In preparation for our trip to historical Jewish Lithuania, the first stop for the Helix program students was Boyle Heights. On a tour led by Yiddishkayt founder Aaron Paley, the Helix students learned about what many former residents remember as the neighborhood’s golden age. Before World War Two, Boyle Heights was a multicultural, multiracial neighborhood where the Jewish Community Center served a community that was not only Jewish but also Japanese, Latino, and African American. We thought about the forces in the history of Los Angeles that led to the new Boyle Heights, an overwhelmingly Latino and Chicano neighborhood, and we discovered the lasting reminders of Jewish life still in Boyle Heights. The Jewish history of Boyle Heights gives us a starting place from which to consider the population changes, the community makeup and cultural history of Jewish Lithuania. It reminds us that while the history of change for Jewish life in Europe is most often recollected as a series of catastrophes and tragedies, there are other stories of historical and cultural change which we can learn about and remember.
As a reminder that Eastern Europe is not the only place where formerly Jewish spaces have changed purpose or been turned to ruins, the Helix program visited and held a series of workshops in the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights. There, the students learned about tools, techniques and theories of visual documentation and framing and started to develop photographic documentary projects that we will work on for the next nine days in Jewish Lithuania. Photographs and narratives from the students will be posted here throughout the trip and upon our return to LA!