Rebuilding lives, one broken tile at a time


It was an elegant opening for a gallery exhibition.

Artists and art enthusiasts mingled affably among more than 230 original mosaics — elaborate and dramatic, whimsical and rhythmical — that included mirrors, light boxes, flowers pots and Judaic designs with hamsas and candlesticks. They sampled catered hors d’oeuvres and listened to remarks by Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster. This exhibition, titled, “Pieces of Hope,” opened Nov. 2 in the Alpert Jewish Community Center‘s Pauline and Zena Gatov Gallery and runs through Dec. 1.

It was difficult to discern, on the surface, that the artists represented some of Los Angeles’ most impoverished citizens, residents of Skid Row and South Los Angeles, who are actually using the broken bits of tile, stone and other rejected and recycled materials to rebuild their own lives. They’re participants in a microenterprise arts initiative called Piece by Piece, and they generally receive 80 percent all of sales proceeds. On that day, about 50 pieces sold, amounting to $8,500. But the financial reward is only part of the program’s success.

“I hate to be a drama queen, but this has pretty much saved my life,” said Paula LeDuc, 58, a Skid Row resident, recovering addict and breast cancer survivor who had two frames made of fossilized stone featured in the show. “It’s given me something to do.”

Piece by Piece is the brainchild of Sophie Alpert, 50, daughter-in-law of Long Beach JCC leaders Barbara and Ray Alpert, who was impressed on a trip to South Africa in spring 2006 by microfinance projects that enabled HIV-positive women to create placemats, dolls and other objects with beads.

“It seemed so simple,” said Alpert, who compared the seemingly hopeless conditions of those South African women and their families to what she calls “Third World” areas of Los Angeles. She had worked as a grant writer and fundraiser for the nonprofit family service agency, Para Los Niños, in the 1980s, before taking time off to raise her four children, and she has never forgotten those families.

When she returned from South Africa, she couldn’t forget that experience either.

“I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t get it out of my head,” she said.

Alpert agonized over a way to replicate the microenterprise bead workshops, which she knew were impractical for Los Angeles, until she came up with the idea for mosaics — something not prohibitively expensive, something that could be easily taught and done independently, and something that produced colorful and relatively quick results.

Artistically inclined and experienced in mosaics, Alpert nevertheless returned to school, taking three weekend classes at the Institute of Mosaic Art in Oakland. She also set out to find instructors — insisting on hiring and paying professional artists and teachers, including current artistic director Dawn Mendelson — as well as venues.

Alpert saw these first moves as a kind of pilot program, to determine if the idea was even viable.

“I couldn’t answer every question; I just had to start,” she said.

Can Artwork Mend Fences?


Before the Beirut airport closed during Israel’s recent war with Hezbollah, a shipment of pillows, shawls and jackets sewn by Palestinian women living in Beirut refugee camps was sent off to Los Angeles’ Craft and Folk Art Museum.

These objects, all exquisitely ornamented, were destined to become part of the exhibition, “Sovereign Threads: A History of Palestinian Embroidery,” where they would share space with richly decorated fare dating from 1830 to the 1940s. The show opened last month as Israel fought Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas near the Gaza Strip border.

While images of bombed cities and wounded and suffering victims on all sides dominated the news, “Threads” offered a different window into the region: a rare opportunity to view Palestinian embroidery, considered among the finest in the world, in what is perhaps the first show of its kind in Los Angeles.

On display are gowns embellished with vivid crimsons and detailed geometrical designs, symbolizing a girl’s maturation and readiness for marriage (muted clothing is reserved for matrons).

A married woman’s headdress from 1930s Bethlehem sports a tall, conical cap studded with Ottoman coins, coral beads and silken embroidery — all connected to the delicate silver jewelry that was intended to hang over her dress.

Other gowns glow with wide swathes of multicolored, iridescent silk or cotton cloth, covered with stitching so vibrant it appears to undulate. The colors include magentas, oranges, reds and golds; the meticulous patterns resemble Cyprus trees, double-edged combs or acanthus leaves and cups (symbolizing health and happiness), among other designs. Five circles on chest pieces from the once-Christian city of Ramallah represent Jesus and the four Apostles.

Additional new works are for sale in the museum’s gift shop, with all proceeds to go toward human services in Palestinian refugee camps, museum director Maryna Hrushetska told The Journal.

“Threads” (which closes on Oct. 8) has proven so popular, she added, that museum attendance is up more than 25 percent. It’s the latest success for an official who has helped put her once-imperiled institution on the map on Wilshire Boulevard’s Museum Row, with well-received exhibitions, such as the current “Tigers and Jaguars: L.A.’s Asian-Latino Art Phenomenon” (through Oct. 29), which burst stereotypes about folk art. “Sovereign Threads” follows suit — but it weaves a story that may raise eyebrows for some in the Jewish community.While the show does not overtly refer to the recent fighting near the Gaza Strip, or to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general, it subtly but unmistakably depicts the conflict from the Palestinian point of view.

The exhibition begins with a map of the region that makes no mention of Israel (it notes “Palestinian subdivisions according to the British Mandate,” 1917-1948). A timeline in the show does not mention the ancient Israelite kingdoms, or the subsequent (and significant) Jewish presence in the Holy Land. Nor does it describe Arab offensives that precipitated at least two wars, as described by an analyst for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The omissions are significant, several analysts explained.

“All this effectively deligitimizes the historical Jewish presence in the land of Israel,” said Yehudit Barsky, director of the division on the Middle East and international terrorism for the American Jewish Committee.

Barsky added that one exhibition sponsor, the A.M. Qattan Foundation also funds organizations such as the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee and Orient House, “the symbol of Palestinian aspirations for autonomy and solidarity in Israeli Occupied Jerusalem,” according to the Web site, orienthouse.org.Even the title of the exhibition — and Hrushetska’s take on it — suggests it crosses cultural boundaries into the realm of advocacy for the Palestinians and their cause.

“The term ‘sovereign’ describes self-rule, autonomy, and independence — all still painfully absent for Palestinians in the political sphere,” Hrushetska wrote in the “Threads” brochure. “However, from a cultural perspective, the term takes on a more comprehensive meaning…. The costumes and embroidery on display are living records of Palestinian ‘cultural sovereignty’…. As they revive a culture in peril, the Palestinian women who create contemporary embroidery in refugee camps are also preserving their own imperiled dignity.”

When asked whether the show is biased, Hrushetska doesn’t entirely say no. She ties “Threads” to a continuing debate among curators over what has come to be called “the politics of representation”: Just who gets to tell a people’s story?The debate emerged in sharp focus when museums attempted to describe Native American history from a United States perspective some years ago, Hrushetska said.

“As a curatorial policy, if I’m going to show somebody’s culture, I will show it from their perspective — that’s the only authentic way,” Hrushetska said. “If we did a history of Israeli embroidery, how would the Jewish community feel if Palestinians narrated it?”

Hrushetska, who grew up in Chicago and is in her late 30s, is quick to acknowledge that she is an unconventional museum director. Her background is in international relations, not art history or museum management. She believes that most people mistakenly view folk art as “quaint, nostalgic or something their grandparents used to do.”

She wishes to help reframe traditional art in a contemporary, relevant light, while promoting cross-cultural understanding in Los Angeles and around the globe.

Yet such issues were far from her mind when she caught her first glimpse of Palestinian textiles 18 months ago, around the time she arrived at the museum. The setting was the ultramodern Venice home of 75-year-old artist Huguette Caland — daughter of Lebanon’s first president, Bishara al Khuri — who is known for her own artwork, as well as for opening her home to salons frequented by Los Angeles’ cultural community. In a corner of Caland’s vast studio, Hrushetska spotted a brown velvet chaise lounge covered with pillows embroidered by Palestinian women in Beirut refugee camps.

Hrushetska, a Ukrainian American who grew up in a house filled with her grandmother’s embroidery, immediately assumed the pillows were Ukrainian.”Even though I consider myself a globalist, I defaulted to my own heritage,” she said.

But she learned that her connection wasn’t completely off mark: Eastern Orthodox Christians (including Ukrainians) reportedly made pilgrimages to Bethlehem, via Ramallah, from the 15th century onward. Some purchased embroidery samples as souvenirs of the Holy Land, which later entered the visual language of Ukrainian decor.

Caland told Hrushetska her pillows were created in workshops sponsored by the Association for the Development of Palestinian Camps (best known by its Arabic language acronym, INAASH), a United Nations non-governmental organization co-founded by Caland in 1969. INAASH provides refugee women with embroidery materials so they can supplement their incomes through international sale of their handiwork, Caland said.

“Because I’m very sensitive to the plight of women in conflict and war, I decided we need to show this work,'” Hrushetska told The Journal. She believes the work deserves to be shown, as well, because “Palestinian embroidery and costumes are known as some of the most beautiful in the folk art world.”

Through Caland and other Arab American contacts, Hrushetska obtained funding for the exhibition (she declines to name the amount) and a curator, Hanan Karaman Munayyer, who has studied and collected Palestinian costumes (along with her husband, Farah) since 1987.

