Alvin Frank, community leader and AIPAC activist, dies at 68

Longtime Jewish activist and community leader Alvin Frank died Saturday of a heart attack.

"He was just a warm, cozy teddy bear of a man whose death is a real loss for the Jewish community," said family friend and neighbor Maureen Ellenberg.

Frank, who was 68, lived in San Jose, where he was a member of Congregation Sinai. But the impact of his work for Jewish causes was felt throughout the Bay Area.

"Al Frank was one of the people I'd truly call irreplaceable," said Elliot Brandt, regional director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

One of the guiding tenets of Frank's life was making sure that Jews in the diaspora remained strongly connected to Israel, he added.

To that end, Frank was instrumental in establishing a regional office for AIPAC in San Jose in the early 1980s.

"Al Frank believed in building the Jewish community from the ground up," said Brandt. "He could take politics and fund-raising and make them seem truly noble."

Amy Friedkin, a vice president on AIPAC's national board, also alluded to Frank's passions — both to the Jewish state and otherwise.

"Al loved his family, golf, cigars and Israel," said Friedkin, a San Francisco resident. "He never overcame the feeling of how wonderful it was to be an American Jew lobbying for the state of Israel. And he worked very hard and humbly in that capacity because he never took anything for granted — he knew what life was like for the Jewish people before Israel existed."

Born in New Jersey, Frank grew up in the Bay Area and attended San Francisco's Lowell High School. Coincidentally, Naomi Lauter, AIPAC's retired, long-term regional director, was a year ahead of him at Lowell . She had displayed both of their yearbook pictures on the desk of her San Francisco office.

"He was a terrific human being with a passionate concern for Israel," she said.

After graduating from law school at U.C. Berkeley, Frank worked as an attorney for almost four decades, eventually becoming a partner in the San Jose law firm of Gassett, Perry and Frank.

Frank served the Bay Area Jewish community for almost the same amount of time. He was a past chair of the Peninsula branch of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the chairman of a B'nai B'rith chapter in San Jose that was a precursor of the Anti-Defamation League. He was also on the regional board of directors of the American Friends for Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

In 1959, Frank joined the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose. He went on to serve as the president of that organization twice, in the early 1970s and again in the early 1990s.

Jon Friedenberg, the federation's executive director, recalled Frank as a "unique combination of strength, character and kindness.

"Al had a Solomon-like wisdom. If there was a ever a dispute that arose between two institutions, or between two leaders in the community, Al could be counted on to mediate."

Frank, he said, "always spoke the truth, but never made people feel defensive. He was silent about people's shortcomings, and vocal about their strong points."

One of Friedenberg's favorite Frank anecdotes concerned a mutual passion — baseball.

"My father made an 8 mm home movie of the Giants' first game at Candlestick Park" in 1960, Friedenberg recalled. The film was later transferred to videotape. "And Al knew…how much I treasured that tape.

"The day the Giants played their last game at the 'Stick in '99," said Friedenberg, "I get a call from him. He asks me if I'm going to the game, and I tell him that I didn't get the opportunity to purchase tickets."

Lo and behold, Frank just happened to have an extra ticket.

"So the two of us spent a great day together, laughing, drinking beer, eating peanuts and watching a historic baseball game," Friedenberg said, adding that he brought his camcorder to the game and made a companion piece to the film his father had made nearly 40 years earlier.

"Al didn't have to do that. But he never thought twice about going the extra mile for a friend."

Frank is survived by his wife, Barbara, of San Jose, son Dale of Haifa, Israel, and grandsons Noam, Barak and Hovav, all of Haifa.

Services were held Monday at the Oak Hill Funeral Home's Chapel of the Oaks in San Jose. Interment followed in Beth David Memorial Garden, Oak Hill Memorial Park, in San Jose.

Donations can be made to the American Society for Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, 870 Market St., No. 800, S.F., CA 94102; AIPAC, 49 Geary St., No. 502, S.F., CA 94108; or Congregation Sinai, 1532 Willow Brae Ave., San Jose, CA 95125.