Max Brown, advocate for the Jewish community, dies at 93

The strong connection Max Brown felt to the State of Israel and its people led him to a life of fundraising and advocacy for Jews and Jewish causes.

“He believed that the Jews needed a homeland,” said his son, Marty Brown. “He also believed that no one else was going to take care of the Jews except for the Jews.”

Brown died Aug. 29 in his Walnut Creek home. He was 93. Friends and family described him as a passionate visionary who was committed to supporting the Jewish community.

“He was an honorable man, kind-hearted and always humble,” Marty Brown said. “He treated everybody equally, believed everyone was equal and enjoyed being able to serve the community.”

A founding member and three-term president of Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, Brown set up funds to ensure the Orthodox temple was financially stable, even when membership dipped below normal. He also was instrumental in helping the synagogue secure its current Park Boulevard building.

Brown also helped establish funds for Israel and the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay, his other two passions.

A board member, policy shaper and volunteer for the federation, Brown took on many leadership roles and met some of his closest friends through his work there. He also enjoyed a social life with friends he made at Beth Jacob.

Marty Brown recalled that friends and congregants would come to his father for advice — and he was always available.

“My dad had a wisdom and a common sense about him that people realized,” he said. “He was a very blunt guy and told you what was on his mind. He never sugar-coated anything.”

Lisa Tabak, executive director of the East Bay’s Jewish Community Foundation, met Brown in his later years, but easily sensed his passion for Israel and its survival. “I definitely had the feeling that I was speaking to somebody who was a Jewish giant in his day,” she said.

Brown was born in New York in 1914. When he was 2, his family moved to Oakland. Though poor, the family always maintained its membership at Beth Jacob.

Brown’s dream of being the first one in his family to attend college was shattered when his father, Morris, was killed by a drunk driver. Brown, then 18, gave up the football scholarship he received from St. Mary’s College to continue helping his mother, Anna, raise his three sisters and two brothers.

He enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and was stationed on the USS Tucson in the Pacific. At the end of World War II, Brown started working in the surplus business and met his future wife, Judy, on a blind date during a visit to Los Angeles. Seven long-distance dates led to marriage. The couple settled in Oakland, where Brown opened an automotive parts store with Sam Garfinkle and Irving Krantzman, friends turned business partners. Brown was the last surviving member of the trio.

Through sound business practices, coupled with innovative marketing techniques, they grew Grand Auto Supply into a chain with 150 locations, mostly in Northern California.

“My dad was an honest, ethical person,” Marty Brown said. “He believed in treating people with respect. He worked long hours and became successful due to a lot of hard work, vision and foresight.”

Max Brown is survived by his wife, Judy; son Marty; daughters Julie Ovadia and Nancy Brown-Prendes; and eight grandchildren.

A funeral service was held Aug. 31 at Beth Jacob. Donations may be made to Beth Jacob Congregation, 3778 Park Blvd., Oakland, CA 94610 or to the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay, 300 Grand Ave., Oakland, CA 94610.