Planned Giving Donor Profile: Judith Frankel

JudithFrankelWhen Judith Frankel’s beautiful voice and guitar chords filled the Mount Zion waiting room, she empathized with the patients she soothed with her music. In fact, she was a patient and a volunteer at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

A professional performer by age 13, the Boston native – born Judith Bradbury – played at local weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. She graduated from Boston University in 1965. Judith studied medieval and renaissance music at the Berklee School of Music and Harvard University. In 1969, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she performed with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus as well as alongside folk music luminaries including Joan Baez and Tim Hardin. Before departing the East Coast, Judith had heard her first Judeo-Spanish “Ladino” folk song, and began a lifelong quest to seek out and capture the traditional music of this culture.

Judith gleaned her repertoire from the mostly older Ladino women whom she would meet while traveling. Fascinated, Judith devoted herself to faithfully preserving the folk songs of Ladinos, Sephardic Jews who scattered after they were driven from Spain in 1492 during the Spanish Inquisition. Ladino culture endured for generations purely through oral tradition, and the language lived on vibrantly in song.

While of Eastern European Jewish ancestry, Judith loved the Ladino folk music and deeply appreciated the way it coalesced and reflected the collective experiences of a rich and little-known culture. This enchantment led her to explore the Ladino culture and history internationally. She journeyed to Portugal, where she harvested the ancient prayers of “Crypto-Jews,” a segment of the Jewish population who publicly converted to Christianity during the 15th Century, but maintained some Jewish ancestral traditions.

“Many musicians talk about ‘collecting’ songs. Judy didn’t,” says fellow performer and ethnomusicologist Dr. Judith Cohen as she fondly remembers her friend. “She talked, with never-failing appreciation and affection, of ‘harvesting’ songs, and always credited the people from whom she learned them. She concentrated on the people.”

That focus on the uniqueness of each individual resonates with the community of clinicians, academics, staff, and patients at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, a beneficiary of a planned gift from Judith, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 65. The singer’s music was thoroughly grounded in an appreciation of the whole person, the focus of the Osher Center’s approach to health. Her singing helped fill the chasm between the solitude of the waiting room and the treatment room. From the first moment her voice filled the UCSF halls, she created a community, dispensed culture, and promoted healing.

Dr. Margaret Chesney, the Director of the Osher Center, said of the gift, “As the director of one of the world’s leading centers for integrative medicine, I am so grateful to Judith for her thoughtfulness in planning her estate giving. The effects of her contribution will reverberate for generations. Judith’s generosity and her commitment to integrative medicine helped us strengthen the Osher Center’s programs at a critical time in our development. Even now, we look back at the support Judith provided and know that much of our progress since 2008 has been made possible by her gift, which, when combined with others, gave us the resources needed to develop into the dynamic program we are today.”

The Osher Center is leading the way in its integrative approach to making healthcare more patient-centered and improving health outcomes. While some insurance companies are reimbursing more integrative medicine services, philanthropy remains critical to the Osher Center’s success. Planned gifts to the Center’s Living Endowment Fund provide a stable source of income that will keep it in the vanguard of its field, and support such research projects as:

  • Exercise as a treatment for PTSD among military veterans;
  • Developing a model integrative medicine program as a part of head and neck cancer treatment;
  • Mindfulness to help people lose weight and keep it off;
  • Mind-body exercise as a treatment for dementia;
  • Positive emotion-building skills to help teens avoid risky behavior; and
  • Yoga to reduce lower back pain.

Endowment income also literally helps keep the lights on at the Osher Center, which receives minimal financial support from the government.

Judith Frankel’s celebrated legacy to the arts is profound and enduring, as is her more private contribution to health and well-being through her planned gift. To learn how you can make a lasting difference for patients in the Bay Area and beyond, please contact Director of Development, Evan Kavanagh at or 415-353-7223.

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