Irv Kermish, founding director of JFCS Marin branch, dies at 79

Irv Kermish, the founding director of the Marin branch of Jewish Family and Children’s Services has died.

Kermish, who served as director there from 1972 to 1986, died Sept. 9 at home in Oakland. He was 79.

“I like to think that Judaism is essentially very humanistic,” Kermish told the Jewish Bulletin in 1986. “Being Jewish led me to look for a profession that was closely allied with the values that I held — compassion for others and a sense of caring about what happens to the world. Social work did that for me.”

Born on July 12, 1924, Kermish grew up the son of a pro-labor family of garment workers in the Bronx, N.Y. His family was not religious, but heavily rooted in Yiddishkeit.

The first in his family to pursue higher education, he earned his bachelor’s degree at Queens College and a master’s of social work at the University of Minnesota.

His parents balked when, as a social worker, he earned a third of what his brother did as a baker.

Kermish met his first wife, Nola Hansen, in graduate school. They moved to the Bay Area in the early ’50s, where he took a job teaching in the School of Social Welfare at U.C. Berkeley.

When JFCS first expanded its services to Marin, Kermish became its first director.

At the time of his retirement, Kermish expressed the fear that young Jews were becoming “valueless yuppies,” who had lost sight of political and social activism.

Kermish’s wife Nola predeceased him in 1968. He is survived by his second wife, Barbara Weiss, whom he married in 1984; daughter Lisa of Oakland; daughter Laurie of Albany; sister Muriel Chalef of Suffern, N.Y.; two grandchildren; four step-grandchildren and one step-great-grandchild.

Donations can be made to the American Civil Liberties Union, 1663 Mission St., Suite 460, S.F., CA 94103.

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."