Jack Frankel, congregational rabbi and fighter for Israel

There was more — a lot more — to Jack Frankel than his title of rabbi. He was also a war hero, a fighter for the state of Israel, a devoted family man and a dedicated student of Torah.

Frankel died Dec. 17 in his San Francisco home. He was 82.

Frankel may be best remembered locally as a congregational rabbi, having most recently served as founding rabbi of Congregation Anshei Ha’sefer in San Francisco, which he led for 13 years (it is now disbanded). He also served as rabbi of Congregation Ner Tamid in San Francisco.

“He was a very warm individual,” remembered his colleague Rabbi Jacob Traub. “This came across in his interaction with other people. He understood them. He put them at ease.”

But Frankel’s many accomplishments stretched far beyond the bimah.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Hungarian Jewish immigrants, Frankel attended a yeshiva as a youth. He joined the Marine Corps during World War II, serving in the South Pacific, where he was wounded.

After the war, he volunteered to help the nascent state of Israel by shepherding weapons, refugees and Jewish volunteers into British-ruled Palestine. “This was the first time in 2,000 years that we were offered something,” he told the Jewish Bulletin (now j.) in 1997. “We were dreaming of it for so long.”

Frankel made his way to Europe in 1948, soon boarding a steamship bound for Palestine. The British intercepted, forcing the ship to dock in Cyprus. But in the middle of the night, the Jewish underground spirited Frankel and others off the island and onto another ship. A few hundred feet offshore, Frankel jumped into the water and, as he once put it, “swam like hell” to the Holy Land.

He fought with the Palmach’s Ninth Brigade, doing intelligence work, helping to capture Lydda Airport (the former name of Ben Gurion Airport) and flying on multiple bombing missions. In the process, he was wounded in action. Frankel did not return to the United States until 1952.

After his ordination, he served as a rabbi for congregations in Reno and the Bay Area, including Congregation Beth Ami in Santa Rosa. In 1987 he founded Anshei Ha’sefer, a small but vibrant congregation focused on Torah study and housed in the Vincente Street Humanities Building.

“It was a warm and intellectual group,” recalled Frankel’s wife of 34 years, Barbara Frankel. “It was very fulfilling to the small membership as well as to the rabbi. It was quite wonderful on the High Holy Days.”

In February 2000, after 13 years, Frankel retired, and the congregation folded.

Over the years, Frankel worked with several Jewish organizations. He was president of the Zionist Organization of America and served with the Bay Area’s board of rabbis. He also devoted time and energy to Israel Bonds and to Beit Halochem, a Tel Aviv-based veterans hospital. Frankel co-founded a Bay Area chapter of Friends of Disabled Israeli War Veterans. “He felt a strong kinship with these people going back to his adventures in 1948,” noted Traub.

Frankel and his wife were also very active supporters of Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem, serving on its board of governors.

Throughout, family remained important. Barbara Frankel stressed that her husband was “a magnificent grandfather” to his nine grandchildren.

But he never lost his love of Torah study, something he communicated to congregants and colleagues throughout his life’s work.

“He was able to attract people and hold their attention,” said Traub, “because he happened to be a very good teacher.”

Frankel is survived by his wife, Barbara Frankel of San Francisco; her children Linda Schneidman, Robert Galoob, and David Galoob; and nine grandchildren. Donations may be sent to Beit Halochem in Tel Aviv or Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem.

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.