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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Principal city of California; chief commercial city of the Pacific coast. The name of San Francisco was given to the village of Yerba Buena by Washington Bartlett, who, through his mother, a Jewess born at Charleston, S. C., was connected with the leading Portuguese Jewish families of the South ("California Star," Jan. 30, 1847; Hittel, "Hist. of California," 2:596 et seq.). As early as 1836 American settlers appeared on the peninsula. Whether any Jews were among them is not known, though it is probable (see see LEIDESDORFF, WILLIAM). The descendants of Raphael and Benjamin Fisher state that these brothers were merchants in San Francisco in 1847, and that subsequently they returned to their native city of Kempen, Prussia. The year 1849 saw a considerable number of Jews collected in San Francisco, some of whom entered the Golden Gate on the first Pacific mail-steamer, in February, 1849. The roll of the Society of California Pioneers, however, which contains only names of "forty-niners," mentions but few Jews besides Louis Gloss. The Jews arrived overland from "the States," and by sea from Europe and Australia, and scattered over the entire goldmining region (CALIFORNIA).
The Two Congregations.
The beginnings of the communal life of the Jews of San Francisco date from the autumn of 1849, though many of the details are obscured in tradition. Among the "forty-niners" were quite a number whose names subsequently became prominent in the judicial, political, and commercial history of the state. Seligmans, Lazards, Wormsers, and Glaziers, now international bankers and financiers, were among them. To these may be added the names of Chief Justice Solomon Heydenfeldt and JudgeHenry A. Lyons. In the autumn of 1849, toward the approach of the holy season, there were considerably more than one hundred Jews in the new city. About fifty assembled on the Day of Atonement in that year in a room above a store in which golddust was weighed ("Occident," 7:480). The tradition of the Sherith Israel congregation, collected from the statements of its founders, also go back to an Atonement service in 1849, held in a tent, presided over by Hyam Joseph, and led by Joel Noah, a brother of Major Mordecai M. Noah. The organization of the two principal congregations took place about the same time—the summer of 1850—along geographical lines, one representing the German-Bavarian and American elements, the other representing the Polish and English elements, of which latter Israel Solomons was the chief representative. The corner-stone of the new California street synagogue of the Sherith Israel congregation bears the legend, "Organized August, 1850." That the German congregation, subsequently known by the name of Emanu-El, was already enjoying a corporate existence in July or, at the latest, August, 1850, is proved by the contract, dated Sept. 1, 1850, entered into by Emanuel M. Berg, president, "for Congregation Emanu-El," and Loring Bartlett, Jr., in the presence of C. Gilchrist, for the renting of "a certain room" on Bush street, below Montgomery street. The Emanu-El and Sherith Israel congregations probably originated in the two "minyanim" or prayer-services held on Atonement Day, 1849. Only three Jewesses are known to have attended these services.
Certain Jews early attained distinction in San Francisco. Abraham C. Labatt was an alderman as early as 1851. Joseph Shannon, an English Jew, was county treasurer of San Francisco in the same year. In 1852 the city sent Elkan Heydenfeldt and Isaac Cardoza to the state legislature. During the first decade of the California commonwealth the commercial importance of the Jewish community became sufficient to change the date of "collection day" whenever it fell on the Day of Atonement. Early in 1850 Emanuel Hart presented the community with a lot for a cemetery. When many of the adventurous gold-diggers returned unsuccessful from the fields and other Jews arrived from the East and South without means, August Helbing and Israel Solomons organized the Eureka Benevolent Association and the First Hebrew Benevolent Association, both dating from Sept., 1850. It was not until 1854 that the two congregations were prepared to consecrate their houses of worship, both having been made ready for the autumn holy days of that year. Dr. Julius Eckmann, first rabbi of the Congregation Emanu-El, officiated at the consecration of both the Broadway (Emanu-El) and the Stockton street (Sherith Israel) synagogue.
