Israel’s bad boy of cinema gets L.A. fest

“My country, Israel, is full of contradictions and volcanic eruptions. We fluctuate between extremes. One morning you say peace is at hand and all problems will be resolved. The next day, it’s the apocalypse.”

The thumbnail description comes from Amos Gitai, who, more than any other Israeli filmmaker, has explored the emotional peaks and valleys of his people in more than 40 feature films and documentaries.

A retrospective of seven films, illustrating different stages in Gitai’s 30-year career, will start March 15 at the Skirball Cultural Center, continuing March 16 at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre and March 17 on the USC campus.

The organizer and sponsor of the three screenings is the Institut Français, an agency supported by the French government to promote French culture abroad and international cultural exchange.

At first sight, it seems odd that the Gitai fest, supplemented by a richly illustrated booklet in French, English and Spanish, falls under the French aegis, rather than under Israeli or local Jewish auspices.

By way of explanation, French diplomat Mathieu Fournet noted that Gitai spends much of his working life in Paris, and many of his films have been made in France, where he is fervently admired as an international auteur of the first rank.

Fournet heads the Los Angeles Film and Television Department of the French Embassy and is the chief organizer of the Gitai tribute.

If the French and other Europeans love Gitai the cinema artist, Israelis are conflicted, to put it politely, about Gitai, the disturber of the peace.

Though Gitai, now 60, is a Haifa-born sabra whose helicopter was shot down during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and he barely escaped death, his films upset many of his countrymen.

His first film, the made-for-television documentary “House,” was banned by TV executives for showing, in Gitai’s view, “that Palestinians have the same attachment to the land as Israelis.”

Though all his subsequent movies have been shown in Israeli theaters, they have generally been controversial.

For instance, the autobiographical movie “Kippur,” which portrayed the confusion and brutalities of the 1973 war with unrelenting graphic images, received a mixed reception.

Gitai likes to group his movies into trilogies, examining the same topic from three different perspectives. In his “city trilogy” of Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the capital city is represented by “Kadosh” (Holy), set in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim quarter.

Orthodox Jews bitterly attacked the film as presenting a twisted picture of their way of life.

In Europe, Gitai is admired not only for the content of his films, but equally for his cinematic virtuosity and diversity.

“Gitai is now one of the most respected filmmakers in the international arena, who continually explores new narrative methods and styles,” wrote French film historian Jean-Michel Frodon.

Such homages have earned Gitai awards at prestigious film festivals at Cannes and Venice, as well as retrospectives of his works in London, Paris, Berlin, Sao Paulo, Moscow, Tokyo and New York.

By contrast, not once has the Israeli Film and Television Academy, which annually selects the country’s top film to compete for Oscar honors, chosen a Gitai work.

Gitai gave a short laugh when an interviewer asked him if he considered himself, as a filmmaker if not prophet, “not without honor save in his own country.”

“I don’t think this [lack of recognition] is strictly a political matter,” he answered. “Israel has a small film industry, which is very competitive. Maybe there are too many Jews concentrated in a small territory.

“But it is kind of bizarre,” he added, “and there is such a thing as jealousy.”

Gitai is an artistic multitasker, working simultaneously or separately as film director, producer, actor and scriptwriter, as well as author and director of stage plays.

His father, the noted Bauhaus architect Munio Weinraub, was imprisoned and then expelled from Germany by the newly empowered Nazi regime in 1933. He moved to Palestine in 1935 and married native-born Efratia Margalit, a Zionist activist.

Initially, Gitai, born in 1950, followed in his father’s footsteps, earning architecture degrees from the Technion and a doctorate at UC Berkeley. His son, Benjamin, a veteran of the second Lebanon War, is now studying to become an architect himself.

After decades of focusing on his countrymen’s lives and travails, Gitai is now turning his attention to the Diaspora, first examined in his 2008 film, “One Day You Will Understand.”

He is currently working on a movie, “Lullaby to My Father,” exploring the lost European world of his paternal forebears.

“As you get older, you think more about your roots,” Gitai said.

The Los Angeles Gitai retrospective will present the following films:

“Kippur”: Gitai’s experiences during the 1973 war.

“Alila”: The intersecting lives of residents in a run-down Tel Aviv apartment building.

“Kadosh”: Two ultra-Orthodox women question their lifestyles.

“Esther”: The Purim story set in a modern Middle East context.

“Free Zone”: An American woman (Natalie Portman) gets involved in a Jordanian-Israeli money scheme.

“Disengagement”: A Frenchwoman (Juliette Binoche) and her Israeli half-brother are caught up in the Gaza removal of settlers.

