Jewish S.F. man, a ray of light, drowns at family reunion

A Jewish man from San Francisco died just two weeks after his 50th birthday when he was caught in a powerful riptide off the North Carolina coast and drowned.

Keith Goldstein

Keith Goldstein had arrived at Mirlo Beach two days earlier for a family reunion. On Sept. 18, he was swimming with his son Zachary, 19, and niece, Natalie, 13, when the current pulled them all under. Zachary and Natalie were rescued, but Goldstein was not pulled from the water in time.

“It was very, very tragic … Keith was a real lover of life,” said Goldstein’s nephew, Luke Sorensen, 28. “I have never met anyone like him. He was a ray of light. He always filmed every family event, and you could always hear him chuckling in the background of every video he took.”

Goldstein was born in Queens, N.Y., and grew up on Long Island. He graduated from the State University of New York at Oneonta, where he met his wife, Maribeth. They were together for 29 years and married for 22.

The couple moved to San Francisco in 1982. Goldstein, a veteran financial adviser, most recently worked at RBC Wealth Management in San Francisco.

Goldstein belonged to Congregation Emanu-El and for the past eight years volunteered as the Bay Area regional director of fundraising for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

“Keith respected the open-door policy of that hospital, that they will treat anyone regardless of their religion or ethnicity,” said Stu Korn, a longtime friend. “Keith also was an open door to anybody. He found everybody interesting.”

Goldstein was a big sports fan. He and his sons often went to baseball and football games in San Francisco and the East Bay, and hockey games in San Jose. Goldstein also loved cheering for his sons at their basketball and baseball games.

Young at heart, he skied and was a member of a men’s hockey league in San Francisco.

Friends and relatives described him as generous, gregarious, curious, “a real mensch” with an infectious joyful attitude.

“He was the guy to set the mood. If he was around, you couldn’t not have a good time,” Sorensen said.

“Whatever he had, he shared,” Korn added. “He wanted people to have a good time around him … He was a guy who loved everybody. He truly found things to love about people.”

But he had a serious side, too, Korn said. Goldstein could always be counted on to be a good listener and dispense honest advice.

“If you went to him to just talk, about something serious, he wouldn’t say a word, wouldn’t cut you off, he just sat there and listened,” Korn said. “And because he

wasn’t a bulls— kind of guy, he’d be straightforward and tell you truthfully what he heard and what he thinks.”

Goldstein delighted in life’s small pleasures. He loved good food and good beer. He was sincere and without pretension, Sorensen said, and had a “terrible sense of fashion.”

“He was very genuine and not concerned with things like his looks or curbing his New York accent,” Sorensen said.

The day before he died, he achieved a longtime fantasy when he took the controls of a prop plane during a flight over North Carolina piloted by his wife’s cousin. Goldstein, his son Zachary, nephew Sorensen and the cousin took off from Roanoke Island and flew over the Outer Banks, the Atlantic Ocean and the town of Nags Head.

They landed at Kitty Hawk and visited the spot where the Wright Brothers first took flight. On the way back to Roanoke Island, Goldstein steered the plane for about 30 minutes.

“It was a beautiful and spiritual experience,” Sorensen said. “All of us felt a deep sense of gratitude to be there [at Kitty Hawk]. I can tell you firsthand, he was in his glory the day before he died.”

Goldstein is survived by his wife, Maribeth; his sons, Zachary, 19, and Jonah, 14; and his mother, Helene Goldstein.

A funeral service was held Sept. 23 at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. Donations in his memory can be made to the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Northwest Region, 703 Market St., Suite 1901, San Francisco, CA 94103.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.