Cosmopolitans: A Social and Cultural History of the Jews of the San Francisco Bay Area

Cosmopolitans: A Social and Cultural History of the Jews of the San Francisco Bay Area

Cosmopolitans: A Social and Cultural History of the Jews of the San Francisco Bay Area

Cosmopolitans: A Social and Cultural History of the Jews of the San Francisco Bay Area

Synopsis

Levi Strauss, A.L. Gump, Yehudi Menuhin, Gertrude Stein, Adolph Sutro, Congresswoman Florence Prag Kahn--Jewish people have been so enmeshed in life in and around San Francisco that their story is a chronicle of the metropolis itself. Since the Gold Rush, Bay Area Jews have countered stereotypes, working as farmers and miners, boxers and mountaineers. They were Gold Rush pioneers, Gilded Age tycoons, and Progressive Era reformers. Told through an astonishing range of characters and events, Cosmopolitans illuminates many aspects of Jewish life in the area: the high profile of Jewish women, extraordinary achievements in the business world, the cultural creativity of the second generation, the bitter debate about the proper response to the Holocaust and Zionism, and much more. Focusing in rich detail on the first hundred years after the Gold Rush, the book also takes the story up to the present day, demonstrating how unusually strong affinities for the arts and for the struggle for social justice have characterized this community even as it has changed over time. Cosmopolitans, set in the uncommonly diverse Bay Area, is a truly unique chapter of the Jewish experience in America.

Excerpt

San Francisco came into being with the suddenness of an explosion. the discovery of gold in the Sierra foothills in 1848 triggered an influx to Northern California of a quarter of a million people, and the initial destination for nearly all of them was the Golden Gate. a remote and inconsequential Mexican outpost of fewer than a thousand inhabitants was rudely transformed into a monstrous center of commercial activity.

San Francisco swelled to thirty- five thousand by 1851, and by the eve of the Civil War it ranked as the nation’s fifteenth largest city and sixth busiest port. in New York and Boston the transition from settlement to city had taken around two centuries, but San Francisco was transformed in less than a decade. and “the volume of this migration must be multiplied by its velocity,” writes Carey McWilliams. “Not only were the emigrants in a great hurry [but] the same energy kept them in motion, jostling them about and sweeping them here and there.”

Overwhelmingly young and male, they came from all parts of the country and the globe, an unprecedented confluence of peoples. Foreigners outnumbered the American- born, making San Francisco the most ethnically diverse city on the continent, a nineteenth- century Babel. Along with Southerners, New Englanders, and New Yorkers, virtually every European country was represented. There were Chinese and Latin Americans, Polynesians and South Africans, Australians and Moroccans.

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