Vallejo library is showcasing 100-year history of area Jews

Vallejo's main library prides itself on its insightful exhibits. In addition to highlighting significant women and people of color who have made their home in Solano County, past displays at John F. Kennedy Library have run the gamut from gems to genealogy.

What there has never been, however, is an exhibit devoted to the Jews of Vallejo, even though Jews have been building community in the town since before it was named Vallejo.

Until now, that is. The first-ever Jewish historical and cultural exhibit at the JFK library will be on display until Friday, May 19. Through pictures, print and various cultural and religious artifacts, it depicts the history of modern Jews in America in general, and in Vallejo in particular.

"There's never been a 'Jewish' display, per se," said Julie Stratton, senior librarian. However, several months ago, the library put together a "hate-crimes display in response to the synagogue burnings and the shooting of those children in the [North Valley] Jewish Community Center" near Los Angeles.

So how did the library staff decide upon a Jewish-themed exhibit, particularly at a time of year when, as one librarian put it, they traditionally decorate with "Easter bunny stuff?"

After receiving some "beautiful new books" on Judaism, those responsible for exhibits "thought it would be nice to showcase another tradition," librarian Michael Senturia said. "We wanted a more up-beat kind of thing than the hate crimes one was," he added.

Senturia contacted the only synagogue in Solano County, Congregation B'nai Israel in Vallejo, for help in creating the display. Congregant Alisa Danyeur, the exhibit organizer, selected documents revealing the history of the Jewish community and how it evolved along with the Vallejo community.

Part of the challenge for Danyeur and fellow congregant Arlene Rabin was to create a display that would make sense to people with little or no knowledge of Jewish history or culture. "We wanted to illustrate how the Jewish community impacted Vallejo and Solano County," Danyeur said.

One glass case contains a Vallejo Jewish timeline that illustrates how thousands of Jewish immigrants in the early part of the last century were processed through Ellis Island. Some of them made their way to Vallejo and Solano County, establishing B'nai Israel.

Featured photos include that of Isadore Meyer, the owner of Meyer's Jewelers, who operated his enterprise on Georgia Street in downtown Vallejo from 1910 to 1979, as well as one of the synagogue's earliest rabbis. Religious artifacts such as menorot, kippot and a miniature Torah scroll are also displayed.

Senturia is pleased that the Jews of Vallejo are being recognized and represented in the library.

"We haven't had a chance to introduce the community to one integral member of our Vallejo family that's been here for 100 years, and we're grateful to the membership of Congregation B'nai Israel for taking the time to organize such an attractive and informative display."

Rachel Raskin-Zrihen
Rachel Raskin-Zrihen

A wife and mother of two grown sons, Rachel Raskin-Zrihen is a longtime Bay Area journalist, columnist and co-author of the book "Jewish Community of Solano County."