I was a young and very junior reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle in 1946 when I was summoned to the desk of Carolyn Anspacher, the paper's only female bona fide staffer — the rest of us were wartime replacements for men in the service; and the women writing the "society" section didn't entirely count.
Anspacher had received a call, she said, from her old friend Gene Block, onetime managing editor of the San Francisco Call-Bulletin.
The Call-Bulletin was one of San Francisco's two afternoon papers; the city at that time had four dailies.
Block had told her a new weekly Jewish newspaper was being built upon the bones of a small publication called Emanu-El. He was to be the editor. He was looking for an associate editor and Anspacher wanted to recommend me.
World War II had just ended. My husband, wounded overseas during the Normandy invasion, was in a European hospital, due to return home. I knew I wanted to continue working, preferably on the staff of a newspaper, but I also knew my options at the Chronicle were limited.
Wartime employees had signed an agreement stating that we had taken the place of a man who was in service: This relieved the paper of any obligation to keep us on after the war.
I met Gene Block and agreed to take the job.
The Bulletin's first days were heady ones. It was a new enterprise, graced with what I came to realize was a very prestigious board of directors who had formed this nonprofit corporation. Many important names in the San Francisco Jewish community were members of that board: Dan Koshland, Walter Haas Sr., Marcel Hirsch and A.J. Shragge, among others.
We occupied tiny offices on Kearny Street, and employed one receptionist-secretary. The staff comprised Gene and me on the editorial side; Charles Block, Gene's son just out of the Navy, sold ads.
Presently another staffer was hired as a "society editor": covering marriages, births and other major Jewish-community happenings. No fax, no computer — just some secondhand typewriters, secondhand furniture and whatever other amenities we could scrounge.
I had a lot to learn. My knowledge of San Francisco's Jewish community was rudimentary to say the least. Of course I knew what was going on in the world. After all, I had a fairly new bachelor's degree and a couple of years' experience at a daily newspaper. I knew the camps were liberated by Americans and other Allies, and I knew thousands of displaced persons had no place to go.
But the nuances and intricacies of Jewish communal life were completely foreign to me. I knew nothing of the split in the Jewish community over the establishment of a Jewish state. I learned quickly that San Francisco was a bulwark of the American Council for Judaism, the organization opposed to such a state; Zionists were distinctly a minority here.
Considering the unanimous support for Israel that is apparent today, such a community quarrel seems a bit arcane and quaint. But it was very real in those days, pitting group against group and, in some cases, family member against family member.
The situation changed almost overnight as the United Nations voted to establish the state and just about everyone in the American Council for Judaism camp decided Israel was a reality and must be supported.
At the same time, what was then the Jewish Welfare Fund underwent a complete change. The Federation of Jewish Charities, which ran the direct-service agencies in the community, was subsumed into the newly established Jewish Welfare Federation; the name was changed to the Jewish Community Federation some years later.
Fund-raising for social services in the fledgling state and for overseas agencies working to settle displaced persons went into high gear. The United Jewish Appeal's first $100,000,000 campaign was announced and San Francisco was asked to do its part.
I remember well a small luncheon at which the late Henry Montor, national UJA director, implored federation leaders to host a fund-raising dinner and to make it a success. He offered to bring America's most prominent Jewish public official to San Francisco to make the appeal.
Montor paused dramatically and announced the name: Henry Morgenthau Jr., current Secretary of the Treasury. After a silence, one luncheon guest turned to another and murmured, "Cousin Henry? He wants to bring Cousin Henry?"
San Francisco even then was determined to go its own way, and community leaders then were unimpressed by those whom other communities might lionize.
But Golda Meir did draw a crowd.
It was my good fortune to accompany her for more than 12 hours on her whirlwind fund-raising visit. Carrying her famous capacious black bag, she wowed a press conference, made private visits to raise more money for the fledgling state and addressed a standing-room-only crowd at Congregation Emanu-El.
I was overwhelmed by how completely the then-entirely male establishment accepted her leadership — at a time when women's liberation was not yet even a gleam in Betty Friedan's eye.
