a lit memorial candle with a Sinai Memorial Chapel logo on it

Deaths for the week of May 18, 2018

Obituaries are supported by a generous grant from Sinai Memorial Chapel.

Drama scholar and historian Mel Gordon, 71, died on March 22 in Richmond. A world-class expert in acting theory, he taught at NYU and UC Berkeley and directed theatrical productions in Europe and the U.S. Obituaries in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Daily Californian and the Berkeleyan characterized Mel’s scholarly contributions as “multifaceted,” “wide-ranging,” “eclectic” and “unorthodox.” He published groundbreaking volumes on performance technique, Grand Guignol horror shows, the underworld cultures of Weimar Berlin and Nazi-occupied France, and Yiddish theater.

Mel Gordon
Mel Gordon

Mel described himself as “an authentic Jew […] looking for something lost.” His book on the origins of Jewish humor traced back to the botkins, traditional performers at shtetl weddings. He composed opera librettos based on renowned Jewish-Russian actor Mikhoels and false messiah Shabetai Zvi. Locally, Mel wrote and directed plays about sexologist Hirschfeld and “clairvoyant” Hanussen, two provocative Jewish personalities in Weimar Berlin.

Mel is survived by his brother Norman Gordon, nephew Maer Ben-Yisrael and his wife Joni, their children Elorah and Ada, nephew Mark Gordon, his wife Lauren, their daughters Vivian and Audrey, companion Bijou O’Keefe, former wife Sheila Gordon, and special friends Aimee Su and Michael Thaler. A memorial is being held in San Francisco.

Hanna Eichenwald Marcus

October 12, 1925 – May 3, 2018

Mom, Nana, Hannekein, Hanna was pure love. She passed away peacefully in Sonoma, California, on Thursday, May 3 with her four children by her side.

Born and raised until her early teens in Rheine/Westfalen, Germany, she knew trauma at an early age. It was a terrible time to be Jewish in Germany. Hanna’s older brother Hans, sponsored by a family in Detroit, Michigan, had been able to emigrate to America in 1937. Hanna, her parents and younger brother Fritz were able to escape to Amsterdam after Kristallnacht: Hanna to an orphanage, her parents and brother to an apartment. That would be the last she would see of them.

Hanna Eichenwald Marcus
Hanna Eichenwald Marcus

Gertrude Weismuller, the non-Jewish wife of a Dutch financier, took it upon herself to rescue thousands of Jewish children from Amsterdam. Hanna was among them. Early in the morning of May 14, 1940, Hanna was awakened along with the other Jewish children living in the orphanage, taken by a bus commandeered by Weismuller, boarded the cargo ship Bodegraven, and headed for Liverpool, England. On May 15, Holland capitulated to the Germans. Her family was left behind. For a time, Red Cross letters were anxiously traded between Hanna and her parents until she stopped receiving them. Her parents and little brother perished in the concentration camps.

Hanna spent the duration of the war living in a hostel as a refugee in Manchester, England, learning nannying skills, routinely punctuated by time spent in air-raid shelters.

Cousins who had made it to the U.S. before the war sponsored her overseas travel in 1946 to New York, then Philadelphia. Little did Hanna realize that the love of her life, a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania, was waiting for her on the other shore. Hanna and Sanford met on a blind date, married on May 26, 1951, and were smitten with each other for the next 49 years until Sanford’s death in April 2000.

Hanna and Sanford welcomed their two oldest children while they were on the East Coast, then moved west where their two youngest were born. Their home was in Daly City, California.

Hanna was the consummate homemaker. Love, laughter, music, art, theater, travel, gatherings with family and friends, great food and, of course, 4:00 teatime were the ingredients of a happy family life. But perhaps the most profound gift that Hanna and Sanford gave their children was the love of the outdoors. Yosemite was the family’s home-away-from-home. Hanna was never happier than when she had a backpack on her back, hiking the Yosemite trails.

Hanna was a lover of classical music and could tell you the composer and title of any piece after about four bars. She was never without reading material, carrying her New Yorker or New York Times with her just in case she had a spare moment. Never having attended college, she was an avid learner, up until recently attending lifelong learning classes at the Fromm Institute in San Francisco. There was no topic about which she wasn’t curious. Always engaged with her four children and eight grandchildren, it gave her great pleasure to clip out and send articles pertaining to their fields of interest. She was blessed with two great-granddaughters in the past three years. Nothing lit her up like they did. She lived to love. She lived to give. And that is her enduring gift.

Hanna is survived by her children Richard (Tzipora); Susan, Robert (Ellen) and Carol (Bill); grandchildren Karen, Danny, Eric (Amy), Stephen, Laura (Zach), David, Benjamin and Aaron; great-granddaughters Sadie and Sloane; sisters-in-law Sonia Marcus and Diane Marcus; and family confidante Earldean Marshall. She was preceded in death by her husband, Sanford Marcus, her brothers Hans Eichenwald (aka Harry Wald) and Fritz Eichenwald, and her parents Fanni and Hugo Eichenwald. Donations in her memory may be made to the Yosemite Conservancy or the Fromm Institute.