S.F. philanthropist Harry Blumenthal dies at 91

For years Harry Blumenthal distributed silver ballpoint pens throughout the Bay Area Jewish community, inscribed with the words: "He who gives while he lives also knows where it goes."

That was the motto of the San Francisco philanthropist and his late wife, Dorothy.

Blumenthal, who died Monday at the age of 91, worked in the wholesale jewelry business. He was a generous philanthropist who "epitomized tzedakah," said his longtime friend and colleague Cantor Julius Blackman. "You don't come across too many like Harry Blumenthal."

When Blackman, former head of the Hebrew Free Loan Association, was establishing an emergency fund for Jews in need, for instance, Blumenthal provided the money to start it, "with one stipulation," said Blackman. He didn't want anyone to know the money came from him. Every year or so he would add more funds anonymously.

"He just wanted to help people who really needed it, in a selfless way," said Blackman. "You know how some might say, 'Jump,' and someone else would say, 'How high?' Well with Harry someone would say, 'Give me some money' and he would say, 'How much?'"

Daphna Noily, regional director of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and former director of American Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said Blumenthal "gave hundreds of thousands of dollars" to both institutions.

"He would tell his friends about organizations he believed in and get them to contribute as well," said Noily, who has a handful of Blumethal's silver motto pens on her desk. "If ever you were in a pinch, you would call up Harry. He was always willing to help out."

She remembered Blumenthal in recent years driving around San Francisco in "a big, maroon Cadillac that he'd park in a loading zone while running around to do his business" and attending all sorts of Jewish community functions with his nurse, Anna Volson.

Phyllis Cook, executive director of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund and associate director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, called Blumenthal "a great friend of the Jewish community," who started a fund for young Bay Area Jews to go to Israel.

Among other organizations, Blumenthal also supported the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Jerusalem Medical Center, the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley, the Jewish Home in San Francisco and State of Israel Bonds, which formerly had a San Francisco office.

He was also a member of many boards throughout the Bay Area Jewish community and a member of Reform Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco.

"He was very committed to Judaism, both in the state of Israel and locally," said Blumenthal's son, Neil, of Alamo. "He really gave with his heart."

Neil Blumenthal said that his father passed this "generous philosophy" onto himself and his sister, Carole Shostak, who lives in Los Angeles.

But his generous heart also extended into his everyday life, said a lifelong friend of Blumenthal's family, Arlene Krieger of Hillsborough. She described Blumenthal "as a wonderful, loving man" who was always "there for you when you needed him," noting that, as a good friend of her parents, he was even there for her birth.

"He just always has been so kind to me. I had a sweet place for him."

In addition to his children, Blumenthal is survived by siblings Eva Robinson, and Hilley and Gladys Blumenthal; grandchildren Debbie Ann Blumenthal, Denise and Glen Tremari, Stuart and Anna Shostak, Denis and Sherie Shostak, and Cindy and Dean Margolis; and three great grandchildren.

Contributions to the charity of one's choice are requested.