The Only Holiday Hallmark Hasn’t Designed a Card For

Tisha B’Av, the day of mourning in commemoration of the destruction of the two Temples, is notable for at least two reasons. For one, it may be the only holiday that Hallmark hasn’t designed a card for. And it seems to be the one holiday that most Jews have heard of, but few seem to know much about. As with quarks and RNA and Rothko, we can drop “Tisha B’Av” into a conversation, hoping all the while that we won’t be asked to actually explain it.

Here’s how to fix that: On Aug. 11, at 5:30 p.m., in the social hall of Congregation Etz Jacob (7659 Beverly Blvd.), you can attend a free meal as part of the observance of the holy day. The meal will be served prior to the beginning of the fast and will include a discussion with Rabbi Rubin Huttler on the laws and customs of the meal, the fast and the day of observance.

The meal will conclude across the street from the Los Angeles Holocaust Monument Amphitheatre in Pan Pacific Park. There, participants will eat the traditional hard-boiled egg dipped in ashes, and hear two speakers discuss another traumatic time in Jewish history: the prisoner uprising in the Treblinka concentration camp. U.S. Immigration Judge Bruce J. Einhorn, Adjunct Professor of International Human Rights Law and War Crime Studies at Pepperdine University School of Law, will speak on the lessons of the Temple destructions and Treblinka, and businessman and philanthropist Fred Kort, one of the few remaining survivors of Treblinka, will offer his recollection of the camp.

After the two addresses, the audience will read from the Book of Lamentations under the stars, using only flashlights for illumination. “It’s a very dramatic atmosphere,” Miriam Huttler told Up Front. “It’s a very moving way to mark Tisha B’Av.”

For reservations for the complementary meal, phone (213) 938-2619.

How To Mark Tisha B’Av, Part II

At the Westwood Kehilla Synagogue, a full day of special presentations will mark the Jewish day of mourning, beginning on Monday evening, Aug. 11, and running through Tuesday. In addition to the traditional services, Rabbi Eli Stern will speak about the “conceptual underpinning of the root causes of the various tragedies marked by Tisha B’Av and offer a paradigm for the bringing about of the Messianic redemption of the Jewish people,” according to synagogue publicity. Yaakov Glasser will discuss the elegies that commemorate the tragic events in Jewish history. This is no lighthearted holy day.

At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, the kehilla will join more than 100 synagogues worldwide in sharing a special made-for-Tisha B’Av video featuring Rabbi Yissacher Frand of Baltimore and Paysach Krohn of New York. Both will speak on “Peace Among Jews” and offer practical advice for interpersonal relationships. Why this subject? It was baseless hatred among Jews that brought about the destruction of the Second Temple, writes the Talmud. So why not work to prevent it from happening again?

For more information, call the Westwood Kehilla Synagogue at (310) 441-5288.

How To Mark Tisha B’Av, Part III

One way Up Front chooses to mark the destruction of the Temples is to update readers on the increasingly inevitable destruction of a local one. After The Journal reported last year on efforts to save Boyle Heights’ historic and once-magnificent Breed Street Shul, the Los Angeles Times ran a similar article. A public outcry followed both articles, and the Los Angeles City Council, prompted by the Southern California Jewish Historical Society, enacted a measure to surround the shul with a high fence to keep out the vandals, crack addicts and prostitutes who called it home.

Meanwhile, the parties contesting the future of the shul — the SCJHS, on one side, and Rabbi Mordechai Ganzweig, who claims title to the property, on the other — convened at the behest of an interested community member in an attempt to reach an agreement.

According to a source present at the negotiations — which nearly broke apart in acrimonious debate — the SCJHS agreed to buy the property from the rabbi for a price that the organization would determine. The purchase funds would be put into escrow and distributed to a charity chosen by the widow of Osher Zilberstein, the synagogue’s longtime former rabbi. The SCJHS, in return, signed a covenantal agreement with Ganzweig that the structure would never be used for any religious services other than Jewish. Sources estimate a possible purchase price at around $100,000.

For a while, everybody seemed happy.

But that was August 1996. One year later, the SCJHS has yet to make a firm offer to Ganzweig. One source told Up Front that the historical society is looking into the possibility that the rabbi cannot sell what he doesn’t legally own. Ganzweig’s lawyer claimed during the negotiations that he can produce a clear and unencumbered title to the property. The parties have not been in contact, and none were available for comment as The Journal went to press.

In the meantime, the stately old shul off Cesar Chavez Boulevard — one of the last remaining monuments to that era of Los Angeles Jewish history — continues to decay.

“Tear it down; make it into a social center or a museum — I don’t care what they do with it,” said one of the participants in last year’s meeting. “Whatever they decide, they should have done it already.”

Music, Solemn and Otherwise

To bring you into that Tisha B’Av mood — and to lift you out of it — we can recommend a newly released album available on CD or cassette. In “The Covenant,” keyboardist/producer/arranger Wally Brill combines original recordings of the great cantors of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, lifted from original 78-rpm recordings, with creative vocalizations and new instrumentation. The technique is called sampling, and if it has worked for a generation of great rap artists, why not for a past generation of great cantors.

And it does work. Take the first track, “Kiddush L’Shabbat.” As Cantor Ben Zion Kapov-Kagen sings the traditional blessing over the wine, Ari Langer weaves his lyrical violin work around the cantor’s voice. The same magic is worked in “Rtzeh,” featuring a chilling recording by Cantor Gershon Sirota. And in “A Typical Day,” Brill mixes the descriptions of life in Auschwitz by survivor Helen Lazar with a stunning liturgy sung by Cantor Samuel Malavsky.

Using instruments ranging from the Indian tabla to the Australian didgeridoo, Brill has managed to enrich, not cheapen, these great cantorial recordings. We’ll be listening to it long after this Tisha B’Av, and the next. “The Covenant” is available at most record stores.