Jeffrey Keyak, a lifelong Jewish community activist and president of San Francisco’s Adath Israel Congregation, died April 29 of a heart attack while on a family vacation in Whistler, British Columbia. He was 66.
“Jeff was a soft-spoken leader,” said Rabbi Joel Landau of Adath Israel, which had been the synagogue of Keyak’s grandparents. “He managed to create a sense of calm in a crazy synagogue boardroom, with the ability to conduct himself in a cool, collected way.”
Born in San Francisco, Keyak grew up attending a Reform synagogue, Congregation Emanu-El. He and his family were deeply involved in Jewish life and political activism, from Democratic Party campaigning to advocating for Soviet Jewry. Keyak earned an engineering degree from U.C. Davis and an MBA from Boston University.
Keyak and his wife of 33 years, Vicki, raised three sons, staying active in synagogue life and Orthodox Judaism.
“He went from being president of Emanu-El Temple Youth to president of an Orthodox congregation,” recalled lifelong friend John Rothmann. “That’s the story of Jeff. He was always growing, always learning.”
In his professional life, Keyak worked for the Navy for many years as deputy director and caretaker advocate for the base realignment and closure project in San Bruno, for which he won a Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 2000. More recently, he worked as a senior energy consultant for Kaiser Permanente.
Keyak also served in various capacities at the Jewish Community Library. Said director Howard Freedman, “He spent 19 years on the board of the Friends of the Jewish Community Library, most of them as treasurer. He devoted a huge number of hours to this endeavor, getting in return only the satisfaction that he had helped sustain a unique institution devoted to Jewish learning.”
An environmentalist, musician, devoted family man and passionate Jewish leader, Keyak was remembered by his son Aaron in a eulogy: “He will always be here, reminding us we can always turn up the volume just a bit.”
Keyak is survived by his wife, Vicki Coffey-Keyak of San Francisco; sons Aaron of Washington, D.C., Joshua of Fair Lawn, N.J., and Jonah of Washington Heights, N.Y.; sister Janet Schwab of San Jose; and brother Yonason Keyak of Ramot Daled, Israel.
A funeral was held May 4 at Mount Lebanon Cemetery in Queens, N.Y., with Rabbi Jacob Traub officiating. Shiva followed in Elmwood Park, N.J. A memorial service will be held at Adath Israel in June for his many friends and family in the Bay Area. Contact Rabbi Landau (415) 564-5665 for details. Donations can be made to Adath Israel Congregation, 1851 Noriega St., S.F., earmarked for children’s programs. — dan pine