SAN FRANCISCO (J. Jewish News of Northern California via JTA) — Dianne Feinstein was an eshet chayil, the Hebrew term for a woman of valor, Rabbi Jonathan Singer proclaimed in his opening remarks on Thursday at a memorial service for the U.S. senator who died Sept. 29 at 90.
The event outside San Francisco City Hall was attended by about 1,500 invited guests, all gathered to remember a pathbreaking politician who spent a decade as the city’s first woman mayor.
Singer, the co-senior rabbi of Congregation Emanu-El — the same synagogue where Feinstein, then Dianne Goldman, was confirmed as a teenager in 1949 — shared the English words of Psalm 23, which begins, “God is my shepherd.” Cantor Roz Barak, Emanu-El’s cantor emerita, sang the psalm in Hebrew.
“She feared no evil, as she courageously pursued justice as a leader in the Senate,” Singer said. “And she gave us hope that we Americans can always be inspired by the values of democracy, even as we walk at times through the valley of shadows.”
San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Vice President Kamala Harris, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer were among the prominent speakers. President Joe Biden delivered a recorded message.
“God bless a great American hero. She was something else,” Biden said. “She was a dear friend.”
The service took place on an exceptionally hot San Francisco day, punctuated by the Blue Angels flying overhead as part of Fleet Week, which Feinstein was responsible for establishing in 1981 to honor the armed forces. “Fleet Week would be dedicated to you,” Pelosi noted as the roar of the jets caused her to pause.
Many of the guests, including current and former members of Congress, accented their formal attire with sun hats and baseball caps and fanned themselves with the memorial programs as the sun beat down. A building-sized portrait of Feinstein was displayed outside City Hall, where Feinstein lay in state on Wednesday before a private, family-only burial after the service.
In his remarks, Schumer told a story about his colleague, recalling how she called him in New York shortly after his daughter Alison moved to San Francisco.
“Does your daughter have anywhere to go for the High Holiday services?” Feinstein asked him. He replied that she did not. “Well, then, she’s going to services with me.”
(Feinstein and her third husband, Richard Blum, joined Reform Congregation Sherith Israel in 1992, though it is unknown how long they were members.)
Schumer worked closely with Feinstein to pass the federal ban on assault weapons in 1994. “Dianne Feinstein was a leader of uncommon integrity,” the New York senator said.
Harris described Feinstein as “an American patriot, a giant of the Senate and a dear friend” to her and her husband, Doug Emhoff.
“Dianne commanded respect, and she gave respect. She was a serious and gracious person who welcomed debate and discussion, but always required that it was well informed and studied,” the vice president said.
Pelosi said Feinstein was not only a close colleague in Congress but also a good neighbor in Pacific Heights, their San Francisco neighborhood.
“Dianne loved cultivating people, and flowers,” Pelosi said, describing the hydrangeas growing in Feinstein’s yard as “the most fabulous.” She also knew the senator to be quite the matchmaker and credits her with pairing former Gov. Jerry Brown and his wife, Ann Gust.
Feinstein was also an avid painter, giving her friends mugs and painted images of her homegrown flowers, Pelosi said.
Pelosi read off a list of legacies Feinstein leaves behind, including fighting to save San Francisco’s cable cars; authoring legislation to create the breast cancer stamp that benefited research; doggedly battling to pass the federal assault weapons ban; and starting the annual Lake Tahoe Summit with former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 1997.
“She left on her own terms,” Pelosi said, recalling Feinstein’s final vote, a day before she died. “She walked into the [Senate] floor and voted to advance legislation to keep the government open for the people,” she said.
John Burton, who served in Congress and the state Assembly and chaired the Democratic Party in California, provided written remarks read aloud by Breed. “She had chutzpah, and I loved her for it,” Burton wrote.
Eileen Mariano, Feinstein’s 31-year-old granddaughter and the final speaker at the hourlong memorial service, described the warm, grandmotherly woman she was behind the scenes.
Feinstein would cut her granddaughter’s hair in her kitchen, often slightly crooked, Mariano joked. “She taught me to play chess, although she hated losing,” she remembered, and would sing “You Are My Sunshine” as a lullaby.
“We had an effortless connection,” said Mariano, who works in the San Francisco mayor’s office.
Among the Jewish elected officials in attendance were Sen. Barbara Boxer, who was elected alongside Feinstein in 1992, becoming the first Jewish women to win seats in the Senate; California state Sen. Scott Wiener; San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin; Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg; Rep. Adam Schiff of Southern California; and Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia.
“Let’s remember what she meant to San Francisco,” Wiener said in a statement. “She became mayor during one of the most difficult periods imaginable for our city. She led San Francisco out of the fires of political assassinations, mass cult suicides, and a mass die-off of gay men due to a new, terrifying virus.”
Heading out after the memorial, Steinberg stopped to share his thoughts. “She represented the best in Jewish values,” he said. “As a public servant, she embodied what we need more of in this country — leaders who have strong values, who fight but fight in the right way and are always looking for common ground. And the one thing that matters more than anything else: accomplish something on behalf of the people. That was Dianne Feinstein.”
This story originally appeared in J. Jewish News of Northern California and is reprinted with permission.