Manny Friedman, big-hearted doctor and volunteer

When a woman brought her ailing Israeli father to see Dr. Emanuel “Manny” Friedman about 30 years ago, Friedman hit upon an unusual way of settling the bill.

In lieu of cash, check or credit, he insisted her family join his for Shabbat dinner.

It was not an unusual move for the longtime Peninsula gastroenterologist. His daughter, Marta, joked that if he met someone in the checkout line at the store, he would be going to their son’s bar mitzvah the next week.

“He was an intensely busy guy and he truly lived his ideals,” said his son, Rabbi Matthew Friedman.

Manny Friedman, a tireless activist and philanthropist in and out of the Jewish community, died of heart failure on Friday, May 13, in his San Mateo home. He was 82.

He was born in Jersey City into an observant family and graduated from Long Island University with an accounting degree in 1941. But when he joined the Army during World War II, he was assigned to hospital duty on the European front and realized he’d never be happy cranking an adding machine all day long.

After the war he hopped the train to San Francisco and earned a second B.A. at U.C. Berkeley in zoology before completing a medical degree at UCSF School of Medicine. He went into private practice in San Bruno in 1958, and eventually moved to Burlingame, where he practiced medicine until his retirement in 1997 — though even after retirement he often volunteered his services to programs aiding the poor. He also was a clinical professor at UCSF.

Friedman was a deeply religious man, and often filled in for Peninsula Temple Sholom’s Rabbi Gerald Raiskin when the rabbi was out of town or ill. He was also a founding member of the San Francisco chapter of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, a former member of the Jewish Bulletin’s board and a former president of the Jewish Home for the Aged, where he’d once worked as a young doctor.

His activism didn’t stop with the Jewish community, however. He was instrumental in the founding of the San Mateo Council on Alcoholism and the San Mateo County hospice. He volunteered as a physician at Samaritan House until quite recently, and also offered his expertise at medical clinics in Ethiopia, Okinawa and Israel, to name a few. He also would send his medical journals and equipment to doctors around the world, including a female Jewish gastroenterologist in Cuba he regularly corresponded with.

Friedman was a man with an extraordinary skill at putting people at ease during difficult situations — which, as a physician, he faced every day. He held himself to a very high standard, and did so for others as well.

Jerry Levine, the former executive director of the Jewish Home for three decades, remembered his longtime former colleague as “not the easiest person I’ve ever worked with” but “one of the finest and best board members and one of the most caring people I’ve ever met.

“He was demanding. You had to do things the right way, and no b.s. And if something was wrong, it was wrong. He didn’t give a hoot if it was me or anyone else,” recalled Levine.

“Manny Friedman wanted good things to happen and he made sure they happened.”

Friedman was instrumental in organizing the home’s medical staff and establishing its geriatric research program. He struggled to create a home where the richest and poorest patients would both receive top-quality care.

“The Home is known for its excellent care and Manny demanded that be done,” said Levine.

Friedman began suffering a series of physical ailments a few months ago. As his death became imminent, his family and many, many friends came to visit him. Though his health was deteriorating, his mind was lucid until the day he died.

Said his son, “There’s no such thing as a good time for someone to die. But as sad as it is that he’s died, his family and friends were all there.”

Dr. Emanuel Friedman is survived by his wife of 51 years, Harriet, of San Mateo; sisters Augusta Irvings of New York City and Rosebel Epstein of Los Angeles; daughter Marta Friedman of Oakland; son Matthew Friedman of the Sacramento area and a grandchild, Matthew’s daughter, Talia. He was predeceased by his son Jeremy David.

Donations in Friedman’s memory can be made to the Jewish Home, 302 Silver Ave., S.F., 94102.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.