Morris Zlot, synagogue pioneer and Vallejo politician, dies at 92

Morris Zlot, a pioneering member of Vallejo's Congregation B'nai Israel and founder of the city's B'nai B'rith chapter, died Wednesday of last week at age 92.

Active until his last days, he died of heart disease, according to his son Harold Zlot.

A practicing optometrist for more than 50 years, Zlot served for several years as president of the North Bay Optometric Society. He held other leadership positions as well, including, from 1955 to 1959, city councilman and vice mayor of Vallejo. He also served as head of the local Red Cross.

"He was forceful in a very quiet way in being able to get things accomplished," his son said. "He knew how to get people involved."

At Congregation B'nai Israel, Zlot's leadership helped shape the character of the synagogue from its early days. B'nai Israel — which is not affiliated with a movement, but considers itself between Reform and Conservative — was founded in 1948, the same year Israel became a state.

"He was one of about three individuals who built the synagogue, acquired the property, raised the funds," said B'nai Israel's Rabbi David Kopstein. "He continued to monitor its development and be involved with its growth all the days of his life."

Even into his 90s, Zlot remained a fixture at the synagogue, attending services there regularly and continuing a decades-long tradition of being the congregant to read from the Book of Jonah at Yom Kippur.

The synagogue "was who he was," Kopstein said. "B'nai Israel Vallejo was No. 1."

Born in New York in 1905, Zlot moved to Vallejo at an early age. When he was a young boy, his family took a trip to the Ukraine to visit relatives. But in the tumultuous years surrounding the Russian Revolution, the family was trapped in the former Soviet Union for more than a decade. They escaped with the help of the American Embassy in Turkey.

Zlot, in fact, ended up celebrating his bar mitzvah in the Ukraine.

"He remembered the pogroms, people being shot in the streets," his son said. "In the Ukraine, he learned Russian. "When he came back to California, he couldn't speak English anymore. It's quite an interesting story."

Returning in his teen years, he graduated from Vallejo High School and U.C. Berkeley.

A funeral for Zlot was held last Friday at Congregation B'nai Israel. The service took place in the sanctuary, an honor reserved for the synagogue's most revered leaders.

Zlot is survived by son Harold and his wife, Mary; son Gordon Zlot and his wife, Laura; and grandchildren Jeffrey, Michael, Andrew, Elizabeth and Amy Zlot. His wife, Isabel Zlot, died in 1967; he is survived by longtime companion Gertrude Sharlin of Los Angeles.

The family asks that contributions in Zlot's name be made to Congregation B'nai Israel, 1256 Nebraska St., Vallejo, CA 94590.

Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is a former J. staff writer.