American Jerusalem: Jews and the Making of San Francisco
ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – THIS WEEK’S TRIVIA QUESTION: What three ways could people get from the east coast of the United States to San Francisco before the transcontinental railroad was built?
(This interview was originally posted in 2014.)
In the mid nineteenth century gold was discovered in California, and tens of thousands of prospectors flooded into this remote area, hoping to strike it rich. Thousands of Jews were among the newcomers; some had born in the United States, but many more were immigrants who had fled persecution in Central Europe. They were not only seeking gold, but also the opportunity to shape a new life for their families and their people.
At that time, San Francisco’s infrastructure and institutions were not yet built, so in contrast to other cities in America, where Jews had to fit into an existing power structure, many Jewish pioneers were instrumental in building those institutions, and became prominent merchants, politicians, and civic leaders.
The film American Jerusalem: Jews and the Making of San Francisco tells the story of the pioneering Jews of San Francisco. It traces their remarkable journey from Germany to the Gold Rush, their rise to prominence, and how, freed from discrimination, they reinvented themselves as a distinctly new kind of Jew: they weren’t just American Jews—they were San Francisco Jews.
The legacy of this rich history lives on today. The San Francisco Bay Area Jewish community remains different from other Jewish communities in the United States–more diverse, secular, and open, with a lower rate of synagogue attendance and a higher rate of intermarriage. American Jerusalem unveils the long and largely unknown history of this singular community, as well as its significance and place in the fabric of not only California and the West, but of America.
This week we’re speaking with Marc Schaffer, the American filmmaker who wrote and directed American Jerusalem.