallen workers in their ranks, as a tribute to the Sanatorium effort, and a memorial to the Baking industry.” Later, the facility became the City of Hope, now a renowned comprehensive cancer center.


There are many regular features in the publication, including reports from Jewish brotherhoods and sisterhoods, including the Men’s Club of Temple Emanu-El and the Sisterhood of Temple B’nai B’rith; several pages of society news reporting on marriages, bar mitzvahs, trips and travels, parties; news from lodges, clubs, and societies and other like items. The “Our Own Athletics” section reported on the upcoming football showdown between the University of Southern California and Notre Dame, a classic held in Chicago as the final game of the year for the Knute Rockne-coached Fighting Irish and the penultimate contest for the Trojans, whose “Thundering Herd” was coached by Howard Jones.

Despite the fact that Harry Edelson, the only Jew on the USC squad was out with an injury, the article noted that there was great pride in the fact that there was “such a magnificent house of learning as the University of Southern California” given that “we hailed from a country where anti-Semitism is NOT dead.” It was a time that readers “must appreciate the liberalism of the peoples of California and their institutions of learning.” Nonetheless, Notre Dame, which eked out a 13-12 win the previous year in Los Angeles, held on to hand the Trojans their only loss of the season in a 7-6 nailbiter. Edelson went on to be a pivotal player in the 1930 Rose Bowl, scoring twice in a 47-14 shellacking of the University of Pittsburgh, and had a storied coaching career of more than three decades at three Los Angeles high schools.


Also mentioned in this sports section were the opening matches in the annual championship at Hillcrest, which included eight pairings. while the B’nai B’rith baseball team was taking on Glendale in a municipal league matchup at Griffith Park. Glendale was undefeated and the “B.B.s” had only a sole loss, a 1-0 “hair-raiser,” though there were several games yet to play before the conclusion of the season. The last note mentioned that Martin Rudelman, a star player on the basketball squad of the Waldemar Club, a prominent Jewish boys’ club, was thought to be leaving because of his workload at USC, but he stated that he would return to the team.

The “Activities Among the Zionists” includes material on the election of Magnin to the executive committee of the Zionist District of Los Angeles and plans for the formation of a music conservatory in Palestine, which was reported to have been the project of Mayer Manassa, said to be “the richest Jew in Singapore.” It was added that Manassa, having heard Giulio Ronconi, a renowned baritone, sing recently, offered him the job of heading the conservatory, which Ronconi, who was performing in Los Angeles in mid-December and who said to be “a staunch Zionist,” was considering. There are also photos of an irrigation works and a woman tending to her garden in a colony established under the Keren Hayesod, or Foundation Fund, launched in 1920 to provide resources for the Zionists following the Balfour Declaration three years prior in which Britain declared its support for a Jewish state in Palestine.


In the “Notes and Comments” section, there is a very interesting piece on “The Flying Squadron” consisting of 164 rabbis and laypersons traveling by air during November “to bring the message of the needs of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations to American Jewry.” That group, which, in 2003, became the Union for Reform Judaism, was established in 1873 in Cincinnati. In discussing the fundraising drive involved in the tour, the writer, known as Maftir, exclaimed “it makes me mad when I think how this great organization has for years gone about as a beggar seeking alms!” He also noted that several prominent local Jews, including film producer Adolph Zukor, donated funds for the Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church, but wondered “why not do something for Mother Judaism and to perpetuate the work begun by Father [Rabbi] Isaac M. Wise, the founder of American Reform Judaism.

Sections devoted to “Building and Construction;” “Amusements,” including local theaters and their offering; lists of temples and synagogues, including upcoming programs and presentations; news of the B’nai B’rith Lodge, including a talk on inter-fraternal relations and a spotlight on prominent members like Judge Rosenkranz, deputy city prosecutor Arthur Rosenblum, and chief deputy district attorney Ben J. Scheinman; news of the women’s auxiliary of the lodge, including a drama class presentation by Lilian Komer; a “Financial Page,” and on “Pure Food,” with recipes for Waldorf Salad, meat loaf, and turkey stuffing for Thanksgiving, are also of note.


Finally, with regard to that holiday, Rabbi Cohen wrote an editorial lamenting that people “appear to have lost all spiritual and moral balance” and that Thanksgiving “is made the occasion for over-stuffing with food and delicacies and participation in recreations.” Unfortunately, Cohen noted, “for the very most part, very little attention is given Thanksgiving to God ‘from Whom all blessings flow” and the holiday “is over-capitalized much.” He admonished, as is so often the case, “that we returned to the simplicity and sincerity, the reverence and reliability of the parents of the Republic.” He deplored the waste of the nation’s heritage, “have become greedy and selfish” while “we are quite satisfied to forget God, until some calamity comes along and then we demand His immediate attention in payment of which we are ready to make all kinds of promises.” He concluded by averring “we will not exactly say this this year we should turn over a new leaf, because it will not be done; but we would suggest maybe a little more better and wiser judgment.”

It is, as is so often the case with publications, fascinating to read the articles, editorials, and reports, as well as peruse the advertisements, and get a feel for life in late 1920s Los Angeles and, in this case, that of a substantial proportion of the Jewish population of the area. There are other issues of the B’nai B’rith Messenger in the museum’s holdings, so look for future posts about some of those.

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