Crash claims Kol Shofar president-elect Mike Jackman, 55

Mike Jackman spoke softly and carried a big intellect.

He was born 55 years ago in Ames, Iowa, into a large family, and his Midwestern upbringing defined him for the rest of his life. He was a straightforward man devoid of glitziness. Perhaps the best adjective to describe him was “steady” — three different friends independently remembered him that way.

“He was not a California, bouncing-around person. He was Midwestern, steady,” remembered longtime friend and business partner John Reed.

Added Ron Brown, a fellow board member at Tiburon’s Congregation Kol Shofar, “He was a soft-spoken guy who impressed all of us on the board because when he said something, it was because he had something to say.”

Jackman, who was born Catholic and converted to Judaism, found fulfillment at Kol Shofar and was slated to become its next president. Jackman died when his truck tumbled off a Mount Tamalpais road and into a deep ravine in the late afternoon on Monday, June 13.

His sudden death jolted the synagogue community. Jackman was the sort of calm, rational person others turn to in a time of crisis just like this one. That he would be randomly struck down in an instant just doesn’t seem to fit.

“He was just the hugest mensch. He was a strong, solid man who was very responsible. He was a giving person and you could count on him,” said Rabbi Chai Levy, who instructed Jackman in his conversion class.

Jackman was a public relations professional who enjoyed working out of his Mill Valley home so he could take a more active hand raising his sons, 13-year-old Caleb and 11-year-old Gabriel. Reed described him as a PR “genius” and said that hundreds of PR professionals around the nation owed their livelihoods to Jackman’s mentoring.

His generosity with his time carried into charitable endeavors, youth-sports coaching and, of course, Kol Shofar. Along with his wife, Joan Levison, he began attending in the late 1990s. Something just clicked for him.

“Kol Shofar provided a community for him. The interactions between erudite, thoughtful men let Mike blossom intellectually,” she said.

“Certainly our boys watched Mike go through this process. His increasing knowledge and observation and true love of Judaism was just remarkable.”

Jackman became more serious about Judaism in 2002 when his wife was selected to be a Wexner Heritage Fellow. The family retreats and 10-day trip to Israel changed his life.

“He was struck by the dialogue and debate and rigorous thought process that went into Judaism. And he fell in love with Israel. He talked about retiring there,” recalled Levison.

Jackman vowed to convert to Judaism before his eldest son became bar mitzvahed, and he followed through on that promise. On long commutes to business meetings, he and Reed would talk about religion. Jackman “was never a proselytizer,” Reed said, but his enthusiasm and knowledge about Judaism was evident.

“He loved the ceremonies, he loved the learning. He knew more about Jewish history than most Jews. He immersed himself in it fully,” Reed recalled.

He also threw himself into daily life at Kol Shofar. His passion for learning led him to take over the adult education committee. He later served as board secretary and was elected president this month, to start July 1.

“He was thrilled. He was so looking forward to it,” recalled his wife.

Levy noted that Jackman had scheduled meetings with the Conservative synagogue’s board members, staff and clergy to gauge their visions for Kol Shofar’s future and see how he could make it a reality. Her meeting with him was scheduled for the day after his death.

“He went out of his way to do anything for anyone,” recalled Levison. “And he really found within the Jewish community a context to do that giving.”

Michael Richard Jackman is survived by his wife and sons of Mill Valley; parents Ethel Jackman of Malvern, Pa. and Dick Jackman of Hershey, Pa.; brother John Jackman of Ames, Iowa; and sisters Jean Jackman of Gig Harbor, Wash., Susan Jackman Zitali of Warwick, R.I., Anne Jackman of Jamaica Plain, Mass., and Mary Jackman Carpenter of Chestnut Hill, Pa.

Services were held at Kol Shofar on Thursday, June 21. Donations in his memory can be sent to the Kol Shofar building fund, 215 Blackfield Drive, Tiburon, CA 94920.

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.