“News From Home/News from House”: Last in a trilogy centering on a house in Jerusalem and its Arab and Jewish owners.

Venues, films and dates

Skirball Cultural Center:

“Kippur” on March 15, 8 p.m., features Q&A With Gitai;

“Alila” on March 30, 8 p.m.;

“Kadosh” on April 10, 2 p.m.;

“Esther” on April 21, 8 p.m.;

For advance tickets, phone (877) 722-4849, or visit

American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre:

“Free Zone” and “Disengagement,” March 16 double feature starting at 7:30 p.m. Q&A with Gitai between films, moderated by The Journal’s Tom Tugend; for tickets, visit”

Ray Stark Family Theatre, George Lucas Bldg., USC campus:

March 17; “News From Home/News from House” at 5:30 p.m.; “Disengagement” at 7:30 p.m., followed by Q&A with Gitai, moderated by USC Associate Dean Michael Renov; Admission is free but reservations required through”

Get on down to ‘Funkel Town; Middle Eastern humor; Accordians! Accordians! Accordians!

Saturday the 6th

Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts takes you to “funkel town.” It’s Art Garfunkel in concert this evening, singing American tunes from his days with Paul Simon, as well as solo pieces from days since.

8 p.m. $32-$57.50. 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. (562) 467-8818. ‘ TARGET=’_blank’>

Monday the 8th

The subjects and media of Susan Soffer Cohn’s art have varied over the course of her career. Focusing in on two of her series is the Pauline and Zena Gatov Gallery at the Alpert JCC. Their first exhibition of the year will present her colorful biblical paintings, with titles like “Miriam Led the Women” and “In the Beginning,” as well as her horse portraits, under the title, “Inspired by New Circles.” The exhibit opens this week, with an artist reception scheduled for Jan. 14.

3601 E. Willow St., Long Beach. (562) 426-7601. ‘ TARGET=’_blank’>

Wednesday the 10th

The new year means more new art on view — in fact, three times as much at UCLA Hillel’s Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts. It debuts a trifecta of new exhibitions simultaneously today. “American Jewish Legacy” features a collection of historical documents chronicling the Jewish experience in America, from 1654’s arrival of immigrants to New Amsterdam, through today. Also on view are two divergent photographic exhibitions: “Pure Faith” presents images by Israeli photographer Harel Stanton of religious ceremonies from around the world. “Jewish Musical Icons of the 20th Century” displays the photographs of cellist and photographer Jim Arkatov, who, in the course of his distinguished career in various orchestras, also snapped photos of leading musical icons.

574 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. (310) 208-3081.

Thursday the 11th

The Skirball takes a giant leap in making the accordion cool again with the concert series, “Compressing the World.” Tonight’s third installment features the squeeze box stylings of Rob Curto’s Forró for All. The New York-based band plays northeast Brazilian forró pé de serra dance music, known for its use of accordion, triangle and zabumba drum.

8 p.m. $15-$25. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

Friday the 12th

7 Days in the Arts

Saturday the 14th

?Como se dice, “fun” en Espanol? LA Latino Book and Family Festival, por

Keren’s Corner

Jewish Book Month isn’t till November, but why wait?

Two Jewish children’s authors have events of note going on this week. At Pepperdine’s Smother’s Theatre, see the staged musical adaptation of Judith Viorst’s “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by now a hilarious classic. Or for Jewish folktale funnies, Children’s Book World hosts storyteller Jon Reed, reading from Ann Redisch Stampler’s “Shlemazel and the Remarkable Spoon of Pohost.” Stampler will also attend and sign copies of the book.

Pepperdine: Oct. 14, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. $10-$15. (310) 506-4522.

Children’s Book World: Oct. 14, 10:30 a.m. Free. (310) 559-2665.

supuesto! The festival comes to the Fairplex in Pomona this weekend, and features a children’s stage and play area, food courts, science discovery center and a youth and adult writing exhibition. Pick up a new title, like Susanna Reich’s “Jose! Born to Dance” in the book village, view Latino arts and crafts in the culture and travel village or wander off into one of the other three themed villages.

10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Sat.), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Sun.). Free. (760) 434-7476.

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Monday the 16th

UCLA Hillel’s art galleries mess with our emotions this season. Serenity can be had on the third floor’s “Silent Waves” photographs by Douglas Isaac Busch. Just one floor below, however, the Gindi Auditorium features Shulie Seidler-Feller’s unsettling snapshots of a devastated New Orleans, in “Broken Landscapes.” They are on view through Nov. 15 and the end of December, respectively.
Hillel at UCLA, 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081.

