Ada Schwarz, longtime community volunteer and matriarch, dies at 86

Volunteer Ada Schwarz served the old, the sick, the dying and the dead.  As her son put it, she “championed the cause of people who need it the most.”

A German-born Holocaust refugee, Schwarz made a deep impact on the Jewish Home of San Francisco, Sinai Memorial Chapel and the Jewish Chaplaincy of Stanford University Medical Center. Schwarz died Dec. 31 at her Belmont home at age 86.

“My mother valued the personal touch,” said Dan Schwarz of San Ramon. “She demonstrated a fierce determination to do her best at everything, and persevere even through extremely difficult and trying times.”

“[Schwarz] said you need to use your time wisely,” recalled Bruce Feldstein, founder of the Jewish Chaplaincy. “She did so much that was unseen in the community.”

Unseen, perhaps, but not unfelt.

Fleeing Germany after Kristallnacht in 1938, Schwarz found refuge in England. There, in 1947, she met her future husband, Kurt Schwarz, an American army officer. The couple married, living for a time in Israel, Colorado and finally Belmont, where they reared three sons.

Once her children were grown, Schwarz began volunteering at local Jewish institutions, including the Jewish Home, where for 36 years she visited the sick. She also served on the board of directors for 12 years.

The home’s chief advancement officer, Sherie Koshover, remembered Schwarz as an “elegant, beautiful woman” who could be found “nights and weekends walking the halls delivering hand-baked goodies. She brought love and devotion to many an isolated elder.”

Elsewhere, she served as a docent at Berkeley’s Judah L. Magnus Museum, and she was the first woman to serve as president of Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City. For 18 years, she served on the board of Sinai Memorial Chapel.

For 18 months in the early 1970s, the family moved to Seoul, South Korea, where Kurt Schwarz had professional ties.

When her husband of 52 years was hospitalized at Stanford in 2000, she met Feldstein, then doing a chaplaincy residency. After the two struck up a friendship Schwarz told him, “We have to find a way to keep you here.”

“Those were prophetic words,” Feldstein said, noting Schwarz went on to become a founding board member of the Jewish Chaplaincy. “She was strong and devoted and fascinating,” he added. “She was an Old World lady, someone who had a way of speaking with a directness that made you feel she cared.”

Even as age and arthritis slowed her down, she continued her lifelong habit of handwriting letters and notes on homemade greeting cards to her many friends.

“She was in so many ways a matriarch of the community,” Feldstein said. “She certainly was for me, and now she’s gone the way of her ancestors.”

Ada Schwarz is survived by her sons, Michael Schwarz of Washington state, Jeffrey Schwarz of Palo Alto and Dan Schwarz of San Ramon; and one grandson.

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.