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Visions of a Jewish Future: the Jewish Bakers Union and Yiddish Culture in East Los Angeles, 1908-1942

  • Author(s): Luce, Caroline Elizabeth
  • Advisor(s): Avila, Eric R.
  • Higbie, Frank Tobias
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation explores the activism of a cohort of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who came to Los Angeles in the first decade of the twentieth century. They focused their efforts in Boyle Heights, a residential subdivision east of the Los Angeles River, where they spearheaded the creation of Yiddish-based unions, left-wing political

parties, and fraternal, cultural, and educational organizations. Scholars have long assumed that the development of Yiddish life in Boyle Heights followed the same course as in Jewish communities elsewhere and referred to the neighborhood as "Los Angeles' Lower East Side." Using Yiddish-language newspapers, journals and biographies, this dissertation probes the neighborhood's reputation, showing how the

area's particular geography, pattern of settlement, and unique ethno-racial diversity influenced the dynamics of Yiddish-based labor and community organizing in the neighborhood. The Jewish radicals who settled in Boyle Heights had been involved inrevolutionary socialist and nationalist movements in Eastern Europe and in the American cities where they lived before making their way west, and sought to replicate

these experiences in their new home. But in the multiethnic context of Boyle Heights, they comprised the top of the socioeconomic hierarchy, not the bottom, challenging their understanding of their class-based and ethnic identities.

In their earliest efforts, these activists purposefully built an organizational and cultural life that excluded the area's non-Jewish residents in order to cultivate a distinct ethnic community in the multiethnic neighborhood. But over the course of two decades between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Second, they gradually expanded the scope and scale of their activities. They strayed from the platforms of the national and international bodies with which they were affiliated, and embraced the neighborhood's multiculturalism as part of their new collective identities as American Jews. To examine the variety of structural forces, local and global developments that encouraged this transformation, I trace the history of the Jewish Bakers Union, one of several Jewish unions formed in Boyle Heights in the 1910s, showing how their attitudes and model of trade unionism shifted through the 1920s

and 1930s. By highlighting the activism of the bakers and the other members of their cohort, this dissertation complicates our understandings of class formation and Americanization of Jewish immigrants in the early twentieth century. And in turn, it contributes new details to the history of labor and left-wing community organizing in early twentieth century Los Angeles and asserts Boyle Heights' place in the Yiddish-speaking world.

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