Thursday, September 01, 2005
The Happiest Place on Earth
These two snapshots have been posted before, but I was waxing nostalgic this morning and felt to re-post these images with some commentary.
I was born in Southern California in the San Fernando Valley, but we left Pacoima and moved to West Hollywood when I was very small. My earliest memories are living in a stucco duplex on Spaulding and Waring, about 3 blocks from Fairfax Avenue. Fairfax is the center of the Jewish community in Los Angeles. It is Brooklyn with sunshine and palm trees at the foot of the Hollywood Hills. When I was a kid, the Jewish neighborhood extended from Santa Monica Blvd. south to Pico and from the border of Beverly Hills at La Cienega, all the way to Highland. Today it is more concentrated, surrounded by trendy Hollywood neighborhoods, little Ethiopia and that amorphous thing called Greater LA.
The community continues and in some ways thrives. In the 60s there was a brief influx of hippies, in the 80s there was an attempt at gentrification of the neighborhood, but although it has shrunken, it continues to pulse. The Lubavitchers will still ask you to put on the Tefillin, Canter's deli still serves up corned beef and pastrami 24/7, Diamond's and Schwartz's still have the most delicious baked goods you can find on the west coast. The hassids walk to temple on a Shabbos morning and congregate at the newsstand, just like when I was a little pisher, as my mother would say.
My dad worked at the May Co. on Fairfax and La Brea, right around the corner from the tar pits. This fantastic art deco building is now the annex to the LA County Museum of Art, and was also destroyed by flowing Lava in the 1997 film Volcano. My mom shopped along Fairfax, and I attended Hebrew school at the synagogue on Beverly. In spite of the fact that we were and are a fairly secular family, our lives were still intertwined with the neighborhood and its culture. As the Jews have been dispersed around the globe, those flavors and sites were all concentrated along Fairfax Ave, Sephardics and Ashkenazi, Hungarian, Russian, Israeli, it was all there.
I haven't lived in LA in over 20 years, and I make my home in the deli-free zone of San Jose, California, but once or twice a year, the pastrami calls me and I'll drive to LA,and for a few short hours, I feel at home.