San Diego Jewry exhibit opens at S.D. History Center

Members of the Jewish community are invited to submit photos of Jewish moments in their lives.

Story by Donald H. Harrison; Photos by Shor M
. Masori

Joellyn Zollman, whose doctorate is in Jewish history, curated the exhibit on San Diego Jewry

SAN DIEGO — It was no accident that the “Celebrate San Diego! The History & Heritage of San Diego’s Jewish Community” exhibition in Balboa Park’s San Diego History Center opened on Erev Purim.

Curator Joellyn Zollman explained to an opening evening crowd on Saturday, March 11, that the holiday and the exhibition have several themes in common.

“This exhibition asks big questions about community, identity and region, and if you think about it, Queen Esther’s story in the Bible is also about identity, community and region,” Zollman told the opening night crowd.

An illustrated timeline is one of the features of the exhibition. At top is photo of the plaque at the Laurel Street entrance to Balboa Park noting that Marcus Schiller was one of three trustees who voted during the 19th century to set aside land for what became Balboa Park.

Among attendees at the exhibit’s opening were Charles Wax, left, and Ernest Rady

“The exhibit as you go through it asks you to think about community, to discuss the aspects of our city, and to consider your own kind of layers of identity,” she added. “On Purim, Jews will often put on a costume {which} is one of the ways we change our identity. So when you are here tonight imagine that you have the identity of some of the people we portray. Think about what life was like for a 19th century pioneer who came via wagon train, or an early 20th century wholesale grocer, or a Jewish war refugee making a home in the 1950s in San Diego, or a professor who came to a brand new university in La Jolla in the 1960s, or a Jewish immigrant from South Africa who arrived in the 1980s.”

Zollman added “these are just some of the Jewish stories that we tell in the exhibition. The exhibition also has room for your stories. We have a video booth in the back corner where you can share stories of your own identity, your own community, and your own understanding of region.”

Another reason for opening the exhibition on Purim, said Zollman with a smile, “is that Purim is a holiday that commands you to be merry; it requires you to celebrate. That means it is a perfect time to celebrate the opening of this exhibit, to celebrate our Jewish community and to celebrate San Diego.”

Harry Sternberg is one of three Jewish artists featured at the San Diego History Center

Bill Lawrence, executive director of the San Diego History Center, said as visitors go through the major exhibit, which will last through the year and possibly beyond, they will learn not only how Jews influenced San Diego since its beginning as an American city in 1850, but also how San Diego in turn affected the Jewish experience.  A side exhibit curated by Tara Centybear examines the works of three artists who lived in San Diego: Belle Baranceanu, Maurice Braun and Harry Sternberg.

U.S. Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego)

U.S. Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego) noted that the exhibit traces the involvement of Jews in politics, including Jewish women such as herself and former Congresswoman Lynn Schenk, who went on to serve as chief of staff to former California governor Gray Davis.  Being interviewed for a documentary film by Isaac Artenstein on San Diego Jews was an opportunity “to talk about my experience here and what we all value greatly, our heritage and tikkun olam,” Davis said.

Attendees of the opening night reception were treated to a variety of Jewish foods, including Middle Eastern specialties associated with Israel, and Eastern European specialties that many Jewish immigrants brought to the United States in the late 19th century. Hummus or lox, anyone?

Harrison is editor and Masori is a staff photographer of San Diego Jewish World.  Harrison, unable to attend because he was recuperating from heart surgery, wrote this story based on a digital recording of the proceedings made by his wife, Nancy Harrison.

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