State Sen. Scott Wiener speaks at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. (Photo/Gabriel Greschler)
State Sen. Scott Wiener speaks at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. (Photo/Gabriel Greschler)

S.F. mayor, lawmakers gather at Emanu-El to decry antisemitism

An array of local, city and state leaders gathered in Congregation Emanu-El’s courtyard Thursday afternoon in a show of unity and force in response to an increasing number of antisemitic incidents over the last year.

In San Francisco, a Noe Valley preschool was vandalized with the words “Death to Israel” during the Israel-Hamas conflict in May, and Jewish-owned Manny’s café in the Mission District had “Zionist pigz” spray-painted on an outside wall in June. Earlier in the year, in January, antisemitic content was anonymously shared with students at Lowell High School.

“What happened to the school in Noe Valley, to kids, and how that would make them feel, to the students at Lowell High School, to Manny and his business, the message that that sends … well, we’re going to send a stronger and more powerful message today,” said Mayor London Breed.

At one point, the mayor turned to the city’s police commander of investigations, Raj Vaswani, who stood a couple of feet behind her, and got confirmation that religious attacks in San Francisco happen to Jews “more so than any community.”

“That means we have work to do,” said Breed. “To call it out.”

The hourlong event facilitated by the Jewish Community Relations Council also included remarks by state Attorney General Rob Bonta, state Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblymember David Chiu. JCRC, led by Tye Gregory, used the day to launch a new project called “Here I Am,” a social media campaign where individuals can share their personal experiences of antisemitism.

Historically, it’s been great for the Jews, until it’s not so great.

Wiener, who as vice chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus helped pass security and antisemitism-focused items through this year’s state budget, invoked history as a warning.

“Everything was great for the Jews in Spain until we got expelled,” he said. “Everything was great for the Jews in Weimar Germany until — we know what happened. Historically, it’s been great for the Jews, until it’s not so great. Even in areas like Pittsburgh and Southern California, terrible things can happen,” referring to the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in 2018 and the Chabad of Poway shooting in 2019.

“We have to be vigilant,” he said. “We can never let our guard down. We can never assume, well, because we’re in a progressive country now, or a progressive area, where members of our community are in prominent leadership positions — we’ve been in prominent leadership positions before, and then bad things happen. Horrific things happen.”

Also addressed at the event was the recent rise in anti-Asian violence throughout the Bay Area during the pandemic. Chiu, a Chinese American Assemblymember representing the eastern half of San Francisco, said Gregory was the first person who called him when violence against his community started in the spring of 2020.

He also outlined the similarities between the Asian and Jewish communities. In college, he said, he and his Jewish roommates “would talk about the fact that Chinese Americans and Jewish Americans, we would eat at the same restaurants during Christmas. Regardless of how much schooling we got or what we succeeded in [during] our careers, to our tiger mothers, we were never good enough because we didn’t go to medical school and become doctors.”

Assemblymember David Chiu (at microphone) is flanked by Jewish leaders including JFCS’ Anita Friedman, Be’chol Lashon’s Marcella White Campbell and café owner Manny Yekutiel. (Photo/Gabriel Greschler)
Assemblymember David Chiu (at microphone) is flanked by Jewish leaders including JFCS’ Anita Friedman, Be’chol Lashon’s Marcella White Campbell and café owner Manny Yekutiel. (Photo/Gabriel Greschler)

But then Chiu’s remarks became more serious: “All that being said, there is something that binds us during this time. And that is, during this past year, our respective communities have experienced a horrifying level of hate, of violence and of discrimination.”

Bonta, who was appointed attorney general by Gov. Gavin Newsom in April, described the day’s “allyship” and “unity” as “powerful.”

“Our strength is in each other,” said Bonta, the state’s first Filipino American attorney general. Before stepping up to the top job, Bonta served as an Assemblymember representing the East Bay and supported a slew of bills introduced this year that targeted hate.

Standing alongside Chiu, Breed, Bonta and Wiener were a host of other Jewish city leaders, including District Attorney Chesa Boudin, supervisors Myrna Melgar (a former JCRC board member), Matt Haney and Rafael Mandelman and businessowner and SFMTA board member Manny Yekutiel (who owns Mannny’s café). Others in attendance included Be’chol Lashon executive director Marcella White Campbell, Federation CEO Danny Grossman and the Rev. Paul J. Fitzgerald, president of the University of San Francisco.

Acts of Jewish hate haven’t been confined to San Francisco. In Marin County, a series of numbers used by white supremacists was found on a scoreboard at a park in San Anselmo this week. And last year, a man was identified posting swastika stickers with the text “We are everywhere” in downtown Fairfax. Just two months before that incident, students at Redwood High School in Larkspur were targeted with antisemitic social media content.

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler is a staff writer at J. You can reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ggreschler.