Let it shine with these unique menorahs


Artists and designers in the United States and Israel are broadening and updating the ways in which we pay tribute to Judah Maccabee through the emblematic menorah, commemorating the miraculous endurance of the fabled lighting oil and the resilience that keeps Judaism’s fire lit, so to speak.

“People who buy menorahs for themselves or for others buy them for longevity over generations, [not to] replace them from one year to the next,” said renowned designer Brad Ascalon, whose menorahs and home accessories can be purchased through Southern California branches of Design Within Reach.

“My goal was simple. When the menorah is in use, it should be about the candles and the flames. The object in and of itself should recede to the background, allowing the candles to take over in significance. As for the other 357 days of the year, the menorah can remain on display and be appreciated as an elegant, modern sculptural object removed from its intended function but abundant in symbolism and story.”

Other Southern California-based artists have a similar mind-set — balancing fashion and function with their renderings of the traditional candelabra. Some designs are delicate, fused from colorful glass or curving strands of metal that seem to defy gravity. Others are sturdy and industrial by nature, melding the pragmatic with the profound. 

“Over the past several years, design has become increasingly more accessible,” said Pam Balton, vice president of special projects at Skirball Cultural Center, referring to the eclectic collection of menorahs available at Audrey’s Museum Store at the Skirball. “Architects are creating Judaica, and mainstream designers are including Chanukah lamps in their lines. A Chanukah lamp, a symbol of a miracle and light, is oftentimes a decorative sculptural element in a home to be enjoyed year round.”

Santa Barbara-based Laurie Gross uses references from the past as a starting point for her pieces, rendered in a variety of mediums, including textiles and glass. In 1980, Gross came across a turn–of-the-century Russian chanukiyah depicting a mother eagle feeding her young. She was intrigued by this artifact’s striking symbolic elements, including the bird’s wing supporting the baby birds and their open mouths serving as candle holders.

“I first began to explore the imagery of the wing, which seems to represent God’s all-encompassing and shielding presence, and [this motif] would find a place in some of my textile works,” Gross recalled. “However, the opportunity to reinvent the turn-of-the-century artifact in a contemporary context surfaced when I was invited to participate in the Chanukah menorah show at the Jewish Museum in San Francisco in 1995. My goal with this piece rendered in art glass, titled ‘Of Lights, Knots and Nourishment,’ was to bring together concept, imagery and function.”

Gross’ sweeping menorah is fashioned from two pieces of starfire glass that are etched, gold-leafed and contoured. The design on the back piece that holds the shamash candle reflects the expansive and enveloping wings. The front piece holding the eight candles evokes the gesture of receiving and the openness of the young. “Knots” of the tzitzit have a lyrical sense of movement that can be interpreted as the passage of time or the omnipresence of God. 

Josh Korwin and Alyssa Zukas, in contrast, take a literal nuts-and-bolts approach to menorah design with a guy-friendly, recycle-minded design aptly called “The Man-Orah,” manufactured by a company called Not Schlock and available at Audrey’s Museum Store at the Skirball (shop.skirball.org) and Moderntribe.com. The Los Angeles-based husband-and-wife team describe the unexpected ritual object, forged from galvanized steel pipes and other plumbing parts,  as “a proactive response to the overall lack of tasteful, hip, un-schlocky Judaica available to the general public.”

Do artists intuit scientific truths?


Jonah Lehrer’s book, “Proust Was a Neuroscientist,” is based on a misunderstanding. Nonetheless, it is engaging, informed, wide ranging and altogether worth reading. At times it has the whip-smart feel of the best term paper you’ve ever read; if only one could adjust the thesis a bit, it would settle in to what is its real nature — a provocative meditation, not a genuine discovery.

Lehrer’s claim is that certain select artists effectively discovered modern truths of neuroscience simultaneous with, or even before, scientists did themselves. He makes his case through chapters on each of eight artists: Marcel Proust, George Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Paul Cézanne, Auguste Escoffier, Igor Stravinsky, Walt Whitman and Virginia Woolf. The astonishing act of intuitive/artistic legerdemain illustrated by Proust is his discovery, neurasthenically ensconced in his famous cork-lined room, that memories are not solid recollections, but shift and change with time. Our memory is always the memory of the moment, never the recollection of eternity; each time we recall, we change the recollection.

Virginia Woolf’s discovery is that “the mind is not a place; it is a process.” Lehrer quotes from Woolf’s short, swirling masterpiece “To the Lighthouse” to illustrate the thesis: “Such was the complexity of things … to feel violently two opposite things at the same time; that’s what you feel, was one; that’s what I feel, was the other, and then they fought together in her mind, as now.” Lehrer proceeds to compare this to discoveries in neuroscience about the different functions of different parts of the mind.

Does the reader begin to see the trouble? I may as well assert that Judaism, with its theories of yetzer hatov (good inclinations) and yetzer hara (bad inclinations), anticipated neuroscience because the sages, too, understood the mind as a battleground of conflict. Samuel Johnson, long before Woolf (and as different in temperament as might be imagined), said that two things about the human heart may be contradictory, but both are true. Woolf’s exposition is more delicate, in service of Lehrer’s larger project (about which more in a minute) but all these examples are less anticipation than artistic statements of the prevailing intellectual ethos.

Although you pick your artists, you get your sensibility. Though Lehrer barely mentions them, you may as well mix Henry James, James Joyce and Henri Bergson all together to get the delicate stream of consciousness that is more true to what we know of the mind’s workings than, say, Anthony Trollope. The key is to choose a frame and then find an artist that fits. If you were doing sociology, Trollope’s stolid, knowing class-conscious characters work beautifully. For the brain, we go to those whose subject was not the workings of society as much as the workings of the introspective self (though Proust, comprehensive artist that he was, did both). Lehrer’s choices — Whitman, Stein, Woolf — paid attention to what went on within their own minds. And to suggest this is no more charged than to say that Sophocles anticipated Freud. Writers will, as sensitive and intelligent people, anticipate some of the discoveries of other fields — sociology, psychology and hard science. But did ancient Greek philosopher Democritus, who spoke of atoms, really anticipate modern physics, or did he imaginatively give voice to a possibility of the world that, in a way he could not have imagined, was proved true? Equally, when Lehrer writes that George Eliot celebrated freedom, the infinite possibilities of the individual to change, he might equally well have chosen Shakespeare or Bocaccio or the Bible.

What to my mind does not work so well as a definite thesis, works beautifully as an intriguing, elegant meditation. Lehrer is a young man (26 years old) of wide experience and remarkably broad, assured learning. He is lavishly gifted with associative abilities; one fact, one observation or apercu suggests another, and he is off and running. He noticed similarities and suggests affinities. The book is a short, readable feast.

Nevertheless, Lehrer’s larger project is the development not of a union of science and religion, though he makes the obligatory nod to C.P. Snow and E.O. Wilson in developing a culture that embraces both. His larger project is the development of a sensibility. There are science writers whose work shows an exquisite artistic sense, such as Loren Eisley and Lewis Thomas. There are writers who are intimately acquainted with the sciences, such as Richard Powers and Andrea Barrett. Lehrer offers us an image of these two great fields of human endeavor in concert. Images enrich one another, and each aids in understanding the other.

There are three principle joys in reading this book, none inferior to the other: What we learn about science, what we learn about art, and what we anticipate will come next from the pen of this gifted and sensitive observer of life and art.

David Wolpe is senior rabbi of Sinai Temple. His column on books appears monthly in The Journal.

A Super ‘Schmooze’ Move


The unforgettable superheroes of comic strips became the stuff of endless Hollywood big-budget sequels. But more often than not, they began in the fevered imaginations of struggling young Jewish guys, whose wildest dreams could be hemmed in only by four panels and black ink.

“In June 1938, Superman appeared,” Michael Chabon writes in his 2000 novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay.” “He had been mailed to the offices of National Periodical Publications from Cleveland, by a couple of Jewish boys who had imbued him with the power of a hundred men, of a distant world, and of the full measure of their bespectacled adolescent hopefulness and desperation.”

It’s not an insurmountable leap from those days to these, from the pioneers like “Superman’s” Joe Shuster and Jerome Siegel to masters like Art Spiegelman, to the talented Jewish comic strip artists of today.

In that spirit, we premiere this week, “Schmooze or Lose,” our first, weekly serialized comic strip. Read more about the creators, writer Jake Novak and illustrator Michael Ciccotello at www.jewishjournal.com, and follow the further adventures of their very L.A. Jewish characters in this space each week.

 

A Life Interrupted, a Dream Fulfilled


Joan “Pessie” Hammer recently bustled through the crowd of hipsters and Chasidim at the first gallery exhibition featuring art by her late son, Moshe.

Clutching a siddur, the Lubavich mother animatedly chatted with patrons who admired his ethereal religious drawings: pages of a siddur and other texts he had fancifully calligraphied and illustrated. The tears came only when she stood alone before his work — which had been his sole and secret obsession before a truck struck and killed him two years ago at age 26.

Sixteen pages from his handwritten sefarim (religious books) are on display at the Jewish Artist Network gallery in Los Angeles, part of a show that also features four other artists.

Moshe Hammer’s pieces look like quirkier, black-ink versions of medieval illuminated manuscripts. The Hebrew letters dance and morph into images based on his intensive studies of commentaries on the sefarim.

A bedtime blessing depicts a gods-eye view of archangels guarding sleeping children; diverse, disembodied eyes decorate morning thanks to the Creator for opening one’s eyes, literally and metaphorically. A tempest-tossed ship, secured by its anchor, adorns the traveler’s prayer.

At the gallery opening, a middle age Orthodox woman held a magnifying glass to that piece, to see the meticulous detail.

“He had so much potential,” she murmured of the artist.

A young man wearing chains and black leather gazed at Hammer’s “God’s Deliverance Quick as a Gazelle,” noting how the letters leap in sync with the animal.

“Moshe’s work is both religiously and graphically compelling,” said Aaron Berger (a.k.a. Aaron No One), the exhibition’s curator.

Apparently, Hammer was feverishly working on such drawings when he took one of his late-night walks to clear artist’s block in July 2004. He had trekked miles from his Fairfax area apartment when the truck hit him at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Western Avenue, killing him instantly, according to a coroner’s report.

At the time, Pessie Hammer did not know that her intensely private son had dedicated his life to studying Chasidism and illustrating religious texts.

“He was very protective of his work and he refused to speak of it or to show it to anyone,” recalls Hammer, 55, at her Beverly-Fairfax home after the opening.

Her son had often been elusive about his art. She didn’t learn that Moshe, as a 9-year-old, had sold his handmade comics at yeshiva until one of his old classmate told her after the funeral.

While Hammer had excelled at school, his family, in keeping with traditional Chasidic views, was concerned that he was showing too much interest in popular culture: “He wanted to know about anything and everything — to be part of it all,” his mother recalled.

In grammar and middle school, he had scribbled superheroes as students gathered to watch, sometimes delaying teachers from starting class.

“We felt he could not properly distinguish between the secular and religious worlds, so we wanted him to focus on Judaism in order to be able to make good decisions in life,” she said.

After consulting the family rabbi, the difficult decision was made to send Moshe away to East Coast yeshivas at age 14; four years later, he returned home thoughtful, quiet and studious. Yet he still pursued his artwork, both secular and religious, striving to find his creative niche. Over the next eight years, he took computer animation courses and studied creative writing at Santa Monica City College. He penned poems and taught himself to write comic screenplays, which he registered at the Writers Guild of America. He would also draw cartoon characters as well as a portrait of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

All the while, he supported himself, with help from his parents, by working odd jobs that allowed him time to pursue creative endeavors. In the last years of his life, he drove hearses and guarded the dead for the Jewish Burial Society, which ultimately laid his own body to rest.

