Jewish Life in Old CV
The early settlers of CV were mostly wealthy Midwesterners, along with immigrants from Germany, Italy and other European countries. All white, and predominantly Protestant or Catholic. Those of differing color, ethnic background or faith had problems being accepted, and early people of the Jewish faith faced just that problem in La Crescenta.
An early member of the Jewish community in the valley, Jerry Weinberg related that his family moved to the valley in the late ’20s and felt culturally isolated.
One day they participated in a tree-planting project in Montrose. When little Jerry spoke some words of Yiddish to his mother, one of the tree-planting supervisors overheard, and enthusiastically jumped into the conversation. The Jewish “Goldie” Goldstein was working locally as a forest ranger and he and the Weinbergs became fast friends. Jerry told me that as a kid he was shunned by many neighborhood kids and some parents banned their children from playing with him because of his Jewish roots. He related too that the small enclave of local Jews was uncomfortably aware of the German Bund, the American arm of the Nazi party, that were part of the weekend celebrations at Hindenberg Park in the 1930s.
By 1955, the Jewish community in the valley had grown large enough to warrant the construction of the Crescenta Valley Jewish Center at 3966 Pennsylvania. About 100 families were members of the Center, but for reasons unknown to me they didn’t last. Sometime in the ’60s they folded and that building today is a preschool with a very recognizable purple paint job, right at the intersection of Pennsylvania and Honolulu avenues.
A more recent view of Jewish life in CV comes from my good friend John Drayman. He told me that his father Jay Drayman, a clothing manufacturer, moved to L.A. in 1949 seeking a dryer climate for his wife Dale. He was attracted to Glendale because of its great schools, but as he was house hunting several homes he made offers on mysteriously were taken off the market or inexplicably fell out of escrow. He was finally able to purchase a home in CV outside the Glendale borders which was free of the racial and ethnic covenants so typical of many Glendale properties at the time. As a businessman, he was active in the community, and like other businessmen was anxious to network. He was encouraged to apply for a membership to the Oakmont Country Club by a close friend and local developer who had built the Glenwood Oaks tract. However he was denied membership and was told by the committee that his religion was the reason. Interestingly, the son of the man who blackballed John’s father later became one of John’s closest friends and recounted the details of this act of prejudice.
For Jewish families in the ’60s there was still a sense of threat, unspoken but tangible despite the enactment of the Civil Rights Act. By the time John was a teenager in the ’70s, local anti-Semitism was far less overt, and only seemed to surface when folks of a certain generation got angry. He remembers that as a kid selling Christmas cards door-to-door, he once had a disagreement over a misspelling approved and initialed by a customer. She ended the argument by calling him a “dirty Jew.” Drayman also suffered a beating at the Keyhole public pool during the Six-Day War by older boys whose parents told John he should “go to Israel to fight alongside the other Jews.”
Drayman believes that things have changed for the better, and that CV is today a tolerant and inclusive place. The simple fact that he was elected to the City Council in Glendale, a city that was home to the American Nazi Party for decades, speaks volumes to John.
I like to think that the bias that American Jews faced in our community is history now. But history often repeats. Today the Armenian-American community, which shares a background of genocide, Diaspora and immigration with the Jewish experience, struggle for acceptance in the Crescenta Valley just as the Jews did before them.