Edward Bransten, JCRC leader, dies

Edward Bransten, a stalwart in the San Francisco Jewish community, died Sunday after a long illness. He was 94.

"He was a man of enormous integrity who was not afraid to stand up for his convictions," said Rita Semel, a former executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in San Francisco.

A former chairman of the JCRC board from 1966 to 1976, Bransten strove to enhance Jewish unity in the Bay Area and strengthen American-Israel relations.

"Ed was a maverick part of the [Jewish] establishment," said his colleague and friend Earl Raab. "He was a pioneer, willing to stand up and fight the establishment of which he was part, in order to ensure a better future for it."

In the early 1950s, for example, Bransten successfully encouraged area Jews to become involved in the National Jewish Community Relations Council, even though "a lot of people in San Francisco wanted to stay out of it," said Raab, a former JCRC executive director. "They thought it would impose problems for local sovereignty. But he stood up and fought and was the main person who brought it to us."

During the Yom Kippur War in 1967, Bransten faced national opposition when he set up the first regional office of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, then a small organization, in San Francisco.

"At that time there was national opposition to forging Jewish ties that were too close to Israel," Raab said. "But Ed was a student of history. He knew the Jewish community would eventually [look to Israel for] its identity."

Bransten, who graduated from Stanford University in 1927 and served as a lieutenant commander in the Navy during World War II, visited Israel just after it established statehood in 1948.

A third-generation San Franciscan on both sides of the family, Bransten worked in the coffee business for 56 years, serving as president of his family-founded and operated MJB Co. and Western Can Co. and then honorary chairman before the company was sold to Nestle in 1985.

"He was a true San Franciscan through and through," said his daughter Kate Feinstein. "He grew up in a house on Franklin Street, built by his grandparents for his parents as a wedding present. He had lots of good memories of growing up in that neighborhood."

Bransten's commitment to the Jewish community never waned. In addition to the JCRC, Bransten served as a director of Mount Zion Hospital, the Jewish Community Fund, the Jewish Welfare Fund and the local chapter of the American Jewish Committee.

"He loved this city, the Jewish community and Israel in a way that showed through all the commitments he undertook," said Rabbi Doug Kahn, JCRC executive director. "He was still attending our meetings when he was well past 90, as an active participant."

Kahn particularly remembered Bransten's "keen mind" and "passionate support for Israel."

"Edward's support for Israel came through constantly, but particularly when he and the community perceived Israel to be under attack," said Kahn. "He was exceptionally eloquent when addressing our community's responsibilities [to Israel] because he approached the issues with such passion and such intelligence."

Kahn added: "He was always so warm and friendly, taking an interest in everybody's well-being."

Bransten's volunteerism also extended into the civic community: He served as a member of the San Francisco Library Commission and the San Francisco-Shanghai Sister City Friendship Committee. In the 1980s he served on an official delegation to China for then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein.

Private services were held Tuesday for Bransten at Home of Peace Cemetery in Colma.

He is survived by his wife Cathryn Scheeline Bransten; children Patricia Berkowitz of San Francisco, Kate Feinstein of Palo Alto, and Barbara van der Wal of Santa Clara; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to the Cathryn and Edward Bransten Philanthropic Fund of the Jewish Community Federation's Jewish Community Endowment Fund, 121 Steuart Street, S.F., CA 94105, or the charity of your choice.