California: Yosemite’s Jewish past

As regular readers will remember, Tracing the Tribe recently visited the town of Bendigo – north of Melbourne, Australia. It was the center of that area’s Gold Rush, and many Jews arrived there to join in.

In the US, the mid-1800s Gold Rush was centered in the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Country. This was also a magnet for Jews, whether as prospectors or as providers of goods and services for the miners.

Image above left is Yosemite Park.

The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles has an interesting article on Yosemite’s Jewish past and present by Elyse Glickman.

Yosemite even has a Jewish park ranger, Scott Gediman of North Hollywood, although the nearest synagogues are more than an hour away in Stockton and Fresno. He says he’s always wanted to be a park ranger, that isn’t that difficult to be Jewish there for a young Jewish family.

Back in 1978, the Jewish Sentinel published a historic account written by Norton B. Stern, summarizing Jewish life in the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa County, the epicenters of the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s.

Although their numbers were small, Jewish immigrants (mostly from Central Europe, though a few came from France and Bavaria) built their fortunes through dry goods and clothing businesses that in turn provided much-needed supplies, services and necessities for miners and others settling into the West. Many of the Jewish residents were also simultaneously active in politics and civil posts in townships dotting the area — including Bear Valley, Coulterville, Hornitos, Agua Fria and Mariposa.

The short but fact-filled 30-year-old article was sourced in the archives of the Mariposa Museum and History Center, a spot small on space but rich in substance. The prolific collection of Gold Rush-era artifacts is organized thematically and exhaustively catalogued in a way that brings textbook American history into three dimensions.

According to Gediman:

Read the complete story at the link above.

“Today, there is a fairly big Jewish population in Stockton and Modesto, and during the late 1800s, Jewish families served as early concessionaires to miners before settling in those places,” Gediman said. “Before the federal government came to California, Jewish pioneers ran some of the stores, hotels, photography businesses, souvenir stores and things like that. Though many of these businesses are long gone, they made their mark on history.”

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