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Harriet Shapiro Rochlin


1924 - 2017 Obituary Condolences
Harriet Shapiro Rochlin Obituary
November 4, 1924 - February 6, 2017 Harriet Rochlin, "The Mother of Western Jewish History" Noted writer and historian Harriet Rochlin died at her home in Westwood, California, early on the morning of February 6, 2017. She was 92. She was born and raised in the diverse East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights, the youngest of three children. She spent the first 20 years of her life immersed in its foods, languages, and multicultural social clime. She was part rebellious teenager, part library habitué, and she didn't accept no for an answer. Without a scholarship or financial assistance from her parents, she left home at age 20 and put herself through college at the University of California, Berkeley, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Hispanic Studies. It was there she met Fred Rochlin, the man she would be happily married to for 55 years. In between raising their four children, she began a lifelong career as a journalist and novelist. She spoke four languages - Spanish, Portuguese, English and Yiddish. In the early 1960s, inspired by the emerging ethnic history movement, she delved into her own past as a woman, Jew and Westerner. Her pursuit soon launched a quest for Jewish roots in the Spanish, Mexican and American West and ultimately resulted in Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West, a landmark social history first published in 1984, reprinted over a dozen times and frequently used as source material, notably by David Milch in creating his critically acclaimed HBO series, "Deadwood." She next wrote the fictional Desert Dwellers Trilogy: The Reformer's Apprentice: A Novel of Old San Francisco; The First Lady of Dos Cacahuates and On Her Way Home. Over time, she also amassed two Western Jewish collections-one historical, the other photographic-both now housed at UCLA's Charles E. Young Research Library, Special Collections. She then instituted the first comprehensive guide to Western Jewish historical societies, museums and archives, The Rochlin Guide, which can be found on her website, www.rochlin-roots-west.com. She was 90 when she completed her final book, A Mixed Chorus: Jewish Women in the American West, 1849 to 1924. She loved forging new friendships, making people laugh and she loved her four children, Judith, Davida, Margy and Michael. She loved her son-in-laws, Mitch, Fred and Robert. She loved her three grandchildren, Jake, Joe and Annie and her surviving sister, Charlotte. She will be laid to rest next to Fred, who died in 2002. She never forgot what it was like to grow up in Boyle Heights during the Great Depression or the encouraging words of the schoolteachers who gave her the confidence to pursue her dreams of a higher education. Donations in Harriet's memory can be made to "The Harriet Rochlin Memorial Education Scholarship" at www.lightbringerproject.org. The annual scholarship will benefit a graduating senior from her alma mater, Roosevelt High School.
Published in the Los Angeles Times on Feb. 19, 2017
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