The exhibition concludes with a video depicting women sewing in an INAASH workshop: “Our financial situation is hardly bearable, that’s why we are working,” one participant says on camera.

“After six or seven hours, I can hardly hold the needle,” another woman says.The museum gift shop has already sold almost $15,000 worth of their handiwork, Hrushetska said; a number of items remain for sale, although the embroiderers ceased working during the recent fighting and were unable to send additional fare while the Beirut airport was closed. (It has now reopened.)

So how can prospective buyers be sure their money will not fund anti-Israel causes? Hrushetska responds that INAASH is recognized as a U.N.-sanctioned organization. (The group did sign onto a letter calling for the Palestinian right of return, according to the Web site administered by Al-Awda — The Palestinian Right of Return Coalition.)

When asked if “Threads” could be perceived as unfair, even irresponsible during a time when Israel is at war with Hamas and Hezbollah, Hrushetska emphasized that the show was conceived long before the current crisis.

“But enough of this,” she added. “I know the history of the region, and this and that U.N. resolution, and I’m tired of it. These conflicts will only diminish when we start to humanize each other…. I think that this is an important exhibition for people to see so they start to humanize Palestinians.

“This show is not about the history of blame,” she added. “It’s about recognizing the dire situation that these women are in, not making a judgment on how they got there. It’s saying, ‘These women deserve to be recognized, because they’ve created something beautiful and relevant.'”

A panel discussion, “Culture, Conflict and Identity,” in conjunction with the “Threads” exhibition, will take place Sept. 17 at the Goethe-Institute, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 100, Los Angeles. (323) 937-4230.

Spectator – The Theme Park Without a Prayer


Bible Storyland must have a guardian angel. Dissolution by the clergy, dormancy for 45 years and a fatal fire were not powerful enough to erase the plans for this Bible-based theme park from history.

And now, art collector Harvey Jordan is working to inform Californians about this piece of their past in a new exhibition at the University of Judaism titled, “Dream Parks: Artwork From the Bible Storyland Theme Park.”

Nearly five decades have elapsed since Nat Winecoff, former Disney promoter and theme park developer, conceived of a $15 million Bible story-based Disneyland-esque place, which he planned to build on 220 acres of land in Cucamonga (now Rancho Cucamonga). Investors included actor Jack Haley and Donald Duncan of Yo-Yo and modern-day parking meter fame. However, the clergy allegedly quashed the idea and Bible Storyland was never erected.

More than 200 drawings and watercolor paintings of Winecoff’s brainchild, created by former Disney artist Bruce Bushman and a handful of other artists, remained after the deal went sour. Another art collector purchased the artwork from Winecoff’s estate and kept it holed up in his apartment until he and his possessions perished in a fire. Miraculously, 50 paintings of Bible Storyland survived the blaze.

Bible Storyland was a unique concept that mingled Disneyland-type family-oriented rides and attractions with biblical stories. A press release issued in 1960 described the plans at length.

To be constructed in the shape of a heart, Bible Storyland would have included different “lands,” each with its own theme, tied to either pre-Christian times, the Bible or the New Testament. Parkgoers would arrive at a Star of David garden and could then saunter through the Garden of Eden and visit Adam and Eve. Visitors could also venture to Israel and ride animals through Noah’s Ark Carousel, explore the inside of the whale with Jonah and watch Moses on Mount Sinai. Other locales would have included ancient Egypt, Babylon and Rome, as well as Ur, where Abraham began his journey to the Promised Land.

Jordan has assumed the role of promoter and savior of the history of Bible Storyland.

“I am now the holder of Bible Storyland,” he said. “From what I understand, I have the rest of the drawings and nobody else has kept them alive or written about it.”

The art can be seen at the Borstein Gallery at the University of Judaism through Aug. 20. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. For more information, call (310) 440-1201 or visit

Vintage Israeli posters, MethodFest, ‘Bush Is Bad’


Saturday the 31st

Theater with a historical lesson comes to The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, with the guest production of “Black and Bluestein.” The dramedy written by Jerry Mayer takes place in early ’60s St. Louis, and tells the story of Jewish homeowner Jeff Bluestein and the issues he faces while deliberating whether to sell his home — in a largely white Jewish neighborhood — to a black family.

Through April 29. $22-$25. 1211 4th St., Santa Monica. (323) 960-4418. ” target=”_blank”>www.methodfest.com.

Monday the 2nd

Another independent film worth your attention is Russell Brown’s “Race You to the Bottom,” which opens this week. The film focuses on the relationship between two friends, Maggie and Nathan. Maggie is straight, and Nathan identifies as gay, and both of them are involved with other people. Despite all of this, however, the two are also in the midst of a passionate affair and decide to take a romantic road trip to Napa together.
Special screenings: Sat., March 31, 7:30 p.m. Post-screening Q-and-A with Russell Brown.

Sun., April 1, 7:30 p.m. 2-for-1 “Girls Grab Your Best Gay/Gays Grab Your Best Girl” promotion. The Regent Showcase Theatre, 614 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. ” target=”_blank”>www.georgebillis.com.

Wednesday the 4th

AFI goes behind the music at the Arclight in their sixth-annual Music Documentary Series. Tonight’s opening night features the 1982 classic “Pink Floyd: The Wall.” Subsequent Wednesdays will screen “Buena Vista Social Club,” “Punk Rock Eats its Own: A Film About Face to Face,” “Shut Up and Sing,” “Rock the Bells” and “Last Days of Left Eye.” Post screening Q-and-A’s with filmmakers are also planned.

Through May 9. 8 p.m. $10-$11 (per screening). 6360 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 464-4226. ” target=”_blank”>www.skirball.org.

Friday the 6th

Following a successful 15-month run in New York, “Bush Is Bad” makes its West Coast debut this evening. Those making up that 30-something percent approval rating will want to ignore this suggestion; others, however, may welcome a show with a bit of comic relief, described as “the hysterical love-child of ‘Forbidden Broadway’ and ‘The Daily Show.'”

Through May 20. $35. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 508-7101.

Capturing Chasidim


As a street photographer, Maya Dreilinger echoes the sentiments of the 1982 “Missing Persons” song “Walking in LA.” Driving around the city, “you don’t see a lot of people walking,” she said. “But the Chasidism are always out on the streets and not just on Saturdays.”

With her camera, Dreilinger spent about two months documenting the streets of the Chasidic community bordering La Brea Avenue. Her exhibition, “La Brea on Robertson,” currently on display at the Workmen’s Circle, presents an intriguing mix of photographs and paintings that in some ways reveal more about the artist than the subject matter.

Born in Israel and raised in Los Angeles, the 30-year-old Dreilinger admits to having pre-conceived judgments about Chasidic Jews before she embarked on her project.

“I believed that their culture was restrictive, that women were always patronized,” she said. “But being around them for two months, I was humbled. Now I have no more anger or resentment, only respect.”

While other photographers have sought to document Chasidism from more of an insider’s perspective, Dreilinger purposefully maintained her distance as an outsider. She wandered around the La Brea area dressed as she normally does and refused the occasional invitation to dinner at someone’s home.

“I didn’t want to go in that direction,” she said. “I wanted to be only the respectful observer.”

Upon viewing Dreilinger’s work, Eric Gordon, director of the Workmen’s Circle, immediately thought of Roman Vishniac’s photographs of pre-war Poland.

“Maya has a discerning eye, and I love the humor in her work,” he said. “As for her subject matter, we may not be a religious-centered organization, but we are devoted to Yiddish culture. A socialist from the 1930s might have condemned this exhibit, but we’ve evolved since then. They [Chasidim] are part of our Yiddish community.”

The majority of Dreilinger’s photographs clearly show her outsider’s perspective. Several depict rear-view shots of Chasidic men and boys walking down the street and radiating inscrutability. A Chasidic boy, shown in the midst of prayer in an unidentifiable interior, seems completely absorbed in his own world. In “Kosher by Kehilla,” two women walking toward a street sign for a kosher bakery appear partially visible. Only their skirts and the top of a hat can be glimpsed.

In contrast, other photos subtly reveal the intrusion of the modern world. “Grandfather’s Touch” shows a little girl, with her father and grandfather, who carries the kind of plastic backpack desired by most trendy kindergartners. In “The Alley,” a group of black-garbed men pass an alleyway near the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard. Three men who appear to be Hispanic laborers inhabit the alleyway. One of them looks at the Chasidim, wide-eyed curiosity written across his face.

Often, Dreilinger succeeds in capturing the community’s varying attitudes in being photographed by an outsider. Some of her subjects smile broadly and pose for the camera. Some regard the camera as an alien interloper.

In some portraits, a sly humor can be found. A striking juxtaposition, for example, appears in “Trio,” where through the illusion of a reflection two young men look as if they stand next to the bust of a mannequin while they peer into the window of a clothing store. At first glance, the headless mannequin bears some resemblance to a Torah scroll.

