California Dreaming

Jewish Life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present

On view November 17, 2011–April 28, 2013

California Dreamin    






Aryae Coopersmith, co-founder of House of Love and Prayer, in the backyard of his second house, San Francisco, 1971. Photo: Moshe Yitzchak Kusso


Those who visit or live in the Bay Area often wonder at the spirit of innovation and adventure that moves the local Jewish community. From the creation of new kinds of synagogues and Jewish ritual; innovative social, cultural, and ecological institutions; and technological tools to improve both business and the health of communities, local Jewish life provides a new approach to an ancient people, and a model of collaboration with other ethnic and religious groups.

Despite the enormous technological and cultural changes between the Gold Rush and today, one can imagine that the founders of San Francisco would appreciate the spirit of contemporary Jewish culture. California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present reveals how the quality of “pioneering” was and still is the driving force of Bay Area Jewish life. Through photographs, documents, newspapers, videos, and ephemera, the exhibition shows how the Bay Area Jewish community, despite its stunning diversity and significant historical changes, still operates according to its unwritten founding principles: a pioneering spirit that gave Jews the confidence to create their own destiny; a complex balance of invention/re-invention of institutions and rituals; a lack of physical, social, and economic ghettoization which led to a confident group of citizens; and inspired by their experience in the Bay Area, a yearning for greater justice for Jews and others, inspired by their California experience, and reflecting a sense of optimism that a newer and fairer society could be built.

Just as the founders of San Francisco Jewish life questioned the rules of community and tradition as they created their own robust community life, California Dreaming is structured around five questions that investigate key aspects of the community’s character, and that are designed to draw visitors into the discussion of what constitutes a Jewish community in the twenty-first century.

California Dreaming also features several installations that introduce the voice of the contemporary Jewish community including the following:

Documentary Film

The Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) commissioned award-winning filmmaker, Pam Rorke Levy, to create a portrait of the local Jewish community as told through personal narratives from a variety of perspectives. From well-known community members Frances Dinkelspiel and Josh Kornbluth, to lesser-known figures, each participant offers an equally powerful voice that represents the many facets of the community, such as Holocaust survivors and Russian émigrés, a transplanted NYC Rabbi, teenagers, and cultural Jews.

Artist Commission

The CJM commissioned Bay Area artist and historian Rachel Schreiber to create a new work in conversation with the various stories told in California Dreaming. The result is Site Reading, which builds on Schreiber’s longstanding commitment to labor history and activism. In this project, Schreiber retells the stories of individuals whose lives exist on the periphery of history, pairing each narrative with a contemporary photograph marking the location where the story occurred. Schreiber offers these interventions as a way to celebrate the accomplishments of those who have shaped the Bay Area as a place of progressive attitudes and social change.

Interactive Mapping Project

To demonstrate the incredible diversity of Jewish life today, the exhibition features an interactive map that documents the growth and movement of the institutions and organizations that support Jewish life in the Bay Area. Included are all synagogues, JCCs, social service agencies, educational institutions, and more.

Community Photo Wall

The Bay Area Jewish community is invited to submit their own photographs that illustrate what it means to be Jewish in all its diversity and complexity. All photos submitted will be on display in the gallery as well as online through the Museum’s website and dedicated flickr page. Visitors are invited to participate by uploading their images to


California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area From the Gold Rush to the Present was organized by the Contemporary Jewish Museum with leading support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Jim Joseph Foundation. Presenting partners include the Gaia Fund and Osterweis Capital Management. Major support comes from the Estate of Sidney and Vivian Konigsberg. Supporting sponsors include Levi Strauss & Co., The Donald and Carole Chaiken Foundation, Catherine and James Koshland, and Alison Gelb Pincus and Mark Pincus. Additional generous support comes from Dana Corvin and Harris Weinberg, Robin Reiner and Fred Isaac from the Frederick J. Isaac Philanthropic Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of the East Bay, Randall E. Laroche and David G. Laudon, Ruth and Don Seiler, and  Barclay and Sharon Simpson.

imls Jim Joseph Foundation
Gaia Fundosterweis capital 

The Koret and Taube Foundations are the lead supporters of the 2012/13 exhibition season.


736 Mission Street (btwn. 3rd and 4th Streets), San Francisco, CA 94103 | Hours: Daily 11am–5pm, Thursdays 11am–8pm, Closed Wednesdays | 415.655.7800 |