07 Nov City Council Resolution Alienates Jewish Richmonders
So many people showed up for the Oct. 24 Richmond City Council meeting, at which a resolution was passed in support of the Palestinian people of Gaza, that an overflow viewing area had to be set up in Richmond Memorial Auditorium. (Taylor Barton)
By Taylor Barton
Many Jewish Richmonders say they feel shattered and fearful after the City Council passed a historic resolution on the Middle East last month.
“This is going to drive Jews out of Richmond,” said Rabbi Jill Zimmerman. “I’m locking my doors, more than before. I’m not kidding.”
Zimmerman is one of many faith leaders who say the resolution, which “affirms Richmond’s support and solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza,” is inflammatory, one-sided and a signal to Jews that they are unwelcome in Richmond.
“The resolution showed no empathy or sympathy with the largest terrorist attack on Jews since the Holocaust,” said Jonathan Mintzer, director of external relations at the Bay Area Jewish Community Relations Council.
Mintzer says the JCRC represents the largest collective voice of Jews in the Bay Area, including hundreds in Richmond.
“People are feeling more unsafe now in Richmond than they did on Oct. 7,” he said, referring to the date Hamas launched deadly attacks in Israel and took over 200 hostages.
Some even worry that the city is using the invasion in Gaza as an excuse to push an antisemitic agenda.
“The purpose of the resolution was to highlight issues that have been ignored by mass media,” said Mayor Eduardo Martinez in a phone interview. “It was an attempt to begin a conversation that needs to be done in the open, in a safe space, as opposed to name-calling on the streets.”
Richmond business owner Arnon Oren, who is Israeli and Jewish, was visiting family in Israel when Hamas attacked.
“When Hamas is murdering their own people, the city of Richmond was not going all out crying for genocide,” said Arnon Oren, head chef and owner of Anaviv’s Table. “[Richmond] is a beautiful, diverse community. I think of myself as somebody who gives a lot to this city.”
In addition to the restaurant, Oren co-founded the Plant to Plate Program, a nonprofit that empowers high schoolers in organic gardening and cooking. Anaviv’s Table regularly donates meals for local school fundraisers.
“We feel like we are hated,” he said. “The way they went about this resolution signals to the Jewish people, to the Jewish business owners, that Richmond is not a place where they are welcome.”
During the public comment portion of the council meeting, some supporters of the resolution did identify themselves as Jewish.
“Many young Jews … got up there to speak and were in support of the proclamation,” Zimmerman said. “I think it’s clear that if they had spoken to rabbis and spiritual leaders … it would have been a different story.”
Clio Soiffer, digital manager at Richmond’s Asian Pacific Environmental Network, spoke at the meeting in favor of the resolution.
“That’s my heritage and my family,” said Soiffer in a phone interview. “To me, it’s antisemitic to equate Israel with Jewish people.”
Soiffer, who has worked with APEN for six years, said that the best way they can think of to honor their ancestors was to speak in solidarity and support of the resolution.
“Person after person came up to me after the meeting to thank me and express solidarity in speaking out against genocide,” said Soiffer. “That makes me feel safe.”
One common grievance among faith leaders is that they were not consulted before the resolution was heard.
“This was not something that came from the community, from the people of Richmond,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Wagner of Richmond’s Chabad Jewish Center. “A little bit of engagement would go a long way.”
Martinez said in an interview that he did not consult with groups on either side before the meeting because “I knew that we would end up word-snipping to the point we would end up with nothing.” He said that perfect would have gotten in the way of good.
Now, he said that he has put two Palestinian and Israeli business owners in Richmond in touch to discuss next steps.
The resolution cites the entreaty of “Never Again,” in reference to the Holocaust. Zimmerman said she found this offensive and gaslighting.
“‘Never Again’ is supposed to make Jews feel safe,” she said. “They used it in a way that made Jews feel unsafe in our own city.”
Martinez questioned the fear some have expressed.
“There was propaganda put out with talking points as to how to respond to this. And one of the talking points was to express how fearful this resolution has made you,” he said on the phone. “If a call for peace is something that arouses fear, then I don’t know what to say to that.”
After speaking on the record, one Jewish organization later requested its comments be removed to help “keep a low profile” with the increased security concerns in the Bay Area.
Oren criticized the City Council for passing divisive messaging without clear action behind it.
“They could have done so many beautiful things. So many effective things for the community. Even the Palestinian community,” he said. “But they didn’t. They did what dysfunctional government does. They write something. They ship it out, and it’s done.”
He said a better option would be to gather locals on each side of the issue and spend time asking questions and mourning with them separately before bringing anything to a vote.
“This is how you build the fabric of a city,” he said. “You build communities.”
Everyday Richmonders must help the healing too, Jewish leaders say. They encourage residents to reach out to each other.
“Your Jewish neighbors are in pain,” said Mintzer. “They are scared. They don’t feel supported. You don’t have to be an expert in international affairs to lead with empathy.”
He said that this can help ensure that Jewish Richmonders feel safe bringing their full identity into the public sphere, including their relationship to Israel.
“Just say, ‘I’m here for you,’” said Zimmerman. “It means a lot.”
Wagner said that now more than ever it is important to show pride in one’s faith.
“Now is not the time to take down the mezuzah,” he said, referring to the small, often decorative parchment case affixed to the right doorpost of a Jewish home. “It’s the time to put up the mezuzah.”
He emphasized that Chabad of Richmond will go forward with this year’s menorah lighting for Hanukkah in the marina.
“We are enraged. We are upset. But that’s not going to make us hide or wither away,” he said. “If anything, it’s going to make us come out stronger and prouder of our Judaism.”
JCRC says anyone witnessing or experiencing antisemitism should use the Anti-Defamation League’s incident report tool, or call (415) 449-3700 for emotional support.