From mystics to movies to mensches, East Bay Jewish Forum expands lineup

At the East Bay Jewish Forum, it’s all talk, talk, talk. And for more than 40 years, plenty of people have come to listen.

In its 43rd year, Riva Gambert, the director of community programs for the Center for Jewish Living and Learning, says the forum’s new lineup has “something for everyone. We’re always looking for new issues to share with our audience.”

From Bonnie Burt’s documentary “Song of a Jewish Cowboy.”

The East Bay Jewish forum kicks off Sept. 17 with a presentation from Noah Alper, founder of Noah’s Bagels and author of the autobiographical “Business Mensch,” and continues Thursday mornings through Feb. 4 of next year.

Oakland’s Temple Beth Abraham and Temple Beth Sholom in San Leandro will host the events. “We’re doing it in two places to reach out in a more densely populated Jewish area,” Gambert adds.

The East Bay Jewish Forum is sponsored by the Center for Jewish Living and Learning of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay in partnership with Beth Jacob Congregation, Temple Beth Abraham, Temple Beth Sholom and Temple Sinai.

Topics covered in the 23-lecture series include biblical history, Jewish mysticism, Jewish and Israeli cinema, anti-Semitism in America and even the Jewish connection to the songs of the civil rights era.

As for that biblical history, scholar and native Israeli Nitzhia Shaked will explore the life of King David and, in a bit of interfaith scholarship, also discuss the trial of Jesus from a Jewish perspective.

Ken Cohen will tackle one of the foundational aspects of Judaism in a two-part lecture on the Tabernacle. Then Jehon Grist of Lehrhaus Judaica undertakes a two-part lecture on Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs.

Bonnie Burt

“One may say it’s not a Jewish subject,” Gambert notes, “but the days of the pharaohs certainly touch on Jewish history.”

Fast-forward a few thousand years. The forum will feature lectures on President Truman’s odd relationship to the new Jewish state of Israel, Yiddish theater (with singer and historian Mark Singer), anti-Semitism on campus (from U.C. Berkeley professor emeritus Sheldon Rothblatt) and Jewish composers of songs from the civil rights era.

Staying in the realm of the arts, Gambert has programmed several lectures on the subject of film (she is a prime mover in the annual Contra Costa Jewish Film Festival, after all). Israeli filmmaker and Bay Area transplant Shevi Rosenfeld will talk about the burgeoning Israeli cinema, and will also screen “My Mom, the General,” followed by a discussion.

East Bay filmmakers Bonnie Burt and Judy Montell will explore the hidden Jewish connection with movie history in the Bay Area in a lecture titled “Chickens, Communists and Cowboys: A Jewish Journey Through Film.”

Also on the schedule is Rabbi Shelley Waldenberg in a two-parter on Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism.

Gambert looks forward to the many regular forum attendees coming back to this year’s lineup, but her ambitions for the series go deeper.

“Mostly we get repeats,” she says of forum crowds, “but we always hope people drop in and become repeaters.”

The East Bay Jewish Forum lectures take place 10 a.m. Thursdays beginning Sept. 17. Tickets: $10 per lecture, or $136 for a series pass. Information: (510) 318-6453 or