Details emerge on upcoming San Diego Jewry exhibition

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

Poster displayed on outdoor signboard in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park tells of life of Victoria Jacobs Franklin

SAN DIEGO – Some details are beginning to emerge about the major exhibition planned by the San Diego History Center about the Jews of San Diego.

Bill Lawrence, executive director of the center that previously was known as the San Diego Historical Society, said the exhibit will run between nine months and  a year and will be titled: “Celebrate San Diego: The History and Heritage of the San Diego Jewish Community.”

Curated by Jewish History Prof. Joellyn Zollman, the exhibition draws heavily on the collections of both the San Diego History Center and the Jewish Historical Society of San Diego, as well as upon private donations.

Zollman said she has spent approximately a year and a half culling through the Jewish Historical Society’s archives at San Diego State University and History Center’s mammoth collection in Balboa Park which is estimated to include over 45 million documents, 2.5 million photographs, 1,500 oral histories, and 1,700 pieces of art.

Reminiscent of the famous HOLLYWOOD sign, eight stand-alone letters measuring 10 feet by 10-feet and spelling out the name SAN DIEGO will enable the exhibition to wend through the History Center while providing a setting for exhibits pertaining to the Jewish community’s influence on San Diego, and conversely how San Diego influenced the Jewish community.

Among featured pieces in the exhibition will be a diary written during the 1850s by 17-year-old Victoria Jacobs about her daily life before her marriage to Maurice Franklin.  The small diary with impeccable handwriting is rare, according to Zollman, because most memoirs from that period are from older male Christians, not teenage Jewish girls. It offers quite a different perspective from that period.

Another exhibition piece will be a large safe built approximately in 1885 for the Klauber-Wangenheim wholesale house, a Jewish-owned company that supplied small general stores throughout the southwest with groceries and merchandise.  The safe was decorated with an image of Point Loma, both on the exterior and the interior.

A decade-by -decade time line will permit visitors to see how the Jewish community changed over time.  The exhibit plans to examine the role of Jews in civics, business life, philanthropy and innovation.

In planning the exhibit which also examines the Jewish experience in neighboring Tijuana, Mexico, Zollman said she tried to answer such questions as  “Who were the Jews who came to San Diego?  When did they come here? Why did they come?  What communities did they form?  How did they change over time.”

Or, as anyone familiar with a Passover seder might say, “Why is being Jewish in San Diego different from being Jewish in all other places.”

The exhibition is planned to be interactive.  There will be a giant tzedakah box into which visitors not only may make donations but also tell about their own experiences.  Jewish San Diegans meanwhile are encouraged to submit family photos to the San Diego History Center via its website at http://www.sandiegohistory.org/submit-photos/

In addition to the main exhibit, there will be two companion exhibits, according to Lawrence  Documentary filmmaker Isaac Artenstein is making a film about San Diego Jewry, including interviews with San Diego Jews about their experiences here.  Artenstein’s  Cinewest Productions has made such documentaries as  Tijuana Jews, recounting the Jewish history of that community, and A Passionate Journey: From Our Family to Yours, relating the story of the Belinsky and Weinstein families who owned Arnold’s Furniture.  The company also has been working on a documentary about Jews of the Southwest.

Lawrence said Artenstein’s film will be shown in a theatre adjoining the main exhibition space.

Another companion exhibit curated by Tara Centybear will open in January and look at the art of three Jewish San Diegans: Belle Barancenau, Maurice Braun, and Harry Sternberg, who, according to Lawrence, followed uniquely personal artistic paths and had divergent experiences within the Jewish community.

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Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted via [email protected]

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