Don Harrison
Author Donald Harrison. Photo by Sandi Masori

By finding at least one Jewish story at every exit from the Mexican border to Old Town San Diego, veteran journalist Donald H. Harrison’s book Schlepping and Schmoozing Along the Interstate 5 transforms the West Coast’s main north-south highway into a treasure trove of the Jewish experience.

The newly released first volume of Harrison’s three-volume series conveys 30 stories from approximately 20 miles of Interstate 5 exits, from the U.S.-Mexico border to San Diego’s Old Town neighborhood. The three-volume set will eventually cover a total of 72 miles, reaching the Orange County line.

But in Harrison’s estimation, the book provides an important message for Jewish readers from well beyond that geographic area as well as a blueprint for profiling Jewish communities nationwide.

“Readers can learn that the mosaic of the Jewish experience can be portrayed exit by exit along a major highway route, whether here or in their own cities,” Harrison tells Times of San Diego. “This type of reporting also can be utilized to tell the stories of other ethnic and religious communities in the United States. As one who is fascinated by other people’s narratives, I hope someday I will see similar efforts by representatives of other groups.”

Harrison’s fascination is also apparent through his previous book series, Schlepping and Schmoozing Through San Diego County, a similar compilation of Jewish-themed reporting. He spent the first phase of his journalistic career in mainstream media (including The Associated Press), then worked in public relations before returning to journalism by spearheading several Jewish publications in San Diego, most recently the San Diego Jewish World website. (Full disclosure: I acquired the San Diego Jewish World from Harrison.) Harrison’s journey has been continuously shaped by his belief that “there is a Jewish story everywhere,” a philosophy that once again shines through in Schlepping and Schmoozing Along the Interstate 5.

The following is the rest of Times of San Diego’s interview with Harrison.

Q: After previously publishing Schlepping and Schmoozing Through San Diego County, what specifically inspired you to make the Interstate 5 the coverage area of this book?

A: This book about Interstate 5, with fresh stories, is based on a lesson that I learned back in 1989 when I helped to found Old Town Trolley Tours of San Diego. People tend to remember stories that are connected to physical places. Interstate 5 is the spine of California, with most of our state’s population living or working within 10 miles of that freeway, so it is a pathway to an incredible variety of stories.

Q: Why should readers outside of Southern California be interested in these Jewish stories along the Interstate 5?

A: Some of the stories in this book are strictly local, while others are national or even international in scope. Just three examples of national stories are: the brothers who founded the Simon Property Group, which owns hundreds of shopping malls in the United States; the Tisch family, which has sports, philanthropic and real estate interests all over the U.S.; and the creation of the Sesame Street television show, which in turn led to the development of the new Sesame Place San Diego amusement park.  

In addition to learning about businesses and programs that may be represented in their own cities, out-of-area readers also can preview some local Jewish aspects of San Diego, which is one of the nation’s most popular vacation spots. Wherever I travel, I like to find Jewish connections, and I believe San Diego-bound visitors will too. One chapter provides a Jewish tour of Balboa Park. Another tells of Jews who played for the San Diego Padres.

Q: What story or two stands out to you as unique in this book?

A: From a personal standpoint, I enjoyed telling the stories of such personal friends as symphony musician Eileen Wingard and the late San Diego County Sheriff Bill Kolender. One of the stories that was most fun to write involved the mishaps that attended the City of San Diego’s reception for Queen Elizabeth II in 1983, which I had the opportunity to observe up close.

Q: What is unique about the Jewish history of San Diego and Southern California, compared to other regions around the country?  

A: Every region of the country is influenced by its geography. San Diego County occupies the southwestern corner of the continental United States. It is bounded on the south by Mexico and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. Some of the stories, laden with the Jewish experience, reflect that special heritage. This book looks at Jewish life across the border in Tijuana and tells of the murals at Chicano Park. It also relates Jewish stories about the U.S. Navy and the Port of San Diego.

Q: Why do you think it is important to find a Jewish story everywhere?

A: There are two different audiences for this type book: Jews and non-Jews. For my fellow Jews, the book is a reminder of the many strands we have contributed to the tapestry of American life. It also tells some of the prejudices and biases we have had to overcome. For non-Jews, it is an introduction to Jews in various endeavors: as businesspeople, agriculturalists, environmentalists, artists, historians, philosophers, teachers, journalists, politicians, civil rights leaders, spiritual leaders and law-enforcement officials. In other words, the book offers them the opportunity to meet Jews in areas of common interest.

Jacob Kamaras is the editor and publisher of the San Diego Jewish World, which was founded by Donald Harrison.