A trip back to the Jewish 1800s

Hundreds of people, many wearing period clothing, stepped back into the 19th century at “Jewish Time Travel: An 1800s Saturday Night” at San Jose’s History Park, a 14-acre site that includes historic businesses, landmark buildings and an old-fashioned ice cream parlor.

“Marshal” Steve Harris of NorCal Shomrim, a group of Jewish law enforcement officials, with (from left) Ginny Baird, event co-chair Barb Green and Deborah Estreicher photo/arye green

The Nov. 14 event began at dusk with Havdallah underneath a 115-foot replica of downtown San Jose’s 1881 electric light tower, as the South Bay Jewish community took over the park and filled it with activities that reflected the time period in general and Jewish life and culture in particular.

The event included exhibits and films, demonstrations of how kippot and tallits were made 150 years ago, and Jewish and California folk dancing in the square. Other attractions for the mixed-age crowd included blacksmith demonstrations, vintage fire engines and a teen saloon with a soda bar.

“We wanted to make the Jewish community aware that Jews have a long and integrated history in the Santa Clara Valley,” said Rabbi Leslie Alexander of Congregation Beth David in Saratoga, which created and hosted the event along with History San Jose. A number of local Jewish organizations were co-sponsors.

Leslie noted that although 10,000 Jews lived in California in the late 1800s, only about 50 lived in San Jose. Approximately 600 people from the area attended the time travel event, according to organizers.

The Salowe family and friend Keira photo/susan gavens

The night included 12 songs by the “Golda Rush” singers, whose repertoire included the Yiddish classic “Oyfn Pripetshik” and “Amazing Grace” in Yiddish, as well as old-time fare such as “My Old Kentucky Home.”

“My favorite part of the night was the square dancing,” said Arielle Smith, 15, of San Jose. “It was so much fun. All the BBYO [and United Synagogue Youth] kids were dancing for over an hour.”

Naomi Salowe of Los Gatos attended the event with her husband, Jeff, and their children. “We never knew [History Park] existed,” she said. “It was really nice to see so many people dressed up in 1800s attire and learning about local Jewish history. My fourth-grader loved reading the schoolhouse rules … and panning for gold.” — j. staff