John Dinkelspiel, JCRC founding member, dies at 94

John Dinkelspiel, a Bay Area lawyer and founding member of the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council, died in Portola Valley on Friday at the age of 94.

"He was one of the most highly respected persons in this community," said John Rothmann, a San Francisco political consultant and cousin to Dinkelspiel's wife, Clara.

"He was vigorous in Jewish affairs and felt passionately about Israel's survival as a nation. You could never find a man who was more highly regarded."

The Dinkelspiels are one of the oldest Jewish families in the Bay Area. John Dinkelspiel's grandfather, Moses Dinkelspiel, was born in Germany. After immigrating to America, the Dinkelspiel family arrived in California in the early 1850s to open the Dinkelspiel Store in Vallecito, Calaveras County.

Born in San Francisco, John Dinkelspiel graduated from Harvard Law School in 1926 and joined his father and brother in the local law firm Dinkelspiel and Dinkelspiel. Jewish organizations often consulted Dinkelspiel on legal matters, Rothmann said.

After returning from duty in World War II, he served on the board of the San Francisco Jewish Survey Committee in the mid-1940s. The agency was renamed the Jewish Community Relations Council in the late '40s. Dinkelspiel was a member of the first board and took a vocal pro-Zionist stance.

He was friends with Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel, the first president of the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation, and only later in life discovered that the two were distant cousins.

Dinkelspiel played a prominent role in the Republican Party in California. He was close friends with Richard Nixon, working on his successful 1950 Senate race, the 1952 Eisenhower-Nixon presidential campaign and the 1960 Nixon-Lodge presidential bid, lost to the Kennedy-Johnson ticket.

"I think he played an important role in influencing Nixon's policy toward Israel," Rothmann said.

Rothmann recalled an incident in 1952 when Nixon was accused of being an anti-Semite because he supported a vocal Jewish-hating Republican. Dinkelspiel helped Nixon publicly refute the claim by disavowing support for the anti-Semitic Republican.

Dinkelspiel moved to Atherton in the early 1950s and was heavily involved in local politics, which finally culminated in his serving as mayor from 1982 to 1986.

In addition to his wife, of Portola Valley, Dinkelspiel is survived by his daughter Jean Chaitin of San Francisco. No services were held.