Temple Isaiah founder Mimi Epstein dies at 72

When Miriam Ruth Epstein took on a cause, she did so with a vengeance. Her son, William of Piedmont, recalled the long-running family joke about the time she held a tea to raise money to fight against a discriminatory housing proposition in 1967. She baked such a flurry of goodies that her children and other guests were eating the leftovers for days to come.

Epstein died in Alamo on Thursday, May 20, at the age of 72.

Born Miriam Raben and known to most as Mimi, Epstein grew up in Port Chester, N.Y. Her father was from Russia, her mother from Poland.

She graduated from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 1943. After college, she moved to Oyster Bay, N.Y., to participate in night-vision experiments funded by the Office of Scientific Research and Development, in connection with the war effort. In 1946 she married Marvin Epstein and in 1951, they moved to the Walnut Creek area. They moved to Alamo in 1956, and divorced in 1975.

Once in the Bay Area, Epstein threw herself into her local Jewish community. She was a founder of the first Contra Costa Jewish Community Center, which later became Temple Isaiah in Lafayette.

From 1976 to 1983, she directed the speakers’ bureau of the Bay Area chapter of American Jewish Committee.

“She was a remarkably dedicated and informed person,” said Ernest Weiner, executive director of AJCommittee. “She also had a delightful sense of subtle humor; and used that to be welcoming to people who knew very little about the Jewish community, about Israel and about the nature of Jewish life.”

From 1982 to 1984 she served as president of Temple Isaiah, and served on the board until her death.

According to her son, she always put other people before herself. “She was always sending me resumes of people who were laid off, so I could try and help them find jobs,” he said.

Rabbi Roberto Graetz, spiritual leader of Temple Isaiah, said that, in fact, Epstein developed networking into an art form.

“She wanted to know what alliances would strengthen us, or, who did she know that could open a door to so and so in search of a job,” Graetz said.

“When asked how one could thank her for her goodness, her simple answer would be ‘do the same for another.'”

In addition to her son, William, Epstein is survived by her daughter, Judith Endelman of Ann Arbor, Mich., and five grandchildren.

Donations can be sent to Temple Isaiah, 3800 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, CA 94549, or Hospice and Palliative Care of Contra Costa, 2051 Harrison St., Concord, CA 94520.

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."