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Exhibit Shows How Jews Helped Found Early San Diego

Josek Zajd lights a menorah with his family in a photograph that originally r...

Credit: San Diego History Center

Above: Josek Zajd lights a menorah with his family in a photograph that originally ran in the San Diego Union on Dec. 14, 1960. Josek and his wife, Sari, were Holocaust survivors and resettled in San Diego in 1954.

Exhibit Shows How Jews Helped Found Early San Diego

GUEST:

Joellyn Zollman, curator, "Celebrate San Diego! The History & Heritage of San Diego's Jewish Community"

Transcript

Historian Joellyn Zollman said San Diego's early Jews were able to participate directly in the creation of their city, which wasn’t true in places like New York, Baltimore or Chicago.

San Diego was first incorporated in 1850, the same year California was granted statehood. That was also the year Louis Rose, the city’s first Jewish pioneer, moved to San Diego.

Rose, a prominent early businessman, eventually became president of San Diego’s Board of Trustees and Old Town’s postmaster. Historian Joellyn Zollman said Rose and other early Jews were able to participate directly in the founding of their city, which was not true in places like New York, Baltimore or Chicago.

“They’re here with the beginning of an American city and can help shape it from the beginning,” Zollman said. “Jews were in New Amsterdam too, but they didn’t have the religious liberties America had promised them yet.”

Zollman has curated a new exhibit at the San Diego History Center on the region’s Jewish community, running through the end of the year. While San Diego’s early Jews were closely integrated into the city’s social world, San Diego began to mirror the nation’s rising nativism in the 1920s and ‘30s.

“It’s not a pleasant place for Jews really anywhere in the United States,” Zollman said. “Many of those ideas came here through actual people and tremendous population growth. In 1850, you’re living on the edge of the world and you have to all work together. That’s one kind of pioneering experience. But once the railroad connects us to the rest of the country, then you get a lot of people coming here with different attitudes.”

Zollman joins KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday with more details from the exhibit, including the diary of a young Jewish woman from the 1850s.

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