Hundreds of people celebrated the life of Rabbi Marvin Gross this past weekend during his memorial service and shiva at the Pasadena Jewish Temple.
Gross, one of the key proponents in the fight to end homelessness in the San Gabriel Valley, died on Nov. 5 after a brief illness. He was 72.
The former CEO of Union Station Homeless Services, Gross took the helm of that organization in 1994, 21 years after a group of community volunteers started the nonprofit as a simple hospitality center to serve poor and homeless men in downtown Pasadena.
“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Marv Gross. He was one of the kindest, most compassionate humans we’ve ever known and a true defender of social justice,” wrote workers at Union Station in a Nov. 7 Facebook post. “We are lucky to have known him and worked with him for so many years. He made an indelible impact on every person he met, and his incredible legacy will never be forgotten.”
Gross helped lead the agency through an unprecedented period of growth that saw Union Station expand its services to become the San Gabriel Valley’s largest nonprofit serving the homeless.
He retired in 2015.
In honor of that work, “Marv’s Place,” an affordable housing project in Pasadena for people who formerly were homeless, bears his name.
But even after he announced his retirement in November of that year, Gross promised to continue his work.
“I am not saying goodbye yet,” Gross said at the time he announced his retirement. “There are still months of work ahead of us. It will be an exciting time, as we continue to help people in Pasadena and throughout the San Gabriel Valley achieve decent housing, more stable lives and greater self-fulfillment.”
According to an article in the Pasadena Star-News, written by Peter Dreier, a poitical science professor at Occidental College and a longtime friend, Union Station dramatically expanded its operations, from 22 employees and less than a $1 million yearly budget to a 90-person operation and an $8 million budget, providing emergency services and shelter, counseling and transitional housing for people without homes under Gross’ leadership.
“Marv was an ordained rabbi, but for the past 25 years his pulpit was the movement for social justice,” Dreier wrote. “That included his many appearances at Pasadena City Council meetings, rallies and protest marches for immigrant rights, police accountability, tenants’ rights and racial justice.”
Gross continued his work in social justice, and was active in a variety of organizations in the greater Los Angeles area.
Gross was predeceased by his parents Jacob and Rita (Berliant) Gross and his brother, Howard. Since his retirement Gross devoted his energies to immigration rights and mentoring executives.
Rabbi Gross was born in Evanston, Illinois. He attended Amherst College, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Before he came to Union Station, he served as a senior executive with the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles with varied responsibilities in community regional management, fundraising and emergency relief.
Gross did amazing work in social justice, serving as social action chair of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California; co-chair of Clergy United for Prophetic Action, a Black-Jewish clergy alliance; and had a leading role in organizing religious congregations to support California’s Proposition 12, the Bilateral Nuclear Weapons Freeze Initiative.
In 1975, Gross and a fellow rabbinic student were sent by the government of Israel to the Soviet Union for four weeks in an effort to promote contact and solidarity with Soviet Jews who had submitted applications to emigrate to Israel.
In addition, he worked as a political and community organizer, serving as a statewide deputy field director for former US Sen. Alan Cranston’s successful 1986 re-election campaign and organizer for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA), in Chicago.
While with JCUA, Gross organized a groundbreaking conference in 1972 on mortgage and insurance industry redlining in low-income and minority neighborhoods on behalf of the Westside Coalition. The national advocacy organization that emerged from that conference became the key factor in the passage of the Community Reinvestment Act by Congress in 1977.
After graduating from college in 1970, Gross served as a staff member for Father Robert Drinan’s successful congressional election campaign in Massachusetts based on an anti-Vietnam War platform. Following the election, Gross was hired as an organizer and fundraiser for the Vietnam Veterans Against the War in Boston.
Gross is survived by his wife, Lynn Winter Gross; children Tara Rangarajan, Daniel (Anu) Gross, and Becky (Austin) Gross; his brother, Richard, and sister, Frances Schnall; and grandchildren Ari and Eli Rangarajan and Anisha Gross.
“Marv Gross’ kindness, humility, humanity and strong sense of compassion and social justice will never be forgotten,” said Anne Miskey, CEO of Union Station Homeless Services. “He has left a huge legacy in our community, and at and through Union Station Homeless Services. Because of him, many thousands of lives have been saved — moving from lives of despair to ones of hope and fulfillment.”