Dreilinger took 14 of her black-and-white photographs and painted over their surfaces, sometimes leaving only a portion of the original image intact. These are hung situated across from the originals, and many a viewer will be tempted to keep traveling back and forth to cross reference the works. These paintings explode with vibrant color and whimsicality and, for the most part, do not evoke the sense of restraint and limitation found in many of the original photographs.

Take the Chasidic women walking toward the bakery sign. In the painted version, they wear bright red suits. The dress of an elderly woman standing outside the Westside Jewish Community Center on Olympic Boulevard has been colored in with bright flowers suggestive of a Hawaiian lei. In “Close-up,” a young, handsome Chasidic man posing against a wall has been colored and shaded so that he resembles an urban nightlife character from a Toulouse-Lautrec painting.

In other paintings, Dreilinger has added natural landscapes that sometimes enhance and other times completely obfuscate the original photograph. One of these paintings depicts two Chasidic girls with their hands over their mouths wandering amidst a rural, mountainous backdrop. In the original photograph titled “Contemplating Girls,” they stand on a city street with other schoolchildren.

Dreilinger says the paintings brought her “emotional release.”

“I hope I captured what is mysterious about these people and at the same time, beautiful. I wasn’t interested in showing ugliness,” she said. “But I did want to open people’s eyes.”

“La Brea on Roberston: Paintings and Photographs by Maya Dreilinger,” Jan. 22-March 5, Shenere Velt Gallery, Workmen’s Circle, 1525 S. Roberston Blvd. For more information, call (310) 552-2007.

 

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, December 3

Your momma remembers this drama. The Skirball has its last show of “12 Angry Men” this afternoon. The classic courtroom tale about a teenage boy accused of killing his father has been around a while, but gets refreshed by L.A. Theatre Works, with the help of performances by Hector Elizondo, Robert Foxworth, Dan Castellaneta, Armin Shimerman and Richard Kind. A Q-and-A session with noted scholar Rabbi Lee Bycel follows the Saturday performance.

Nov. 30-Dec. 4. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 827-0889.

Sunday, December 4

Today’s concert at the Simon Wiesenthal Center offers an homage in strings to the Romanian Jewish immigrants from 1890-1914, who trekked across Europe to reach ports where they could travel to the United States. Titled “Di Fusgeyers,” and commissioned by the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, the performance is inspired by Stuart Tower’s historical novel, “The Wayfarers” and was composed by Yale Strom.

7 p.m. $15. 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 772-2452.

Monday, December 5

Big-name actors also convene tonight to celebrate another literary classic. “This Is on Me: An Evening of Dorothy Parker” features Broadway veterans Angela Lansbury, Victor Garber, Frances Conroy and others in a staged-play reading of works by the sharp-witted Parker (née Rothschild).

7 p.m. $25-$500. Brentwood Theatre, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood. R.S.V.P., (213) 365-3500.

Tuesday, December 6

Attend the Skirball’s screening of 1958’s “Marjorie Morningstar” this afternoon, part of their twice-monthly “Classic Films” series. The story of a Jewish young woman, struggling between a traditional upbringing and a desire for a less-conventional life was probably never meant to be provocative. But Jewish feminists haven’t exactly approved of Miss Morningstar over the years. Now you can decide for yourself….

1:30 p.m. Free. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Wednesday, December 7

In the nimble hands of Lorel Cornman, Betty Green, Nancy Goodman Lawrence and Mary Beth Schwartzenberger, everything from maps and buttons to fabric and Venetian turpentine become art. The works of these four artists is on view in the University of Judaism’s “Mixed Media” exhibition starting this week.

Public opening is Dec. 4., 2-4 p.m. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1201.

Thursday, December 8

Old world mixes with new, as playwrights Ross Pavis and Howard Teichman premier their play, “Simcha.” The story about a Jewish beggar and storyteller imbued with magical powers might as well have been written by Sholom Aleichem. But, in fact, the stories in the play are all original, based on the “old country” superstitions the playwrights’ parents and grandparents believed.

Limited three-week run closes Dec. 18. $9-$18. Theatre 40, Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills High Campus. R.S.V.P., (310) 364-0535.

Friday, December 9

Playwright Tom Dudzick offers up an interfaith story for the holidays, complete with Christmas Eve miracle. The play is “Greetings,” and tells the tale of an atheist Jewish girl who accompanies her Catholic boyfriend home for Christmas, where she meets his cast of characters family, which includes his very devout parents and mentally challenged 30-year-old brother. Could hilarity not ensue?

$16. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (818) 700-4878.

Spectator – Lessing’s Shots of Liberty


Erich Lessing received his first camera when he exited the synagogue from his bar mitzvah in Vienna in 1936.

“There was no idea of taking up photography as a profession,” said Lessing, 82, from his house in Austria. “In a good Jewish family in Vienna you would only be a lawyer or a doctor.”

But the camera stayed with Lessing when he left Austria for Israel in 1939 to escape the Nazis. There he took photographs for the British army. When he returned to Austria in 1947, he started working as a photojournalist. His interest was the newly communist Eastern Europe, and the photographs he took in Austria and in Hungary during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 have become Cold War icons.

For one week, starting Sept. 25, a selection of Lessing’s photographs of Austria will go on display at the Beverly Hills Country Club in conjunction with Austrian American Day. The exhibition, titled “From Liberation to Liberty” includes images famously emblematic of the period, such as “Four in a Jeep” — a photograph of four military policeman, one each from the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union, a symbol of the post-war occupation in Austria.

Lessing did not stay with this reportage: “After the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, all the photographers who had been there saw that it was not our documents that were changing political decisions. I do not want to downgrade the influence of photography — the photography at the end of the Vietnam War was very influential. But it took another 50 years for the end of communism in Europe.”

In 1960, Lessing started taking photographic “evocations” of the lives of great poets, musicians and scientists, often taking still photographs of their work in museums. The result was more than 30,000 photographs of art, history and archeology that have filled 40 books. But his seminal work remains the photographs of the 1940s and ’50s.

“I found it a very strange title, being dubbed the photographer of the Cold War,” he said. “But I think it is true.”

“From Liberation to Liberty,” will be on display at the Beverly Hills Country Club, 3084 Motor Ave., as part of the Austrian-American Day Celebration. For more information, call (310) 444-9310.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, September 17

Jews of the LBC rejoice as they finally get a film fest all their own. The first Long Beach Jewish Film Festival will be held today and tomorrow, thanks to the support of the Alpert JCC and the Cal State Long Beach Jewish studies program. The lineup features “Gloomy Sunday,” about a love triangle set in 1930s Budapest; “Solomon and Gaenor,” a British love story set in 1911 Wales; “Time of Favor,” an Israeli tale about the clashes between Orthodox nationalists and the military; and “Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi,” a French comedy about a young boy with unique culinary talents.

$10 (each), $36 (festival pass). University Theater, CSULB campus, Long Beach. (562) 426-7601.

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Sunday, September 18

This afternoon, it’s all about sabra women at the first Israel Women’s Festival. Actress Shirley Brener hosts the luncheon that features a fashion show by American-based Israeli designers, boutiques and live entertainment by Maya Haddi, Duende, and DJ Eyal. Proceeds benefit women’s organizations in Israel.

Noon. $65. Eretz-Siamak Cultural Center, 6170 Wilbur Ave., Tarzana. Tickets must be purchased in advance: (818) 980-9848, (818) 702-9272 or (323) 951-0111.

Monday, September 19

The Museum of the Holocaust challenges viewers to compare images of two genocides side-by-side in their new exhibition, “Encountering the Cambodian Genocide,” on display through Nov. 15. Pictures of Pol Pot’s killing fields and camps taken by Chantal Prunier-Grindon make up most of the display, however, a special collage of photographs depicting images from the Shoah and the Cambodian genocide is also hung, forcing the viewer to consider the similarities.

6435 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 303, Los Angeles. (323) 651-3704.

Tuesday, September 20

The Simon Wiesenthal’s film division, Moriah, premiers its latest documentary this evening. Titled “Ever Again,” the film examines the resurgence of violent anti-Semitism and terrorism, and is narrated by former baseball movie go-to-guy Kevin Costner.

7:30 p.m. Director’s Guild Theater, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 553-9036.

Wednesday, September 21

Nicknamed after the Ouija board, photojournalist Weegee literally made a name for himself in the Depression era, and in the process, became as famous as the mobsters and detectives he aimed his camera at. More than 60 make up the Getty’s latest exhibit, “Scene of the Crime: Photo by Weegee,” which runs through Jan. 22.

1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Thursday, September 22

The epic story of one Jewish family’s struggles through the last days of the Czarist Russian regime through the Holocaust became the subject of director-producer Dan Spigel’s indie film, “House of the Generals.” It premieres tonight at the Skirball, with a Q-and-A with Spigel to follow.

6 p.m. and 8 p.m. $8-$12. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (877) 700-7133.

Friday, September 23

Snaps for the Skirball’s new exhibition, “Semina,” which features and takes its name from the Beat art and poetry of the underground magazine created by Wallace Berman. Contributors to the publication included William S. Burroughs, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, John Alton and Charles Brittin. Its content reflected Berman’s varied interests, including visual and literary art, Jewish mysticism, pop culture and current events.

