Werner Bill Friedeberg, 79, led services at Oakland JCC, Beth Israel

Mark Friedeberg remembers sitting among the worshippers at the Oakland Piedmont Jewish Community Center with his siblings as his father conducted High Holy Day services for its elderly members.

“The only reason he stopped doing it was because they all died,” he said. “My sister, brother and I were so much younger than all the people there.”

Werner “Bill” Friedeberg, who also served as an assistant cantor at Congregation Beth Israel (now Beth Israel-Judea) for a time, died Friday, Jan. 28, in San Francisco. He was 79.

Friedeberg was born Jan. 24, 1926, in Breslau, Germany. His father died when he was very young. In 1938, he and his mother, Gertrude, fled Germany and went to Shanghai. His mother died two years later, when he was 14. As a teenager, he sold candy at the free shows that were put on by Jewish actors, singers and dancers in the Jewish ghetto, and later, he went to work as a baker.

After eight years in Shanghai, he was able to immigrate to the United States and came to San Francisco. He served in the Army in the Korean War, becoming a staff sergeant. It was in the army that Friedeberg learned how to cook, and his son Mark said that it was a skill he was famous for.

“He made great meatloaf and Swiss steak,” his son said. “He always said that great sauces and gravies were the trick to everything.”

Friedeberg worked as head clerk at the QFI Market in Stonestown for more than 30 years. But he had learned how to sing and play piano as a boy. He also had learned enough to chant the liturgy at nearby Beth Israel, with a marvelous tenor voice, according to his son.

In 1951 he married Marion Beckerman, and they had three children before divorcing in 1974.

Friedeberg often worked three jobs to support his family. “One of my earliest memories of Dad was when he was working around the block at a small grocery store,” his son recalled. “My sister, Debbie, suggested that I try to pull an angel food cake pan over my head. It actually fit, but once on, could not be removed. Dad had to come to the rescue with metal cutting shears to free my head.”

Mark Friedeberg said his father loved to laugh and fix things, including TVs and clocks. He was also known for his practical advice.

“He never graduated from high school, and I couldn’t tell you of even one book that he had read, yet he was a very intelligent man who seemed to have figured out what life was all about and really wanted to share the secret with me,” said his son.

In addition to son Mark of San Anselmo, Friedeberg is survived by daughter Debra Hoiem of San Francisco, son Michael Friedeberg of Bakersfield, partner Lori Bellak and one granddaughter.

Donations can be made to the charity of your 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."