Jewish leaders speak up

Few people know what really goes on in the minds of our top Jewish leaders — or what really goes on behind closed doors at Jewish federations.

That's why it's refreshing to find that the Jewish Community Endowment Fund has been sponsoring the creation of oral histories of past presidents and executive directors of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

Getting a chance to find out more about these individuals, in their own words, is, quite frankly, compelling.

The presidents, in particular, are powerful and affluent. But they also are extremely generous with both their time and money. These are people who spent countless hours of their free time raising money and raising awareness of local and international needs.

They have given up large parts of their lives to make the world a more humane place.

There are not enough people like them.

At the same time, the oral histories reveal that these leaders aren't mythological figures. They are human.

One spent part of his youth in an orphanage. Others fought blatant anti-Semitism. Some, who had little or no religious education, still recognized the importance of helping fellow Jews.

Their examples show that anyone can get involved.

The presidents don't hesitate to be outspoken and honest in these oral histories, which were produced by the U.C. Berkeley's Regional Oral History Office.

Their candor will help the next generation learn from past accomplishments and mistakes.

It also will be an invaluable resource to historians of the future, who will want a glimpse into the Jewish philanthropy and the important work of Jewish federations in the 20th century.

Jews have always been meticulous about preserving their past. These oral histories are yet another example of such foresight.