Jewish Community Federation Presidents: Oral Histories Documenting Jewish Philanthropy in the San Francisco Bay Area
The Regional 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 in 1990.

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 Law Societies.

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.


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