Woman in purple sweater pets a dog
Jen Wolosin, Menlo Park Vice Mayor, spearheaded an initiative to combat antisemitism in her city after the Colleyville attack. (Courtesy Jen Wolosin)

Two Peninsula cities adopt proclamations to combat ‘casual’ antisemitism

Menlo Park Vice Mayor Jen Wolosin had spent more than a year biting her tongue each time she came across a conspiracy theory about Jews circulating on social media or read about the national rise in antisemitic attacks.

As the only Jewish city council member, Wolosin was wary of making an issue that felt personal — antisemitism — a topic for the council, concerned she would appear to be self-serving rather than representing her constituents.

“In holding my office, I try to make it not about me,” said Wolosin, who was elected in November 2020 and is serving as vice mayor this year. “It’s about the community and about lifting voices.” 

In January, as she sat glued to the news coverage while the synagogue hostage standoff unfolded in Colleyville, Texas, she was spurred to act.

“It just pushed me over the edge,” Wolosin said.

She contacted the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council for guidance on writing a proclamation against antisemitism to present to the Menlo Park council. Working quickly to meet an agenda deadline, Wolosin workshopped a draft with JCRC’s CEO Tye Gregory that included statistics from the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and FBI to highlight the growth in reported antisemitic incidents over the past two years. 

The proclamation referenced recent incidents, including the synagogue hostage-taking in Colleyville, antisemitic flyers distributed in Santa Monica elementary schools linking Jews to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the vandalism of a Holocaust memorial statue in Santa Rosa.

The proclamation was read aloud at the council’s Jan. 25 public Zoom meeting, 10 days after Colleyville, by Menlo Park Mayor Betsy Nash. “Whereas, the City of Menlo Park has a duty to speak out against all forms of discrimination and hate, and draws its strength from its diverse population, of which many self-identify as Jewish,” Nash read. “Therefore, be it proclaimed, that I … hereby condemn antisemitism and stand with the Jewish people.”

Several members of the public who streamed the virtual council meeting sent messages of support to Wolosin immediately after the document was read. “They felt like it had been addressed in a way that they hadn’t really thought about before,” she said.

The proclamation condemns not only violence and threats toward Jews, but also the use of Jewish stereotypes and myths — or forms of “casual antisemitism,” according to Gregory.

Proclamations such as these demonstrate “an openness to the deeper conversations that we want to have about antisemitism and how it manifests in more casual ways,” the JCRC leader said, noting that most people are mostly aware of explicit manifestations of antisemitism — acts of extreme violence, displaying Nazi imagery — by white supremacists or their sympathizers.

At a Jan. 19 virtual meeting of the Jewish Democratic Club of Silicon Valley attended by local officials, Wolosin mentioned the proclamation she was working on with JCRC, and San Carlos City Council member Laura Parmer-Lohan quickly texted about getting started on one that she could present to her own council. 

On Feb. 14, San Carlos Mayor Sara McDowell read a proclamation condemning antisemitism on behalf of her city.

“When anybody in our community is hurting, or a target, I take it personally,” said Parmer-Lohan, who in 2020-2021 served as mayor, the city’s first to identify as lesbian. “I’m a member of a marginalized community myself, and I know what it feels like to be set aside, excluded,” she said.

Woman smiling
Laura Parmer-Lohan

Wolosin and Parmer-Lohan call the proclamations meaningful “first steps” toward teaching others to recognize and condemn the use of antisemitic language and perpetuation of dangerous conspiracy theories used to scapegoat Jews. Wolosin is in discussions with Mayor Nash about including educational links on the city’s website. 

JCRC has been meeting with local elected officials in Bay Area cities since May 2021, when violence broke out in Israel and Gaza, educating them on how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “is being weaponized against American Jews” and recommending the introduction of proclamations against antisemitism, Gregory said.

If proclamations are the first step, he said the next step will be coming soon. JCRC is creating antisemitism education training seminars and workshops for elected officials and community leaders. JCRC published a seminal antisemitism consensus statement in January, which identifies various forms of bias, bigotry and hateful messaging toward Jews. It also outlines recommendations that local leaders can use to improve community understanding and public education about antisemitism.

“Ultimately, what we need to do is that deeper dive,” Gregory said, “educating them about our diverse community and how different types of antisemitism work against us.”

Emma Goss
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for KTVU Fox 2 News. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.