When Jewish people moved to Orange County in the 20th century, they noticed that there were no Jewish neighborhoods. There were clusters of Jewish institutions in Garden Grove and then-Costa Mesa, but synagogues and their members were scattered all over the county.
By the early days of the 21st century, the center of the Jewish community had been established in Irvine, with the Samueli Jewish Campus in one neighborhood and “Synagogue Row” nearby.
Meanwhile, a number of institutions have made their home in the Santa Ana-Tustin area, a tapestry connected to the rest of Orange County by freeways and to each other by mutual interests. Some of them have recently relocated or expanded.
They rely on each other to promote the idea of being part of a larger whole. The neighborhood has become a modern-day version of a shtetl (village), with cooperation being a hallmark of each one’s operations.
Under its present management, OC Kosher has been in a shopping center bordering Old Town Tustin for about 10 years. Needing more space for his kosher butchery, market, bakery and catering business, owner Clive Wolder added The Nosh—a full sit-down kosher restaurant with individual meals—in 2020.
Now there are four divisions: the market/butchery, the takeout operation, The Nosh (where customers will now be able to eat inside) and Envy catering, which continues to offer retail foods, catering, weekly dinner specials and South African specialties.
All of the divisions have provided options for the Jewish community during the pandemic, but Wolder thinks the best is yet to come. “We’re open for the long term,” he said. “People will start coming out, and we’re very optimistic that everything will be taking shape here.”
A sign on the door of OC Kosher directs customers to its neighbor across the street and vice versa. At the beginning of 2020, The Golden Dreidle moved from Irvine to Tustin. Julie Ghodsi, who owns the gift and Judaica store with her husband, Shahrokh, explained, “This is an anchor hub for a heimische (homey) community. We’ve always sent people to OC Kosher, and now it’s across the street.”
The Golden Dreidle, which has been in business for 30 years, was located near numerous Jewish institutions in Costa Mesa before relocating to Irvine.
“Now we have a big, bright store and the customers are excited,” Ghodsi said. After the pandemic is over, The Golden Dreidle plans to have a grand opening catered by OC Kosher and field trips with students from the nearby Irvine Hebrew Day School, as well as local congregations such as Congregation B’nai Israel, Temple Beth Sholom, the Jewish Collaborative and HaNefesh.
The Irvine Hebrew Day School is also in its third location, having moved from one room at Congregation Beth Jacob in Irvine to rented rooms at Temple Beth Sholom to a 5-acre facility nested between the 5, 55 and 22 freeways in Santa Ana.
“We chose the location and moved here in 2019 because we’re growing from all over Orange County, and we wanted to be central to everybody,” said Tammy Keces, head of the school. She added that the facility has an amphitheater, which she hopes will be the basis for a community-wide arts and cultural center.
“With a kosher kitchen, a huge auditorium and lots of ground, we hope to bring the community together in a central, safe space.”
Keces noted that the Irvine Hebrew Day School frequently partners with other institutions. The Israel Scouts (Tzofim) meet at the school on Sundays, bringing 250 kids to the campus. There are active relationships between the preschools at Temple Beth Sholom and Congregation B’nai Israel and the Irvine Hebrew Day School, and there are programs involving other local Jewish institutions in the neighborhood, such as Chabad of Tustin, Bubbe and Zayde’s and the Moishe House.
The school is home to special events from countywide organizations, including the Community Scholar Program, the America Israel Political Affairs Committee, the Solomon Society and Women’s Philanthropy. After the pandemic is over, Irvine Hebrew Day School hopes to host a community sukkah fest.
“We all hope to bring everybody together to see all of the resources in the neighborhood and raise each other’s awareness,” Keces said.
“That’s how a community is supposed to work,” Ghodsi agreed.
ILENE SCHNEIDER is a contributing editor and writer to Jlife magazine.