By Janis Hashe
At 91, Herta Weinstein would be entitled to leave “resisting” to other people. But asked what motivated her to get out on the streets with Indivisible East Bay, she responds with one word: “Trump.”
Like so many, Weinstein says she was taken unawares by the election of someone clearly unfit for the office of president. “I went into a clinical depression,” she says. “But then I realized the way to get out of this was to get active.”
A friend had gotten hold of the Indivisible Handbook, and shared it with Weinstein. “I felt the Democratic party had shown themselves to be ineffectual,” she says, “but this approach was so clever, to adopt the methods of the enemy,” by which she means the Tea Party. She attended an organizing meeting at the Sports Basement, but realized big meetings, where she has trouble hearing and seating can be difficult, were not for her. She signed up for the email list and began volunteering for things she knew she could do, such as visiting Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s San Francisco office in support of the ACA. Visitors to the IEB booth at the July 4th El Cerrito WorldOne Festival found Weinstein greeting them and providing information about IEB activities.
Escaping Vienna and Becoming American
Weinstein was born in Vienna in 1927. By the time Hitler invaded Austria in 1938, she was 11, and her family knew they had to get out. “What had taken the Nazis years to do in Germany, was taking six months in Austria. They knew what to do,” she says. Fortunately, her family was aware of the collaborative effort between Great Britain and the Jewish Refugees Committee, (“just known as ‘The Joint,’ or ‘The Committee,’” says Weinstein), and her parents got her, their only child, onto the famous Kindertransport, taking Jewish children out of Nazi-occupied countries. “I was willing to go,” Weinstein relates. “It seemed like an adventure to me.” She was also fortunate to have an uncle already living in Great Britain, who took her in immediately when she arrived.
But her parents were still in Vienna. “It was a very anxious time. They had applied to go to the U.S., but it was a long, uncertain wait,” Weinstein explains. In May 1939, her parents joined 1,000 other refugees onboard the St. Louis out of Hamburg, bound for Cuba. But the ship was turned back before it could make port. Again, fortune intervened. “The Committee” negotiated a joint deal between Great Britain, France, Holland and Belgium to accept the refugees. Weinstein’s parents were assigned to Britain, and she reunited with them.
Later that same year, the family was allowed to emigrate to the United States — and ended up in Stockton, California. That, as Weinstein notes wryly, was maximum culture shock. The United States was not yet at war, and her European Jewish family was not welcomed. “No one there was really paying attention until Pearl Harbor,” she says. Weinstein finished high school in three and a half years and was accepted to UC Berkeley. Her parents relocated to San Francisco, finally scraping together $1,000 for a down payment on a row house in the Sunset District.
Weinstein decided on pre-med at Berkeley. “At that time, there were maybe seven or eight women in a class of 75, of which only one woman was Jewish, “ she says. She went on to a residency at USF, and began practicing as a psychiatrist in 1955.
The Intervening Years
While leading a busy life establishing her practice, getting married and having two children, Weinstein moved with her family to Berkeley in 1966. She supported the ACLU and the League of Women Voters, but as she puts it, “I have not been a lifetime activist.” By the 1980s, her children grown, “I was enjoying my freedom,” she says. She and her husband, a psychiatrist with the Veterans Administration, traveled a lot. In 1988, at age 60, she began training as a yoga instructor at Berkeley’s Yoga Room.
But in 1998, her husband died, and she retired from practice after more than 40 years. She was also recovering from two hip replacement surgeries. Yet she persevered in her teacher training, returning to it when she could. Her teacher told her, “I admire the way you keep coming back.” Eventually, at 70, she began teaching three classes a week, something she continues today, primarily at senior centers, adapting the practice for less-mobile participants with the help of an assistant.
Weinstein had a friend, who, as she says, “was an activist for everything,” and when 2013 arrived, Weinstein got involved in the successful “Berkeley vs. Big Soda” campaign, which ended with the passage of Measure D, imposing a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. “I found out I could not do canvassing,” she jokes. “I was holding the younger people up.” But she could drive around and deliver yard signs — signs, she says, that became much more plentiful after a large donation from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Never Too Old to Resist
Then, the 2016 presidential election sent shock waves across the country. Weinstein was still recovering from a knee replacement surgery. That didn’t stop her. After her initial contact with Indivisible East Bay, she credits IEB organizer Linh Nguyen with helping her stay in touch with activities she can do.
Today, after a five-month recovery from a second knee replacement, she says she feels better than she has in years. “I can do office visits. I can do a demonstration. I can still yell!” she laughs.
Asked about writing postcards, she agrees that’s another possibility, but objects to the length of the messages. “No one reads that much and it’s too much to write,” she states firmly. “Get to the point!”
She urges IEB and all Indivisible groups to make more active efforts to recruit senior citizens. “Find things that less-mobile, less-computer-savvy people can do,” she recommends. “Give them opportunities to become involved.”
Asked about a potential “Blue Wave,” she stresses continued vigilance and unity among Resistance groups. “Taking back Congress is the most important thing right now. When there was some initial success early on, many people credited Indivisible, but there were other people and groups involved,” she says. “I see them beginning to work together and that is a great development.”
The Trump administration’s anti-immigrant actions have fired her up. “This is my issue now,” she proclaims. Anyone who has heard her story understands exactly why.
Janis Hashe is a freelance writer/editor/teacher/theatre person. She has been politically active in Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chattanooga and now Richmond. Her deepest personal commitments include fighting climate change, ending factory farming and overturning Citizens United.
Photographs by Janis Hashe