Jewish ex-supe, mother of Chinese boy, helps found school

Sometimes life comes full circle and rewards us in ways we never could have expected.

Take, for example, Carol Ruth Silver. More than two decades ago, the San Francisco attorney and former supervisor adopted a 2-year-old boy from China.

"Almost as soon as the adoption was final…and I was taking care of this little boy, zappo! I got pregnant," she says.

Had Silver not adopted her first son, she might not have become so closely involved with San Francisco's Chinese American International School.

And chances are she would not have been around June 8 to enjoy the school's performance of a play based on the diary of Anne Frank.

After watching the play, Silver looked back on her role as one of the school's founding parents.

After her second son was born, Silver began looking for a bilingual Chinese American school for her two boys.With nothing available, she joined a group of parents who wanted to start their own. Former San Francisco Superior Court Justice Harry Low encouraged the effort and offered key contacts, not to mention "his prestige, which was considerable in the Chinese community," says Silver.

By 1981, a Mandarin-English school opened in the basement of the French American International School in San Francisco with 10 first-grade students. Parents like Silver spent their weekends cleaning and painting the basement to create classrooms.

Gradually, the Chinese American International School grew, with Shirley Lee as principal. One unique feature was that students did all their schoolwork in both Mandarin and English.

The school got started a little too late for Silver's first son, Steven, who forgot most of his Chinese as he learned English. But for her second son, Jefferson, it was very effective. She smiles as she describes the two boys, one obviously Asian, the other blond and blue-eyed, going to San Francisco's Chinatown together.

"My Chinese son would be addressed in Chinese, and he would give people a blank look," she says, "While the other one answered in perfect Mandarin," much to people's surprise.

Determined to also transmit her Jewish heritage, Silver made sure both of her sons celebrated bar mitzvahs at Congregation B'nai Emunah in San Francisco.

She says her Chinese-born son was particularly comfortable at the synagogue because the congregation included many Holocaust refugees who had fled from Europe to Shanghai, one of the few safe havens in a very dangerous world.

Since Silver's youngest child entered the school, the student body has grown to more than 150 children, including pre-kindergartners through eighth graders.

The school moved to a building in the Presidio in 1989. In 1996, the school plans to relocate again to the old Caltrans Center at 150 Oak St. The school is buying the building along with the French American International School.

Although Silver's sons are now 25 and 19, she still serves on the board of the private non-profit school. Seeing the performance of Anne Frank's story "was a big thrill," says Silver. "I was really most impressed with the enthusiasm of the kids."

What was it like for her to see a stage full of non-Jewish kids wearing yellow stars and telling the story of a Holocaust victim?

"As a person of Jewish faith and background, it was wonderful to see one of our great modern tragedies absorbed and understood by children of different faiths and backgrounds," she says.

"We're reaching out in the global village to try to produce children who bring us a better understanding of ourselves."