Marin crash victim, 19, lived precepts of Judaism

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Among his many interests, Joshua Portnoy loved acting, hiking, the Pittsburgh Steelers and marine biology.

A friend to many, "he was the kid who was always smiling, the kid who was always trying to comfort other kids, get them through the difficult times," said his mother, Gunilla Haegerstrom-Portnoy.

The 19-year-old honor roll student at College of Marin died in an auto accident Sept. 27.

The grandson of Cantor Joseph Portnoy, who sang at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco for 27 years and is now retired, the teen was "sweet, lovable, devilish," his grandfather said. He compares the young man's premature death to "a bulb that is ready to burst into bloom and the bulb is crushed before it has the chance to flower fully."

Added the teen's father, Robert Portnoy: "He was just beginning to fly."

Portnoy grew up in San Anselmo and graduated from Sir Francis Drake High School in 1996. At Drake, he played on the varsity football and tennis teams and acted in several dramatic productions. Last summer, he worked as a counselor at Skylake Yosemite Camp, where he oversaw a cabin of 10-year-old boys.

He recently started his second year at College of Marin and hoped to continue his studies at the University of California at Davis, where his older brother Benjamin is a student.

Portnoy attended religious school at Congregation Emanu-El and was confirmed there in 1994. In his confirmation yearbook, he chose to put by his name a quote by Hillel: "In a place where no one behaves like a human being, you must strive to be human."

His father, who shared Shabbat dinner with his son just hours before he died, said of Josh, "He lived a lot of the precepts of Judaism without wearing them on his sleeve."

Portnoy died at the scene of a car crash on Interstate 580 near the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard exit. According to the California Highway Patrol, the 1996 Dodge in which he was a passenger veered onto the freeway's right shoulder, hit a dirt embankment and overturned.

The other two passengers were injured in the crash; the car's 23-year-old driver, Jennifer Childs of Petaluma, died from head injuries. Conflicting accounts regarding Childs' medical care following the accident have led to an investigation of the failed attempt to save her.

Portnoy is survived by his parents Gunilla Haegerstrom-Portnoy and Robert C. Portnoy of San Anselmo; his sister Jennifer and brother Benjamin; and grandparents Cantor Joseph and Ruth Portnoy of Greenbrae, Birgit and Johan Enroth of Madeira, Portugal, and Solve and Maj Haegerstrom of Stockholm.

A memorial service was held Oct. 1 at Congregation Emanu-El.

The family asks that contributions be made to Emanu-El, P.O. Box 591510, S.F., CA 94159-1510; the Drake Scholarship Foundation, 1327 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo, CA 94960; or the Josh Portnoy Fund, c/o U.C. Berkeley's Optometry School, Dean's Office, Berkeley, CA 92720-2020.

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.