Hebrew Free Loan: The Original Microlender

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Menachem Cohen, was one of the original founders of Hebrew Free Loan

Menachem Cohen was one of the original founders of Hebrew Free Loan back in 1897

A few months ago I was invited by the Hebrew Free Loan Association of San Francisco to visit their office near the San Francisco Ferry Building and check out some of their old photos.  What I found was a treasure trove of rich photographs, brochures, ledgers, bulletins, and other documents that help to shed light on the development of the San Francisco Jewish community.

The story of Hebrew Free Loan begins in 1897, when nine established Jewish San Francisco residents decided they wanted to provide recent Jewish immigrants with financial assistance and support by way of interest-free loans. Loans, they believed, would help individuals from the community become and remain self-sufficient.   Most of the early loans went to Jews living in the South of Market District who were trying to make a modest living as peddlers, tailors, and pushcarters.

What stands out about Hebrew Free Loan is its ability to address and meet and an evolving set of communal needs for over a century. Its accomplishments include extending aid to the victims of the 1906 earthquake, lending out loans during the height of the Great Depression,  providing loans for refugees from Nazi Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, and assisting Russian newcomers during the 1980s and 1990s.

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Why Is This Campsite Different from All Other Campsites?: A Yosemite Passover Story

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The Harris Family in Yosemite

The Harris Family in Yosemite

Prepared or not, Passover is only two weeks away. And so, we have taken this opportunity to tell you a bit about 19th Century Passover celebrations in the Yosemite Valley. This story was told to us a few months ago by Sue Morris of Tiburon and is about her husband’s great-grandparents, Aaron and Lena Harris.

Like many other Jews in 19th Century San Francisco, Lena and Aaron Harris were born in Germany and moved to San Francisco during the middle of the century.  They married in San Francisco and eventually made their way to the gold country, where Aaron worked as shopkeeper.

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San Francisco Purim Costumes of Yesteryears

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Need an idea for a Purim costume? Check out Sourdough & Rye’s Purim-related slideshow.

With the holiday of Purim right around the corner, we figured this would be the opportune time to highlight and showcase some Purim photos and costumes we have collected these past few months.  These vintage photos come from San Francisco’s Congregation Beth Sholom during the late 1950s and early 1960s. We should give credit to Beth Sholom’s congregants for their imaginative and well-designed costumes though our favorite is probably the classic Esther and Mordecai duo.

Please let us know if you have any additional information about these select photos; we would love to put a name to a face and a costume.   And feel free to share your own Purim related photos with us on Sourdough & Rye.

Celebrate the Sourdough & Rye Launch

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S&R Invite copy

We are excited to announce the Sourdough & Rye launch party on February 20th from 7:00-9:00 pm at the Haas-Lilienthal House in Pacific Heights. Please join us for what is sure to be a memorable evening. The event will include local storytellers, Cyrus Noble cocktails, Local Mission Market bites, and tours of the Victorian-era house.

Tickets, which are available on Eventbrite, are $10.00. And please check out our photos related to the history of Haas-Lilienthal House on Historypin.

The Life and Times of Seymour Fromer

Seymour Fromer and an Admirer

Seymour Fromer (left) and an admirer

Sourdough & Rye is teaming up with filmmaker Bill Chayes and historian Ava F. Kahn in an effort to collect photos, stories, and videos related to Seymour Fromer, the founder and former director of the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley.

This content will be used for Chayes and Kahn’s upcoming film, The New Jewish: The Fromers, ’60s Berkeley and Beyond, which looks to document the life of Seymour Fromer and Jewish Berkeley in the wake of the 1960s. The film will tell of Fromer’s dreams, accomplishments, and the people he motivated; it will also explore how Fromer helped to reinvigorated Jewish identity in modern America.