2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, August 13

Spend some quality time with the kiddies before the back-to-school commotion ensues. Saturdays at the Whitefire Theatre, “Precious Piglet and Her Friends” is a musical that teaches kids about self-esteem and friendship. Writer Carrol Mendelson and musician and songwriter Ken Mazur teamed up to create something that was educational for children ages 2 and up, and entertaining for the their parents, too. It runs through December.

11 a.m. $10. 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 990-2324.

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Sunday, August 14

This afternoon, a coalition of organizations commemorates Tisha B’Av, along with the Aug. 12, 1952, Soviet executions of Yiddish writers that closely coincides with the Jewish holiday. The program will focus on the careers of Polish bundist leaders Henryk Erlich and Viktor Alter, and will also feature poems and songs set to the words of Soviet poets.

2 p.m. Workmen’s Circle, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

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Monday, August 15

In the tradition of “Heathers” and “Mean Girls,” comes the latest queen bee satire, “Pretty Persuasion.” Evan Rachel Wood (“Thirteen”) plays rich, sexy and cruel teen Kimberly Joyce who sets out to achieve her dream of being famous, even if it means destroying the lives of others. The film also stars Jewish actress Adi Schnall in the role of a Muslim girl, Randa.

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Tuesday, August 16

Shoop on down to Orange County, the last stop on the national tour of Broadway’s revival of “Little Shop of Horrors.” Actor Lenny Wolpe plays flower shop keeper Mr. Mushnik, who takes in nebbishy protagonist Seymour Krelbourn, and eventually, his man-eating plant, the Audrey II, designed for the production by the Jim Henson Workshop and Martin P. Robinson.

8 p.m. (Tues.-Fri.), 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. (Sat.), 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (Sun.). Runs through Aug. 28. $21.25-$64.75. Orange County Performing Arts Center, Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (714) 556-2787.

Wednesday, August 17

Experiences of summertime, from Canada to Coney Island to Malibu, make up Forum Gallery’s new exhibition, “Summer Days.” Vancouver artist John Macdonald’s paintings of bathers offer an unexpected moodiness, while Jeffrey Gold’s surfer paintings portray his passion for surfing life, and David Levine and Ralph Goings offer varying depictions of Coney Island summers in watercolor.

Runs through Sept. 10. 8069 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 655-1550.

Thursday, August 18

Nicole Krauss’ debut novel was about an English professor who had amnesia. Her latest book, “The History of Love: A Novel,” is also about memory, about how a man remembers his life in his last days. She speaks about the transmission of memory through writing with “Bookworm” host, Michael Silverblatt, this afternoon on public radio station KCRW.

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Friday, August 19

In “Protocols of Zion,” filmmaker Marc Levin explores a frightening worldwide belief that a Jewish conspiracy was responsible for Sept. 11. The film screens as part of this week’s DocuWeek Documentary Showcase, which helps documentary makers qualify for Academy Award consideration. It screens every day, through Aug. 25, at varying times.

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Israeli Artist Paints a Path to Healing


There is something raw about the rough brush strokes in the work of native Israeli artist Rhea Carmi, and about her textured materials, such as sand and stone. But then, there also was a rawness to the tragedy that originally informed and inspired her work.

Carmi lost her brother in the Yom Kippur War and needed a way to cope. When she turned to painting, friends and family told her that she had talent.

The result of this new life path will be on display this summer at the Lawrence Asher Gallery in the museum district of Wilshire Boulevard. Most of the exhibited works will be from Carmi’s “Humanity’s Struggle” series, but there also will be selected works from her “Humanity’s Resilience and Everlasting Spirit” series. The exhibition explores themes the 53-year-old artist has wrestled with throughout her life; the paintings themselves represent her work over the past 12 years.

Carmi’s artistic evolution quickly became about more than confronting the grief of her brother’s death: She’s also had to process warring sides of her personality — the scientist vs. the artist. Carmi studied physiology at Tel Aviv Open University before switching her major to art at Ramat-Gan Institute for the Arts, where she studied under artist Moti Mizrahi, an artist recognized for his conceptual art and use of space, and mixed-media artist Arie Aroch.

“In my work you can see a war between certain characteristics of mine,” Carmi said. “One side of me that wants everything to be in order [with a] vertical flow … like in science. The other is my wild side.”

The paintings in her “Humanity’s Resilience” series utilize Carmi’s chemistry background, tapping into her inner scientist. Jerusalem stone and other raw materials such as sand and rocks recreate the look of antiquity in this series. Through carving into the paint, painting on stone and using ancient Hebrew letters, Carmi creates a cave-painting look that symbolizes the resilience of the Jewish people throughout history. This series is as much about touch as sight; the textures Carmi uses let the viewer feel the layers of history.

Some of the paintings in “Humanity’s Struggle” deal with the universal emotions people experience after trauma or tragedy. Her mixed-media pieces with cookie-cutter figures illustrate the loss of identity that can occur after a tragedy.

One example is “Survivor’s Dance,” a red painting in which various uniform figures dance in a circle, like they are jumping on a trampoline. Carmi described it as a dance of life. The various figures illustrate diverse and individual reactions to tragedy.

An example of her wild side taking over is “Suspended: Humanity Struggles VIII,” with its vibrant primary colors and strong masculine lines, depicting the senseless violence and loss of life in the Middle East. The painting shows several figures being hung. The shock of the subject matter and the rough nature of her brush strokes had museum visitors mesmerized at her last exhibit.

In “Humanity Struggles XXIV,” there are Hebrew letters and a red tzitzit that Carmi said is supposed to look as though it has been soaked in blood. It juxtaposes the struggles occurring in Israel with the calmer constant of Judaism.

“Even though the struggles are very hard, most of the time we fix it. You become stronger and better if there is another disaster because of those struggles,” Carmi said.

Her works, with their vast range of styles, materials and symbols reflect her conflicting sensibilities: “Sometimes one side takes over the other. It depends on the mood…. I could separate my work into the one that comes from my guts and the one that comes from my head. I convey my feeling via the material and the colors and the texture.”

She expects and welcomes a broad swath of reactions to her work.

“People can relate their personal experience to my paintings,” she said, “even though I experience something different than them.”

Rhea Carmi discusses “Humanity Struggles” at the Lawrence Asher Gallery, June 23, at 7:30 p.m. The Humanity Struggles Series (1991-2003), will be on display through July 9 at the Lawrence Asher Gallery, 5820 Wilshire Blvd. Parking available behind 5858 Wilshire Blvd. For more information, call (323) 935-9100.

Not Just for Kids Anymore


Storyopolis, the children’s art gallery and bookstore, is kicking out children next week for a grownups-only project, an Artists’ Studio Series featuring the not-so-kid-friendly art created by children’s book illustrators they work with regularly.

While appealing to the 21-and-over crowd may seem a departure for the gallery, Storyopolis owner, Matthew Abromowitz, maintains it makes perfect sense.

“What I found out when I looked into the artists was that about 60 percent of them do editorial work for magazines and newspapers, too,” Abromowitz said. He said he believed their adult-oriented art deserved a forum as well.

Thursday’s catered exhibition will feature works by “Little Gorilla” author and illustrator Ruth Lercher Bornstein. Aside from “Little Gorilla” (Clarion Books, 2000), Bornstein is best-known for her books “The Dancing Man” (Houghton Mifflin, 1998) and “Rabbit’s Good News” (Houghton Mifflin, 1997). She has been a published children’s book writer and illustrator since 1972, but the septuagenarian also paints and does collage work inspired by her Jewish heritage and her personal experiences. The aftermath of World War II, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust are some themes she’s explored in her more adult work.

Launched on July 8, the Artists’ Studio Series will feature new art every two weeks in the store’s gallery space. One future exhibition will feature the work of Gennady Spirin, the illustrator of some 30 children’s books, including Madonna’s recently released “Yakov and the Seven Thieves” (Callaway Editions).

Free. 116 N. Robertson Blvd., Plaza Level A, Los
Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 358-2509.

Kershaw Museum Plans Ethiopian Show


Timed to coincide with the Bowers Museum’s “Queen of Sheba” exhibit, the Kershaw Museum at Temple Beth El is organizing its own sampler exhibit of artworks by Jewish Ethiopians and Yemenites, who believe themselves to be the queen’s descendants.

The museum is seeking to borrow examples of Ethiopian and Yemenite art or artifacts from local collectors for possible exhibition, beginning Oct. 14. Descriptions and photos of the items should be submitted before Aug. 1 to Irene Breisacher, a volunteer at the Aliso Viejo synagogue, who is helping organize the exhibit.

“A lot of people went to Israel when the country was new and bought Yemenite art, but they didn’t tell you it was Yemenite,” said the museum’s director and founder, Norma Kershaw. “Ancient or modern, whatever people have” would be welcomed.

Typical works are silver Bible covers with fine filigree work. Ethiopian folk art is evident throughout Israel, produced by resettled Ethiopian Jews, who fled religious persecution and deteriorating economic conditions in their homeland en mass beginning in 1984.