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Thursday the 19th

Dealer and defender of sentimentality Mitch Albom strikes again with his new release, “For One More Day,” about a suicidal alcoholic man who gets that miraculous titular day with his eight-years-deceased mother. The “Tuesdays With Morrie” writer comes to Starbucks today for a Q-and-A, and to Sinai Temple tonight, for a reading and signing.

Starbucks: Noon. 11707 San Vicente Blvd. (Brentwood), Los Angeles. (310) 207-4202.

Sinai Temple: 7:30 p.m. 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518.

Friday the 20th

” target=”_blank”>Bob Dylan makes an L.A. stop tonight on the latest installment of his “Never Ending Tour.” What he’ll perform is anyone’s guess. As always, the one thing the show promises to be is unpredictable.

7:30 p.m. $35-$75. The Forum, 3900 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood.

7 Days in the Arts

Saturday, July 1
In time for summertime, the Skirball has rekindled its weekly Café Z live music series. Take advantage today, and head down to groove to Elliott Caine Quintet’s Afro-Cuban jazz beats. According to Caine’s Web site, KCRW’s Bo Leibowitz described him as a “terrific trumpet player, bandleader and composer … deserving of wider recognition.”

Noon-2 p.m. Free. Zeidler’s Café, Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.


Sunday, July 2
Miami City Ballet whoops it up for its 20th anniversary, with its tour of performances of signature pieces by Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine and Twyla Tharp. Included are Robbins’ classic “Fancy Free,” which was the inspiration for the musical, “On the Town,” and Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs,” accompanied, as you might’ve guessed, by songs by the blue-eyed crooner.

June 30-July 2. $25-$95. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500

Monday, July 3
Shaken or stirred, the martini is more than a drink today. It is a symbol. Sculptor Thomas Mann asked artists to riff on it, reinterpreting the conical glass’ shape and context. “The Martini Show” premiered in New Orleans as a benefit for Craft Emergency Relief Fund. It runs here at Altered Space Gallery, through July 24.

Contemporary art+craft+design, 1221 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. (310) 452-8121

Tuesday, July 4
What goes great with burgers and dogs? Your radio dial tuned to 89.9 KCRW-FM. Its special Independence Day programming features “a day of music by American artists who embrace the spirit of independence.” The lineup of musical patriots includes Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Roy Orbison, Patti Smith and the Dixie Chicks. The presentations feature music as well as interview clips and other materials.

89.9 KCRW-F, ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Wednesday, July 5
Collapsing just moments after a performance of his stirring trio, “In memoriam Dmitri Shostakovich,” at the Jewish Music Commission concert last month, professor Joseph Dorfman was unable to be revived. He died at age 65. In his memory, a concert will be held this evening at Valley Beth Shalom, to benefit the newly founded fund in his name.

7:30 p.m. Free (general), $15 (reserved seats). 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. R.S.V.P., (818) 788-6000.

Thursday, July 6
Gay lovers struggle to deal with their oppressive societies against the backdrop of World War II France in the case of “A Love to Hide (Un Amour à Taire),” and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the case of “Zero Degrees of Separation.” The two films are part of this year’s Outfest 24th Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, which begins today.

Times, prices and screening venues vary by film. Abovementioned films screen at Directors Guild Theatre, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.

Friday, July 7
More lovers caught on opposite sides of the political fence emerge in the film, “Only Human.” Opening today, the Spanish production tells the farcical tale of Jewish Leni, who brings home her boyfriend, Rafi, to meet the folks. But madness ensues when they find out Rafi is Palestinian.

Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino. (818) 981-9811. Laemmle One Colorado, Pasadena. (626) 744-1244.” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, June 3

Left-leaning readers will appreciate tonight’s show featuring political commentary. “Laughing Liberally” is in town for just one night, after a successful February debut at New York City’s Town Hall. Attend to hear comedians/commentators Will Durst, Jim David, Marc Maron, Dean Obeidallah, Rick Overton and Katie Halper skewer Bush and roast the White House.

8:30 p.m. $25-$43. Wadsworth Theatre (on the VA grounds), Building 226, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood. (213) 365-3500. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Sunday, June 4

The South Robertson Neighborhoods Council puts on its annual block party “It’s a SoRo World” this weekend.
The free festival will include vendor and food booths representing area businesses, including Nathan’s kosher hot dogs, a block-long kids fun zone and an environmental pavilion.

