Postcard delivers anti-Semitic message

It wasn't the first recent act of anti-Semitism in Berkeley. Nor was it even the second for one 45-year resident.

But a Dec. 11 postcard that read simply, "FILTHY F—ING JEW. GET OUT OF OUR NEIGHBORHOOD," was certainly the ugliest letter that Sigmund Schwimmer ever received.

The Berkeley man, 81, said it took a few moments for the initial shock to subside when he pulled the card from his mailbox on Keith Avenue, about 1-1/2 miles north of the U.C. campus.

"I thought, who would hate me that much?"

Schwimmer's hate mail was the latest in a string of anti-Semitic acts in an otherwise liberal city. Most of the recent incidents took place in front of Cody's Books on Telegraph Avenue, according to officials at the S.F. office of the Anti-Defamation League.

The ADL's Eden Mendel said she has not pursued the incident with Berkeley police, who have taken a report but indicated to Schwimmer that they would not be investigating the matter.

Mendel said she will be talking with community leaders about organizing a neighborhood meeting over the Keith Avenue incident. She also plans to make a report to the state Fair Employment and Housing Office, which also examines the harassment of homeowners.

"Plans are in the works to discuss this horrible anti-Semitic postcard," Mendel said.

Since receiving the card, Schwimmer said he can't help but look at his neighbors a little differently. While he claims never to have had a run-in with any of them, he wonders whether the changing demographics of the area ushered in a hatemonger.

"There's been a shift in the last year or two with a lot of oldtimers dying or moving away. A lot of younger families are moving in," he said.

"I've been friendly with most of them…I try to be nice to people and greet their children."

A year ago, however, a 30something man on a Berkeley bus spit on him and possibly said something anti-Semitic. Some years before that, an old man walking out of an El Cerrito bank encountered Schwimmer on the street, spit in his face and called him "a dirty Jew," Schwimmer said.

"I was so shocked that I didn't have time to do anything," he recalled. While he does not wear a yarmulke or tzitzit, Schwimmer said he has an identifiably "Semitic face."

The retired food chemist said the police officer who took the report on the hate postcard told him to contact the postmaster. Schwimmer said he has not yet done so and has no plans to pursue the incident further.

Lori Eppstein

Lori Eppstein is a former staff writer.