Nation, World + Society

New exhibition at UCLA celebrates history of Boyle Heights

The Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies hosts the exhibition about the diversity of Jewish history in the neighborhood

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Boyle Heights Victory House
UCLA Library Special Collections

Abraham Maymudes, wearing glasses, was secretary of the Jewish branch of the International Workers Order, which sold victory bonds to support the war effort.

In line with its mission to uncover and preserve the rich history of Jewish Los Angeles, the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies will open a new multimedia exhibition next week that highlights the historic experiences of Jews in Boyle Heights.

“From Brooklyn Avenue to Cesar Chavez: Jewish Histories in Multiethnic Boyle Heights,” is part of the official naming and dedication celebration of the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies. The exhibition opens at noon on Sunday, Nov. 6 and will run through Wednesday, Nov. 9 in room 306 of Royce Hall and is free and open to the public.

At 2 p.m. on Nov. 6 the Leve Center will also host a viewing of the documentary “East LA Interchange,” followed by a discussion with the film’s director, Betsy Kalin, and past Boyle Heights’ residents Leo Frumkin and Don Hodes. This award-winning documentary tells the story of how the neighborhood of Boyle Heights found its political voice, time and again, through social justice and community activism.

Festivities continue with an open house at 4 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 7, in Royce Hall 314 as Leve Center staff and faculty commemorate the official naming of the center, made possible by a $5 million grant in 2015 from Leve, a philanthropist who was born in Boyle Heights at a time when the neighborhood was the focal point of Jewish culture in Los Angeles.

“UCLA is a preeminent center for the study of Jewish history, culture and civilization,” said Todd Presner, Sady and Ludwig Kahn director of Jewish Studies and professor of Germanic languages. “This exhibition highlights the diversity of Jewish experiences in multiethnic Boyle Heights by showcasing the intersecting forms of community, cultural expression and activism that emerged there as Los Angeles grew into a global metropolis.”

“From Brooklyn Avenue to Cesar Chavez: Jewish Histories in Multiethnic Boyle Heights,” a physical and digital exhibition, is part of the Leve Center’s broader Mapping Jewish L.A. digital humanities project. Spearheaded by Presner, who is chair of digital humanities, and curated by Caroline Luce, Leve Center research and digital projects manager, this exhibition takes the viewer through space and time, focusing on Boyle Heights’ main street and the surrounding urban, social, cultural and demographic changes in the neighborhood during the past 100 years. It highlights the diversity of Jewish experiences in multiethnic Los Angeles and the ways in which this immigrant neighborhood was the seedbed for forging new American identities, Presner said.

The project also marks the launch of the Hinda and Jacob Schonfeld Collection, a research and teaching archive dedicated to the history of Jewish Boyle Heights.

In the 1930s, Boyle Heights — with its main throughway, Brooklyn Avenue — was home to some 10,000 Jewish households, about a third of the Los Angeles’ Jewish population and the highest concentration of Jews west of the Mississippi River. Jewish community life flourished with dozens of synagogues, charitable institutions, cultural organizations, schools and community centers, not to mention Jewish-owned bakeries, kosher butcheries, delis, restaurants and movie theaters. This vibrant Jewish community emerged in a multiethnic context, in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Los Angeles called home by thousands of Mexican, Japanese, Armenian, Italian, Russian and African-American families.

Since 1994, Brooklyn Avenue has been known as Cesar Chavez Avenue, a change that underscores not only the neighborhood’s shifting demographics but also its history of political activism.  

Over the course of the year, the Leve Center will sponsor a series of community events in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles highlighting themes from the exhibition, including a multilingual poetry reading, a forum about the history of garment work and labor activism that will be held on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2017, and a folk festival on music and art at the Breed Street Shul. The hope, Luce said, is that each event will function as an opportunity to share memories and reflect, where everyone can engage in a thoughtful discussion about Boyle Heights’ past and present as a means of contemplating its future.

“We have worked to forge strong, collaborative relationships with institutions in Boyle Heights and are dedicated to honoring and celebrating the legacy of the neighborhood,” Luce said. “As we enter the digital phase of the exhibition, we will actively seek out hidden pools of materials and stories that deepen our understanding of Boyle Heights’ past.”            

Exhibition and event collaborators include the Boyle Heights Historical Society, the Breed Street Shul Project, UCLA Library Special Collections, UC Humanities Research Institute, the UCLA Labor Center and Yiddishkayt.

Groups can RSVP for a tour of the exhibition by emailing Saba Soomekh ssoomekh@humnet.ucla.edu.

Exhibition Hours

Sunday, Nov. 6, noon to 5 p.m.
Monday, Nov. 7, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 8, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 9, 10 a.m., to 3 p.m.

Special events

Sunday, Nov. 6, 2 p.m. Screening of the documentary “East LA Interchange,” which will be followed by Q&A with the film’s director, Betsy Kalin.

Monday, Nov. 7, 4 p.m. Leve Center Open House, Royce Hall room 314.

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