Journal has a feature on the Ten Top Treasures of Jewish Los Angeles
States Jewish History Archives were on the list.
Jewish Journal of Los Angeles,
February 17, 2007
by Tom Tugend
Jacoby and party spent Sunday at Arrowhead Springs, making the
journey in their automobile," reported the B'nai B'rith Messenger of
Los Angeles on April 16, 1909.
"Automobiles are a service of great joy to their owners and the fact
that so many are being purchased by the Jewish community is
noteworthy," the story continued. "Mr. Sam Newmark has a new
Locomobile, Mr. Jacob Loew has a Packard car, and there are many
more on the way."
This little gem tells us perhaps more about the upwardly mobile Jews
of early Los Angeles than a demographic treatise, and there's more
where that came from.
A lot more. The spacious three-car garage of Gladys Sturman's house
in Calabasas is jammed to the high ceiling with 400 boxes crammed
with documents, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, memoirs, photos and
assorted memorabilia, a veritable treasure trove of the Jewish
history in California and the Western United States.
This massive accumulation of history in the raw is the legacy of two
self-made historians. William M. Kramer and Norton B. Stern started
to collect and preserve, scrap by scrap, the records left by the
pioneering Jews and their descendants, when that subject was still
beneath academic notice.
Kramer was a larger-than-life rabbi, lawyer, professor, author,
sometime actor and advertising pitchman, while Stern was an
optometrist. Avid collectors, they were too busy to index and
archive their material.
When Kramer, who survived Stern, died in 2004, every inch of his
large Westwood home was covered with boxes, books, folders and
Two volunteers, who had also been bitten by the Western history bug,
decided to take over the massive legacy. One is David W. Epstein, a
longtime traveling manufacturer's representative, who set up "a
little typesetting business on the side" in the 1970s.
From typesetting, he branched out into publishing a number of small
Jewish magazines, among them the Jewish Calendar for the San
Fernando Valley, Being Jewish and the still active The American
In the early 1990s, after Stern's death, Epstein took over the
production end of Western States Jewish History, a quarterly
journal founded, and largely written, by Kramer and Stern.
When Kramer relinquished editorial control of the quarterly a few
years later, Epstein teamed up with Sturman and they took over the
Sturman had studied Jewish history under Kramer while taking her
degree at the University of Judaism, and helped him with his
research during his final years.
Both Epstein and Sturman are now listed as publishers and editors of
Western States Jewish History, though she concentrates on the
editorial side, and he on the production and business end.
David Epstein & Gladys
Publishers of Western States Jewish History
The current Winter 2007
issue is devoted to the autobiography of the late Herb Brin, a
feisty journalist and longtime publisher of the Heritage weekly.
Over the past few years, the two historians, amateurs no longer,
have worked full and overtime cataloging, indexing and archiving the
Kramer-Stern legacy, and their expertise has won the respect of
The fruits of their labor have been moving by trucks over the last
few weeks to leading academic institutions in the Los Angeles area,
for the benefit of present and future generations of students and
Some 30,000 cataloged papers and 4,000 folders have been delivered
to the special collections department of UCLA's Young Library.
The University of Judaism has received more than 1,000 books.
Ephemera, very old books and pamphlets are destined for the
Huntington Research Library in San Marino, in partnership with
The 2,000-photo collection is going to the Autry National Center,
which specializes in the history of the American West.
A large number of scrapbooks and diaries are being divided between
the Autry and the Huntington.
Sturman says that it will take her another year to organize Kramer's
personal writings, which, she hopes, will be the basis for some
ambitious student's doctoral thesis.
Professor David N. Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish
Studies, is greatly impressed by the passion and skill the
Epstein-Sturman team brought to their task.
"The material we have received at UCLA is exceptionally well
organized and a real treasure for scholars," he said. "Gladys and
David have done a heroic job."
Epstein projects that much of the material and its database will be
available in the future on the Web sites of the participating
institutions and on his own.
The 69-year-old Woodland Hills resident has also evolved into a
popular lecturer on the pioneer Jews of the West, among them
merchants, madams and hookers.
"I'm not a scholar, I'm a storyteller," Epstein classifies himself.
"For thousands of years, we Jews have survived because we passed on
American Jews don't do that anymore, we've become too sophisticated,
so we're becoming Jewishly illiterate."
Stephen Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern
California, has some reservations about the Kramer-Stern trove going
to outside academic institutions.
"Much of the material came from members of the Jewish community, and
I hope might stay within the community," Sass said. "I hope our
organization can be involved and we can work together."
Epstein responded that he and Sturman purposely gave the material to
prestigious academic institutions, where both Jewish and non-Jewish
scholars would have easy access.
"I don't want Jews to be written out of Western states history as we
were out of medieval history," he said.
Sturman observed that the Jewish Historical Society has not yet put
its own archives in order, while Sass noted that his membership has
been focusing on the rehabilitation of the historic Breed Street
Shul in Boyle Heights and was preparing an oral history project.
To close on a historical note, here's an abbreviated item from San
Francisco's Daily Alta Californian, dated June 23, 1851, which
proves that the pioneer Jews were not solely occupied with
establishing dry goods stores and houses of worship.
Under the headline "Terrible Affair," the newspaper chronicled the
last night on earth of Lewis Polack, believed to have been the first
Jew to settle in Yerba Buena (later known as San Francisco) in 1837.
"Last evening, about half past ten, a terrible affair occurred in a
house of ill fame kept by Mary St. Clair in Merchant Street, just
below the Plaza," the story started.
"A man named Lewis Polack, a sporting man well known in this city,
it seems was in bed with an occupant of the house, a girl named Jane
To encapsulate the action, there was a knock on the door and a
gentleman named Samuel Gallagher, a previous customer of Ms. Hurley,
entered. An argument ensued and Gallagher shot Polack through the
But justice pounced swiftly. Within the hour, "Gallagher was
arrested immediately and taken before the Vigilance Committee. The
coroner held an inquest upon the body, and the jury returned a
verdict that the deceased came to his death from a pistol-shot
wound, inflicted by Samuel Gallagher."