Ex-president of Temple Sinai recalled as kind, gentle

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Lionel Benas, a former president of Oakland's Temple Sinai and an attorney for more than half a century, died Sept. 29 in his Walnut Creek home. He was 93.

He died of cancer, according to his son Richard Benas.

Born in Fresno, Benas graduated Phi Beta Kappa from U.C. Berkeley and attended Boalt Hall School of Law. He entered private practice in 1926 in Oakland.

During the Great Depression, according to his son, he treated financially strapped clients gently, often accepting payment through means other than money.

Once, "we took a xylophone as a fee," his son recalled.

Benas served as president of the Alameda County Bar Association from 1960-1961 and was elected to the Board of Governors of the State Bar in 1970, becoming its vice president during his term.

Popular with clients and colleagues alike, "he was a very hard-working, honest person," his son said. "He was very, very ethical."

In addition to his law practice, Benas devoted much energy to Temple Sinai. He served as president from 1950-1954 and sat on its board for many years. He taught confirmation class at the synagogue for more than 20 years.

In 1984, a Sinai family instituted the Lionel B. Benas confirmation award, given annually to a confirmation student for "excellence in human relations, confirmation studies and community involvement."

Temple Sinai's Rabbi Steven Chester, who knew Benas for nearly a decade, recalled him as "a kind, gentle, concerned human being and Jew to whom Sinai was always extremely important."

Benas was also a member of B'nai B'rith and the Rossmoor Chapter of the Lions Club. He served as president of the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club and of the California State Dads Club.

An avid sports enthusiast, he played golf and attended virtually every Cal home football game from the time he was a student until recently.

A memorial service for Benas was held Sunday, Oct. 5 at Temple Sinai.

Benas is survived by his wife Ethel; son Richard of Oakland and his wife Evelyn; son Marshall of San Bruno and his wife Connie; daughter Linda Samrick of Moraga and her husband Phillip; and grandchildren Daniel, Dana and Matthew Benas, Leslie and Brian Samrick and Robin Dobson. He is also survived by three great-grandchildren.

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

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