Alice Calder, Marin Jewish activist, dies at 84

At Alice Calder’s memorial service this week, extra chairs were needed to accommodate the overflow crowd of 200 at Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael.

She had that many friends.

Calder, 84, died Dec. 30 from cancer. Taking in the sea of faces at the memorial, her daughter Jacky Poulsen couldn’t help recalling how her mother drew people close throughout her life. “She never made a friend she lost contact with,” says Poulsen. “Friends would move away; that didn’t stop her.”

That passion for family and friends governed Calder’s life, along with an equally strong devotion to the Jewish community, both local and worldwide.

Born Alice Baruch in Hamburg, Germany, in 1920, Calder fled her homeland just before the outset of World War II. Most of her extended family perished in the Holocaust, but she found herself safely ensconced in England.

It was there that she first encountered fellow German refugee Hans Cohn, at the time a soldier in the British Army. Their whirlwind romance began with a chance meeting at a London concert, and a few days later they set off for a week in Wales. The two married in 1942, with Cohn, who had changed his name to Roy Calder, soon shipping out for military service.

After the war, the couple immigrated to California with their two children in 1953. The family ultimately settled in Marin County where Roy became a leader in the local Jewish community while Alice juggled motherhood and part-time jobs with various local businesses.

“Mom was raised in a much more traditional Jewish home,” recalls her daughter. “She brought that with her to the end. She was very involved with the temple and the Jewish holidays. Her whole world was the Jewish community.”

The family’s synagogue was Rodef Sholom. Calder was a key player with the sisterhood and also served in various capacities with the local chapter of Hadassah. She and her husband were frequent visitors to Israel, with Roy serving as a longtime fund-raiser for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (and former president of Rodef Sholom).

In her later years, Calder was a devoted grandmother and great-grandmother. But to the end, her circle of friends included childhood pals from Hamburg, intimates from her days in England and even more recent acquaintances, some less than half her age. Calder never lost her ability to bond with new people.

“Those earlier relationships long predate affordable calls and e-mail,” says Poulsen. “She kept up all those friendships with letters written in longhand.”

Yet with all those disparate connections, Poulsen reports that her mother’s marriage was the central relationship in her life. “They had an amazing marriage,” she says of her parents’ 62-year-long love affair. “They never had a moment of regret.”

Calder is survived by husband Roy Calder, son Michael Calder of Terra Linda, daughter Jacky Poulsen of Livermore,

three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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.