Leo Wasserman dies ex-Bnai Brith, congregation head

Leo Wasserman, a prominent member of the Bay Area Jewish community who died Jan. 12, was remembered by friends and family as a great humanitarian who always was guided by the strength of his convictions.

Wasserman was involved in the Jewish community throughout his life. He served as president of the B'nai B'rith Oakland chapter, and was an active supporter and patron of the University of Judaism.

A longtime member of Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland, Wasserman served as president of the Conservative congregation and as the first president of the men's club. He also was a recipient of Beth Abraham's Man of the Year award.

Wasserman was eulogized by Beth Abraham Rabbi Mark Diamond as a man "of the utmost integrity."

Diamond said that the holy ark that held the Ten Commandments is analogous to Wasserman's life.

"The Aron Kodesh was covered with gold both on the outside and inside. The reason for the gold on the outside is evident. But why on the inside?

"The answer is that the inside must be consistent with the outside. And so it was with Leo Wasserman. Leo was a man of vision and conviction, whose words and deeds brought honor to himself, his family and his people."

Wasserman, 89, was born and raised in Monterey. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a pharmacy degree. Shortly thereafter, in 1938, he opened "Leo's Service Pharmacy" in Oakland, which he operated for nearly 40 years.

"Leo was an icon in the neighborhood," said Robert Duey, who bought Wasserman's store in 1970. "He was a real fixture here in Oakland. Everybody knew him and trusted him. You couldn't find a more knowledgeable, kinder man in the business."

"I knew Leo for over 30 years, and there wasn't anyone who didn't have a kind word to say about him," said Ruth Johnston, the past director of Piedmont Garden's Skilled Nursing Facility. "His [customers] were thrilled to have him as their pharmacist because they knew he truly cared about them."

Wasserman's expertise in pharmaceuticals landed him a seat on the board of the American Baptist Homes, a group that oversaw some of the retirement homes for which Wasserman provided prescriptions.

"Leo was always proud of that," recalled Helen Wasserman, his wife of 66 years. "He was one of the only Jews to ever serve in that capacity."

Another aspect of his life that Wasserman was proud of was his family. "He never missed a good-night kiss," Helen Wasserman said.

Wasserman is survived by his wife, Helen, children Marc and Jan, grandchildren David, Dan, Alana and George, and great-grandchildren Lena and Matthew.

Donations can be sent to the Helen and Leo Wasserman Educational Fund at Temple Beth Abraham, 336 Euclid Ave., Oakland, CA 94610.