Leonard Quittman, longtime Beth Abraham activist, dies

Leonard Quittman hated seeing calls to the Torah bid upon, auction-style, as they were in an emergency attempt to keep Temple Beth Abraham open in 1931. He was only 16 at the time.

"Selling aliyahs is terrible," he told the Jewish Bulletin in 1997, on the occasion of the Oakland shul's 90th anniversary. "To bid for an honor? It's just not the right way."

So when he became president of the Conservative synagogue in 1976, he ensured such fund-raising methods would be a thing of the past. He established an endowment fund, which by 1997 had grown to three-quarters of a million dollars.

Quittman, who also served as president of the Beth Abraham Men's Club, died Dec. 28 in Oakland. He was 87.

He was born in Oakland, to immigrant parents. He had many siblings and half-siblings.

He was the owner of Quittman Pendleton Clothing there for more than 30 years.

According to son Jeff, also of Oakland, his father ran the business with the highest ethical ideals. When Quittman was about to retire, some people urged him to order a large stock of merchandise and then hold a going-out-of-business sale, which would reap a huge profit. Quittman felt such a move would hurt the parent company, which had always been good to him, and he refused.

Quittman always put his family first. Jeff Quittman recalled it wasn't until he and his sister were in their late teens that his parents took a vacation without them. Vacations were always taken in the camper with the dog.

Jeff Quittman described his father as selfless, affectionate and the kind of man who enjoyed life's simple pleasures. "He was the kind of father that would certainly encourage his kids in certain directions they should go, but gave us the space to make our own mistakes."

In addition to serving as president of Beth Abraham and its men's club, Quittman was also highly involved with the religious life of the congregation, leading the morning minyan on Mondays and Thursdays for approximately 40 years.

"Not only did he lead it, but he brought breakfast and would set it up each time," said Rabbi Mark Bloom, the spiritual leader of Beth Abraham. "He was amazing. He was active until his last day — everyone saw him that week at the morning minyan."

Bloom said Quittman had a strong handshake and a "gigantic smile." When Beth Abraham was looking for a new rabbi, Quittman was on the search committee and he proved to be among Bloom's greatest proponents. "He supported me every second I was here," said Bloom.

Sam Bercovich, a descendant of the founding family of Beth Abraham, recalled that he and Quittman studied for their b'nai mitzvah together 74 years ago, and they also played together on the B'nai B'rith baseball team.

"His father before him was president, and he followed in his footsteps," said Bercovich. "He truly enjoyed being there; he was always pleased to see young people coming in."

In addition to his involvement at Beth Abraham, Quittman was a member of B'nai B'rith, the Masons, the Oakland Scottish Rite Temple and the Shriners.

Quittman's wife, Nancy, predeceased him in 1999.

In addition to son Jeff, he is survived by daughter Karen of Walnut Creek, three grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews. Contributions in his memory can be made to Temple Beth Abraham's Endowment Fund, 336 Euclid Ave., Oakland, CA 94610.

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."