The Leviathan Jewish Journal debuted in 1972. (Photo/Leviathan Jewish Journal Archive)
The Leviathan Jewish Journal debuted in 1972. (Photo/Leviathan Jewish Journal Archive)

Started as a Jewish hippie journal, UC Santa Cruz’s Leviathan turns 50

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Just seven years after the founding of UC Santa Cruz, 15 Jewish students published the university’s first Jewish periodical: the Leviathan Jewish Journal.

That was 1972. Now, five decades later, its journey has taken it from a grassroots, unrefined medium of free expression, to a standardized newspaper, to a literary zine, and now a reason to celebrate in honor of the journal’s 50-year anniversary.

These days, Leviathan is sort of a combination of all three, consisting of op-eds about current events impacting the Jewish community and broader campus community, short stories, poetry, recipes and art. “We call it ‘low-stakes’ journalism,” Alexandra Salkin, 21, a third-year student at UC Santa Cruz and the editor-in-chief, told J. “It’s just sort of whatever you want it to be.”

Alexandra Salkin (left) and Nina Sanders (right). (Photo/Stephen Louis Marino)
Alexandra Salkin (left) and Nina Sanders (right). (Photo/Stephen Louis Marino)

The once quarterly journal is now an annual publication that comes out in print and online in the spring. It has a team of six, Salkin said, although most will graduate after next year, except for one second-year student.

That the publication is having trouble recruiting young talent is a serious concern, said Salkin, who admits she is worried about Leviathan’s future — though hopeful that a May 28 event to celebrate the five-decade milestone will help.

“We’re hoping that the 50th will actually save us and get us more people,” Salkin said. “Hopefully this will get us some attention.”

Salkin said Leviathan has been an important resource — something like a place of intellectual refuge — for Jewish students, particularly as they’ve dealt with a rash of antisemitic incidents in recent years.

Salkin’s classmates have contended with antisemitic graffiti on campus. She personally received anti-Jewish backlash from students while running for student government, ultimately deciding to discontinue her run for office. Last year,  while participating in a Zoom meeting with other Jewish students,  several people “Zoom bombed” the meeting and began writing “go back to Auschwitz” and other antisemitic messages in the chat.

“In the past couple of years, antisemitism on campus has grown so much to the point where my friends and I are just like, oh, another thing happened,” Salkin said. “I want to make sure [Leviathan] stays a safe space for Jewish students to join, and know that they can freely write about their feelings or their experiences and know that they’ll always have a space for themselves.”

Salkin is also active in UC Santa Cruz Hillel, where a “tight-knit group” plans and attends Jewish events on campus. Several of those students contribute to Leviathan.

“We all just sort of stick together and complain to each other a lot about what’s going on,” she said.

One current staffer is tracking down contact information for as many previous staffers as possible and inviting them to the 50th anniversary event, which will address Leviathan’s history and legacy at UC Santa Cruz, Salkin said.

Ron Feldman, 68, who recently retired as chief financial officer of the East Bay JCC in Berkeley, wrote for Leviathan in the 1970s. He received an email invitation in February.

The Richmond resident, who turned his senior thesis on Jewish political philosopher Hannah Arendt into a book of essays, recalled joining Leviathan when it was in its second year of production.

“There were no editors, there was no hierarchy, there was kind of a staff collective, which was very ’70s, I suppose,” Feldman said.

The journal’s name, Leviathan, is explained in the inaugural issue, using a reprint of a 1971 article by Rabbi Arthur Waskow that appeared in “Response: A Contemporary Jewish Journal.”

The article, “The Belly of Leviathan,” used the Biblical story of Jonah and the whale (leviathan is Hebrew for whale) as a call for radical action, according to the 2017 book “Between the Redwoods and the Bay,” a history of the Jewish community in Santa Cruz County.

Oakland residents Norm and Jan Frankel were among the founding members of Leviathan. Norm was the executive director of Congregation Beth El in Berkeley for seven years, concluding in 2015, and prior to that was executive director of Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo for nine years. Jan teaches preschool part time at Congregation Beth El.

“There were two vibes,” Norm, 69, recalled of Leviathan’s content. “One was very political, and the other was exploring various aspects of Jewish identity.”

A 1978 issue of the journal (Photo/Leviathan Jewish Journal Archive)
A 1978 issue of the journal (Photo/Leviathan Jewish Journal Archive)

Steve White and Rick Burke are credited with conceiving the journal and recruiting peers to get it started.

“The founders kind of took their cue from other Jewish student newspapers that had begun, especially the Jewish Radical in Berkeley,” Feldman said.

The journal’s name at that time, simply Leviathan, was handwritten in big bubble letters on the front page (with two spouting whales drawn on either side and the word “leviathan” written in Hebrew letters above). The date was handwritten in Hebrew and English, and the articles were typewritten, though their fonts varied due to the use of multiple typewriters.

