California Attorney General Rob Bonta speaking at the Here I Am event, Sept. 12, 2022. (Photo/Twitter @SFJCRC)
California Attorney General Rob Bonta speaking at the Here I Am event, Sept. 12, 2022. (Photo/Twitter @SFJCRC)

AG Rob Bonta joins Santa Clara County officials to say #HereIAm in stand against antisemitism

Elected officials from Santa Clara County were joined by state officials Monday at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto to renounce antisemitism as part of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council’s Here I Am initiative, now in its second year.

The event came in response to a rising number of antisemitic hate crimes in California, with 152 reported in 2021, a 32% increase over the previous year. It was the most tallied by the AG’s office in a decade.

Most recently, students at San Francisco State University and Sacramento State started their school year dealing with antisemitic vandalism on campus.

The event this week drew 30 elected officials, Jewish community leaders and others, including Attorney General Rob Bonta. “As the leader of the largest state department of justice in the nation, as the chief law enforcement officer for the State of California, I want to be absolutely clear,” Bonta said. “Antisemitism has no place in California.”

Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, a Democrat who has represented the South Bay for nearly 30 years, also attended. In her remarks Eshoo addressed recent incidents of antisemitic violence, and what she and her colleagues on Capitol Hill are doing to prevent further hate-motivated attacks in the future. In June, Eshoo and 91 other House members wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asking him to create a comprehensive strategy to address growing antisemitism in the United States.

“We can never be satisfied with what we’ve already done,” said Eshoo, whose district includes parts of Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties.

Antisemitism was not the only form of hate addressed at the event, which included Oshman Family JCC President and CEO Zack Bodner and JCRC CEO Tyler Gregory joining Bonta on stage. Michele Lew, CEO of the Health Trust, and the Rev. Kaloma Smith of University AME Zion Church in Palo Alto spoke about their experiences with anti-Asian hate and racism, and expressed their solidarity with the Jewish community.

“In these challenging times, we all need to protect each other,” said Lew, whose San Jose–based nonprofit advocates for health care for all, regardless of income, race, immigration status, language or age.

Gregory addressed the antisemitc flyers that have been dropped in several Bay Area neighborhoods over the past year, saying they were one catalyst for the day’s event.

“We need to make sure that our allies and our community members recognize that we need to create a safe environment for Jews and other minorities,” Gregory said.

JCRC launched its Here I Am campaign in July 2021 in an attempt to combat antisemitic incidents and rhetoric by “demonstrating the vibrancy, diversity and values of the Bay Area Jewish community,” according to the website. The site asks community leaders, elected officials and other Jewish and Jewish-allied Bay Area residents to make short videos sharing their experiences with antisemitism, and post them on social media.

Here I Am events have been held in San Francisco, Oakland and Marin County in the last year with elected officials such as San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Congressman Jared Huffman coming forward to voice their support for the Jewish community.

Also speaking at the event was state Assemblymember Mark Berman and Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, both descendants of Holocaust survivors.

Rosen spoke of the antisemitism he faces as district attorney, and the efforts he has made to educate other California lawmakers on antisemitism. He also called attention to the name of the JCRC’s initiative, which comes from the Hebrew word hineni, which means “Here I Am.” For Rosen, it also means “I am ready to do God’s will.”

“My prayer is that hineni becomes hineinu anachnu, ‘here we are’,” Rosen said. “We are prepared. We’re ready to do what is required to rid antisemitism from our community so that we may live all of us together in peace and survive and thrive.”

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene is a J. Staff Writer. Originally from Vermont, she has a BA in political science and an MA in journalism from Boston University. Follow her on Twitter at @lilsleygreene.