Bernice Scharlach, temple historian and author, dies at 85

Before Rabbi Roberto Graetz even made it to California, a congregant at Lafayette’s Temple Isaiah sent him the history of the synagogue, written by Bernice Scharlach.

The history recalled the early years, “from the religious school classes in the Town Hall, to the Polynesian restaurant turned synagogue, our first sanctuary on this site,” said Graetz.

Scharlach, a co-founder of Temple Isaiah, as well as its first official historian, died Dec. 28. She was 85.

Scharlach was born Bernice Sherman in New York City on Nov. 3, 1919. Her father was in business, and when she was 8, the family moved to San Francisco.

She attended U.C. Berkeley, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She married Arthur Scharlach in 1946.

Her writing appeared in many local publications, and she authored three books, including the best-selling “Big Alma,” a biography of San Francisco legend Alma Spreckles; “House of Harmony,” a history of the Concordia-Argonaut Club’s first 130 years; and “Dealing from the Heart,” a biography of San Francisco philanthropist Benjamin Swig.

She was also, at different times, a staff writer at the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, an editor at the East Bay Jewish Observer, the public relations director of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay and a columnist at the Contra Costa Times.

She was active in Hadassah and wrote for its national magazine, as well as for the Western Jewish History Center of the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley.

Seymour Fromer, director emeritus of the Magnes, called Scharlach a “meticulous researcher, who stuck to it, even when a lot of digging was required.”

The Scharlachs later moved from Lafayette to San Jose, but most recently, were living at the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville.

Son Alan Scharlach of San Ramon described his mother as “highly intelligent, but always playing the Jewish guilt card, knowing she was doing it.” He also described his mother as incredibly busy, but always having time for the family, too.

In addition to her husband, Arthur, of Danville and son Alan of San Ramon, Scharlach is survived by sons David of Rancho Murietta and Gary of San Rafael, and five grandchildren.

Donations can be made to the charity of one’s choice.

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."