At 88, consumer-affairs advocate still changing world

Like observant Jews around the world, Dorothy Golden gets up early. But instead of wrapping herself in a tallit and then davening from a siddur, she enters her in-house newsroom, where publications such as KlanWatch and the Washington Spectator pile up on a desk.

As Golden jots red marks down a front page, her frail eyes suddenly squint in the morning sun. The dawn silence in her Santa Rosa neighborhood is broken by the chirps of yellow-eyed blackbirds. Golden skims through an editorial page to see if her letter to the editor has been printed.

A picture of a smiling President Clinton — sent to her by the chief of state himself — seems to guard the room. Framed editorials, which Golden wrote when she worked as a syndicated news columnist, decorate the walls.

Something in the news alarms her. She calls her husband over and they begin debating on what they, as an activist team, must do.

Golden, 88, a retired consumer-affairs columnist, has long used her writing skills to improve the world. Over the years, she's taken action to ban smoking in public places and make airports less vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

Her most recent project, with husband Al, is Safe Havens for Youth, a program to keep schools for at-risk teens open after hours. By keeping schools open in the evenings, on weekends and in summer, they maintain, teens will stay away from drugs and gang activity.

"Her motivation comes from some sense of Jewish awareness in her obligation to heal the world," said Rabbi Jonathan Slater of Congregation Beth Ami in Santa Rosa.

This latest project is not her first attempt to put her values into action. She has dedicated much of her life to activism on the East Coast and in Southern California.

During the '60s and '70s, she wrote a social-issues column, "Straight Goods." When she coaxed American farmers into converting excess corn into methanol and tried to urge then-Gov. Ronald Reagan to get behind the project, she was dubbed "the Methanol Lady."

"During the oil embargo, we became so dependent on the Arabs and needed to find other forms of energy," Golden said, recalling the 1970s.

She also campaigned for designating nonsmoking sections in restaurants.

"I urged my readers to ask for the nonsmoking area when eating at restaurants, but many responded and said that most places didn't have one," she said. "But I knew if they asked for it long enough, nonsmoking areas would be established. And that's what happened."

In addition to becoming an advocate for nonsmokers' rights, Golden championed airline passenger safety long before the issue was a cause celèbre. In the late 1950s, she wrote an article on why airlines should increase pre-boarding security measures.

Of the 40 papers that ran her column, 39 printed the story. The one exception was the Bakersfield Press.

"I called up and asked the publisher, `What happened to our beautiful friendship?' And he said, `Mrs. Golden — I can't do that to the airlines.' He was afraid that he'd lose all his airline ads."

Golden also served as a public relations writer for the National Council of Jewish Women.

"I put on `Tensions in the Middle East,' a program in which a professor talked for the Arab side and a rabbi from the Wilshire Boulevard Temple [in Los Angeles] discussed the Israeli side. One week later, the Six-Day War broke out."

Although peace in the Middle East is one of their concerns, the Goldens also seek harmony between Israeli Jews.

"We don't need a situation in which you have haredim chasing the Conservatives and liberals from the Western Wall. At least let's get together while we're fighting this terrible battle over the suicide bombers," said Al Golden. A retired writer and former playwright, he once worked as a "play doctor" for Darryl Zanuck at 20th Century Fox.

"Dorothy came from a very Orthodox family and she married a guy from a Reform family. We never had any problem during our 63 years of marriage concerning Orthodox, Conservative and Reform."

Bernice Fox, director of Friendship Circle, a Jewish senior program in Sonoma County, said Dorothy and Al Golden are classic examples of people with the right kind of chutzpah.

"Since social activism and helping people is a core Jewish value, Dorothy has spent her life being involved in healing the world," she said. "When the Goldens retired and moved to Santa Rosa, they joined Congregation Beth Ami and Friendship Circle.

"They still continue writing letters to politicians, locals and people around the world, urging them to be involved in tikkun olam [healing the world]."