American Jerusalem: Jews and the Making of San Francisco

Puzzled visitors to San Francisco often wander around wondering where the Jewish neighborhood is, or at least was. Fact is, beginning with the city’s boom in the 1849 Gold Rush, Jews have been assimilated into nearly every corner of San Francisco life, helping build, grow and define the city—as well as being shaped by it—in ways that are unique in American and Jewish history. Focusing on the first chapter of the city’s development (1849–1915), American Jerusalem entertainingly charts the evolution of a distinct brand of American Jewish life on the western edge of the continent and introduces us to influential pioneers like Levi Strauss and Adolph Sutro (America’s first Jewish mayor, voiced by legendary director Werner Herzog), helping to explain why some San Francisco Jewish families celebrated Shabbat on Sunday and enjoyed a good roast pork on Christmas. Some habits die hard. While not shying away from the community’s more troubling chapters, such as anti-Chinese and anti–Eastern European sentiments among German Jewish leaders here, the documentary is a lively and affectionate primer to a place, and a community, like no other.
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