The organization of the Hebrew Young Men's Literary and Benevolent Association took place in Oct., 1855, under the inspiration of Dr. Eckmann, who in 1854 had organized the first Sabbath-school (Emanu-El). Dr. Eckmann founded also in 1855 the first Jewish journal to appear on the Pacific coast, the "Gleaner." This was followed by the "Voice of Israel" (H. M. Bien, L. L. Dennery), and subsequently by the "Jewish Messenger of the Pacific" (H. M. Bien).
The Independent Order B'nai B'rith was introduced into the city of San Francisco by Lewis Abraham, afterward of Washington, D. C. (1855). The first lodge was named Ophir, No. 21, and was then composed of the leading Hebrews of San Francisco. Grand Lodge No. 5 was organized by Baruch Rothschild in 1863, Jacob Greenebaum of Sacramento being its first president("Menorah," 3:407-408). In 1857 the Ḥebra Biḳḳur Ḥolim u-Ḳaddisha was organized "to assist needy and sick brethren with doctor, medicine, attendance, and all necessaries in cases of disease." This society is still in existence. Jews were among the members of the Vigilance Committee and the fire companies (Hittel, c.).
Introduction of Reform Ritual.
In 1860 the Reform movement reached San Francisco. During the first decade of the existence of the Congregation Emanu-El it had adhered to the minhag in vogue among German congregations, in contradistinction to the Sherith Israel congregation, which worshiped according to the Anglo-Polish minhag. The Emanu-El congregation, however, always remaining in touch with Eastern thought, availed itself of the advent of Dr.Elkan Cohn (June, 1860; d. March 11, 1889) to institute reforms. At first these were slight and unimportant; they were attended, nevertheless, by considerable friction, which resulted in 1864 in the secession of a large element of the membership and the organization of the Ohabai Shalome congregation, which afterward invited Albert Siegfried BETTELHEIM to become its rabbi. Despite this defection the Emanu-El congregation continued to flourish, and on March 23, 1866, dedicated a new synagogue on Sutter street. The Sherith Israel congregation, likewise finding its accommodations too limited, erected the Taylor street synagogue, and in 1904 laid the corner-stone of a new building on California street. For many years H. A. Henry and Henry Vidaver filled the rabbinical office in this congregation, the present (1905) rabbi of which is Jacob Nieto.
In 1874 the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum and Home Society was organized, under the presidency of Dr. Elkan Cohn; it supports over 200 orphans and 40 aged. Samuel Wolf Levy has been its president since 1874.
The Jewish congregations in San Francisco number ten: Emanu-El, Sherith Israel, Beth Israel, and Ohabai Shalome (Reform, or moderate Reform); Sha'are Hesed and Keneseth Israel (Orthodox); and four smaller congregations organized on geographical lines. The benevolent societies are numerous. Besides the Eureka Benevolent and First Hebrew Benevolent societies, the Jewish women of San Francisco have organized two other important societies—the Emanu-El Sisterhood and the Council of Jewish Women. Altogether there are 69 local Jewish institutions in San Francisco, including the Mount Zion Hospital (organized 1888) and 11 lodges of the I. O. B. B.
There are many Jews among the leading bankers, merchants, and manufacturers of San Francisco. The Nevada National, Anglo-Californian, and London, Paris, and American banks are under Jewish control. Jews furnish a considerable percentage of the student bodies of the two universities, and as a result they are becoming prominent in the legal, journalistic, engineering, and other professions. The growth of the Jewish population has been uniform with the general development of the city. From barely 100 in 1849 it reached 17,500 in 1895; in 1905 it exceeded 20,000. The total population is 440,000.
- Hittel, History of California;
- Markens, The Hebrews in America;
- Voorsanger, Chronicles of Emanu-El;
- idem, A Few Chapters from the History of the Jews of the Pacific Coast, in American Jews' Annual, 5649;
- Pacific Hebrew Annual, vols. and
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'San Francisco'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/s/san-francisco.html. 1901.