Temple Israel leader Marta Hankin dies

"The only thing she wasn't involved with was the Men's Club, and it was probably an oversight, not intentional," said Rabbi Allen Bennett, spiritual leader of the Alameda synagogue where Hankin was a member. "The temple has suffered a grievous loss with her passing, and it's going to be a long time before we heal from this one."

Marta Hankin, née Wolff, died on July 12 after a long illness, a week before her 87th birthday.

Born in Norden, Germany, in 1913, she was the daughter of a cattle dealer. Her mother died in 1933, on Hankin's 20th birthday. Her brother, Rudy, left Germany as a teenager, on the first youth aliyah to Israel. Her sister, Hilda, came to Oakland with her husband in 1938.

Her father was deported to a concentration camp, where he later perished. Hankin fled Germany with her stepmother. The two women went to England, where Hankin first worked as a maid, and then in a raincoat factory in Manchester. It was in the factory that she met Harry Hankin, another German refugee, whom she married in 1940.

The Hankins had two sons while they were still in England, Michael and Leslie. The family immigrated to the United States in 1947, making a brief stop in New York, and then settling in Oakland, where Marta's sister, Hilda, was living.

Hankin was employed by Blue Cross, working in the claims department for more than 30 years, before retiring.

As one of Temple Israel's most active members, she ran the kitchen and served on the ritual committee, the sunshine committee, the sisterhood, and on the board until her death. When her illness prevented her from attending a board meeting, she would call the rabbi to see what she missed.

In his eulogy at her funeral, Ben Meyerhoff, the synagogue president, said that Marta, along with Harry, was known for approaching newcomers, immediately making anyone feel welcome.

"Marta Hankin has left a void that can never be filled. There is not enough heart to fill it," Meyerhoff said. "She was the manifestation of strength and courage that one aspires to and admires in others."

Even though she had grandchildren and great-grandchildren of her own, "the temple became her extended family, and she treated everyone here as if they were her children or siblings," said Bennett.

She was known for her warmth — as well as her mandelbrot and chocolate-dipped finger cookies.

"You couldn't go anywhere where people didn't know who she was," recalled her son Michael. "I was always asked, 'Are you Marta's son?' She touched so many people in so many ways."

According to Michael, education and the synagogue were her passions, and some of her grandchildren have gone into teaching or education, largely because of her influence.

Said Bennett: "She was one of the best role models we could have had for being a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, friend, and just a nurturing and loving soul."

She is survived by her husband, Harry; her sister, Hilda DeLowe; her brother, Rudy Wolff; her sons, Michael and Leslie; four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."