Bernice Wiener, former Beth IsraelJudea executive director

In 1949, Bernice Wiener landed a part-time job as religious school secretary at San Francisco’s Congregation Beth Israel. Then only 17, she couldn’t have known she would still be there nearly 50 years later, having climbed the ladder to a senior administrative post.

By the time she retired in 1997, Wiener had served as Beth Israel-Judea’s executive director longer than anyone else, a total of 43 years. A veritable institution at the synagogue, Wiener died from vascular disease Jan. 1 in Dublin. She was 76.

“Mom knew everybody,” said her daughter, Lora Jachimowicz of San Jose. “She made everybody feel welcome. She was amazingly intelligent, very wise and efficient. It all made her a great administrator for the synagogue.”

“If she were in the business world today she would be managing a large group of people,” added her friend Carol Nissim, a longtime Beth Israel-Judea congregant. “She had that in-charge ability.”

Born in 1932 in Boston, Bernice Shalit grew up poor, the eldest of four siblings. Her immigrant parents kept a kosher home. At age 16, she moved with her family to San Francisco, where her father found a job as an ironworker.

At one point, the six family members, along with an aunt, uncle and cousin, lived in a crowded two-bedroom flat. It fell to Bernice to inform the aunt and uncle they would have to move. “She was always very responsible,” Jachimowicz said.

While a student at Polytechnic High School, Bernice went on a blind date with Bob Wiener. “Dad came bouncing down the stairs, a skinny dude with horn-rimmed glasses. My mother was not impressed,” said their daughter.

However, not long after, the two became impressed enough with each other to get engaged. Bernice Wiener was 18 at the time. The couple remained happily married for 56 years until Bob’s death in 2007.

After accepting the secretarial job at Beth Israel, Bernice Wiener soon became indispensable. When the late Rabbi Herb Morris came on board, the two made a formidable partnership, especially when Beth Israel merged with Temple Judea to become the nation’s first merged Reform-Conservative synagogue.

“She worked with the rabbi for over 30 years,” said her son, Greg Wiener of Alamo. “It was his vision she executed when the temples merged.”

Wiener took a five-year break to raise her two young children, but “Judaism was her world, her life,” Greg said. “So it was no surprise it became her lifelong thing. The values you see in Judaism are the values she lived by.”

Both her children remember their home in Daly City as the neighborhood’s No. 1 hangout, thanks to their mother’s welcoming ways. “My mom was everybody’s mother,” Greg remembered. Added his sister, Lora, “Sometimes kids would say to me, ‘We want to talk to your mom about something.’ “

In addition to her work at Beth Israel-Judea, Wiener conceived and oversaw the organization BATA (Bay Area Temple Administrators), and was active with B’nai B’rith Women.

After retiring in 1997, she and her husband spent more time with their six grandchildren. When Bob Wiener began having health problems in 2000, Bernice devoted much time to his care.

“We saw each other as often as we could,” Nissim said. “I knew how hard it was for her taking care of Bob. She took care of him the way she took care of the temple. It was quite amazing.”

Though last year she struggled with her own health problems, Wiener remained a formidable presence, something she will always be for friends and family.

“She was the matriarch,” said her son. “She was the protective wing.”

Bernice Wiener is survived by daughter Lora Jachimowicz of San Jose; son Greg Wiener of Alamo; sister Susanne Shalit of San Jose; brother Sheldon Shalit of Washington, D.C.; and six grandchildren. Donations may be made to Congregation Beth Israel-Judea, 625 Brotherhood Way, S.F., CA 94132.

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.