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

Death announcements for the week of Jan. 12, 2024

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

Doris Reiner


Doris Reiner
Doris Reiner

Doris Reiner, a woman of remarkable versatility and spirit, passed away at the age of 98 on Nov. 21 in San Jose, Calif. Born in 1925 in Philadelphia, Doris led a life that spanned continents and industries, leaving an indelible mark on each.

Doris grew up in Philadelphia and later in Bayonne, N.J. She met her first husband while in high school. During summer vacations, she attended a program at NYU, mastering shorthand and typing, skills that would lead her to work as a legal, medical, and public relations secretary in over 100 different offices.

Her professional journey took her to various institutions such as Oakland City Hall, Wall Street in NYC, Standard Oil in San Francisco, Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles, Cedar Sinai Hospital, Northrop Aerospace, and Walt Disney Studios. Doris’ career path reflected her diverse interests. She also worked in London for Gwenda Crone and the Rolls Royce Company and even had a stint as the social hostess for Grossingers in the Catskills.

Her passion for design led her to study interior design at the New School of Interior Design. Doris showcased her talent working for Breuners in Lafayette, Calif., and Bullocks in Los Angeles. Her distinctive designs even earned her a feature in the Oakland Tribune home section in 1976. Her sense of style was unique.

Her involvement in the film industry included roles as an extra in notable productions like “Fabulous Baker Boys,” “Baby Boom,” “The Iceman Cometh,” and “Living Large.”

Retirement didn’t slow her down. Doris remained connected to the arts as a dedicated volunteer for TheatreWorks of Silicon Valley. In Mountain View, she could often be seen strolling with her three-legged pit bull, Freeway, who she dressed in baby onesies.

An avid reader with an extensive collection spanning diverse subjects, Doris had a unique tradition: When she gave away a book, she promptly replaced it. Married three times, Doris leaves behind a legacy embraced by her daughter, late son, three grandchildren, a sister, two nephews, and cousins across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and California.

Doris Reiner’s life was a tapestry of experiences, a testament to her creativity, and the lasting impact she had on those fortunate enough to know her.

Tributes in her memory can be sent to TheatreWorks in Mountain View, California.

Merrill Edwin Steinberg

Merrill Edwin Steinberg
Merrill Edwin Steinberg

Merrill Steinberg, “Bob” to many of his friends, died peacefully on Sept. 26 at age 95.

Merrill was a fourth-generation San Franciscan. He was born at Mt. Zion Hospital, attended James Madison Elementary School, followed by Theodore Roosevelt Jr. High School, where (lore has it) he won the city championship for the basketball team when he missed a rebound that hit him in the head and went into the basket at the buzzer. While his mother’s family had been co-founders of Congregation Sherith Israel, Merrill, like his father and grandfather, became a bar mitzvah at Congregation Emanu-El. After George Washington High School, he became the first in his family to attend college, matriculating at UC Berkeley, where he studied electrical engineering, and joined the Naval Reserve, choosing the submarine corps because reputedly it had the best food in the Navy.

While at Cal, Merrill met Cecile Gutten, from Petaluma, who would be the love of his life. They married in 1955 and shared 68 warm and loving years together, until his death. Merrill and Cecile belonged to Congregation Emanu-El, when they lived in San Francisco. In 1973, they moved to Hillsborough and joined Peninsula Temple Sholom.

After graduating from Cal, Merrill decided to attend law school. When he arrived at UC Hastings College of the Law, he was told that two-thirds of the first year class would fail out. Despite having to work full time to pay his way through law school, he graduated at the top of his class in 1952 and was admitted into the Thurston Society, then Hasting’s highest academic honor.

From 1953 until his retirement in 2000, Merrill worked at what became Leland, Parachini, Steinberg, Matzger & Melnick LLP in San Francisco, specializing initially in personal injury, then family law for most of his career. In the late 1960s, he litigated First Amendment cases on a pro bono basis for the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1976, he was elected president of the Northern California Trial Lawyers Association. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and served as president of the Northern California chapter from 1979 to 1980.

A generous supporter of many charities and causes, Merrill also joined protests for various policies — from the Vietnam War protests in 1969 to the March for Science when he was 90 years young.

