Karen S. Wilson
When the gold rush ignited significant Jewish migration to the western United States, Los Angeles was a Catholic backwater, no longer the capital of Mexican California or the center of the hide trade that for two decades had drawn Yankee traders to its primitive port. It offered no obvious advantage to those who sought either instant wealth or predictable opportunity. It was not the destination of most Jewish emigrants from Europe who boarded sailing ships in the wake of the failed, famine-fed antimonarchy revolutions of 1848. Yet after Mexico ceded California and its northern territories to the United States in that same year, Los Angeles became home to a small group of energetic Jews, who seized a rare opportunity to engage actively in renovating a society and defining their place in it. Why?
On an urban frontier created by Spanish colonialism, Mexican republicanism, and American expansionism, Jews encountered the breadth of Western diversity, the unfettered promise of capitalism, and the power of wide-ranging social ties in what the dean of California historians, Kevin Starr, has described as a "ferociously fluid society." With an inclination to stay, build up the place, and let the place build them up, Jews from Europe took on, in the words of Gunther Barth, the "search for social cohesion and cultural identity" that marked California in the aftermath of war, conquest, and the rush for gold. They forged cohesion with strangers, Catholics and Mormons, Americans and Mexicans, speakers of Chinese, French, German, Polish, and Spanish. They articulated a way of being part of the multiculturalism of the United States that anticipated a national identity assumed by American Jews elsewhere only after World War II. They capitalized on convergence, commerce, and connections to negotiate inclusion while maintaining distinction. How?
Jewish immigrants settled in nineteenth-century Los Angeles because they envisioned possibilities for economic mobility, communal stability, and social integration more readily and fully accessible to them there than in Europe or elsewhere in the United States. They realized many of those possibilities by confidently developing cross-cultural relationships as they adapted to an evolving pluralistic society. With fortuitous timing and persistence, working to make the possible real and engaging with the diversity of the place and its population, they became Angelenos. Following in the footsteps of diaspora Jews from antiquity to the early modern period as described by Gerson Cohen, Jews integrated, not "to make things easier, but [as] the result of a need to continue to make the [Jewish] tradition relevant." In the process, these early settlers used "the blessing of assimilation" to ensure that Jews and Judaism became distinctly part of the ever-changing cultural mosaic called Los Angeles.
Assimilation, or rather its presumed power, has animated historical scholarship and contemporary concerns about Jewish survival. It is one response to the dilemma of modernity for Jews: inclusion in exchange for the erasure of Jewish distinction. The alternative is to inoculate against the influence of a majority culture through insularity. Using examples reaching back to the first Jewish diaspora, Cohen eloquently defined assimilation as a "healthy appropriation of new forms and ideas for the sake of growth and enrichment." "Properly channeled and exploited," he continued, assimilation became a two-way street in which Jews avoided fossilizing their beliefs and customs by adapting innovations drawn from the surrounding society. By engaging in "imitation of and competition with" other cultures, Jews in Babylon, Hellenistic Alexandria, Muslim Spain, and enlightened Western Europe forged a future for Judaism and its adherents. They ensured that Jewish identity remained relevant to individuals, that the value of Jewish community resonated sufficiently to be sustainable, and that Jewish culture persisted in its distinctiveness as a viable option to other cultures. They took on the behavior, language, and ideas of others that strengthened the case for Judaism and a Jewish future. At the same time, by adapting, they strengthened the social consensus in the societies in which they lived and their place in that accord. On the California frontier, Jews could freely decide whether to remain Jews. They chose to be Jews and to adapt to their new home in ways that would enable other Jews to have the same option. Furthermore, their decision contributed to the diversity that began to flourish in California with the advent of U.S. sovereignty and continues to define Los Angeles today.