The Schneerson portrait hangs above the mantle in Hammer’s living room, which is adorned with a photo collage depicting Moshe, the third of Hammer’s five children, at various ages. Nearby, on an antique buffet, are professionally bound scrapbooks filled with his art: his mother’s effort to turn his drawings into completed sefarim.

She had not seen the vast majority of these pieces when she didn’t hear from her son for two days in the summer of 2004. Pessie Hammer and her husband, Yosef, a postal worker, frantically searched the neighborhood for information on his whereabouts. The bad news came when a rabbi, a rebbetzin and a police investigator knocked on the Hammer’s door the night of July 15, 2004.

“I saw their dark, contorted faces, and I told my children, ‘Go to your rooms,’ because I knew what they were going to say,” she recalls.

Once they had run upstairs, the rabbi said her son was gone. He had identified Hammer’s body in a morgue photograph.

“I wanted to see Moshe, but everyone said he was so mangled that they did not recommend it,” Pessie Hammer says. “I felt I didn’t get to say goodbye to my son.”

She received some closure as she helped clear out his single apartment on Formosa Avenue two weeks later. After numbly packing up his antique bottle collection and Judaica, she opened the bottom drawer of his pine desk and discovered more than 300 pages of drawings.

“I was shocked, because I had never imagined he had created this much work,” she says.

She spent the next week sorting the pages around the clock — and figuring out what they actually were. Turns out her son had written and illustrated a Passover haggadah, a Book of Esther and a “Song of Songs,” as well as a siddur.

Terrified that the pages might fade, she spent the following two weeks quizzing experts about how to best preserve the drawings and to duplicate the originals. She insisted that copy shop employees redo any page that cut off even a millimeter of his intricate work.

Her goal was to carry out what she believes was her son’s last wish: In his apartment, she had found a list of his aspirations, which included a gallery show. She saw her chance when the Jewish Artist Network opened in her neighborhood and its 31-year-old founder, Aaron No One, responded to Moshe’s portfolio.

“I consider his work to be a kind of spiritual graffiti art,” the curator, wearing a hose clamp and a ski cap, said while standing in the back doorway at the recent opening, framed by secular graffiti outside. “His drawings bring the intangible into the physical realm, for all viewers to see.”

Pessie Hammer, standing nearby, nodded and said she felt her exceptionally private son had intended one day to praise God in a most public way.

He hadn’t been quite ready to do so in life, so his indefatigable mother made sure he was able to after his death.

The exhibition will be on display through May 25 at 661 N. Spaulding in Los Angeles. For information and gallery hours (sometimes it is necessary to make an appointment), call (562) 547-9078 or visit www.thejangallery.com or www.exitnoone.com.

 

Art Exhibit Links Trojans, Bruins


Divided between the USC and UCLA campuses, the latest art exhibition by the Jewish Artist Initiative (JAI), titled, “Makor/Source,” taps into the wellspring of Jewish life.

How fitting that Ruth Weisberg, USC dean of fine arts, would include her water-themed, mixed-media drawing, “Bound for Nowhere.” As a succession of hunched-over immigrant Jews board a boat headed back to Europe, the vessel, with its portholes and cables strewn like seaweed, appears to be a submarine. It is as if these passengers, who carry their belongings, ascend a gangway into an underwater graveyard.

Alternately, Weisberg, whose drawing features a muted brown or ocher color scheme, suggests that the immigrants may be “undergoing a sea change,” a salutary transmutation as they board the ship. She notes that the Jews in the drawing, though denied a visa to Palestine, ultimately may have been admitted to Israel after the country’s founding, the makor or source of a whole new chapter in the history of the Jewish people.

Barbara Drucker, UCLA art department chair, also contributed a work to the show, “Breadbox Stack No. 1,” in which seven bread boxes are tiered into a ramshackle, yet sturdy, tower. Is it a Tower of Babel surging at peril toward the heavens? Or is it, as Drucker proposes, an image both of life, as symbolized by the bread, and death, since modern-day Greeks use such boxes to store bones?

Drucker works from instinct. She did not set out to create something with a Jewish theme, but the bread boxes date from the 1920s and ’30s and recall the heyday of immigrant and first-generation Jews living in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights and the Lower East Side, yet another seminal moment in Jewish history.

JAI, which Weisberg calls the “brainchild” of the Jewish Community Foundation and USC’s Casden Institute, was formed, she said, to “act as a galvanizing force” for bringing Jewish culture to the community.

“Makor/Source” marks the first time that the Hillels of the two universities have collaborated on an exhibition. Roughly 20 local artists submitted works to the show, including collages, paintings and photographs.

Because the exhibition is based on a study of Jewish text, one of the most salient pieces is Joyce Dallal’s “Promises Made in a Language I Don’t Understand,” an ink-jet print of pieces of paper bunched into a ball. The image of crumpled paper might or might not refer to the Hebrew Bible. It’s hard to say, so indecipherable are the runes, yet the scraps, involuted as they are, do resemble a Torah being unscrolled.

Even if Hebrew, like all Indo-European tongues, comes from an original source, the endless permutations can create language barriers that are palpable, if less severe to the artist than humanity’s failings or God’s.

“Makor/Source” is at USC Hillel, 3300 S. Hoover St., (213) 747-9135, ext. 14. Opening reception is Sunday, Jan. 22, 3-5 p.m. “Makor/Source” is also at UCLA Hillel, 574 Hilgard Ave., (310) 208-3081. Both exhibits run through March 3.

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, November 19

Keshet Chaim Dancers and the Idan Raichel Project come together tonight to raise funds for some 20,000 Ethiopian Jews awaiting immigration to Israel. Raichel hasn’t made it to L.A. since last February, so this one-night-only concert might be your only chance for a while to see the ensemble voted “Group of the Year 2005” in Israel. Keshet Chaim will open with colorful dance numbers, including one that combines traditional Yemenite dance with hip-hop.

8 p.m. $45-$150. Kodak Theatre, Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. (213) 480-3232.

Sunday, November 20

Celebrate L.A. Jewish authors today at Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center. Jewish Federation of San Gabriel Valley presents a special multiauthor day as part of its Jewish Book Festival, which begins with a bagel breakfast with Rabbi Abner Weiss, author of “Connecting to God: Ancient Kabbalah and Modern Psychology,” and continuing with a “Mystery Mavens” mystery writers panel and box lunch program featuring authors Rochelle Krich, Jerrilyn Farmer and Robert Levinson. The day concludes with an afternoon appearance by Peter Lefcourt, author of “The Manhattan Beach Project.” Attend one event or all three.

9:45 a.m. $18 (all-day). Individual tickets available. 1434 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena. R.S.V.P., (626) 332-0700.

Monday, November 21

Now’s your chance to respond in person to Maureen Dowd’s doomsday New York Times column on the state of women today. The Writers Bloc presents Dowd, author of “Are Men Necessary?,” in conversation with her former boyfriend, “West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin.

Temple Emanuel, 300 N. Clark Drive, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (310) 335-0917. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Tuesday, November 22

American Jewish Committee and Temple Beth Sholom join with various Christian, Catholic, Muslim and Sikh organizations for a special Orange County-wide interfaith Thanksgiving service, celebrating the diversity of America’s cultures and faiths. The themes of hunger and homelessness will also be addressed, and participants are encouraged to donate to Orange County’s Second Harvest.

7 p.m. Free. Wallace All Faiths Chapel, Chapman University Campus, University Drive, Orange. (949) 660-8525.

Wednesday, November 23

Now at the Jewish Artist Network (JAN) Gallery is the group show, “Chance,” an exhibition of abstract paintings “for peace and the future.” The seven exhibitors will donate 20 percent of sales to the purchase of art supplies for underprivileged children.

Through Nov. 28. 8 p.m.-midnight (Tues., Thurs. and Sat.) or by appointment. 661 N. Spaulding Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 230-8193.

Thursday, November 24

What’s with Jewish guys wanting to be rappers? One more group for your, um, listening pleasure is Chutzpah, which recently released an eponymous CD. That is, if you can get over the hip-hop posturing and the disturbing image of the hairiest white guy we’ve seen in a basketball jersey.

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Friday, November 25

Opening this week is the Hammer Museum’s “Masters of 20th Century American Comics” exhibition. The extensive show features in depth views of works by 15 of the most celebrated American comic strip and comic book creators, including Harvey Kurtzman (Mad Magazine), R. Crumb (Zap Comix contributor) and Art Spiegleman (“Maus”).

10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7041.

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday 25

Israel Prize laureate Ehud Manor passed away in April but his beloved songs live on in the hearts of Israelis. Tonight, the UJ pays tribute to his memory with a concert by Einat Sarouf, accompanied by Tali Tadmor and other guest artists.

9:30 p.m. $40 (includes wine and hors d’ouevres). Gindi Auditorium, University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1246.

It’s official. Poker is now everywhere. Tonight, American Friends of Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel raise funds “in support of our historic mission of preserving the democratic future of Israel.” And what better way than with some Texas Hold ‘Em? A tournament and black-and-white party complete with jazz ensemble and party lounge fill out the night of “Poker at the Shore.”

3:30 p.m. 1541 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. www.cecisrael.com.

Sunday 26

It’s official. Poker is now everywhere. Tonight, American Friends of Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel raise funds “in support of our historic mission of preserving the democratic future of Israel.” And what better way than with some Texas Hold ‘Em? A tournament and black-and-white party complete with jazz ensemble and party lounge fill out the night of “Poker at the Shore.”

3:30 p.m. 1541 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. www.cecisrael.com.

Monday 27

Big-time comedy in the comfort of your own home now comes courtesy of Big Vision Entertainment. “The Comedy Shop” host Norm Crosby has released a five-disc collector’s series of best-of moments from his show titled “The World’s Greatest Stand-Up Comedy Collection.” Watch three- to four-minute sets by more than 300 comedians including Jay Leno, Garry Shandling and Phyllis Diller until your stomach hurts.

$24.95. www.bigvisionentertainment.com.

Tuesday 28

Yiddishkayt L.A. partners with ALOUD at Central Library today for a unique conversation between film critic Kenneth Turan and Aaron Lansky, aka “the man who rescued a million Yiddish books.” Lansky also authored a book about his quest to save Yiddish literature, a read that Cynthia Ozick said is “as stirring as it is geshmak.” Live klezmer by the L.A. Community Klezmer Band rounds out the evening.

7 p.m. Los Angeles Public Library, Mark Taper Auditorium, 630 W. Fifth St., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (213) 228-7025.

Wednesday 29

In “The Talent Given Us” the retired parents of three adult children decide to embark on a road trip with their two unmarried daughters in a quest to see their uncommunicative son who lives in Los Angeles. In a novel concept, Andrew Wagner directs his real-life parents and siblings in this comedy about familial angst that has been hailed by critics. Catch a sneak preview tonight at the Egyptian Theatre or a regular screening tomorrow and next week at the Laemmle Sunset 5.

7:30 p.m. 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. www.americancinematheque.com. www.laemmle.com.

Thursday 30

In “The Talent Given Us” the retired parents of three adult children decide to embark on a road trip with their two unmarried daughters in a quest to see their uncommunicative son who lives in Los Angeles. In a novel concept, Andrew Wagner directs his real-life parents and siblings in this comedy about familial angst that has been hailed by critics. Catch a sneak preview tonight at the Egyptian Theatre or a regular screening tomorrow and next week at the Laemmle Sunset 5.

7:30 p.m. 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. www.americancinematheque.com. www.laemmle.com.

