Oy vinyl!: Jewish record store pops up for a month in Mission District

For the iTunes generation, Tikva Records’ pop-up Jewish record store in San Francisco probably looks like something out of the stone age.

For those born during the stone age, the record store is a comforting throwback to the days of vinyl, glorious vinyl.

Open from Dec. 1 through Dec. 28 in a Mission District storefront, the pop-up resembles a classic 1950s record store: shelves lined with 12-inch LPs and knick-knacks from the era when music turned at 33 rpm.

“Vinyl has come back in,” says San Francisco’s David Katznelson, co-founder of the all-volunteer nonprofit Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation. “This is definitely the first pop-up Jewish record store.”

The Idelsohn Society dreamed up the idea for the store, and the Tikva name honors the defunct Tikva Records, a Jewish music label that ran from 1950 to 1973. Over those years, Tikva released music that spanned the Jewish universe, from solemn cantorial solos to swinging jazz with a Yiddish twist.

Unlike other labels, which created stereotypical novelty songs for and about Jews, Tikva took Jewish music seriously.

Idelsohn recently released “Songs for the Jewish-American Jet Set,” a compilation CD featuring tracks culled from the Tikva catalog. With artists such as Leo Fuchs, Molly Picon, Cantor Moishe Oysher and klezmer clarinetist Dave Tarras, the CD showcases some of the most iconic Yiddish, Israeli and kitschy Jewish-American music from the label.

The CD is available online, and it also will be on sale at the pop-up store, though it may be the only compact disc on racks dominated by vinyl — including Tikva Records original releases.

“We’re trying to recreate, in the Mission, an old Jewish neighborhood — the sense of community that record stores had in the ’50s,” Katznelson says. “All the pieces are from the era to give it an old-school feel.”

To do that, Idelsohn recruited the help of a Florida-based used record wholesaler, which sent box after box of Jewish albums.

The pop-up store will feature more than just merchandise. Nearly every day, a special guest musician, speaker or storyteller will be on hand, which organizers hope will draw good crowds.

The guest lists includes Los Lobos member Steve Berlin, members of the pop-psychedelic band Dengue Fever and the celebrated Burton Sisters, who at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8 will be giving just their second live performance in the last five decades. Admission for all shows is free, but tickets and space are limited.

On Dec. 19, the 49th Street All-Stars will perform two shows, at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Made up of jam-band players from different groups, the All-Stars will perform songs honoring songwriters that recorded at the famous Brill Building in New York City.

Most of those songwriters — such as Neil Sedaka, Carole King, and the team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller — were Jewish. Brill Building songs such as “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place, “On Broadway” and “On the Roof” defined pop music for generations.

San Francisco guitarist-composer Dan Lebowitz helped organize the All-Stars. He thinks saluting the geniuses of the Brill Building is a good way to celebrate Jewish music. “At that time, place and circumstance, everything converged in that building,” Lebowitz says.

Lebowitz loves the pop-up record store concept, having spent countless days in his own youth hanging out at Tower Records in Campbell.

“I never like to say it was better back then,” he says. “There are obvious benefits to the ways things are now, but there were things unique to the time of record stores that are lost. It’s so cool to have this pop-up because you can have that experience.”

Katznelson hopes visitors to the temporary store will come away impressed with the impact Tikva Records had on the post-War Jewish-American experience.

“Tikva provided a portal of entry for these artists, and for the community a showcase to the wonderful Jewish music that was coming out in all forms,” he says. “The Jewish side, the poetic side, jazzy, Catskills, Yiddish theater: Tikva was the king of them.”

Tikva Records pop-up store is open Dec. 1 to 28 at 3191 Mission St., S.F. Times vary, closed Mondays. All events free, limited tickets. www.idelsohnsociety.com

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.