Kershaw, who previously created exhibits on Chanukah and Israeli art with examples borrowed locally, hopes to fill three exhibit cases with at least 100 items. One person has offered Ethiopian costumes.

The exhibit’s logo is likely to be a pillow cover featuring King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, which Kershaw obtained recently in Los Angeles from an importer promoting modern folk art by Ethiopian Israelis.

The Bowers’ Sheba exhibit will open Oct. 17 and will feature 100 treasures, some from the first century, chosen from the vast collections of the British Museum.

As part of an archeology trip to Yemen in 1985, Kershaw said she looked without success for scientific evidence to support the biblical legend. According to legend, Sheba ruled an ancient kingdom that prospered as a trading crossroads between Jerusalem and the Roman Empire; she was seduced and married to King Solomon around 950 B.C.E.

Potential lenders should contact Irene Briesacher at
(949) 837-1005 or by e-mail, irene@fea.net before Aug. 1.

An Artistic Homage to Big Brother


Not many artists begin an ambitious new series at 76, but Arnold Mesches did just that after receiving a large box stuffed with FBI documents in 1999. It had taken the Jewish American painter three years and dozens of letters to obtain the 760-page dossier, his FBI file from 1945 to 1972. The papers — obtained under the Freedom of Information Act — chronicle his left-wing activities from the Communist red scare of the 1950s to the Vietnam War era.

Bronx-born Mesches, now 80, wasn’t surprised to learn that FBI agents had tailed him. “The usual variety of cropped hair, suit and tie shadowers, the clichéd kind seen on TV,” he said in a statement. He remembered how “they’d phone, on the pretext of selling car insurance … or snap your picture at a protest march.”

What shocked him were the “special informants” — friends, colleagues, lovers — who had apparently been recruited to spy on him. “[There was] a student who joined us for beer and pizza after class, a close neighbor whose children played with ours, a fledgling artist [I] helped get into an exhibition, a comrade in a meeting, an as– — buddy you trusted with your heart and being, a confidant whose life’s torments were deeply intertwined with your own,” he said.

Their reports not only revealed that Mesches had applied for membership in the Communist Party in 1948, but also the kinds of cars he drove and the hospital where his children were born.

“They knew what papers and magazines I subscribed to…. That I earned my living as a commercial artist, an art teacher, a film-strip artist, as the art editor for frontier, a magazine unfavorable to the FBI, as a lunch truck driver, an exhibiting artist, the director of an art school that — horrors! — showed a Czech film,” Mesches said.

One statement theorized he was a Communist because he “dressed like a Communist” in “rolled up blue jeans with paint spatters, a T-shirt and an old jeans jacket.”

Mesches, who said he was wearing a similar outfit during an interview from his Gainesville, Fla., studio, found the documents dismaying and “creepy.” Nevertheless, he was intrigued by the blacked-out sections that reminded him of color sketches by the late abstract expressionist Franz Kline.

His response was what one might expect of a contemporary artist known for turning personal history into art. He created 57 collages and paintings combining pages of his file with news clippings, photographs from his personal archives, 1950s-era commercial art, magazine illustrations, elements from his own paintings, drawings and handwritten texts. Files reporting that mesches had picketed during a Hollywood strike or the postcard he wrote to president Dwight D. Eisenhower protesting atomic weapons are juxtaposed with media and pop culture images: Sputnick, Batman, Nikita Kruschev, Marilyn Monroe, motorcycle gangs, the Hollywood sign, moviegoers wearing 3D glasses and an ad for Winston cigarettes.

His composition was inspired by a medieval art form: “Just as monks preserved cultural information through illuminated manuscripts, I was trying to preserve a segment of history, albeit my own,” he said.

“Arnold Mesches: FBI Files,” which opens today at the Skirball Cultural Center, is part of growing body of work that explores fears about the misuse of surveillance. The trend includes films such as 1998’s “Enemy of the State” and exhibits like “CTRL [SPACE]: Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother,” which opened in Germany soon after Sept. 11.

While “Files” resonates after that tragedy, the show’s curator, Daniel Marzona, said he was drawn to the series for a different reason.

“I didn’t respond to it so much because of its connection to the Patriot Act or what the Bush administration is trying to do,” he said. “For me, what was fascinating was how Arnold had aesthetically dealt with his own past and the shocking discoveries in his FBI file. At first glance, his collages are well-composed and visually pleasing, but if you look closer, you see they depict very frightening events.”

Many of the pieces mirror the strange, surreal feelings the artist — whose work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum — felt upon perusing his dossier. One diptych juxtaposes an image of sculptor George Segal enshrouding a model’s head in a cast with a fuzzy 1959 photo of Mesches, taken from a camera that had been hidden in a student’s tie.

“I remember that guy,” said Mesches, who lived in Los Angeles from 1943 to 1984. “I couldn’t stand him coming to my private drawing class in mid-August, when it’s hotter than hell in L.A., wearing a white shirt and a tie. I remember saying to him, ‘Hey, take that tie off, relax,'” and he said ‘no, no, no.'”

Other collages recount the years of the Communist witch hunts, when Mesches marched for clemency for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and did a series of paintings inspired by their case. He said the paintings were stolen from his Melrose Avenue studio in Los Angeles on Aug. 6, 1956.

As for “Files,” he hopes the exhibit warns against the government’s recent call for citizen informants — lest America become what he considers “a nation of spies.” If that happens, “The times I’ve lived through will seem like a Zen garden,” he said.

On Jan. 31, 2 p.m., there will be a discussion at the Skirball with Arnold Mesches and experts on, “Censorship and Civil Liberties.” For tickets, call (323) 655-8587.

The Skirball will also be holding a class on “The Art of Social Protest: Mesches and Beyond” on Feb. 7 and Feb. 14, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. $80 (general), $60 (members) $40 (students). For more information, call (310) 440-4651.

Artist’s Works From Death Camp Live On


The final portrait that Friedl Dicker-Brandeis drew was of a child’s face. The portrait is clean and white, and the face has an enigmatic expression of purity, innocence and stark intelligence.

What makes the child’s portrait haunting is that it was drawn in 1944 in Terezin, where children who entered the concentration camp in Czechoslovakia were shown hanging bodies as a warning, faced death by disease and starvation and were often shipped off to the gas chambers to "alleviate" the crowded conditions.

The child in the portrait seems unsullied by the wretchedness of life in Terezin, and the portrait appears to testify to Dicker-Brandeis’ conception of a purer world or the way the world was meant to be.

Dicker-Brandeis was a prolific Bauhaus artist, who taught art to the children of Terezin. Her art and the art produced by the children in the camp under her tutelage is the subject of a new exhibition at the Simon Weisenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance.

Titled "Freidl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin: An Exhibition of Art and Hope," the exhibition is a Dicker-Brandeis retrospective, with artwork displayed from all the periods of her life, including the anti-Fascist photo montages she plastered all over Vienna in 1931 and the vibrantly colorful Kandinsky-like paintings that she did while studying at the Bauhaus in 1923.

The exhibition also displays the stackable chairs Dicker-Brandeis designed, toys she built for children and her architectural plans for the Maria Monstessori kindergarten. The collection shows a woman who was at once practical but whimsical, aggressively political but also soft and gentle.

The art, most of which was in very poor condition, was collected from 24 lenders, many of whom had been friends with Dicker-Brandeis and received the works from her as gifts.

"Her father said to her, ‘Until you become a good artist, you can’t use good paper,’" said Regina Seidman Miller, project director at the museum. "I think she felt guilty that her art was never deserving of good paper. Unfortunately, she used the worst paper always — it is a miracle her art survived. We had to restore everything."

Freidl Dicker was born in Vienna in 1898 and became interested in art at an early age. At 21, she started studying art at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany, which was then a revolutionary new school of art and design. She was so advanced that after her first year, she was asked to be a teacher there, and she taught alongside great 20th century artists and architects such as Kandinsky, Klee and Walter Gropius.

In 1923, she moved to Vienna, and in 1931, she joined the Communist Party there to protest against the growing fascist movement. In 1936, she married Pavel Brandeis, and in 1938 they moved to Hronov, a town northeast of Prague, where she started teaching art to children from local Jewish families.

In 1942, the couple was sent to Terezin, a "model" camp that the Germans set up for privileged Jews, where they were allowed to paint, play sports and produce operas and plays. The Germans used the camp as a ruse to try to convince the International Red Cross that Jews were treated benevolently under the Third Reich.

However, the majority of Terezin’s Jews were transported to Auschwitz, and most of them died there. On Oct. 6, 1944, Dicker-Brandeis was sent to Auschwitz, and on Oct. 9 she was killed in the gas chamber.

But her art survived — in Terezin she hid it between planks of wood — and so did the love that she transmitted to her students there. Dicker-Brandeis was aware of the hopelessness of her surroundings, but it was not something she dwelled on.

"She wasn’t good in a saint-like way," said Miller. "She never told children that everything was going to be OK. What she said was, ‘If you have one day, then you have to live it. And while we are here, we have to do the best that we can.’ So it was a way that they were allowed to be sad and afraid, but they could express it through art."

