Documents of Secular Yiddish Shuln in Los Angeles – Part I
by Hershl Hartman, Vegvayzer, Educational Director
The Sholem Community, L.A., CA English translation and notes ©  (Revised, 2008)

In the course of research for her forthcoming documentary film and book, “The Land of Orange Groves and Jails,” focused on Jewish radicalism in Eastside Los Angeles in the 1920s and 30s, Sholemite Judy Branfman unearthed a 1925 Yiddish literary journal, Mayriv (West), published in Los Angeles, California. Its latter pages included a historical-ideological roundup of local Secular Yiddish schools then in existence. The three brief essays appear below with Judy’s kind permission.

At almost the same time, Sholemite August Maymudes brought me a copy of another Yiddish literary anthology, Kalifornyer Shriftn (Californian Writings), this one dated December. 1961. It, too, carried a report on the then-status of Secular Yiddish schools in Los Angeles, although from a single, leftwing, perspective.  


Mayriv (West), Los Angeles, 1925, pp. 59-61 Reports From Our Local Shuln  

The Yiddish Folkshul  

Immigrants twice over — that describes the Jewish population at the Pacific’s shores. From the Dnieper to the Hudson — the first immigration to America; from the Atlantic to the Pacific — the second. They came to this second America mostly for health reasons. So the first concerns were to establish cemeteries, burial societies, a sanitarium, thereby securing a portion of the world-to-come. Later, recovering both health and reason, they began to think of life, of the living. From death to life. Authentically Jewish. And among the living, the aged come first, the children, last: first an old-age home, then a Yiddish shule. Again, authentically Jewish. Accordingly, the Yiddish Folkshul is the latest, newest creation here.

The creators, the founders of the shule? As in every city, Labor Zionists, members of the Farband, and just Jews. Its leanings? It vacillates between the National Radicals and the Sholem Aleykhem shule, with strong leanings toward the latter. That has been so since the beginning.

The folkshul has been in existence for five years. For half that time it was a Saturday and Sunday school; the last two and a half years, a daily (i.e., weekday afternoon—hh) school.
What has been accomplished during this time? Much and very little. As soon as the folkshul was established, an Arbeter Ring (Workmen’s Circle) shule was set up “to prevent our children from being taught to be Zionists,” and, as the saying goes, ‘competing sages produce respect for learning’…by now there are three shuln: the folkshul, the rightwing and the leftwing Arbeter Ring schools. Over three hundred children attended the folkshul during those five years. A large number, but a negative one: it seems that the children don’t continue for long in the Yiddish school. A month or two, a year or two…a few for three years, still fewer for four, and very few for the full five years, though there are some.

The reason for this? Many reasons. In the first place, the children’s parents. The parents are still very, very far from being educated. As soon as the child learns to write a little (Yiddish) note, to read a little (Yiddish) story — enough. Public school must be attended for years, but the shule? Yiddish? There are more preferable things to study. Piano, for instance, or even French, which is so much nicer. Perhaps, if the French spoke Yiddish, the Yiddish language would gain favor in the parents’ eyes; the Yiddish shule would be as honored as the English one; and they would assure the children’s attendance. Instead, children are enrolled whenever it strikes the parents’ fancy and the child quits when it doesn’t want to study any more. Sometimes, the child may want to continue but the parents know better what’s really important.

Children quit because they need to become bar mitsve, or because they need to learn to say kadish for a dead father. On the other hand, children enroll (into the shule) from talmud-toyre so that it may balance out, but the figures aren’t constant. On average, a hundred children, but all of them new…beginners.

What influence has their short shule experience had on those who left? Difficult to say. Some of them can be encountered at a concert or a performance by the shule children—still something of their own, it eems.

Some attend the Yiddish theatre, very few read Yiddish books… newspapers. And those who’ve remained in the shule? They study. Next year, we’ll need to start thinking about a mitlshul (secondary shule). The children aren’t the only students. Adults are learning, as well. Bit by bit, they’re learning that one can’t be merely a “friend” of Yiddish literature and language while doing nothing on behalf of Yiddish education.

Documents of Secular Yiddish Shuln in Los Angeles – Part II
by Hershl Hartman, Vegvayzer, Educational Director
The Sholem Community, L.A., CA English translation and notes ©  (Revised, 2008)

In the not-too distant future, adults will have learned that Yiddish education—the shule—is the beginning, that one must work on behalf of the shule and that one must also…pay tuition fees. The folkshul building is also a place for Jewish organizations, their meetings and affairs, a place where Yiddish is spoken. Now this can be seen, as well. I refer to the library, which was recently opened.

As poor as the shule’s resources are, we were still able to “divert” funds for bookshelves, and books are being gathered. During the “seven good years,” Jews bought books, but who had time to read them during good times? So someone donates a “set,” another — a few books. There will probably be readers, too: not everyone benefitted from those seven good years…
The Yiddish folkshul is the Yiddish corner of the Jewish street.

Sh. M. (Sh. Miller)
Arbeter Ring shule

After four years, the Arbeter Ring (Workmen’s Circle) shule has turned a new page in the history of Yiddish education in our city. In addition to the subjects of Jewish history, reading, writing and speaking Yiddish, Yiddish literature and the biographies of famous personalities, we are now also teaching dramatic arts, diction, declamation, singing of classic and folk songs.

Special emphasis is being placed on the development of the children’s club Yunginke Beymelekh (Young Saplings), conducted by the children themselves, under the supervision of the teachers, of course. The purpose of the club is to develop the children’s understanding through discussions of Jewish and general issues, and to include songs, games and other amusements.

We seek to counteract the impression the children are given in public school: that their parents are greenhorns whose language, attitudes and customs are uncivilized and foolish. The public schools teach the children to hate everything that doesn’t conform to present-day society and to consider harmful all those who fight for a better world. We seek to oppose this, as well.


Arbeter Ring shule (Left-wing Branches)
Our purpose is to complement that which the other Yiddish shuln have omitted. We attempt to raise the child in an independently-Jewish, revolutionarily-thinking manner. We desire that when our child enters the (working) class to which it belongs, it will become a consciously-struggling member. That is why both our teaching methods and our subjects are quite different from those of other Yiddish shuln.

The hundred children in our shule are divided into six groups which meet four days (afternoons) a week under the supervision of our excellent teachers, W. Baum and Miss H. Hendler.

We conduct a singing class in which our children learn both the songs of our people and of the revolutionary movement. An integral part of our shule is the dance class, attended by 40 children. We also intend to organize our children into play- and discussion-clubs, but due to space limitations we have had to limit these to the older students.

We have succeeded in mobilizing around our shule the best forces in our local movement, which assures the success and the future existence of our shule.

 H. Kaminker

------------------------------------------------------------------The great upheavals of the 36 years between the foregoing essays and the one following had their inevitable effects on Secular Yiddish schools. The following summary reflects some of them: the generational shift from immigrant to native-born parents, the geographical dislocations of suburban development, and the accession to reality in replacing strict Yiddishism with bilingual instruction.

It is also interesting that the Sholem Educational Institute in L.A. is not mentioned at all, though it had, by then, been in existence for about a decade. There is reason to assume that Sholem, which did not teach Yiddish although it was politically progressive, was considered to be outside the framework of kindershuln.

Also not mentioned, understandably, is the history of the late 1940s-1950s, in which the shuln of the Jewish People’s Fraternal Order—a 1930s outgrowth of the leftwing Arbeter Ring shuln—were liquidated in the Truman-McCarthy witchhunt, only to be “resurrected” in the form described below. Too, early in that period, a united mitlshul (high school), formed by all the factions, had existed briefly, only to be extinguished in the witchhunt.—