HaMaqom mourns a Jewish hero, Joseph Pell, who passed away December 30, 2020, at the age of 96. The sole survivor of a family of seven, he fled his Polish shtetl during the Nazi occupation, joined a brave brigade of Soviet partisans, and fought back from the forests.
He immigrated to the United States in 1947 speaking little English and lacking money and a formal education, and yet went on to become one of the Bay Area’s leading real estate developers. Throughout his long life, Joe remained unpretentious, quick-witted, and remarkably prescient about world events. He is survived by his wife, Eda, four children, and nine grandchildren.
Eda was the founding board president of Lehrhaus Judaica and the Pells have been exceedingly generous in their support of our organization ever since, as well as champions of adult Jewish education throughout the Bay Area.
We are proud to have published his award-winning memoir, Taking Risks (2004, 2017), co-authored by Fred Rosenbaum, Founding Director of Lehrhaus Judaica (as HaMaqom was then known). In 1993, Joe and Fred became close on a Lehrhaus study tour of East-Central Europe, including Poland, his first return visit to his native land, and their friendship deepened in the course of their collaboration on his autobiography.
Joe Pell’s life spanned nearly a century of head-spinning change, but, more than that, spanned two different worlds: the bloodlands of Eastern Europe and contemporary California. As Professor David Biale wrote in the afterword to Taking Risks, through Joe’s story, “we gain invaluable insight into some of the secrets of modern Jewish suffering and survival.”