In a summer of rising airfares and gas prices, you need to take a trip that is close by, low cost, in town and that will fill you with Jewish stories.
The best place to do that? Fairfax Avenue.
That's right, become a Jewish cultural tourist, not in New York, Venice or Seville, but right here in Los Angeles. The area's sidewalks, walls and parks remain populated with monuments, plaques, murals and statues of Jewish cultural and spiritual significance.
Take a local J-cation!
People bemoan the passing of Jewish life on Fairfax -- and, certainly, some of what was here is gone. But what remains is a truly cosmopolitan representation of Jewish life from all over the world: Iraq, Iran, Russia, Yemen, Germany and Israel. It's still a place to buy a set of Talmud or tefillin, but now you can also buy a samovar, finjan, or hipster Jewish T-shirt or hat. Hey, there are still four places in a two-block area where you can buy a black-and-white cookie. That's not bad.
You can usually find metered parking on Fairfax near the high school (south of Melrose Avenue). On Sundays, parking there is tight due to the Sunday flea market, so you might want to park near Pan Pacific Park and begin there. On Shabbat many of the points of interest will be closed.
Give yourself about two hours to make the loop. Think about lunch. There are plenty of places to either dine along the way or pick up a nosh for a picnic at the park.
1. National Council of Jewish Women Building, 543 N. Fairfax Ave.
On the northern wall (corner of Clinton Street and Fairfax Avenue) in a vivid, almost folk-art style, is a mural by artist Daryl E. Wells that depicts women of human and civil rights, justice and courage. Many of them are Jewish. There's activist Betty, and the poet ("Eli, Eli") and World War II rescuer Hannah Senesh. Notice the challah and candlesticks in the middle. That's playwright Lillian Hellman ("The Little Foxes") holding the Kiddush cup. L'chaim!
2. Sami-Makolet, 513 N. Fairfax
Fellow talmidim (students), at Sami-Makolet (Sami's market) we can not only find our favorite Israeli foods, but practice our Ivrit (Hebrew) as well. Many of the package labels are in Hebrew. When it's time to check out with your Hashahar chocolate spread (don't forget the challah), above the checkout is a Hebrew sign for "cashier."
3. Solomon's Book Store, 447 N. Fairfax
This store has supplied generations with haftarah booklets and seder plates. But the reason to go is for the biggest wall of art about rabbis in Los Angeles. On the southern wall is an eclectic collection of paintings and prints of rabbis and scholars done in every style on every material, from canvas to velvet. Stern, blissful, angelic, they kind of stare back.
4. Canter's Delicatessen, 419 N. Fairfax
A slice of L.A. Jewish history on rye. Everyone seems to know about Canter's -- how it followed L.A.'s Jewish migration westward, settling in on Fairfax, Kibbitz Room and all. Stop in for a sandwich, knish or blintz. Need a suggestion? Just ask -- the waitresses know all. Be sure to go upstairs and view the framed, headlined stories. Check out the 1955 menu -- pastrami and hot corned beef, 75 cents.
5. Canter's Parking Lot, Fairfax Community Mural (one storefront south)
On a parking lot wall, a mural painted from historic photos is a megillah of L.A. Jewish history. Created by Art Mortimer, with artists Stephen Raul Anaya, Peri Fleischman, coordinating artist Sandra B. Moss and a crew of adults and teens, it's a seven-panel panorama. Highlights include, from left, Congregation B'nai B'rith, circa 1862, which later moved and became Wilshire Boulevard Temple. A Victorian house that in 1902 opened as the Hebrew Benevolent Society, a hospital to treat tuberculosis, which eventually became Cedars-Sinai. The film biz and its Jewish beginnings are captured by an image of Al Jolson in the "Jazz Singer," and that man firing a fastball -- that's dandy Sandy Koufax. Holding the Torah is Laura Geller, third woman ordained as a Reform rabbi in America (now senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills).
Directions to the next destination, the L.A. Holocaust Monument:
Walk south on Fairfax to Beverly Boulevard. Cross Beverly, then cross Fairfax (by turning left, heading east). You are now at the corner of CBS Studios. If it's a weekday, you might see audience members for "The Price Is Right." Continue walking east, past the light at Grove Drive, the Post Office, and then turn right, into the parking lot for Pan Pacific Park. Walk to the back of the lot, bearing to the right. Follow the concrete path down. Directly on the right is the monument's entrance.
