Daniel Levy: Pioneer French Jewish Teacher & Intellectual of Early San Francisco

Daniel Levy

Daniel Levy French Jewish Intellectual WS 14/2020

Daniel Levy, French Jewish Intellectual, #WS14/2020

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Daniel Levy was born in Lixheim, France, in the Prov­ince of Lorraine, in 1826.


Along the way

Educated at Paris University, Daniel Levy became a schoolteacher and taught for a time in Alsace.

He then received a gov­ernment appointment as a principal of a public school in Oran, Algeria.

Levy became the editor of a newspaper, La Lune, which was confiscated by the government for publishing a cartoon of Napoleon III. He was placed in prison for a few days.

In 1855, Daniel Levy came to America with his 3 brothers and 3 sisters.


San Francisco

Daniel Levy was one of numerous French Jews who came to Gold Rush California.

For a short time, he worked in El Dorado County, but soon settled in San Francisco.

Daniel Levy and his 6 Brothers & Sisters, San Francisco, #WS2109.

Daniel Levy and his six brothers & sisters, San Francisco, #WS2109

Daniel Levy was one of the founders of the French Hospital in San Francisco, often serving as its president.

He was also one of the founders of the Alliance Francaise, and  benefited the community by starting a French Library.

He became known as the Dean of the French Colony.

During the Franco-Prussian War, Daniel Levy returned to France, where he rendered such distinguished service that the French Government conferred him with the Cross of the Legion of Honor in 1909.

His description of life in San Francisco in the 1850’s is of great importance.

He wrote two books, one on politics in Austria, and the other on the French in California. This latter book, Les Francais en California (1884), was published in French in San Francisco. It remains a seminal text on the history of Frenchmen in early California.

Daniel Levy was one of the few Jews of early California who could be termed an intellectual.

In his later years, he devoted himself entirely helping charitable organizations.



In 1856, Daniel Levy became a teacher of languages at the religious school of Congregation Emanu-El.

He also established a Jewish day school called Levy’s Institute, which met in the base­ment rooms of the synagogue and included both elementary and high school grades.

Congregation Emanu-El was without a rabbi in 1857, and Daniel Levy was appointed as reader and teacher of the Congregation until 1864.

He conducted services and officiated at weddings and funerals until Rabbi Elkan Cohn’s arrival in 1860.

In the 1870’s, he taught French and German at Boys High School in San Francisco.



Daniel Levy was a Master Mason.

He was also a member of the Cercle Francais and president of the Ligne Nationale for many years.



Daniel Levy never married.

His brothers and sisters were Michael, Baruch, Fanny, Henriette, Jeanette, and Isaac.

Daniel Levy died in 1910, and was interred at Home of Peace, in Colma. south of San Francisco.

“He was a handsome man – very distinguished in appearance and above all – a Jew and a Frenchman.”

– Rabbi Martin Meyer, 1916


  • Norton B. Stern, “Daniel Levy: French Jewish Intellectual,” Western States Jewish History 41/1.
  • Martin A. Meyer, The Jews of San Francisco (San Francisco: Emanu-El, 1916).

David Epstein is curator for this Daniel Levy exhibit.


Jews in the News

    About This Time

Benevolence for Palestine — 1865

Aid for Palestine — A committee has been appointed by the Congregation Emanu-El to make collections for our distressed brethren in Palestine. Famine, pestilence and distress are now ravaging the entire country, and it becomes the solemn duty of each and every Israelite to contribute his might in behalf of so noble and holy a cause.

Do not refuse the committee, and say we have enough poor here requiring relief. Our poor are not as needy and in such distress as our impoverished brethren in the Holy Land.

Do not let us lose the honor and fair name which the Israelites of San Francisco have always had for their charities; but let us willingly, cheerfully and bountifully assist the committee as far as lies in our power, so that a large amount may be quickly raised and forwarded without delay to our suffering brethren.

We would suggest that our co-religionists in the country districts should also make up subscriptions, and proceed at once about the matter in an earnest spirit.

—The Hebrew, San Francisco, Nov. 17, 1865 [WSJHQ 3/2]