How a T-Shirt Made Its Way to an Exhibit About Los Angeles Jews

Author Makes Personal Contribution to the Autry

Fitting Exhibit to a T: Two nembers of the Whittier Havurah in 1975 sport a t-shirt design that has wound up in the Autry National Center nearly forty years later.
Courtesy of Rex Weiner
Fitting Exhibit to a T: Two nembers of the Whittier Havurah in 1975 sport a t-shirt design that has wound up in the Autry National Center nearly forty years later.

By Rex Weiner

Published June 01, 2013, issue of June 07, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

It’s just a t-shirt hanging on the wall in a corner of the Autry Museum’s new exhibition, Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic. Although a few artifacts of that nature exist on the bottom of my dresser drawer, it’s not my t-shirt—but I feel a sense of ownership about this one.

Within the Autry’s excellent panoramic view of the L.A.’s Jewish history—a city whose Jews gave Hollywood movies to the world, along with Barbie dolls, Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass and Nudie Cohn’s sequined Western wear, not to mention the Dodgers stolen from Brooklyn and Sandy Koufax pitching his perfect game—the framed t-shirt represents my personal addition to the Mosaic.

It found its way into the exhibition through an article I’d written for the Forward. The story was about a group that flourished in the West Coast suburban Jewish culture of 1950s and 60s. Located in the small community of Whittier, south of L.A., they called themselves the Whittier Havurah.

In the post-WW II era they were the city’s newest residents; highly educated, intellectually-driven men and women with college degrees, mostly first or second generation Jews. They were doctors, businessmen, housewives, teachers, entrepreneurs, and engineers, many of whom worked in the aerospace industry that was once based in the area, some of them key figures in the Apollo space program that put Americans on the moon.

They met in each other’s living rooms, seeking a Jewish way of life that matched their passionate curiosity and fierce intellects, happy to escape the old neighborhoods and old world ways of the East. “We loved Judaism, studied it and read intensively,” recalled Rosalind Perle, a Havurah member, “but could not abide with the ‘hocus pocus’ part.” With thriving young families in a booming California that celebrated youth, the Whittier Jews rejuvenated their faith.

Annual retreats to Camp Ramah, holiday gatherings, potluck dinners and study groups attracted more and more members to the Whittier Havurah. At its apex, the group grew much too large for anyone’s living room and numerous enough to consider forming its own synagogue under the Reconstructionist umbrella. Indeed, Reconstructionist Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan visited the group, acknowledging its influence on the movement he’d founded. “At one point,” one member told me, “it was thought that the children would carry on.”

But that never happened. A decision was made to leave bricks and mortar to the synagogues and allow life to run its natural course.


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!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • 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.