6. Los Angeles Holocaust Monument,Pan Pacific Park
Located in the heart of the Los Angeles Holocaust survivor community, overlooking a flood-control basin, stands a circular grouping of black stone pillars, evoking in its six-pointed form a Mogen David and the Six Million. Inscribed on the pillars are key Holocaust dates, beginning with Nazification of Germany in 1933 and concluding with liberation in 1945. Circumscribing the pillars is a ring with nations and the corresponding numbers of Jews who perished. A new Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust is slated to be built adjacent to this site.
Directions to Haym Salomon Statue:
From the entrance of the monument, take the curving concrete path down through the center of the park. Continue past the covered bench and table areas, bearing left and up the hill. Continue bearing left, following the path uphill and around to the southeast corner of the park.
7. Haym Salomon, corner of Third and Gardner streets
Gazing eastward, almost as a greeter and guardian of the Fairfax area, sits the financier of the American Revolution -- Haym Salomon. As you will gather from the plaque at its base, this statue of Haym has been around, moving westward along with L.A.'s Jews. The irony here is that during the Revolutionary War, Lord Thomas Fairfax, after whom Fairfax High and the area are named, had his lands confiscated.
Directions back to Beverly Boulevard:
From the statue, turn left and proceed north on Gardner Street. Walk up this tree-lined street and you'll see mostly Spanish Revival homes. About half way to Beverly, you will see on your left the Fairfax branch of the Los Angeles Public Library (161 S. Gardner). Inside are bathrooms, water, air-conditioning and a good stock of Jewish-related titles, including the Jerusalem Post. Continuing north on Gardner, proceed until Beverly, where you will cross at the light. Turn left. Walk west, back to Fairfax, passing on your right Etz Jacob, a longtime area Orthodox congregation. Continue until you reach the corner of Beverly and Fairfax.
8. Raoul Wallenberg
Angelenos drive by Raoul every day thinking, "Who is this guy?" Businessman? Robot? Just another winged dude from L.A.? This modern stainless steel and bronze sculpture by Artist Franco Assetto, with Wallenberg's arm outstretched, serves as a reminder that there were some who reached out and rescued. The accompanying plaque tells the story of how during World War II this Swedish diplomat saved thousands of Hungarian Jews and then was captured and "disappeared" by the Red Army.
Continue walking on the east side of Fairfax, north past the Freda Mohr Senior Center, a Jewish Social Service agency. You will begin to see some of the new Fairfax -- skateboard and shirt boutiques that have opened in the last five years.
9. Reserve, 410 N. Fairfax
Reserve, a boutique that opened with an inaugural Star of David hat, carries shirts and hats of interest to hipsters and skateboarders. They are also creating a bit of local pride by creating a full line of shirts and hats with "Fairfax" either printed or embroidered on them.
10. Family, 436 N. Fairfax
One of this new bookstore's owners, David Kramer, described the store's back wall photomural as a "group of Jewish vigilantes defending against a pogrom." The historic photo of capped and mustachioed men is not your parent's Fairfax -- the men are seated or standing, each carrying a very unconcealed weapon: rifle, pistol or saber. One warningly waves a Yiddish flag. It's a new generation's blow up, enlarged for re-examination.
Continue walking north, past the Kosher News newsstand, past Western Kosher and Atara's Hebrew Book and Gift Center (great for Purim hats). Walk until you reach Fairfax High School, on your right.
11. Fairfax High School
Opened in 1924, Fairfax High was built on land that was originally low and swampy. Demographically, in the late '50s up until the early '70s, it was the Jewish high school of Los Angeles. Now it's culturally and ethnically diverse, with some Jewish enrollment. Famous Jewish alumni include musician Herb Alpert, songwriter Jerry Lieber (Lieber & Stoller), writer and TV producer Larry Gelbart, major league baseball players Norm and Larry Sherry, and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
The tour ends here -- right where the Fairfax story began.
Edmon J. Rodman, as part of the Nextbook Jewish Geography Festival at UCLA, built a pop-up shtetl.