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In L.A.'s Boyle Heights, Latino theater group pays homage to L.A.'s Jews of old

Contemporary, gentrification debates unlock the early history, stories and memories of Boyle Heights revealing the mythical and human dimensions of L.A.’s own Lower East Side during the premiere run of an audience participatory, immersive and theatrical celebration, created and devised by Josefina López, Corky Dominguez and the Remembering Boyle Heights ensemble. 

Josefina López, producer and co-writer of the Remembering Boyle Heights said, “The show is a theatrical celebration inspired by the diverse stories, memories and experiences of Boyle Heights, an Ellis Island of the West, from the beginning of the century to right after World War II. 


The show explores this time-period during which Mexican, Jewish, Japanese, Armenian, Italian, Russian and African-American communities co-existed in Boyle Heights.” 


From the turn of the 20th century until World War II, Boyle Heights served as the hub of Southern California's Jewish community. Kosher delis, bakeries and other Jewish businesses dominated Brooklyn Avenue -- now Cesar Chavez Avenue. In the 1950s, the Eastside neighborhood's Jewish population began to decline, with many leaving for West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. ("Event unearths the deep Jewish roots of Boyle Heights" - by Hector Becerra Los Angeles Times May 2018). 
Under the direction Corky Dominguez (of Boyle Heights), who is also a co-writer of the show, the Ensemble Cast will include: Michael Berckart (of Los Angeles), Joe Luis Cedillo (of El Monte), José Alejandro Hernandez Jr. (of South Central), Yvette Karla Herrera (of Montebello), Ángel Michel Juárez (of Montebello), Megumi Kabe (of Sylmar), Marcel Licera (of Koreatown), Jackie Marriott (of Inglewood), Roberta H. Martínez (of Pasadena), Allyson Taylor (of Valley Glen) and Raymond Watanga (of Glendale).

Video transcript: 
Urban anthropologist, Shmuel Gonzales: "Boyle Heights for many people has been kind of equated to the Lower East Side of New York. A lot of people who had come from New York or the Midwest or Canada who already had established themselves a little bit came to establish their families here. I think that's what's really just remarkable is how many families that came through Boyle Heights. Seventy-five thousand Jewish families came through Boyle Heights in the first half of the 20th century. One-third of the Jewish community of Los Angeles was located here in Boyle Heights, making it the largest and most important Jewish community west of Chicago.
Breed Street Shul (photo: Henry Briceno) 
"Congregation Talmud Torah, more commonly known as the Breed Street Shul, was a keystone in the Jewish community in Boyle Heights and nearby City Terrace from the 1920s through the 1950s. Architecturally, it was among the most monumental of the few dozen synagogues that were built in the area at the time, leading locals to nickname it "The Queen of the Shuls." Los Angeles Conservancy
Allyson Taylor, actress, in role of real-estate developer: "I want to modernize this neighborhood."

As herself:  "Well (the show) talks about the fact that in Boyle Heights - all people live together. During the 1930's and '40s, during the restrictive era of housing, not only were Hispanics, blacks, and Chinese restricted from buying homes in Los Angeles, Jews were as well."


(Scene of early 20th century Jewish family, portrayed by Allyson Taylor and Micael Berckart, of son, portrayed by Jose Hernandez, Jr.) disavowing speaking Yiddish).


Jose Hernandez, Jr. actor: "The dynamics of the family with the father, the son, I  have found it very natural and very similar to my experience with my father - it's the same argument."


(Scene of 20th century Latino family of daughter (portrayed by Yvette Karla Herrera) chiding parents for not speaking English).


(Scene of daughter (portrayed by Angel Juarez, telling Japanese mother (Megumi Kabe) about boyfriend she brought home (portrayed by Raymond Watanga). Angel Juarez: "I love him! I know that he's Colored."


Angel Juarez: "I didn't realize that there was a Jewish community (ever in my Boyle Heights). I used... there is a store and it has the Jewish Star, the Star of David and I always wondered why -  why was it just there -  out of nowhere? And when I came here I realized that this used to be a Jewish community!  So it just opened my mind to a whole, a new world of Boyle Heights"


Marcel Licera, actor: "Faith and religion took place in Boyle Heights. Whether it took place in a church, in a temple or synagogue, or just in the home."


Corky Dominguez:  "My experience attending a Seder, I lived with the Jewish family for several years. I brought my mom to it to the one of the Seder dinners. And it was really interesting to me and I knew that I wanted to have something like that story of a Seder and the guests being non-Jewish and to see what that was all about.  Because I remembered that experience."


Raymond Watanga: "Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church spiritual gatherings with African-Americans for many weeks while Mama and I went to our first Passover Seder that my friend Josh Bernstein invited. It was dinner at the Bernstein's - a Jewish dinner!"

Allyson Taylor: "This is my favorite holiday it's about celebrating our collective freedom." (Recites bracha for Yom Tov.)


(Photo: UCLA's Mapping Jewish L.A.)
Allyson Taylor: "So what we're doing is celebrating the fact that with all the issues of gentrification and the encroachment of the hipsters, and the developers coming into this area, that there was a time when we all lived together and we're hoping that we can bring that kind of feeling back. And not have the kind of tensions that are or have arisen from saying this belongs to me, this belongs to me, it belongs to all of us!"

Micael Berckhart: "Everybody went to Canters. Lined with pickle barrels, kosher butchers, bakeries, and delicatessen. The aromas were of corn beef and smoked fish, the smells, the tastes, the sounds of accents of Eastern European accents in Yiddish, the whole feeling was a visceral experience."


Corky Dominguez: "We end the show with Hava Nagila at our curtain call. And that just gets the crowd going!  Right now the show is scheduled to go until Sunday, December 16th."


On the topic of Communist activism still in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, however, during the summer of 2018, Latino leftists roused hostile antagonism towards this Israeli-American owned, kosher cafe which the family of Israeli-American, Asher Shalom, opened in Boyle Heights- on the excuse that he tweeted support for President Trump's policies on immigrants (anti-Semitic Islamist and Hispanic) jumping the legal process. Dave Lopez of KCBS/KCAL TV news reports.

 

As reported in Boyle Heights Beat:
Nancy Meza, a volunteer organizer with Defend Boyle Heights, said she wanted community members to be informed of the business owner’s apparent political views. “I want folks who drive by here on Boyle and Whittier every day and see Asher Caffè and Asher Fabrics to know that these are not businesses that are going to benefit our community,” says Meza. “We hope to educate the public and cause a little disruption to show Asher Fabrics and Asher Caffè that they’re not welcome here in Boyle Heights.” 
The protest began at 7:00 in the afternoon with around 10 protesters who created posters and signs outside of the restaurant. Some police officers and security guards were already stationed outside the business. More people came as the protest progressed. 
Protesters carried signs with messages ranging from “Racism not kosher in Boyle Heights” to "Gentrification not welcome,” while loudly chanting to drivers passing by and those who arrived for the shop’s grand opening. Protesters chanted “Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here” and shouted “Gentries get the f*ck out.”  

Asher Caffe had to hold a second opening event, due to the disruptions, which involved the left-wing Jewish Voice for Peace. It appears as if leftist-activists in Boyle Heights prefer Jews that spend their money as tourists to the museums, theater, and tours, but not as property developers, investors in businesses - or as objectors to illegal immigration or the anti-Semitic strain within Democratic Socialists

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