A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 13, at Montgomery Chapel at the in San Anselmo for Rabbi Jerry Winston, founder of Barah, the Creative Center for American Judaism, who died Dec. 19 of complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 74.
A one-of-a-kind rabbi known for opening his arms to Jews of all persuasions, he served as a chaplain to Jewish prisoners at San Quentin and once led a congregation for the deaf. But Rabbi Winston was best known for heading the small Jewish community Barah – which, lacking a synagogue, held Shabbat and holiday services in Montgomery Chapel at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.
“Jerry was a groundbreaker and someone who marched to the tune of his own drummer,” said longtime friend Rabbi Alan Levinson of San Francisco. “When interfaith marriages were frowned upon, Jerry would perform them. He saw no reason not to officiate at the marriage ceremony of two people, one of whom was Jewish.”
Added Rabbi Levinson, “Jerry kept people from straying from Judaism and made them take as much pride in being a Jew as he took in being a rabbi.”
Beyond his religious vocation, Rabbi Winston’s interests were eclectic. For a time he worked as a scriptwriter in Los Angeles, later as a hypnotherapist in San Francisco. He authored several books on Jewish mysticism.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, as a young man he served in the military. He earned a Bachelor of Hebrew Letters degree at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, followed by a master’s degree at Hebrew Union College in New York, at which he was also ordained.
Back in California, he met his future wife Pamela Mosely, originally from Atlanta, Georgia, who had converted from Christianity to Judaism before the two met. After their marriage, the couple settled in San Anselmo, where Mrs. Winston worked at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.
Rabbi and Mrs. Winston had two sons, Jonathan and Oliver. “My father was an amazing joke teller,” Jonathan Winston said, “and he laughed at his own jokes.”
Tall, handsome and strong, Rabbi Winston sported a full, neat white beard, with a shock of white hair to match. His voice was a rich baritone.
When Rabbi Winston began showing signs of Parkinson’s disease more than 10 years ago, Mrs. Winston committed herself to his care. While she was tending him, she developed breast cancer but chose not to seek treatment for it. She died three weeks before her husband.
“My father believed that we have an essence that will always live on,” said Jonathan Winston. “He said everyone has their own time, and when the time comes, you shouldn’t be afraid.”
Rabbi Winston is survived by his sons, Jonathan Winston and Oliver Winston, both of San Anselmo, and his brother, Bud Winston.
Memorial contributions to the Winston family may be sent to Eva Seligman-Kennard, 76 Suffield Ave., San Anselmo, CA 94960.