Dicker-Brandeis had her charges in Terezin draw self-portraits. She was always careful to have them sign their work, so that they could develop self-esteem and retain their identities beyond the numbers that had been assigned to them when they entered the camp. Instead of drawing images of the death and destruction, the children drew flowers and pictures of their friends, among other things.

"Instead of food, she would ask her friends to send her paint," said Ela Weisberger, 71, one of Dicker-Brandeis’ students in Terezin, in a phone interview from New York. "She used the wrapping paper when people were getting packages, and from that we were drawing our paintings."

"Some of the paintings or collages were done on forms from the offices that were in the garbage. She was using every little thing that you could make out of it something," Weisberger said. "You look at her paintings, her beautiful colors, and you feel life in them. I think that she would have been the artist of the century if she would have survived."

Remembrance Through Art


The Holocaust, impossible to grasp in its entirety, has been depicted, in part, through every conceivable format and medium. Two joint exhibitions, now at The Jewish Federation’s Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, surprise with new and affecting insights into the measureless catastrophe.

“The Holocaust Through Czech Children’s Eyes” is a collection of 26 drawings and paintings by 11- to 17-year-old non-Jewish Czech children, created after a visit to the Ghetto Museum at the former “model” concentration camp at Theresienstadt.

The paintings are remarkable, both for their sensitivity and craftsmanship. They range from a defiant “We Are Alive” by 11-year-old Veronika Machova, showing three girls at play, to an almost surrealistic “What the Future Holds for Us” by 17-year-old Jaromir Slaby.

What is even more impressive is that all the paintings were completed in a single day during the Ghetto Museum visit, after the children had learned about the Holocaust in their schools.

The story behind the annual Czech visual arts competition, which last year drew 2,000 entries, illustrates what can be done by one determined woman.

She is Hana Greenfield, a native of the Czech city of Kolin, who was deported to Theresienstadt as a 16-year-old girl. She survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen and came to Israel, where she met and married Murray Greenfield, one of the American volunteers who ferried “illegal” immigrants to Palestine after World War II.

In the early 1990s, struck by the fact that after 40 years of Communism hardly a single Czech child knew anything about the Holocaust and a once-thriving Jewish community, she organized and largely funded an essay competition on the Shoah for Czech students.

The competition drew an unexpectedly heavy response, and the following year she persuaded the Czech education ministry to allow her to organize the painting competition.

Greenfield’s book “Fragment of Memory” (Gefen Publishing House) has recently been translated into English and four other languages.

The second exhibit at the museum, “Recollection: Lost Synagogues of Poland and Russia,” recreates another fragment of the Diaspora at another time.

Susan Cooper, a Los Angeles-born artist now living in Denver, has resurrected the memory of the 16th- to 19th-century wooden synagogues of Eastern Europe through a wall sculpture representing 74 synagogues destroyed during World War II.

Integrating architecture, sculpture and painting, the relief frieze measures seven feet high and 100 feet long. Between the buildings, Cooper has “planted” trees as a metaphor for the tenacity and complexity of humanity and life.

“Each building represents a synagogue, each synagogue symbolizes a community, the spiritual centers of Eastern Europe,” Cooper writes in a catalog of her work.

The two exhibits will continue through Jan. 18 at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, 6006 Wilshire Blvd. Museum hours are Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tuesday evenings until 8 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Sunday, 12 noon-4 p.m. There is no admission charge, but reservations are required. Phone (323) 761-8170.

Experiencing Exile


There are some 39 million refugees and displaced persons in the world today, and Angelenos can get a hint of how they live and survive at “A Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City” exhibition, now in Exposition Park through Oct. 22.

The exhibit will continue at the Santa Monica Pier Oct. 25-29 and at the Earvin “Magic” Johnson Recreation Center Nov. 2-6.

Visitors will become acquainted with the basic elements of a real refugee camp, including shelter, food, water, sanitation and basic health care.

“The appalling conditions of refugees living in camps throughout the world is a tragic – but very abstract – notion for many citizens of the industrialized world,” says Joelle Tanguy, executive director of Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres, the international medical relief organization sponsoring the exhibit.

“Most of us have little or no personal experience that allows us to understand the true horrors faced by people forced to flee their homes,” adds Tanguy. “Their plight is unacceptable, yet lack of knowledge means that little action is taken to change their situation.”

Complementing the refugee camps are a series of lectures and supplementary exhibits, including:”Exiled at Home and Abroad: The Kosovo Crisis,” a photo exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance through Oct. 22.

“Working in a Refugee Crisis: The Volunteer Perspective” at the Ken Edwards Center, 1527 Fourth St., Santa Monica, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m.

“Access to Medical Care: A Human Right,” a panel discussion at the Wyndham Bel Age Hotel, 1020 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m.

“What is Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres?” a report by logistical coordinator Peter Lorber at the Johnson Recreation Center, 905 E. El Segundo Blvd., Nov. 5 at 3 p.m.

The simulated refugee camps are open and free to the public from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the following locations and dates.

Exposition Park, 900 Exposition Blvd. (at Vermont Avenue) through Oct. 22.Santa Monica Pier, North Beach Parking Lot, Ocean Ave. at Colorado Blvd, Oct. 25-29.Earvin “Magic” Johnson Recreation Center, 905 E. El Segundo Blvd. (at Avalon Blvd.), Los Angeles, Nov. 2-6.

For information, call (310) 277-2793. For additional background, access Websitewww.refugeecamp.org

Two Artists at One With Nature


Sculptress Harriet Zeitlin and painter Pat Berger share a lot in common. Friends for many decades, both artists have worked for more than 50 years, have had extensive teaching experience, were active in organizations championing artists’ rights in the 1970s, lost their husbands in the 1990s. They even own terriers (Pilot and Dori, respectively).

So it’s only natural that they should share gallery space. “Natura, Naturata,” a twin exhibit at the University of Judaism, currently displays their latest works. But make no mistake – these are two very different women with very different artistic styles and concerns.

Despite their mutual fascination with nature, there’s no redundancy in “Natura, Naturata” (the title refers to Spinoza’s famous quote “God and Nature are one”). Zeitlin’s sculptures, crafted from palm fronds, are a sharp contrast to Berger’s splashy, quasi-abstract “plantscapes,” as she dubs them.Zeitlin’s quirky artwork crowds her home studio in Brentwood: a pyramid made of discarded gloves, whimsical sculptures of abstract birds, a female built out of reconfigured neckties.”I just respond to found objects all the time,” Zeitlin says. “It’s almost as if the object comes first, and I’m just an instrument.”

Case in point: Zeitlin’s palm leaf series came about quite accidentally when, while walking Pilot around her neighborhood, she was impelled to drag some fallen fronds back home.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do with them,” she says, “but I knew I needed to bring them home.”The fronds became pieces such as “Bride” and the “Windfall” series of hanging pieces, the sleek, slick product yielding an eroticized plasticity, appearing organic and lubricated. With these creations, Zeitlin feels that she has achieved something “very sensual – a feeling of male-female intertwining.”

Initially inspired by the illustrative paintings of Milton Avery, Berger’s art has evolved over the years. She began with humorous slices of Venice Beach life, followed by a darker, socially conscious fascination with the homeless in the 1980s, and the melding of Biblical heroines and natural settings by the 1990s.Through it all, Berger has never strayed far from nature. In “Natura, Naturata,” she will delve deep into floral imagery, blurring the line between literal and abstract representation.

“I do these kind of close-ups of nature,” says Berger, who has worked for the Westside Jewish Community Center for 20 years and presently serves on the UJ’s Arts Council. The painter derived much inspiration from a fellowship stay in Costa Rica, and she has no qualms about abandoning figurative representation for now.

“It’s nice to go back to nature,” says Berger.

“Natura, Naturata” runs through Sept. 10 at the Marjorie & Herman Platt Gallery and the Borstein Gallery at the University of Judaism. For more information, call (310) 476-9777, ext. 203.

The Arts


“Robert F. Kennedy: A Memoir” is a balanced, warts-and-allportrait of the slain politician. Above, right, Kennedy and his sevensiblings with parents Joe and Rose. Above, Robert and brother John in1959. Below, Kennedy on the campaign trail, shortly before his 1968death.

When thecolumnist and author Jack Newfield started work on his documentaryabout Robert F. Kennedy, his mind was rooted as much in the presentas it was in the past. Yes, a large part of the purpose of thethree-hour special, “Robert F. Kennedy: A Memoir” (Discovery Channel,Sunday, June 7, 8 p.m.), was to commemorate and honor the latesenator on the 30th anniversary of his assassination.

But, says Newfield: “I also wanted to showeveryone born after 1968 what it was like and what politicians couldbe like. This is the standard we should hold our politicians to. Notall politicians have to be the way they are now. You can be apolitician who cares about people.”

While the documentary is largely a tribute, it isa balanced, warts-and-all portrait of a man who overcame a privilegedbut conservative background to become a spokesperson for the poor andunderrepresented. His remarkable metamorphosis is presented throughthe use of archival footage and interviews with Kennedy staffers,colleagues and members of his family.

