Western Jewish Americana

In 1967, the Judah L. Magnes Museum established its Western Jewish History Center, which was the first regional Jewish history center in the U.S., and remains the largest archive of this kind in the Western United States. The holdings of the Western Jewish History Center evolved into the Western Jewish Americana Archives, which center on the history of Jewish immigration and community engagement in the San Francisco Bay Area and the thirteen Western states since the Gold Rush. 

The holdings of the Western Jewish Americana Archives are unique, as they combine two fields of research that have often been investigated in separate ways: the history of the American Jewish experience and the history of California and the American West. 

Descriptions and finding aids for the collections of the Western Jewish Americana Archives are available in this website, as highlighted by the entries that appear in this page. These collection descriptions may be browsed by Creator name. Individuals and family creators are listed by last name (for example: Kahn, Julius or Lilienthal family).  Institutional creators are listed by full name (for example: Eureka Benevolent Society or Jewish Council of 1933).  Congregational records are listed under the proper name of the Congregation (for example: Emanu-El or Beth Israel).  

The archival collections are also integrated with the Museum and Library holdings, and the broader cultural context resulting from this integration can be reconstructed by searching our online database

To go directly to a specific entry, click on the "show more" button at the bottom of this page. To search for a name or term that may not be included in a collection's title, use the search box at the top of this page, or go to the advanced search page. 

UPDATE: Western Jewish Americana Collections Available to the Public at The Bancroft Library

The collections from the Western Jewish Americana archives of The Magnes are now available to researchers, and can be accessed in the reading room of the Bancroft Library. 

Collections listed below are (or will soon be) open to researchers. Check the record for each collection for availability status.

Many of these collections are stored off-site and must be requested a few days ahead of your visit to the Bancroft Library. Please check UC Berkeley's Library Catalog, OskiCat, for each collection for locations and details on access. 

You can request information about these materials by contacting The Bancroft Library

To go directly to a specific entry, begin typing a name (e.g. "Haas," "Jewish Community Center," or "Emanu-El") in the filter box below. To search for a name or term that may not be included in a collection's title, use the search box at the top of this page, or go to the advanced search page.

Bransten (Edward and Cathryn) family papers and photographs, 1880-1980

Edward Bransten was born in 1906 to Edward Brandenstein (b. 1870-d. 1948) and Florine (Haas) Brandenstein (b. 1881-d. 1973). Edward spent 56 years working in the family's coffee business (MJB Coffee), serving as the company's president and then as honorary chairman before the company was sold to Nestle in 1985. Edward Bransten married Cathryn Scheeline in 1938. Cathryn's parents were Harry Scheeline and Norma Fox. Edward and Cathryn had three children, Patricia (b. 1940), Carol (b. 1944), and Barbara (b. 1951).

Braverman (Abram and Katie) papers, 1933-1950

San Francisco resident and shoemaker who worked in an army goods store. His wife, Katie Keyle Braverman, was involved with the Workmen's Circle.

Poetry written by the Bravermans; songbooks and programs of the Workmen's Circle and Histadrut (the Israeli labor federation); clippings about Grodno, Poland (now Belarus); and letters from Braverman to his wife and children, together with letters from the Motles family, relatives of the Bravermans in Grodno to whom the Bravermans sent packages and money. Also a photograph of Abram Braverman.

Bresler (Boris) papers, 1939-2000

Boris Bresler was born in 1918 and raised in a Russian émigré Jewish community in Harbin, China. He immigrated to the United States in 1937 and in 1946 joined the faculty in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Following his retirement from the University he established Benmir Books, a small publishing house specializing in translations, reprints, and original works of high quality on Jewish themes. He also translated Russian prose and poetry into English.

Bronstein (David Michael) papers and photographs, 1911-1962.

David Michael Bronstein was born in the Ukraine in 1880 and learned the tailoring trade from his father. He immigrated to the United States in 1900 and found work making ladies' clothing in Boston. In 1907, Bronstein moved to Berkeley, California, where he operated a tailoring business that served some of Berkeley's most prominent men. He opened his first shop on Allston Way and then became an associate of the firm Nish and McNeil. In the 1920s, Bronstein established a partnership with local tailor Fred Miller.

Burstein (Elliot) papers, 1920-1969

Elliot Burstein served as a rabbi for San Francisco's Congregation Beth Israel for forty-two years (1927-1969). Before that, he served as a rabbi for congregations Montefiore in Salt Lake City (1923-1926) and Ahavai Sholom, in Portland, Ore. (1926-1927). With the assistance of Rabbi Saul E. White, he founded the Northern California Division of the American Jewish Congress.

Chi Phi Sigma Club scrapbooks and photographs, circa 1937-1993

Chi Phi Sigma was an Oakland, California club for Jewish girls between the ages of 16 and 18. The club was organized in 1937 for social and philanthropic pursuits.

The collection consists of scrapbooks that document the activities of Chi Phi Sigma, a teenage girls club based in Oakland, California, for the years 1937-1943. The scrapbooks have photographs, club documents, newsletters, and copies of newspaper clippings. The collection also contains some undated color photographs that document some later experiences of some of the club's members.

Cogan (Sara) research files, 1969-1980

Sara Cogan worked as a bibliographer for the Western Jewish History Center of the Judah L. Magnes Museum from 1967 through the mid-1970s. She compiled three annotated bibliographies during her tenure. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1939, Cogan attended public schools in Portland, Oregon and received a B.A. From Mills College in Oakland, California in 1960. In 1966, she received her M.L.S from UC Berkeley. She married Nathan F. Cogan and had three children.

Cohn (Henry) papers, 1852-1953

Henry Cohn was born in 1831 in Dobrzyn, a town on the Polish-Prussian border. He came to the United States in 1852 and settled in Saint Louis, California and Poker Flat, California, both of which are located in the Gold Country of California. Cohn became an American citizen in Downieville, California and operated a store in Poker Flat between 1857 and 1863. He was a freemason and member of Saint Louis Lodge No. 86. Henry returned to Germany in 1864 and remained there until his death in 1915.

Commission for the Preservation of Pioneer Jewish Cemeteries and Landmarks records, 1962-2006

The Commission for the Preservation of Pioneer Jewish Cemeteries and Landmarks was formed in 1962 to assist in the preservation of pioneer Jewish cemeteries located in the California Mother Lode. It currently holds title to six pioneer Jewish cemeteries at Jackson, Mokelumne Hill, Sonora, Grass Valley, Nevada City, and Placerville, Calififornia, marking the Gold Rush era beginning of Jewish settlement in northern California. Following tradition, the Jewish pioneers first communal activity was to found burial societies.

Congregation Beth Israel-Judea records, 1862-1999

Beth Israel was founded in 1860 as the first conservative congregation west of Chicago. Its first building was on Sutter near Stockton. The congregation was in its fourth building at Geary and Octavia at the time of the 1906 earthquake. The cornerstone had been laid for a new building at 1839 Geary near Fillmore in 1905. The construction was almost complete when it was destroyed in the quake.