Marian Magid, Berkeley Jewish community leader, dies at 72

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The day before she died, Marian Magid lay in her UCSF hospital bed surrounded by friends and family. The visitors passed the time extolling her many virtues, something friends of Magid did often.

As the conversation momentarily lagged, Magid suddenly opened her eyes and said, “And of my humility you say nothing?”

Leave it to Marian Magid to break the silence with a gentle joke, even in her own sickroom. “That was one of her gifts,” says son Dan Magid of Kensington. “She was very good at having the right words at the right moment. She had a way of putting them at ease.”

Magid died Jan. 12 of cancer. She was 72.

A former spokeswoman for the Oakland school district and Contra Costa County Office of Education, as well as a prominent East Bay Jewish community activist, Magid was dearly loved and will be sorely missed.

“She lived her life with no regrets,” says her friend of 51 years, Dorothy Lemberger, “because what she wanted to do, she worked hard and did.”

Among her litany of achievements, Magid was the first woman president of Berkeley’s Congregation Beth El. She helped spearhead Beth El’s new synagogue, which opened two years ago. And she was pivotal in developing the Kennedy-King Scholarship Fund for graduates of Contra Costa County community colleges.

But ask anyone that knew her, and the most common refrain is the unstinting kindness Magid brought to her relationships, great and small.

“She was the heart and the soul of Beth El,” says Rabbi Ferenc Raj. “Many people were her disciples, and I consider myself one of Marian’s disciples.”

Marian Katz Magid was born in Cleveland in 1934. At age 17, she went on her first date with Albert Magid, and a year later they married. But not before sbrandishing her trademark wit.

“My father expressed to her these feelings of cold feet,” says Dan Magid. “So my mother knitted him a pair of socks. He got the point.”

After Albert Magid’s army stint during the Korean War, the young couple moved to Baltimore, where he worked for a subsidiary of IBM. The family moved three more times, to Los Angeles, New Jersey and finally to Berkeley in 1967. The Magids had three children — Bonnie, Dan and Rachel — and yet Marian found the time to study and graduate Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA with a degree in English.

The couple chose to settle in Berkeley precisely because it was a hotbed of social change. While her husband went on to found first Computer Dynamics, then the Aldon Computer Group, Magid put her talents to good use.

“She immediately got involved with Beth El,” recalls Dan Magid. “My parents were active in Israel Bonds and very active in the schools. She made $5 an hour as an assistant in the [Oakland school district] public relations office, gradually taking on more responsibilities. She became director of public relations for the Oakland schools for 10 years, then went to the Contra Costa County office of education.” She also worked for the Berkeley Unified School District, and wrote for the Oakland Tribune.

With her husband she co-founded Beth El’s Torah study group, leading it for several years with her weekly drashes.

With her husband, son and others, Magid also established Beth El’s weekly Shabbat minyan and chevra kadishah. She also served on Beth El’s initial permit committee in a successful effort to build the new synagogue complex on Oxford Street.

In the larger Jewish community, Marian was devoted to many organizations, including the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay, Hadassah, the Anti-Defamation League and AIPAC.

For all that activity, family remained the most important part of her life. “She was absolutely the queen of the house,” remembers Dan Magid.

Even after she’d retired from work, Magid never slowed down her pace. She was the proud grandmother of six and spent as much time as possible with them. She and her husband traveled the world, including a trip to Israel last year.

Even as her illness became apparent last fall, Magid continued to attend Torah study, tend her garden and visit with a constant stream of devoted admirers.

“She not only lived well,” says Lemberger, “she died well in that she taught everyone around her to accept the fact that was dying. I always admired the way she did her life so determined to do well. But she didn’t neglect anybody. She was very modest about the things she did.”

Adds Dan Magid, “When she first got the news, it was a shock. But the first thing she said was, ‘I have had a wonderful life. Let’s make the best of what we have.'”

And as modest and self-effacing as she was, perhaps at the end Marian Magid was ready to accept that she was, quite simply, a treasured friend to many.

“The last thing she said to me was, ‘It’s so nice to have so many people crying over me,'” said Lemberger. “It was a way to give us permission to love her. It was so giving, so kind of her.”

Marian Magid is survived by her husband, Albert Magid, of Berkeley; children Bonnie Roditti of Albany, Daniel (and Robinn) Magid of Kensington and Rachel (and Matthew) Scholl of Oakland; brother Robert Katz, stepsister Sybil Eigner, and six grandchildren.

A memorial for Marian Magid will take place 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 21, at Congregation Beth El, 1301 Oxford St., Berkeley. Donations in her memory can be sen to Congregation Beth El.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.