Born in Los Angeles on Aug. 9, 1947, Barbara Yaroslavsky was a lifelong volunteer activist in the Jewish community and beyond. She supported various nonproﬁt and social service agencies involved in education and healthcare.
She sat on the board of the Friends of the Saban Community Clinic and was the president of the Los Angeles Commission on Communities and Family Services, which lifts poverty—stricken families into self-sufficiency.
She was active on several boards at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, from what was formerly known as the Bureau of Jewish Education, to the Jewish Community Relations Council, which serves as the local Jewish community’s voice on government policy and advocates for Israel and world Jewry. She also participated in the Jewish Federation’s Koreh LA. literacy program.
She was the former chair of the Medical Board of California and a member of the California Board of Registered Nursing.
Additionally, she led the special projects group for the Zimmer Children’s Museum, which provides an educational play—space for children, and helped secure funding for the museum’s youTHink project, which is in many public schools statewide.
She married her husband, Zev, in 1971, four years before he was elected to the Los Angeles City Council. They met while Zev was working as a shomer—hall monitor—at Los Angeles Hebrew High School and Barbara was working at the front desk of American Jewish University, which, formerly known as the University of Judaism, housed LA. Hebrew High School at that time.
(Published by the Jewish Journal December 27, 2016
Barbara Yaroslavsky, community leader and wife of former Los Angeles Supevisor Zev Yaroslavsky, passed away on December 26, 2018.
For six weeks prior, she had been fighting infections after contracting West Nile virus. She was on the road to recovery when she suddenly collapsed during a physical therapy session.
A statement was issued on behalf of the family, saying, “We have lost an exceptional mother, a loving grandmother, and a beloved wife and partner in life. There are no words to describe what we are feeling at this moment, but our loss is profound and the void in our lives is immeasurable.”
A Celebration of Life was held at the historic Temple Israel of Hollywood on December 30, led by Senior Rabbi John Rosove, a longtime friend of the couple, who introduced seven speakers come to lovingly eulogize Barbara.
“Our city has lost a guiding light,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti, who also described her as a “founding mother of the city. The city feels incomplete without her laughter and her light and love that was so all-encompassing.”
“My mother’s life was one big mitzvah,” declared her daughter, Mina Bressler. A mitzvah means a good deed in Hebrew. She explained that there are 613 mitzvahs or commandments in Jewish tradition, but she would read only ten that especially pertained to her mother’s life. She thanked the staff at Cedars-Sinai for their loving care and Dr.Shouri Lahiri who helped awaken Bara from a coma. Bressler said that extra time with her mother enabled her to observe the mitzvahs of “honoring our parents and taking care of the sick.” She promised her children and nephews that she would tell them every story of growing up with their grandmother and keep her memory alive for them.
Son David was grateful for all the good wishes from friends and family and recalled his final memory of his mother cradling his young son that mirrored his own memory of her caring for him.
Concluding the service, Zev looked out over the more than 1,000 civic leaders, friends, and families filling the temple, and thanked them for the messages and condolence calls, also thanking Dr. Lahiri, for the “gift of more time with Barbara. She loved people; she loved taking care of people and she loved being with people. As she became more influential,” he said, “she never used that power to seek credit for herself.”
He spoke of her sense of humor (as did anyone who knew Barbara), that she was the person who could take care of any problem, and that she was also a matchmaker (See Joel Bellman’s remembrance). She was the real deal; she was genuinely what you see is what you get, a quality that endeared her to everyone.”
Craig Taubman’s music that began and ended the service, was a single blessing in itself.
May Barbara’s memory bring many blessings.
Yaroslavsky is survived by her husband of 47 years; their children, Mina Bressler and David Yaroslavsky; four grandchildren, a brother and a sister.
The family requested that in lieu of flowers, contributions in her name be made to the Saban Community Clinic (sabancommunityclinic.org), where Barbara was a board member. Originally the Los Angeles Free Clinic, it was a pioneer in free health care. Now, as Saban Community Clinic, the facility continues to make compassionate and high-quality medical care available for everyone, especially those most economically and socially vulnerable.
In Remembrance of Barbara
Barbara was very haimisch, wise, caring, and funny. It’s hard to imagine her not here, not getting one of her out-of-the-blue messages regarding some issue or person of import, or any one of the many things she had her hands in; or, just her checking in at exactly the right time, like she did right after the Woolsey Fire started, sending her thoughts and hugs. Her hugs were the best, even in e-mails.
