Jerry Ringerman, former JCCSF director, mentor to many, dies at 79

Tell a Tawonga camper that “on your birthday, you get two wishes” and she’ll finish the sentence for you with “one for yourself, and one for the whole world.”

While Jerry Ringerman was never the director of Tawonga, its current executive director, Ken Kramarz, was greatly influenced by Ringerman and adopted that tradition.

“There’s not a kid or staff member who ever stepped foot at Tawonga who cannot finish that sentence,” said Kramarz, who first met Ringer-man when he was an 8-year-old camper. Speaking of Ringerman, whom he called his “mentor and tormentor,” Kramarz said, “That’s his most beautiful restatement of Rabbi Hillel: Wish for yourself but also for the whole world too.”

Ringerman, who not only served as executive director of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, but had that kind of influence on many of the area’s Jewish professionals, died Jan. 6 in Long Beach. He was 79.

Ringerman was born in Los Angeles on Dec. 8, 1924. His parents were both immigrants from Eastern Europe and his father was a professional violinist, though he worked in Los Angeles as a tailor. Both parents were very active in the labor movement. He had one older sister, who went on to become a dancer.

Ringerman obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in education from Cal State Los Angeles, and then went on to get a master’s in recreation from UCLA.

He was an avid sportsman, playing pro football in Canada for the Calgary Stampeders. He also served in the Air Force.

But he also had a strong sense of community, especially when it came to the Jewish community.

He was married briefly and had two children, and then divorced. In 1969, he married a second time.

He joined the JCA (Jewish Centers Association) in Los Angeles as an aquatics director and then became its executive director.

Judy Edelson, now executive director of the Peninsula JCC, first met Ringerman some 45 years ago, when she was a counselor-in-training at a Santa Monica day camp, where he was the youth director.

“He was the first person that helped me understand that it was important for everyone to make the world a better place,” she said. “I think he was responsible for me going into this profession.”

She continued, “It was the time of the civil rights movement, and as impressionable young adults, we had many discussions about freedom and equality,” she said. “Jerry taught us to develop a healthy respect for people’s differences, and made us people who were sensitive to the world around us.”

In 1974, Ringerman relocated to the Bay Area, to become executive director of the JCCSF, a job he kept for 15 years.

During his time there, he oversaw the expansion of the center on many levels.

“I’ve loved every minute,” he told the Jewish Bulletin in 1989, upon his retirement. “In retrospect, I’ve really loved the work. It’s exciting, it’s creative, it’s entrepreneurial, it’s dynamite. I would recommend the field to any young person thinking about a career.”

In 1988, he was presented with the Association of Jewish Communal Workers’ professional of the year award.

When Nate Levine was about 25, he cold-called the JCC with an idea about establishing a cardiac rehabilitation unit there. He met with Ringerman, and by the time he left, Levine had a part-time job in the sports department.

Now, of course, Levine sits in the position that Ringerman occupied for 15 years.

“He became my mentor for many years, and got me involved in the Jewish community, and I learned a love of the JCC from him,” Levine said. “I owe a lot to him.”

While Ringerman remained a devout sports fan, he also loved to gamble. Those who were close to him called him “fearless,” saying that he could also be a “character” and a “rascal.”

Levine recalled that when Ringerman was about 60, he challenged the fastest man on the JCC staff to a race, and “Of course, Jerry won,” said Levine. Kramarz told a story of driving with Ringerman on the freeway in Marin County when Ringerman suddenly said, “I’m gonna let go of the wheel” and just moved out of the driver’s seat.

“I literally had to slip under him to put my foot on the pedal,” Kramarz laughed.

In addition to his wife, Eileen, of Long Beach, Ringerman is survived by daughter Debbie Robinson of Long Beach, a son and two grandchildren.

The Camp JCA Shalom Institute already has a scholarship fund in Ringerman’s name, and it will be establishing a more permanent memorial soon. Donations can be sent to Camp JCA Shalom Institute, 34342 Mulholland Highway, Malilbu, CA 90265.

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."