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CosmopolitansA Social and Cultural History of the Jews of the San Francisco Bay Area$
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Fred Rosenbaum

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780520259133

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520259133.001.0001

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Eden on the Pacific: The Challenges to Judaism at the Turn of the Century

Eden on the Pacific: The Challenges to Judaism at the Turn of the Century

(p.101) Four Eden on the Pacific: The Challenges to Judaism at the Turn of the Century

Fred Rosenbaum

University of California Press

Judaism was of primary importance only for a few cultural luminaries in the Bay Area's second generation of Jews. To be sure, only a handful converted to Christianity, including Alice Toklas and actor David Warfield, who converted long after they left San Francisco. A welter of belief systems competed with traditional religion: ethical culture, spiritualism, theosophy, universalism, astrology, fortune-telling, and, above all, Christian Science. In this New Age (the term was already in use), California spawned numerous cults such as the fervent group surrounding naturalist John Muir, which exalted nature and worshipped the mountains. Local Jews were drawn to these alternative creeds, but many more subscribed to no faith at all. Whether or not they married outside the faith, many women in the second generation turned away from Judaism. A window into synagogue life is opened by the minute books of bellwether Sherith Israel, the oldest congregation in the city (along with Emanu-El, founded in April 1851). As they had during pioneer times, fraternal and charitable institutions fared better than the synagogues in the new century.

Keywords:   Jews, San Francisco, Judaism, religion, Christian Science, New Age, cults, women, synagogues, charitable institutions

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