Friday 1

“Layali Al Saif.” Translated from Arabic, it means “Summer Nights,” an apt title for the sensual offerings of this dance show, which runs for three days only. The multicultural celebration of Middle Eastern dance includes Egyptian raqs sharqi (women’s solo dance), Persian banderi, Rom (Gypsy) circus and Turkish styling, as well as fusion pieces.

8:30 p.m. (June 30 and July 1 and 2), 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (July 3). $20. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 315-1459.

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7 Days in the Arts


Saturday, June 4

Today, galerie yoramgil launches “introductions,” a three-month endeavor to present six new artists to the public. View the diverse works of painters Zeev Ben-Dor, Yuri Katz, Nona Orbach, Paul Abbott and Mary Leipziger, and the bronze sculptures of Immi Storrs in mini solo shows throughout the large gallery.

Through Sept. .5. 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.). 462 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-2641.

Sunday, June 5

Storyteller and actress Vicki Juditz is used to infusing heart and humor into difficult subjects like infertility and anti-Semitism. Today she performs her highly praised monologue, “Teshuva, Return,” for Child Survivors of the Holocaust in a private Beverlywood residence.

2 p.m. $25. For more information, call (310) 836-0779.

Monday, June 6

It’s a hodgepodge of celebrities and wannabes at tonight’s annual Vista Del Mar and Family Services’ Sports Sweepstakes Dinner. Comedian Paul Rodriguez and Olympian Mitch Gaylord co-emcee the event that includes an appearance by the Playboy Bunnies but not Hef himself. Tommy Lasorda will be honored, cocktails will be drunk and thousands of dollars will be raised for troubled and at-risk youth. Drop a cool 1K to do your part.

5:30 p.m. $1,000. Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (310) 836-1223, ext. 225.

Tuesday, June 7

Israeli group Mashina has had a long and, sometimes, rocky past. But the band is now back together, touring to promote their 12th album. For the first time in a long time, they’re back in Los Angeles for one night only. Catch them tonight at the Avalon while you can.

8 p.m. (310) 273-2824.

Thursday, June 9

Laughing for charity sounds like a pretty good deal. Tonight, StandWithUs and Pups for Peace co-sponsor “LaughWithUs,” a comedy night featuring funnymen Wayne Federman (“Legally Blonde,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Lenny Schmidt (“Joe Dirt”) and plenty of others. Proceeds will help send comedians to Israel for comic relief and also benefit Israeli charities.

7:30 p.m. $75 (includes 2 drinks). Improv Theater, 8162 Melrose Ave., Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (310) 836-6140.

Jason Alexander becomes the latest star to try his hand at children’s book writing with his new release “Dad, Are You the Tooth Fairy?” (Which would perhaps be better titled, “Dad, Since When Are You a Writer?”) Still, we’ll grant you Alexander’s a pretty funny guy, and you can size up his literary talents for yourself tonight. He reads from his book and signs it at Barnes and Noble at the Grove.

7:30 p.m. 189 Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 525-2070

Friday, June 10

Author Maggie Anton does the book tour circuit in Los Angeles this week, promoting her new work of historical fiction, “Rashi’s Daughters.” The book explores the stories of Jewish scholar Rashi’s daughters, who, unlike his sons, were largely ignored. She appears at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles on June 8, and as scholar-in-residence at Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills this weekend.

Jewish Community Library: (323) 761-8644. Shomrei Torah: (818) 346-0811.

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday, March 26

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels makes an effort at inclusiveness with its new exhibit, “Passion/Passover: Artists of Faith Interpret Their Holy Days.” On view through the month of April, the show features works by seven Jewish and seven Christian artists, including Barbara Drucker, Laurie Gross and the Rev. Michael Tang. Drucker’s contribution is a “Song of Songs”-inspired piece, while Gross’ incorporates the tallit into a work called, “Miriam and the Women.”

6:30 a.m.-6 p.m. (Mon.-Fri.), 9 a.m.-6 p.m. (Sat.), 7 a.m.-6 p.m. (Sun.). 555 W. Temple St., Los Angeles. (213) 680-5224. www.olacathedral.org.

Sunday, March 27

Anne Frank would have been 75 years old this year, had she lived. Celebrate her words and her memory through the play written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” on stage now through April 17 at the Chance Theater.

8 p.m. (Thurs.-Sat.), 2 p.m. (Sun.). $17-$20. 5552 E. Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. (714) 777-3033.

Monday, March 28

Newly released on DVD is the documentary, “Shanghai Ghetto.” Martin Landau narrates the film about the Jews of Shanghai, who escaped Nazi persecution in the Japanese-controlled city, one of the only places that would allow them to enter.

$26.95. www.docurama.com.

Tuesday, March 29

George Washington gets his mug on a dollar, but what did Martha ever get for her troubles? Cokie Roberts corrects the oversight in her book, “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation,” which becomes the topic of conversation when she visits the Skirball this evening. A book signing follows.

7:30 p.m. $5-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

Wednesday, March 30

American icon photographer and icon in her own right, Annie Leibovitz, displays her stills of musicians at Fahey/Klein Gallery’s “American Music” exhibition. Images of Willie Nelson, Beck and Michael Stipe are just some you’ll see.

10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.). 148 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 934-2250.

Thursday, March 31

Catch the new Murray Mednick trifecta beginning tonight at Electric Lodge. The first two of his four-part series, “The Gary Plays,” premiere tonight, with the third premiering tomorrow. They follow Gary, a poor former actor dealing with his son’s murder. Stay tuned for news on part four….

8 p.m. (both premieres). $20 (one evening), $30 (both evenings). 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. (310) 823-0710.

Friday, April 1

The first Israeli feature to be screened at Sundance, “Nina’s Tragedies,” premiered in 2004 – then took another year to make it into L.A. and New York theaters. But the wait may well be worth it. The film about a 13-year-old boy’s crush on his beautiful and recently widowed Aunt Nina, and about the other quirky characters that surround him, opens today in Laemmle theaters.

Laemmle Sunset 5, Los Angeles; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena. www.laemmle.com.

Charity, Going Once, Going Twice…


 

Artist Joanie Rosenthal will exhibit her latest piece at an unexpected place: eBay.

Rosenthal, a New Jersey artist who has drawn illustrations for Time, U.S. News & World Report and The New York Times Magazine and created book covers for Scholastic, Penguin Putnam and other publishing companies, has decorated a metal tzedakah box as part of a fundraising campaign for the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey.

The eBay auction comes as Jewish groups increasingly turn to online auctions as a way to raise money: This week, the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America announced a new agreement with an Internet company that will make it easier for JCCs in North America to use online auctions for fundraising.

Rosenthal was inspired by the simplicity of the plain, round metal box she was given.

“When I saw the tzedakah box, I appreciated how beautiful it was, standing on its own,” she said.

When deciding how to decorate the box, Rosenthal reflected on her roles as an artist and a volunteer.

“Artists don’t always know why they are creating, they just do,” she said. “No one knows if they’re going to find a gallery to show their work — they might not, but it doesn’t matter, they still create. The same is true of tzedakah. Everyone knows the concrete reasons for doing volunteer work, but they don’t always know why they decide to do it. No one’s going to give them an award, they just keep going.”

Rosenthal saw her project as a way to involve the next generation in the process of giving. Using a metallic paint, she drew the Hebrew word tzedakah on her box.

As part of the greater United Jewish Communities’ mission to encourage “generous living,” cylindrical metal tzedakah boxes were distributed to various federations, with no specific instructions for their use. The Central New Jersey Federation had a novel idea. It distributed the boxes to local artists and asked them to decorate them.

All the artists involved in the project donated their time and materials. Federation representative Naomi Lipstein said that the campaign has not set a financial goal.

“It is very much about raising awareness,” she said. “We are just trying to highlight the federation in general, and how we make a difference in day-to-day life.”

Bidding on the tzedakah boxes begins Thursday morning, March 17, on www.eBay.com, and a launch party will be held that afternoon. Bidding will last for one week, and the minimum bid for each box has been set at $118. — Jordana Rothstein, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

 

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday

Disabled artists make headway today thanks to the Irene Vaksberg Salon. The hair salon-by-day becomes an art space this evening, offering a forum for work by emerging artists with disabilities. “Readings From Explore and Express” features works by blind photographer Michael Richard and ceramicist Beth Abrams.

7 p.m. $10. 7803 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 939-7400.

Sunday

Jerusalem-born artist Rhea Carmi is one of eight early and mid-career artists whose work appears as part of TarFest Art Show 2004. According to her Web site, her body of mixed-media pieces “depicts brutality and insanity of war and its resultant human suffering both physical and spiritual.” The exhibition is part of the Miracle Mile Players’ Festival of Film, Music and Art being held this weekend, but remains on display at Lawrence Asher Gallery through Nov. 6.

5820 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. www.tarfest.com.

Monday

Fashion designer-cum-musical producer Max Azria and BCBGMaxAzria Entertainment compatriot Charles Cohen are honored tonight by AMIT Cherish the Children. The Israeli organization provides religious and general education in the form of 60 schools, as well as youth villages, surrogate family residences and other programs. The gala dinner benefits the AMIT network of schools in Israel.

5:30 p.m. $300+. Luxe Hotel, 11461 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 859-4885.

Tuesday

Tonight, those not yet sick of the political season get one last dose of wit before Big Tuesday. Parlor Performances and Harris and Frank Productions present the next and last installment of “Entertaining Politics: Six Tuesdays of Post-Conventional Wisdom,” with “philosopher-comedian” and Harvard grad Emily Levine.

7:30 p.m. $25. Magicopolis, 1418 Fourth St., Santa Monica. (310) 471-3979. www.entertainingpolitics.com.

Wednesday

With hopes to become an annual event, The Century City Film Festival kicks off this year featuring films falling under the banner of “Camp, Cult, Classics,” and raising much-needed money and conversation on behalf of minorities in entertainment. Tonight’s benefit lasts through Friday and gives to the Minorities in Broadcasting Training Program.

Oct. 27-30. (877) 723-6887.” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Thursday

Simians get center stage at the Paul Kopeikin Gallery’s new exhibition by celebrity photographer Jill Greenberg. A departure from her usual subject, “Monkey Portraits” is true to its title, featuring portraits of apes, who, through Greenberg’s lens, begin to look remarkably human.

Through Dec. 11. 6150 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 937-0765. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Friday

Sure, ventriloquism can be creepy in the same way that uncle who used to pull a coin out of your ear always kind of freaked you out. But David Strassman has got the stuff, if you believe anything the Brit and Irish critics say. His one-man/many-puppet show “Dummy” was well-received on that other continent, so check out his latest, “Strassman,” for yourself. Just leave the kids at home for this decidedly grown-up puppet show.

8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.), 2 p.m. (Sun.). $14-$16. 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 769-7529.

