All Jewish on the Western Front

New Exhibit at Autry Chronicles History of Los Angeles Tribe

Jews of the Wild Frontier: The belongings of the successful Newmark family, seen here in 1854, are being displayed at the Autry National Museum’s exhibition “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic.”
Courtesy of the Autry National Center
Jews of the Wild Frontier: The belongings of the successful Newmark family, seen here in 1854, are being displayed at the Autry National Museum’s exhibition “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic.”

By Gordon Haber

Published May 28, 2013, issue of June 07, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The Autry National Center is a gem. Tucked away in Los Angeles’s sprawling Griffith Park, the museum is packed with exhibits about the American West. There’s a stagecoach and a 19th-century fire engine, along with vintage guns and guitars. My favorite installation is the ornate saloon, all mahogany and brass, which provides a taste of life in the late 1800s, if not, alas, a taste of the period’s liquor.

Despite its charms, the Autry might not seem the most likely place for an exhibit about American Jews. (One thinks of Mel Brooks in quasi-Native American regalia, shouting “Loz im geyn” from a cliff top.) But the Autry takes pains to highlight the diversity of the American West, giving weight to the contributions of Latinos, blacks, Asians and especially Native Americans. In this context, its new exhibition, “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic,” seems fitting.

A secondary impetus for the exhibit might be the general ignorance about the Jewish presence in the most important city in the American West (sorry, San Francisco). While most American Jews know much about the immigrant communities of Eastern cities, we’re much hazier about the origins of the large, vibrant and diverse Jewish community of Los Angeles.

Right from the start, “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic” evinces an earnest desire to educate the visitor. The exhibit begins with a kind of introductory space, wherein a series of questions is projected onto one wall: “Why did they come here?” “How did they live as Jews and Angelenos?” On another wall, the text points out that “Boyle Heights and Hollywood are the best known ‘Jewish neighborhoods’ in the American West.”

The heart of the exhibit is arranged chronologically. The first section, “Remaking Los Angeles/Making Angelenos (1850–1900),” describes a frontier town.

The 1848 Gold Rush brought some 300,000 treasure hunters to California, including a number of Jewish merchants who set up shop in Southern California to sell supplies to them. A silver Mass chalice, a panning basket and a saddle suggest the mix of cultures, and documents like an 1873 Certificate of Deposit from the Jewish-owned Farmers & Merchants Bank suggest the Jewish presence.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.