Yiddish Culture in San Francisco

Historical Essay

by Dina Kraft


Yiddish actress Bassya, poet, author, secretary, and actress, from Bessarabia. Arrived in San Francisco in 1921.

"Once again in a rainy winter evening, a few young men sitting around over a hot glass of tea were thinking ways to reawaken the cold and indifferent Jewry of the city. They came to the conclusion that only through Yiddish Theater would it be possible to reach their hearts and plant a longing for the Yiddish word."

--from a 1929 pamphlet on the Yiddish folk school

The Eastern European Jews that arrived in San Francisco during the early part of first half of the 20th century found an assimilated "Americanized" Jewish community. In an attempt to infuse their lives with a sense of authentic Jewish culture, young Eastern European Jewish immigrants organized the Jewish Folk Shule (school) in 1922. The school became the central hub of Yiddish culture in the city featuring a literary dramatic club, a socialist workman's circle (Arbeiter Ring), Zionist gatherings, classes for adults, literary and musical evenings, and lectures.

School member Philip Bibiel writes of the organization in 1929, "...through friendship and conviction (the school) converts the assimilated, almost gentile, contemptuous San Francisco, into a city where Yiddish is blossoming, a place where Yiddish receives "recognition." The Jewish San Francisco will become for the western part of America, in the future, what New York is for the eastern part now."

Prev. Document Next Document