In Mother Jones, Gail Sheehy profiles Dianne Feinstein, senior Senator from California (and 2015 Forward 50 honoree). Sheehy offers a sweeping portrait of “the lioness of the Senate”, including stands she has taken on everything from torture to reproductive rights. Feinstein had an unusual — and, in some ways, quite difficult — Jewish San Francisco childhood:
Feinstein describes her mother, Betty Goldman, in glowing terms. She was a beautiful Russian immigrant whose family had fled St. Petersburg during the revolution. By the time she met Dianne’s father, Dr. Leon Goldman, the first Jewish full professor at the University of California-San Francisco medical school, she was a model for a couture store. “She looked very Garboesque,” Feinstein says.
But Feinstein’s middle sister, Yvonne Banks, told me their mother was given to unpredictable moods. “If she was braiding our hair and the rubber band broke or the ribbons weren’t found, then it was like a major explosion—a total loss of control. She would hit you, pull your hair…There’s one picture where Dianne and I both have tears in our eyes. It was a really formal portrait.” Betty would occasionally lock Dianne out of the house, forcing her to sleep in the family car.
We also get a glimpse at the senator’s perhaps unexpected religious education:
In elementary school, “my lowest grade was self-control.” Her eighth-grade teacher directed her to a private Catholic high school, Convent of the Sacred Heart, where she finally felt at home “because I learned discipline,” she said. She sat through doctrinal classes and felt they helped answer the big questions. Today, while she is not a formally observant Jew, she told me, “I am religious in my thinking.”
The anecdote confirms everything popular culture taught me about the profound impact of attending a school (presumably) run by nuns.
Phoebe Maltz Bovy is a former editor of the Sisterhood blog at the Forward. Her writing has appeared in several publications, including The New Republic and The Atlantic. Her book, “The Perils of ‘Privilege,’” was published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2017. She has a PhD in French and French Studies from New York University, and has read a lot of 19th century French Jewish newspapers for a 21st century American.
Dianne Feinstein: From Catholic School To The Senate