When it was nearly time for Meir's return flight, we hurried to San Francisco International Airport. Meir turned to me and said, "Please take me to the ladies' room." Of course I complied.
She disappeared into a stall, emerging moments later stuffing a girdle into her black bag and sighing with relief: "There, I feel better now." I too felt better knowing that this important woman, this future prime minister, was as human as the rest of us.
Other memories of the Bulletin's early days come crowding in. I remember going to the Embarcadero to greet the first boatload of Jews arriving in America after having spent the war years in Shanghai. Volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women and the Jewish Family Service Agency brought food and clothing and arranged housing for the refugees until they could board trains enroute to their new homes.
The refugees told stories of sitting out the war in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, far from their homes in Russia and Eastern Europe.
In those early days when Israel was struggling for its very existence during the War of Independence, many Israelis came through San Francisco seeking financial support. One was a young man named Reuven Dafni, who had parachuted behind German lines during the war trying to rescue Jews. One of his companions on that perilous mission was a young woman named Hannah Senesh, who did not survive.
Dafni came back to San Francisco a second time after his appointment as the first Israel Consul to the West Coast. On his first visit he wore an old brown leather jacket; on the second he wore more formal regalia befitting a diplomat of a sovereign state.
We had a visit from Haifa's legendary mayor Abba Hushi, who made headlines for urging Arab residents not to flee during the War of Independence, but to stay instead and help build a city together with Jewish citizens. And I interviewed the lord mayor of Dublin, Ireland, who was Jewish.
Just as now, Jews making news were the Jewish Bulletin's staple fare. I am struck too by the continuity of some of those names, particularly the local ones.
The children and now the grandchildren of Jewish community leaders of the '40s are still influential — the Hellers, Swigs, Haases, Shragges and Dinkelspiels. The public service tradition remains, though some of the names may not be the same: After all, women married and changed their surnames — to Goldman and Green and Corvin, for example.
When the Bulletin began, its staff vowed to provide public relations for the newly organized Jewish Welfare Federation. The paper would provide information needed to run an effective fund-raising campaign, and Bulletin staff would arrange whatever coverage could be run in the daily newspapers.
In other words, the federation had no marketing and communications department; all it had was the Bulletin's "staff" — me!
So I wrote speeches for the federation president and the campaign chairman, sent out press releases and arranged press conferences. Meanwhile, Gene Block and I put out a weekly paper. Every Wednesday we drove to Alameda where the paper was printed and we'd spend the day cutting stories or adding to them so they would fit, and pasting up galleys.
In those days, stories were given to a Linotype operator, who translated the words into hot lead. We then got a proof page to edit and finally a finished product.
Despite my stint at the Chronicle, I did not really learned about the newspaper business until I worked with Gene Block, a 30-year veteran by the time he took over as editor of the Bulletin. But I learned a lot more than newspapering from Gene.
I learned about community service. I learned about volunteering. I learned how to be a good citizen. Gene was a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; he was on the board of the Booker T. Washington Center and he worked for gun control long before anyone else realized how important an issue it would become.
Along with Dan Koshland, Block was among the founders of the Council for Civic Unity — the first organization in San Francisco, if not in the state of California — to press for an end to segregation, to work for fair employment and fair housing. He served Jewish organizations including Men's ORT, B'nai B'rith and the board of Congregation Emanu-El. Yet he found time somehow to write almost a dozen books!
Those were exciting times, those early years at the Jewish Bulletin. So much of what we now take for granted began in the last five years of the '40s — the civil rights movement, the state of Israel, the growth and blossoming of local Jewish agencies.
Sitting at Jewish Bulletin board meetings in 1996, I marvel. Editions numbering 48 or 52 pages are taken in stride; in the early days we were thrilled when we had enough advertising to support 16 pages. In those days we never dreamed about the Internet and a Jewish Bulletin page on the World Wide Web.
What has never changed, however, is the intensity of the staff's commitment. I'd like to think that Gene, Charley and I can take some credit for establishing a tradition of striving for excellence to which Marc Klein, Nora Contini, Woody Weingarten and the entire staff adhere today.
Happy birthday, Jewish Bulletin. I'm glad I was present at the beginning.