Stanford University (Photo/File)
Stanford University (Photo/File)

Report on Stanford’s antisemitic quotas in 1950s sparks Jewish alums to link up

What do you do when you find out your beloved alma mater used to keep out Jews? For a group of Stanford alums, the answer was to formally launch the very first alums network for Jewish grads.

“Its mere existence is going to send a message,” said Yana Matlof, co-president of the group and a 1997 graduate.

The Stanford Jewish Alumni Network was launched in August on the heels of a report issued by the university detailing the specific strategies it used to reduce the number of Jewish students in the 1950s, which was presented to the school community before being released to the public in October. In it, the school confirmed admissions officials deliberately — and secretly — worked to enroll fewer Jews, and apologized.

But while the report put a spotlight on Jewish life at the school, the overall goal of the new alum network is more forward looking. It aims to help Jewish Stanford grads across the world connect, network and discuss matters of importance to the Jewish community.

headshot of Shelley Hebert
Shelley Hebert

“I think it’s very important for Stanford Jewish alumni to have a voice,” said Shelley Hebert of Palo Alto, co-president of the group and a 1976 graduate.

Hebert said she also wants to make Stanford graduates aware of the wonderful Jewish life and scholarship going on at the school today, from the work of the Taube Center for Jewish Studies to the Judaica collection at the Stanford library.

“I know that there is much more to the Stanford Jewish story, and now I have the opportunity to share that story,” she said.

Mike Rashes, an officer of the new network, said that he felt the time had come for such a group to exist.

“In some sense the question was, ‘Why wasn’t there a group already?’” said the 1994 graduate.

“I remember in freshman year, the first football game was on Yom Kippur,” he said. “The cherry on top was that they had a Beach Boys concert after the football game!”

RELATED: Stanford apologizes for Jewish admissions quotas in the 1950s

But things have changed, he said. He has two kids at Stanford and said that Jewish life is much more integrated.

“It does seem like there’s a genuine interest by the university to be more accommodating for Stanford students,” he said.

Since the group was launched, there have been a few virtual meetups, but not everything has happened online. Members of the network attended the Israel Philharmonic performance in Palo Alto in November, and on Feb. 5, local members of the group will get together in Mountain View to see “In Every Generation,” a play that follows one family’s deep journey through Passover.

Also, alums in New York City got together for a meetup organized by Pam Brewster, regional co-chair and a 1987 graduate of the MBA program. One of the attendees was a 1950s graduate, she said, during the time some Stanford officials were actively working to lower the number of Jews there.

“He said he had no idea there was any kind of antisemitism, actually, in the administration office going on,” Brewster said. “But he also said no one really knew who was Jewish or not.”

She said this man didn’t hide his Jewishness while a student, but he didn’t really volunteer it, either.

“Sometimes he did worry, was someone not going to be friendly because of that?” Brewster recalled.

Gathering together and hearing those stories was a special moment, she said, especially after the Stanford report.

“It was just interesting to hear his experiences in light of that,” she said.

While antisemitism isn’t the reason for the group’s founding, the rise in outspoken hate speech is on many people’s minds. Sara Kaplan, a 2007 graduate and Piedmont resident, said she was shocked by the Stanford report on antisemitic admissions policies but appreciative of the school’s transparency.

“I never expected it would happen at Stanford,” she said.

And even though that was in the past, she said she felt that now, more than ever, with the rise of antisemitism across the country, it was important for Jewish community to be strengthened.

“Antisemitism is not just a was,” said Kaplan. “It’s a now. It’s an is.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.