Jewish immigrants to Los Angeles were part of neither the old regime of Mexican California nor the new regime of American California. Neither elite Californio rancheros nor working-class Yankee forty-niners saw them as "natural" allies. Their customs of community stood in contrast to the freewheeling individualism that characterized the frontier. Jews were different from most other Angelenos, and that was the starting point for their efforts to get along with each other. Jews took part in negotiating the contours of a pluralistic society, the boundaries of toleration, and the requirements for social incorporation. The progress of those negotiations determined the significance of difference and the necessity of assimilation.
Like other immigrants to California at midcentury, Jewish Europeans first sought to improve their economic opportunities on the United States' newest frontier. Such prospects in Los Angeles were limited by geography and the frontier/borderland environment: the rugged terrain that separated the region from the eastern United States and central Mexico and the expanse of Pacific Ocean between Los Angeles and Polynesian and Asian ports. Without a deepwater port, Los Angeles was dependent on San Francisco for virtually all imported and manufactured goods and news of the outside world. Until the completion of the transcontinental railroad, in 1869, travel by ship from the eastern United States took from forty-five days, via the Isthmus of Panama, to five months, around Cape Horn, plus three days along a sometimes treacherous California coast, culminating in a two-and-a-half-hour coach ride from San Pedro to the Los Angeles Plaza. Once they arrived, newcomers found that, because of Spanish and Mexican land distribution policies, most of the land was held by a small number of people. The institution of U.S. federal and state land policies brought uncertainty about land titles and boundaries as well as systems of taxation previously unknown to the Californio rancheros. Cattle hides and tallow were the only local products for trade, and only grapes for winemaking were cultivated commercially. The small population of the region and the town made for thin markets. With no local banks until the late 1860s and limited local financial capital, interest rates were high, extending credit was risky, and infrastructure developed slowly. It took a special eye-or perhaps a blind eye to its disadvantages-to foresee a profitable future in Los Angeles before 1870.
The first impressions of some Jewish immigrants suggested that the possibilities of Los Angeles were not only not obvious, but disappointingly invisible. The Prussian immigrant Harris Newmark was so astonished by his initial encounters in Los Angeles that he felt he "had landed on another planet." From seeing the strips of beef hung on fences to dry into jerky and the Indian and Mexican vineyard workers sleeping off drunken payday revelry along the road to town, Newmark developed a generally "odd and unfavorable impression" of his new home. Newmark's brother, Joseph P., a merchant who had forsaken the chaos of California's northern gold fields for its pastoral south, convinced Harris as well as their aunt and uncle to join him. Family members recounted that when the couple arrived with their six children in 1854, Newmark's aunt, Rosa, "apparently not conceiving it possible that they were condemned to abide permanently in such a place, asked [her nephew], 'Have we much further to go, Joe?'" Her nephew, detecting her contempt for the pueblo, delayed revealing the truth, "saying that they were going to stop here for the night." Even in 1861 Los Angeles failed to impress Eugene Meyer, a protégé of Simon Lazard of the San Francisco-based firm Lazard Frères, who arrived to work for Simon's cousin, Solomon Lazard, in a well-established general store. Meyer was "so disappointed that he wanted to leave within forty-eight hours," describing Los Angeles as a "one-mule town" with "no paved streets and no sewers" and "only four brick houses in the place." More accustomed to the bustling and crowded streets of San Francisco, where he had lived for two years, the nineteen-year-old native of Strasbourg, probably not wanting to waste money on a return stagecoach ticket, nevertheless stayed on as clerk and bookkeeper, married, and started a family.
What caused the Newmarks, Meyer, and other Jewish immigrants to settle in Los Angeles? All of them recognized that doing business in southern California was a less chaotic, less competitive, less arduous alternative to taking their chances in the northern gold rush. Joseph P. Newmark had experienced the rush firsthand, partnering with two other men in a store in Hangtown (later Placerville). Meyer's employer, Solomon Lazard, had tried to set up shop in Sacramento and San Jose, before losing all his goods in a fire in Stockton. When Lazard and Newmark arrived in Los Angeles in the early 1850s, they found a place enjoying an economic boom without the fortune-hunting mobs crowding into San Francisco and every town in the north. Although they had no way of knowing what the future held for Los Angeles, they may well have sensed an opportunity in helping to build the town. As immigrants to a frontier, they would have recognized that their new home was undeveloped, and they would have noted the lack of entrenched barriers to their economic participation. Most important, their decision to settle in Los Angeles reflected a perception that it offered better options for pursuing a livelihood than either their homelands or other places in the United States.
