Community Federation Presidents: Oral Histories Documenting Jewish
Philanthropy in the San Francisco Bay Area
Oral History Office (ROHO), University of California,
under the sponsorship of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund,
has recorded the history of the San Francisco-based Jewish Community
Federation. This project, begun in 1990, documents Jewish philanthropy
in the San Francisco area, as spearheaded by the Federation during
the past half century. Through the recollections of the men and
women who served as president, the project seeks to understand
the motivations and principles of these leaders and the forces
they dealt with during the building of the Bay Area Jewish community.
Organized Jewish philanthropy in San Francisco began in 1850 with
the Eureka Benevolent Association, today's Jewish Family and Children's
Services. The Federation of Jewish Charities was organized in 1910;
its funding of local service agencies was absorbed by the Community
Chest when the Federation affiliated with it in 1922. In 1925, the
Federation of Jewish Charities was formed to support the needs of
national and overseas agencies, pioneering in conducting a single
annual campaign for Jewish needs outside of San Francisco. These
two organizations merged in 1955, becoming the Jewish Welfare Federation,
the forerunner of the present Jewish Community Federation of San
Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties. In addition
to discussing their presidencies, the men and women interviewed for
this series talked about their family background, involvement in
Federation-supported agencies, and their activities on behalf of
organizations in the general community. Below are the oral histories
of the presidents in the order in which they were conducted.
Samuel A. Ladar, president of the Federation in
1965-1966, was the senior past president interviewed for this project.
He was unique in having been a recipient of Jewish philanthropy as
well as being a preeminent fund raiser. Born in 1903 in the Gold
Rush town of Jackson, California, as a youngster Mr. Ladar lost his
mother and subsequently spent six years in the Pacific Hebrew Orphan
Asylum in San Francisco before rejoining his father and older sisters.
He attributed his lifelong interest in working for the Jewish community
to his years spent in the orphanage. Mr. Ladar attended UC Berkeley's
law school, Boalt Hall, and after graduation began to specialize
in labor negotiations. Mr. Ladar became active in the Survey Committee,
now the Jewish Community Relations Council, which he later headed.
He served on the Federation's San Francisco Committee for Service
to Emigres, which was established in 1936 to find jobs for refugees
fleeing Nazism. Mr. Ladar was chairman of the San Francisco chapter
o f the American Jewish Committee and active in the Jewish Community
Endowment Fund. In 1987 he received the Council of Jewish Federations'
Endowment Achievement Award. In the general community, Mr. Ladar
served on a number of San Francisco civic bodies: he was appointed
to the crime commission, and served as president of both the police
commission and the board of education. He was a visiting lecturer
at Boalt Hall School of Law, speaking on the topic of labor negotiation,
and was honored by Boalt Hall wit h the Order of the Coif. Mr. Ladar
died in 1992.
Although Robert E. Sinton was born in the Boston
area and educated at Yale, his roots were deep and wide in San Francisco.
His paternal grandfather, Henry Sinsheimer, was instrumental in the
formation of the San Francisco Federation of Jewish Cha rities in
1910 and served as its second president in 1928. Mr. Sinton and his
family moved from Boston to San Francisco in 1929, and he became
active in the Federation after serving in the U.S. Navy in World
War II. He was co-chair of the Federation's annual campaign in 1948
and was involved in the merger that resulted in the Jewish Welfare
Federation. He was president of the San Francisco Jewish Community
Center and president of the Western Region of the National Welfare
Board. Prior to serving as Federation president in 1967-1968, Mr.
Sinton was chapter president of the local American Jewish Committee.
He served on the boards of Mount Zion Hospital and the Jewish Community
Endowment Fund, and was also an officer of the National Foundation
of Jewish Culture. In the general community, Mr. Sinton was on the
boards of Town School for Boys, Community Chest, and Mills College.
Mr. Sinton died in 1997.
Jesse Feldman , a native of the San Francisco area,
graduated from Stanford University Law School and served in the U.S.
Navy. He was president of the Bay Area United Jewish Community Centers
from 1967 to 1969, and a vice-president of the Jewish Welfare Board.
