Stow Lake is named for William W. Stow, speaker of the Assembly in 1855 who railed against the state’s Jews. (Photos/Wikimedia Commons, Souvenir Evening Post; Collage/Gabriel Greschler)
Stow Lake is named for William W. Stow, speaker of the Assembly in 1855 who railed against the state’s Jews. (Photos/Wikimedia Commons, Souvenir Evening Post; Collage/Gabriel Greschler)

Sad farewell to Meira Academy; Don’t rename Stow Lake; Breed in Israel

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A sad goodbye to the Bay Area’s only Orthodox Jewish school for girls

The end of a school year is usually a time of joy: summer camp, no homework for 2½ months, vacations to distant points! It’s all encompassed in the delights of the summer season. However, for one group of Northern California students, there was little excitement as the tears flowed. The doors of their school, Meira Academy for Girls, the only Orthodox school for girls in the area, was closing its doors.

The reasons given were rising costs and shrinking growth. For 12 years, Rabbi Joey and rebbetzin Sarah Felsen, the founders of the school, had poured their largesse, passion and energy into Meira to keep it going. Support came from Orthodox families, including the daughters of rabbis, who wanted the type of education for their girls the school offered: a robust, high-quality curriculum of both secular and Judaic subjects with Yiddishkeit front and center and an in-depth examination of Jewish subjects over and above what other schools offered, all in a single-sex environment. The girls were also distinguished by the uniforms they wore: long, navy-blue skirts and white polo shirts with the school crest clearly visible.

The school was housed on the upper floor of the Oshman JCC Palo Alto and for 12 years served as a jewel in the wide array of Jewish schools in the Bay Area. Its girls graduated with outstanding records before going on to further religious education in the State of Israel. One student this year broke the mold immediately after completing 12th grade by going to join the armed forces of the Jewish state.

I spent the last three years teaching at Meira. It was the most gratifying experience in my almost 50 years in Jewish education. And yes, the tears flowed for me, too!

Mervyn Danker
San Mateo

Whose rights? Human rights

I would like to thank Itzik Goldberger for his op-ed in the last issue of J. (“Israeli pro-democracy protests should include Palestinian rights issues, May 26). I also thank J. for publishing it. The human rights violations of the Palestinians by Israel are a disgrace by a country that considers itself democratic and has a Declaration of Independence ensuring equality of social and political rights to all of its inhabitants.

There is not enough said about this in Israel or in the U.S.

Naomi Karlin
Walnut Creek

Under no obligation to protest

Itzik Goldberger seems to think that anyone advocating any cause should promote every other cause (“Israeli pro-democracy protests should include Palestinian rights issues, May 26).

People take to the streets regarding the issues that they most care about. They are under no obligation (“intersectionality” to the contrary) to also take up Mr. Goldberger’s favorite cause.

Dan Fendel

Mayor Breed’s priorities

As a Bay Area Jew, I read with interest your article about Mayor London Breed’s recent trip to Israel (“S.F. Mayor London Breed gets expansive view of Israel, from Haifa to Jerusalem,” May 26). I’m happy to hear about any and all efforts to build relationships in support of Israel, and I was impressed with Breed’s determination to complete the trip despite the recent violence that had erupted there. However, I found myself with another, even stronger, reaction.

As a longtime resident of San Francisco, I can’t help but wonder what Breed was doing — i.e., taking the time to fly to Israel — for what sounds like a largely celebratory and ceremonial visit with dubious/unclear benefits to either San Francisco or Haifa. After all, Breed is a beleaguered local politician in the midst of daily crises on her home turf, not a foreign dignitary whose role is to forge strategic alliances.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed poses overlooking the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, May 2023. (Photo/Dan Garon)
San Francisco Mayor London Breed poses overlooking the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, May 2023. (Photo/Dan Garon)

In jetting to Israel, Breed left behind a once-great city that is, quite literally, in shambles. Breed should be focusing all of her energy — along with every waking moment and every dollar of resources at her disposal — on turning around the city that pays her salary. Anything less is a dereliction of her duties and a betrayal of the trust of every San Francisco resident.

Joel Wagonfeld
San Francisco

Stick with Stow Lake

The campaign to rename Stow Lake is unjust and counterproductive (“What should Stow Lake’s new name be? We asked, you answered,” May 26).

William Stow donated money to create his namesake lake in Golden Gate Park and served on the city’s park commission. Years earlier, Stow made antisemitic statements in the California Legislature that never resulted in any laws or other actions harmful to Jews. We honor George Washington despite his ownership of slaves. Why should we blot out the name of William Stow, even as we enjoy his magnificent gift of Stow Lake? We may as well ban Shakespeare, Wagner and Chopin and boycott Ford, all guilty of antisemitic statements.

We are giving ammunition to the Jew haters, playing into the trope that we Jews have too much influence. Why risk this? What is the upside of punishing a man who died more than a century ago?

It is hard to fight antisemitism, hard to change people’s feelings. So we do what we can. But just because we can pressure the S.F. Recreation and Park Commission to erase Stow’s name does not mean it is the just or productive thing to do.

Robert Balopole
Redwood City

Sassoon family’s full story

I eagerly went to the Sassoon exhibit at the Jewish Museum while I was in New York City last month. So I was happy to see the JTA article on this exhibit in J. (“The Sassoons, the famed Jewish Baghdad dynasty, are having a moment. Here’s why that matters, online, June 2).

While writer Sasha Goldstein-Sabbah does a good job of highlighting the family’s Middle Eastern roots, the article does a disservice by not mentioning the prominent World War I poet Sigfried Sassoon or Sassoon siblings Sybil and Philip who became such great pals of John Singer Sargent that he painted them repeatedly, especially Sybil.

Installation view of “The Sassoons” at the Jewish Museum, New York, March 3-Aug. 13, 2023. (Photo/JTA-Kris Graves)
Installation view of “The Sassoons” at the Jewish Museum, New York, March 3-Aug. 13, 2023. (Photo/JTA-Kris Graves)

But perhaps the most glaring omission is not mentioning that the Sassoon fortune, alas, was built initially on the opioid trade. A forerunner perhaps of the Sacklers. I was shocked and disappointed to learn of this inconvenient truth in the exhibit, but it is part of the story of the Sassoon dynasty and should not have been left out of the article.

Deborah Prager Burstyn
Walnut Creek

B’nai Emunah memories

What a lovely article, “An emotional ceremony marks the end of B’nai Emunah (online, June 5). I remember the congregation in the Sunset. My mother and grandmother were Shanghailanders. I believe they knew the first rabbi and his family very well. As a little girl, I accompanied my parents to the High Holiday services. Being young refugees at the time, they decided on a congregation that was larger and more assimilated. The Shanghailanders surrounded my childhood life, and that history became a part of mine.

Karen Levi
Potomac, Maryland

Children’s rights are human rights

Israel has much to be proud of at its 75th anniversary. But its violations of the human rights of children and families in the occupied Palestinian territory must end.

In May, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota) reintroduced an important bill, “Defending the Human Rights of Children and Families Living Under Israel’s Military Occupation Act,” or HR 3103. We urge all to support it.

Recently, residents in the West Bank village of Ein Samia were invaded by settlers from the nearby Kochav HaShachar settlement, according to a report in +972 Magazine, and suffered five nights of terror. The villagers felt like they had no choice but to leave Ein Samia this spring for the safety of their families, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Then, on May 7, the elementary school in the West Bank village of Jubb Adh-Dhib was reduced to dust with bulldozers, as reported by +972. Another 57 Palestinian schools are under Israeli demolition orders, according to J Street, because they did not get building permits, though Israel rarely grants them.

Israel should rebuild the Jubb Adh-Dhib school and promise not to destroy any others. All children deserve a chance for an education that prepares them morally and intellectually to contribute to the collective welfare of their society.

As Jews, these are some of the reasons why we strongly support Rep. McCollum’s bill, and we ask all who read this publication, as well as our representatives in Congress, to support it decisively.

In future time, let it not be said that we stood by and did nothing. As Rabbi Tarfon said, “You are not required to complete the work. Neither are you excused from it.”

Steven DeLue and Beverly Voloshin

J. Readers

J. welcomes letters and comments from our readers. To submit a letter, email it to [email protected].