Four with wanderlust for life stop to serve at Jewish Bulletin

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They came from New York, Manchuria and Berlin, logging thousands of miles and decades of milestones before taking the off-ramp to the Jewish Bulletin.

One of them had to detour around the Holocaust. Harry Fink fled Berlin in 1939. He, his sister and parents got out of Germany just before the Nazis slammed the door on the Jews.

The family moved into a one-room apartment in Shanghai, China, and 15-year-old Harry helped his father, a master tailor, stitch up clothes to "keep the family together." At night, the teenager slept on the sewing table.

When the Communists took over in 1949, he was on the last boat out, staying behind to help ensure passage for 9,000 trying to leave without visas.

After that it was time to settle down, which to him and his bride, Ruth Dombrower, meant helping to settle the state of Israel. They lived in a tent, a cabin and in government housing near Tel Aviv for five years before heading to San Francisco and setting up housekeeping with two sons, and a business — Harry Fink Draperies on California and Fifth Avenue, which they ran until 1993.

Upon retirement, he immediately traded in his 15-hour days at the sewing machine for 10 hours a week at a desk in the Bulletin's morgue, a quiet room of file cabinets and bound volumes, reading the weekly edition, deciding what stories must be saved, photocopying them and filing them away for future research.

"This is great," he said. "I know quite a number of people who couldn't wait to retire, [but] I found it very hard to do nothing."

Across the hall sorting the mail is his colleague and fellow Berliner, Hilda Frankenstein. She departed the city of her birth four years before Fink fled his. She and her parents and sister journeyed to Montevideo, Uruguay, where her father practiced medicine for one year. When he decided to move on to Buenos Aires, Argentina, the rest of the family relocated to Los Angeles.

Frankenstein worked in a steno pool at Warner Brothers before moving to Modesto with husband Hans in 1939. They lived there 44 years. She was a legal secretary for attorney Allan Strauss, whose practice specialized in accidents, divorce and criminal law.

She now lives in San Francisco to be near her three children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, and divides her volunteer time between the Bulletin — "because I wanted to do something Jewish" — and the Asian Art and M. H. de Young Memorial museums in Golden Gate Park.

Her friends stay home and watch television all day, she said, but that's not for her. "They think I'm crazy."

Occupying the desk in the mail room when Frankenstein's not there is John Levin, who was born in Manchuria near Harbin. He was 18 when he pursued a dream to study art in San Francisco, but the Army soon swept him off to a war in Europe. After he returned he took a job with the Post Office, where he stayed for 24 years, then worked for Bank of America until he retired eight years ago.

"When I retired," he said, "I decided I'm not going to sit at home. I'm going to do some volunteering. Somebody said, `What's wrong with the Jewish Bulletin?' I knew Charles Block [the former advertising manager], so I ended up doing this."

A father of two and grandfather of three, he processes up to 200 Bulletin subscription renewals a month. He reports for duty twice a week, then goes off to drive older adults to doctor's appointments and shopping trips for Jewish Family and Children's Services.

Jennie Green was born in Manhattan when the Bulletin's predecessor, Emanu-El, was 15 years old. Recently she celebrated her 85th birthday in the Bulletin's kitchen crammed with staff members who wanted to watch her cut her chocolate cake and thank her for answering the phone every Tuesday morning for more than 10 years.

"I like interacting with people on the telephone," said the former Kyle Railways office manager during a lull at the front desk. "I also like the interaction with the people who work here."

Volunteering, added the mother of two and grandmother of five, is the best thing retired people can do.

"It keeps you on your toes," she said. "You don't stagnate."