Berkeley was a hotbed of reinvention and innovation during the 1960s with an emerging freethinking culture that stimulated new ways of understanding politics, social relationships, and the arts. According to Chayes and Kahn, “this environment gave voice to new ways of expressing Jewish identity and creativity. It was Seymour Fromer’s vision and leadership that helped drive these momentous changes in Jewish life in the 1960’s through the 1990′s.” Continue reading

Lenny Bruce’s San Francisco

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Lenny Bruce (right) in court with his attorney Albert Bendich (left)

Lenny Bruce might be considered there premiere New York Jewish comedian and social critic of the late 1950s and 1960s but the story of Lenny Bruce is intimately tied up with San Francisco. and the beatnik heyday of North Beach. As the Northside San Francisco Magazine explains, “Back then, North Beach had a loopy, funky edge to it. The night people were really night people, not visitors looking for a San Francisco thrill. Bruce was a genuine night person. He played Anne’s 440 Club on Broadway and later Enrico Banducci’s hungry i, where he had great success. ”

Indeed, its in North Beach that Bruce and his volatile and controversial comedic act first ran into legal trouble. On October 4, 1961, Bruce was arrested for obscenity at the Jazz Workshop. Continue reading

Remembering Moishe’s Pippic


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The latest issue of Jweekly carried some sad news: Moishe’s Pippic, Chicago-style Jewish deli in the heart of Hayes Valley, closed down on November 30th. After 26 years in business, the owner of Moishe’s Pippic, Joe Sattler, decided it was time to shut down the doors to his restaurant and retire.

Originally opened in 1987, this neighborhood staple was known for its traditional deli fare: chopped liver, matzah ball soup, hotdogs, as well as pastrami and corn beef sandwiches.  But  it wasn’t just a place for food. As Sattler told the Jweekly, “the people, they made this a homey place… it was not just a deli, but more of a gathering place.

We are hoping to capture what this delicious delicatessen meant to San Francisco. If you have any stories, photos, videos, or audio clips about Moishe’s Pippic, please share them on Sourdough & Rye.


Revisiting the Jewish Fillmore and its Food

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Shenson's Kosher Meat Market

Shenson’s Kosher Meat Market on McAllister Street in San Francisco

After the 1906 earthquake destroyed the Jewish community in the South-of-Market area, the Fillmore District emerged as San Francisco’s most identifiable and vibrant Jewish neighborhood. While the Fillmore wasn’t homogeneously Jewish, its heavy concentration of Jewish restaurants, markets, synagogues, and Yiddish-speaking residents (most of whom came from an Eastern European background) during the 1920s and 1930s gave it a distinct Yiddishkeit flare.  Kosher eateries like Shenson’s Kosher Meat Market, Waxman’s Bakery, and Diller’s Delicatessen helped turn the Fillmore District into the closest thing San Francisco ever had to a “Lower East Side.”

Starting in the 1940s, Jews started to increasingly leave the Fillmore District for middle class neighborhoods in the Sunset and the Richmond as well as areas outside the city of San Francisco. While most physical signs of Jewish life in the Fillmore were erased during the era of urban renewal, personal photos, stories, and memories–especially those related to food– of the Jewish Fillmore abound. As Irving Rabin reminisced in an interview with the JWeekly, “I still have vivid memories of the wonderful smells of kosher, garlic-dill pickles and tomatoes in big barrels — that smell will never leave me.” Continue reading

Featured on Sourdough & Rye: Joe Choynski

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San Francisco native and professional boxer Joe Choynski

During late October, I met with San Francisco native David Fleishhacker to chat with him about his family history and pin some photos from his prolific family archive onto Sourdough & Rye. Admittedly, I am not the first person to inquire about David’s family history. The Fleishhackers are an illustrious German-Jewish San Francisco family known for their philanthropy and civic engagement.

What I didn’t know about David was the story of his mother’s side of the family: the Choynski’s, who came from Poland to San Francisco in the 1850s. I was personally struck by Joe Choynski. Born in 1868 in San Francisco, Joe was a professional boxer from 1888 to 1904. While he never had the opportunity to fight for the heavyweight title, he had a number of well-known bouts against boxing legends John Sullivan, James Corbett, and Jack Johnson. Continue reading

Call for Sourdough & Rye Interns

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We are looking for undergraduate students/recent college graduates who want to gain practical experience in the field of digital and public history/humanities and are interested in using history to facilitate new modes of community outreach.

Main responsibilities

  • Exploring and researching the history of Jewish life at your campus/in your community
  • Reaching out to local organizations and individuals with interesting stories to share
  • Helping to capture, document, and record these stories
  • Uploading and curating relevant historical content on Historypin.com

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