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A tribute to Tanya Mandel

By Bill Mandel
Friday December 21, 2001

Tanya Mandel, editor, KPFA broadcaster and activist, died Tuesday. She was 84. 

Of herself, she wrote: “I was born in 1917 in New York City.... My first political memory was the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti” in 1927, “which shocked and angered my family and their friends. My second recollection was collecting money on the street to support coal miners on strike.”  

This activity took place in her early teens. 

In 1935, with Hitler in power for two years, the German liner, S.S. Bremen, entered New York flying the Nazi flag. She and the man she would marry that year and who would be her husband for the remaining 66 years of her life, Bill Mandel, were in a massive police-assaulted demonstration at the dock as Irish-American seaman Bill Bailey, later a much-written-about figure in San Francisco, managed to pull down the flag.  

Mrs. Mandel and her husband-to-be had met picketing in support of chiefly African-American and female laundry workers seeking union recognition. 

During a period in Akron, Ohio, Mrs. Mandel, then 20, organized the movement that won the construction of that city’s first public housing project, at a time when such buildings were a major step forward in replacing slum tenements as dwellings for the working poor. 

Mrs. Mandel returned to New York during World War II, and now a mother, she was instrumental in obtaining a government-funded institution of a type until then essentially unknown in this country: a child-care center. 

Later, active in the Parent-Teachers Association, she and her husband furthered their children’s familiarization with other ethnicities by sending them to the overwhelmingly black schools in their neighborhood when other white parents would not. 

During the McCarthy era Mrs. Mandel took part in a spontaneous march through the Lower East Side when Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed, a parade without a permit led by three generations of the Mandel family including their then 13-year-old daughter. 

The family moved to Berkeley in 1957, where Mrs. Mandel lived for the next 40 years. In the ‘50s, she participated in the activities that won racial integration of the Berkeley schools. She was a member of the Boatrockers Democratic Club and, in the early 1960s, joined Women for Peace, organized to stop atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons when radioactive Strontium 90 began to be found in mothers’ milk. Just a week before her death, when that outcome was not expected, members wrote her a get-well card with individual comments such as these: 

“We miss you and your wisdom.” 

Another: “I miss you and your important suggestions at our meetings.” 

A third: “We miss your forceful, uncompromising comments.” 

Mrs. Mandel was an opponent of the Vietnam War from the outset. She was in daily attendance during the 11-week trial of one of her sons, a member of the so-called Oakland Seven who had organized disruptive demonstrations in an attempt to prevent the Oakland Army Induction Center from functioning. They were acquitted. Another son, a total pacifist, went to Canada to, in her words, “avoid fighting the Vietnamese people.” 

That same period saw the birth of second-wave feminism, and Mrs. Mandel, daughter Phyllis, and husband Bill were invited to join one of the very earliest women’s liberation groups.  

In 1966, Mrs. Mandel visited the Soviet Union and did so several times thereafter with a particular eye to the status of women. She was impressed by the advanced level of education for women and the social services provided for mothers and children, but struck by what she called the “male domination of every facet of life.”  

Mandel reported on her observations during a five-year stint, during which she shared her husband’s 37-year-long program on KPFA. Bill Mandel, whose radio program focused on the former Soviet Union, is the author of a number of books on the subject. 

In 1984, now in her late 60s, Mrs. Mandel participated in yet another demonstration with her entire family, this time at dawn on the San Francisco docks. It was part of a successful effort to prevent the unloading of a shipload of South African goods as part of the struggle to end apartheid. 

Jewish, and educated at home to speak Yiddish before learning English, Mandel supported the founding of Israel, “hoping at first for a joint Jewish-Arab state,” she wrote. “In 1967 and 1974 I was very disturbed at the attitude of the majority of U.S. Jews toward Palestinians and the idea of a Palestinian state.... I became involved in campaigns on behalf of the Palestinians and a Palestinian state.” 

Just before entering the operating room for the unavoidable procedure that would terminate tragically, the risks of which she knew, Mandel smiled broadly when told that the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal had been set aside. (Mrs. Mandel made the choice to have the risky hip replacement surgery, rather than live in a zombie-like state, as a result of the medications she would have had to use to stave off severe pain.)  

Her strength of character and devotion to principle to the contrary notwithstanding, the term universally applied to describe Mandel by mere acquaintances as well as by those who knew her well was “sweet.” 

Tanya Mandel was a charter subscriber to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, earlier to A.C.T., an avid concert-goer and frequent visitor to museums. Her last dinner-table conversation in the senior facility where she and her husband resided was on Girardeau’s play, “The Madwoman of Chaillot.” 

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Mandel leaves behind her three children, Phyllis, Bob and David, two grandchildren and one great grandchild. 

A memorial service will be held at 7 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Claremont House, 4500 Gilbert St., Oakland. 

William Mandel’s most recent book is an autobiography, “Saying No to Power,” (Creative Arts, Berkeley). In it, one can find references to Mrs. Mandel on 50 pages.