a man with a short beard and glasses holds a microphone and addresses a crowd outside
State Sen. Scott Wiener speaks at the Families Belong Together rally in San Francisco, June 23, 2018. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

Scott Wiener elected co-chair of California Legislative Jewish Caucus

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

The California Legislative Jewish Caucus has elected Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco to serve as co-chair for 2023-2024, along with Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino). Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park) will serve as vice chair. The caucus, which addresses issues of concern to the Jewish community, has 18 members and associates from both the Assembly and Senate.

“It’s very meaningful personally,” said Wiener, who previously served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. “My Jewish identity is so important to me, and I’m so passionate about fighting for our community, fighting antisemitism. Our caucus has so much energy. We’ve done amazing work in recent years.”

Much of that work has centered on support for Holocaust survivors, speaking out against antisemitism, rebuilding Jewish summer camps impacted by wildfire, funding the Nonprofit Security Grant Program and bolstering Holocaust education.

In the last legislative session at the state Capitol in Sacramento, the caucus helped secure $266 million to fund these and other initiatives.

“California is home to the third largest Jewish population in the world,” said Becker. “I’m looking forward to taking a more active role in the caucus this year. Given the rise in antisemitism that we’ve seen in California and across the country in recent months, there is plenty of work to be done.”

“We have been very united on what our priorities are,” said Gabriel. “We have strong consensus in [combating] the scourge of antisemitism that has manifested in so many insidious ways.”

Gabriel noted that the state’s finances in recent years have been  robust enough to allow full funding for the Jewish caucus priorities. But that may soon change as the state’s economic picture turns gloomier.

Wiener predicts the same. “The last two years we had significant surpluses,” he said. “But this year, it looks like we will have potentially a significant deficit. The governor is making his January budget announcement, and we anticipate cuts. We’re on the lookout, particularly on the nonprofit security grants. That’s been our No. 1 budget priority.”

Another priority is strengthening the bonds between California and Israel. In 2014, then-Gov. Jerry Brown and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed a memorandum of understanding to expand economic ties, a pact that spurred cooperation in biotech, water technology and other realms. The caucus has lent its support to those ties and has undertaken two missions to Israel, most recently last summer.

“It was wonderful,” Wiener said. “We had Jewish and non-Jewish members on the trip, and had meetings with political leaders, the business community, the LGBT community. It was wide ranging.”

Unlike the Black, Latino, women’s and LGBT legislative caucuses, which are composed entirely of lawmakers within those identity groups, the Jewish Legislative Caucus admits non-Jews as associate members. Leaders say this diversity adds important voices to the group’s discussions (though all of its members are Democrats).

“It’s a wonderful blessing,” Gabriel said. “It helps to strengthen our efforts. Anyone who self-identifies as Jewish is a voting member, but we have affiliate members, people who have strong familial connections. We have three affiliate members who are also members of the Latino caucus. They are Conversos.”

Conversos trace their ancestry back to Jews of medieval Spain and Portugal who hid their Jewishness during the Inquisition.

In addition to its focus on Jewish community issues, the caucus also maintains what it calls its tikkun olam agenda, through which it champions legislation that promotes safer schools, advocates for gun safety and addresses environmental concerns.

In addition to new leadership, the caucus includes Assembly members Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (Orinda), Marc Berman (Menlo Park), Laura Friedman (Burbank), Matt Haney (San Francisco), Dawn Addis (Central Coast), Gail Pellerin (Santa Clara), Rick Chavez Zbur (Santa Monica), Josh Lowenthal (Long Beach), Blanca Rubio (Baldwin Park), and Chris Ward (San Diego); and Sens. Ben Allen (Santa Monica), Steve Glazer (Contra Costa), Josh Newman (Fullerton), Susan Rubio (Baldwin Park) and Henry Stern (Calabasas).

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.