Seeking Klezmer at the Source by Naomi Pfefferman, Arts & Entertainment Editor

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When Yale Strom created his first klezmer band in 1981, he promptly bought a one-way ticket to Eastern Europe. While other groups in the emerging klezmer revival were transcribing old-world music off 78s, Strom intended to “find songs that existed only in the memories of Jews who still lived there,” he said.
Scholars scoffed as he packed his backpack, violin and tape recorder: “After the Holocaust, they assumed the Jews who had returned to their former homes had succumbed to communism,” said Strom, 47, a leading klezmer musician and scholar.
He proved them wrong during his year-long 1981 trip, the subject of his new memoir, “A Wandering Feast: A Journey Through the Jewish Culture of Eastern Europe” (Jossey-Bass, $24.95), co-written with his wife, Elizabeth Schwartz. This Jewish “On the Road” records his musical detective work as well as songs and recipes he encountered.
It all began when he arrived at Zagreb’s Jewish old age home on a drizzly night; the next morning, 79-year-old Rut sang the “Waltz From Senta” she had danced to at her cousin’s wedding in Szeged, Hungary as a girl.
In Kosice, Czechoslovakia, Strom sloshed through eight inches of snow to the shul on Zvonarska Street, where the shammes cried as he remembered how his mother, who had died in Auschwitz, had loved Yiddish songs.
To capture the zmiros the man and his friends sang on the Sabbath, Strom strapped his tape recorder to his leg and turned it on as the elderly Jews pounded their fists against the chipped, wooden table covered with siddurim, crumbs and shot glasses.
In the Carpathain Ukraine that spring, he traveled by horse and cart to perform with a Rom (Gypsy) band at a wedding and was so inspired that he improvised a song, “On the Road to Salang.” When the musician returned to the United States in 1982, he brought back more than just 50 obscure songs for his band to perform.
“I felt I had literally walked the paths where our forbears had walked, whether they were marching to the chuppah or the gas chambers,” he said.
If Strom is now renown as one of the world’s most prolific klezmer aficionados (he’s completed 10 books, eight films and nine CDs), he traces his passion to the journey.
“I learned not to take any day for granted, because you may not know where you’ll be the next day,” he said.

How Jewish is ‘Too Jewish’?


 

Eugene Yelchin painted his “Section Five” series using his fingers instead of brushes. In the earthy, orangy-brown tones and thick, rounded strokes of paint, the faces he painted emerge blurred somewhat with the background, as if the artist didn’t want them to be seen clearly.

Yelchin, a Russian Jew who immigrated to the United States in 1983, says the series refers to the Section Five part of his passport, where his ethnicity was written. On Yelchin’s passport, it read “Yevrei” — Jew, branding him as a “presumed traitor or security risk.”

“As a result, Section Five burned like a suddenly revealed secret,” Yelchin writes on the artist’s statement accompanying his paintings. “It caused shame and fear. It branded one for life. [The] paintings are infused with those emotions — fear of exposure, shame, anger and sadness. The paintings’ diminutive size recalls passport photos, while the faces are the faces of Jews whose self-identities are formed not by pride but by anti-Semitism.”


“6 TOO JEWISH,” by Elena Mary Siff

Four of Yelchin’s “Section Five” series are on display at the Bell Gallery at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Building in a new exhibit called, “Too Jewish-Not Jewish Enough.” The exhibit explores the myriad ways that Jewish identity is manifested, as well as the emergence of that identity from people who might not feel as connected to their Judaism.

The exhibit is a West Coast answer, so to speak, to “Too Jewish? Challenging Traditional Identities,” an exhibit originally shown at the Jewish Museum New York in 1996. That exhibit focused mainly on stereotypical media representations of Jews.

In “Too Jewish-Not Jewish Enough,” stereotypes give way to far more personal representations of Jewish identity in the 21st century, and it also explores the ephemeral nature of Jewish identity for some.

The exhibit is the first public offering from the Jewish Artists Initiative (JAI), a project of the Jewish Community Foundation in partnership with the USC Casden Institute and the USC School of Fine Arts. JAI was conceived as a way to identify Jewish artists in Los Angeles and to give the community a chance to support them and their work, both monetarily and in their artistic development. JAI also aims to increase the level of visual arts activity in the Jewish community and to make sure that artists are connected with the community.

“There has never been an [organized] community of Jewish artists in Los Angeles,” said Elizabeth Bloom, who contributed to the exhibition “Lamentation,” six painted panels that make a global statement about war, hatred and bigotry. “There have been attempts made in L.A., but there might have been one or two meetings and things never came to fruition. The ability to apply for funding from The Jewish Federation has given this group a special impetus.”

“In our professional lives there is so much emphasis on the practical matters of getting through financially that the more spiritual dimensions end up getting neglected,” said Deborah Lefkowitz, another artist in the group, who contributed the silver gelatin print, “Untitled,” from the “Light Chambers Suite,” which is a meditation on the sense of the ineffable in our everyday life. “The group provides the forum to really grapple with these and other dimensions and a whole set of issues that we hunger to be in conversation about.”

The current JAI members were chosen by a committee of Jewish curators, such as Victor Raphael, who was curator at the University of Judaism, and Barbara Gilbert from the Skirball Cultural Center. The curators chose a group of 30 communally active Jewish artists from a list of 150, making sure to including emerging, midcareer and established artists from Ashkenazic, Sephardic and Mizrachic backgrounds. Later the group will open itself up to other Jewish artists in Los Angeles, but for the time being, organizers said it was easier to work with 30 people rather than 150.

For the past nine months, the 30 artists have been meeting once a month, critiquing each other’s work and dialoguing about what it means to be a Jewish artist and how Jewish artists can impact cultural life in Los Angeles. They each were invited to contribute a work and write an accompanying artist’s statement to the “Too Jewish-Not Jewish Enough” exhibit; 26 contributed.

Ruth Weisberg, one of the founders of JAI and dean of the USC School of Fine Arts, said the exhibition had twofold purpose.

“It was meant to some extent to answer the “Too Jewish?” exhibition, in the sense that it was going to show a variety of different attitudes and conceptual bents,” Weisberg said. “It was also meant to show the level of activity of [Jewish] artists in Los Angeles.”

The representations of Jewish identity in the “Too Jewish-Not Jewish Enough” exhibit vastly range in conception and medium. There is Eitan Mendelowitz’s “The Ineffable,” which is a computer screen with animated Hebrew letters that move around the screen to attempt to reconstruct the 72-part unspeakable name of God, that if pronounced correctly can animate a golem.

In “Globalization No. 3,” Karen Koblitz created an Islamic ceramic-looking urn decorated with the floral curlicues and pictures of Pokemon. She chose this rather unusual juxtaposition of details to reference the way Pokemon was banned in Arab countries, because of a rumor that “Pokemon” meant “I am Jewish” in Japanese.

“I, the artist, am a Jew, and I make art that includes Pokemon images on work that pays homage to Islamic ceramics,” she wrote in her statement.

Some of the artists, like Elena Mary Siff, and Bloom, paid homage to their dual Jewish-Christian heritage in their work. Siff’s work, “6 (TOO Jewish), 5 (not jewishenough),” a mixed-media collage of two stars, one the six-pointed Star of David, the other the five-pointed Christian star. Siff, whose mother came from the Greek Orthodox religion and whose father was Jewish, said the art represented the fact that she came from neither culture, because she had no religious upbringing at all, yet both cultures can be identified by a simple star shape.

In Bloom’s work, a diptych of six images — a Palestinian woman and Israeli man, a black woman next to a white woman, a Buddhist nun next to a screaming child, all in various stages of grief — is “an unconscious representation of the two sides that formed me” — her Jewish mother and her Irish Catholic father.

For some of the artists, the group and the exhibition was the first time that they thought about the way their Jewish identity impacts their art; others saw the group as a way to bolster the role that the artist plays in Jewish life.

“I didn’t dare explore my Jewish identity in Russia,” Yelchin said. “For me, being asked to join this group was a huge deal, because I come from a place that didn’t encourage that kind of context, so in a way, I was craving it.”

“Too Jewish-Not Jewish Enough” can be seen at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Bell Family Art Gallery, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Free. 9 a.m-5 p.m. (Mon.-Thurs.), 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (Friday) The exhibition runs through Dec. 31. For more information, call (323) 761-8200.

Aroeste Gives New Life to Ladino Tunes


Purists were skeptical when Sarah Aroeste debuted her Ladino rock ‘n’ roll band back in 2001. Most artists singing in the fading Sephardic language were traditionalists, performing classical versions of songs dating to the Jews’ expulsion from Spain in 1492.

But here was Aroeste, mixing rock and jazz with the flamenco and Middle Eastern-tinged music of her ancestors, singing those same lush romances accompanied by electric guitar as well as oud. And, the New York press noted, she was doing so while performing with a bare midriff and gyrating hips — moves that led several publications to label her “The Jewish Shakira.”

During a recent phone interview from her Manhattan apartment, the 28-year-old singer expressed distaste for the “Shakira” label.

“People tend to harp on that, as if I’m being deliberately exploitative,” she said with a sigh. “But why shy away from the sensuality that is actually in this culture?”

Yet, when she quit her day job to found the band, “people thought I was nuts,” she said. “I mean, a Ladino rock group — who had ever heard of that? So I was charting new territory. I was afraid of the critics, and I struggled to find a balance I hoped would work.”

Mission apparently accomplished. Aroeste’s 2003 CD, “A La Una — In the Beginning,” sold out its initial run and now shares shelf space with CDs by classical Sephardic artists, such as Isabel Ganz. Her band regularly performs not just at nightclubs but at Jewish venues across the United States.

In Los Angeles this week, she played at the Temple Bar, a rock nightclub, and Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel; tonight she’ll appear at Sinai Temple’s young adult service, Friday Night Live.

Observers have noted her crossover appeal: “I am stunned … at how successfully Aroeste has succeeded in setting this music in a way that makes it contemporary, without losing the very traditional feel of the music and the music’s roots,” Ari Davidow wrote in Klezmer Shack magazine. “Until [‘A La Una’], I don’t think I could have pointed to a sharp, contemporary, danceable Sephardic music album. Until I heard this particular album, I don’t think it would have occurred to me that the category was necessary.”

“Sarah has really cornered the market on Ladino rock,” said Randee Friedman of Sounds Write Productions Inc., a distributer of her CD. “A lot of Ladino comes across my desk, but it’s old-style, and Sarah is really hip. She’s reaching out to the younger generation, and I think she’s been very successful at that.”

If Aroeste has successfully conveyed her enthusiasm for Sephardic music, it’s virtually in her blood. She grew up in a “big, fat Jewish Greek family” in Princeton, N.J., where Ladino songs graced the record player and the Shabbat dinner table. The Yale-educated soprano further fell in love with the ancient art form while studying at a Tel Aviv opera summer program eight years ago.

But when she organized a new Jewish music project for the National Foundation for Jewish Culture in 1999, Aroeste grew “frustrated and disappointed” by the dearth of novel Sephardic fare. The klezmer-fusion renaissance was thriving in Ashkenazi circles, courtesy of artists such as Frank London and John Zorn, “but there was nothing Sephardic that I could relate to as a modern, American woman,” she said.

“I felt, this music is in danger of disappearing within a generation unless we do something to reach new people,” the performer continued. “And that became my mission.”

To reach as wide an audience as possible, Aroeste focused her Sephardic fusion on secular, rather than liturgical songs. “The themes are totally universal and contemporary, like bad breakups, blinddating, crushes, long-distance relationships,” she said. “In fact, if you walked into one of my shows, you might not even realize it’s Jewish music, because it doesn’t sound the way most people think of Jewish music, meaning klezmer.”

“Yo M’enamori” (“Moon Trick”), for example, is more reminiscent of contemporary rock; Aroeste’s trance remix of “Hija Mia” (“The One I Want”) sounds practically psychedelic.

Yet all her songs are grounded in the original, ancient melodies and lyrics, which has apparently satisfied would-be critics.

“At first, people wanted to see if I was going to completely change and popularize the music, but they’ve seen that’s not the case,” she said. “I’ve worked hard to maintain the integrity of the music and to use my work to preserve and revitalize the tradition.”

Sarah Aroeste will perform Sept. 10, 7:30 p.m. at SinaiTemple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood. For more information, visit www.saraharoeste.com .

