(JTA) — Just a few years into her comedy career, Lisa Geduldig was invited to perform standup at the Peking Garden Club near Northampton, Massachusetts. She went to the gig assuming it was a comedy club.
“I just had the most ironic experience,” Geduldig remembers telling a Jewish summer camp friend on the phone in October 1993. “I was just telling Jewish jokes in a Chinese restaurant.”
As a Long Island native who was by then living in San Francisco, she was very familiar with the tradition of Jews eating Chinese food on Christmas, a product of the neighborhood dynamics between Jewish and Chinese immigrant populations living in New York’s Lower East Side from the end of the 19th century.
After ruminating on it, she thought: why not start a Jewish comedy night on Christmas Eve?
She had enough time before the holiday to find other Jewish comics who liked the idea, write her own press release and partner with a restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown with banquet room space open on Christmas Eve to organize the event, which she called Kung Pao Kosher Comedy. (Geduldig liked the alliteration, even though it doesn’t involve kosher food.)
It was an instant hit, with around 400 guests, and Geduldig said nearly 200 people were turned away at the door. The kitchen of the Four Seas Restaurant was completely unprepared for the volume, as Geduldig didn’t expect anything close to the turnout. The show received a heap of local press, and the next year it earned a three-quarter page spread in The New York Times.
Fast forward and this year marks the 30th Kung Pao Kosher show, and the first one back in person since the COVID-19 pandemic. This time, the event has moved into a synagogue — the Reform Congregation Sherith Israel in the Pacific Heights neighborhood, one of the country’s oldest Jewish houses of worship. The Chinese banquet room at New Asia Restaurant, where the show had been hosted since 1997, became a supermarket in 2020.
Over the years, an impressive roster of comedians has performed, including names such as Marc Maron, Margaret Cho, Shelley Berman, David Brenner, Judy Gold, Gary Gulman and Ophira Eisenberg. Many of the show’s comedians return — Wendy Liebman, who has been doing standup for 38 years, has performed at Kung Pao four times.
Geduldig — who is now a publicist and comedy show producer, in addition to a comic — said the show that put her project on the map was when well-known Jewish comedian Henny Youngman headlined in 1997, at 92. Youngman — famous for his quick succession of clever one-liners and interludes from his favorite prop, a violin — died of pneumonia just two months after giving his final performance at Kung Pao Kosher Comedy. For six months after Youngman’s death, Geduldig and other Kung Pao promoters and staff were convinced that they killed him. The SF Weekly published an article titled “The Gig of Death?” But Youngman’s daughter, Marilyn Kelly, exonerated everyone involved in the show, saying the travel was a strain on her father’s health, but he was “delighted to have done it.”
Ten years after Youngman’s final performance, Shelley Berman, then in his 80s, was scheduled to perform at Kung Pao when he called Geduldig complaining of chest pains.
“I go, ‘No! I can’t kill another one!’” she recalled.
It turned out to be just acid reflux, and the emergency room doctor told Berman he could go onstage. (The doctor was extended an invitation to the show, but did not attend.)
In keeping with the Jewish tradition of social responsibility and tzedakah, meaning “charity” or “justice,” Geduldig has given a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales each year to two different charities. Past beneficiaries include a variety of Jewish and secular organizations; this year, the charitable proceeds will go to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank and The Center for Reproductive Rights.
The charitable aspect is part of what keeps Shelley Kessler, a long-time California labor leader, coming back to the show. She has yet to miss a single one.
“Given what’s going on in the world, this is a very nice way to manage the depression,” Kessler said.
At Kessler’s table, her core group of five always bring tchotchkes and booze — though the synagogue has asked this year’s guests to refrain from red wine, to avoid any accidents on the carpet.
“People bring all kinds of things,” Kessler said. “We once had a humongous menorah. Our table has fun, I’ll tell you.”
This year’s lineup of comics includes Mark Schiff (Jerry Seinfeld’s longtime opening act), Cathy Ladman and Orion Levine. Lisa Geduldig will emcee in her customary tuxedo, accented this year with a Cuban guayabera shirt.
Joining Kung Pao on the virtual stage for the third time is Geduldig’s mother, Arline Geduldig, 91, who will Zoom in from Boynton Beach, Florida.
“One of the silver linings of the pandemic was not only living with my mother, but getting to know each other, finding out how funny she was,” Lisa Geduldig said.
In March 2020, the younger Geduldig flew to Florida to visit her mother — and stayed there for 17 months. That was when she launched Lockdown Comedy, a monthly online comedy show where Arline got her start, thanks to some mentoring from her daughter. Arline’s routines are often centered around her fascination with handsome young firemen and the way she calls her husband, Irving, downstairs for dinner.
“I love people saying they like me,” Arline told the Los Angeles Times in 2021. “I have a swelled head already.”
In previous years, Geduldig said she tried to turn “a Chinese restaurant into a synagogue.” She brought inflatable dreidels, giant matzah ball pillows and “Happy Hanukkah” banners, when Hanukkah and Christmas overlapped. Things are trickier now, since she wants to avoid any cultural appropriation while still paying tribute to the show’s origins. For instance, she learned that red paper lanterns are symbolic of good luck in Chinese culture, so she wants to incorporate some into the room.
“This year, I’m turning a synagogue into a Chinese restaurant,” she said.
Although the food will still be provided by a local Chinese restaurant, the usual fortune cookies filled with Yiddish proverbs will not be included. The food isn’t kosher, but because the event is being held in a synagogue there are still restrictions: No pork and no shrimp, despite Geduldig’s 30-year streak of serving treif (or non-kosher) food at Kung Pao Kosher Comedy.
“I was like, ‘How about if I call it kosher prawns?’” Geduldig joked. “They didn’t go for it.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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