Bernard Reiner, longtime Jewish leader, dies at 83

Reading through the lengthy list of his father, Bernard's, contributions to the San Francisco community, Edward Reiner paused after a good five minutes to come up for air.

There was the Jewish Home, Conservative Congregation Beth Sholom, where Rabbi Alan Lew called him "one of the real pillars of the synagogue," and the American-Israel League of Northern California, B'nai Brith District 4. He was president of all four organizations.

The San Francisco resident also served on the boards of Sinai Memorial Chapel, Hebrew University and the National Conference for Community and Justice, among other groups.

"You know," said his son, with a trace of wonder in his voice, "I'm only halfway through this list."

Bernard "Bernie" Reiner died Sunday after a protracted battle with congestive heart failure. He was 83.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1917, Reiner graduated from Baruch College of the City College of New York with a bachelor's in business administration. Becoming vice president of Fromm and Sichel, a subsidiary of Seagrams, he relocated to San Francisco in 1965 for business reasons. He held that position until his retirement in 1983.

Finding himself in a new community, Reiner immediately began contributing to it, according to Milton Jacobs, who has known Reiner for 35 years.

"We became close friends almost immediately. He had such character and integrity, he was the kind of person you love to have as a friend," recalled Jacobs. "Bernie told me on more than one occasion that his great commitment to the community came from his father, who always told his children that, above all, you have to help people. Bernie's father wasn't a rich man, but he would just invite people off the street over for Shabbat dinner. That tradition passed to Bernie. He was a special person."

Reiner was well known to many because of his community involvement, but friends and family also remember him as a tender and generous man.

"He was one of my favorite types," said Lew. "He could be difficult and feisty on the outside, but when you got inside, he was all heart, very warm. A lot of people are the other way around: sweet on the outside but inside you don't find too much. That was the side of Bernie not everybody knew about."

The side of Reiner everybody did know about was his service to the community, a dedication that amazed even his immediate family.

Beyond his service to community organizations, Reiner and his wife would assist emigre families in the area, providing financial and job assistance, and helping to pay for their children's schooling, according to Lew. "He and his wife, Alice, were a real team," the rabbi added.

"Where did he find the time? That's a damn good question. But he did," said Edward Reiner. "He wasn't just on these boards, he was active. He got people to do things. He had a wall in his office at home covered with plaques, literally covered. So many people loved him and are missing him."

Reiner is survived by his wife of 60 years, Alice; children Margaret (and Brian) Michaelson of San Diego, Claire (and Robert) Kinzinger of Anacortes, Wash., and Edward (and Linda) Reiner of San Francisco; and grandchildren Jeffrey Michaelson, David Michaelson, Rachel Kinzinger, Zev Reiner, Rebecca Reiner, Jennifer Gabler and Jason Gabler.

Contributions can be sent to the Reiner Family Israel Scholarship Fund at Congregation Beth Sholom, 1301 Clement St., S.F., CA94118, or the Jewish Home, 302 Silver Ave., S.F., CA 94112.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.