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 Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel (STTI) Archive 

Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel's Archive is now available to the public! To browse the collection's finding aid and request materials to view at UCLA Library Special Collections, visit the Online Archive of California.

In 2015, the Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel (STTI), Los Angeles’ largest Sephardic congregation, generously gifted their archives to UCLA Library Special Collections.  The Archive is comprised of institutional papers, photographs and ephemera from STTI, as well as materials related to the various organizations that merged to create the synagogue in its current form, including Temple Tifereth Israel and Haim Vehesed, as well as the Peace and Progress Society (founded in 1917), La Communidad (founded in 1920), and Sephardic Beth Shalom. As a result, the STTI Archive provides a rich and comprehensive portrait of Sephardic Jewish life in 20th century Los Angeles.

 

Sephardic Jews from around the Mediterranean and Middle East first made Los Angeles their home in the earliest years of the twentieth century. While most had migrated to Los Angeles from the Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) milieu of Ottoman Anatolia and its coast, with Istanbul, Bursa, Rhodes, and Salonika serving as important locations, others came from Algeria and Egypt. Sephardic Jews in Los Angeles established communal institutions nearly coterminous to their arrival. By 1912, they had formed the Avat Shalom congregation, although the synagogue and burial society soon fractured due to cultural and linguistic differences between the Rhodeslis (those originating in Rhodes) and the Turkinos (those originating in Anatolia). That same year, the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Jerusalem recognized Abraham Caraco as the spiritual leader of the congregation. By 1917, the Rhodesli members of Avat Shalom would leave to form the Peace and Progress Society, which would eventually become the Sephardic Hebrew Center (on 55th and Hoover Streets) and still later Sephardic Beth Shalom. In 1919, Avat Shalom would again splinter, a process which led to the establishment of Haim Vehesed/Sephardic Brotherhood that same year and La Communidad, under the leadership of Abraham Caraco, in 1920. In 1932, La Communidad dedicated Temple Tifereth Israel on Santa Barbara Avenue (now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard). In 1959, Haim Vehesed/Sephardic Brotherhood rejoined La Communidad forming the Sephardic Community and Brotherhood of Los Angeles and the Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel (STTI). Having outgrown their Santa Barbara Avenue location, STTI broke ground on their current location at Wilshire Boulevard and Warner Avenue in 1970, relocated there in 1975, and dedicated the sanctuary in 1981.

That year, Bob Hattem, a descendent of the founders of La Communidad, relaunched El Shofar, the temple bulletin. At the behest of Victor Cohen, former Temple Tifereth Israel president, Hattem also began gathering historical material related to the community in preparation for the presentation of the Sephardic Heritage Award, an achievement award recognizing those from the past who had helped shape the present. Between 1981 and 1986, Bob Hattem expanded his archival efforts at STTI, organizing materials already existent on the Wilshire Boulevard site and gathering primary source documents in order to prepare articles for both El Shofar and the Western States Jewish History Quarterly. By the time he announced his retirement from El Shofar in July 1986, Hattem had made the decision to serve in an even more robust capacity as the dedicated temple archivist, initiating a move of the archive from the library to the former El Shofar office. He formed an archive committee which included Pearl Barocas, Sally Pessah Benveniste, Ann Candiotty Bartel, Corene Cohen, and Elaine Kiok Meyer, to sort and organize the documents they collected. By 1987, the team had completed an inventory of the collection and then began the conservation process, placing items in protective sleeves and archival boxes and cataloguing them.

From the late 1980s and through the 1990s, Bob Hattem not only led the team in organizing the exceptionally rich materials on site but also collected documents, photos, and ephemera from congregants eager to secure a safe space for their items. These included Ladino language newspapers published in Manhattan, mid-century Bar Mitzvah photos, and a beautifully illustrated 1912 certificate from the Sephardic rabbinical council of Jerusalem confirming the leadership of Abraham Caraco as spiritual leader of Sephardic Jewry in Los Angeles - a gift from his granddaughter Julie Passy (Diana Passy’s daughter and her sister Pearl) Breitstein. In addition to organizing and gathering, Hattem also initiated a series of demographic surveys sent to members of STTI to better understand the composition of the community. A consummate collector of data, Hattem guided the archives through the heady days of word processors, personal computers, and the early internet, investing in archival software and beginning to digitize certain materials.

In 1993, Sephardic Beth Shalom (formerly the Sephardic Hebrew Center) “rejoined” STTI, decades after the initial parting of ways. Within a year of the merger, Bob Hattem would encourage Arthur Benveniste, formerly of Sephardic Beth Shalom, to become involved with the archive. The two navigated the archive through the 1990s and into the new millennium - which coincided with the eightieth anniversary of STTI. As Hattem’s health declined in the 2000s, Benveniste became the volunteer head of the archive - a position he holds to this day. Hattem died on April 4, 2014 at the age of 95. To be sure, his spirit, memory, and commitment to his community live on in the archive.

The STTI collection, in a range of languages but mostly in Ladino and English, includes institutional records, meeting minutes, newsletters, pamphlets and flyers, and other organizational ephemera. The archive also contains a rich body of photographs, as well as rare books dating to the mid-nineteenth century. Scrapbooks and newspaper clippings, some compiled by Hattem’s archive team and others donated by individuals, are also to be found in the archive. The research files of Hattem, a contributor to a variety of publications including the Western States Jewish History Quarterly, are held at STTI as well. Finally, the archive possesses an impressive audio-visual collection of reel-to-reels, cassettes, and VHS tapes. These materials are currently being processed by the UCLA Library Special Collections and should be open to the public in 2019.

This UCLA Sephardic Archive Initiative would like give special thanks to Michael Hattem, Arthur Benveniste, Marie Altchech and Temple Librarian Annette Goldsmith, who played crucial roles in coordinating the gift of the STTI Archive.