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Bad Jews?

The curious case of 51 elderly Sephardic Jews arrested by the LAPD Vice Squad.

by Max Modiano Daniel

On the night of Saturday, October 21, 1967, members of the Sephardic Benevolent Society gathered to enjoy some card-playing and light gambling, as they did often did after the conclusion of Shabbat. Due to a tip-off of a disgruntled member of the group, the vice squad of the Los Angeles Police Department raided the social hall where they gathered, arresting fifty-one Sephardic Jews between the ages of fifty and eighty.

 

While cases like this typically ended in the accused forfeiting bail to forego further proceedings, David Mayesh, president of the society, wanted to prove their innocence and fight the charges. The money seized by the LAPD during the arrests - an entry-fee for an evening of card playing - was to go towards funding the religious society, a fact Mayesh believed would exonerate them.

 

Held overnight, the men and women arrested complained about the ways they were treated by the police. Secretary Eli Sabah, for example, complained of "police disrespect", comparing their treatment to that of Jews in Nazi Germany, noting that his wife, May Sabah, had been subjected to a body-search.

 

The story caught the attention of the Los Angeles Times, including humor columnist Paul Coates, who joked that if the cops came after your grandmother, she might be able to talk her way out of it by inviting the officers to, "Eat, eat. We'll talk later." May Sabah then responded to Coates by submitting corrections to his piece, noting that, far from being funny, the episode involved, "an awful lot of grief and downright humiliation." Coates then issued a more serious reply, castigating the LAPD for enforcing a law that, "has been interpreted to control you and your friends in the privacy of your own home." On Nov. 14th, 1967, a short article about the dismissal of the gambling charges was published on the front page.