11 a.m.-4 p.m. South Robertson Boulevard, between Beverlywood Street and Cattaraugus Avenue. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Monday, June 5

“Reel Talk With Stephen Farber,” the preview film screening and conversation series hosted by Movieline’s film critic, returns for another 10-evening series, beginning tonight. Head to the Wadsworth Theatre for a screening of “Who Killed the Electric Car?” the documentary by Chris Paine recently shown at Sundance and Tribeca film fests. Farber will converse with Paine and exec producer Dean Devlin following the movie.

7 p.m. Mondays, June 5-Aug. 14. $20 (individual screenings), $150 (series). Wadsworth Theatre (on the VA grounds), Building 226, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood. (213) 365-3500. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Tuesday, June 6

Writers Bloc’s concept of featuring one renowned author interviewing another has made for unique literary evenings, offering something more than the usual book reading and signing. This evening, their duo will be modern master John Updike, interviewed by L.A.-centric satirical writer Bruce Wagner.

$20. Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 335-0917. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>


Wednesday, June 7

Don’t call the late Claire Falkenstein’s pieces “sculpture.” She preferred “structures,” OK? The acclaimed artist’s works included gates designed for Peggy Guggenheim’s estate in Venice, Italy, in 1961,and many of her large-scale pieces can still be viewed in touring our fair city. Easier still, Louis Stern Fine Arts presents one in a series of exhibitions displaying works from Falkenstein’s estate. “Claire Falkenstein: Structure and Flow, Works from 1950-1980” is on view through Aug. 26.

Free. 9002 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. (310) 276-0147. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Thursday, June 8

They call it California’s Shangri-La; classical music lovers call it home this weekend. It’s Ojai Valley, and today through Sunday, it presents the annual Ojai Music Festival, now in its 60th year. Hear the music of contemporary composer Osvaldo Golijov performed by various vocalists and musicians over the course of the four days, attend lectures and take in the beauty of the lush surroundings.

June 8-11. Single tickets on sale. (805) 646-2094.  

Friday, June 9

The Contemporary Crafts Market offers decorative, functional and wearable art at all price points this weekend at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. More than 250 artisans will show their stuff — including glassware, jewelry, ceramics, watercolors, wood furniture and plenty more.

10 a.m.-6 p.m. (June 9-11). Free (children 12 and under), $6 (adults). 1855 Main St., Santa Monica. (310) 285-3655. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, May 20

High school teacher Eddie Friedman has made it his mission to take students on the March of the Living, as a way of teaching them about the Holocaust. Over the years, he accumulated a collection of photographs depicting the experience. UCLA Hillel’s Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts has mounted an exhibit of his work, titled, “From Destruction to Rebirth: A Photographic Journey by Eddie Friedman.” It is on view through June 29.

10 a.m.-4 p.m. (Mon.-Fri.). Free. 574 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. (310) 208-3081.

Sunday, May 21

We’re not sure what Thai massage has to do with celebrating your Jewishness, but don’t let that stop you from attending today’s Santa Barbara Jewish Festival. Event organizers also have plenty of traditional activities and entertainment, including musical performances by the Moshav Band and Kings on Holiday, kosher food vendors, children’s carnival rides and Israeli dancing.

11 a.m.-5 p.m. Oak Park, 300 W. Alamar Ave., Santa Barbara. (805) 898-2511. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Monday, May 22

Opening this week, the thriller film, “Hate Crime,” tells the story of Robbie Levinson (Seth Peterson), a young, gay CPA targeted for harassment by his new next-door neighbor. When Robbie’s lover is brutally murdered, he becomes a suspect, and must investigate the case himself to be exonerated.

Laemmle Sunset Five, 8000 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 848-3500. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Tuesday, May 23

It’s a CBS kind of night, over at the JFS gala. The Jewish Family Service annual fundraising dinner honors three community leaders this year, among them, CBS exec Deborah Barak. And keeping the evening all in the CBS family, this year’s masters of ceremonies are actors Rob Morrow and David Krumholtz, of the series “Numb3rs.”

5:30 p.m. Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (323) 761-8800, ext. 1220.

Wednesday, May 24

Opening this week is another exhibit that challenges us not only to never forget, but also to act. “Rwanda/After, Darfur/Now: Photographs by Michal Ronnen Safdie” presents some 40 black and white and color images taken in 2002 post-genocide Rwanda and in a 2004 Chadian Bahai refugee camp, where exiles of the Darfurian genocide take shelter. The exhibition is presented by the Skirball Cultural Center, with a number of related programs scheduled during its run.

