Professor co-authors interpretative history of Jews on the Pacific Coast

Ellen Eisenberg, the Dwight and Margaret Lear Professor of American History at Willamette University, has co-authored Jews of the Pacific Coast: Reinventing Community on America's Edge, the first interpretive history of Jews in this region. The book was released in January and is available in bookstores or online.

The idea for the book came from a conversation with her co-authors. "There was no single book that brought all of the recent scholarship together," Eisenberg said. "What originally began as sketches on a napkin became this far-reaching project."

The book examines the distinctive roles that Jews played in the Pacific West, especially the innovative role of women. Drawing on manuscript collections, oral histories, newspapers and private papers, this collaborative work traces Jewish life from its origins to contemporary times.

Personal stories and anecdotes give the authors the opportunity to compare and contrast the nature of the Jewish experience in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and the small towns of the West. They explain the important differences among these cities and the importance of new population centers like Las Vegas.

"The ethnic landscape of the Pacific Coast is different from the East, and the western U.S. tends to be less traditional in its religious practices with lower church affiliation rates. These factors affected the development of Jewish communities here," Eisenberg said. She also discussed how Jewish culture in Los Angeles differs. "I was particularly surprised at the uniqueness of Los Angeles' Jewish community. Los Angeles has a very rich, interconnected cultural life, and data suggests that it may be on a different trajectory than the rest of the Pacific Coast."

Eisenberg is also the author of The First to Cry Down Injustice? Western Jews and Japanese Removal During WWII, a 2008 National Jewish Book Award finalist.