In addition to unfettered opportunities to make a living, Jewish immigrants also found a local community undergoing great changes. With the simultaneous shocks of the gold rush and the U.S. conquest of Mexico's northern territories, the social moorings of pastoral California came loose. Mexican culture, U.S. politics, and international capitalism met on the unpaved streets in a smash-up of different styles, values, and aspirations. In real and bloody terms, the differences provoked the well-documented violence that gave frontier Los Angeles its reputation as "Hell Town." As frequent robberies, killings, and the imposition of vigilante justice dramatically suggest, a battle was being waged over the future of Los Angeles. For those willing to dodge bullets, literally and figuratively, the turmoil represented a chance to influence a new social structure by their presence, persistence, and participation in deliberating the location of the town jail or the provision of public education and more. In the sudden chaotic democratization of Californio society, Jewish immigrants discovered they could be among the architects of social renovation rather than have to accept marginalization, as in Europe. By choosing to settle in Los Angeles, they became part of the change, a nearly unprecedented situation for Jews in North America.
By their presence alone Jews added a significant element to the transformation of Los Angeles. They made the region religiously diverse and helped expand the ethnic and cultural variety of Angelenos. The cultural and religious homogeneity that Spanish colonizers had endeavored to establish disappeared as the number of foreigners grew significantly, from about 2 percent of the residents in 1844 to 23 percent in 1850. By 1870 foreign-born residents made up over 28 percent of the population, a peak that would not be reached again for ninety years. With the advent of U.S. sovereignty, Californio Catholics were joined by Catholics from Ireland and Italy as well as Protestants from Missouri and New York and Jews from Germany and Poland. Small populations of African Americans and Chinese immigrants contributed to the racial diversity. Though on a smaller scale than northern counties such as Sacramento and San Francisco, Los Angeles reflected the international nature of the gold rush that made the state cosmopolitan.
For Jewish immigrants arriving before the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the choice of Los Angeles and the choice of commerce proved prescient. When the forty-niners turned San Francisco into the instant metropole of the Far West, opportunities for commerce in its hinterlands increased as well. Less competition, little regulation, and rising prospects for trade with other cities and territories made Los Angeles an attractive place for merchants. The transformation of the massive, lightly populated cattle ranches into smaller, more densely populated farms led to less rural self-sufficiency and more dependency on urban storekeepers. The settlers of the 1850s, overwhelmingly single males, married and started families in the 1860s, contributing to the slow but steady population growth of the region. With what seemed an ever-increasing customer base, Jewish immigrants found commerce a productive niche. For some, it also proved an effective springboard to other economic and social arenas. Overall, it gave the majority of Jewish Angelenos a strategy for adapting to the frontier, a fruitful livelihood for sustaining families and communal institutions, and a social role in the larger community.
Along with the fluidity of the frontier and the possibilities in commerce, the multiculturalism of Los Angeles provided another opportunity for Jews to become integral to the emerging society. Able to communicate in French, German, and Polish with their fellow immigrants, Jews added the languages of their new home to repertoires that also included Hebrew and Yiddish. Isaias Hellman, a Bavarian immigrant, learned Spanish from a young Catholic priest, Francisco Mora, who later became the bishop of Los Angeles. Harris Newmark learned Spanish from customers as he clerked in his brother's store and English from his London-born aunt, Rosa. The French Jew Maurice Kremer was apparently an effective county and city tax collector because he could converse with all taxpayers, including Chinese merchants. With such fluency, Jewish immigrants were able to communicate with most other Angelenos, removing the most obvious barrier created by diversity and creating personal connections with people from a variety of countries and backgrounds. The multilingualism of Jewish Angelenos helped them acquire the customers, associates, and friends who were key to frontier mobility and incorporation.
