Lawyer and philanthropist Max Weingarten dies at 90

When Max Weingarten was a young boy in Vienna, he played soccer in a semi-pro league.

So when it came time to observe his step-granddaughter, Courtney, in action, he was more than just a passive observer.

She was only 6 or 7 at the time, her stepfather, Leonard Weingarten, recalls.

“He was watching these girls running up and down the field and I guess it lit some memories about his soccer career because he became almost like an active coach,” the San Rafael resident said. “He kept saying, ‘Stay in your positions!’ They were these little girls running all over the field, and he was complaining ‘They don’t stay in their positions!’ I had to say to him, ‘Dad, they’re 6 years old. C’mon.”

Max Weingarten, most recently of Rossmoor in Walnut Creek, died on Dec. 16. He was 90.

Weingarten was born in the small village of Lechnau in Poland on April 2, 1913, but pogroms caused the family to flee to Vienna shortly after.

“I heard they had to hide in the woods, and my grandmother dipped her shawl into honey to keep him from crying,” said daughter Toni Weingarten of Greenbrae.

Her father’s parents, who were Orthodox, ran a small store in Vienna, over which they and their four children lived.

Weingarten obtained a law degree from the University of Vienna in 1936. Later that year, he visited London on business and — because of the Nazi rise to power — decided to stay. While the rest of his family managed to flee Austria, his sister Betty was killed while trying to escape.

Weingarten came to the United States in 1938, settling in Los Angeles, where he worked in the film industry.

In 1943, he married Erica Mosler, a refugee from Berlin, and then joined the U.S. Army, serving in England and working in intelligence. Later, he was tapped to interview Nazi prisoners of war, including Albert Speer, Hitler’s armament’s minister.

After his return from Europe, the Weingartens settled in Oakland, and Weingarten attended U.C. Berkeley’s Boalt Hall College of Law, graduating in 1949. He founded the tax department at the established firm Bronson, Bronson & McKinnon, where he remained for 47 years and became a senior partner. In 1983, he was listed as one of America’s best lawyers in a book compiled by graduates of Harvard Law School.

As a tax attorney, Weingarten served mostly the higher echelons of San Francisco society. But in addition to helping his clients avoid paying hefty taxes, he recommended they give some of that money to charity.

“He would educate them about philanthropy,” said his daughter, Toni, adding that he taught her that to give anonymously was one of the most honorable ways to give.

An active member of Oakland’s Temple Sinai, Max Weingarten also served on the board of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay’s Jewish Community Foundation.

He and his wife set up the Weingarten Family Social Services and Education Fund, which provides grants to disadvantaged youth to pursue university degrees. It also supports health care programs and other causes.

Penny Sinder, executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation, worked closely with Weingarten, whom she called “elegant, passionate and young-spirited.”

Weingarten also served on the investment monitoring committee of the foundation for more than 10 years.

In addition to his Jewish giving, he helped establish Boalt’s Center of Social Justice, as well as a fund at Boalt to research the separation of church and state, a cause dear to him as a refugee of Austria.

Toni Weingarten further said that over time, her father developed a theory about philanthropy: “The more I give away, the more comes back to me. I give all this away, but more comes back; it’s some kind of strange law.”

In addition to his wife, daughter, son and step-granddaughter, Weingarten is survived by his brothers, Leo of Moraga and Jack of Los Angeles.

Donations can be sent to the Rossmoor Medical Center, 1220 Rossmoor Parkway, Walnut Creek, CA 94565, or Hospice of Contra Costa, 2051 Harrison St., Concord, CA 94502.

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."