by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In fall 1841, when the Rowland and Workman Expedition arrived in Los Angeles from Santa Fé by way of the Old Spanish Trail, its diverse membership of Americans, Europeans and New Mexicans also included the first Jew to live in the Angel City, this being tailor Jacob Frankfort, a native of what later became a unified Germany.
A decade or so later, there was a small, but important cadre, of European Jews who came to Los Angeles, including the Hellmans, Newmarks, among many others, most merchants, who found the area a better place for opportunity than not only their home countries, but other parts of the United States.
In these early years, Los Angeles Jewry established their first synagogue, cemetery at the base of the Elysian Hills not far from today’s Dodger Stadium, and fraternal societies and orders like the Order of B’nai B’rith, this latter becoming a crucial organization. In 1897, the weekly newspaper, the B’nai B’rith Messenger, began publication and served as a vital communication tool for Jews in the city and region.
As the Jewish population increased dramatically by the 1920s, another weekly arose, the California Jewish Review, though, by the end of the decade, it was decided to consolidate the two under the heading of the Messenger and this post’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is the 19 July 1929 edition of the paper, the first after the merger was effected the prior month. Here we’ll focus on several main articles from the publication, starting with the combining of the two papers.
Naturally, it was asserted that “what is considered one of the most important steps in Anglo Jewish [meaning English-language] journalism in this country was the recent merger” of the publications. It was noted that negotiations were held for months before an agreement was reached a few weeks prior and the result was that
Los Angeles Jewry will have one of the largest weekly newspapers in the country, for practically every Jewish family in Los Angeles and vicinity was a subscriber to either one or the other of these papers. The combined weekly newspaper will abandon the format of the B’nai B’rith Messenger [which was in more of a tabloid style], retaining the name, however, and appearing in regular newspaper style.
A letter was reprinted from Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin, one of the most prominent of the Ange City’s Jewish population, who congratulated new president and editor Joseph Jonah Cummings, who took over the Messenger from founding publisher Lionel L. Edwards and then oversaw the merger of the Review.
Magnin wrote, “I am positive that under your direction the two papers consolidated into one will afford an opportunity for you to do a splendid piece of work for the Jewish community of Los Angeles” and he added, “I am looking forward to the very finest kind of periodical—one that will be a leader in the field of Jewish papers in the United States.” The rabbi ended with “may success crown your efforts and the entire Jewish community sustain you in achieving this end.”
In its editorial page, the paper offered its “Accepting Our Responsibility” and it expressed its mission as “one that will be exemplary in its policy, in the giving of service, and in co-ordinating the various forces of the Community, to the end that harmony, dignity and helpfulness shall obtain.” It praised Edwards for conducting the Messenger so that it “linked dignity with principle, never wavering from this course” and credited him and the paper so that “more than any other single force, [it] helped, and took its place in the fore-front, in the upbuilding of Jewish life in this great southwest.”
Also lauded was Mrs. B.M. Baker, editor of the paper for eleven years and who “had associated with her . . . men and women who are outstanding in character and leadership in Jewish and communal life on the coast.” Magnin, Louis Cole, H.W. Frank, Mrs. E.M. Lazard and Mrs. Adie R. Altman were among those singled out for the valuable contributions. Cummins and Managing Editor David Weissman noted the “profound sense of duty” inherent in taking over the two merged papers and accepted this “with humility and dignity.”
For the new owner and editor, this meant that
We propose to make the B’nai B’rith Messenger one of the outstanding Jewish periodicals of the land, one that shall help every worthy cause, and assist every upstanding institution.We propose to give service to every legitimate Jewish and communal endeavor, to the end that the Jews of Los Angeles will be loved and respected by their gentile neighbors, and to that end that the Jewish institutions of this city shall be exemplary.
There was a separate musing about “the value of a Jewish newspaper,” with it explained that such an enterprise had to be “devoted to the interests of Judaism and of Jewry, not of any particular section or phase but of the whole.” This mattered because the endeavor “can be a potent factor in the unification of the community and in the strengthening of Judaism” especially through the publication of such “good and wholesome news as would not otherwise be obtained.”
