The Bay Area Jewish community lost one of its brightest lights with the death of Jane Kahn on Dec. 26, 2018. She was 64. Jane was a model of tikkun olam in all aspects of her life, bringing her belief in the divine within all humans to her family life, her friendships, her work representing and advocating for the rights and dignity of incarcerated individuals, her volunteer leadership in Jewish and secular nonprofits and her philanthropy.
Jane was a fighter. She worked tirelessly on behalf of California’s prisoners, advocating for the civil rights of incarcerated persons with mental illness and other disabilities for decades. She believed that being incarcerated or without a home did not make a person less than human; she recognized the humanity of all around her. She fought against the indignity of homelessness with Religious Witness for Homeless and Hamilton House, against capital punishment with Death Penalty Focus, and for a brighter future for prisoners through Prison University Project.
Jane was also a lover. Her Jewish soul, bright smile, intelligence and tremendous compassion captured the hearts of people wherever she went. It was standing room only at Sinai Memorial Chapel in San Francisco on Dec. 28.
On her second day of college at Brandeis University, Jane met Michael Bien. From that day on, “Jane and Mike” or “Mike and Jane” seemed to be the only way to truly understand either of them. They both were raised in Jewish homes and raised their three sons, Ben, Max and Joey, in communities built through the JCCSF preschool, a family havurah, Brandeis Hillel Day School, Camp Tawonga, New Israel Fund, and Congregations Beth Sholom and Emanu-El. Jane was an active parent and volunteer at all institutions, including her leadership on the Camp Tawonga board.
Jane held Israel —its people and place — deep within her heart. Israel as a political entity became a painful challenge. In her remarks as co-recipient with Mike of the New Israel Fund Guardian of Democracy Award, Jane the lover and Jane the fighter came together. While others whispered to each other about the difficulty of talking about Israel with their young adult children, Jane shared the tensions within her own family. She believed that pushing out of our “tent” young adults who question and challenge the policies and practices of Israel regarding the Palestinian people is not the way to strengthen Israel or the Jewish people.
She always leapt to defend those she represented and those she loved.
Until the end, she took care of her enormous circle of loved ones. She faced her disease just as she embraced life. She showed us how to live each day as fully as possible, love fiercely, persevere whatever the obstacles. She dove into study, pursuing questions of living, dying, and the life of the soul. She wanted to be sure that not only she, but everyone she loved, would be ready for the moment that she’d be gone. She was remarkably brave and strong for over two years, right up until her last day. Jane prepared us for her death. Let us all be blessed by the lessons of her life.