David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
History Of The Jews Of Los Angeles. By Max Vorspan and Lloyd P. Gartner. San Marino: The Huntington Library, 1970. Illustrations. Index. Notes. 362 pages. $8.50.
Reviewed by Dr. A. P. Nasatir, Professor of History and former Chairman of the Department of History at San Diego State College. Dr. Nasatir is an outstanding authority on the Spanish in the Mississippi Valley and the French in California. In 1969 he was honored as Doctor of Human Letters. He has authored or co-authored fifteen books, and more than eighty articles and documentary studies. His book reviews, numbering some 250 have appeared in over twenty scholarly journals.
The Jews have long played an important part in the history and development of America. Indeed, pioneering has always been a characteristic of Jews. In the United States, the Jewish movement to the West has been a continuing one, and in recent years the Jewish population of Los Angeles has increased to the point where it is now the second largest Jewish community in the country. Surprisingly, there have been few studies of merit and importance concerning this rapid gathering of Jews to the Far West — especially the polygot and multiracial city of Los Angeles.
This pioneer study of the Jews of Los Angeles has long been in preparation. Dr. Max Vorspan, Provost of the University of Judaism, wrote his doctoral dissertation on an early phase of this subject. This is the first part of the pioneer work on the “History of the Jews in Los Angeles.” Professor Lloyd P. Gartner, of the City University of New York and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, undertook to bring the story up to date. Together, they have authored the book under review. It has been published in two editions, one beautifully printed under the imprint of the Huntington Library, and the other by the Jewish Publication Society of America. The contents of both are identical; the JPS edition has added an appendix, the constitution of the Hebrew Benevolent Society.
This pioneer work is a valuable and fundamental contribution. The authors have had to “dig up” the materials, and they dug deeply. They used newspapers, periodicals, pioneer narratives, documents and archives for their materials. The first part seems to have been better researched and written than Gartner’s longer part. The transition from the end of Vorspan’s portion and the turn of the century, seems not to be as satisfactory as other portions of the book. Some “standard” small details of error have crept in because the authors accepted secondary accounts previously published. However, in no sense, should the value of this very good contribution to the history of the Jews be discounted. In fact, two noted local “historians” have carefully gone over the book and recently published their findings in the Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly.
The work of Drs. Vorspan and Gartner is of real value. Anyone interested in the great part played by the Jews in Southern California since 1840, in Jewish institutions, politicians, lawyers, merchants, education, philanthropy, economic development and civil rights, now have at hand a good handbook and story. I might add that Jewish historiography has also been aided in the copious and scholarly notes of the authors which occupy pages 301-347. Included is a good index, and two appendices containing population estimates and officers of major Jewish institutions.