Berkeley Jew runs as Reform Party V.P.

The Jewish community has been woozy over the news that there is a Jewish vice presidential candidate.

Steady yourself, because now there are two.

At the splintered Reform Party convention in Long Beach, Nat Goldhaber of Berkeley was selected Saturday to be the running mate of John Hagelin, whom the party's anti-Pat Buchanan faction picked to be its presidential candidate.

The turn of events caught Goldhaber, 52, and his wife, Marilyn, by surprise.

"I went down there to enjoy the convention and to avoid all the dirty tricks of Mr. Buchanan," Goldhaber, a Reform Jew and a member of Temple Sinai in Oakland, said Tuesday by phone after a party meeting in Lake Tahoe.

"Dr. Hagelin asked me if I wanted to be chairman of his campaign, and I said sure, even though I was a little reluctant to do that. Then he prevailed of me to at least put my hat in the ring [as a running mate], and I won by a majority among four candidates."

Like that of Hagelin, most Americans have never heard Goldhaber's name, even though he is a multimillionaire and well-known in Silicon Valley.

In 1987, he sold a software company he developed, Tops, to Sun Microsystems Inc. for a reported $20 million. Early last week, he pocketed about 6 percent of — worth about $27 million on paper — when the company completed a merger with Goldhaber's Oakland-based Cybergold Inc.

He founded Cybergold in 1995, offering rewards to customers as an incentive to respond to Web site ads and offers. He has headed several other start-up companies as well, and owns two planes, a Cessna 414 and a Citation jet.

"I lead a wonderfully happy life," Goldhaber told the San Jose Mercury News. "I have enough money to last a lifetime. The question is: What do I do going forward? I'd like to give things back in a different arena."

Goldhaber is a major financial backer of Hagelin, a physicist who was the Natural Law Party's presidential candidate in 1992 and 1996.

Although Goldhaber hasn't run for political office since 1964, when he lost a bid for class president of Oakland's College Preparatory High School, he is eager to spend the next three months campaigning as well as boning up on the issues.

"It's absolutely going to take 100 percent of my time — hopefully for the next eight years," Goldhaber said, sounding like a slick politician already.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he bellowed to the delegates at the convention, "it's hard to believe this but we have a chance of winning the White House in November."

Goldhaber's status as a Jewish candidate might have received more play in the media had he not been beaten to the punch a few days earlier by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who was named as Al Gore's running mate on the Democratic ticket.

"Excellent," Goldhaber said was his initial reaction when he heard about Gore's choice.

"It's terrific that Jews are now being considered for senior positions in the American political domain, but we're still a long way from having a Jewish president," he said. "The good thing is that the U.S. is iterating in the direction of greater tolerance in all areas."

The fractious and raucous Reform Party convention left the Buchanan and Hagelin camps arguing over which candidate is the real nominee and should receive $12.5 million in matching federal funds.

A court ruling is expected within two weeks, but Goldhaber said he and Hagelin will campaign for the White House even if they don't get the funds.

Buchanan, meanwhile, hinted on C-SPAN that Goldhaber was chosen as Hagelin's running mate in large part to bankroll the campaign.

Eight years ago, Ross Perot spent $60 million of his own money on his campaign, but Goldhaber said contributions are limited for this campaign because the Reform Party is accepting federal funds.

And anyway, Goldhaber said of his wealth, "I'm not in Perot's league."

Goldhaber and his wife joined Temple Sinai in Oakland about four years ago. The couple's 12-year-old triplets, who attend a Jewish day school, are only 10 months away from celebrating "a triple bar mitzvah" at Sinai.

Before joining Sinai, the Goldhabers were members at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley. Both are Reform congregations.

The Goldhabers live in the hills behind the Claremont Hotel on the Oakland-Berkeley border. Their house has a Berkeley zip code but they pay taxes to and receive city services from Oakland.

When he was a youth, Goldhaber's family switched residences between Oakland and Berkeley and belonged to several synagogues. He celebrated his bar mitzvah at Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland the early '60s.

His Vienna-born mother, Sulamith, moved to pre-state Israel as a teenager and met her German-born and Egypt-raised husband, Gerson, when both were attending Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the late 1940s.

"Both sets of grandparents had the good sense to figure out what was coming and get out [of Austria and Germany] in plenty of time," Goldhaber said of his ancestors' exodus in the mid-1930s.

Sulamith and Gerson immigrated to the United States to pursue Ph.D.s at the University of Wisconsin, she in nuclear chemistry and he in physics.

"I was born in Wisconsin," said Goldhaber, whose given first name is Amos, "but I was conceived in Jerusalem."

Sulamith, who died from cancer in 1965 at the age of 42, was one of the founders of Congregation Beth Israel, an Orthodox synagogue in Berkeley. Gerson, 76, is a graduate school professor at U.C. Berkeley.

Goldhaber said he is "not actively involved with any Jewish organizations," although his wife, a U.C. Berkeley graduate and epidemiologist, is a lifetime member of Hadassah. As for synagogue, "we don't go weekly, but we do occasionally," he added.

"I'd love to do some [campaign] events with the Jewish community in the Bay Area," added Goldhaber, who holds a master's degree in education from U.C. Berkeley. He spent five years working in the Pennsylvania state government, as an aide to former Lt. Gov. William W. Scranton III and as an interim state energy secretary in the wake of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident.

A devotee of Transcendental Meditation, as is Hagelin, Goldhaber also holds a bachelor's degree from Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa.

He said two of his reasons for backing Hagelin are the candidate's positions on agriculture reform and finding renewable energy sources.

"I am very much for promoting indigenous energy sources," he said.

Goldhaber estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the Reform Party's old guard — not the Buchanan backers — are Jewish.

"Jews are activists and generally dissatisfied with the status quo," he explained, defining the party as one that has a reform-oriented political agenda but no social agenda.

"Ross said people's lives should be their own business," he added.

"Ross Perot's original vision of the Reform Party was a good one: Let's see whether or not we can bring sound and honest solutions to problems that beset our country and international relations by removing from the process the confounding influence of campaign contributions and the political infrastructure in Washington.

"We are not beholden to the same gods that are worshipped in our Congress — the gods of PAC money and special-interest groups."

Goldhaber said Hagelin is "a big supporter of Israel," as well as "a supporter of applying scientific innovation to the solution of very real problems — which, in my estimation, is a Jewish outlook."

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.