Valuable Art From a Disregarded People


From the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to the Museum of the Negev in Beersheba; from the walls of Reverend Al Sharpton’s home in New York to the mantle of photographer Irene Furtik’s home in Santa Monica, Ethiopian Israeli art has arrived.

Award-winning artist Elaine Galen, whose work has been displayed in prestigious venues across America, describes her favorite Ethiopian Israeli piece — a sandy-colored, miniature clay sculpture that sits atop the fireplace in her living room:

"It’s in the likeness of an Ethiopian rabbi. He has a beard, he’s wearing a kippah on his head, and he has a tallit draped down his back…. His arms are extended in front: His hands come forward, like two hands in prayer, then suddenly become a unit, turning into a plaque that is a symbol of the Torah…. [H]is head is extending up, with his mouth halfway open — as if he knows the words by heart, as if he’s reciting them. It’s beautiful," she said.

Galen immediately bought the sculpture for her private art collection, an eclectic mix following her one guiding principle — good taste in art.

"When I saw this piece," she said, "I saw quality."

The indigenous, noncommercial feel of the art was especially appealing to Galen, and it is a key ingredient in the growing attraction to Ethiopian Israeli pieces sold throughout Israel and abroad.

"Word goes out that this is avant garde art that you can’t find anywhere else," said Michael Jankelowitz, spokesperson of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Drawn to its signature style, he said, Israeli tourists hungrily purchase Ethiopian artwork at galleries and stores across the country.

For numerous Ethiopian artists throughout Israel, artwork is their primary source of income. Some work for an hourly wage at a studio; others work independently from their homes.

One independent artist, who prefers to remain anonymous, has created a well-known line of biblical paintings with all-black figures — from Noah and Moses to Devorah and Miriam. In this way, his art parallels much African American religious art, challenging European-based images of religious history.

The bold colors of his paintings — yellow, green, red, orange and blue — also can be found in the embroidery of Yazazo Aklum, who has several works housed in the Israel Museum’s collection of Ethiopian art. Ora Shwartz-Be’eri, Israel Museum curator, beams as she holds up one of his pieces.

"It’s exceptional," she said passionately.

With its vibrant portrayal of the Ten Commandments, two Lions of Judah with Stars of David, and a dove and rainbow from Noah’s arc, the tapestry is indeed breathtaking. For this reason, it was photographed for the 1994 postcard printed in honor of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.

Despite the success of Ethiopian Israeli art, Ethiopian Israeli artists are struggling for power and economic leverage in representing their own work. According to Shlomo Akele, director of Bahalachin Cultural Center for Ethiopian Jews, individual artists are disenfranchised, because there is currently no museum, gallery, or center run by a community member.

Tasamach Tazazo, a retired potter and embroidery artist living in Tel Aviv, agrees.

"We have to take this on ourselves," she said emphatically, "and not let other people manage our artwork." But independence will take time, she adds, being that it is linked to complex social, racial and economic struggles associated with the community’s relatively recent immigration.

"On the one hand, they say we are primitive, even tell us we are not real Jews, and on the other hand they get all excited about our artwork," she explained. "Not everyone. But there are people who have bought my artwork, even turned around and sold it for up to seven times what they paid, and all the while looked down at me as stupid and worthless."

In a conversation with Avital Armoni, the owner of Armoni’s Art, Tazazo’s claims ring true. Among its other art products, Armoni’s company makes magnetic prints of Ethiopian Israeli embroideries — a popular and seemingly lucrative sales item. Though her company profits from the work of Ethiopian Israeli artists, Armoni makes a point of asserting that Ethiopian Jews "are not really Jewish."

In addition to facing battles over their identity, Ethiopian Israeli artists are facing tremendous financial hardships. The Ethiopian community is reportedly the hardest hit by Israel’s economic crisis, and out of desperation for money, many artists tolerate exploitation.

Others turn to Bahalachin for help.

"Our dream is to create a big center in Jerusalem," Akele said in response to the numerous requests he receives. "There are very many talented artists … we just need the framework to support and develop them." That framework, he noted sadly, takes the financial resources not coming to Bahalachin during these hard times.

As an upshot, while the artwork of Ethiopian Jews is enjoying financial success and mainstream acceptance, Ethiopian Israeli artists are struggling for respectful recognition, economic empowerment and self-representation. Ironic though it may seem, art has always been ahead of its time.

Loolwa Khazzoom (

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Chug on down to the Getty today or tomorrow, as they present Sharon Katz and the Peace Train as part of their Garden Concerts for Kids series. The Grammy-nominated South African ensemble gives a family-oriented performance of jazz-/folk-/rock-infused African music and teaches South African songs and dances.4-6 p.m. Aug. 14 and 15. Free. 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300.

Sunday

On a somber note, the Workmen’s Circle hosts a Soviet Yiddish Writers Commemoration this afternoon. Aug. 12 marked the 52nd anniversary of the Stalin regime’s execution of 14 Yiddish writers, in an attempt to suppress Jewish culture. Today, a coalition of secular Jewish organizations presents a dramatic recreation of the writers’ “trials.”2 p.m. Free. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

Monday

The Jewish “Frankenstein” comes to the Silent Movie Theatre’s big screen tonight. See the 1920 horror classic “The Golem,” with musical accompaniment by Rick Friend. Film scholar David Shepard provides a rare print from the film, as well.8 p.m. $10-$15. 611 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 655-2520.

Tuesday

Tonight, Improv Olympics presents “Beta Male,” featuring the comic stylings of Dave Kessler, who tackles dating, Jewish parents and other neurosis-inducing topics for your amusement. His buddy, Kurt Bodden, does a half-hour of his own schtick, as well.8:45 p.m. $10. 6366 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 962-7560.

Wednesday

Now on display at Spencer Jon Helfen Fine Arts are “California Modernist Works on Paper.” The survey of from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s features watercolors, graphite and charcoal drawings, linoleum block prints, woodcuts, serigraphs and lithographs by Peter Krasnow, Paul Landacre, Henrietta Shore and other significant modernist artists.Through Oct. 30. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.), and by appointment. 9200 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 273-8838.

Thursday

For those whose summer vacations don’t include Broadway,a piece of it is now available for the masses. Recently released, the originalcast recording of Tony Kushner’s “Caroline, or Change” features the soundtrackto the show about the civil rights movement, the 1960s and the relationshipbetween a Southern Jewish family and its black maid. $20.99. www.amazon.com

.

Friday

In 2001, actress Kathryn Graf’s husband died suddenly of a heart attack, just shy of his 51st birthday. Left to care for their two young children and to deal with the tragedy of his death and life as a young widow, Graf eventually enrolled in a playwrighting class for therapeutic purposes. The result was a play titled “Surviving David,” which her instructor encouraged her to produce. It opens today, for a limited 16-performance run. Ten percent of proceeds benefit “Our House” grieving center.Through Sept. 9. 8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.). $20. 2100 Square Feet, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. (800) 595-4849.

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.

Israel Fete to Focus on Music, Culture


Israeli entertainers often get a jumpstart on a civilian career following military service, which they spend polishing their act at morale-boosting performances for the armed forces.

That proved the case for Shlomo Rabinowitz. After a three-year and two-war military stint ending in 1975, he easily found conducting and keyboard work on stages and television programs and heard his compositions performed and recorded by Israel’s top-billed artists.

Now, 50, Rabinowitz of Woodland Hills is a musical chameleon, sharing the spotlight conducting alongside violinist Itzak Perlman or playing piano in a Burbank studio for a cantor’s vanity recording.

Rabinowitz and a quartet of musicians is the first featured act of this year’s Israel celebration to be held Sunday, May 23, on the field of Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School. Organizers expect 5,000 people will attend the 11 a.m.-6 p.m. festival, which is expected to be the county’s best-attended Jewish community affair in recent memory.

Set almost a month following Israel’s official Independence Day anniversary on April 27, the event promises to serve as a cultural showcase for Israel and the local Jewish community, said Mali Leitner of Villa Park. She is organizing the event with a committee of community volunteers and the financial backing of the Orange County Jewish Federation.

The event may also serve as a political showcase as well. It is hoped that a robust turnout will demonstrate the community’s solidarity with embattled Israel for the politicians expected to attend.

Planned for the event are a procession of 30 Israeli flags, an Israel Defense Forces-themed fashion show and a hoped-for appearance by Yuval Rotem, Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles. The diplomat, along with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other elected officials were invited, but their response is not expected until later this month.

"A major goal of Orange County Celebrates Israel is to provide opportunities for everyone to be exposed to Jewish and Israeli culture and to gain a better understanding of the importance of the State of Israel as one of our country’s leading allies and trading partners," the Federation said in an e-mail to members last month.

Tarbut’s field will sprout a bazaar of booths, including 30 or more Israel-based craftsmen and artists selling their wares, 50 community groups offering information and kosher delicacies to satisfy noshers. Umbrella-shaded picnic tables will add to the party atmosphere.

"Celebrate and do a mitzvah," Leitner urged. "Come with open hearts and open pockets to help Israeli vendors."

Other entertainment featured on stage will include another native Israeli who resides in Tarzana, vocalist Gilat Rapaport, and her band, InJoy, and longtime Israeli folk dancer Yonnie Carr of San Diego.

In addition, there will be a fashion show produced by Guy Kochlani of Encino, a former UCLA Hillel events coordinator turned Israel promoter. The 45-minute runway show will feature 10 models in three changes of military-accessorized garments.

The clothing will come from Los Angeles-area merchants who are natives of Israel.

"They can’t support the troops on the ground, so they salute the troops on the runway," said Kochlani, who promised a surprise ending.

Leitner, a former vocalist who is also a native of Israel, will get a turn in the limelight, singing nostalgic Israeli songs with Rabinowitz, who will play a synthesizer. His group’s repertoire will include traditional patriotic tunes, along with some medleys in Yiddish and Middle Eastern melodies.

In at least one corner there will be informal 25-minute classes taught by a half-dozen local Chabad rabbis on an array of topics. They may include Chassidic stories, a game of stump the rabbi or an introduction to Jewish mysticism, said the booth’s organizer, Rabbi David Eliezrie of Yorba Linda’s Chabad.

A children’s corner will be supervised by the Jewish Community Center’s staff.

The $6 admission tickets will be sold at the gate, however, organizers are urging advance ticket sales through participating synagogues. Advance sales will be split, earning a synagogue $2 per ticket.

Leitner is still seeking event-day volunteers, booth renters and event sponsors.

For more information, call (714) 755-5555, ext. 240.

Art Auction Hits B’nai Tzedek


Karen Sturm purchased most of the artwork in her home at art auctions, where sale prices generally are lower than for work offered in retail galleries.

Sturm is hoping for frenzied bidding May 15 at a 7 p.m. art auction and dessert buffet that will benefit her Fountain Valley synagogue, Congregation B’nai Tzedek.

Lithographs and prints by a variety of artists, including a few from Israel, some Judaica and about 50 higher-priced signed works will come under the gavel. Two works, including a Chagall print valued at $400, will be also be raffled for buyers of $5 tickets, Sturm said.

The 300 items, framed and matted with care, are to be displayed around the sanctuary, lobby and social hall. Participants will receive a numbered, magazine-sized catalog that briefly describes each and also serves as a bidding paddle. To whip up competition, an auctioneer starts the process with a reverse bid, allowing someone to win a work for $1, said Jill A. Selin, auction coordinator for State of the Art, a Cleveland, Tenn., company that helps nonprofits raise funds by sharing auction proceeds.

Sturm is hoping for 100 art lovers, which will earn the synagogue a minimum of $1,000 even if no one buys anything. Serin said the average group earns $5,000.

