At midlife, Paul Shinoff became so interested in Judaism that he was slated to deliver a sermon on Jonah this year at Yom Kippur. Instead, the longtime journalist and public relations specialist was hospitalized.
"It was the first time he couldn't deliver on a deadline," said his brother Joby Shinoff, an advertising representative at the Jewish Bulletin. "It really was hard on him."
On Sept. 21, the Berkeley resident died of esophageal cancer at age 58.
While Paul Shinoff had been a longtime member of Berkeley's Reform Congregation Beth El, it was only in the past few years that he really got interested in Judaism.
Rabbi Ferenc Raj said he used to encounter Shinoff often, as he'd walk his dog and cat right by the synagogue.
"We had wonderful conversations, and we talked about his Jewish background," said Raj. "He regretted that he never had a formal education, so I encouraged him to take an introduction to Judaism class."
Shinoff was married in October to his companion of six years, Debra Barnes. "His new wife converted this year," said Joby Shinoff, "and that got him closer to the temple than he had been before."
Shinoff was born in Los Angeles in 1944 and grew up mostly in Studio City. He was one semester shy of graduating from Cal State Northridge when he was expelled for participating in a free speech rally, which closed down the administration building. He then embarked on a round-the-world trip. He traveled over land from Asia to Paris by motorcycle.
Shinoff moved to San Francisco in 1968. He joined a film collective and worked for some time as a carpenter. Interested in journalism, he launched Labor Post magazine, a publication for union workers. In 1976 he won a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for a piece on the effects of asbestos on factory workers.
He then began freelancing for Mother Jones and became a West Coast stringer for the Washington Post. This led to his employment by the San Francisco Examiner, where he worked from 1980 to 1990.
He won several journalism awards and was named best columnist by the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
After he left the Examiner, he became a senior policy adviser to Sen. Dianne Feinstein during her campaign for California governor. He then founded his own public relations company, The Shinoff Group. He was a member of Public Relations Roundtable and the Public Relations Society of America. He also served on an advisory council of marketing experts with the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.
Shinoff continued to write periodically for the San Francisco Chronicle. On June 16, he published an opinion piece about the Middle East.
"The irony is that had the Arabs not attempted to destroy Israel in 1948, there might not have been a single Arab refugee," he wrote. "On the day Israel declared independence, five Arab states and Palestinian irregulars attacked its Jewish population. The Jews held. Some 800,000 Arabs fled, some under counterattack, others ordered or bullied into leaving by the Arab leadership. There was no Jewish conspiracy to drive them out."
According to Raj, Shinoff was especially interested in the insights he could extract from the Torah to apply to the current situation in the Middle East.
In addition to his wife, Debra Barnes of Berkeley, Shinoff is survived by his brother, Joby Shinoff of San Francisco, and son Joshua Shinoff of Berkeley.
Donations in his honor can be made to Guide Dogs for the Blind, 350 Los Ranchitos Rd., San Rafael, CA, 94903, or Habitat for Humanity, 4319 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94118.