Family photos of "Before Us" director Hedia Maron and two of her siblings.
Family photos of "Before Us" director Hedia Maron and two of her siblings.

At SF DocFest, secrets from a Jewish mother’s hippie past

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One day in 1969, Linda Goldfine left work at a Boston department store and hopped aboard a West Coast-bound van full of hippies she had just met. They ended up at a commune in the Santa Cruz mountains.

Goldfine, who was 21 at the time, would live there for a year and a half before moving to San Francisco. It was the era of free love, and she fully embraced her newfound freedom, sexual and otherwise.

“A lot of kids were leaving home,” Goldfine says in a new documentary titled “Before Us.” “A lot of people hitched cross-country. A lot of people went from California to the East Coast and the East Coast to the West Coast.”

She adds, “It wasn’t that unusual. Maybe more unusual for a Jewish girl from Newton, especially one that hadn’t been out the door without permission from her parents for 19 years.”

Goldfine left home without telling her parents where she was going, and they hired a private investigator to try to locate her. She eventually called them from Santa Cruz to tell them she was safe — and that she had given birth to a daughter.

“Before Us,” a stylish and surprising family portrait that touches on a range of weighty issues — abortion, adoption, fertility, religion, illness — is streaming now through June 11 as part of the San Francisco Documentary Festival. On Sunday evening, director Hedia Maron will participate in a Q&A following an in-person screening at the Roxie Theater.

“I do think it’ll be of interest to Jewish audiences, especially ones that rebelled against their upbringings,” Maron, who is one of Goldfine’s daughters as well as a cousin of comedian Marc Maron, told J.

As Goldfine recounts in the film, she gave the daughter she birthed in Santa Cruz up for adoption — she asked the agency to place her in a Jewish home — and then tried to forget about her and move on with her life. But in 1993, the young woman tracked her down thanks to a helpful telephone operator. They exchanged letters for a while before meeting in person.

Hedia Maron
Hedia Maron

Maron interviews her mother and her two brothers, as well as her half-sister Julianne, about the bumpy road they all traveled together. (It seems that Maron’s father was more devoted to Meher Baba, the Indian guru, than to his family.)

“I thought that finding her and meeting her would be something like you see on ‘Oprah,’” Julianne says. But the reality was very different. And their reunion took place before Goldfine revealed another secret she had kept from her children (no spoilers here).

One of the lighter moments of an admittedly heavy film comes when Julianne talks about the name Goldfine gave to her at birth, Nile. A friend told her, “That’s a really beautiful name. Moses was put on the Nile to find a better life, and your biological mother really put a lot of thought into that name.”

In fact, Goldfine chose the name because a boyfriend of hers — who may or may not have been Julianne’s father, she isn’t quite sure — was named Neil.

Other films showing at SF DocFest that might interest Jewish viewers include “Nafkot: Yearning,” which follows Israeli anthropologist Malka Shabtay as she meets with members of an isolated Jewish community in northern Ethiopia, and “Sweetheart Deal,” directed by Elisa Levine and Gabriel Miller, about four female prostitutes in Seattle, one of whom is Jewish, as they navigate a dark world of drug addiction and sexual violence.

San Francisco Documentary Festival

Through June 11. $10 to stream an individual film, $90-225 for passes.

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.