Young at heart Jewish community activist David Golner dies

David Golner loved bridge. He’d meet regularly with a group of fellow senior citizens and happily play the game for hours.

But even as a retiree, he was a hard worker.

For nearly half a century, until his death last week at 83, Golner remained one of the East Bay’s great volunteers. He leaves behind friends and family members mourning the loss of a tireless Jewish community leader.

“He could relate to any age group,” remembers Frances Greenberg, a friend and colleague of Golner’s on the board of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay. “He was young at heart.”

The Berkeley resident devoted enormous energy to the local Jewish community since moving to the East Bay in the early 1950s. Among the organizations for which he served as officer or board member: the East Bay federation, the Berkeley Richmond JCC, the Jewish Community Foundation, the Judah L. Magnes Museum, Lehrhaus Judaica and Berkeley’s Congregation Beth El.

“David was an independent thinker,” remembers Lee Marsh, a colleague from the Berkeley Richmond JCC, which he helped co-found with Golner in 1980. “He thought through things on his own, and was not a knee-jerk follower of anything.”

Those who knew him say that independent streak helped Golner ably serve so many Jewish institutions. “He was very effective,” says Greenberg. “People liked him, and you’d never hear anything bad about him, because he was so sincere.”

His own family members echo the sentiment. “He was one of the most gentle, big-hearted men,” says daughter Marcia Golner. “He was always available, always down to earth. There are a lot of honorary family members thanks to his big heart.”

David Golner was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1919. His family moved to Providence, R.I., five years later. He attended Brown University, majoring in mechanical engineering. During World War II, Golner moved to Buffalo, N.Y., where he worked in the defense industry. He later returned to Rhode Island where he met his future wife, Dorothy. They married in 1944.

Some years later, the couple moved to Berkeley, where they joined Congregation Beth El in 1956. He became a board member the next year and remained active from then on. Recalls Marian Magid, a former president of Beth El, “Dave had the head of a business maven and the heart of a mensch. He was president of Beth El in the 1960s, and remained a wise adviser to synagogue leaders until his death. The only thing Dave wasn’t good at was saying no to appeals for help.”

Professionally, Golner worked as a sales representative for various manufacturing companies specializing in heavy industry, from oil refineries to electrical plant design. He retired in 1981.That’s when he really got going as a community activist.

“He was pretty much single-focused on the Jewish community,” remembers son Geoffrey Golner. “But he would always say that his main reason for getting involved was to work alongside our mother.” Golner’s wife, Dorothy, was also a dedicated activist, involved with temple life and Hadassah, for which she served as Western regional president.

Aside from family and community activities, Golner loved to play golf and attend the theater and the symphony, and he was very involved with his book club. “We were in the book club with him for 10 years,” recalls Dorothy Marsh. “Up to the end, he was intellectually very thoughtful, with very original ideas.”

Though he battled cancer for several years, friends and family say he never lost his hope or his cheerful spirit. “He suffered with a lot of courage,” says Greenberg. “He would always bounce back and do the things he wanted to do.”

Adds Geoffrey Golner: “He had more chemo, radiation and surgery than anyone I ever heard of. But he had an unflappable attitude: ‘What will be will be.’ He believed that in his heart.”

Golner is survived by his wife, Dorothy, and two children, Marcia and Geoffrey.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.