Frances Friedkin, mom of Jewish leaders, 91

Frances Friedkin was born on the same fateful day — April 15, 1912 — that the Titanic sank.

The connection ends there, since Friedkin, a longtime Oakland resident, possessed a completely unsinkable personality. She died Nov. 8 at the age of 91.

Small in stature at 5 feet 2 inches, Friedkin was big in spirit.

“You couldn’t keep her down,” said her youngest son, Mort, former president of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay.

She was the matriarch of a younger generation of local Jewish leaders who have served as presidents of regional and national organizations, including Mort Friedkin’s wife, Amy, who heads the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee.

A top student who regularly made the dean’s list, she needed to go to work instead of college after graduating from San Francisco’s Commerce High School. But at the age of 47, Friedkin enrolled at U.C. Berkeley and became a classmate of her oldest son, Stephen. She majored in anthropology.

The daughter of a San Francisco soda fountain operator, the former Frances Statner married Nathan Friedkin, a pharmacist from Oakland, in 1938.

The couple had three sons: Stephen, a pediatrician from Berkeley; Gerald, past president

of Beth Jacob Congregation and a Piedmont resident; and Mort of San Francisco.

The Friedkins were instrumental in raising money a half century ago to move Orthodox Beth Jacob Congregation from downtown Oakland to its current home on Park Boulevard. Nathan Friedkin served as president of the congregation while Frances was active in Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization.

Widowed at 55, she was an avid reader, classical pianist, fluent Yiddish speaker and ardent bargain hunter. Friends and family described her as a safta (grandma) to a multitude of young people who were no blood relation.

“She had a sparkle,” said Susan Libitzky, a former publicist for the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and a close friend.

She also was unflappable. On a trip several years ago to Israel, Friedkin was hospitalized for almost a week with heart problems and then fell and hit her head shortly after being discharged.

On her way back to the hospital, the elevator in which she was riding got stuck. Turning to her daughter-in-law, Amy, she deadpanned, “You never have a deck of cards when you need one.”

Mort Friedkin said, “The only thing she asked for was your time.” Visits to her apartment off Piedmont Avenue frequently ended with the query, “When are you coming back?”

Granddaughter Jenirose Friedkin of New York said, “Although she was an intellectual herself, the things that she realized were the most important were family and connections.”

One of those connections, Libitzky, said she and Friedkin became fast friends after sharing a seder meal about a dozen years ago.

The two met several times a month to dine at Burger King (she favored a Junior Whopper with no cheese), go shopping for deals, play bridge or just hang out. “She didn’t seem like an old person to me,” said Libitzky, who is decades younger.

Services were held Nov. 10 followed by burial at Home of Peace Cemetery.

In addition to her three sons, Friedkin is survived by eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Contributions can be made to Hadassah Hospital, Center for Emergency Medicine, c/o Oakland Chapter of Hadassah, 950 Longridge Rd., Oakland, CA 94610.