$6-$8 (general), Free (members, students and children under 12). 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Thursday, May 25

We’d hoped “paloozas” would die with the ’90s, but here’s one worth checking out, despite the hackneyed name. “Identi-palooza” is a five-week comedy series at the Skirball, in which top comedians and writers present their unique points of view. It begins tonight with Beth Lapides, Kevin Rooney, Cindy Chupack, Rob Cohen and Stephen Glass commenting on “The Ish Factor.”

Ages 21+. 8 p.m. $8-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

Friday, May 26

When Mark Goffman’s grandfather’s wife of 50 years passed away, he suffered a heart attack, a stroke and then fell into a coma. As he lay in the hospital bed, he was visited by the cellist in his quartet, who came to say a private goodbye, and confessed her love for him, which she had kept secret all the years he’d been married. He awoke within minutes of her visit, and married her soon after. The story inspired Goffman, a television writer and producer, to write a play incorporating his grandfather’s story, as well as his own stories of dating and falling in love. “Me Too” runs through June 25.

8 p.m. (Thurs-Sat.), 7 p.m. (Sun.). $23-$28. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (323) 960-7745. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, May 13

The beat goes on today at the annual Santa Monica Festival. Head down to participate in a drum circle; hear multicultural music, including a concert by Bucovina Klezmer; and enter the Eco Zone. The city steps up its commitment to environmental responsibility this year, with totally solar powered stages and a host of activities centered on caring for the Earth, including an outdoor adventure challenge course for kids, and a mobile TidePool Cruiser.

11 a.m.-6 p.m. Free. Clover Park, 2600 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt =””>

Sunday, May 14

When a lovely young woman becomes possessed by a dybbuk, it takes a minyan to cast out the demon. In Paddy Chayefsky’s “The Tenth Man,” they only have nine, until they pull a troubled man off the street to help with the Jewish exorcism. But he’s got his own demons. The play opens this weekend at The Skylight Theatre.

8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.), 3 p.m. (Sun.). $20. 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz. (310) 358-9936.

Monday, May 15

Great American music takes center stage this evening, with a tribute to the works of celebrated lyricist Dorothy Fields. Michael Feinstein, Marvin Hamlisch and others perform “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” a celebration of the life and lyrics of Fields, who wrote the titular hit, and numerous others including “The Way You Look Tonight” and “I’m in the Mood For Love.” A post-performance cast party will follow. The event benefits L.A.’s Center Theatre Group’s discount ticket programs, and is hosted by Corina Villaraigosa.

8 p.m. $200 and $500. 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 972-3139.


Tuesday, May 16

S.T.A.R. Sephardic Tradition and Recreation goes big this Lag B’Omer, and invites the community to join in. This evening they’ve rented out the Santa Monica Pier for a citywide Jewish celebration, complete with rides, kosher food and live entertainment.

5-9 p.m. $8. Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica. (818) 782-7359. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt = “”>

Wednesday, May 17

Bring your child — or your inner child — to L.A. Artcore’s exhibition of Ursula Kammer-Fox’s “Play Mates,” on view through May 31. Kammer-Fox has created a number of whimsical sculptures of made-up creatures for this show, and she explains, “I perceive one of life’s demands to be that we escape our prisons. This body of work represents my escape from the prison of constant seriousness, and the esthetics of higher education.”

Noon-5 p.m. (Wed.-Sun.). Free. LA Artcore Center, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles. (213) 617-3274. ” width=”15″ height=”1″alt = “”>

Thursday, May 18

Lauded short story writer Deborah Eisenberg discusses her latest collection, “Twilight of the Superheroes: Stories” on KCRW’s Bookworm program this afternoon. Host Michael Silverblatt will engage Eisenberg more specifically on the subject of writing about the post-Sept. 11 American sensibility.

2:30-3 p.m. KCRW 89.9 FM.

Friday, May 19

Silliness reigns at the Academy tonight, as it presents a special cast and crew reunion and screening of the classic comedy “Airplane!” Writers-directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker and actor Robert Hays, among others, are scheduled to attend the discussion. No word on the jive-talking Barbara Billingsley.

8 p.m. $3-$5. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Samuel Goldwyn Theater, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 247-3600.

7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, April 15

The bread don’t rise, but spirits may. Two events tonight focus on Passover through music and comedy. Celebrate Chol Hamoed Pesach at Stephen S. Wise Temple with this evening’s “Let My People Sing” series event, “Tears, Laughter and Spirit.” Comedian Joel Chasnoff performs with The Lost Boys of Sudan Choir and Dream Freedom Performers of Milken Community High School. Or visit the Workmen’s Circle for “Music, Mayses … and Matse?!” a concert of Yiddish and klezmer tunes performed by renown musicians Yale Strom on violin, Mark Dresser on contrabass and singer Elizabeth Schwartz.

