Beth Sholom co-founder Fay Kahn dies at 101

Fay Kahn was known for her storytelling, her hospitality and her cakes and brownies. She was also sought out for her advice, which often would be in the form of “have a piece of cake.”

Kahn, a founder of San Francisco’s Congregation Beth Sholom, died March 20 in San Francisco. She was 101.

Fay Becker was born in Russia on Sept. 21, 1904, one of eight children. The family immigrated to Borough Park, N.Y., when she was young. Her father was very religious — he was the sextant at the synagogue — and the family was quite poor.

Enter Lawrence Kahn. He had emigrated from Lithuania to San Francisco and had done quite well for himself. In 1931, he went back to Lithuania to visit his mother, and on the way made a stop in New York. An uncle told him about the Becker family, and he was invited to their home where he met their youngest daughter. He asked her out on a proper date for the next night, to which he showed up in a taxi. She had never been in a taxi before.

Not only did she get driven around in a taxi that night, but she got a marriage proposal as well. Kahn wanted her to come to Europe with him, but Becker thought it was way too soon to go off to Europe with a man she had just met.

He left a few days later, and sent postcards every single day. By the time he returned to New York two months later, she said yes.

The two married July 31, 1931, and after a honeymoon in Niagara Falls, they came to San Francisco in August.

They were among the group of families who founded Beth Sholom. “They were there before Rabbi [Saul] White,” said Alan Lew, rabbi emeritus of Beth Sholom. “They were among the families who brought him out on a train from New York to do the holidays, and then he never went back.”

Lew said Fay Kahn was so hospitable to all of her siblings, nieces and nephews that quite a few of them ended up visiting her and staying in California.

Kahn and her husband helped get six members of his family out of Lithuania in 1938. They took care of them when they arrived, setting them up in an apartment and with food and helping them learn English, find jobs and adjust to life in America.

“She was someone who was always involved in everything around her,” said her daughter, Elinor Green of Kentfield. “She loved theater and whenever she had visiting relatives — which was often — she’d play tour guide to everyone.”

Kahn was active in a number of women’s organizations, including Beth Sholom’s Sisterhood, Women’s American ORT and Hadassah.

“My parents had a strong sense of family and community and that extended to the larger Jewish community as well,” said Green.

Lew said that when he first arrived at Beth Sholom, the Kahns were at services every Saturday morning. Kahn read the newspaper until very recently, Lew said, noting that because of her age, in recent years people often thought she might not remember who they were — but she always did.

Kahn was predeceased by her husband, Lawrence Kahn, in 1996. In addition to her daughter, Kahn is survived by three grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.

Donations can be made to the Lawrence and Fay Kahn Testimonial Fund at the Hebrew Free Loan Association, 131 Steuart St., S.F., CA 94105.

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."