Longtime S.F. Orthodox rabbi, Mayer Frenkel, dies in Maryland

Rabbi Mayer Frenkel, a fixture of San Francisco's Orthodox Jewish community for nearly half a century, died on Nov. 25 in Bethesda, Md. He was 85.

A former rabbi of Orthodox Congregations Anshey Sfard and Chevra Thilim in San Francisco, he had moved from the Bay Area to Rockville, Md., in 1993 to be closer to his family following a massive stroke the same year. His health continued to deteriorate after the stroke, leading to his death, according to his son, Jacob Frenkel.

The elder Frenkel received his Orthodox rabbinic ordination at age 16 in Poland. At the Mesivta Yeshiva in Kletzk, he studied with Rabbi Aharon Kotler, one of the century's foremost Torah scholars.

In 1940, Frenkel escaped across the former Soviet Union to Shanghai and became affiliated with the Mirer Yeshiva. All other members of Frenkel's family perished in the Holocaust.

That loss, immense as it was, did not destroy the rabbi's faith, his son said. "He accepted that that was part of God's plan."

A devout, learned man known to spend entire days studying, Frenkel arrived in San Francisco in 1946 and spent the next 47 years serving as a pulpit rabbi, mohel (ritual circumciser) and shochet (kosher butcher).

He established and supervised the kosher kitchens of many major hotels in the Bay Area and served as mashgiach, or kosher supervisor, at many large functions.

In addition to serving briefly as a pulpit rabbi of two Orthodox congregations, Frenkel also occasionally lent his rabbinic skills to a third, Congregation Adath Israel.

"He was very knowledgeable of Jewish law and was an important link to the past generation," says Adath Israel's Rabbi Jacob Traub. "He knew face to face many of the greats of the previous generation who did not live through the Holocaust."

In addition, "he was a crackerjack Torah reader," Traub said. "He knew all of the various nuances and each and every note. He was an expert on grammar."

Myron Sosnick, one of Adath Israel's founding members, remembers Frenkel "as a real mensch. If you wanted him to do something, he would do it. He never complained. He always did everything with a smiling hand."

Jacob Frenkel also recalls his father's generosity, as well as his patience and honesty. "Whether somebody wanted to hear it or not, he always told the truth from his heart and from Torah," he said.

Shiva for Frenkel was observed in Silver Spring, Md.

He was buried on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives.

He is survived by wife Sulamith of San Francisco and sons Jacob of Silver Spring, Josh of Detroit and Jonathan of Washington, D.C. He is also survived by seven grandchildren. Donations in his name can be sent to the Hebrew Day School of Montgomery County, 1401 Arcola Ave., Silver Spring, MD 20902.

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

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