People are talking about JCCSFs new lecture director

Back in the 1980s, Barbara Lane produced the popular staple of Bay Area daytime TV, “People are Talking.” Though the show is long gone, Lane still likes to get people talking. Especially in front of a podium and a crowd.

Lane is the newly appointed director of lectures and literature at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. Her job is simple: Compile the most exciting list of guest speakers she can dream up, then find ’em, book ’em and turn ’em loose on stage.

So far this season, she has mounted successful appearances by historian Deborah Lipstadt, writers Edward P. Jones and Armistead Maupin and choreographer Mark Miller.

And that was just a warm-up.

On the calendar for the coming months are such luminaries as playwright Tony Kushner, photographer Annie Leibovitz, novelist E.L. Doctorow, poet Adrienne Rich, liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich and former Bush administration spokesman Ari Fleisher.

Nearly all the above happen to be Jewish, but they certainly cover an enormous amount of cultural ground beyond the borders of the Jewish community. Which is just what Lane wants.

“Part of the mission [of the JCC] is to be multicultural,” she says. “This is truly becoming a community facility. My programs are broader mainstream programs, but it is interesting how many of these [guest speakers] are Jewish.”

Even before its multimillion-dollar renovation, the JCC had long been a draw for top speakers from many walks of life. But Lane, 53, believes the new facility — in particular Kanbar Hall — makes the center a world-class institution for the exchange of ideas.

“I’m interested in the life of the mind,” she says. “There is the 92nd Street Y model, in which you have stimulating programming year round and give people an intellectual feast. That’s what we want to do.”

If any one quality helps her do the job, it’s her intense curiosity. A New York native, Lane grew up in a Reform household and earned a journalism degree from Stanford University before taking a job as a reporter for the Telluride Times in Colorado. “This was before Donald Trump and Oprah landed there,” she recalls. “There were no paved streets. Most of what I wrote about were growth issues, how [the locals] would respond to changes. It was a microcosm of the counterculture.”

After five years there, she worked for a Denver art museum, a radio station, did P.R. and advertising. Once back in the Bay Area, she connected with KPIX and “People are Talking.” She has worked for other local stations, including Bay TV, on which she hosted her own show about books. She has written for newspapers across the country and played a key role in founding the Commonwealth Club Book Awards.

Lane loves the environment at the JCC — and the fringe benefits: “My Yiddish is growing by leaps and bounds,” she quips.

In addition to the luminaries from politics, arts and letters, Lane has booked a “Food for Thought” series featuring local mavens in the world of food and wine. One such event, coming up in December, teams sommelier Evan Goldstein and his cook book-author mother, Joyce, for an evening that includes tastings as well as talk.

Figures like Ted Koppel, Anderson Cooper and playwright David Mamet top Lane’s wish list (their hefty speaker’s fees keep them in the realm of fantasy for now). But she does have some fascinating people — such as architect Daniel Leibeskind, novelist Martin Amis and Judah Pearl (father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl) — penciled in for next year.

Lane goes for premier thinkers because she says the JCC crowd expects it. “It blows my mind how smart our audiences are,” she notes. “Their questions have been extraordinarily well-informed. No matter how much preparing I do, the collective experience in the room is so much greater.”

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.