The economic success and social inclusion of Jews were not inevitable, though, and perhaps not even likely given the typical path that foreign men followed to wealth and status in Alta California, from being traders to becoming rancheros by marrying Catholic Californio women. Nevertheless, on the economic front the story of Jews was mostly one of success, achieved without resorting to marrying outside the faith. Some immigrants realized extraordinary wealth and elite status in a relatively short time, while most of the Jewish population did well enough to sustain families and join their wealthier co-religionists as part of the local economic fabric. Their distinctiveness was always known and noted by others. Although prejudice toward Jews existed in the West, it was not the most significant ordeal they faced in their quest for a livelihood. More important were the hardships of living in a strange, unfamiliar land and the challenges of establishing social ties amid the heterogeneity of California. The relationships Jewish immigrants had with other Angelenos were crucial to their mobility.
As a small and distinctive minority, Jewish Angelenos opted to engage actively with their non-Jewish neighbors, customers, and associates in both the mundane and profound work of community building. In disproportion to their numbers, Jewish Angelenos participated in the economic, civic, social, charitable, and religious institutions that countered the violence and turmoil of the frontier. They demonstrated a penchant for collective action, openness to diversity in their personal relationships, and confidence in the urban enterprise. As a result, Jewish Europeans came to be overrepresented in the new elite and middle classes that redefined Los Angeles.
Throughout the nineteenth century, the Jewish population in the county remained small. From 1851 to 1870, it grew from eight men to 357 men, women, and children, about 2.33 percent of the total population. By the turn of the century, an estimated population of some twenty-five hundred Jewish Angelenos constituted less than 1.50 percent. Yet by 1880 Jewish immigrants made up a significant proportion of the leadership that dominated the city's economic, social, and political institutions. According to the historian Frederic Cople Jaher, some 172 Angelenos constituted the ruling class that succeeded the Californios. Americans from New England and the Middle Atlantic region each represented about one-third of those with known birthplaces; Europeans made up the other third. The proportion of Europeans matched that of Americans from the Eastern Seaboard because of the "heavy representation of Jews in the upper stratum." Twenty-two European Jews were part of the elite, as was one American-born Jew. Jews accounted for nearly half of the European contingent and over 13 percent of the total elite. As much as a fifth of the adult Jewish population in Los Angeles may have belonged to the elite.
Members of the extended Newmark family were prominent among the elites. The Newmarks, Lazards, Kremers, and Meyers, like most Jewish elites and Jews in the emerging middle class, were early settlers in Los Angeles who arrived as American citizens or naturalized quickly afterward. They were founders and leaders of Jewish communal institutions as well as organizations aimed at the needs of the general community, engaging for multiple generations, broadly and purposefully, in the economic, religious, civic, and social life of the region. Rather than isolate or insulate themselves in defense of their ethnoreligious traditions, they collaborated with non-Jews to build a new community characterized by economic and social diversity, reliance on cross-cultural support, and converging class interests.
At the core of the extended Newmark family were Joseph Newmark, born in Prussia, and his London-born wife, Rosa. They followed their nephews, Joseph P. and Harris, to California, after nearly two decades of seeking the promises of America on the Eastern Seaboard, in the boomtown of St. Louis, and in the "frontier village" of Dubuque, Iowa. In September 1854, with six children ranging in age from two to seventeen years, Joseph and Rosa relocated once more, moving from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where their nephews were established merchants. In the slow-growing town, Joseph and Rosa Newmark finally ended their frontier journey, becoming part of the original spiritual leaders and organizers of the Jewish community in their new home. Perhaps more important, the Newmarks brought four daughters to a place in need of Jewish brides. With each marriage, Joseph and Rosa gained an enterprising and well-connected immigrant son-in-law-three from the Alsace region of France and one from Prussia, their nephew Harris. Alongside their ambitious husbands, the daughters-Matilda, Sarah, Caroline, and Harriet-forged lives of frontier gentility, based on earned wealth that secured similarly comfortable lives for successive generations.