In the end, he said family and close friends were what he really cared about most. He is survived by his wife, Cecile, his three children and their spouses (Lisa and Debby, Richard and Diane, and Robin and Roger), and six grandchildren who adored him (Benjamin, Miranda, Izak, Jason, Sam and Leah). In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Anti-Defamation League.

Esther K. Selleck

Dec. 27, 1927–Dec. 11, 2023

Esther K. Selleck
Esther K. Selleck

Esther was born in Chicago, Illinois, to David and Rose Katz. She grew up there along with her older sister, Mary. After graduating from high school, she enjoyed several adventures including a vacation to Cuba with a friend, a stint living in Phoenix, and then a move to San Francisco. After a couple of years living at the Emanu-El Residence Club, Sam Pincus, the letter carrier who delivered mail to her office, set her up on a blind date with a “nice Jewish boy.” Four or six weeks later — depending on who was telling the story — they got married. They welcomed a daughter the following year.

After several years as a stay-at-home mother, Esther worked for the federal government and SFUSD before moving to City College of San Francisco where she stayed for over 20 years. After retiring, she volunteered at a variety of places including the JCC, a kindergarten class at Holy Name School, and for Contact 4, Channel 4’s now-defunct consumer affairs helpdesk.

Esther was funny, inquisitive, caring and generous. She was predeceased by her husband of 56 years, Ralph, and her sister, Mary. She is survived by her daughter, Denise, her granddog, Barnaby, nieces Sue and Linda, and many loving friends.

Huge gratitude to NP Courtney Gordon of UCSF Care at Home, which provides home-based primary care to homebound adults living in San Francisco.

Be a good puppy, Mom. May your memory be a blessing.

Claire Wahrhaftig

Feb. 12, 1933–Dec. 31, 2023

Claire Wahrhaftig
Claire Wahrhaftig

Claire Isaacs Wahrhaftig, a generous, loving, open-minded and exuberant free spirit with an amazing range of interests, passed away on Dec. 31 after a long and fulfilling life of friendship, love, community, work, and philanthropy.

Claire was a fourth-generation San Franciscan, born on Feb. 12, 1933. She grew up among extended family in San Francisco’s Richmond District. She was a proud graduate of Lowell High and held degrees in the history of art and in speech and drama from Pomona College, and earned a fellowship at Harvard University’s Arts Administration Program.

Claire had a talent for connecting with people. She kept childhood and college friends close all her life and was always open to new and exciting experiences.

As a young woman, Claire lived an adventurous life, sailing after college to Israel on a freighter, wanting to visit the brand-new country and study Hebrew as part of her desire to learn more about Jewish history. While there, she traveled, worked in clerical jobs, and moonlighted as a nightclub jazz singer.

Her commitment to social justice led her to march for civil rights in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. Claire returned to Selma in 2015 for the 50th anniversary commemoration, reconnecting with several people she’d met in 1965 and writing about her experiences for the Rockridge News.

Claire enjoyed a close, loving marriage with Bill Wahrhaftig until his untimely death in 2005. Together they built a home filled with art and mementos of nearly 20 years of adventure together traveling to over 14 countries.

After Bill’s death, Claire continued to travel widely, including a trip to China as part of a Stagebridge joint friendship and shared storytelling visit.

During her distinguished 30-year career of public service in arts and museum education, Claire held numerous positions including executive director of the San Francisco Arts Commission and supervisor of education for San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art.

At the arts commission, she developed grants for funding the city’s public statues and the restoration of the Coit Tower murals and founded the city’s Youth Arts Festival. Claire had also been the director of the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Junior Arts Center where she initiated Heart to Heart, a citywide arts program integrating disabled children with the general population.

After Claire’s retirement, she was a committed volunteer for the Alameda County Suicide Prevention Hotline and editor and writer for the Rockridge News. More recently, Claire served on the board of directors and as chair and benefactor for two organizations very dear to her: Treasure Island Museum and Stagebridge, a performing arts organization for older adults.

Claire would have been 91 years old on her next birthday, Feb. 12, which she always said she proudly shared with Abraham Lincoln. Memories of Claire will live on in the hearts of the Wahrhaftig, Greene, Groeschel, Fisher, and Cole families.

Her funeral was held at the Home of Eternity Jewish Cemetery, Friday, Jan. 5, 2023.

Donations in Claire’s name can be made to the Treasure Island Museum, treasureislandmuseum.org, and Stagebridge, stagebridge.org.