She loved Topanga, its spirit, and people, and genuinely enjoyed her many visits here with Zev over the years. Several folks have told me how much they enjoyed meeting her at some Topanga event or dedication, how engaging, curious, bright, and humorous she was, as if they had known her for years. That was Barbara. Zev’s best ambassador. (And, the one who firmly grasped his leg along the entire Topanga Days Parade route when he was Grand Marshall, so he wouldn’t go flying out of the convertible if a sudden stop by the driver, me, was required!)
She was not just his ambassador out in his district, but with his staff, as well. She pulled me aside a couple of times to say how much she appreciated something we were doing with communities out in the district’s hinterlands, like the Topanga Disaster Survival Guide in 2005 that was getting some nice press. Katrina had struck almost simultaneous to its publication and distribution to Topanga residents, and suddenly we were getting calls from Missouri and Louisiana wanting copies and more information. She thought we should start a homegrown national disaster preparedness movement. Immediately. It was very cool to have Barbara’s support and ideas. I always enjoyed our quick-to-the point conversations but was mostly in awe of her intuitive way of folding all of us into what was, at so many levels, a family, too. She knew all our spouse’s, other half’s, children’s, and grandchildren’s names, where they were going to school, what their interests were, and always wanted the latest updates on them all.
Arthur’s and my hearts and love go out to Zev, their children, and loved ones: Zev’s life partner, their wonderful mom, grandmother, sister, and aunt.
Barbara was a generous and kind friend, a tireless doer, giver, and advocate for so many. Such a blessing to know her. She will be so missed.
Susan Nissman was a Senior Deputy to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky from 1994-2014.
– Susan Nissman
In Remembrance of Barbara
Zev was one of the first elected officials I ever met when l was just starting out in a professional journalism job in Los Angeles. He was only 32 but had already been a Los Angeles city councilmember for almost six years and was more of a seasoned pro at handling the media than many politicians ever learn to be. I always admired him and enjoyed our interactions over the years, but it wasn’t until I joined his County supervisor staff 13 years later that I met his wife, Barbara.
Her reputation had preceded her; people told me that she was better known out in the community than even Zev was—which, with his high media profile, I found hard to believe, but it was true. She was out and about and engaged in ways he wasn’t and couldn’t be. As visible and present as he always was at community meetings, public appearances, and ceremonial events, serving in elective office can also be an isolating, solitary job, demanding time alone to think, to strategize, or just to escape the crush of demands on your time and attention.
Where Zev could sometimes come off to those who didn’t know him well as gruff, brusque, and aloof, Barbara was the perfect complement—warm, supportive, accessible, and always popping with ideas. I loved hearing from her; I can still hear the voice of our receptionist Georgia Reyes buzzing me to say, “Barbara Yaroslavsky’s calling you on 34,” which meant, pick up immediately because Barbara wanted to alert me to a news development she thought I needed to know about, or she’d just had a thought about something our office could or should be doing to help solve a problem somebody had just brought to her attention. And reporters, too, loved her because she was fearless about calling them up, always seemed to know what was going on, was full of interesting tips…AND… had the kind of news judgment that could sniff out a genuinely good story.
My favorite Barbara story is a personal one. Back around 1997, I was coming out of a very painful divorce in my first marriage but had recently begun a new relationship with the woman I later married, a union-side labor attorney named Hope Singer. As Hope told me later, at a Jewish Labor Committee breakfast event she was attending, she found herself at a reception face to face with Barbara. Hope thrust out her hand and introduced herself, and Barbara said, “Pleased to meet you.” To move the conversation along, Hope added, “A friend of mine works on Zev’s staff.” Barbara asked who, and Hope replied, “Joel Bellman.” Barbara said, “Oh, are you the one he’s dating?” and Hope answered, “Yes, I am.” Barbara fixed her with her Barbara gaze and told Hope, “Well, you better be nice to Joel, because we really, really like him.”
I had a Mama Lion looking out for me and I didn’t even know it. But that’s who Barbara Yaroslavsky was: fiercely protective, passionately caring, deeply loyal. With her untimely passing, her family has lost a matriarch and an anchor, and our community has lost a genuine and faithful friend.
Joel Bellman served as Press Deputy for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky from 1994 to 2014.
– Joel Bellman