A film celebrating the Jewish history of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles
In 1996 director Ellie Kahn premiered a wonderful documentary called “Meet Me at Brooklyn and Soto,” about the old Jewish community of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles. It is still one of the most well-known and most loved documentaries about the history of the neighborhood.
This documentary was released at a unique turning point in history. As a community which once was a vibrant home and business district for tens of thousands of Jews, dwindled down to only a handful of Jewish people remaining. It also came at a unique time when good old Brooklyn Ave was giving way to Cesar E. Chavez Ave, bearing witness to the transition of the area into a noteworthy Spanish-speaking neighborhood.
This documentary was created for the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California, the parent organization for the Breed Street Shul Project. Which had begun to restore the grand and beloved synagogue just a few years before.
This film weaves in so many gorgeous old pictures as it tells the story of the neighborhood. Showing glimpses of some of these notable sites as they once looked in the old days. It gives us a good view into the social aspects of the neighborhood. And presents us with wonderful testimony of an active community, rich in Yiddish culture and leftist organizing, as recounted by former residents.
What I love so much about this film is the personal stories from people who grew up in the area. I think it is one of the most heart-warming documentaries you will find.
Back in 1996 when the film was first released, it was shown on PBS. The Los Angeles Times reported it as the center piece of a 90-minute KCET special with Huell Howser in October of that year. The special featured a brief chat with Kahn and “ends with his own walking tour of a vastly different Boyle Heights than the one memorialized by her.” (Los Angeles Times)
This documentary by Kahn was released on VHS, and became an instant favorite in the area. Being passed down from person to person in the neighborhood, until the tape has worn out. I have even shown worn out copies of it a few times at back-yard screenings in the neighborhood.
It has never been released before in DVD to my knowledge. So people have been anxious to see this film for many years now.
Recently I was amazed to see that some Boyle Heights residents were sharing a digitized copy of this film on social media, uploaded into several parts due to it’s length. Though this might not be an authorized copy, I think that given the fact that after 20-years this has not been re-released in a digital format, we can turn a blind eye in charity!
- The Early History of Boyle Heights
- And the rise of the Jewish community until the 1920s
- The establishment of the Jewish communal institutions
- The establishment of the Jewish communal institutions (cont.)
- The 1930s and the Great Depression, Jewish social responses
- The Synagogues of the Eastside, and the Breed Street Shul
- The intrusion of the Hebrew Christian Synagogue
- The Jewish Community Centers
- The secular Yiddishist cultural centers
- The Yiddishist community culture of the Eastside
- The Yiddish socialists and labor organizing
- The Jewish businesses of Boyle Heights
- The Jewish businesses of Boyle Heights (cont.)
- The Jewish underworld, gangsters, bootlegging
- The Jewish underworld, gangsters, bootlegging (cont.)
- The social life of the neighborhood
- The social clubs and gangs
- The social clubs and gangs (cont.)
- The multiculturalism of the neighborhood
- The rise of Nazism and World War II
- The exodus from Boyle Heights
- The transition of the neighborhood
- The need for the restoration of the Breed Street Shul
- The living legacy of Jewish Boyle Heights during the 1990s
- Parting words from former residents
Social topic for further discussion:
It is not infrequent that Latino residents of Boyle Heights have related to me that they have sometimes felt that historians of other ethnicities have sometimes been overly nostalgic and have tended to avoid the harsher realities of life here. And sidesteps the coarse racial issues which were historically present and which still linger in Boyle Heights.
The above cited Los Angeles Times article by Howard Rosenberg noted: “Kahn says that a couple of former residents she contacted worried about the film’s nostalgia softening reality. But the ethnically mixed Boyle Heights depicted here is not one of constant harmony, even though we do hear stories of connections made between diverse cultures.”