Like other Jewish immigrants, Maurice Kremer, Harris Newmark, Solomon Lazard, and Eugene Meyer married the four Newmark daughters only after becoming established in business. Harris and Maurice were briefly partners in a general store before setting up separate businesses, and Eugene eventually succeeded Solomon as the owner of the town's largest dry goods establishment. Matilda most likely joined her husband, Maurice, in Kremer's fancy goods store, for she was an accomplished milliner who had had her own shop when the family was in San Francisco. The women's primary responsibilities, however, lay in the domestic realm, raising large numbers of children, maintaining households, and supervising servants. As their husbands became more successful, the Newmark daughters took up charitable work and philanthropy, in keeping with their rising social stature and Jewish values. All four families invested in Los Angeles real estate and built homes in the middle-class neighborhood that developed just south of the central business district. By the mid-1870s, the names of the Kremers, Newmarks, Lazards, and Meyers appeared regularly in newspaper accounts of charity balls, political campaigns, elections of officers of the leading fraternal lodges, and meetings of the board of trade.
One of the earliest publications promoting Los Angeles highlighted the engagement of the Newmark family's various branches in the economic development of the region. In a book titled Semi-Tropical California: Its Climate, Healthfulness, Productiveness, and Scenery; Its Magnificent Stretches of Vineyards and Groves of Semi-Tropical Fruits, Etc., Etc., Etc., of 1874, the journalist Benjamin Cummings Truman, addressing "mechanics, farmers, and unskilled laborers" to draw them as settlers to the small town, celebrated the climate, soil, and "cosmopolitan character" of the population. He anointed the first pantheon of the city's makers, noting the presence of Jews (and the Newmark husbands) among them: "The different nationalities have all contributed to the development of Los Angeles-Banning, Stearns, Temple, Wilson, Kewen, Tomlinson, Hamilton, Griffith, Howard, Alexander, Nichols, Mallard, and other Americans; Downey, Keller, King, Boyle and Den, Irishmen; Sainsevaine, Ducommon, Myer, Marchesault, Frenchmen; Kramer, Newmark, Lazard, Hellman, Hebrews; and Kohler, Frolling, Fleur and Coll, Germans and a great many others."
Truman's inclusion of "Hebrews" among the productive nationalities spoke to the distinctiveness of Jewish Angelenos in the frontier era. European Jews, seen as particular contributors to progress, apart from their fellow German and French immigrants, played an integral role in the economic transformation of Los Angeles over the first two and a half decades of U.S. sovereignty. From their vantage as merchants and storekeepers, Jewish immigrants had what Harris Newmark described as a "good opportunity to observe the character and peculiarities of the people with whom [he] had to deal."It was an advantageous perspective in a town of strangers, a position from which to decide whether to trust or distrust one's fellow Angelenos. It was also a position from which to understand both the breadth and the limitations of the population-how diverse it was in culture and wealth and how constrained and liberated it was by unfamiliarity. Across the store counter, Jewish immigrants made friends, identified prospective business partners and opportunities, and became part of the network that produced the new Los Angeles.
The men on Truman's list represented those migrants to the California frontier who had most ably adapted to its challenges and seized its opportunities. Strategic partnerships were key to their adaptation and success, as were networks of like-minded people. In various configurations, these men controlled the leading enterprises of the city. Keller and Ducommun were directors of Hellman's Farmers and Merchants Bank. Newmark, Lazard, Meyer, and Downey held shares in the Los Angeles City Water Company. Alexander, Banning, Hellman, Keller, and Wilson ran the region's first railroad, the Los Angeles and San Pedro line. As the proprietor of the largest wholesale grocery firm in the region, Harris Newmark helped lead the negotiations to bring the Southern Pacific Railroad to Los Angeles in 1876. Isaias Hellman established the city's first successful bank and financed the ambitions of men such as Harrison Gray Otis, the publisher of the Los Angeles Times, and the oilman Edward Doheny. Beneficiaries of early arrival on a frontier and flexible entrepreneurs in an underdeveloped economy, the men on Truman's list represented the height of economic stature and achievement in nineteenth-century Los Angeles. Jewish immigrants were well integrated into the networks of the new economic and social elite that supplanted the Californios.
