A Jewish story everywhere? San Diego author says yes!By Donald H. Harrison
Three diverse experiences led to my current specialization in books about Jewish travel – and only one of them was specifically Jewish in nature.
The first came after I completed daily newspaper work as a politics writer for the San Diego Union and later became the communications director in 1983 for San Diego’s Acting Mayor, City Councilman Bill Cleator. After I signed on, he tossed me a stunning assignment: coordinate the city’s outreach to over 700 members of the media who were covering Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to San Diego. The queen had multiple stops on her itinerary—ranging from prayers at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to an inspection of the aircraft carrier USS Ranger—and we understood that the media might appreciate background on each and every one of the places she visited. So, in cooperation with the various venues, we produced a packet providing background color on each stop of her tour.
In 1989, as the owner of a public relations agency specializing in tourism, I became the start-up general manager for Old Town Trolley Tours of San Diego, in which capacity I helped to write the tour script. It had to be timed to the various sights and sites along the tour as the “trolley” passed them. To keep drivers from getting lost in their own stories, we incorporated a tape recording with “sound bites” that they were supposed to activate at specific places along the route.
Two years later, in 1991, I traveled with a tour group to Israel, taking copious notes along the way, resulting in a 30-part series—one story a week—for the San Diego Jewish Press Heritage. At the time I was the newspaper’s associate editor, and later would rise to editor-in-chief and co-publisher.
These experiences—along with conversations with friends and other travelers—led to my understanding that history becomes richer in people’s imaginations when it is tied to specific locations. Talk to someone about the general causes of the War of 1812, and your listener might yawn, even nod off. But offer the same explanation while viewing Baltimore from the vantage point that Francis Scott Key had while observing the bombardment of Fort McHenry, and the tale takes on Star Spangle Banner vibrancy.
The online newspaper that I am privileged to publish, San Diego Jewish World, has as its slogan “There Is a Jewish Story Everywhere.” It is possible that people of other religions and ethnicities can make the same claim. I base my case for the Jewish people on three major factors.
First, Hebrew Scriptures are universal literature. You can find references, and art works, invoking such biblical stories as those of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, The Tower of Babel, Noah and the Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and so forth, wherever you travel in the Western world, and often in the Eastern world as well.
Second, historically Jews were a peripatetic people. We lived, and were expelled from, many countries throughout the world. As merchants, Jewish people brought trade goods and news of other cultures to people wherever they traveled, no matter how exotic the destination.
Third, the modern State of Israel has relationships with many countries. Even those nations that boycott Israel in a sense provide us with a type of Jewish story.
Several years ago, with my grandson, Shor, who then was 13, I wrote a book entitled Schlepping Through The American West: There Is A Jewish Story Everywhere. Taking a grandfather-grandson “buddy” vacation, we drove up Interstate 15 from San Diego, stopping here and there in search of Jewish stories. The trip led us through portions of California, Nevada, Idaho, and Montana before we crossed into Canada. Taking a more coastal route on the way home, we added more stories to our adventure. There were 32 stories in all.
My most recent book, 77 Miles of Jewish Stories, covered less ground but was far more in depth. I decided to demonstrate the ubiquity of Jewish stories by following the Interstate 8 from its origin at the San Diego coast and to the point where the highway crosses from San Diego County into Imperial County, a distance of 77 miles.
I got off at every exit to research at least one Jewish story, and in some instances, several Jewish stories.
Ultimately, I produced 70 stories.
I was surprised by the variety of stories which this enterprise developed. Of course, there were stories about such Jewish institutions as synagogues, senior adult centers, and mikvahs. There were also interreligious stories involving the San Diego Mission, the Mormons’ Family History Center, and a Chaldean Catholic Church. Additionally, there were stories about Jews engaged in a number of professions, among them, lawyer, doctor, engineer, opera singer, highway patrolman, college president, recycler, athlete, sports team owner, merchant, delicatessen owner, Congress member, transportation administrator, hotel proprietor, stagecoach investor, and alpaca rancher. I also met Jewish families who shared fascinating experiences, like one who lived through a wildfire that swept through their neighborhood, and another who discovered that her Catholic grandmother kept kosher and probably was a Converso.
All these stories were made more vivid by being site specific; clearly, there is a nexus between identifiable venues and appreciation for tales in which they are involved.
77 Miles of Jewish Stories is now available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and has been placed in a number of stores and gift shops in San Diego County. These include the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park, where I will lecture on the evening of December 5th; the Visitors Center at Old Town San Diego Historic State Park; D.Z. Akin’s Delicatessen, Maxwell’s House of Books, the Temple Emanu-El gift shop, and the Desert View Tower in Jacumba Hot Springs. The cover price is $19.95.
Harrison is publisher of the online daily, San Diego Jewish World at www.sdjewishworld.com. He also is editor of the quarterly journal Western States Jewish History, an affiliate of the online Jewish Museum of the American West (www.jmaw.org). He may be contacted via [email protected]