Hebrew Free Loan supernova Arthur Becker dies at 101

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Until a couple of years ago, Arthur Becker would hop on Muni and head downtown to attend board meetings of the Hebrew Free Loan Association. There he shared his wisdom with fellow directors. At the time, Becker was pushing 100.

Arthur Becker

Becker’s decades-long dedication to that agency, and to organizations such as Sinai Memorial Chapel and the Jewish National Fund, made him a formidable presence in the Bay Area Jewish community.

Becker died Dec. 31 at the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville, where he had lived for nearly two years. He was four days shy of his 102nd birthday.

“What I respected the most about Art was his bedrock value of treating people with dignity,” said Ed Cushman, executive director of Hebrew Free Loan and a longtime friend of Becker’s. “He made sure we were an agency that did its best to treat people with respect.”

Added his son, Stephen Becker of San Jose, “He always impressed upon me the importance of being fair to all people regardless of their station. That’s my lasting legacy of him.”

Becker was born in Omaha, Neb. While he was still an infant, Becker lost his father and the family moved to San Francisco. They joined Congregation Beth Israel, where Becker became a bar mitzvah.   After graduation from Lowell High School in 1929, he and his brother went into the grocery business.

A few years later, he met the girl who would become his wife of 44 years. He and Virginia were married in 1942, while Becker was stationed at Fort Winfield Scott in the Presidio. The couple had two children.

After the war, Becker worked for Littleman, a chain of supermarkets in San Francisco that eventually became Cala Foods, serving as executive vice president. He became a leader in the industry, serving as president of the San Francisco Grocers Association and the California Grocers Association, and later as treasurer of the National Association of Retail Grocers of the United States.

He also devoted time to city government, particularly on parking and transportation commissions in San Francisco, holding down roles such as president, director and commissioner.

In the Jewish community, Becker helped engineer the merger that formed Congregation Beth Israel Judea, for which he served as president. He also sat on the boards of Sinai Memorial Chapel and the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, and was on the advisory board of the Jewish National Fund.

Hebrew Free Loan was especially dear to him. Cushman said getting to know Becker was one of his first orders of business when he became the agency’s executive director several years ago.

“Well into his late 90s he  attended board meetings,” Cushman said.  “He was the bearer of history, helping us understand the issues we were dealing with, and how the agency dealt with similar issues in the past.”

After his wife, Virginia, died in the mid-1980s, Becker found love again with Rose Spindel.

Arthur Becker is survived by daughter Susan J. Klein of Concord and son Stephen C. Becker of San Jose, six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Contributions in his memory may be made to Congregation Beth Israel Judea, 625 Brotherhood Way, S.F.

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.