Besides joining entrepreneurial networks, Jewish immigrants played an unusual and critical role in the region's voluntary associations. As they engaged in the development of the local economy, a large percentage of Jewish Angelenos joined, organized, and led fraternal lodges, benevolent societies, political organizations, and social clubs. They created the structures of Jewish community and secured support for those institutions from non-Jews, while they tendered aid to the causes of other religious traditions. By actively and enthusiastically involving themselves in associational life, Jews helped define the community infrastructure that came to characterize American Los Angeles. Because of their confidence in collective efforts for the greater good, Jewish Angelenos strengthened their own social ties and helped bridge the distance between various religious and ethnic groups. They influenced the emergence and persistence of customs of interfaith, cross-cultural collaboration for the well-being of particular groups and the larger community.
Again, the Newmark family exemplified the engagement of Jews in finding common social ground with strangers. Harris Newmark, his uncle Joseph, and Solomon Lazard were among the thirty men who signed the incorporating bylaws of the Hebrew Benevolent Society (HBS), the first Jewish organization, ethnic society, and charity in the city. At the same time, Lazard was a founding member of three other precedent-setting organizations-the Los Angeles Guards, a local militia formed to protect the citizenry from bandits and other criminals; the County Democratic Party delegation; and the city's first International Order of Odd Fellows fraternal lodge. Maurice Kremer later joined the HBS, helped found two other ethnic organizations, the Teutonia Society and the French Benevolent Society, and served on the board of education and the city council, among other public bodies. Harris Newmark and Eugene Meyer passed muster for membership in the city's first Masonic lodge, and Harris led efforts to create a public library. While all these associations could be seen as the actions of young, ambitious men eager to become known to potential customers, the distinctive and persistent breadth of Jewish involvement suggests a motivation beyond pecuniary gain. Jews of modest means and success were among the enthusiastic joiners, suggesting that their club activities took precedence over their business responsibilities. The first rabbi in Los Angeles, Abraham Wolf Edelman, belonged to no fewer than three Masonic organizations and several other local associations. Jewish men and women were comparably engaged in associations, as were the second and third generations of the pioneer families. The active involvement of the Newmark patriarch and matriarch, as well as the community's rabbi, in both Jewish and non-Jewish religious, charitable, and social institutions became a model for the valuing of community.
Joseph Newmark, the son and grandson of Hasidic rabbis, apparently had a thorough education in the texts of Judaism and might have taken on the rabbinic responsibilities of teaching and interpreting Jewish law had he remained in his native village of Neumark, West Prussia. But he left home for New York City in 1823, and he spent the next two decades pursuing a livelihood as a tailor, auctioneer, and merchant. According to an anonymous newspaper tribute published shortly after his death, Newmark was instrumental in founding two synagogues in Manhattan: in 1825 the Elm Street Synagogue, the second Jewish congregation established in the city and known today as B'nai Jeshrun; and in 1845 the Wooster Street Synagogue, now known as Temple Shaaray Tefila, a breakaway group reacting to the liberalization of the Elm Street congregation. In 1862, Newmark organized Congregation B'nai B'rith, the first Jewish congregation in Los Angeles, which is better known as Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Originally founded on principles and customs rooted in traditional Ashkenazi practices, each of these congregations has contributed to the development of Judaism in the United States, producing influential rabbis and lay leaders, innovations in education and liturgy, and landmark synagogue buildings. Joseph Newmark represented the steady spread across the continent of German-Polish-inflected Judaism as it became the dominant stream of American Jewish life. For his children and his fellow Jewish pioneers, he also served as a model of dedication to defining spaces and places for communal prayer and study that enabled the fulfillment of those obligations of Judaism. Although later generations would come to rely on formally trained and ordained rabbis for leadership, Jewish community in nineteenth-century Los Angeles, as in most of the rest of the nation, depended on the efforts of learned Jews such as Newmark.
