Fillmore exhibit is three years in the making

Related story: Jews of the Fillmore : Exhibit honors a once-thriving S.F. Jewish neighborhood


The idea for the “Jews of the Fillmore” exhibit was born in 2006 when Adam Hirschfelder, a program officer at the Koret Foundation, heard that the Fillmore District was once a Jewish neighborhood.

“I had no clue about the history, but I was fascinated,” he said.

Hirschfelder called Fred Rosenbaum, a historian and expert on San Francisco Jewish history, who told him in great detail about how vibrant and thriving Jewish life once had been in that neighborhood.

Koret had already given a seed grant to the Jazz Heritage Center, a cultural institution on Fillmore Street that aims to preserve and promote the neighborhood and its jazz history.

Hirschfelder wondered: Why not provide a second grant to use the gallery space for an exhibit that chronicles the Fillmore’s Jewish history?

“I knew it would be powerful to have it [on display] where the history existed,” Hirschfelder said. “Nearly 1,000 people a day walk the Fillmore corridor, making the exhibit a great way to educate and promote the importance of Jewish history.”

Peter Fitzsimmons, director of the Jazz Heritage Center, was thrilled by the proposal.

“We want to embrace the history of the Fillmore, and a very vital piece of that is the Russian and Eastern European Jews who settled here at the turn of the century after the earthquake,” Fitzsimmons said. “The site of the Jazz Heritage Center was originally a Jewish kosher deli. There are all kinds of amazing treasures of Jewish history throughout this area of town.”

Koret recruited the Judah L. Magnes Museum and Lehrhaus Judaica to put together the exhibit. Lehrhaus founder Rosenbaum, who had recently culled the Magnes archives to research Bay Area Jewish history, was eager to curate the exhibit.

Working with the Magnes Museum’s archivist, Lara Michels, and with director emertitus, Seymour Fromer, the three put together the exhibit.

The exhibit is composed of 12 panels, each containing photographs and stories that detail one aspect of Jewish life in the Fillmore, such as temple, tradition, education, culture, food, protest, fun, celebrity and transitions.

“This exhibit enlivens the museum’s archives,” said James Leventhal, communications director at the Magnes. “We’re taking the Magnes to the people. It animates what we do.”

In addition to the free exhibit, the Magnes created a cell phone walking tour of the neighborhood. Anyone can call (415) 226-2583 and Michels, the archivist, takes visitors on a prerecorded walking tour via their cell phones, which is now available to the public.

The exhibit will open to the public July 19 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Jazz Heritage Center, 1330 Fillmore St. The event, which includes a performance by Grammy-nominated guitarist John Schott, is free and open to

the public, but advance registration is required at

On Thursday, July 16, the S.F.-based Jewish Community ederation’s “Get Fed” program is sponsoring a pre-opening night event. It begins at 7 p.m. with a wine and cheese reception, and at 8 p.m., Schott will perform a score commissioned specially for the exhibit. There will also be screenings of the PBS documentary “The Fillmore.” Tickets are $25 and can be obtained at

“Growing up in the Fillmore is something that stays with you for all of your life,” said Arthur Becker, 97, who grew up on Turk Street. “And the stories are passed onto our children. It left a big impression, a big impression on all of us.”

“Jews of the Fillmore” runs July 19 through Oct. 20 at the Jazz Heritage Center, 1330 Fillmore St., San Francisco. The exhibit is located in the Koret Heritage Lobby, which is open daily, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. For more information: (510) 549-6950.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.