Rebecca Feiler, student activist, tenacious with a capital T, 22

Anyone who has ever watched U.C. Berkeley’s pro-Israel activists and pro-Palestinians attempt to drown each other out in an orgy of shouting and sign-waving probably wouldn’t give five minutes trying to find everyone’s common ground.

Rebecca Feiler gave it a year and a half.

The U.C. Berkeley student and Kensington native tried — and, eventually failed — to get the most hardcore pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel supporters to join in an antiwar coalition. It was, in the words of her father, Michael, “a very hard life lesson for her.”

Adds her mother, Debbie, “At a certain point, she told me she’d go outside during meetings and cry out of frustration and then come back and stay for more of the meeting.”

Rebecca Feiler, described by friends and family as “an idealist” who was “tenacious with a capital T” died Sunday, Sept. 26, after a battle with a rare blood disease called mastocytosis. She was just 22 years old.

Feiler would have graduated from college in May with a double major in Middle Eastern studies and a self-created area of study involving resolving conflicts via the literature of oppressed peoples had she not been forced to withdraw from school due to her declining health. Doctors pinpointed the blood disease in January, after postulating a series of other diagnoses over the previous several months.

The Berkeley-born Feiler was remembered by her mother as a social activist who had a very difficult time tolerating the world’s injustices.

“She believed very strongly in right and wrong. If something was right, she didn’t see why you had to compromise with that,” said Debbie Feiler.

“We’d have these political arguments, and I’d say, ‘That’s enough for one night.’ And she’d say, ‘I thought we could discuss things openly here at our table.’ And I’d sigh and say, ‘Yeah, let me get another cup of tea first.'”

In addition to her studies, Rebecca Feiler — known pretty much universally as Becca — served as a volunteer intern at U.C. Berkeley’s Emma Goldman Papers Project and tutored inmates at San Quentin.

She and a group of close friends from El Cerrito High School worked as counselors at a camp for underprivileged British city kids in 2003, and Feiler told her mother that her “pilgrimage” to the Beatles’ hometown of Liverpool was “second only to her experience in going to Jerusalem.”

The Feiler family attended Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom, where Rebecca celebrated her bat mitzvah; she was also a 2000 Midrasha graduate.

In 1995, Michael, a professor of computer science at Merritt College, and Debbie, a middle school teacher, went on sabbatical, taking Rebecca and her older sister, Sarah, to live in Haifa for a year. It was a time when young people felt safe enough to go virtually anywhere at anytime, and Rebecca savored the newfound freedom.

Michael Feiler always envisioned his daughter becoming a writer, professor or philosopher — in the hospital she was comforted by a teddy bear named Nietzsche, but she simply called him Fred.”

Lifelong friend Celine Piser agreed that Rebecca was “really stubborn,” both for good and bad.

“She was the sweetest person I’ve ever known, a great friend,” said Piser, who met Feiler in Beth El’s preschool, and went through U.C. Berkeley with her.

“Becca was beautiful. Beautiful on the inside and the outside.”

Rebecca Feiler is survived by her parents, Michael and Debbie Feiler of Kensington; her older sister, Sarah, of Long Beach; and her grandmother, Dorothy Feiler of Salt Lake City. Funeral services were held Monday, Sept. 27, in Richmond.

Donations can be sent to The Emma Goldman Papers, U.C. Berkeley, 2872 Ellsworth St., Berkeley, CA 94720; Alta Bates/Harrick Comprehensive Cancer Center, 2001 Dwight Way, Berkeley, CA 94704; and San Quentin’s Prison University Project, P.O. Box 492, San Quentin, CA 94964.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.