San Francisco Mayor London Breed at the JCCSF on Jan. 15 (Photo/Jeremy Russell-JCRC)
San Francisco Mayor London Breed at the JCCSF on Jan. 15, 2019 (Photo/Jeremy Russell-JCRC)

In sit-down, Mayor London Breed reflects on ‘genuine’ ties with S.F. Jews

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When San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced last month that she’d tested positive for Covid-19, among the people to send her a message for a speedy recovery was Rabbi Beth Singer of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.

Singer and Breed have connected many times since Breed became acting mayor in 2017 — and then mayor with a special election in 2018 — partnering on causes affecting the Jewish and Black communities in San Francisco.

“I think the relationship is a very genuine one, and one that is entrenched in being a part of uplifting and supporting the community,” Breed said of her relationship with Singer and with Emanu-El. The synagogue is actively involved in Breed’s project aiming to revitalize the city’s Sunnydale neighborhood near the Cow Palace, in part by building a community center.

“There are a lot of different instances where there has been a kind of relationship-building with the African American community and Jewish community over the years,” Breed said in a Zoom interview from her City Hall office. “I don’t know where it started, but it just seemed to always be a part of my upbringing.”

Breed, 47, grew up in San Francisco, raised by her grandmother in public housing in the Western Addition. She is the first Black woman and only the second woman to serve as the city’s mayor. Having experienced her share of racism and sexism, she said, has shaped her identity and informs her response to attacks on places of worship and acts of discrimination and violence against minorities — the Jewish community included.

(From left) Rabbi Beth Singer and Mayor London Breed at the 2019 Israeli Independence Day flag raising at City Hall
(From left) Rabbi Beth Singer and Mayor London Breed at the 2019 Israeli Independence Day flag raising at City Hall

“It’s so important that,  when that occurs, we speak out, that we make it clear how we feel and that we make sure that it’s clear that we don’t tolerate it,” Breed said.

Singer describes Breed as having a “special sensitivity to any and all groups that have experienced discrimination and hate,” and when the greater Jewish community experiences it, Singer has noticed that, time and again, the mayor “steps up, and her presence feels authentic to me, and she’s really there. She’s not just making a photo op and getting out.”

Singer pointed to Breed speaking on the synagogue’s bimah in October 2018, at an interfaith gathering to comfort and unite after the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. In 2020, Breed joined Singer in a public Zoom conversation about the early challenges the city was experiencing from the pandemic. And in 2021, the mayor stood at Emanu-El alongside local lawmakers to denounce an increase of incidents, such as anti-Israel and anti-Zionist graffiti found at a Noe Valley preschool and at Manny’s, a Jewish-owned café and civic gathering space in the Mission District.

(In late 2020, Breed nominated Manny Yekutiel, the owner of Manny’s, for a seat on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors; he began serving in early 2021.)

“What I love about Manny is he will turn lemons into lemonade,” Breed said, citing Yekutiel’s response when his business was the target of hate crimes. “He takes opportunities like that to really focus on the positive and bring attention to it.”

(From left) Manny Yekutiel and Mayor London Breed at the State of the City, March 9, 2022.(Photo/Courtesy Mayor's Press Office)
(From left) Manny Yekutiel and Mayor London Breed at the State of the City, March 9, 2022.
(Photo/Courtesy Mayor’s Press Office)

Breed’s relationship with the Bay Area’s Jewish community goes beyond her time as mayor.

In 2007, while serving on the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Commission, Breed helped the Jewish Community High School of the Bay acquire property for a future gym.

In 2012, Breed traveled to Israel with the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council on an Israel Study Tour; at the time she was the executive director of the African American Art and Culture Complex, a nonprofit in San Francisco where she worked for more than a decade.

“It was really a life-changing trip,” Breed said of going to Israel, adding that it was a “spiritual” adventure and a “great experience.” She has fond memories of her visits to Tel Aviv and to Ramallah and the opportunity to connect with both Jews and Palestinians. She also recalled hearing what sounded like explosions in the distance on nights she stayed in Jerusalem.

“What it taught me mostly was, if you don’t live there, you can’t really understand the complexities of what happens there.”

Breed’s office is in the midst of planning a celebration trip to Israel next year, when San Francisco and Haifa celebrate 50 years as sister cities.

“Spirituality is something that I take with me in everything that I do and every decision I make,” Breed said. “I’ve always appreciated my roots with the African American community, but also the tremendous amount of support that I get specifically from the Jewish community, and the Jewish faith community in particular.”

Jew,  Jewish,  J. The Jewish News of Northern California
Emma Goss.(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
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 NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.