Stephen S. Wise: 7:30 p.m. Dessert and coffee follow. Donation. 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 476-8561. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Sunday, April 16

Ladies only, you are cordially invited to a special screening of “Together as One,” a multicamera video produced by Kol Neshama, an L.A. arts program for Orthodox girls and women. The film about positive attitude and watching what you say has a “Wizard of Oz”-ian spin, when the snide-mouthed protagonist, Bracha, ends up in The Land of Emes (Truth). There are elaborately choreographed musical numbers featuring now-Orthodox professional performers, along with local school girls. The video may only be viewed in today’s and tomorrow’s screenings.

April 16 and 17, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., Upstairs@ Kehilas Yaakov, 7211 Beverly Blvd. (877) 637-4262.

Monday, April 17

Director Nicole Holofcener’s film about the midlife struggles of four female friends — and their uneasy relationships with money and each other-comes to theaters this week. Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack and Frances McDormand star in the comedy/drama “Friends With Money,” which was the opening night film at the Sundance Film Festival.

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Tuesday, April 18

Head to LACMA West for art that makes you go, “hmmmm….” Their new LACMALab installation, “Consider this…” features the work of six varied artists that all invite viewers to “examine the cultural and social landscape: who are we and what do we want to be?”

Through Jan. 15, 2007. Free (children 17 and under), $5-$9 (general). 6067 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.

Wednesday, April 19

Pay homage to legends of different sorts at tonight’s American Cinematheque screening of “The Night of the Hunter.” This is the kickoff event for their new screening series of devoted film critic “Kevin Thomas’ Favorite Films.” The monthly event will feature 10 of Thomas’ favorites, including “Sunset Boulevard” and “A Star is Born.” Tonight also serves as a tribute to Thomas’ friend, actress Shelley Winters, who starred in “Hunter.”

7:30 p.m. $6-$9. 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica.


Thursday, April 20

The circle of life takes an unconventional turn or two in Michelle Kholos’ new play “Two Parents, Two Weddings, Two Years.” The story follows Sidney, a grown woman with a boyfriend and a career, who must reconcile herself with the fact that her divorced parents are both, separately, getting remarried, while she struggles to hang on to her significant other, and her brother tries to romance his soon-to-be sister-in-law. Wacky Jewish family drama ensues….

8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.), 3 p.m. (Sun.), through May 14. $25. The Hollywood Court Theatre, Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. (323) 692-8200.


Friday, April 21

A woman dressed in a white gown and veil stands at a border crossing between the Golan Heights and Syria. She is “The Syrian Bride,” the titular character in a new film by Eran Riklis, and her story is based on a real incident Riklis witnessed and filmed for his 1999 documentary, “Borders.” The bride’s story is a complicated one, of people’s lives caught between the politics and bureaucracies of border countries. The film played at this year’s Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles, and is released theatrically today.

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A Young Violinist With a Lot of Pluck

Her name is Camilla Tsiperovich. But, growing up in Azerbaijan, there were times she wasn’t allowed to use it. As a 9-year-old violinist performing for world-renowned cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, she was told to call herself Camilla Gadjieva. Her headmaster at the Azerbaijan Conservatory considered this a more suitable name, one that reflected the Muslim heritage of her country. While representing Azerbaijan in international music competitions and spending her first year of high school at the famed Moscow Conservatory, she always understood that “there was something wrong because you were Jewish.”

Tsiperovich no longer needs to hide who she is. A year ago, her talent was noticed by Anita Hirsh, whose work with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has given her a deep commitment to the Jews of the former Soviet Union. Hirsh, the widow of The Jewish Journal’s late publisher, Stanley Hirsh, sponsored Tsiperovich’s entrance into the Idyllwild Arts Academy. Now, at age 17, Tsiperovich is flourishing as a full-time student who divides her days between academic subjects and an intense focus on her chosen instrument.

Idyllwild Arts Academy, a boarding school nestled in the mountains above Palm Springs, is home to 270 high school students who are preparing for careers as artists, dancers, actors, filmmakers and musicians. The atmosphere is international, with about one-third of the student body hailing from Europe, Asia and Latin America. As an entering student with shaky English skills, Tsiperovich is enrolled in a basic course in English as a Second Language. She introduced herself to her classmates by saying, “I’m from Azerbaijan. None of you know where that is.”