Art sold at auctions is often by artists whose popularity is waning or are unsold, old remainders from publishers or galleries, said a local gallery owner, who asked not to be identified. "It’s a fun event, but not a great deal," the owner said.

The synagogue is located at 9669 Talbert Ave., Fountain Valley. For more information, call (714) 963-4611. Artist requests can be made to Selin at (800) 242-7682.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

The A’s have it. This afternoon, Tobey C. Moss Gallery hosts an opening reception for its latest exhibition by printmakers, “Arenal, Arp, Armano and Abramson: Multiculturalism.” The short list of artists is a sampling of the four different ethnic backgrounds represented in the show: Latin American, European, Japanese and Israeli. Works by Dov Heller, Moshe Gershuni and Alex Kremer of the Jerusalem Print Workshop will also be displayed.
2-5 p.m. Runs through June 26. 7321 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 933-5523.

Sunday

Yom HaShoah events abound today, with everything from memorial services to the release of “Prisoner of Paradise” at Laemmle theaters. Plenty of time, however, to also catch the newly opened play, “Ancient History.” Peruse our cover story listings to commemorate as you choose (p. 15). Then grab a dose of some much-needed comic relief: Today it comes in the form of David Ives’ bitterly comic story of intercultural sparring, as a 35-year-old Jewish woman endeavors to get her Catholic-raised, atheist boyfriend to commit.
2 p.m. Runs through May 2. $14. Empty Stage Theatre, 2372 Veteran Ave., West Los Angeles. (310) 803-5449.

Monday

Can one really resist a group that calls itself the Armadillo String Quartet? We think not. Today they back up composer Peter Schickele as he plays piano and offers commentary in a program of chamber music he wrote, aptly titled, “Music by Peter Schickele.”
8 p.m. $15-$25. Zipper Concert Hall, Colburn School of Performing Arts, 200 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 446-6358.

Tuesday

Jews in film make it into the Arclight’s lineup today and
tomorrow. (What were the odds?) Tonight, it’s a screening of Steven Spielberg’s
first big hit, “Jaws,” with special appearance by screenwriter-actor Carl
Gottlieb. Tomorrow, it’s less blood, more angst, with a big screen presentation
of the Woody Allen classic, “Annie Hall.” 7:30 p.m. (“Jaws”), 8 p.m. (“Annie
Hall”). 6360 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Gain insight into Oaxacan culture that goes beyond mole sauce this afternoon. The Skirball’s latest in their “Cinema: A Musical Journey Through Film” series is “I Am a Butterfly,” a documentary about Mexican singer-songwriter Lila Downs that explores her Mixtec roots, and their influence on her art.2:30 p.m. Free. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Sunday

The Neil Simon comedy “Barefoot in the Park” returns to the stage at the Long Beach Playhouse. Revisit young love through Paul and Corrie Bratter, newlyweds acclimating to life together — and to their new living quarters: a tiny New York City fifth-floor walk-up with a skylight that leaks snow and comes with some very unusual neighbors.2 p.m. (Sunday), 8 p.m. (Friday and Saturday). $18-$20. 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. (562) 494-1014.

Monday

Almost in answer to all the “Passion” controversy comes California Museum of Ancient Art’s well-timed lecture series, “Religion in the Ancient World.” In four lectures beginning tonight, moderator Jerome Berman welcomes speakers on the ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Hittite and Israelite religions, exploring the broader question of how they differ from today’s Judaism and Christianity, and offering insight into how it all began.Runs Mondays, March 1-29, 7:30-9 p.m. $60-$72 (series), $17-$20 (per lecture). Gallery Theater, Barnsdall Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 762-5500.

Tuesday

Forget Purim. Passover comes early to the Arclight thisyear. Get a jump-start on the holiday spirit with a big-screen screening of thecampy-but-classic “The Ten Commandments.” It’s the movie the way it was meant tobe seen — as big as Charlton Heston’s acting, complete with six-track DolbyDigital sound, and featuring Yul Brynner in all his glued-on side-ponytailglory. 7:30 p.m. $10-$11. 6360 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 464-1478. www.arclightcinemas.com

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Wednesday

From celebrated actor, director and cabaret star to concentration camp prisoner and forced Nazi propagandist, Kurt Gerron’s career is explored through the 2002 documentary, “Prisoner of Paradise,” which was nominated for an Academy Award. It screens today as the second in a double-feature by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, following the documentary, “Last Dance,” about a dance-theater collaborative piece on the Holocaust by Pilobolus dance company and author/illustrator Maurice Sendak.7:30 p.m. Free. James Bridges Theater, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 206-3456.

Thursday

Today, Yoram Gil makes fine art affordable, albeit teeny tiny fine art. Gallerie yoramgil’s exhibition, “Petite,” presents watercolor miniatures (we’re talking smaller than a postcard) by the artist and gallery owner, as well as small works by his gallery artists. His works will be offered for $36, which will be donated to Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, and 10 percent of the proceeds from the other artists’ sales will benefit the organization, as well. Attend the opening receptions today or Sunday, before the good stuff’s all gone.6-8 p.m. (March 4), 5-8 p.m. (March 6). 319 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (310) 275-2238.

Friday

It’s back to the Skirball tonight for a meeting of art and politics. Now in the Ruby Gallery, the museum presents “Visual Politics: The Social Activism of Ben Shahn.” The exhibition is divided into four parts, tracing the progress of the socialist Jewish artist’s work from the early 1930s until his death in 1969. In that time, the graphic artist addressed concerns including (but far from limited to) the Depression, anti-Semitism, ethnic bias, worker’s rights and nuclear testing.Runs through April 18. Noon-5 p.m. (Tues.-Fri.), 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Sun.). Free. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Two widely divergent Jewish performers come to Southern California tonight. Make the drive to Claremont for the feel-good sounds of Israeli folk/rock star David Broza. The celebrated trilingual guitarist and singer-songwriter will perform his English, Spanish and Hebrew favorites in a concert sponsored by Hillel of the Claremont Colleges. Or, for something closer to home and below the belt, head to Royce Hall, as UCLA Live! Presents “An Evening With Sandra Bernhard.” The bawdy comedian and student of kabbalah offers up her latest rants and raves, with musical accompaniment by Mitch Kaplan and Pam Adams.
David Broza: 8 p.m. $5-$50. Garrison Theatre, Scripps College, Claremont. (909) 621-8824.Sandra Bernhard: 8 p.m. $20-$45. Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 825-2101.

Sunday

Two seasoned comedians prove they’ve still got it, as Orange County Performing Arts Center presents “Together Again: Comedy Greats Tim Conway and Harvey Korman.” The “Carol Burnett Show” duo known as much for cracking each other up as they were for entertaining the audience joins impressionist Louise DuArt for two shows, today only.
2 p.m. and 7 p.m. $35-$60. Segerstrom Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (213) 365-3500.

Monday

Diane Arbus’ work gets center stage at MOCA’s latest show, “Street Credibility,” which examines the convergence of real and posed photography from the 1940s to the 1970s. Arbus’ choice to pose her subjects, who were real people, was a departure from a tradition that separated the worlds of journalistic style and artificial photography. Other artists featured in the exhibit include her peers, as well as later photographers whom she influenced — Larry Clark, Lee Friedlander, Sally Mann, Charles Gatewood, Garry Winogrand and others — as well as some of her predecessors, namely Lisette Model, August Sander and Weegee.
11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Monday and Friday), 11 a.m.-8 pm. (Thursday), 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (Saturday and Sunday). Free (members, children under 12 and all day Thursday), $5 (students and seniors), $12 (general). MOCA at the Geffen Contemporary, 152 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 626-6222.

Tuesday

Queens, N.Y., transplant and author Lisa Lieberman Doctor puts her roots into the pages of her first novel, “The Deflowering of Rhona Lipshitz.” It’s Queens 1971, and Rhona Lipshitz is in love, but not with the man whom she’s engaged to marry in just 11 days. Doctor’s previous writing credits include an Emmy win for her work on the soap opera, “General Hospital,” and 16 years in the film industry, most recently as vice president of Robin Williams’ Blue Wolf Productions. She discusses “Rhona Lipshitz” tonight at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles.
7 p.m. 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 761-8648.

Wednesday

New on DVD is a film that’s not the usual Holocaust-themed fare. “Liability Crisis” is the story of Paul, a Jew so obsessed with the Holocaust that he sees images of Hitler everywhere. His life is on the verge of unraveling when his long-distance girlfriend shows up and he must confront his situation.
$19.98. www.pathfinderpictures.com/video.

Thursday

Providing the second tile in the Skirball’s World Mosaic series is celebrated oud player and singer/songwriter Naser Musa, in a concert titled “Naser Musa and Friends.” Joined by violinist Georges Lammam, accordionist Elias Lammam, upright bassist Miles Jay and percussionists Souhail and Tony Kaspar, Musa will perform traditional Arabic, Arabic folk and traditional Andalusian music this evening. His lecture on Arabic music precedes the show.
7 p.m. (lecture), 8 p.m. (concert). $15-$25. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 655-8587.

Friday

Filmmaker Stephen Grynberg had an interesting response to Judy Chicago’s call to artists to submit works on the theme, “Envisioning the Future.” He looked to the past. As a child of a Holocaust survivor, he has said that his personal exploration always involved looking at his own family history. By looking back, he was able to envision his own future. Hence the title of his art installation, “PAST FORWARD,” which was chosen as one in Chicago’s series.
Runs through Feb. 29. 5-10 p.m. (Feb. 13 and 14 only), Noon-4 p.m. (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). Progress Gallery, 300 S. Thomas St., Pomona. (310) 480-1794.

Bazel Draws Sabra Artists to Encino


Hanging out with a group of Israeli artists at a hot new cafe in Encino may not be the same as sitting on Dizengoff in Tel Aviv, but the conversation is as close as it gets for Los Angeles. Tempo is still great for Middle Eastern food and music, but now Cafe Bazel appears to be the spot for late-night carousing.

Named for a Tel Aviv street full of cafes like this, Bazel’s menu has Theodore Herzl on the front cover because it was in the Swiss town of Basel that he conceived the Zionist movement. The Bazel on Ventura, which has been open for six months, has shakshuka, beet salad, rugelach, tea with mint leaves, waitresses in tight black T-shirts and other women in tight black leather who arrive and sit right in front of the join and make you watch them eat. Long black limos are parked out front, facing off against a Lamborghini and a Mercedes on the other side of the boulevard.

Tonight we’re here with Roni Cohen, an Israeli artist who is telling friends about her new show at the Bank Leumi.

Cohen, who moved to Los Angeles in 1997, was a foreign press photographer during the 1973 war in the Golan and Sinai. An accident near the end of the war wrecked her leg and her camera and she went to study with Ran Schori at Bezalel Arts. She also studied in London and New York and began working in a variety of textures, showing at the Shafrai and Mabat Galleries in Israel.

In 1991, her house on Rehov Bialik in Ramat Gan was rocketed by a Scud missile (she wasn’t home, having escaped to Beersheva). With a damaged life and broken heart, she painted through waves of despair and hope. Working in red and black, signifying drums and explosions of not only war but of new energy, she began expressing what she calls "emotional and industrial landscapes."

Her show features abstract forms on large compressed felt rugs, acrylic and collage, and serigraphs and etchings of Jerusalem and Safed.

"I know the soul is here," she says pointing to her head. "I have a new life now, new friendships, new ideas — new everything."

Cohen teaches early childhood education at Stephen S. Wise Temple, and has a son in high school in Agoura Hills. She has had 11 solo shows in Israel and California and is a resident artist at the 825 Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard.