Notably, it was added that a Jewish paper “brings news of what is taking place in the world and is thus the purveyor of Jewish history and its recorder.” Under Cummins’ half-century of ownership, he put more emphasis than had been the case with Edwards’ proprietorship on news of Jewish life and activity worldwide, as it was noted that the Jewish sheet “tells us of the doings and the comings and goings of our friends and acquaintances as well as of the men and women who are factors in Jewish activities and progress.” With this role, the piece concluded, “it is thus an educator and indispensable in every Jewish home.”
So, the front page did reflect more of the coverage of events pertaining to Jews elsewhere in the world, whether about the end of the spring semester for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, anti-Semitic activity in Germany just a few years before Adolf Hitler seized power there, concern over laws in Romania that could adversely affect Jews and their religious practices, or a proposed committee comprising members of the American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee about cooperative measures.
As for local front page news, it was reported that a campaign to raise $200,000 for the United Jewish Welfare Fund for assistance toward many institutions in the country and abroad was falling short of the goal. Banker Irving H. Hellman, chair of the drive, urged readers to send in checks, even if not contacted directly about the Fund, stating “such people are requested not to wait for someone to call on them” but to remit money to its headquarters. It was added that summer was always a tough time of year for Eastern European Jews reliant on support from their brethren in America, though there was good news with respect to participation in Fund-supported schools in eight European nations and Palestine.
The newly opened University of California, Los Angeles campus at Westwood was to have a University Religious conference, or organization, and it was reported that oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny and his wife donated $30,000 so that it looked likely that a property could be purchased for a $150,000 center for the group to conduct its work. The gift of the Dohenys was considered beneficent to local Jews, whose participants in the conference included Magnin, Hellman, Marco R. Newmark, and Mrs. Jules R. Kauffman, among others. Devout Catholics, the Dohenys were lauded by I.I. Lipsitch for their contribution as it showed the cooperation between Catholics, Jews and Protestants in supporting the organization.
Separately, Mrs. Kauffman, it was announced, had been appointed by new Mayor John C. Porter to a vacancy on the Board of Municipal Art Commissioners. She was known for her work in Jewish women circles, as well as her role with the powerful woman’s club, the Friday Morning Club, as well as being a student of architecture.
The Jewish Consumptive and Ex-Patients Relief Association elected its officers the prior Monday with Hellman elected treasurer and Dr. M.I. De Vorkin, a physician of note, chosen President. Another local item on the front page was that the regional lodges of the Order of B’nai B’rith were having their second annual picnic at Luna Park, formerly the Selig Zoo, in Lincoln Heights on the 28th. Among the offerings were a baseball game and contests for those bringing the most guests, the prettiest girl, the homeliest man, along with orchestra music and a special one-hour “wild west animal show” put on by the Park.
Another local item of note concerned the Hebrew Sheltering Home for the Aged in Boyle Heights, lately Sakura Gardens for elder Japanese-Americans, the construction of which was taking place on the former estate of the neighborhood’s founder (along with Jewish banker Isaias W. Hellman and Croatian-born John Lazzarovich) William H. Workman. Chair of the building finance committee, H.D. Stack, stated “the time is ripe for the Jewish community to prove its desire to assist the cause of the Aged” so that elderly Jews had comfortable, and not crowded, conditions at the home.
A sad local event was the recent death at Arcadia, where he was attending a family gathering, of Dr. Boris D. Bogen, executive secretary of the International Order of B’nai B’rith, but also widely known for his intensive work with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which distributed food to suffering Jews in Poland during World War One. In fact, he was so highly regarded for his efforts that he was known as the “Herbert Hoover of Poland,” referring to the current president’s activities with food supplies to Europeans during that conflict.
