What was the relationship between Sephardim and Ashkenazim on the West Coast?

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By Leora Singer, Former Research Intern

This is my second blog
post in a series of three posts in which I discuss the theme of Sephardim in
the West Coast in the 19th-20th century. You can see my first post here. In this post, I compare and contrast
the relationship between Ashkenazim and Sephardim in Seattle and San Francisco.

Seattle:

When Calvo and Policar
(the first two Sephardim in Seattle) first encountered the Orthodox Ashkenazi
Jews living in the city, they weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms. These
observant Jews didn’t believe that Policar and Calvo were “real Jews” because
they spoke Greek instead of Yiddish (Adatto, 56), and their names didn’t “sound
Jewish” (Angel, 553). Because they felt ostracized by the Jewish community,
Calvo and Policar spent a lot of time with Greek non-Jews living in Seattle
(Adatto, 58). Fortunately, the rabbi of Bikur Holim, an Orthodox synagogue,
convinced the Orthodox Ashkenazim that the Sephardim were just as observant as
they were. The Ashkenazim accepted Calvo and Policar as members of the Jewish
people.

The Seattle Sephardic
community kept growing as Calvo and Policar brought family members over, and
these family members spread the word about the opportunities available in
Seattle (Adatto, 60). In 1904, the first Rhodesli Sephardic immigrant came to
Seattle (FitzMorris, 29). As the number of Sephardim in Seattle grew, their
ties to the overall Jewish community of Seattle grew. Many Sephardim prayed at
Bikur Holim. They felt somewhat connected to the Orthodox Ashkenazim because
they, like the Sephardim, upheld high religious standards (Adatto, 116).
However, the perception was that their cultures were just too different to mix
together, so the Sephardim and Orthodox Ashkenazim remained fairly separate.
For example, intermarriage between the two groups was highly rare (Adatto,
117).

Despite its rocky
nature, the beginning of the relationship between Orthodox Sephardim and
Orthodox Ashkenazim was still stronger than the beginning of the relationship
between Sephardim and Reform Ashkenazim. The Sephardim distrusted the Reform
Ashkenazim because they believed that the Reform Ashkenazim were not following
enough of the Jewish traditions. Fortunately, Aubrey Levy from the Reform
Temple de Hirsch helped to change this negative view of Reform Judaism by
forming a friendship with the Sephardic Jews. As a lawyer, he helped Sephardim
with legal work, free of charge. For example, in 1914, he assisted them with
the legal logistics in the purchase of the (previously Ashkenazi-owned) Bikur
Holim synagogue (Adatto, 118-119). Levy was highly regarded by the Sephardim.
By association, his synagogue became highly regarded as well. In fact, many
Sephardic children got their Jewish education at the Hebrew School of Temple de
Hirsch. However, even after many years, there was still very little
intermarriage. The Sephardim still did not feel like a part of Ashkenazi
culture.

San Francisco:

There was a temporary
Sephardic congregation in the early 1850s (Zerin, 30). The congregation was
called Shaar Hashamayim. It was so temporary that it never even had a building
because the congregation stopped meeting only a few months after its creation
(Zerin, 47). This is likely because the construction of new buildings for two
Ashkenazi-run synagogues, Temple Emanu-El and Temple Sherith- Israel, was
underway. Since the Sephardim and Ashkenazim in San Francisco were united,
(especially in comparison to these sects in other West Coast cities) the
Sephardim didn’t want to divide it by having their own synagogue. Also, some
members of the Sephardic congregation had been leaders in the other synagogues,
because they were so prominent and respected by the Ashkenazim (Stern and
Kramer, 47).

Sephardim from San
Francisco are sometimes difficult to identify because intermarriage with
Ashkenazim and even non-Jews was common (Stern and Kramer, 45). This practice
showed a stark difference between the Jews of San Francisco and in other West
Coast cities. In the other cities, intermarriage between pretty much anyone
that was not a Jew from your home country was frowned upon.

Bibliography:

Adatto, Albert. Sephardim
and the Seattle Sephardic Community.
Seattle: U of Washington, 1939. Print.

Angel, Marc D., Hasson,
Aron, Kramer, William M., Maimon, Isaac, Samuels, Beth, Sidell, Loraine, Stern,
Norton B. Sephardic Jews in the West Coast States : An Anthology. 1st
ed. Los Angeles: Published for the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles by the
Western States Jewish History Association, 1996. Print. Western States Jewish
History ; v. 28, No. 1-3.

Stern, Stephen. The
Sephardic Jewish Community of Los Angeles
. New York: Arno, 1980. Print.
Folklore of the World (New York).

Zerin,
Edward. Jewish San Francisco. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2006. Print.
Images of America

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