Dr. Melvin Schwartz, Temple Israel activist, dies at 81

He may not have been able to turn on the washing machine or the dishwasher, but he saved lives.

That's how Judy Jacobs remembered her father, Dr. Melvin Schwartz of Alameda, who died Jan. 4 of a stroke. He was just shy of his 82nd birthday.

Born and raised in Oakland, Schwartz attended U.C. Berkeley and UCSF School of Medicine. He did his residency at San Francisco General Hospital and began practicing pediatrics in 1946.

From 1955 to 1957, he served in the Air Force at Travis Air Force Base. In 1954, he established Alameda Pediatrics, which is still in operation today.

Rabbi Allen Bennett, spiritual leader of Alameda's Temple Israel, where Schwartz was a member for more than 40 years, called him a "pediatrician for generations."

"He saw children whose grandparents had been his patients," Bennett said. "Although he retired at age 75, he never for a moment stopped learning about medicine."

Bennett recalled hearing that Schwartz would tell his children they were going on an outing, and then they would go to the hospital so he could make rounds and visit patients.

"I think I inherited my love of medicine from him," recalled his granddaughter, Allison Jacobs. "My desire to be a nurse seemed to come from out of the blue, so it must have been from Poppy's genes."

A member of many civic organizations, Schwartz served as the Northern California chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics and helped found AAI Health Services, a clinic serving the immigrant populations of Alameda's West End. He also belonged to numerous medical organizations.

State of Israel Bonds honored him with its Masada Award. "He was Mr. Israel Bonds of Alameda," said Harvey Stoller, acting director.

While he also contributed to Boys Town Jerusalem and the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay, among other charities, his main philanthropic interest was his synagogue.

He was a continuous donor to the Temple Israel Foundation. "His philanthropy was Maimonidean in the best sense of the term; he didn't like his name attached," said Bennett.

While Schwartz donated to many synagogue causes, Bennett said that "it was through his generosity that many of the children of this congregation were able to go on Israel trips or go to summer camp if their families couldn't afford it otherwise."

He also said that many of the synagogue's programs simply would have not survived had it not been for Schwartz's support.

"He was always very generous with the temple," said Gretel Gates, the widow of longtime Temple Israel Rabbi Gunther Gates, who knew Schwartz for 49 years. "He was always available when the need was there."

Richard and Michael Brown said their grandfather was a "big time sports guy."

"We'll forgive him for what may have been his only sin, being a Raider fan instead of a 49er fan, and instead focus on our shared experiences with the Oakland A's. "

Schwartz is survived by his wife of 59 years, Josephine; daughters Judy Jacobs and Susan Nisbet, both of Alameda, and Sandra Brown of Davis; grandchildren Steven, Elisa, Allison and Lauren Jacobs, and Richard and Michael Brown; and sisters Harriet Rotner, Shirley Garfinkle, Roslyn Zimmerman and Alita Zolot.

Contributions can be made to the Temple Israel Foundation, c/o Temple Israel, 3183 Mecartney Road, Alameda, CA, 94502.

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."