On this section of our website you can read through sample articles of Western States Jewish History starting with the very first issues in 1968 through a few more recent issues. Each issue of WSJH is filled with delightful, insightful and interesting articles about Jews and their impact on the development of the American West.
Each issue is in perfect bound book form for your library shelves.
Some are scholarly articles, complete with endnotes.
Others are memory pieces; personal memories of childhood, of grandparents, and historical places and incidents.
One sample of this is below.
ISADORE 'IZZY' RACHOOTIN,
AND MY FIRST--AND LAST CHRISTMAS TREE,
LOS ANGELES, 1933
Publisher's Note: Western States Jewish History continually looks for memories from which to construct pictures of times and places in the American West. This "Memory" of Sterling Rachootin shows a wonderful picture of part of Los Angeles in the early 1930s.
It was Christmas Week, 1933, and I had just returned from school to get the shock of my life at the young age of seven. There, standing in the corner of our living room, was a beautiful Christmas tree, a full seven feet tall, decked out in tinsel, with lights glistening, and Christmas ornaments, including glass balls of many colors, draped with strings of popcorn. We never had a Christmas tree before, and the sight of all this just stunned me. And I must say, it was beautiful!
My parents were immigrants. Mother, Henrietta, "Henri," arriving from London some 25 years earlier as a baby, was able to get a fine education. On the other hand, my father, Isadore "Izzy," came directly from Russia at age 14. He was all alone, knowing no English, and had to earn a living right away. He never learned to read and write English, so all his activities were conducted in Yiddish.
"Izzy" and "Henri" were orthodox Jews, doing the normal practices of keeping kosher, never serving milk with meat, etc. We lived on a street with just four Jewish households—Lakeshore Avenue, just north of Effie St. Only one other Jewish family in the area had a son my age.
At this time my father was a peddler of fruits and vegetables. He served the Jewish section of Los Angeles, called Boyle Heights. His work week was from Monday through Friday because most Jews in Boyle Heights were frum, and honored the Sabbath. He was very ambitious. This being the depression years, and my father lacking in an English schooling and trying to survive in desperate times, was forced to run a concession in Lincoln Park on Saturdays and Sundays. There, he sold popcorn, candy, and soda pop, and according to him, he owned the greatest capitalistic invention of all time, the cotton candy machine. For a few cents worth of sugar and food coloring you could make a whole slew of cotton candy cones which sold for ten cents each. This was a miracle of miracles, since he was working for just pennies all this time.
Many fruits and vegetables are fragile and spoil if not sold within a short time. When kept unrefrigerated in an open truck, it makes matters worse. My father had worked out a wonderful arrangement with the Lying In Hospital on Morton Avenue which was on a street that today leads up to Elison Park and the Dodger Stadium. All the leftover produce that would have spoiled if not sold, was sold to the owner of the hospital, Mr. Isoff, for a very insignificant sum. My father could start off the next day with all fresh merchandise. We could not consume everything that did not sell, and Mr. Isoff could feed all his hospitalized patients for an insignificant sum of money. I was born at this hospital, but it no longer stands.
Mr. Isoff became so friendly and enamored of my father for this mutually beneficial arrangement, that he wanted to do something special for our family. When he learned that we would not have a Christmas tree in our home, he decided he would bring the Christmas spirit and good cheer to us. He personally came over to our house while my father was peddling his produce, set up and decorated the tree, sparing no expense.
My mother did not have the heart to tell him not to set up the tree nor to take the tree back, and burst his bubble of sincere pleasure, as he certainly meant well. When my grandmother walked over to our home, as she usually did, and saw the tree, she slammed the front door, stalked out, rushing back to her home just two blocks away on Echo Park Avenue, and for some time did not speak to my mother or father, nor visit us. Time did finally heal this rift when the explanation sunk in. This was "Izzy’s" and my first and last Christmas tree.
"Izzy" the Bookie
My father had a Superman’s philosophy. "If a human being can do it, so can I." He tackled any task before him. He was strong as an ox. He had a fine mind and could figure out how to solve all kinds of problems. One might question the manner in which he operated, but let it suffice to say he feared nothing and he would tackle any problem that confronted him. As he would say, "I have nothing to lose. I came here with nothing and I can only go up, so let’s give it a try."
The one thing "Izzy" could not do was read and write English. In a way that was not much of a hindrance, because the woman he married, my mother, had a fantastic education for the times, graduating high school plus two years of business school where she learned Gregg short hand, typing, etc. which landed her a job in a major company as a private secretary. After marriage, she became my father’s private secretary besides a wife, so why was it necessary for him to learn English? He got by with his broken English and a warm empathetic social manner, which won the hearts of all who crossed his path.
In 1936, my father gave up peddling fruits and vegetables, and opened a small neighborhood grocery/market. His tiny store, which rented for $17 a month, contained anything and everything a supermarket would have even though it was no larger than a small living room in a tract house. Besides fresh fruits and vegetables, which had to be set out on the sidewalk, it had fresh meats, beer and wine plus bulk wine in barrels, cosmetics, etc.
After paying for goodwill to the previous owner and buying the stock, "Izzy" discovered that there was a local bookie who used the premises as a base of operations. My father liked gambling and soon he saw that the bookie was making more money than he was, just by holding bets. So my father decided he would take the bets and become a bookie. He did quite well, so the original bookie reported my father to the police.
The radio in his new store was tuned to the horse racing results which followed after the sound of the bugle announcing the winners. At this point my father would shout out to any customers who may be present in broken English, "Everybody shut up!" Then in Yiddish, he jotted down the race number, track, winners and what the odds were. It was at this moment that two burly policemen in plain clothes walked in from an unmarked police car parked across the street and gathered up all my father’s papers, and took him down to the Hall of Justice. My mother was called in to attend the store.
As my father related the experience to me, he was called before a judge who told him that he was being arrested for gambling. Then the judge asked about the records the police had as evidence. My father explained that those pieces of paper were orders that customers called in. The judge then asked if anyone present could read Yiddish. No one responded, so the judge dismissed the case. Upon his return home my mother convinced my father that being a bookie was not for him. He agreed. Not knowing English had saved the day.
After retiring, my father became a banker and developer of real estate. This came about when my Aunt Henya and Uncle Orlick moved to Los Angeles from Winnipeg bringing with them $100,000. Not knowing the financial situation in a foreign country they asked my father what to do. He told them to buy real estate, rental units. They said they would wait and deposit the money in the bank. My father told them that banks only gave 2% interest on their money. If they would give him the money, he would pay them 4% interest and he would give them back all their money with a three month notice. For one year my father bought and sold vacant land, buildings, in places like Artesia, Norco, Corona, and Perris. In a year’s time he made himself a nice bundle and all involved were happy. All this occured just after World War II, when the economy here exploded.
My father had a real work ethic and no job was beneath his dignity. After retiring he looked forward to Junk Day, when people threw out broken clocks, toasters that did not work, or mirrors whose frames lost their appearance. As he put it, "Any fool with money can walk into a store and buy anything. But who can take a thrown out clock apart and make it keep time again?" You don’t have to leap tall buildings in one jump to be a Superman! Have the right attitude. Use your head. Be a mensch.
Western States Jewish History is interested in your memories and recollections of earlier days in the American West. Send your typewritten memories with a picture or two to us at:
Western States Jewish History
Be sure to include your name, address and phone number.
We will scan and return your photos immediately.