Sally Kadushin said she’d “had enough of farm life” in New York state, so when her older sister was discharged from the Navy in 1946, Sally headed west to join her in San Francisco. There, she finished high school and then found a job as a secretary in the electronics research lab at Stanford.
But finding a suitable Jewish husband was no easy task for a woman in her 20s from outside the Bay Area. “It was hard to meet suitable people … and you had to have your children by age 25,” she recalls.
In the 1950s, when the average age for women at marriage was 20 (23 for men), the pressure to marry and have children could be daunting, and few saw interfaith marriage or remaining single as attractive options. That’s why the fledgling Peninsula JCC launched the Peninsulites, a singles group that brought together young Jewish professionals and students.
In January 1955, on a Peninsulites outing to the United Airlines maintenance facility, Sally met Stan Kulakow, a civil engineer from Wisconsin who was doing geologic research and living in Redwood City. When the group got together at the new “fancy cocktail lounge,” she says, atop San Francisco airport, he asked her out.
“We had a lot in common,” she says. “We both liked the out of doors, we liked the same activities and we were both Jewish. … When we told our parents that we were engaged, we called mine first, then his.” Their responses were identical: “‘Is he Jewish? Is she Jewish?’ They were surprised.”
Four months later, Sally and Stan had a small wedding, and members of the Peninsulites held a potluck reception in their honor. Now living in Sunnyvale, the Kulakows say at least seven marriages resulted from the group.
The purpose of the Peninsulites “was to make people ineligible for membership,” says Joan Bramson Kraus, a Chicagoan who back then was studying at Stanford. In 1953, during her junior year, she and a friend walked into a meeting and headed for the third row, managing to disturb a number of people who were already seated. Sam Kraus, a NASA employee from New Jersey who was chairing the meeting, couldn’t help but notice the newcomers.
Just before Thanksgiving, Joan and Sam Kraus celebrated their 60th anniversary in Rancho Palos Verdes, where they have lived since 1962. However, with friends and relatives in the Bay Area, including a daughter and grandson, they still get together with former Peninsulites.
Was it love at first sight?
“Definitely not!” says Sam. “She disturbed a whole row of people.”
What made the group special wasn’t simply the marriages and the shared activities — but the friendships that endured over the years.
“We started getting married and having children and we just remained friends,” says Bernie Arfin, who met Joanne Sussman in 1954, during a Western States Jewish Youth Council gathering at the Asilomar conference center in Pacific Grove. He was from the Bronx and was a Stanford graduate student in electrical engineering.
Joanne, who was from Tacoma and a graduate of the University of Washington, was attending the Asilomar meeting as a representative from the Congenials, a San Francisco Jewish singles group. She was also the assistant editor of the Jewish Bulletin, the forerunner of J.
“I don’t know if I ever wrote the story about the conference,” she admits.
Bernie soon interested Joanne in participating in the Peninsulites.
As out-of-towners living in the Bay Area, Bernie says group members had little in common with those with roots in San Francisco. For one, few had family in the area. For another, few had money. Although most were not what Bernie would describe as ardently religious, they did have a strong Jewish identity and were interested in Jewish issues, especially the State of Israel. “We all felt that Israel was important to us. I still do,” he said.
Bernie and Joanne married the summer after they met. Now living in Palo Alto, they continue to socialize with those they met through the group, weathering life’s transitions from parenthood to grandparenthood and beyond.
“Being all Jewish — that was the vehicle,” says Lorry Lokey, an Atherton businessman and philanthropist who came to the Bay Area from Portland to attend Stanford. He later founded Business Wire.
The Peninsulites “provided a social outlet for me,” he said. Activities included “everything from picnics to beach trips and just plain gabbing. Of course, everyone was looking for a mate.”
Lokey actually met his late wife, the former Eva Chernov, through Congregation Emanu-El’s singles group and “dragged her to Peninsulite meetings.”
At the time, were the Peninsulites involved in Jewish philanthropy?
“We were all poor kids,” Lokey said. “We certainly weren’t millionaires. We were starting out in life and starting from scratch.”
Sally agrees. “I was living paycheck to paycheck.”
The Peninsula JCC itself was still in its youth and lacked a permanent home, and some of the Peninsulites’ meetings were held in a storefront in San Carlos or in a room above a firehouse. In 1963, the JCC opened a larger facility in Belmont, moving to its Foster City campus in 2004.
Over the years, the spirit ignited among the Peninsulites continued into the third generation. Two of the Kulakows’ grandchildren are friends with grandchildren of the late Hermine and Ray Vinick, who were Peninsulite members, and their daughter, Leslie Kulakow, is a good friend of the Vinick’s daughter, Sharon Vinick Grossman.
Joan and Sam Kraus are particularly happy that their grandson, Michael Benesch, serves as outreach and engagement coordinator at the Jewish Community Relations Council in San Francisco.
“He’s doing the same thing that was done for us two generations ago,” says Joan. “Getting people in the community together.”