S.F. Interfaith Council’s historic Jewish involvement

On Nov. 25, the San Francisco Interfaith Council celebrated its 25th anniversary with a sold-out breakfast. Why is that of interest to the Jewish community? Because the Northern California Board of Rabbis, the Jewish Community Relations Council and individual congregations have been an integral part of the council since its creation.

In December 1988, San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos called clergy of all faiths into his office to ask for help in housing and feeding the homeless. Rabbi Malcolm Sparer, then president of the board of rabbis, was there. He immediately enlisted the Jewish Community Relations Council (I was the executive director). Congregations Emanu-El and Sherith Israel also joined the effort to provide food for the temporary sites set up downtown.

The following October, the faith community organized again to help out after the Loma Prieta earthquake, and of course the Jewish community agencies and synagogues were part of the effort. Since those early days, members of the Jewish community have served on the council’s board and been part of every council activity.

As part of the council’s 25th anniversary celebration, an interfaith concert was held several weeks ago. Seven congregations provided music, including Congregation Emanu-El, which sent Cantor Roslyn Barak and the synagogue’s choir. On Thanksgiving morning, Congregation Sherith Israel hosted the council’s 10th annual interfaith Thanksgiving service.

The theme of the San Francisco Interfaith Council in its 25th year is “together we can do more.” In these days of international violence and uncertainty, the necessity for friends and allies has never been greater. To meet the changes taking place daily in San Francisco, communities must work together so that economic inequality does not overwhelm our citizens.

The council is grateful for the financial support it has received from congregations, the board of rabbis, the Bernard Osher Foundation, the Walter and Elise Haas Fund and many individuals in the Jewish community.

Together we can do more. Hopefully that will happen in 2015 and for many years to come.

Rita R. Semel is a founder and past chair of the San Francisco Interfaith Council and executive director emeritus of the Jewish Community Relations Council.