Newfield, who produced and wrote the documentary,is not entirely an unbiased observer. He covered Kennedy’s New YorkState senatorial campaign in 1964, watched him in action in 1965 andrequested an audience with him early the next year to discuss apossible biography. A book editor had suggested that Newfield write abiography of then-New York City Mayor John Lindsay, at the time apresumptive national powerhouse.

“But Lindsay didn’t interest me,” Newfield says.He saw in Bobby Kennedy a far more interesting and challenging story,”a politician in deep flux. I think he was someone who could bechanged by experience.”

As a young man, Kennedy served as counsel for Sen.Joe McCarthy’s Senate Subcommittee on Investigations that, in theearly 1950s, held hearings during which unsubstantiated charges ofwidespread communist infiltration of the government were hurled aboutwilly-nilly. Even years later, as attorney general, when thegovern-ment first became involved in the civil rights movement, thesinger-activist Harry Belafonte told cameras, “I had the sense thathe felt that he did not belong.”

Newfield agrees. “When he first became attorneygeneral, he was pretty limited and almost intolerant of people whowere different,” Newfield says. “Born into incredible wealth, hesuddenly has to work with Martin Luther King Jr. and deal with theassassination of Medgar Evers and the fire hoses and police dogs inBirmingham. I don’t think he understood that in some rural counties,blacks who tried to register to vote would be beaten and killed. Hedidn’t understand that the FBI was often on the side of the racistsand not the government. But slowly he began to developempathy.”

Newfield believes that the murder of his brother,the president, “was the defining event in Robert’s life. He hurt somuch from that that he came to identify with anyone else who was hurtor wounded or grieving in any way. It began to open him up, not justto the plight of blacks but to the handicapped and anyone who wasvictimized.”

While Kennedy was still late in criticizing theVietnam War and didn’t enter the 1968 presidential campaign untilEugene McCarthy showed how vulnerable Lyndon Johnson’s candidacy was,there was a sense that once he entered the race and if he won, allwould be right with the world again.

Newfield was with Kennedy for his briefpresidential foray and planned to publish his book following theelection. He was there when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. “It wasthe worst night of my life,” Newfield says.

In this film, civil rights worker, now CongressmanJohn Lewis, says: “A great deal of hope died with the death of RobertKennedy.”

Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. thinks that “itwould have been a different country” if Kennedy lived.

Not surprisingly, Newfield agrees. “People likeBobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. come around once in acentury. And here they are, both murdered eight weeks apart. Nocountry, no philosophy can recover from that. After him, Democratsdidn’t have his love of country, his feeling for the working class,his capacity to create coalition.”

In the film, Robert Jr., remembers the end toowell:

“We put him on the train to Washington, and Irecall, around Baltimore, just seeing these vast crowds of people,blacks on one side of the tracks and whites on the other, priests andnuns and rabbis. All different kinds of people. Many of them wereholding American flags. You could see that many of them were crying.And then some of them had signs that said, ‘Goodbye Bobby.'”


Curt Schleier is a New Jersey-based artswriter.

Arts Briefs

A Fine Artist

The worlds of art, activism and philanthropyrarely intersect in the body of one person. Ruth Weisberg is theexception. An artist whose works have been acquired by such museumsas the Art Institute of Chicago and the Met, a longtime supporter ofHillel and feminist activist, and the dean of fine arts at USC,Weisberg has helped shape Jewish art and activism in Los Angeles.Last month, the USC Hillel Jewish Center honored her with aleadership award. Event co-chair Scott Stone praised Weisberg as an”inspired spiritual leader.”

To mark the event, the artists created an originaletching, “Rachel,” of which 36 impressions were made and sold toraise funds for the Ruth Weisberg Fund for Arts and Culture.

The event, held at the home of Stanley and ElyseGrinstein, boasted yet another Weisberg accomplishment: Music wasprovided by the band India Ink, of which her son Alfred WeisbergRoberts is a member. — Staff Report

Ruth Weisberg,artist and dean of USC’s school of fine arts was honored by theschool’s Hillel chapter. Left to right, MFA candidate Nicole Cohen,Weisberg and student Marcie Kaufman. Above, Weisberg’s”Rachel.”


‘Bearing Witness’ with Humor

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

“BearingWitness” opens with a wisecracking Yiddish mama from the Old Country,who wears a Dodgers baseball cap under her head scarf while making kiddush , tryingto convince her 38-year-old daughter, a professor yet, that it’s timeto start producing babies.

Fortunately, this clichéd beginning quicklyevolves into a provocative and, at times, moving play.

Playwright Nalsey Tinberg has the willingness andtalent to seriously confront such issues as the legacy of theHolocaust on survivors and their children, generational conflicts, aprofessional woman’s race against her biological clock, infertility,marital tensions, and even a dash of 1960s politics.

If this sounds a bit heavy, it is occasionally,but Tinberg lifts the weight with frequent humorous asides (husbandto wife: “I want to start a family, so we can create our own neurosesin the privacy of our own home”).

The fine four-person cast, under the direction ofKate Randolph, consists of Darlene Kardon as the mother; Judy Kain asher daughter, Sarah; Stephen Burleigh as Sarah’s ex-lover; and BrianCousins, in an impressive performance, as Sarah’s husband.

“Bearing Witness,” which should be of specialinterest to those with Holocaust survivors in the family, playsThursdays through Saturdays, with Sunday matinees, until June 28 atthe Stella Adler Theater in Hollywood. For information, call (310)557-9323.


Music Notes

By Carvin Knowles, Contributing Writer

Klezmer as High Art

“Feidman and the Israel Camerata”

Conducted by Avner Biron, Pläne Records

While the restof the world knows Giora Feidman for his haunting clarinet on the”Schindler’s List” soundtrack, we know him for his searing klezmersolos. His new disc, on Pläne Records, simply titled “Feidmanand the Israel Camerata,” is quite a surprise. Starting out with alight classical work by Ora Bat Chaim, Three Pieces for Clarinet andStrings, the album appears to be pleasant but somewhat pedestrian.Appearances can be deceiving.

The fourth track is Noam Sheriff’s moody andmodernistic “Gomel Le’ish Hassid.” Sounding alternately likeStravinsky and Bernstein, Feidman delivers the goods with dignifiedpoignancy, grace and raw emotion. Next, the dark and energetic “LeGrand Tango” by the acclaimed master of Tango, Astor Piazzola, isperformed with strength, subtlety and a bit of humor. Saving the bestfor last, the disc ends with Betty Olivero’s five-movement”Mizràch.” Edgy and exciting, Feidman’s clarinet sizzlesthrough the dissonant orchestrations with enough angst to curl yourhair. Masterfully conducted by Avner Biron, “Feidman and the IsraelCamerata” elevates klezmer to high art without a trace ofpretension.

Misha Alexandrovich

“The Wunderkind”, Pläne Records

Russia’s winters are long, dark and cold. You willremember this while listening to tenor Misha Alexandrovich’s newrelease, “The Wunderkind.” Touted as “Russia’s best-kept secret,”Alexandrovich has a rich, strong voice and sings with such greatskill and control that he could have been a world-class tenor. Buthis delivery is just plain morose. He plods through Bach airs,Yiddish folk songs and operatic arias with the kind of somberheaviness that will have you calling the suicide prevention hot linebefore the disc is finished. Die-hard fans of Alexandrovich will love”Wunderkind” as a kind of all-time-most-depressing hits. The rest ofus should just skip it.

Etz Jacob: The Shul that Could


Etz Jacob Congregation (above); President Bernard Abend (left)and Rabbi Rubin Huttler (right).

 

Attention,anyone who was ever married or bar mitzvahed at Etz JacobCongregation at 7659 Beverly Blvd.: The shul wants testimonials,photographs and memorabilia for an exhibit honoring its 80thanniversary. The temple is the oldest in Beverly-Fairfax, and,according to Rabbi Rubin Huttler, it’s in large part responsible forcreating the Jewish enclave around Fairfax Avenue.

Today, it perseveres despite the changing demographics, as Jewsare moving to the Valley or the Westside. Huttler struggles to makeends meet with the help of his elderly president, Bernard Abend, “whohas taken us out of crisis after crisis.”

The Orthodox shul’s history begins at the turn of the century,with its founding rabbi, Jacob Bauman, a brilliant scholar fromRiseshitz, Poland. When his son fell ill, the rabbi sought a postoverseas so that he could pay the hospital bills; ultimately, he paid$60 for a steerage ticket to New York and packed kosher food for thefive-day train ride to Los Angeles.

To earn a living, Bauman worked as a shochet, a ritualslaughterer, and in 1918 he founded a congregation in a grandVictorian home at 947 Arapahoe St.

Prohibition brought a bit of drama to this precursor of Etz JacobCongregation. Shul leaders had a permit for the use of ritual wine,but one delivery was stolen when trucks burst into the winery andcrooks tied up the government inspector. The robbery made thenewspaper headlines, the Internal Revenue Service demanded exorbitanttaxes, and it was only after a landmark court case that the rabbi wasexonerated.

