Minnie Goldrath, longtime anti-war activist, dies at 87

Of all the advice Marc Gold-rath received from his mother over the years, this stands out: In 1967, when he just turned 18, she advised him on how to obtain conscientious-objector status.

Minnie Goldrath, a longtime San Mateo resident, died April 27 in San Francisco. She was 87.

"My older brother was a 4-F; he had a knee injury, so it wasn't an issue for him," said Marc Goldrath, also of San Mateo. "But then I turned 18."

He recalled his mother taking him on peace marches since he was 4 years old, and while doing so, she collected whatever literature was offered.

By the time Marc Goldrath applied for C.O. status, thanks to his mother's influence, he was prepared. "I did not get my C.O. status on religious beliefs; I did it on philosophical beliefs, which was pretty much unheard of in the Vietnam War," he said. "I was accepted on my first try. Usually people were denied and had to appeal."

Minnie Goldrath, née Kaplan, was born in Chicago to immigrant parents from Russia and Lithuania. Her mother, and therefore, she and her children, are direct descendants of the Vilna Gaon, the foremost scholar-sage of Lithuanian Jewry in the 18th century. Her father was a tailor.

Though raised in a secular home, Minnie Goldrath was raised to take pride in being Jewish. While still in Chicago, she worked as a secretary for the Jewish Social Service Bureau.

"She was a secular Jew and believed in that very strongly," said her son. "She did not identify with a God, but she identified with the history and the traditions of being a Jew. We never belonged to a synagogue but celebrated every holiday at home."

Minnie Goldrath's first marriage to Murray Walker ended in divorce a few years later. They had one son together, Allan. In 1947, she married Bert Goldrath, a photo editor at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 1949, they had a son together, Marc.

Bert Goldrath had been through San Francisco while in the military, and he decided the family should make a fresh start in California. They moved to San Mateo in 1953, and in 1955, they had another son, Paul. Bert worked as a freelance writer and photographer.

Until her children were grown, Millie Goldrath was a homemaker. She was a founding member of the Peninsula Jewish Community Center as well as the Peace Center of San Mateo. She also founded and taught in a secular Jewish religious school that continued for 30 years.

She was also active in the peace movement, and the civil rights movement, attending many marches.

After her children were grown, Goldrath worked as a teacher's aide in the Millbrae School District.

"They just loved being with her, both the teachers and the first-graders," said her son Marc.

Minnie Goldrath's experience counseling Marc on obtaining conscientious-objector status turned into more than keeping just her son out of the military.

"I was her first, but she never stopped," he said. "After me she moved onto my friends, and then their friends, and also neighbors and relatives."

Working out of her home, she became well-known on the speakers circuit, and was often invited to speak at schools where the military had recently visited.

Her devotion to the cause didn't end after the Vietnam War. Later, she counseled people in the military who were considering deserting. With every U.S. military action, she feared the draft would be reinstated.

"She always had people at her door," said Marc.

Sherie Koshover, director of community relations at the Jewish Home for the Aged, where Goldrath lived for the past eight years, said she was even advising Jewish Home employees and volunteers on how to avoid the draft.

"Everyone was very clear that she had been involved in the peace movement in the '60s and as a counselor," said Koshover. "Just recently," before the U.S. entry into Iraq, "she made herself available to the young people because she was very concerned that the draft could be re-enacted."

Marc Goldrath called his mother "wise beyond her years," and said that she was the kind of person that people were drawn to because of her wisdom and insight.

"She believed very strongly in humanity," he said. "She just felt that we were here to look after each other and take care of each other, and do whatever we could and needed to, to get along."

Minnie Goldrath remained active during her eight years at the Jewish Home. She tutored Russian immigrants in English, and took courses at the Fromm Institute, including one on Dostoyevsky and Kazantzakis. Though she had read Dostoyevsky before, studying with a professor enriches the reading, she told the Jewish Bulletin in 1999.

"You get so much more meaning out of the book," she said."

She also took it upon herself to ensure that all her fellow residents at the Jewish Home were eligible to vote at their new address.

"She had all the forms available and would hold a little booth, not just around election time," said Koshover. "But when she first moved in, she volunteered to help residents reregister at this address, not aware that we had a process built in to do that."

In 2002, Goldrath received a certificate for her lifetime achievements from San Francisco Supervisor Geraldo Sandoval.

Even though she had lessened mobility in her later years, "she continued to remain vibrant and involved" said Koshover, "and really inspirational — not only to her peers but to younger members of our community."

Goldrath was predeceased by husband Bert in 1991. In addition to Marc, she is survived by sons Allan of San Luis Obispo and Paul of Newark, brother William Kaplan of Laguna Woods, six granddaughters and numerous nieces and nephews.

Donations can be made to the Jewish Home, 302 Silver Ave., S.F., CA, 94112, or the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, 630 20th St., Suite 302, Oakland, CA, 94612.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."