Physician, Jewish activist Marshall Denenberg dies

Marshall Denenberg made his career as a physician, yet he made Judaism his lifetime pursuit.

"He was always a Zionist," Betty Denenberg, his wife, said.

Denenberg, a past president of the South Peninsula Council of the Jewish Community Federation, died in his Los Altos Hills home of a heart attack last Friday morning. He was 61.

Describing her late husband as "a leader to his family," Betty Denenberg said he was also a leader in the Jewish community.

Two decades ago he helped found the Peninsula branch of the Jewish Community Relations Council, which he has chaired. For the past six years, he was also chairman of its Yom HaShoah organization committee.

"He was a central pillar of this agency," said Jeff Santis, Peninsula regional director for the JCRC. "He had a passion for what he did in the Jewish community. He always had a view on something and would express it gently but forcefully."

Denenberg also served as president of Palo Alto's Congregation Kol Emeth from January 1992 to December 1993. He was a past president of the Maimonides Society, an organization of Jewish physicians.

Alvin Platt, a friend who worked with Denenberg on a number of Jewish community projects, called him "a very special leader. He was a spokesperson for tikkun. He felt we all have a responsibility to help build the world that is a little broken, and he did it."

Born in Omaha, Neb., on Dec. 11, 1936 to a family of eight children, Denenberg committed himself early in life to be a physician.

He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Nebraska, completing his residency as an ear, nose and throat specialist at the University of Wisconsin.

He settled in Los Altos Hills in 1968. Before establishing his private practice, he worked in the ear, nose and throat department at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View.

As a physician for more than 30 years, Denenberg took care of two or three generations of some families.

"He treated everybody the same, he cared about everybody," Betty Denenberg said. "It didn't matter whether you had money or not. Someone once told me he was the most democratic man he knew."

Platt agreed. "Marshall extended his sense of responsibility to his medical practice. It is important for people to know that when you looked in his office you saw diversity," he said. "Many patients he took care of pro bono because they could not afford such professional care. But when I would ask him about that, he would never talk about it."

Betty Denenberg said her husband was "a down-to-earth man. He was brilliant and had a good sense of humor and a big heart and it all went with him into his medical practice and community."

Taking after their father, Denenberg's twin daughters, Laura Denenberg and Cheryl Bader of San Francisco, are both physicians.

In addition to his wife and daughters, Denenberg is survived by sister Anne Feinberg; brothers Herbert, Michael and Daniel Denenberg; and son-in-law Marc Bader.

A memorial service was held Sunday. Denenberg was buried in Hills of Eternity Memorial Park in Colma. The family is creating a Marshall Denenberg fund at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and requests that donations be sent to the JCF, 121 Steuart St., S.F., CA 94105.