Freda Birnbaum, past president of S.F. Hadassah

Freda Birnbaum was on her honeymoon in Atlantic City, when she met three or four “nice Jewish girls” from San Francisco. When they returned to the city, they all met for lunch, during which the other three recruited Birnbaum to join the local Hadassah chapter.

That’s how Birnbaum was initiated into the women’s Zionist organization, her husband, Kenneth, recalled.

Birnbaum died in San Francisco on Friday, Aug. 20. She was 82.

Freda Birnbaum, nee Freda Brown, was born on Aug. 12, 1922, to immigrants from Russia. Her father was in the clothing business. She graduated from Brooklyn College with honors at age 18, and then obtained a teaching credential at Columbia Teacher’s College.

While in San Francisco to visit her uncle, she met her future husband.

Kenneth Birnbaum operated a drapery and fabric business, where she helped out part-time. The Birnbaums belonged to Congregation Emanu-El.

Though she had never been to Israel, she came from a strong Zionist family.

“She was elected president [of Hadassah] two other terms,” said Kenneth Birnbaum. “On her last term, she said to herself, ‘No one is doing anything about the surrounding counties and I’m going to do it,’ and she opened chapters in Oakland, San Rafael and San Mateo. They’re all still in business.”

Later, she became the first woman to serve on the national board of the Zionist Organization of America.

Birnbaum also volunteered in several non-Jewish organizations. “These things just washed right up into her,” said her husband.

In addition to her husband, Freda Birnbaum is survived by two nephews. Donations can be made to the Scottish Rite Childhood Aphasia Foundation, 2850 19th Ave., San Francisco, CA 94132.

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."