“We actually did this in people’s houses, or in my junior year, we did it in my living room,” Feldman recalled.

The team would lay out large sheets of paper, use hot wax to lay out typed-up essays and articles, fill in blank spaces with “doodles” and handwritten commentary, and drive the layout sheets to a print shop in Fremont. A handful of volunteers would retrieve the finished journals from the printer and distribute them across campus.

“We mostly agreed to publish whatever anybody wanted to write,” Feldman said.

Some articles were playful, Feldman recalled, such as one debating the rules around imbibing and using marijuana on Shabbat. But most often, the essays in each issue focused on Israeli politics.

A 2004 issue of the Leviathan (Photo/Leviathan Jewish Journal Archive)
A 2004 issue of the Leviathan (Photo/Leviathan Jewish Journal Archive)

The Yom Kippur War in 1973 galvanized student activists on U.S. college campuses, including in Santa Cruz, to rally for a two-state solution. The Frankels were both in Israel when the war broke out. Jan was staying on a kibbutz.

“I became very close to my kibbutz parents,” Jan Frankel said. “We didn’t really understand what was going on. The news was only in Hebrew.”

Meanwhile, at UCSC, Jewish students held a bagel breakfast with Palestinian students and later, despite their disagreements, held a blood drive together to help the injured, recalled Su Schachter, 68, a founding member of Leviathan who now lives  in Israel.

In 1976, Leviathan published a controversial front-page editorial, signed by the full editorial staff, with the headline “Zionists Condemn Israeli Policy.” Feldman said he wrote the first draft, which criticized new Israeli land annexation in the Galilee that threatened the homes of Israeli Arabs. “It inhibited cooperation and coexistence,” he said.

Schachter, who mostly handled layout and editing, recalled the staff debating which headline to go with for hours, until nearly midnight, almost missing their print deadline.

After that issue came out, the San Francisco Jewish Welfare Federation, the publication’s sole funding source, ended its relationship with Leviathan, according to four Leviathan collaborators interviewed by J.

“We royally pissed them off,” said Schachter.

“That editorial created a lot of attention and consternation, not only within the Jewish Federation but also on campus,” Feldman remembered.

Shortly after that issue, the founding members of Leviathan graduated and a new crop of writers and editors took over.

Dan Pulcrano, now the CEO and executive editor of Metro Silicon Valley, took on the role of editor-in-chief in 1977, Feldman said, ushering in a new era for Leviathan. Its quirky layout was replaced by standard typesets, a masthead with assigned staff roles and a sales team to sell advertisements.

Meanwhile, graduates who had founded Leviathan, including the Frankels and Schachter, made aliyah together in 1977. They were part of “Garin Leviathan” and joined Kibbutz Gezer, a largely North American kibbutz. Gershom Gorenberg, a U.S.-born Israeli journalist and blogger who serves as senior correspondent for the American Prospect and has authored four books on Israeli policy and history, also made aliyah to Jerusalem in 1977 and still lives there. Feldman stayed briefly on a separate kibbutz in Israel that year as well, and returned to the States after a few months.

Garin Leviathan in the winter of 76-77. (Photo courtesy Su Schachter)
Garin Leviathan in the winter of 76-77. (Photo courtesy Su Schachter)

The Frankels lived on Gezer for 23 years, marrying just before moving to Israel in 1977 and raising three children on the kibbutz. Jan was the office manager, dental assistant and hygienist of the dental clinic on Gezer for 15 years.

Schachter still lives on Gezer, and two other former Leviathan staffers from other years also live on the kibbutz.

When interviewed by J. on Feb. 20, Schachter had just returned from protesting the new Israeli government’s policies to overhaul the Israeli judicial system.

“This activism shit, it doesn’t wear off so easily,” she said.

And even though today’s version of the journal doesn’t resemble the old, politically heavy, grassroots Leviathan, she said,  “I also realize how important it is that Leviathan is still coming out 50 years later. I feel like I just got the last of the ink out of my cuticles, and now it’s 50 years?”

Shani Kartanė, 33, served as Leviathan’s editor-in-chief from 2010 to 2011, when it was published three times a year and had morphed into something of a literary magazine without the political edge it once had. At that time, it was difficult to find staffers interested in taking over, so the role of editor-in-chief fell to Kartanė, who now teaches English as a second language in Santa Cruz County.

Still, there were approximately 20 students contributing to each issue (a better situation than today)  and funding came from student fees and the university (which is still the case today).

Salkin, the current editor-in-chief, has been reaching out to founding members in anticipation of the 50th anniversary celebration — and in hopes of carrying on Leviathan’s legacy.

“In another 50 years, if it’s still going strong, people will look back and be like, ‘Oh my God, they did a 50th, we should do a 100th,’” Salkin said. “I just like being a part of its history, and just knowing that I’m in that really long line of people making sure this great publication stays alive.”

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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.