Jewish activist Derek Israel dies in raceway crash at 28

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The East Bay Jewish community gathered this week to mourn the loss of Derek Israel, an Oakland resident, auto mechanic and professional race-car driver killed Sunday in a collision at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma County.

The 28-year-old Israel — who was active in both the East Bay and San Francisco Jewish communities — died shortly after his modified 1972 Datsun 510 collided with another race car during the Pacific Coast Road Racing Championship.

Funeral services held Tuesday at Oakland's Beth Jacob Congregation drew an estimated 300 grief-stricken mourners.

Born and raised in Oakland, Israel grew up attending Temple Beth Jacob, celebrated his bar mitzvah at the Oakland synagogue and most recently mounted a financial campaign to support efforts to raise environmental awareness among its congregants.

Israel led by example, inspiring others to take more active roles in their Jewish practice. Last year he shared his love of Judaism by helping to lead a Lag B'Omer ceremony at the Aquarian Minyan in Berkeley and singing songs at a community-wide Chanukah celebration in San Francisco's Union Square.

During the Union Square festivities, Israel, a lover of rap and reggae who regularly performed "Jewish rap," shared the stage with the Bay Area group RebbeSoul. The year before, Israel jammed with the New York-based Jewish rock group Shlock Rock during a performance at Beth Jacob.

Delivering the funeral eulogy, Beth Jacob's Rabbi Howard Zack recalled how Israel could "speak patois to Jamaican natives, lay tefillin with Chabad Chassidim and play Shabbat games with children in the hallways of the synagogue." He went on to discuss the young man's love for the Land of Israel and his dream to one day live and study in the Jewish state.

Israel is survived by his parents Carol and Jonas, and brothers Shimon and Avner. Contributions may be sent to Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland and Chabad of San Francisco.