Social action is all in the family for filmmaker-activist

Governor Meathead?

Not just yet. Rob Reiner is far too busy making movies and making waves as a citizen activist to think about a run for the statehouse.

Or so he says.

After his successful campaign to pass Proposition 10 in 1998 (which levied new tobacco taxes for early child-development programs), Reiner is back with a new initiative. Called The Preschool for All Act and scheduled for a vote in June 2006, the act would guarantee preschool for all 4-year-olds, financed by a state income tax increase on the wealthy.

Reiner will be one of the speakers at the Consultation on Social Justice, a one-day social action conference co-sponsored by a group of Bay Area Jewish institutions. The event takes place Sunday, Nov. 6, at the Samuel Merritt Health Education Center in Oakland. Organizers hope to draw up to 250 participants.

Keynote speakers at the conference will be Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and East Bay Assemblywoman Wilma Chan (D-Oakland).

But Reiner will likely generate the most buzz.

Best know for his role as Archie Bunker’s son-in-law on “All in the Family” and as the A-list director of “When Harry Met Sally,” “Spinal Tap,” “Misery” and “A Few Good Men,” Reiner has long been considered one of Hollywood’s good guys.

He’s also an unabashed champion of liberal causes.

At the upcoming event, Reiner will speak about his new initiative and how it may impact the economy. “We have an education system that educates one out of every eight kids,” he says. “This economy is dependent on whether we have a high-quality education system and work force.”

Reiner credits his socially active Jewish family — which of course includes his father, writer-actor Carl Reiner — with instilling in him a desire to improve the world.

“Jewish people have always been in a very tough position,” says the L.A.-based Reiner. “We focus on education and things central to digging out from under. Jewish leaders have large spheres of concern beyond their individual concerns. It’s part of our social legacy.”

That’s the rationale behind the Consultation on Social Justice. The brainchild of Rabbi Suzanne Singer (who recently departed her pulpit position at Oakland’s Temple Sinai), the event is patterned after the Religious Action Center’s biannual Consultation on Conscience.

Singer attended one a few years back and was impressed with its social action advocacy training. She wanted to replicate the concept on a local level. With the blessing of the Temple Sinai board, she recruited East Bay Jewish community institutions — including Temple Isaiah (Lafayette), Congregation Beth El (Berkeley), Kehilla Community Synagogue (Piedmont), the East Bay-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services and the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay — to assist with planning, volunteering and funding.

The conference will zero in on five areas of concern: hunger, education, affordable housing, health care and economic justice. “The thrust,” she says, “is to get people involved in advocacy.'”

That’s certainly a concept Reiner, who has three children, has taken to heart. In 1997, he and his wife, Michele Singer Reiner, formed the I Am Your Child Foundation (now Parent Action for Children), which has produced educational materials on topics of interest to parents and caregivers of young children, and also has spearheaded legislative action on behalf of kids.

“This keeps me very busy,” he says. “Over the course of the year, I spend half my time on political issues.”

During the other half he still makes films, the latest being “Rumor Has It,” a sequel to “The Graduate,” starring Jennifer Aniston. The screen comedy is due in December.

As for those other persistent rumors about him running for governor of California, Reiner says simply, “Right now, I’m focused on getting the initiative passed.”

To that end, he will make his pitch at the upcoming one-day event. As for Singer, she welcomes Reiner’s participation as a way to get the Jews of the East Bay more involved with social action.

“We don’t take particular [political] positions,” says the rabbi. “We just say, ‘Get out there and do something!”

The Consultation on Social Justice takes place 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6, at the Samuel Merritt Health Education Center, 400 Hawthorne Ave., Oakland. Vegetarian or kosher lunch included. Pre-registration is required. Cost: $20. Information: (510) 451-3263 or online at

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.