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

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House of Love and Prayer_Coopersmith Aryae Coopersmith, co-founder of House of Love and Prayer, in the backyard of his second house, San Francisco, 1971 © Photo: Moshe Yitzchak Kussoy
California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present

736 Mission Street
(between 3rd and 4th st.)
San Francisco, CA 94103
November 17th, 2011 - April 28th, 2013
Opening: November 17th, 2011 1:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Daily 11 AM–5 PM, Thursday 11AM–8 PM, Closed Wednesday
film, documentary, installation


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 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 will show 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 21st century.

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

Documentary Film

The CJM has 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

Commissioned by the CJM, artist and cultural historian Rachel Schreiber has created a new body of work that responds to the spirit of California Dreaming — a series of visually compelling photographs with accompanying texts that illuminate the “remarkable stories in the footnotes of Bay Area Jewish history.” Schreiber is director of Humanities and Sciences at California College of the Arts (CCA) and is a media artist, writer, and cultural historian. Her writings have been widely published, and her visual work in video, digital media, and photography has been exhibited internationally.

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


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

California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area From the Gold Rush to the Present has been organized by the Contemporary Jewish Museum with major support from the LEAD SUPPORTER Institute of Museum and Library Services, PRESENTING PARTNERS Gaia Fund, and Osterweis Capital Management. Additional generous support has been provided by the SUPPORTING SPONSER Estate of Sidney and Vivian Konigsberg, Jim Joseph Foundation, ADDITIONAL GENEROUS SUPPORT PROVIDED BY Alison Gelb Pincus and Mark Pincus, Dana Corvin and Harris Weinberg, and Robin Reiner and Fred Isaac from the Frederick J. Isaac Philanthropic Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of the East Bay.

The Koret and Taube Foundations are the lead supporters of the 2011/12 exhibition season.

KoretTaubeimlsGaia Fundosterweis capitalJim Joseph Foundation