On the California frontier, Joseph Newmark's commitment to Judaism stabilized not only the Jewish community but also Los Angeles as a whole, where Congregation B'nai B'rith was only the third religious congregation established. In the transition from Mexican to American society, especially given the vision of individual freedom and independence that pulled people to California, even the Catholic Church faced challenges. Of all the Protestant denominations that tried to establish congregations, only the Methodist Church managed to draw enough members to support a minister in the first decade or so after statehood. The persistence of Jewish, Catholic, and Methodist congregations, however, required recognition of their shared values and challenges and concrete mutual support.
The women of the Newmark family, led by the matriarch, Rosa, were notably active in soliciting and providing that support. In 1865 Rosa organized a successful fair to raise funds for a Catholic-run secondary school for boys, the first such institution in the city. In 1870 she encouraged her daughter Sarah to help establish the Ladies' Hebrew Benevolent Society (LHBS), the first women's charity in the city. Sarah, by then married and the mother of six children under twelve years old, served as the founding vice president, the second president, and later the treasurer of the charitable organization. Initially founded to provide nursing care for the ill and to prepare the dead for burial, the society quickly expanded its mission to serve indigent women and children. From its inception, LHBS held balls annually to raise funds for its work. At these balls, "the cream of the Hebrew society of Los Angeles, with numerous of their Gentile friends," enjoyed each other's company while supporting the Jewish charity. Of the attendees at the 1887 event, nearly two-thirds were non-Jews. Rosa's youngest daughter, "Madame Eugene [Harriet] Meyer," and her granddaughter Rachel Kremer contributed several recipes each to Los Angeles Cookery, a project of the Ladies' Aid Society of the Fort Street M.E. Church. Matilda Newmark Kremer and Caroline Newmark Lazard were charter members of the nonsectarian Los Angeles Ladies' Benevolent Society, established in 1876, and Matilda served as its first vice president. These examples only begin to suggest the extensive involvement of Jewish women in the creation and stabilization of the region's early religious and charitable institutions. As organizers, leaders, and supporters, the wives and daughters of the Jewish merchants, bankers, and entrepreneurs ensured that those seeking religious community and those in need could draw on a range of options.
As the men and women who made helped remake Los Angeles into an American place, the Newmarks and the other early settlers ensured that Jews and Judaism became part of the region's multiculturalism. Further, they demonstrated the efficacy of cross-cultural connections and collaborations in securing Jewish mobility and social incorporation. In becoming Angelenos, they envisioned the possibilities of urban life in a way that anticipated the experiences of successive generations of Jewish Angelenos and of American Jewry as a whole in a pluralistic society.
Like subsequent generations of both immigrants and native-born Angelenos, nineteenth-century Jews saw possibilities in the region and stayed to pursue them. Because they did not isolate or insulate themselves from the larger society, instead working actively with non-Jews to build community, they achieved the mobility, integration, and ethnoreligious continuity and security they sought. They offered and solicited support for creating and sustaining ethnic and religious institutions-their own as well as those of others. They added to and broadened the diversity of Los Angeles. By connecting and collaborating, Jewish Angelenos negotiated the unfamiliarity, volatility, and heterogeneity of life on the cosmopolitan frontier. They took part in fashioning a new Los Angeles, defined by strangers turned friends and friends of friends, by diversified economic opportunities, and by customs of cross-cultural support. In the process of becoming Angelenos, they helped transform Los Angeles from a Catholic outpost to a Jewish destination, from a frontier community to an urban society, from a place with little appeal to a metropolis on the rise.