In 1980, he was the winner of the Frank L. Weil award for distinguished
contribution to Jewish Community Centers, and in 1986 he received
the Jewish Welfare Board's first Community Builders' award. Mr. Feldman
served as president of the Jewish Community Federation in 1973-1974,
years regarded by himself and others as turbulent because of personnel
matters and issues relating to Jewish day schools. Deeply committed
to Israel, Feldman has been a member of the Federation's overseas
committee and the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, a director of
the Legal Aid Society, and co-chairman of the Lawyers' Committee
for Urban Affairs. Mr. Feldman received an Award of Merit from the
San Francisco Bar Association. He also served for ten years on the
Salvation Army Central Advisory Board.
John. H. Steinhart had the distinction of heading
up three Federation campaigns as chairman or co- chairman. Another
distinction is that he is one of four generations of Steinharts to
be involved with the Jewish Family and Children's Services, following
in the footsetps of his grandfather, who was one of the founders
of the agency. Mr. Steinhart headed the San Francisco chapter of
the American Jewish Committee and served on that organization's national
executive committee. In addition to being president of the Federation
in 1969-1970, and president of the Jewish Family and Children's Services,
Steinhart was on the boards of Mount Zion Hospital and the Jewish
Community Bulletin. He served as the paper's attorney as well, and
together with Samuel Ladar did legal work for the Federation. In
his oral history, Steinhart offers his reflection on a number of
community leaders and on the immediate past executives of the Federation.
He also discusses the increased interest in Jewish day schools and
the occurrence during his administration of a sit-in by students
seeking greater Federation allotments for Jewish education. Mr. Steinhart
died in 1994.
Melvin M. Swig , president of the San Francisco-based
Federation in 1971-1972, came to San Francisco after serving in the
U.S. Army, joining other family members who moved west from Boston.
Mel Swig, like his father Ben Swig, quickly became involved in Bay
Area financial and organization activities. The family fortune was
founded on the real estate firm of Swig Weiler and Dinner Development
Company. During his lifetime, Mel Swig's vast philanthropy was shared
by Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant institutions, by the Democratic
party, and by Israel, which was very close to his heart. After volunteering
for a number of Federation committees, Mr. Swig became campaign chairman
in 1969. He served on the boards of Mount Zion Hospital, Jewish Family
and Children's Services, was president of the Jewish Community Bulletin,
chairman of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, president of the
San Francisco chapter of the American Jewish Committee, and served
on the AJC national board of governors. The list of organizations,
Jewish and non-Jewish, in which Mr. Swig was involved fills an entire
page. In his oral history, Mr. Swig expresses his opposition to Jewish
day schools, and discusses the Federation's call for reforming the
Jewish Agency. Mr. Swig died in 1993.
Peter E. Haas followed his father, Walter Haas,
in heading up the family company, Levi Strauss & Company, in
his presidency of the Federation (1977-1978), and in his civic involvement.
Mr. Haas's first activity in the Jewish community was as a board
member and then vice-president of the San Francisco Jewish Community
Center. Serving on the board of Mount Zion Hospital was also a family
tradition; his father had been on the board, his mother was Mount
Zion's first woman president, and thirty-five years later his sister,
Rhoda Haas Goldman, was the second woman president of the hospital.
Peter Haas became active in the Federation in 1949 and served on
the study committee that led to the merger of the Jewish National
Welfare Fund and the Federation of Jewish Charities. He is considered
an exceptionally adept fundraiser for the Federation and other organizations.
He was co-chairman of two Federation campaigns, the first when he
was only thirty-four years old; was chairman of a capital funds campaign;
and was chairman of the Jewish Community Endowment Funds development
committee. In his oral history, Mr. Haas compares the Federation
and the United Bay Area Crusade, two organizations for which he served
as fundraiser and president. The Haas family involvement in the United
Bay Area Crusade began with his maternal grandmother, and in 1985
the Haas family was given the Alexis de Tocqueville Award, a national
recognition for leadership to the United Ways of America.
Richard N. Goldman , president of the Jewish Community
Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, and Sonoma Counties
in 1981-1982, was just twenty-seven years old when he began his Federation
activities, motivated by the need to see that the Holocaust would
never happen again. He graduated from UC Berkeley in 1941, and after
army service in World War II, he formed Goldman Insurance. His activism
on behalf of Israel has been within the general community as well
as the Jewish community. From the time of the Eisenhower administration,
he involved non-Jews in the support of Israel. He took a group of
friends, prominent San Franciscans, on two trips to Israel, where
they met with that country's leaders and saw firsthand its problems.
As a result, the American Friends of Israel committee was formed,
a forum for these men to speak out publicly on behalf of Israel.
