One of San Diego’s First Jewish Families

by Jacqueline Bull October 2, 2017


cousins-lunchHanukkah and major holidays or even Saturday night dinners are often associated with family time and being reunited with the extended family, but what about weekday lunch?

One San Diego family has just that association in what they have come to refer to as “Cousins’ Lunch,” a weekday gathering where a group of cousins and their spouses (and sometimes their children or grandchildren) catch up once a month over lunch. Typically these gatherings are 15-20 people strong and at a different restaurant each month.

“There are nine cousins. The rest of us all live here. We have lived here our whole lives. We always have a Hanukkah party every year and decided that once a year was not enough. Several years ago we started to do monthly cousins’ lunches just so we can keep in touch,“ Carol Fox, one of the original nine cousins, said.

At this particular lunch, they have a 15-month-old grandchild in attendance as well as an103-year-old uncle. The cousins themselves range from 68 to 83 years old, and with a few exceptions they were all born and remain in San Diego.

“We like to stay connected. This is something you know is going to happen. It is fun to be together. We have a good time. We really laugh a lot. We have some real comedians in this crowd,” Carol said.

“We enjoy just getting together and keeping in touch with everybody,” Roz Freedman, wife of one of the cousins, added.

How it all got started

As is with all family histories, where to call the beginning of the story is really a matter of opinion. The consensus with this family on where it all starts is one of two events 1) when Grandma Rose and Grandpa Morris came to the US from Minsk, Russia or 2) when Uncle Irvine was the first from the family of immigrants in New York decided to move to San Diego. Irvine Shulman was divorced and (as the story goes) looking for a new life and turned to San Diego.

Within 10 years the whole family was there.

The cousins’ lunch was started by the children of what I have come to refer to as the original four. The great-grandparents of the cousins Rose and Morris Freedman had four children Mack, Jerome, Ruth and Edith.

Like many family histories, there is a little bit of conflicting information on some of the specifics. There is some disagreement on how Morris died. One cousin said he fell off the roof while repairing it, one said he had a heart attack and then fell off the roof, another says he was hit by a truck, another says it was his brother who was hit by a truck.

There is consensus that Grandma Rose raised their four parents herself.

Ties to early San Diego Jewish History

“The Jewish Community here was very small until the 1980s. It really was a small community for many, many years,” Robert Berton, a second cousin by marriage said. And during the small community phase, these cousins’ extended family were part of the very fabric of the early San Diego Jewish life.

All the original four siblings were immersed in San Diego Jewish life in some form or another and the full resume of the extended family is quite impressive. The beginnings of this community was chronicled by a now-out-of-press paper called the Southwestern Jewish Press. The cousins’ relatives’ names dotted the pages for many years. And their early involvement is felt even today in many of the organizations that are the backbone of the San Diego Jewish community.

Ruth, one of the original four siblings, is credited with being among the first group that formed the Jewish Community Center. Ruth also served as the administrative secretary for 16 years.

Ruth and her sister Edith were also a part of the Women’s League of the Jewish Community Center that the Southwestern Jewish Press indicates was “formed to assist the Jewish Community Center with its activities.”

The brothers pop up as contributors to many fundraising causes for the community. Jerry Freedman was also president of the Lasker Lodge chapter of B’nai Brith; B’nai Brith being one of the oldest Jewish service organizations in the world.

All of the siblings and Rose have numerous “trustees” and “members of the boards” titles.

Their relatives all have left a mark on early San Diego Jewish life, and notably out of their relatives is Victor Shulman, son of the Irvine who first to set out to San Diego, the Shulman’s being the first cousins of the original four.

Victor Shulman, like his dad, was also involved in the furniture business and did very well for himself. Looking thru his various [accomplishments] through the years, it seems every spare second of his was spent in the forming of one Jewish organization or another.

He was a president of the Jewish Community Foundation in 1972 and the second vice president of the San Diego Hebrew Home for the Aged, which is now Seacrest Village.

He was the head of the United Jewish Fund for many years. Possibly the most significant connection Victor Shulman and the original four siblings have to early San Diego Jewish life is their part in the large collaborative effort in the formation of the (none other than the) Jewish Community Center.

The United Jewish Fund, and many other organizations that some of the original four siblings were incidentally involved, collaborated on a project that would become the Jewish Community Center.

A newspaper clipping from the Southwestern Jewish Press reads, “With the appointment of Louis Steinman, Nathan Schiller, and David Block by Victor Schulman, president of the United Jewish Fund, to the Joint Committee of the Jewish Community Center, the first step has been taken in beginning to specifically answer the question of whether a Jewish community center is needed in San Diego. Made up of Lasker Lodge, B’nai Brith Center Committee, a subcommittee of the Jewish Community Center Association, and the recently appointed United Jewish Fund Committee, the joint group will meet to discuss plans for the possible erection of a building and the method of financing such a project.” (January 19, 1951—”Group Set to Study Center Need,” Southwestern Jewish Press).

Lasker Lodge was involved in this project the year Jerome Freedman was president, so this was certainly a family affair.

The family’s accolades continue into the cousins’ generation by continuing with the organizations their parents and uncles and aunts put worth. Cousin Carol Fox is on the board at Seacrest. Robert Berton was a president of the Jewish Community Center and a president of Beth Israel.

Who would expect a group of cousins meeting for lunch would uncover ties to the beginning of the San Diego Jewish community? The rarity that they were in San Diego since the early 1900s was not a wasted opportunity for them to grow deep and wide roots. This family epitomizes the San Diego Jewish legacy and their early impact is still felt today.


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