Back at Bazel, it’s after midnight and Israelis are still pouring in for dinner. The sidewalk tables are packed and the men’s bathroom has a widescreen television showing MTV. Deejays Shai and Ariel play Morcheeba and Zero 7 hipster beats behind the coffee bar. There is no alcohol here yet, but fruit shakes are popular. You can get Israel toast and Schnitzel Panko until 3 a.m.

"Tempo is forever," sculptor Uriel Arad says. But now this is his place.

Every time an artist comes to Los Angeles, like Israeli stand-up Naor Zion, who recently played the Wilshire Ebell Theater, "the place to be after the show is over is Cafe Bazel, for real," Bazel manager Nicki Zvik tells me. "This place will be jammed like it’s no tomorrow."

Cohen is drinking cappuccino with friends Eytan Rogenstein and Arad. Other friends of hers come to Encino from the newer Jewish communities of West Hills and Calabasas. One says the atmosphere at Cafe Bazel reminds him of being on Dizengoff because, "You see everybody."

But his friend disagrees.

"It’s the only place on this entire street," he argues, "so it doesn’t remind me [of] anything."

"Everybody and his opinion," says the first artist.

"Plus it’s too wide, Ventura," continues the second.

Cohen’s friend, the sculptor, also "works in construction, like everybody else."

Looking at the long black sedan parked near his table, he jokes, "I came in that limo." Then adds, "I’m driving it."

Directors, painters, football players, even actor David Hasselhoff comes to Bazel, according to Zvik. He says Hasselhoff claimed the warm chocolate cake the finest dessert he ever had in his life.

However, a shooting in the parking lot a few weeks ago slowed business for a bit.

"Ihiye b’seder" ("It will be okay"), Cohen tells Zvik at the coffee bar.

"It’s already b’seder," the manager assures her.

Roni Cohen’s art appears from Oct. 14 through Nov. 21 at Bank Leumi, 16530 Ventura Blvd., Encino with a reception Oct. 14, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Cafe Bazel is at 17620 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 728-0846.


Hank Rosenfeld is a folk journalist.

Valley Festival Draws Thousands


It was a sunny day in Woodland Hills — perhaps a little too sunny — but the heat did not stop the 11th biennial Los Angeles Jewish Festival from creating some heat of its own.

"More booths, more vendors, more of everything" is how festival co-chair Nancy Parris Moskowitz described this year’s gathering, sponsored by The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance and a host of Jewish organizations and corporate sponsors, which attracted a multiethnic group of some 30,000 people throughout the day. Moskowitz also welcomed the festival’s return to the Pierce College campus, where attendees benefited from "good parking, lots of access and lots of shade."

Ken Warner, Valley Alliance president, was proud that the festival’s $125,000 price tag "is not costing The Federation any money. We did this by asking businesses to contribute."

In keeping with this year’s social action theme, "World Jewry," Becquie Kishineff, who went on a mission to Argentina last November, enlisted the graphic art services of an unemployed Argentine Jew she had met for a special Jewish unity-themed jigsaw puzzle project sponsored by the Valley Alliance.

"He spent hundreds of hours working on it but he didn’t want to accept any money," Kishineff said. "There are people out there who still want to give."

And the festival gave its all in reflecting the diversity of Jewish Los Angeles. Among those occupying booths: Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks); organizations and nonprofits of every stripe from the Anti-Defamation League to StandWithUs and Million Mom March; Yiddish and Jewish culture societies; and grass-roots clubs, such as the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework.

"Part of our mission is to have a visible presence in the community," said Bill Rice of GaySantaBarbara.org, which hosted the Gay Cafe alongside food kiosks Klassic Knishes and Kosher Connection.

Judaica and art vendors ranged from a Shop for Israel shuk to local artists. The Main Stage showcased live music all day long, and kids had plenty of activities to choose from — everything from rock-climbing and Family Stage entertainment, to the Temple Beth Torah of Mar Vista booth, which offered kids a respite from the heat with some storytelling. Keith Levy, director of programs at Congregation B’nai Emet of Simi Valley, showed children such as Abby Leven, 10, of West Hills, how to play the shofar just in time for Rosh Hashanah.

Abby’s father, Paul Leven, who also brought his wife, Saralyn, and 12-year-old son, Aaron, summed up the festival’s appeal: "We like to see our friends and to check out the booths."

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Score! Tonight, the Ford Amphitheatre presents “Movie Music Madness.” The West Hollywood Orchestra, conducted by Nan Washburn, performs several film scores including “Titanic,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Schindler’s List.” Jason Graae lends vocals and a touch of comedy to songs from “Chicago,” “My Fair Lady” and “Lady in the Dark.”

8:30 p.m. $25-$125. 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. (323) 461-3673.

Sunday

Barbarino’s older brother, Columbo and Maude join forces with other notable actors in “Enemies of Laughter,” opening this week at Laemmle’s Fairfax Theatre. Directed by Joseph Travolta (aforementioned big bro), co-starring Peter Falk and Bea Arthur, and starring David Paymer as playwright Paul Halpern, the comedy is luckless Paul’s “deprecating writer gets girl,” Woody Allen-esque story.

$5.50-$8.50. 7907 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 655-4010.

Monday

External journeys as metaphors for internal change are the theme for the night in “Miles From Myself,” at National Comedy Theatre. First up is Janice Bremec’s solo play, “26.2: Single Twin Running,” her story of growing up an identical twin and her eventual need for independence. Round two is Naomi Grossman’s “Self-Portrait: Girl in Argentine Landscape.” The one-woman show describes Grossman’s coming-of-age as an exchange student in Cordoba.

8 p.m. (Mondays and Tuesdays). Runs through Sept. 2. $12. 733 N. Seward St., Hollywood. (323) 930-1804.

Tuesday

Indie artist Rachael Sage’s new album drops today. Titled
“Public Record,” her fifth CD is described as a continuation of her folk-noir
sound that expands into pop territories. The sequined songstress has played
Lilith Fair and opened for Ani DiFranco. Like DiFranco, she’s also a savvy
businesswoman who’s released all of her music on her own label, MPress Records.
“>www.qwipbooks.com

.

Thursday

Spirituality and music unite the four artists featured in
the premiere episode of the Sundance Channel’s new documentary series, “Keeping
Time: New Music From America’s Roots.” Country-folk singer Gillian Welch,
neo-klezmer clarinetist Andy Statman, pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph and
Native American vocal trio Ulali all embrace the task of making traditional,
religious music contemporary. They are highlighted tonight in “Pickin’ My
Religion.” 7:30 p.m.

Comedian Provides Laughs to Israel


Avi Liberman likes to keep his jobs separate. A Sinai Akiba Academy teacher’s assistant by day and a stand-up comedian by night, Liberman doesn’t do arts and crafts on stage and doesn’t tell jokes at school. Which is why, after class, scores of second-graders chase Liberman down the stairs at school, begging him to tell them some jokes.

But these students will probably have to wait until they’re older to get into The Comedy Store or The Laugh Factory and hear Liberman’s rapid-fire observational humor and riffs on everything from weird poker games — where your buddies make up rules as they go along — to the joy of being Jewish in the Luxor Las Vegas (“Because nothing makes a Jew more comfortable than walking into a pyramid”). Liberman’s style is fast and smart, and he embellishes his jokes with quirky voice inflections, expansive physical comedy and wide-eyed expressions that contort his fresh face into a droll collection of visages.

This month, the 31-year-old Liberman will take a break from his Los Angeles and Vegas gigs and head to Israel in a bid to make the beleaguered residents of the Jewish State crack a smile or two. The show “Stand Up and Laugh, The Best of America’s Young Comedians,” will feature Liberman and three seasoned comedians: Los Angeles’ Wayne Federman and Gary Gulman and New York’s Dan Naderman, who all have appeared on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “The Late Show With David Letterman.”

“I was there last summer and I was thinking of ways I could help besides just visiting and supporting pro-Israel causes,” Liberman said. “My Hebrew is not good enough to do a show there, but I thought, ‘There are tons of Americans who live there,’ and I realized that the majority of the people who were suffering were the younger generation — so I thought I could contribute by doing some English shows there.” His agent got in touch with Zev Isaacs, the Israeli promoter who brought Madonna to Israel, and they went full-throttle to get the group there.

For Isaacs, the comedians represented a welcome respite from the drought of overseas artists performing in Israel. Before the second intifada started in September 2000, Isaacs routinely had 10 major acts booked for any given year — like Elton John, Peter Gabriel and Eric Clapton. Once the violence erupted, artists started canceling their tours — sometimes only two weeks before the scheduled date, leaving Isaacs with dry years in 2001 and 2002.

“Very few artists are coming here at the moment, and it’s great to see that someone is prepared to come over and make us laugh a little bit,” said the promoter on the phone from Israel.

The comedians are scheduled to appear in Israel’s Anglo enclaves like Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Ra’anana. They will receive a small stipend and their plane tickets, but most of the proceeds from the shows will be going to charities like Magen David Adom and the Jewish National Fund. As for the jokes they will tell — Liberman said they will be “the funny kind.”

Thinking of ways to help Israel is nothing new to Liberman. He was born there, but raised in Texas, where he attended yeshiva day school and participated in the Young Judea youth movement. Since then, he has become more conservative, both in his personal practice (he is now Orthodox and will turn down acting auditions if they fall on Shabbat, and tends not to perform on Friday nights unless the venue is within walking distance) and in his views on Israel.

“Look at Israel today — would Golda Meir and [David] Ben-Gurion have put up with this crap? The answer is no. My father said he was raised with the principles, ‘Buy the land, farm it, settle it,’ and that is what I was taught. But for some reason, [today’s] Labor Zionists have totally abandoned those principals.”

Liberman has a duel agenda for his time in Israel.

“I really want the guys I am bringing to have a good time because they have never been to Israel before. And I really want the shows to go well and for the Israelis to laugh and have fun and forget about their problems.”

Avi Liberman will be featured this August on Comedy
Central’s “Premium Blend.” For more information, visit them on the Web at www.comedycentral.com .

Star of the Canyon


The Canyon Country Store — the star-studded grocery featured in the older woman/younger man film "Laurel Canyon," starring Frances McDormand — is actually run by two Persian Jews.

Owner David Shamsa and manager Tommy Bina have tried to maintain the store’s authenticity.

Shamsa, who was an influential Persian Jew in Iran during the shah’s regime, was the head of National Iranian Steel Mill Corporation and director of Iran Hotel Corporation, hosting many American officials such as Henry Kissinger, and Sens. Barry Goldwater and Ted Kennedy.

Just a few months before the Islamic revolution, Shamsa fled to the United States and, in 1982, bought the building in Laurel Canyon.

The only store nestled in the verdant Laurel Canyon, Canyon Country Store, built in 1919, has served as a location for several films and is also a hangout for many artists, musician and actors. The cozy, friendly place is reminiscent of a small-town store — whose patrons have included celebrities like Liam Neeson, Sophia Loren and Mick Jagger. Downstairs is a restaurant, Pace ("peace" in Italian), and adjacent is a wood house where Jim Morrison used to live.

Bina told The Journal he feels a responsibility for the entire neighborhood. Together with other locals, he has formed a voluntary group to clean up Laurel Canyon’s surrounding area, for which he has received an award.

"The city doesn’t take care of this area very well," he said. "We do this to protect the environment."

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Linda Richman types be warned. The American Cinematheque’s “Can’t Stop the Musicals!! A Celebration of Hollywood Musicals of the 1970s and 1980s” presents the plotz-inducing Barbra Streisand Double Feature tonight. From Glamour Babs to Cross-dresser Babs, the back-to-back bonanza showcases two very different Streisands in screenings of “Funny Lady” and “Yentl.”