Bauman moved the congregation to the Fairfax area almost byaccident. In the early 1930s, he rented a house at 127 S. Martel Ave.to be closer to his grown daughters; he needed a home near thestreetcar line that could get him downtown early for his supervisionjob at the kosher slaughterhouse. Before long, the area’s scatteredJews, who had moved west from Boyle Heights, began to join him for aminyan in his home. The numbers grew so fast that a businessmanpurchased the shul’s current property, a foreclosure at BeverlyBoulevard near Stanley Avenue, for $5,000 in 1933.

A Talmud Torah (religious school) ensued, as did a variety ofJewish services. “I believe Beverly-Fairfax became Beverly-Fairfaxbecause Etz Jacob offered everything a Jew could need, from thecradle to the grave,” says Huttler, who arrived at the shul when itwas still in its heydey, in 1970.

There was a successful Sisterhood and crowded luncheons for whichthe balabustas cooked all day in the synagogue kitchen. Two thousandpeople frequented High Holiday services at three sites.

But by the 1980s, the neighborhood was changing, becoming lessJewish as yuppies moved west and observant Jews moved east to HancockPark and the conservative Orthodox shuls along La Brea. “As amiddle-of-the-road Orthodox synagogue, we’re too modern for a lot ofpeople, and that makes things more challenging for us,” saysHuttler’s wife, Miriam.

Then there was the matter of Etz Jacob’s day school, which Huttlerbegan in 1989 to offer affordable Jewish education to the Russians,Iranians and needy families moving into the area. The problem wasthat most of the children were on scholarship, and the school oftenran hand-to-mouth.

Nevertheless, Etz Jacob persisted, and today it is proving itselfThe Shul that Could. Young couples are enrolling their children inthe Talmud Torah, the only one left in the neighborhood, “which wedecided to keep open no matter what,” Huttler says. A benefactorhelped the day school, which moved from its shabby old premises toits new location on Beverly, six blocks west of the synagogue.

Huttler continues to perform circumcisions and bar mitzvahs forRussian youths, and a successful Iranian minyan endures at the shul,which has about 200 members, half elderly, half young families withchildren.

“We’re reaching out to whomever we can in the area, includingthose who can’t afford expensive synagogue dues,” Huttler says.”We’re challenged to help these people, who don’t seem to have aplace in any other area shul.”

Huttler does not want Etz Jacob to become “another Breed StreetShul, abandoned and boarded up.” Thus, he came up with the idea forthe 80th-anniversary celebration, which will start with a Chanukahdinner on Dec. 28, honoring Judge Bruce Einhorn, and continue with amuseum exhibit, a year’s worth of programming and, most importantly,an endowment fund drive. “We’ve been fighting hard, and we’re stillhere,” Huttler says. “Our goal is to preserve the shul, and we feelwe have an important role to play in keeping Fairfax a traditionalJewish area.”

If you have photos, memories or memorabilia for the shul’s 80thanniversary, call Rabbi Huttler at (213) 938-2619. He’s interested intaking down your oral history.

Art as History’s Witness


Left: “Competitors for Potatoes” by Eli Leskley. “Many [paintings] … are like ghoulishly bright cartoons in which the subject matter is anything but funny.'”

Art as History’s Witness

Paintings from Terezin are on exhibit at the Jewish Federation Building

By Diane Arieff Zaga, Arts Editor

It was 1942 when 29-year-old Eli Leskley, a Czech-born Jew, was sent to Theresienstadt, a fortified ghetto 50 kilometers from Prague. As a visual artist, he was assigned to the sign workshop, where he had access to paper, paint, ink, pencils and other art supplies. With what must have been a combination of remarkable courage and an overpowering need to document what transpired there, Leskley secretly painted dozens of prison-life scenes, mostly with watercolors and ink on office-sized paper taken from the workshop.

In a world where possession of contraband cigarettes was a fatal offense, the risk of discovery for the artist was great. Leskley folded and hid his paintings — many of which were sharply satirical — in the nooks and crevices of the camp, sometimes first tearing off the incriminating text that accompanied them. Some, such as “The Three Kings of the Ghetto” and “Christian Jews are Arriving,” incorporated symbols and metaphor. Others, such as “Return After Disinfection” and “Trading Soup for Bread” were more journalistic in their approach to describing life in the “model” ghetto.

Nazi propagandists may have touted Terezin as a bucolic resort for cultural elites, even prettying it up with tablecloths, flowers and classical concerts for a Red Cross visit. Of course, Leskley and his fellow prisoners knew better. Immediately prior to and after that infamous visit — an elaborately staged sham depicted by the artist in several drawings — the SS shipped thousands of inmates to Auschwitz. Terezin was a closely guarded, disease-ridden place where death — whether from punishment, starvation or the dreaded transport east — was common.

As chance would have it, both Leskley and much of his work survived. After liberation, he and his wife, Elsa, recovered many of the hidden paintings, which they took with them when they emigrated from Europe to Israel.

Now, more than 50 years later, visitors to an exhibition at the Jewish Federation Building can get a look at these drawings, a bitter, detailed vision of camp life. Most of the pictures were done when Leskley was off duty and able to work unobserved in his third-floor bunk. Many of them are like ghoulishly bright cartoons in which the subject matter is anything but funny. The effect is powerful and immediate.

The exhibition is entitled “Terezin: Then and Now.” The “then” portion includes 70 of the works Leskley produced in Terezin, along with his later re-creations of the same. The latter are companion pieces — larger, more highly colored versions of the ghetto-produced originals, done by the artist during his first decade in Israel. The wall text that accompanies Leskley’s works provides an important context for them through its informative descriptions of the physical and sociological conditions that prevailed at Terezin.

A collection of miscellaneous camp artifacts is also on display. Included are postcards, permits for packages and, most heartbreaking, the “Nesharim flag,” a hand-embroidered pennant that was sewn to mark a soccer-tournament victory for the camp’s team of young boys.

The art in the “Now” portion of the show is the result of something altogether different. In 1993, 13 young painters who were members of a master class at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts spent five days at the former site of the Terezin camp. The art students — none of whom were Jewish — hailed from countries as far-flung as Germany and Singapore. Their trip was made under the auspices of Project Gedenkdienst, which translates as Commemorative Service. The 4-year-old program, run out of the offices of Austria’s Interior Ministry, allows young Austrians to substitute 14 months of work at Holocaust memorials for their obligatory eight months of military service. One such intern, Bernhard Schneider, created the Terezin art project, which centered around the class’s trip to the ghetto memorial.

Judging by the haunted quality in many of these paintings, all of the students seem to have been deeply affected by their visit. Their project is described at greater length in the exhibition catalog, which includes brief commentary from Simon Wiesenthal, Vaclav Havel and the group’s professor, Anton Lehmden.

As for Leskley, his art was forged in far different circumstances. As with any other “Holocaust art,” it is difficult, and perhaps pointless, to judge his work by the rules of art criticism. The strength and importance of this show are not necessarily in its sophistication or subtlety of technique but in its power as visual testimony. This is not only art for art’s sake but art for the sake of history. In this capacity, Leskley is a cleareyed and vivid witness.

“Terezin: Then and Now,” at the Jewish Federation Building, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. The exhibition is on display in the Pauline Hirsh Gallery, Museum Gallery, Boardroom and select corridors. For more information, call (213) 852-3242. The Federation will also host a performance of music and poetry from Terezin on June 29 at 4 p.m.

More About Terezin

Film

Several short films about the Theresienstadt Ghetto have been made over the years, ranging from four-minute shorts to hour-long productions. They include a film of interviews conducted with survivors at an Israeli kibbutz and the infamous Nazi propaganda film “The Führer Grants the Jews a City.” The Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles has gathered videotapes of all the Terezin-themed films known to date and is screening them for visitors in its Museum Gallery on Sundays, at 2 p.m., and Thursdays, at 3 p.m. Call (213) 852-3242 for a complete program and confirmed schedule.

Books

Here is a short list of recommended books about Terezin. While some are widely available elsewhere, all of them may be found in the Federation’s Martyrs’ Memorial Library and Jewish Community Library, or may be purchased from the museum book store. Call the number above for a more extensive bibliography.

* Bor, Josef, “The Terezin Requiem.” New York, Borzoi Books, Knopf, 1963. Translated from the Czech.

* De Silva, Cara, ed., “In Memory’s Kitchen.” New Jersey, Jason Aronson, 1996. Translated by Bianca Steiner Brown, forward by Michael Berenbaum.

* Karas, Joza, “Music in Terezin, 1941-1945.” Paperback edition, Stuyvesant, N.Y., Pendragon Press, 1990.

* Schwertfeger, Ruth, “Women of Theresienstadt: Voices from a Concentration Camp.” Oxford, England, Berg, 1989.

* Volavkova, Hana, ed., “I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944.” New York, Shocken Books and U.S. National Holocaust Museum, 1993. Expanded second edition with a forward by Chaim Potok and afterword by Vaclav Havel. — D.A.Z.

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