Home June 2022 The Orange County Jewish Historical Society

The Orange County Jewish Historical Society

Dalia Taft, archivist of the OCJHS, receiving the donated archives of
Temple Beth Emet from Susan Baum, Temple President, and Jack Zakowski, Director of Strategic Planning.

In the late ‘90s, when the JCC, Federation, Tarbut v’Torah (TVT) and a host of other Jewish organizations were located on Baker Street in Costa Mesa, Polly Sloan, founder of Orange County’s first JCC in Laguna, discovered a pile of boxes lying around outside one of the offices. Inquiring as to what they contained, she was told it was a bunch of old papers from years past that nobody knew what to do with, so they were going to be tossed. In a moment of insight, she realized they might be important and placed them in the back of her car. It wasn’t until she arrived home and went through the contents that she knew she had done the right thing; the boxes contained almost 40 years’ worth of records relating to Orange County’s Jewish history. Still not quite sure of how to handle the materials, she drove around with them in her trunk for three months before hitting upon the idea of starting a Jewish historical society in Orange County. She contacted both Federation and the JCC, who agreed to jointly support the new venture. And so, in 1999, Polly and a small board of directors set up shop, storing the boxes and any other items they could find at individual homes and meeting regularly at Baker Street. With seed money from the Fainbarg family and Isidore Myersz”l, the Orange County Jewish Historical Society was official.
  Historical Society members immediately got to work, interviewing a number of OC Jewish pioneers and recording and transcribing their stories. They also created a much anticipated exhibit at Temple Beth El of South Orange County showcasing photographs, newspaper articles, and other items related to the Jewish history of the county, especially the fact that Jewish residents were vital to the establishment and growth of major Orange County cities including Anaheim, Santa Ana, San Juan Capistrano, Orange and Fullerton. By 2007 the Society realized it needed an archivist to organize and maintain the archives, and in October of that year Dalia Taft was hired. Office and storage space were supplied by the JCC—the Historical Society had a home! Now the Society could move beyond just collecting materials and begin its true mission: to discover and preserve the history of the Jewish community in Orange County, and to promote public awareness of Jewish contributions to the Orange County way of life.
  And that’s exactly what it did. In 2008 Ms. Taft began writing a monthly column on the topic of OC’s Jewish history for OC Jewish Life (now JLife) highlighting images from the archives; to date 166 articles have been published. In 2009, expanding on the audiotape interviews done earlier, the Society partnered with Josh Friedman, a musician and media specialist, to create the OCJHS Oral History Program, videotaping and digitizing over 50 Jewish individuals and couples whose stories are an integral part of Orange County history. In 2010 the Society and Mr. Friedman continued their partnership by producing the documentary California Orange Jews—the Story of the Jews of Orange County, which premiered at the historic Yost Theater in downtown Santa Ana, once the heart of Jewish OC. Written and directed by Ms. Taft and produced by Josh Friedman Productions, it narrates OC’s Jewish history from 1857-2010. It was shown in numerous Jewish film festivals and today can be viewed on the Society’s website. In 2012, Ms. Taft worked with Western States Jewish History, a historical organization located at UCLA, to publish Jewish Pioneers of Orange County – The Jewish Community of Orange County, California from the 1850s-1970s. The book is currently in numerous research libraries and private collections. And most recently, UCI created an exhibit at Langson Library called “Snapshots,” highlighting minority communities in Orange County during the 1940s; the OC Jewish Historical Society was their primary source for research and images about the Jewish population.
  Now in its 23rd year, the Orange County Jewish Historical Society looks forward to many more years of preserving and celebrating Jewish Orange County. To learn more, please contact Dalia Taft at daliat@jccoc.org or at (949) 435-3400, ext. 360. You can also visit www.jewishoc.org/history.
  The Orange County Jewish Historical Society is a program of the Merage Jewish Community Center and is funded by the Jewish Community Foundation Orange County. 

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