Judith Nahshon, Israeli pioneer and mother of longtime federation head, dies at 90

One thing Judith Nahshon could do was work with a budget. As a young woman in Depression-era Jerusalem, she was given the task of assembling nutritious meals for a residential elementary school. Her financial constraints — five cents per kid.

“She’d tell us about all the creative and wonderful things she’d do to feed these kids on a nickel a day. She’d go around and persuade vendors and people with home gardens to share with the kids. She really was a fund-raiser in her own way,” said Nahshon’s son, Ami, a fund-raiser in his own way, too, as the former longtime head of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay.

Judith Bernstein Nahshon died on Saturday, Oct. 7 in New York at age 90 — she had long desired to be the first in her family to reach 90, and did so only three days before her death.

She was buried this week beside her husband, Samuel, in Jerusalem.

Judith Nahshon — whom everyone called Judy — was a charter member of the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living, heading to the Bay Area from Israel in 1999 to live closer to her son. When Ami Nahshon left the East Bay federation in 2003 for his current position with the Abraham Fund, which fosters Jewish-Arab coexistence in Israel, he brought his mother to New York.

The Abraham Fund’s mission was a cause near and dear to Nahshon’s mother’s heart — Judith Nahshon, a lifelong progressive, took great pride that her son was working with Israel’s disenfranchised Arab minority (though, according to Ami Nahshon, his mother would be happy to kvell at length over the accomplishments of each of her two sons and five grandchildren).

She was born in 1916 and attended Philadelphia’s Temple University before making aliyah with her family at age 18. Nahshon finished her university studies in Israel — a rarity for women in those days — before starting a long career as an educator. A professor’s suggestion to hire an academic tutor turned out to be the best advice she ever received, as the Iranian-born tutor turned out to be her future husband, Samuel.

Ami Nahshon said he has been flooded with calls from some of the many, many former students his mother taught to speak Hebrew in several U.S. cities. She was an outgoing, boisterous woman whose dry, cutting sense of humor won over her students.

She was also a renowned cook; her five-cents-a-head background led to an innovative gastronomic career. After her death her sons found a massive box of recipes which Ami Nahshon’s wife, Ivy Cohen, will winnow down to a “Judy’s Greatest Hits” cookbook for the family.

Judith Bernstein Nahshon is survived by her sons; Ami Nahshon of New York City and Nadad Nahshon of Bergenfield, N.J., and five grandchildren. Donations in her memory may be made to Yad Sarah, an Israeli volunteer and outreach organization for the elderly, c/o Friends of Yad Sarah, 450 Park Ave. Suite 3201, New York, NY 10022.

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.