A general item of note was under the heading of “The Day of the Jewess” and concerned the fact the Jewish woman “is making her influence felt in a larger degree than ever” because she was “foremost in the home” but also “a tremendous factor in the world outside the home.” One example was Mrs. Ignatz J. Reis, of Chicago, who was a director of the National Council of Jewish Women and, it was added, “if our Jewesses of such varying environments, training and all else, can command a common aim” relating to Jewish life broadly, “then the big problem will be easily solved and the richness of Jewish life will be sustained and maintained.” This issue seemed to be that too many Jews were “haphazard, easy-going, [and] lackadaisacal” so that “we are in need of a sterner Jewish life,” which “is in the capacity of the Jewess.”
Another very interesting piece concerned a “Cathedral of Learning” at the University of Pittsburgh which contained rooms for various groups around the world, but not one for Jews. The question was whether they should have one, but a Messenger columnist felt that this was not the case because “it is true that Jews have contributed culturally to civilization but not necessarily JEWISH culture.”
For example, Einstein did not do wonders for Jewish science, nor did prominent composers (Mendelssohn might be an example, though none were given) create masterpieces for Jewish music. The point raised was that “the Jews have imbibed culture of the land in which they lived and expressed themselves culturally in the fashion of their country” but the columnist opined that “I can see no basis for the establishment of a purely Jewish room such as suggested for other nationalities.” It wasn’t stated, but one wonders if the goal of a Jewish state in Palestine would have been seen as a means for what was explicated about Jewish culture on its own rather than as part of another country.
In the “Fraternal and Club News” section, one item that stands out was an affair of the Frivolets and a charity bridge tournament to be held in late August with proceeds applied to the club’s pledge towards “the Sanatorium at Duarte.” This institution was that founded by the Jewish Consumptive Relief Association, established in 1913 to create a nonsectarian tuberculosis sanatorium. Ten acres were purchased at Duarte, the foothill community in the central San Gabriel Valley, and the Los Angeles Sanatorium, with two canvas cottages opened the next year. When tuberculosis was largely controlled by antibiotics some thirty years later, the institution turned to fighting cancer and is now the City of Hope.
Columnist Oscar Hassenpfeffer’s “Getting Personal” had a eye-catching item in which he noted that a sign on Temple Street near Glendale Boulevard, near Silver Lake, read “Hebrew-Christian Fellowship.” Hassenpfeffer, however, offered that
Some one really ought to hire some capable Jewish talkers and endeavor to convert some of those energetic Christians who desire to convert all the poor, misbelieving Jews. Wouldn’t it be fun to hear the howl coming the other way?
Two pages of “Society and Personal” news, a sports section, and a stage and screen page are also included, but two other community items of interest are definitely worth pointing out. One was the barbecue held at Mount Sinai, recently known as the Los Angeles Home for the Incurables.
The purpose, said one organizer, was “to rehabilitate and reorganize the affairs of this vital Jewish institution, to make it a credit to our Jewish community, and to concentrate the interest of the community on our labor of mercy” as well as to show that the institution was “in very serious financial difficulties,” so that the event allowed Mount Sinai to hold on economically as it sought stability, including seeking admission into the Los Angeles Community Chest to be eligible for funds through that broad entity. Later, it merged with the Cedars of Lebanon (formerly Kaspare Cohn) Hospital to become today’s very prominent Cedars-Sinai healthcare organization.
Finally, David Grokowsky, of the education department of the Community Chest, contributed an article on “Jewish Agencies of the Community Chest,” highlighting the involvement of 18 entities among the 131 comprising the massive charitable organization. He also featured individual Jewish involvement, including by treasurer Ben Meyer; Magnin, a former vice-president and current head of the Speakers’ Bureau; Lipsitch, who was chair of the Agency Cooperation Committee; and board members like Herman Frank, Mrs. E.M. Lazard, film studio head Louis B. Mayer, department store chain owner Tom May, and Louis Nordlinger.
This edition of the B’nai B’rith Messenger is, naturally, significant as the first of the combined papers and, with the Homestead collection having several dozen issues of the paper, before and after the merger, we’ll continue to share these on the blog from time to time.