In 1986, Mr. Goldman accompanied Vice-President and Mrs. Bush on
their visit to Israel. When Mr. Goldman was president of the Federation,
Kiryat Shmona was adopted as a second Israeli Project Renewal town,
and the Federation successfully challenged the structure of the United
Jewish Appeal and the Jewish Agency. Richard Goldman is a philanthropist
and an environmentalist active in community and political affairs.
He was appointed San Francisco's chief of protocol by then-mayor
Frank Jordan, and through the Richard and Rhoda Haas Goldman Fund,
Mr. Goldman and his late wife have given their support to schools,
hospitals, as well as projects in Israel. They created the Goldman
Environmental Prize, which is awarded yearly to the one person in
each continent who has done the most to preserve his country's environment.
Laurence E. Myers hails from a family deeply involved
in the Scranton, Pennsylvania, Jewish community, and he demonstrated
that same commitment when he moved to San Francisco. Before assuming
the presidency of the San Francisco-based Federation, Larry Myers
was president of five Jewish organizations: San Francisco Jewish
Community Center, Jewish Home for the Aged, Bureau of the Jewish
Education, American Jewish Congress, and Menorah Park. The latter
is housing for healthy low income older people, and Mr. Myers was
its first president. He is very proud of his contribution to Menorah
Park and holds it to be one of the most significant things he's done
in the Jewish community. During his Federation presidency, 1986-1988,
a demographic study was made of the Bay Area Jewish community, and
he become involved in the strategic planning task force that followed
the study. He and Mrs. Meyers were co-chairs of the Council of Jewish
Federation's annual General Assembly when it was held in San Francisco
Jerome I. Braun , Federation president 1979-1980,
cites his father's communal leadership in their home town of St.
Joseph, Missouri, as his inspiration. While still in high school,
Jerry Braun formed a youth group for the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People. Following graduation from Stanford
University Law School, he served in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate
General Corps in France. Upon moving to San Francisco in 1957, Mr.
Braun became active in raising funds for the Federation and developed
the reputation as an outstanding fundraiser. As campaign chairman
in 1971, he doubled the amount raised the previous year. At the same
time there were the demands of his growing legal career-- he was
a founding member of the legal firm of Farella, Braun & Martel.
In 1967, Mr. Braun received the Federation's Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel
Memorial Award for outstanding young leadership, and in 1972- 1974,
he served as president of the United Jewish Community Centers. Other
involvements have been on the executive committee of the Anti-Defamation
League and the UJA national campaign committee. Local board directorships
include the Jewish Home for the Aged and the Jewish Family and Children's
Service. Others are: Joint Distribution Committee, Western Regional
Jewish Welfare Board, regional chairman of UJA Young Leadership campaign,
leadership development committee of the Council of Jewish Federations.
In the general community, Mr. Braun was active in the United Way
Bay Area Crusade's lawyers general council committee, on the Legal
Defense Fund of the NAACP, and was honored for his involvement in
the Mexican-American Defense and Education Fund. He has taught, written,
and lectured in his professional field and has been a leader in Stanford
William J. Lowenberg , A survivor of a number of
Nazi death camps, came to San Francisco in 1950. While diligently
studying English, he became a real estate agent and now is the head
of his own successful real estate firm. He assumed leadership of
several Federation agencies prior to becoming Federation president,
and his activities extended to the Jewish Board of Governors in Israel
and to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, on which he
served as a vice president. Mr. Lowenberg continues his extensive
involvement in local and national organizations.
Earl Raab and the JCRC worked closely with other
civic organizations having similar interests, such as the Human Rights
Commission and the Fair Employment Practices Commission. Mental health
was also one of his concerns, and he was president of both the San
Francisco and the California Mental Health Associations. The author
of numerous books and articles and the recipient of many honors,
Earl Raab is director emeritus of Brandeis University's Institute
for Jewish Advocacy, a position he took on after retiring from the
Jewish Community Relations Council.
Interviews were conducted by Eleanor Glaser of the editorial staff
of the Regional Oral History Office at The Bancroft Library. Ms.
Glaser has been involved as an editor, correspondent, and publicist.
She has undertaken volunteer work for various non-profit organizations,
including the Judah Magnes Museum and the Moraga Historical Society.
She holds a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Michigan.
© 2006 The Regents of the University of California. All
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