All in the SFJFF family

Documentaries about two icons of smart humor, Norman Lear and Robert Klein — and especially appearances by the two stars themselves! — highlighted the opening weekend of the 36th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Robert Klein

On July 24, Lear told a packed Castro Theatre that when trying to figure out how Edith Bunker would respond in a particular situation, “We asked ourselves, ‘What would Jesus do?’” The “Edith” in question was, of course, one of the central characters in Lear’s groundbreaking TV show of the 1970s, “All in the Family.”

Lear, a writer and producer with shows such as “Good Times” and “Sanford and Son” to his credit, attended the SFJFF for a screening of “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You” and to receive the festival’s Freedom of Expression Award. Wearing blue jeans, a vest and his iconic white fedora-like hat, the 93-year-old chatted with former SFJFF director Peter Stein about his life, his career and People for the American Way, the advocacy group for civil liberties that he founded in 1981. The group currently is working on voting rights. “My head is jammed with all the inequity I see,” Lear said.

Peter Stein

As for his Jewish background, Lear said he’s not religious but “culturally, I couldn’t believe myself to be more Jewish.” He said his “deepest belief” is that the 1,400 people in the theater that night each “have their own compact with the almighty,” which they are free to express. “But not in the public square,” he added.

The next night, after a showing of “Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg,” the 74-year-old comedian took the stage with festival program director Jay Rosenblatt and director Marshall Fine. Commenting on the film, Klein quipped, “It’s hard to describe the advantage of seeing your obituary when you’re still alive. It’s a mind-blower!”

Klein, along with Richard Pryor and George Carlin, is credited with changing the face of comedy and influencing those who followed him, such as Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart and Billy Crystal, who were among many commenting in the film. Klein’s stand-up routines, Broadway and HBO shows and appearances with Johnny Carson and David Letterman were also featured. Klein said he’s still working, though less. And “Jewishness is always in the forefront.”


Capitol honors

Maya Winshell

A painting by Maya Winshell, 17, a senior at Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, is hanging in the U.S. Capitol after taking top honors in California’s 14th district in the annual Congressional Art Competition. The honor included a free trip to Washington, D.C., where Maya and her parents, J. senior editor Sue Barnett and Jason Winshell, attended a reception on June 23.

In remarks at the event, committee co-chair Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina joked that the annual competition (in which more than 650,000 high school students have participated over 34 years) “is one of the few bipartisan issues we can all agree on.” At the time, a Democratic sit-in to demand gun reform was going on upstairs in the House Chamber. Said Barnett: “It was an exciting, proud day for us, both as parents and as citizens.” Maya’s oil painting “Reflection” will hang in the Capitol for one year. (See the art at www.tinyurl.com/congressional-art-winners.)


Korean War remembered

J. board member and retired judge Quentin Kopp spoke at the unveiling of the new Korean War Memorial on Aug. 1 in the San Francisco Presidio.  Kopp is president of the Korean War Memorial Foundation, the association that built the monument. Hundreds of veterans and other residents gathered for the moving ceremony.

by Suzan Berns