Sunday

The Conejo Jewish community continues to sound its presence today with a special cantors concert at Temple Etz Chaim titled “Shema Koleinu: Hear Our Voices.” Cantors Pablo Duek of Temple Etz Chaim, Peter Halpern of Temple Adat Elohim, Kenny Ellis of Temple Beth Haverim, Mike Stein of Temple Aliyah and Marcelo Gindlin (pictured) of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue join cantorial soloists Sandy Bernstein and Kim Moskowitz in performing an eclectic selection of spiritually uplifting songs.8 p.m. $18-$25 (general), $50-$1,000 (patrons and sponsors). 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-6891.

Monday

All around Los Angeles on practically every day of the week, Israeli dancing sessions are offered for a fee that’s cheaper than a movie ticket and a payoff that’s way better than “The Matrix: Reloaded.” Today, head to the 310 for lessons by Tikvah Mason or Michel and Israel Yakove. (Tikvah also teaches in West Hollywood on Wednesdays.) David Dassa brings his expertise to West Los Angeles and Valley Village on Sundays and Wednesdays, respectively; and James Zimmer offers swing-salsa-tango before segueing into Israeli on Tuesdays at the West Valley JCC. Those who don’t know their Yemenite step from their grapevine should show up early, as lessons generally precede open dance.Mason: (310) 278-5383 (Mondays), (323) 876-1717 (Wednesdays). Yakove: (310) 839-2550. Dassa: www.rikud.com. Zimmer: (310) 284-3638.

Tuesday

Old-schoolers seeking Jewish gangsta flava need look no further than the American Cinematheque tonight. In conjunction with the film’s special edition DVD release on June 10, “Once Upon a Time in America” screens tonight in all its digitally restored, uncut, 229-minute gory glory. For some added bling-bling, the big night also includes in-person appearances by actor James Woods, producer Arnon Milchan, film historian Richard Schickel and production executive Fred Caruso.7 p.m. $6-$9. The Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 466-3456.

Wednesday

Zócalo. It’s a cultural forum. It’s a public think tank. It’s a chance to mingle with some of the biggest American thinkers. And it’s happening again tonight. Essayist and author Debra Dickerson discusses “The End of Blackness and the Future of African America” at the downtown Central Library. Educate your mind. Free your soul.7 p.m. Free. Mark Taper Auditorium, Central Library, 630 W. Fifth St., downtown. (213) 228-7025.

Thursday

Three female Middle Eastern artists bring their individual perspectives to the subject of displacement in three movies now on view at UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. Mona Hatoum, originally from Beirut; Shirin Neshat, born in Qazvin, Iran; and Michal Rovner, born in Tel Aviv, each contribute film or video to the exhibition titled “Elsewhere: Negotiating Difference and Distance in Time-Based Art.”Noon-8 p.m. (Thursdays); noon-5 p.m. (Wednesdays, Fridays-Sundays). Runs through July 27. Free. Westwood. (310) 825-4361.

Friday

Another faux-weathered, mass-produced Pottery Barn piece? Think outside the mall this weekend. The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium welcomes back the Contemporary Crafts Market this year. On display and for sale will be decorative, functional and wearable artwork by over 250 artists.10 a.m.-6 p.m. June 6-8. $6. 1855 Main St., Santa Monica. (310) 285-3655.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

With a title like “Jane White Is Sick and Twisted” the
product practically sells itself. But just in case you haven’t heard of this
little cult film, here’s what you need to know: Obsessed with television and
home-schooled by an agoraphobic mother, Jane White’s strange life gets stranger
when she sets out to find her absent father by trying to make it onto “The Gerry
Show,” a TV talk show in the vein of “Jerry Springer.” In the process, she
encounters freaks of every variety. Written, directed and produced by David
Michael Latt, the movie stars TV icons like Maureen McCormick of “The Brady
Bunch” and Dustin Diamond of “Saved by the Bell.” It’s now available on DVD.
$24.95.

L.A. GOAL Opens ‘Doors’ at Skirball


Sherrie has cerebral palsy, which causes her hands to tremble. So when she was hired to work as an artist for L.A. GOAL in Culver City, she was concerned.

"I can’t paint a straight line, because my hands shake," Sherrie told Susan Wilder, L.A. GOAL’s art director.

"Well, then don’t," Wilder replied. "Use the shaking in your paintings, because that will be part of your language. Rather than fighting it, you can incorporate it."

A door that was closed suddenly opens.

The key? An extraordinary program for adults with developmental disabilities, many of whom haven’t had much success in a job before, let alone one where they are paid as artists.

Forty L.A. GOAL members will be demonstrating their artistic success in "The Drama of the Door," a unique exhibit opening April 30 at the Skirball Cultural Center’s Ruby Gallery. The intention of the exhibit is to provide an opportunity to understand how the doors we open every day determine the lives we live.

The artists have worked diligently on the Skirball exhibit for the past year, exploring and discussing the theme of doors — doors in their lives that are open for them, doors that create barriers, doors that leave them feeling isolated and doors that give them freedom.

The discussion opened the way for the artwork that emerged: brilliantly colored paintings, black-and-white photographs, richly symbolic, hand-painted boxes and intricately designed wall hangings. Each piece tells a story.

The painted boxes have a door that opens and closes. The outside for some represents what is seen and known by others, while the inside depicts a more private self that can be hidden when the door is closed.

"I never thought that I could be a professional artist," said Lisa, who though visually impaired, has always enjoyed drawing. "My artwork has taken a new direction because of this job. It gave me a whole new life. I was very happy when I discovered I could paint."

Unlike workshops for the handicapped, the employees at L.A. GOAL must adjust to high expectations: to be on time, to do quality work and to negotiate with the staff when something upsets them. According to Wilder, this isn’t easy for many people with developmental disabilities.

"They have been ignored or coddled by society," she said," probably because that’s the easiest way not to deal with them."

Elaine, another artist who has her work in the show, accepts the responsibility and sees the payoff. "L.A GOAL has meant a lot to me," she said. "I’ve never been able to do something I really liked before and not fail at it. I do what they ask. I don’t always like it, but I do it anyway, because it’s a job."

On a typical day in the art studio, Sherrie, Lisa and Elaine sit at a large table covered with works in progress, bottles of bright paints, drawing paper and assorted books. The room is alive with the exciting artwork created here: vibrant designs for note cards, baby blankets and hand-painted furniture.

There are eight artists working at the table, and as they draw and paint, they chat, sometimes about the content of their work or techniques the staff has shown them. Though they’re hard at work, laughter often fills the room — a response to a joke or to someone sharing a recent life challenge met in an amusing way. It’s clear that this is a work setting where ideas blossom and creative juices flow, and where disabilities are not the focus of attention.

"I usually painted flowers and pretty things," Lisa said. "For this exhibit, Susan said, ‘Why don’t you paint something that’s hard for you, something that you haven’t done before?’ I decided to do a trapdoor and paint something I don’t like to talk about. I call it my Worry Box."

"I get very frustrated sometimes, and carry things around inside," she added. "I represented that with a dragon, because a dragon breathes fire and fire is very hot, and can burn you. My worries can burn me and hurt me."

The artists at L.A. GOAL often work collaboratively on projects. For this exhibit, a painting by D’Marcus, titled, "The Boxer Rebellion," was also made into a quilt.

"It makes me feel recognized to have people noticing my work and the things that I have done," D’Marcus said. "It’s a new feeling. It feels really good."

D’Marcus said that the door in his painting opens to another world, one that is relaxing and away from pressure.

"My art is the strongest passion I’ve ever had since I was little," he added. "It helps my fear. I feel calm coming here every day and I try to help other people here to be more relaxed. I feel like part of a family."

L.A. GOAL’s "The Drama of the Door" exhibit will be at the Skirball Cultural Center, April 30-June 29. For more information about the exhibit, call (310) 440-4500. For more information about a reception and silent auction hosted by Sean Penn, Thursday, May 8, 5:30pm, call (310) 838-5274.

Solace in SoCal


Sergio Edelsztein said he would not have come from Israel to
a cultural exchange in New York. “Los Angeles is so much more open, and it’s
still about regular people — not so much of an establishment,” said the
director of the Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv.

Edelsztein was one of seven Israeli artists, curators and
educators who came to Los Angeles Feb. 10-15 to view art and establish
professional dialogues, as part of The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles
Partnership. Participating local institutions included the Los Angeles County
Museum of Art (LACMA), the J. Paul Getty Museum, LACMA Gallery, Craft and Folk
Art Museum, Otis Art Institute and Inner-City Arts.

It may seem an auspicious time to bring Israeli artists over
to America, as Israel has been in a virtual state of war since the beginning of
the second intifada, and America is on the brink of war as well; but in a way,
the timing could not have been better to discover what role museums play amid
chaos.

“Where you’re heading now, we’ve been for years,” Edelsztein
told Angelenos about living with violence during a panel discussion at LACMA on
the impact of political turmoil on arts institutions. LACMA Lab Director Bob
Sain and others wanted to know how Israelis and their art were affected by the
situation?

“A lot of people are still doing personal art,” said Nili
Goren, curator of photography at the Tel Aviv Museum.

Yael Borovich, director and curator of education at the Tel
Aviv Museum of Art said that Israelis — artists and non-artists alike — make a
point to keep on with their normal lives. “We still go to the theater, we go to
museums, we go on living,” she said.

For some, the situation has had indirect influence their
exhibits. For example, Nitza Behroozi, curator for Judaica and folklore at the Eretz
Israel Museum exhibited a Hamsa exhibit shortly after the intifada started in
September 2000. Although the exhibit was planned way before the situation
erupted, she felt it still was positive, considering the tensions. “We wanted
to do something that was about what Jews and Muslims share. We share a lot.”

Similarly, American curators and educators are considering
holding exhibits that defuse the charged political atmosphere. Gabrielle
Tsabag, senior educator from the Skirball is considering doing exhibits on
Islam.

“The museum’s role is not just to be a showcase but to be
pertinent,” she said. Exhibits on Islam could “possibly be a way to empower the
moderate Muslin community in this country to feel they can come out and speak
out.”

War was hardly the only thing the Israeli and American
groups had in common; art discussions — on education, exhibit selection,
technical subjects such as preservation — peppered the frenzied week of
touring.

Fowler Museum curator Polly Roberts, led the group through
the “A Saint in the City” exhibit, teaching them about the secret Sufi wisdom
painted into Senegalese street murals.

At the home of Cliff and Mandy Einstein, Ohad Shaaltiel,
artist and Meyerhoff Education Center’s Workshop director in Tel Aviv, was
overjoyed at viewing an Ad Reinhardt painting: “Look at the brushstrokes. I can
see his later work in the brushstrokes,” he said.

In addition to viewing art, the Israelis found practical
lessons to take back home. Nachum Tevet, artist and director of the MFA Program
at Bezalel Academy of Art, fostered artist-in-residence programs. Edelsztein
discovered festivals and other venues for Israeli video artists. Behroozi
learned how textiles are preserved at the Gene Autry Museum of Western
Heritage.

The Los Angeles group began to establish professional
connection that would continue long after the trip ended. Bob Bates, who
founded Inner-City Arts, said that he is willing help the Israelis create
successful arts education programs for kids. “Please stay in touch,” he told
the group repeatedly.

But what the Angelenos might have learned the most from
their Israeli counterparts was how to continue working with art in an
atmosphere of fear, which is relatively new for Americans.

“Yihyeh tov,” Hebrew for “all will be well,” could have been
the motto throughout the week.

“When you come to the museum, you see we’ve always been
threatened, we’ve always struggled, and still look what we did anyway,”
Behroozi said. “So we should take strength from that.”