Mary Ann Kirsbaum, Sandra Bernhard and Harry Kirsbaum in Columbus, Ohio,
Shawn Colton and Sandra Bernhard belt out an REO Speedwagon song at the Ark.
streets. Throughout the day, we barely saw
a dozen people; and it made Flint look,
We stopped at our old shul,
Congregation Beth Israel, which holds spe-
cial memories for Sandy.
"I remember Morrie Bickoff's mom,
Sophie, did all the catering. She'd come in
with her rolled-down stockings, and she
worked her tuchas off. She did all the bar
mitzvahs and weddings:' she said. "When
you think about all the people that you knew
in your life, you'd also run into them at shul
because people don't go to shul like they
once did. That was a real gathering place:'
Just like the Units, the gathering place
turned into another Baptist church, with a
multi-colored glass cross embedded in the
We wanted to go inside and see the
sanctuary, but it was closed. She posed
beside a tree by the Hebrew school
entrance that she used to hang out under
with other kids from shul.
Sandy's Spiritual Side
When her grandfather, George Schwartz,
was older, he went every day to morning
minyan and evening services, and he led
the family seders.
"He was from Russia, and when you
think about how much has happened in
the last 100 years, and families totally re-
establishing themselves in a whole new
world, it makes you more compassionate
toward people who also want come to
America and establish their lives:' she said.
"In many ways, we all snuck in just
the way people from South America
and Central America and Mexico do.
Most people want a better life, and we've
stopped offering the better life because
everybody we know got in under the wire?
I have a big problem with that.
"If anybody should be leading the
charge to opening this country to other
people, it should be the Jews:' she said.
"Jews have had it the hardest and have
been through more than most people and
were turned away. We should open our
hearts and our arms to people who are
also having a hard time in other places:'
She attends Shabbat services every week
at a shul or a Chabad house, no matter
where she is. In Ann Arbor, we went to
University of Michigan Hillel.
Sandy, also known as one of the people
who introduced Madonna and Hollywood
to Kabbalah, is still profoundly spiritual
but — as in the rest of her life — on her
"I like a lot of the things that I picked up
at the Kabbalah Center;' she said. "I found
the center a little bit dogmatic and limit-
ing. They have their own thing. They want
to control people to a certain extent and
dictate how people are supposed to live
and how they're supposed to practice their
spirituality. That's when I started getting
She said that Judaism "needs an overhaul:'
"The super ultra-religious Jews have
gone over the edge. They're repressing
women. What they did to the 8-year-old
girl in Israel, spitting on her. All religious
fundamentalists have disregard for women
and treat them like chattel.
"People have to stop having so many
children, and the ultra-religious are baby
machines. It's antithetical to the way we
live in this world and the environment,
and it's no good for anything," she said.
"How can you really raise your child the
right way when you have 10 others to deal
with? They just raise each other, and you
have no real connection to your child. I
find that really strange:'
A New Friend
Before we left Flint, Sandy wanted to
finally meet Shawn Colton, a singer and
writer who lives with his wife and son
in Flint. He wrote Sandy on Twitter and
they became kindred spirits through the
Twitterverse. Shawn is writing Legends of
the Boo-Monster, a children's book based
on his autistic son, David.
Sandy planned to invite Shawn on
stage to sing a duet for her closing num-
ber, which is a rarity. She has traveled
all over the world appearing in her one-
woman shows filled with stories that blast
Hollywood, politics, American culture or
anything else that crosses her mind. And
the lady can sing.
Later that night over dinner, Sandy said
she'd incorporate some of what she saw in
Flint into her show.
"The great thing about doing your own
work, you can constantly weave in your
day-to-day experiences and keep evolving
your show and making it fresh. It's also rel-
evant for the people who come to see you:'
She loves performing live but would like
more television work. She has appeared
on Roseanne's Nuts and will appear on The
Neighbors, as a driving instructor.
"It would be nice to have a more regular
presence on television, so I wouldn't have
to rely on this so heavily. It's just exhaust-
ing to travel; it takes its toll," she said.
"It's not the end of the world that I have
to — it could be a lot worse. The good
news about being a self-starter and writing
your own material and doing what I do,
you can sustain your career your whole
At the Ark on Friday and Saturday
night, Sandy mentions the weather and
her tour through Flint, but she doesn't
make it funny. She skewers Whole Foods,
and Barney's Christmas catalogue,
describes Jane Fonda's 75th birthday party
and everything else that crosses her mind.
She belts out four songs with a three-
piece band she put together locally and
invites Shawn on stage to sing REO
Speedwagon's "I Can't Fight This Feeling"
to close out a sold-out show.
February 21 • 2013