This photo of the post-earthquake ruins of Temple Emanu-El's original building appeared on the cover of our Sept. 21, 1906 issue.
This photo of the post-earthquake ruins of Temple Emanu-El's original building appeared on the cover of our Sept. 21, 1906 issue.

Archives Week: How we’ve covered the biggest Bay Area Jewish stories through the years

It’s Archives Week here at J. The Jewish News of Northern California! Our entire archives — 127 years of Bay Area Jewish news and history — is now online for all to browse and search through.

From the 1906 earthquake to the launch of the United Nations to the emergence of trans rabbis, J. (which was previously known as the Emanu-El and the Jewish Bulletin) has covered all of the big stories affecting our local Jewish community. Below are some highlights from our newly digitized archives.


Death of Adolph Sutro, Jewish mayor of San Francisco (Aug. 12, 1898)

Adolph Sutro
Adolph Sutro

Sutro was a German Jewish engineer and philanthropist who made a fortune from the Sutro Tunnel, a drainage system he built for the Comstock Lode silver mines in Nevada. He was elected San Francisco’s second Jewish mayor in 1895. (The first was Washington Montgomery Bartlett, who also served as governor of California.) Following Sutro’s death in 1898, a tribute in this publication read in part: “The city loses a splendid individuality of whose good heart and kindly benevolence we could tell many a fine tale, whilst the Sutro family loses its chief, who brought the well-renowned German name into the light of American repute.”


1906 San Francisco earthquake and aftermath (May 4, 1906)

The first issue following the devastating April 18, 1906 earthquake and fire included a large section in which local Jews notified family and friends where they had temporarily relocated to after their homes were destroyed. The issue’s editorial struck an optimistic tone: “Ere long the city by the Golden Gate from the ferry to the hilltops will be a veritable beehive of industry. Let us forget our misfortunes and remember that after all God has been good to us.” A striking photo of the shell of Congregation Emanu-El would run on the cover of the Sept. 21, 1906 issue.


Golden Gate Bridge opens; Nazi flags flown in celebration (June 4, 1937)

After the Golden Gate Bridge opened in May 1937, this newspaper profiled the structure’s Jewish chief engineer, Joseph Strauss. The paper also reported on Nazi swastika flags being flown in downtown San Francisco, along with other foreign flags, in celebration of the opening. A fiery editorial was penned in response: “The Golden Gate Bridge now belongs to the world. It was officially given … for human utility and enjoyment, regardless of race, color or creed. That a Jew could deliver such a benefaction to humanity, must be incredible to the blood-thinking Aryan — as incredible to him as the fact that the Christian Savior was a Jew by birth.”


United Nations launches in San Francisco (April 27, 1945)

"Jews Look To United Nations For New Bill Of Rights"
“Jews Look To United Nations For New Bill Of Rights”

The United Nations Conference on International Organization was held in San Francisco in the spring of 1945, with representatives from 50 nations in attendance. Several articles in the Emanu-El newspaper captured the sense of excitement and hope among local Jews surrounding the conference, which culminated with the signing of the U.N. Charter. “The Conference seeks to arrange the basis for a just and sane world order, rooted in a durable peace, an order in which we shall never again see such human tragedies as have been visited upon the Jews and other minorities,” one commentator wrote.


Mixed feelings about the establishment of Israel (June 13, 1947)

Prior to the adoption of the U.N. Partition Plan for Palestine, local Jews were conflicted about the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. The president of the San Francisco branch of the American Council for Judaism helped draft a memo to the U.N. opposing the state on the grounds that it would be “harmful to the Jews in Palestine and to Jews elsewhere throughout the world” who might be accused by their countrymen of having dual loyalty. Yet the birth of the state in May 1948 was celebrated by hundreds at a rally held at the Veterans Building. “All hailed the new state as the realization of years of hope and effort,” our report stated.


Golda Meir speaks at Emanu-El (March 5, 1948)

Future Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir visited San Francisco on a national fundraising tour for the Yishuv, the Jewish settlement in pre-state Israel. “The force of her personality, the simple dignity with which she asked American Jewry to stand by the Yishuv, the future her words evoked, won for her the respect, the admiration and the support of the San Francisco Jews who thronged to Temple Emanu-El to hear her,” reporter Rita Semel wrote about Meir, who was then 49 and still  known as Goldie Myerson. Meir would return to San Francisco many times, including in 1956 and 1960. (And local legend Rita Semel just celebrated her 100th birthday!)

Goldie Myerson (now better known as Prime Minister Golda Meir), speaks at Congregation Emanu-El in Feb. 1948. (Photo/Israel Kayatsky)
Goldie Myerson (now better known as Prime Minister Golda Meir), speaks at Congregation Emanu-El in Feb. 1948. (Photo/Israel Kayatsky)

Assassination of Harvey Milk (Dec. 1, 1978)

The Jewish community mourned San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk after their Nov. 27, 1978 assassinations. Milk had recently embraced his Jewish identity and attended Yom Kippur services at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav. “We’ve lost a key figure in our liaison to the City Administration,” said Rabbi Allen Bennett in his eulogy of Milk. Moscone was remembered as a dedicated public servant who advocated for Soviet Jews. Upon Moscone’s death, Dianne Feinstein became acting mayor and the third Jewish mayor of San Francisco.

Harvey Milk at Castro Camera in the mid-1970s (Photo/Courtesy S.F. Public Library)
Harvey Milk at Castro Camera in the mid-1970s (Photo/Courtesy S.F. Public Library)

San Francisco welcomes Natan Sharansky (Feb. 6, 1987)

Some 2,000 people turned out to see Natan Sharansky, a leader of the Soviet refuseniks, speak outside of the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco. He also addressed a packed crowd at Congregation Emanu-El during a whirlwind tour of the city. In his speeches, he criticized the Soviet regime — “The world is being blinded by Gorbachev’s gestures of glasnost,” he said — and acknowledged the support he received from local Jews who agitated for his release from prison. “I think I can say that San Francisco was the one place where I had the most ‘criminal contacts,’” he said.


1989 World Series and earthquake (Oct. 13 and 27, 1989)

The 1989 World Series was a very memorable one for local Jewish baseball fans. Deemed the “Bay Bridge Series,” it was the first and only championship showdown between the two Bay Area MLB teams. The owners of the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s were Jews (Bob Lurie and Walter Haas Jr., respectively), and both happened to belong to the same shul. (“You wouldn’t believe the calls I’m getting for tickets,” Rabbi Robert Kirschner of Congregation Emanu-El told the Jewish Bulletin’s Winston Pickett.) Minutes before Game 3 was to start, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. The series would be postponed for 10 days, with the A’s ultimately winning the title.


Gender diversity in the rabbinate (June 9, 2017)

J.’s Laura Paull interviewed local members of the first generation of nonbinary and trans rabbis and congregational leaders for a J. cover story. The group included Rabbi Dev Noily, the senior rabbi at Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont and possibly the first rabbi to use “they/them” pronouns. “There’s still a lot of pushback in the Jewish world around trans people in general,” Noily said. “Communities have had more time to process what it means to have women clergy, and even gay clergy, than they have had for trans clergy.”

Noily stand before a group of people speaking
Rabbi Dev Noily teaching at Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont, where Noily is the senior rabbi. (Photo/Natalie Schrik)
Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv.