San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks to a group at the Castro Moishe House, June 10, 2024. (Courtesy Ron Barzilay)
San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks to a group at the Castro Moishe House, June 10, 2024. (Courtesy Ron Barzilay)

S.F. mayor discusses antisemitism and her Jewish ancestry with young adults at Moishe House

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Arriving directly from a talk at Manny’s Cafe, San Francisco Mayor London Breed showed up Monday night at a packed Moishe House in the Castro District to answer questions from young Jewish adults about the city’s response to anti-Jewish hate since Oct. 7.

The event, attended by more than 80 people, was moderated by Drew Jacobson, a senior account strategist at Google and a house resident. The 24-year-old moved to the city two years ago from Florida and told J. he is proud to lead events like this.

“I’m a big believer that our … generation — we’re not just the future leaders, we are the present leaders,” Jacobson said. “We can make a difference, and we are making a difference now, and it’s great to see so much passion and activity in a room.”

Jacobson kicked off the questions on a personal note, asking Breed about the discovery of her Jewish ancestry, which she first revealed to fellow travelers during a trip to Israel in May 2023. Breed confirmed that DNA test results indicated she is approximately 50% Ashkenazi Jewish. Breed has long been public about not knowing the identity of her father. 

Amid cheers from the crowd, she acknowledged the weight of learning about her identity. 

“I know how to deal with [anti-Black racism],” Breed said. “With everything going on and a lot of the antisemitism … I can’t imagine dealing with both, too… I want to know more.”

Ahead of the Q&A, attendees were invited to submit questions online. The most popular questions were brought up during Monday’s session and largely concerned antisemitism, particularly within the San Francisco Unified School District.

Breed, who is running for re-election on Nov. 5, was asked about the SFUSD’s contract with the Arab Resource and Organizing Center and whether it would be renewed. 

AROC, which provides educational services in city schools, has been a prominent organizer of anti-Israel actions and protests against the war in Gaza. An investigation by the SFUSD Office of Equity found that at least one AROC employee was on a high school campus talking to students just before an Oct. 18 walkout, which had been promoted as a student-led action.

I am 100% supportive of anyone’s right to protest, but you don’t have a right to harass and you don’t have a right to attack.

Breed said she could “not get specific” about the status of AROC’s contract, which runs through 2026, but she added that it is one of a number of organizations undergoing a performance audit by the San Francisco Controller’s Office to ensure they are delivering services as outlined in their contracts.

The investigation into AROC presents unique challenges, Breed said.

“This one is a little bit more complicated. We definitely have had some real problems with this organization, and we are very concerned,” she said. “My understanding is the service they provide is a good service, but I still need to see the proof that that’s the case. … At least what I’m personally seeing and experiencing is counter to that.” 

Breed also discussed her ongoing collaboration with state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-S.F.) on issues around school curriculum, particularly Holocaust education, and about codes of conduct in schools.

She mentioned a recent visit to a fourth-grade classroom to read to students. The teacher was wearing a “Free Palestine” T-shirt, she said, and one of the children asked a question about bombs that Breed believed “clearly” showed a lack of understanding.

The mayor said that K-12 schools need guidelines related to student and teacher behavior during classroom discussions of political issues such as the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

“I am 100% supportive of anyone’s right to protest,” Breed said, “but you don’t have a right to harass and you don’t have a right to attack. I think there have been a lot of lines crossed. And I appreciate many of our educators, but they have played an unfortunate role in doing some of this with students.”

During the post-Q&A mingling, 38-year-old Yaron Greif had a chance to speak to the mayor and confirm a family legend that a young London Breed used to babysit his wife. 

Does that mean he will vote for her in November? “I have to if she helped my wife become the person she is today,” he told J.

“I think she really connected to the Jewish community,” Greif added on a more serious note. “I don’t think she gave simple answers, but she explained what makes it difficult to accomplish things.”

Though most Moishe House events are social or cultural and not politically focused, Jacobson is considering inviting other San Francisco mayoral candidates if there is interest. Thirteen people are running for mayor, including two prominent Jews: Aaron Peskin, president of the S.F. Board of Supervisors, and Daniel Lurie, a philanthropist and nonprofit founder.

Moishe House offers subsidized communal living spaces for post-college Jews in their 20s and early 30s, who in turn agree to plan and hold regular social and cultural events for their Jewish peers. Established in 2006 with its first houses in Oakland and San Francisco, the organization now has houses in more than 25 countries, including several in the Bay Area. The Castro Moishe House calendar is updated monthly, and events are open to the public.

Niva Ashkenazi

J. correspondent