The course has required her to write and speak often about the homeland she’s left behind. Todd Bucklin, the school’s ESL teacher, commends her for being frank and responsive: “It’s great having her strong presence in the class.”

He also admires her social progress. In her dormitory she’s been spotted watching Korean-language movies with her new Asian pals, reading the subtitles to understand what’s going on.

At Idyllwild, all academic classes are held in the morning, to leave afternoons free for lessons, rehearsals and practice sessions. Life is so busy that Tsiperovich finds time to practice her violin only five or six hours a day. Back home, her passion for the instrument led her to practice 12 hours daily. Such devotion had its downside: she was prone to developing injuries in her hands, wrists and feet.

Her family, though always supportive, is not especially musical. In fact, a career in music was completely Tsiperovich’s idea. She was only 3 when she saw a televised concert of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G and became obsessed with learning the violin. She began lessons before she turned 4, and it wasn’t long before she was winning competitions and presenting public recitals. She is also a gifted visual artist, who received her current instrument from an American oil company after it used one of her paintings in an advertising campaign.

Tsiperovich admits that in Azerbaijan it’s almost impossible to follow the rules of religious Judaism (her family’s tiny synagogue is now defunct). Nonetheless, she learned from an early age to respect Jewish tradition. She was active in her local chapter of the World Jewish Agency, also known as Sochnut, an organization that encourages Diaspora Jews to feel connected with the State of Israel. It was Sochnut that paved the way for her to participate in an Israeli music festival, where her violin performance won first prize. Because her stay in Israel coincided with her 13th birthday, she was able to celebrate an impromptu bat mitzvah in a local synagogue. Though her parents were far away, she was by no means lonely.

In Israel, Tsiperovich says in her careful, accented English, “I felt like I am at home. I felt so warm. People were so close to me.”

Now she’s learning to feel at home in the United States. She says Hirsh often acts as “my parent in America” and sees her during holidays. Hirsh took Tsiperovich to Utah over winter break for her first attempt at skiing. Still, it’s hard for her not to miss all that she has left behind. When her school took its spring break in late March, she flew to her home city of Baku, on the Caspian Sea, to reunite with her family for the first time in five months. As luck would have it, she was able to share in the festivities of her favorite holiday, Azerbaijan New Year.

Tsiperovich is determined to follow high school with four years at a major American music conservatory. Because her long-range goal is to forge a career as a soloist, it’s likely she won’t be spending many more New Years in her native land. The life of a professional musician can be heartbreakingly tough, but it offers one great reward.

“When you play music,” Tsiperovich says, “you feel really free.”


7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, February 4

It’s the year of the gay cowboy, so why not the privileged lesbian? Head to the Geffen Playhouse for the Los Angeles premiere of David Mamet’s,”Boston Marriage” titled after the Victorian euphemism used to describe a long-term, intimate relationship between two unmarried women. The play about two upper-class women involved thusly is also directed by Mamet and stars Rebecca Pidgeon, Alicia Silverstone and Mary Steenburgen.

Through March 12. $35-$69. 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. (310) 208-5454.

Sunday, February 5

Israeli musician Ehud Banai comes to the Avalon Hollywood. Hear songs from the folk/rock/traditional songwriter’s album, “Answer Me” which won Best Album of the Year at the 2004 Israeli Music Awards, and other favorites tonight only.

9 p.m. $45. 1735 Vine St., Hollywood. (323) 462-8900. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Monday, February 6

See “Lady and the Tramp” fall in love again on the big screen this week. Coinciding with the DVD release, Disney screens a digitally restored Cinemascope of the film at the El Capitan through Valentine’s Day, complete with live visit by Mickey and Minnie before every show. Never have meatballs and spaghetti been more romantic.

$8-$9. El Capitan Theatre, 6838 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (800) 347-6396.

Tuesday, February 7

Valley Beth Shalom and L.A. Jewish Symphony bring piccolos and bassoons to the young masses today. “Linking Our Heritage: Songs of the Generations” is a free educational concert, with special guest artist Sam Glaser, that aims at bringing second- and third-graders and their parents and grandparents together through music. An instrument petting zoo precedes the show.

10 a.m. (petting zoo), 11 a.m. (concert). Free. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. R.S.V.P., (818) 728-1923.

Wednesday, February 8

The Gerard Edery Ensemble winds Ladino, Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew cultures and languages through their latest CD of songs, “Amid the Jasmine.” Unifying the recordings is the group’s particular sound, as well as Edery’s distinctively deep voice. It is released this week.

