My grandparents, all four, came from Poland or Russia at the turn of the century. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a tailor and when he first came the family settled in New York City. My father’s family came from Russia and settled in Providence, Rhode Island. They had a farm there where my father grew up. That’s what we did – we were agricultural people. My parents were born in the United States. My mother was born in New York and my father was born in Providence.
I was never very religious. My father worked for the post office in Manhattan and he never told them he was Jewish because it was not a good time. There was a lot of prejudice in the 1930’s and he just didn’t say anything – we kind of kept it quiet. What really made me Jewish, if you’re interested, was anti-semitism. I mean, that was the strongest thing. I thought, “what do you mean you don’t like me? You don’t even know me!” And I was angry all the time. So, that is what kept me focused.
My father was Norwegian, both his parents came from Norway. My grandfather immigrated to this country when he was 18 – he brought a set of candlesticks and rigged his name in them. He settled in Duluth, where he married a woman who had three brothers, all of whom became Lutheran pastors. My father had two sisters, both of whom married Lutheran pastors. My mother was of German descent and she was from a little farming community in northern Wisconsin. Duluth was the closest city, so she went there when she graduated from high school. They moved to San Francisco during the Depression. I was six years old. I went to UC Berkeley back when it was cheap. I paid $33 per semester for tuition. I think because of my background in Berkeley, I have always considered myself a radical Christian. That is not a very common character type in my church, which is a rather conservative church…but I’ve stuck with it and they’ve tolerated me. I was active in both the civil rights movement and the peace movement. I’ve always been concerned about working for social change and have considered there to be no conflict at all with the faith in my church. In fact, I consider my faith to be a major motivator for concern about social action. That is a minority position in America today, where I think overwhelmingly being Christian means being conservative…that’s what people get in the media through people who are called upon to be spokesmen for Christianity. I listen to it and say, “oh, thats really horrible, I don’t want to be aligned with that.”
That’s what attracted me to him because religion was not that important to me. The fact that he was a liberal Democrat was more important. Well, actually, when I went to his first service after we were married, he had his robes on and I thought, “my God, I married the Pope!” He looked just like John Paul.
Well…we’ve had a wonderful marriage. Rocky, but not dull.