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Jewish HistoryContemporary ArtFilm & VideoPhotography

California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present

Nov 17, 2011–Apr 28, 2013

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.

about the exhibition

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, from film to photographs, and an interactive map.

gallery photos

The Contemporary Jewish Museum 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.

The decision to live in the Bay Area is personal and encompasses a wide range of experiences and motivations—some have moved here because of love, others to attend university, to seek a new job, to escape persecution, to establish new rituals, or just to dream a little.

In this specially commissioned documentary, filmmaker Pam Rorke Levy has interviewed a wide range of individuals who call the Bay Area home and identify with some way with being Jewish. The result is an engaging and provocative assemblage of personal narratives, all offering equally powerful voices that represent the many facets of the Jewish community.

As part of The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s exhibition, California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present, Rorke Levy’s Becoming Home allows you to listen to these individual stories while reflecting on your own experiences, traditions, landmarks, food, and rituals that can help you to express your identity and make you feel part of a community.

Becoming Home—FILM Credits

Directed by: Pam Rorke Levy
Edited by: Norm Levy
Associate Producer: Beryl Levy

Graphics: Kia Simon
Director of Photography: Eli Adler
Audio Sweetening & Mix: Lercy Clark

site reading

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.


Installation view: California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present. On view November 17, 2011–April 28, 2013 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. Photo by JKA Photography.

Shabbat taco trucks to Torah study on Mt. Tam, Menorah candle lightings in Union Square to Star of David surfboards. How do you represent being Jewish in the Bay Area? 

The Bay Area Jewish community was invited to submit their own photographs that illustrate what it means to be Jewish in all its diversity and complexity. All photos submitted were displayed in the gallery as well as online through The Museum’s website and dedicated flickr page. 

Contribute your family and personal histories, celebrate your most important moments, and take pride in your cultural heritage by adding your photos to The CJM’s flickr group,

interactive map

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. 

The Bay Area is home to hundreds of organizations that provide essential resources for health and well being, offer educational opportunities, advocate on key community issues, support Israel and Jews around the world, present cultural explorations, and serve as centers for Jewish learning. The information used to create this map has been collected through direct correspondence with the organizations and/or through Resource: A Guide to Jewish Life in the Bay Area, published annually by The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California.

Leading support

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.

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


Paule Anglim
Mrs. Roger Bacon 
Helen and Joseph Bernstein
Mr. and Mrs. Roger Boas
Robin Reiner and Fred Isaac from the Frederick J. Isaac Philanthropic Fund—of the Jewish Community Foundation of the East Bay
Mr. and Mrs. David Corman
Mr. Earl Diskin
Mr. Nathan Dwiri
Mrs. Lenci Farkas
Mr. and Mrs. Brian Fischer
Mr. and Mrs. Richard Freedland 
Ms. Gladys R. Garabedian
Mr. and Mrs. Phillip C. Gardner
Mr. and Mrs. David Goldin
Mr. Edward Goodstein and Ms. Francesca Eastman
The Brad and Emeri Handler Foundation, an advised fund of Silicon Valley Community Foundation
Dr. Valerie and Dr. Thierry Jahan 
Mr. and Mrs. Gary L. Katz 
Ms. Yvonne Koshland 
Mr. Marvin Krein 
Ms. Anne Kroeger

Dr. and Mrs. Harold L. Kulman
Mr. and Mrs. Ammon Landon 
Ms. Barbara S. Langerman
Mr. Randall E. Laroche and Mr. David G. Laudon
Ms. Marianne L. Laws 
Dr. Leonard Levine and Ms. Beryl Levine
Dr. and Mrs. Jay A. Levy 
Ms. Marie Lilly and Mr. Robert Henriquez
Ms. Fe Masamayor and Mr. Barry Cusick 
Mr. Richard A. Mead 
Dr. Isadore Mendel 
Mr. and Mrs. Jacob B. Michaelsen
Ms. Deborah Miller and Dr. John J. Barnes
Mr. Gary Minsky 
Ms. Leslie Paine and Mr. Herb Holman
Ms. Beverly Posner 
Ms. Frances Rouda and Mr. William Isackson
Mr. Michael Tilson-Thomas and Mr. Joshua Robison
Mr. and Mrs. Michael Salzman
Mr. Boris Shekhter 
Mr. and Mrs. Martin H. Shore
Ms. Charlotte Siegel 
Mr. and Mrs. Ivor J. Silver 
Mr. and Mrs. Barclay Simpson
D. and Mrs. Stephen Weinstein
Dr. and Mrs. Raymond L. Weisberg 
Yom Kippur Tzedaka

Image Credit

Gallery photos: Installation views of California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present, on view November 17, 2011–April 28, 2013 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. Photos by JKA Photography.