Rossmoor group taps into hunger for Israel facts

On a given Sunday afternoon, while neighbors may be snoozing in front of the TV or packing up their clubs after a round of golf, Rossmoor residents Margie and Moe Richman — along with anywhere from 150 to 200 others — can be found sitting indoors, listening intently to a speaker discussing Middle East affairs.

And Israel is the prime topic of conversation. It’s a meeting of MEICOR, the Middle East Information Council of Rossmoor, whose mission is to present positive factual information about the Jewish state.

The group began nearly four years ago, kicked off by a casual gripe-fest among Moe Richman and some friends. “We were concerned about the press that Israel was getting, whether in TV, the local papers or wherever, and we felt that we wanted to do something about it,” he recalled.

“At first, we thought about a letter-writing campaign, but we felt we weren’t ready for that.” Instead, they decided “we should be providing programs that were educating people, the people we could reach out to.”

And with nearly 10,000 residents in Rossmoor, including a sizable Jewish population, the core group swung into action.

Twenty-two people joined the MEICOR board, on which the Richmans still serve, and one of their first decisions was to have no dues or membership requirement. “We wanted everyone to feel they could come to the programs without monetary restraint,” said Margie Richman.

Their strategy worked: Attendance has topped 250 at times, while “our low point is over 100,” said Moe Richman.

The quality of speakers is another reason MEICOR has drawn large audiences. Speakers have included Yossi Olmert, the brother of Israel’s prime minister; Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America; Abe Miller, a retired terror expert; actor Hal Linden (TV’s Barney Miller); local Democratic congresswoman Ellen Tauscher; and many others.

On tap for March 13 is Israeli Knessset member Yuval Steinitz of the Likud Party, and in May the speaker will be Ishmael Khaldi, Israel’s deputy consul general in San Francisco.

Though nearly every speaker has come without compensation, putting on each program still costs MEICOR about $300. Most events are slated for 4 p.m. Sundays, but if a sought-after speaker can only make it during the week or on a weekend morning, MEICOR makes that happen. About eight presentations occur annually.

Clyde Brenner, who serves as treasurer and has been on the board since its start, said a positive response to fundraising appeals has kept the group afloat. Early on, “we sent out letters asking people to contribute, and got a 50 percent [positive] response.” That kept MEICOR going until the end of last year, he said, when a second mass mailing went out. “That will hold us another two to three years.”

MEICOR has had as many as 500 people on its email and mailing lists. It publicizes events via email alerts, but primarily by mail, with yellow postcards. Also, “we do get great support from other Jewish organizations in Rossmoor,” said Moe Richman, with publicity and finding interesting speakers.

Brenner, a self-described “Israel activist” who is also involved with the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay, added that Riva Gambert, its director of community programs, has provided “some excellent help.”

In fact, MEICOR casts a wide net, working with Bay Area organizations like the Jewish Community Relations Council, S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, and Israel Center. And though MEICOR does not allow speakers to solicit contributions, it is not unusual for checks to be written to a Jewish nonprofit following someone’s talk.

“We were lucky in tapping into a desire by Rossmoor Jewish residents to do something, where they could show their interest,” said Brenner.

He and the Richmans also attribute the group’s success to another factor: Finding the perfect time slot. Late Sunday afternoon is “an open period for just about everybody,” said Brenner. People come early for refreshments and socializing before settling down for the serious business.

MEICOR strives to help people express their opinions on issues of concern. So, beyond speakers’ presentations — which are typically followed by a question-and-answer session — letter writing is encouraged. “We’ve become more and more oriented towards action,” Moe Richman said. “We’ve sent letters signed by 200 to 300 people about a particular issue.

“One of the things that we wanted to do is encourage people to write on their own, and that’s tough to do. We’ve been trying to develop programs that will encourage them to do more — presenting them with issues that are very simple, so they can write a simple letter and get that in the mail … We will hand out pages with addresses, from the president on down to state representatives, and give them out at the door.”

Added Margie Richman: “We make sure they understand that they’ve got to do some homework.”

No slouches themselves, the Richmans have long been politically active. When their three sons were growing up, the couple would often bring them along to demonstrations in San Francisco. “They didn’t realize that Civic Center Plaza had another purpose than protest,” said Margie Richman.

The couple moved to Rossmoor 14 years ago, after 25 years in Moraga. “Moe didn’t want to do the lawn anymore, and he didn’t want the kids coming back home,” she joked.

Clyde Brenner said his wife, Rose, who is also involved with MEICOR and the East Bay Federation, instigated the move from Chicago to Rossmoor 10 years ago. “My wife moved out here to be with the kids,” he said. “I moved out here to be with my wife.”

For information of MEICOR and details on upcoming meetings, call (925) 938-4739.

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.