Daughter of SFCJL Resident Credits Her Mother & Jewish Community for the Courage to Speak Out

“Like many of my positive attributes, I got it from my mama,” says Rebecca Feigelson, talking about the courage and bravery she has derived from her mother, SFCJL resident Sheila Fages. Earlier this month, Rebecca appeared on the cover of J. Weekly with her young son and daughter after the rising antisemitism she observed in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) resulted in her pulling her son, Jacob, out of the district.

Rebecca Feigelson, left, with her mother Sheila Fages at SFCJL’s January birthday luncheon.

The decision came on the heels of a harshly anti-Israel statement issued on October 27 by the Oakland Educators Association. The statement, which condemned the “75 year long illegal military occupation of Palestine” and called Israel an “apartheid state” was soon followed by a measure from the teachers union that encouraged its members to join the “growing anti-apartheid movement demanding freedom for Palestine.” The statement and the measure, which passed by a 2-1 margin, left many Jewish families questioning their children’s safety and belonging within OUSD.

“I read that as saying Israel does not have a place in this world, and I understood that meant that Jewish families did not have a place in OUSD,” said Rebecca in the J. article. She applied for an interdistrict transfer out of OUSD and requested an expedited process, citing health and safety, so Jacob could change school districts over winter break. The transfer was approved, and in mid-December Jacob started at his new kindergarten in the Piedmont Unified School District.

Soon after, more than 30 other Jewish families followed suit.

“My mother has always been outspoken against injustices and especially passionate about issues that relate to the Jewish community,” says Rebecca, a criminal defense lawyer. “I was also encouraged to make the transfer request and speak to the media by my friends in the Jewish community and my rabbi, who assured me that not only was it in the best interest of my family, but shedding light on the situation would be in the best interest of the community.”

Rebecca describes her mother Sheila as a “super woman,” who taught Hebrew school, ran marathons, excelled in her career, and participated in the PTA. “She took in any children from the neighborhood, always offering a hot meal. She was an incredible role model as a mother and a community leader,” shares Rebecca, who grew up in Hawaii and South Africa.

Rebecca’s life changed when Sheila was impacted by frontotemporal dementia in her mid-40’s. Rebecca had just completed her Bat Mitzvah and was navigating the ups and downs of becoming a teenager. “It was a very difficult time in my life, because although she was physically with us, she was mentally not present and lost her capacity to mother. It was the Jewish community that provided a safety net for me,” she explains. Rebecca attended Jewish day school, where she felt surrounded by love and support even during an immensely challenging period.

Reflecting on those days and the present moment, Rebecca feels fortunate for what she learned from the experience. “I think that we are all really lucky to be a part of such a tightknit tribe that takes care of each other. My childhood shaped me into an adult who will forever recognize and be grateful for the support and sense of community that comes with being a Jew.”