Nadine Rushakoff, Emanu-Els 1st female president, 84

Throughout her childhood and well into adulthood, Nadine Rushakoff played the piano. She could easily transpose musical pieces into any key to better suit the voices of those she accompanied, and she had an encyclopedic knowledge of show tunes. Nevertheless, those who knew her were quite surprised when, in her 70s, she decided to take up a new hobby: tap dancing.

Rushakoff may have been best known, however, as the first female president of San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El. A lifelong San Francisco resident, she died June 1 at the age of 84.

The former Nadine Glickfeld was born at home on Dec. 17, 1918 in the city's Mission District.

Rushakoff's father was an immigrant from Bialystok, Poland, and her mother was American-born. They owned a store that dealt in uniforms. Rushakoff graduated from U.C. Berkeley, and while there, she was a member of the Jewish sorority Phi Sigma Sigma.

In 1943, she married Dr. Oscar Rushakoff.

Though she had two children, Vicki and Robert, she was far from a stay-at-home mom.

Said Vicki Rushakoff: "She couldn't just stay at home and go to bridge parties; she also didn't know how to play mah jongg."

Rushakoff was involved with the National Council of Jewish Women, and helped found its Council Amateur Theatre Service, which took stage productions into schools for the disabled.

When the Brotherhood Way Jewish Community Center was built in the '60s, she was instrumental in its organizing. She continued to be involved, serving in a number of different positions there.

She was also active in Israel Bonds, serving as chair of its fashion show and chair of its women's division in 1973. In 1994, she was honored with its Woman of Valor award.

In the early '70s she was campaign chair of the women's division of the Jewish Welfare Federation, the predecessor of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

She also served on the board of the women's auxiliary of Mount Zion Hospital, where her husband was a general practitioner, and was president of the board from 1974 to 1976.

"She was always someone you could turn to answer a question or for guidance regarding the auxiliary," said Carol Weitz, who served on the board with her for many years. At Congregation Emanu-El, she served on its museum committee, in its sisterhood and on the board, becoming the synagogue's first female president; she served two two-year terms, from 1978 to 1982.

In "Visions of Reform: Congregation Emanu-El and the Jews of San Francisco 1849-1999," Fred Rosenbaum wrote of Rushakoff: "Unhappy with talk of Emanu-El 'as an empty house,' and irritated by constant criticism 'that our congregation is of the senior-citizen variety,' she was more than willing to institute some changes 'to actively encourage the younger generation to affiliate' and 'to provide activity for every age and interest group.'"

Fae Asher, wife of the late Rabbi Joseph Asher, said that when she and her husband first arrived at Emanu-El in 1968, "she took me under her wing and introduced me to everyone in San Francisco."

And she kept on doing that. Though she had been board president 20 years earlier, Rabbi Stephen Pearce said that when he first arrived at the synagogue, she dropped in about twice a month to visit him.

"She would come to fill me in on things I should know, like the people who needed some shepherding along, or things I should know more about, or the things going on that needed some attention or that would fall through the cracks," said Pearce. "She was really wonderful in that regard and took it upon herself to mentor me."

Robert Rushakoff said his mother was "a person who got things done. If she had been born 40 or 50 years later, she would likely have become a CEO of some corporation, but one could wonder if she would have had as much influence and touched as many people as she did with the life she did have."

Rushakoff was predeceased by her husband in 1997. In addition to son, Robert, and daughter, Vicki, both of San Francisco, Rushakoff is survived by two grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.

Donations can be sent to the Oscar and Nadine Rushakoff Fund at Jewish Family and Children's Services, 2150 Post St., S.F., CA 94115, or the Diabetes Education Fund at Mount Zion Health Fund, 3330 Geary Blvd., S.F., CA 94115.

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."