Celebrate San Diego! The History & Heritage of San Diego’s Jewish Community

Exhibition chronicling the history of the Jewish community in San Diego

March 2017 – January 2018

San Diego’s Jewish pioneers arrived with statehood in 1850 looking for adventure, good weather, better health, and, above all, the opportunity to make the American dream their own. Many who arrived in San Diego were responsible for shaping the early town, building theaters, owning vast tracts of land, engaging in civic service, and participating in politics.

These early Jewish pioneers were not only pioneers in San Diego, but pioneers in a new country as well. As the 19thcentury drew to a close, more and more Jews were arriving on American shores seeking a better life for themselves and in doing so, made life better for the communities they settled in.

In the early 20th century, San Diego’s Jewish community faced obstacles to greater community involvement as restrictive covenants (race restrictions) were attached to particular neighborhood subdivisions like La Jolla, pushing those who helped to fund and build San Diego out of particular locations. But by 1963, Jonas Salk, a Jewish medical researcher and virologist, established the Jonas Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, (designed by Jewish architect, Louis I. Kahn) and with the completion of UCSD—a school intending to specialize in the intersection between biology and technology—the restrictions were ended as Jewish scientists were some of the top in their fields.

Today, San Diego’s Jewish community thrives and is different than other Jewish populations in other parts of the state and country given that 19% of San Diego County’s Jewish population was born outside the United States, mainly Mexico.

Be sure to visit Celebrate San Diego! The History & Heritage of San Diego’s Jewish Community and understand the struggles, triumphs, contributions, and legacy of San Diego’s Jewish community.


We are collecting….photos of YOUR JEWISH FAMILY. We are recreating a typical family room setting in this exhibition and would like to fill the walls with photographs and images that depict Jewish San Diegans. Images of local Jewish life like:

  1. Family occasions: graduations, holiday celebrations, life-cycle events
  2. Day-to-day life (playing at the beach or hiking)
  3. Family portraits
  4. Jewish landmarks in San Diego

If you would like to participate and submit your photograph(s) for consideration in the upcoming exhibition, please submit a photo here.


San Diego History Center

One of the oldest and largest historical organizations on the West Coast, the San Diego History Center is one of the only institutions dedicated to the heritage of a major American metropolitan region. The History Center was established in 1928 by noted philanthropist, businessman and civic leader George W. Marston, who built the Junípero Serra Museum to house the new institution on Presidio Hill, site of the founding of San Diego and California.  Marston gifted the Serra Museum and the adjacent land to the City of San Diego in 1929. For over sixty years, the Serra was the site of the Historical Society and Research Library. In 1982, the Historical Society moved its collections and museum to Balboa Park, maintaining the Serra as an auxiliary museum and educational center. In 2010, San Diego History Center was formally adopted as the institution’s name.

The History Center presents engaging, family-friendly exhibitions with hands-on participatory activities that tell the remarkable stories of our region. Recent exhibitions have showcased the San Diego tuna industry and the regional craft brew industry and explored the history and impact of the U.S. Military on San Diego. Art exhibitions include major exhibitions on Charles Reiffel, WPA Depression Era art and contemporary San Diego landscapes. The Balboa Park museum was at the historic heart of the 2015 Centennial Celebration, with year-long marquee exhibitions on the Art of Dr. Seuss; the 1915 Exposition; Masterworks, displaying paintings shown at the 1915 Expo; and a new documentary film, Balboa Park: Jewel of San Diego. Major 2016 exhibitions are The Lore behind the Roar! 100 Years of the San Diego Zoo, and a comprehensive exhibition on famed San Diego architect, Irving J, Gill.