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Around the time of the Gold Rush in 1849, Jews discovered California. The first community was established in San Francisco, where the first West Coast Jewish paper, The Gleaner, was started in 1855. Soon communities were established in San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose, and Los Angeles. Today, there are close to one million Jews living in California, with 668,000 in Los Angeles, 210,000 in the San Francisco area (including San Jose), 75,000 in Orange County, and 70,000 in San Diego. Among the Jewish institutions of higher learning are the University of Judaism (Conservative) and the West Coast branch of the Hebrew Union College (Reform), both in Los Angeles. Jews have played a prominent role in the motion picture industry in Los Angeles, accounting for many of the producers who established the big studios, such as MGM, as well as for many of the actors (See Stage and Screen).

California is second only to New York as a center of Jewish life in the U.S., with many Reform and Conservative congregations, as well as Jewish cultural institutions, such as the Judah Magnes Art Museum in Berkeley and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. In the U.S. Senate, California has been represented by two Jewish women, Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein. Los Angeles also has a large, active community of Israeli expatriates.

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