As the American city with the second largest concentration of Jews, the sprawling megalopolis we know as greater Los Angeles boasts a number of historically Jewish neighborhoods. Even if Jewish culture is often hard to spot among the areas’ many other ethnic and religious influences, Jews remain an enormously important group in the City of Angels. Join us as we take a trip through the Jewish neighborhoods of Los Angeles, moving from the inland east to the coastal west.
Boyle Heights. Thanks to the racist and anti-Semitic restrictive covenants that prevented Jewish and nonwhite Angelenos from living in many areas of Los Angeles prior to World War II and the Civil Rights Movement, this section of East Los Angeles became the default neighborhood for middle-class and blue collar Jews as well as for Japanese and Mexican-Americans. Once one of the best areas to find great Jewish deli food as well as tacos and teriyaki—it was the original location of Canter’s, the city’s best known deli—the wartime internment of Japanese-Americans and the postwar loosening of anti-Jewish housing discrimination meant that the neighborhood quickly evolved into a primarily Latino enclave by the 1950s, though a small core of Jewish residents remained for decades. The most famous remaining Jewish landmark in the neighborhood is the once-abandoned Breed Street Shul, also known as Congregation Talmud Torah, which is currently in the process of being restored.
The San Fernando Valley. The post-war exodus from Boyle Heights found many Jewish Angelenos heading for the warmth of the Valley and such sprawling quasi-suburban communities as Encino, Sherman Oaks, Tarzana, Northridge and Woodland Hills. The gigantic area is dotted with an assortment of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform congregations and such gastronomic landmarks as Art’s Deliand the original branch of the Jerry’s Delichain in Studio City, as well as Northridge’s Brent’s (our favorite). That aside, easily the best-known Jewish landmark in the area is the Skirball Cultural Center. The famed museum is technically located in the Sepulveda Pass, near the point where Los Angeles proper meets the Valley.
La Brea & Beverly. Come to this cozy neighborhood on a spring or summer Friday night and you’ll see Hasidim in black suits and fedoras or overcoats and gigantic fur hats (“shtreimels”), rushing to get to shul before Shabbat just as a somewhat-smaller number of hardcore cinema fans rush to catch the beginning of a double-bill at the Quentin Tarantino-owned New Beverly Cinema. This is a neighborhood where the avowedly insular world of today’s Orthodox and Haredi brushes against the multicultural and secular world of Los Angeles. As if to underline the point, strictly glatt kosher eateries like Elite Cuisine and the only-in-L.A. Meshuga 4 Sushi stand alongside a Honeybaked Ham and, until it went out of business a couple of years back, the Pig, a barbecue joint where the occasional shamefaced nonobservant Jew could be seen skulking over a plate of spareribs.
The Fairfax District. Across from CBS’s “Television City” and the Grove/Original Farmer’s Market complex, this stretch of Fairfax Boulevard and surrounding streets north of 3rd Street was the traditional home of L.A.’s Jewish community for many decades. At its peak, it housed as many as 12 synagogues in a relatively tiny area and it remains L.A.’s most iconic Jewish neighborhood. Now largely populated by Russian and Ukrainian immigrants as well as hipsters of all extractions, Fairfax is still dominated by the world-famous Canter’s Delicatessen and the adjoining Kibitz Room, a noted nightspot and jam session locale for area musicians. Several synagogues and a number of Jewish businesses and purveyors of Judaica highlight the area, as does the historic, though not particularly Jewish, Silent Movie Theater. Nearby Fairfax High School fostered the talents of numerous Jewish celebrities, most recently including Mila Kunis, of “The Black Swan” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” as well as older notables like Democratic County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, one of Los Angeles’s most powerful and popular politicians. It seems also to have been a particular hotbed of enormous musical ability. Fairfax High’s best known Jewish graduates include legendary/notorious record producer Phil Spector, trumpeter/music mogul Herb Alpert and the late Hillel Slovak of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The neighborhood’s Museum of the Holocaust, the nation’s oldest museum devoted to the Shoah, recently moved into a new location in historic Pan Pacific Park.
Beverly Hills. As readers of Mike Davis’s controversial “City of Quartz” know, the fabulously wealthy incorporated city located just west of West Hollywood has long been the center of Jewish wealth and power in greater Los Angeles. (Gentile “old money” has tended to congregate in the restricted environs of Pasadena and San Marino.) The area surrounding the “Golden Triangle” has become even more Jewish in more recent decades, thanks to an influx of Persian Jews following the Iranian revolution of the late 1970s. The area nevertheless remains dominated by the entertainment industry and is the home of innumerable agencies, entertainment law and publicity firms, screening rooms and other businesses. It is also home to some of the town’s best-known Jewish institutions. Chief among these is Temple Emanuel, currently presided over by Rabbi Laura Geller, and Nate ‘n Al Deli, also known as interviewer Larry King’s home away from home.
The Persian Jewish community is largely seated at the Nessah Synagogue on Rexford Drive. Beverly Hills’s fabled high school, portrayed with no interest in reality by Aaron Spelling on “Beverly Hills 90210,” remains predominantly Jewish and is probably one of the most famous schools ever. Jewish alumni include Richard Dreyfuss, Nora Ephron, Albert Brooks, Rob Reiner and David Schwimmer. Half-Jewish alums include Carrie Fisher and Lenny Kravitz.
Beverlywood. This Beverly Hills-adjacent strip of land, just east of the Fox Studios and South of Century City, is now considered the heart of Los Angeles’s modern Jewish community. It includes a large and affluent residential section located not far from the historic Hillcrest Country Club, an explicitly Jewish establishment that was opened in 1920 as a response to the then anti-Semitic policies of all other Los Angeles country clubs. The area’s main strip, Pico Boulevard heading east to Robertson, is filled with Conservative and Orthodox synagogues, Jewish delis and Glatt kosher eateries. Among them are the Milky Way, owned and operated by Leah Adler, the proud and reportedly ultra-hamish mom of L.A.’s ultimate nice Jewish boy, Steven Spielberg. The area also plays host to the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s internationally known Museum of Tolerance.
West Los Angeles/Santa Monica/Brentwood/Culver City. Yes, this is a pretty large area. Even so, the Westside’s ethnically diverse neighborhoods, ranging from wealthy Brentwood to Westwood/UCLA, to the sometimes funky enclaves of Mar Vista and Venice, to the ultra-gentrified but once semi-industrial town of Culver City, all feature significant Jewish populations large enough to support a plethora of temples, synagogues, cultural organizations—notably Chabad and Hillel—delis, and delicious Asian restaurants all too numerous to name. Trust us on that.