From the California Gold Rush of 1849 to the explosion of population centers in the Southwest in the 1980s, Jews have played a significant role in shaping the Pacific West. Through their mercantile networks, cultural innovations, philanthropic institutions, and political leadership, western Jews created a distinctive identity. In Jews of the Pacific Coast, Ellen Eisenberg, Ava F. Kahn, and William Toll have joined together to write the first interpretive history of the Jews of this region. In the West, Jewish men and women were less restricted in their pursuits than they had been in Europe or in the eastern United States. Unlike in the East, where Jews arriving in large numbers had to accommodate themselves to preexisting local elites and Jewish communities, in the Pacific West they were full participants in the civic lives of new and rapidly developing societies. Drawing on manuscript collections, oral histories, newspapers, and private papers, the authors examine the distinctive roles that Jews played in the Pacific West, especially the innovative roles of women.
Personal stories and anecdotes give the authors the opportunity to compare and contrast the nature of the Jewish experience in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the small towns of the West. They explain the important differences among these cities, the significance of the regional shift of focus in the early twentieth century from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and, after 1960, the importance of Jewish contributions to new population centers like Las Vegas.