Ear­li­er this week, Jan­ice Stein­berg wrote about Djew­ess Unchained,” the Song of the Sea, and Yid­dish inflect­ed Eng­lish and the audio­book ver­sion of her nov­el The Tin Horse. She has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

A few weeks ago, the Los Ange­les Times ran an arti­cle about the death of Eddie Gold­stein, the last Jew­ish man of Boyle Heights.” Gold­stein, who died on Jan­u­ary 5 at 79, was born in Boyle Heights and stayed there all his life, becom­ing a sort of final link with Boyle Heights of the 1920s and 30s, when it was the Jew­ish neigh­bor­hood in L.A.

Dur­ing those years, Boyle Heights was home to some 50,000 Jews. The neigh­bor­hood, direct­ly east of down­town, had kosher butch­ers and delis, includ­ing the orig­i­nal Can­ter’s, an L.A. insti­tu­tion. There were syn­a­gogues for the reli­gious, work­ers and Yid­dish soci­eties for the sec­u­lar, movie the­aters, book­ie joints, a pool hall, and the Ebony Room bar, a haunt of the com­mu­ni­ty’s most infa­mous son, Mick­ey Cohen.

By the time I lived in L.A. in the mid-1970s, Boyle Heights was already heav­i­ly Lati­no. I’d nev­er heard of it until I set out to write a nov­el about a Jew­ish woman grow­ing up in L.A. in the 20s and 30s. I start­ed doing research, and it was clear that my char­ac­ter could live in only one place: Boyle Heights.

Boyle Heights was­n’t just a Jew­ish neigh­bor­hood, how­ev­er. While Jews were the largest group, there were also large Japan­ese- and Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tions. In fact, some 50 eth­nic­i­ties lived there. Not that peo­ple in those days looked at the diverse com­mu­ni­ty and saw an only-in-Amer­i­ca suc­cess sto­ry. On the con­trary, in the late 1930s the fed­er­al Home Own­ers’ Loan Corp. red­lined Boyle Heights, stat­ing that it was filled with sub­ver­sive racial ele­ments.” (That, too, was just right for my char­ac­ter, since she becomes a pro­gres­sive attor­ney.)

But, accord­ing to oral his­to­ry inter­views with Jews who grew up in Boyle Heights in the 20s and 30s, there was remark­able har­mo­ny among the eth­nic groups. Peo­ple spoke about their acci­den­tal utopi­an exper­i­ment with love and pride.

And although, with Eddie Gold­stein’s death, there are no longer any Jews liv­ing in Boyle Heights, the diverse lega­cy has­n’t been for­got­ten. The Boyle Heights His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety is a mul­ti-eth­nic group. The Breed Street Shul Project, cre­at­ed by Jew­ish His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, is restor­ing a grand Boyle Heights syn­a­gogue; one of two build­ings is now open and hosts class­es and gath­er­ings for the Lati­no com­mu­ni­ty as well as Jew­ish events.

Then there’s David Kipen, a book crit­ic and for­mer direc­tor of read­ing ini­tia­tives for the NEA, some of whose fam­i­ly once lived in Boyle Heights. Kipen runs Libros Schmi­bros, a lend­ing library-used book­store on Mari­achi Plaza. A book­store of any kind these days — but espe­cial­ly one that offers books for $1 — is clear­ly a utopi­an ven­ture … and one that would appeal to the sub­ver­sive ele­ments” who once lived in Boyle Heights.

Vis­it the offi­cial web­site for The Tin Horse here.
Jan­ice Stein­berg is author of The Tin Horse and of five mys­tery nov­els. She is also an award-win­ning arts jour­nal­ist and has pub­lished over 400 arti­cles in the San Diego Union-Tri­bune, Dance Mag­a­zine, Los Ange­les Times, and else­where. A Mil­wau­kee native, she holds a B.A. and M.A. from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia-Irvine. She lives in San Diego with her husband.