In-house comic Esther Weintraub dies at Jewish Home

Tears replaced laughter at the San Francisco Jewish Home last week, as Esther Weintraub, the Home’s resident wit, died at age 89. Though suffering from cancer for several years, Weintraub remained active, vital and funny until the end, on Feb. 2.

“Esther was one of those people,” says Mark Friedlander, the Home’s director of activities. “As soon as she had both feet on ground, she took off running. She had this unbelievable connection with younger people.”

One of those younger people is Lisa Geduldig, an S.F.-based comic and theatrical producer. She discovered Weintraub about two years ago when she saw her cracking jokes in a film about the Jewish Home. She knew instantly she had to befriend the woman.

“Ten minutes after meeting her,” remembers Geduldig, “she says to me, ‘So are you going to ask me to go steady or are you just wasting my time?”

They ended up becoming true friends until the day Weintraub died. Recognizing Weintraub’s natural humor, Geduldig hired her to perform at the 2003 “Funny Girlz” comedy concert. Weintraub, at age 87, brought down the house.

Weintraub was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and moved to Toronto during her childhood. After her mother died young, the strikingly beautiful 15-year-old ran away to New York City where she eventually found work as a fashion model.

It was a profession she stuck with for the next 35 years.

In the meantime she married Julius Weintraub and had two children. The family moved to Los Angeles in the early 1950s, where Weintraub continued her twin roles of homemaker and fashion model.

“She was a good mother,” says daughter Anita Fisher of Menlo Park, “so I didn’t have the insecurities she had. I saw those insecurities close up, but they allowed her to relate to people in an amazing way.”

In the 1980s the Weintraubs moved to the Bay Area to be closer to their children. During those years, she would often visit senior centers and entertain the residents. Julius Weintraub died in the early 1990s. By 1999 it was time for Weintraub to seek assisted living.

Though she was not happy about the change (she told j. in 2003, she did not like being surrounded by people “who don’t even pull their pants up”), she adapted.

“Esther performed at our annual Chanukah shows,” recalls Friedlander, “and she was on our CD ‘Island on a Hill,’ on which she does a solo Jewish rap called ‘Chicken Soup.’ A video documentary about the making of the CD was shown at the Jewish Film Festival.”

Weintraub was in the audience that night and won the crowd over in a post-screening Q&A. “She was,” adds Friedlander, “a born comic.”

Weintraub had an active social life during her years at the Home and counted many local artists and performers as friends. “She collected people,” says Geduldig. “In the hospital, there was this constant flow of visitors.”

Geduldig took Weintraub out to the theater as often as possible, even as recently as last month. “Up to the day before she died,” adds Geduldig, “she was entertaining.”

Though she was in constant pain, friends say Weintraub never complained. How could she? She wasn’t about to let down her audience.

“What made her different,” says Fisher, “was that she came into her own much later in life than most people do. How many have that in their 80s? Most of us fade away. She came alive.”

In addition to her daughter, Esther Weintraub is survived by son Peter Weintraub of Mountain View and two grandchildren.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.