Bulletin exhibit remembers 100 years of Jewish history

Finally it's Friday, just over a century ago. A young woman sits at the table by the window and prepares to read her newspaper, front to back. Except for the steady clang of the cable car, the incessant wind muffles all sounds on the Hyde Street hill. In the fading light she smiles to herself as she reads the words on the masthead: "A Paper Devoted to the Interest of Jews and Judaism on the Pacific Coast."

On Page Two, she reads the disturbing news of the election of an anti-Semitic chief magistrate in Vienna and the chilling report from Berlin: "the Society for the promotion of anti-Semitism had designed to introduce a bill in the next Reichsrath, depriving of citizenship all persons who for three generations past have had a drop of Jewish blood in their families!"

Wondering how to join local Jewry in a community response to these disturbing events in Europe, this hypothetical woman finds the directory of Jewish institutions of San Francisco on Page 15. Six synagogues are named, including Emanu-El at 414 Sutter St., Ohabai Shalome at Bush Street near Laguna, and Sherith Israel at Post and Taylor.

She finds listings of 12 local charitable organizations, including the Eureka Benevolent Association and the Israelitischer Frauen Verin (Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society).

Also listed are cemeteries, libraries, Bible and literary institutes, fraternities, and social institutions, including the Concordia and Harmonie clubs. Reading the long and varied roster of institutions helps her feel part of a large Jewish community.

Out the window the sky is darkening, closing in the open space called the Golden Gate. It's almost time to light the candles. As the woman closes the newspaper, she takes a long last look at the front page: Vol. 1, No. 1. Friday Nov. 22, 1895. Emanu-El, "A Paper Devoted to the Interests of Jews and Judaism on the Pacific Coast." Office, 508 Montgomery St., S.F. Published every Friday. Two dollars per year. Single copies ten cents.

The Western Jewish History Center of the Judah L. Magnes Museum celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Jewish Bulletin with a major retrospective of the Jewish press in Northern California. The exhibit "Published Every Friday: Celebrating 100 Years of the Jewish Bulletin" opens July 28 and continues through mid-November.

Unique opportunities will greet the visitor. On view will be the first edition of the Emanu-El, in addition to rare copies of the Gold Rush-era San Francisco Jewish newspapers, The Gleaner and The Hebrew. Original documents, photographs, wedding and bar mitzvah invitations, clothing, artifacts and Judaica from the Western Jewish History Center and Magnes Museum collections will round out the exhibit.

In a section devoted to the evolution of the Jewish Bulletin, visitors will be able to trace the changes over a century of publication. The boards of directors, publishers and editors are the featured honorees of the Magnes exhibit. We honor their vision, courage, and fortitude in helping inform and connect the Jewish community of the Bay Area.

Each of the editors of the paper — Jacob H. Voorsanger, Sol Silverman, Eugene B. Block, Geoffrey Fisher, and Marc S. Klein — has had significant influence upon the mission, format, readership and impact of the newspaper. Each editor will be featured with a photograph, first editorial and first front page.

This section of the exhibit will also highlight changes in layout and contents as the visitor walks through time and societal change, viewing the pages of the Bulletin and its predecessors. Through the years, readers have experienced children's pages, sports pages, entertainment sections and most recently, the singles section. In 1995, the Bulletin became accessible through the Internet.

The most significant gift the Magnes Museum gives to the community is the opportunity to celebrate the Bulletin's 100th anniversary by reading complete historic editions. Tova Gazit and Susan Morris, curators from the Western Jewish History Center, and exhibit designer Bill Chayes, believe the true essence of the newspaper is lost when articles are only examined out of context. Newspapers of the past inform us not only through articles and headlines, but also through photographs, advertisements, social news, and birth and death announcements.

Visitors to the galleries can examine reproductions of 20 to 30 complete editions of the Emanu-El and the Jewish Bulletin. The curators selected editions based on their relationship to major themes in Bay Area Jewish life: growth of the community, Zionism and Israel, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, and Judaism in the American environment.

Specific attention was paid to the coverage of watershed events such as the Kishinev pogroms, Hitler's rise to power, the proclamation of the state of Israel, the Six-Day War, and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Featured as well are local events, such as the 1906 earthquake, the 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition, construction of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, and formation of Jewish institutions — the federations, Mount Zion Hospital, community centers and synagogues.

Reading an old newspaper may evoke memories long forgotten, clarify an issue, or fill in the missing piece of a puzzle. Perhaps a visitor will find a grandparent's wedding announcement, an advertisement for a favorite store long since closed, or a photograph of a treasured friend.

Visitors to the galleries will have the opportunity, through notebooks placed in the reading room, to record their own memories and family stories that relate to items found in the gallery's newspapers.

The exhibit traces a century of growth and change through the pages of the Jewish press in the Bay Area. In this sense, the exhibit will have fulfilled its mission: To celebrate with the community, Jewish and non-Jewish, the first 100 years of the Jewish Bulletin.