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President’s Message…Migrating West

by Sonia Hoffman

In June of 1901, my maternal grandmother, Sonia Lipman, age 20, arrived in New York with her first child, who was four months old. She immediately continued on to Chicago to meet her husband, Leiser (Louis), who had arrived the year before. According to records from the Lomza Archives for the town of Grajewo, Louis had come from long line of bookbinders. Over the next thirteen years, Louis went from a bookbinding job to becoming a doctor, while Sonia (Sophie) ran a small grocery store and raised their six children. They became quite well-off in the booming 1920s but Louis left Sophie around 1926 for another woman. After years of struggle, Sophie and her children lost their security and status. One day, her neighbor, who was a junk dealer, told her he was going to California and invited her to come with his family. According to Irving Lipman (the four-month-old in 1901), Sophie decided to go to California without a moment’s thought. She brought her three youngest children with her, including my mother Gertrude, age 11, who was suffering from poor health. Her oldest children sent her some money from Chicago to help support the family. Gertrude, entered Sheridan Street School, and Lillian went to Hollenbeck Junior High. However, both girls left school early to help support the family during the Depression.

In June of 1912, my paternal grandmother, Victoria Dennis, traveled from Volhynia to Boston with her five children, the oldest 14, the youngest a baby, to meet her husband, Abraham, who had come a year earlier. He was a shoemaker and established a successful shop. My father Sidney was born exactly nine months after her arrival. But in 1918, Abraham died in the great flu epidemic. The four older sons all became furriers, working with an uncle, but the youngest, Sidney, was not interested in this kind of work. He attended Boston Latin School, but the Depression made life difficult for the single mother whose support depended largely on her older children. Her first American-born son might not get the education the family had planned.

The 1930 Census finds Victoria and Sidney in Los Angeles and a few years later, she appears in the L.A. City Directory at 2010 New Jersey Street in Boyle Heights. Nearby, my maternal grandmother Sophie Lipman is also listed, at 314 ˝ N. St. Louis Street, as the "widow of Louis." Sophie was not a widow, and after re-reading a letter she wrote to her husband in 1941, I suspect she was not even divorced, but in California, she could maintain her pride.

As genealogists, we study the migration of Jews from one part of the world to another. We try to learn about the political, social, and environmental factors that influenced our families to immigrate. Though many immigrants came directly to Los Angeles, many first lived in Eastern or Mid-Western cities. Immigration to the United States was virtually stopped by restrictive laws in the 1920s, but immigration from east to west continued. In Los Angeles, they could find a healthier climate, a less crowded lifestyle, and perhaps start a new business or new profession. In addition, there was a community that was predominantly Jewish, with people who knew their neighbors and cared about them. Young women like my grandmothers had made the journey across the ocean with small children and established a new life in a big American city. Nevertheless, they made a decision to uproot their families again after twenty or thirty years, to find a new community and a new start.

I found a very small book among the old letters and papers that once belonged to my parents, aunts, and uncles. It is a wedding book from 1934, when Victoria’s son Sidney and Sophie’s daughter Gertrude were married at 2010 New Jersey St. Since it was during the Depression, and the bride and groom were only 18 and 21, the gifts were modest, and the food was simple. Like most young couples, as the economy recovered, they moved away from Boyle Heights after a few years. Sidney did not become a furrier, but an aircraft engineer and he built a small house in Burbank. The Boyle Heights neighborhood served the Jewish community well during the first half of the 20th century, but then it was time to move on.

Thanks to the idea of focusing on Los Angeles Jewish history for this issue of Roots-Key, I have gone back to Boyle Heights again, and reviewed the documents for my family. I went to see the houses my grandmothers lived in, and visited Victoria’s grave for the first time at Agudath Achim Cemetery. (Sophie is buried at Beth Olam, Hollywood Cemetery). I found articles about the individuals who established the many early Jewish organizations in Los Angeles. Reading more about the pioneer generation in the 19th century, I realized how important this small number of families was to the development of businesses like banking, land development, and agriculture in Southern California. While we conduct research in many countries of the world, as the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles, we also need to document our history here and to provide the information for others who may live around the world but who have roots here. This issue along with the wealth of additional information added to our website, will serve that purpose. I would like to thank our editor, and all the contributors and copy readers for helping with this special issue and website.

 

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