$15. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Thursday, February 9

L.A. Jews head south this week for the 16th annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival. Catch up on Jewish films you’ve been meaning to see, including opening night movie “Live and Become” and closing night’s,”The First Time I Turned Twenty.” Bonus: get your parents off your case by attending the singles-aimed Flix-Mixer on Sunday night.

Feb. 9-19. Various locations and prices. (858) 362-1348. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Friday, February 10

Don the walking shoes for tonight’s interactive entertainment, care of Collage Dance Theatre. You won’t be dancing, but you will be walking through parts of Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club, for the site-specific dance company’s production of it’s opera: A Dance Opera.

Feb. 9-12, 16-19. (In case of rain, performances rescheduled to Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays.) $25-$40. 1880 N. Academy Drive, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, January 21

Laugh it up at Hillel at Pierce and Valley colleges’ annual Comedy Nite this evening. Nationally known stand-up comedians keep the people happy and entertained, with the help of silent auction and raffle. Actor Tom Bosley, a.k.a. “Happy Days'” beloved Mr. C., will be honored as a positive Jewish role model, thanks to both his professional achievements and his commitment to the community. The event helps support Hillel programming.

7 p.m. (auction), 8 p.m. (show). $30-$35. Pierce College Main Theater, Performing Arts Building, 6201 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills. (818) 887-5901.

Sunday, January 22

Babs fans be warned. No icon — not Streisand, not Patinkin — will be spared at this evening’s musical parody show, “Forbidden Broadway.” The performance troupe is well-known for lovingly mocking productions of the Great White Way, and tonight will be no different, save for the Jewish twist they’ve added just for their University of Judaism audience.

7:30 p.m. $40. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. R.S.V.P., (310) 440-1246.

Monday, January 23

It is our duty to inform you of the latest Albert Brooks film, “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.” Brooks plays himself in the semi-autobiographical story about a comedian chosen for a special government assignment to travel to India and Pakistan to learn what makes Muslims laugh. However, it must also be said that if you are looking for comedy, we’re not sure that this film is where you’ll find it.

Opens Jan. 20. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Tuesday, January 24

Local author makes good. Writer M. L. Malcolm signs her debut novel, “Silent Lies,” this evening at Barnes and Noble, Encino. Meet her, and pick up her story about a poor Jewish Hungarian boy with a knack for languages whose adventures take him from post-World War I Hungary to Shanghai.

7:30 p.m. Free. 16461 Ventura Blvd., Encino.

Wednesday, January 25

Collectors and wannabes hobnob with high art society at tonight’s opening night gala for the Los Angeles Art Show. Pay the big money to take it in tonight, or significantly less to wait till tomorrow (through Sunday). Featured artists include plenty of big hitters like Ansel Adams and Roy Lichtenstein, and the show also serves as centerpiece to Art Week Plus, a grouping of art shows and events around Los Angeles from Jan. 19-29.

$150 (gala), $9-$18 (general admission). Barker Hangar at Santa Monica Airport, 3021 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Thursday, January 26

Thursday becomes eclectic. Tonight at UCLA’s Royce Hall, “UCLA Live” presents Israeli folk/rock/world beat songstress Chava Alberstein in concert with Parisian modern gypsy-klezmer octet Les Yeux Noirs. And the beat goes on….

8 p.m. $22–$38. UCLA Royce Hall, Westwood. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Friday, January 27

A “Black and Yiddish Film Festival” comes to the Skirball this week, the first program of its kind to be developed. Focusing on a shared moment in history, the 1930s-1950s, in which black and Yiddish Americans both experienced a creative renaissance in film, the fest will screen three Yiddish and five black movies of the era. Playing tonight is a double feature of “Lang Ist Der Veg (Long Is the Road)” and “Song of Freedom.”

$5-$8. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

A Blizzard of Flicks for Jewish Eyes

At the Sundance wintertime festival, which began Jan. 19 and runs through Jan. 29, Jewish viewers can check out a blizzard of flicks, including:

Opening night film, “Friends With Money” (Jennifer Aniston, Jason Isaacs), spotlighting successful adults approaching midlife crisis. It’s the latest feature by Jewish writer-director Nicole Holofcener, whose self-deprecating comedy-dramas have been compared to the work of Woody Allen — not surprising, because her stepfather produced all of Allen’s films, and she virtually grew up on his sets.

Paul McGuigan’s “Lucky Number Slevin,” revolving around a Jewish mobster, “The Rabbi”; his arch rival (Morgan Freeman), and the chaos that ensues when the Jew declines to pick up his phone on Shabbat.

Tony Krawitz’s “Jewboy” (Australia), about an Orthodox youth searching for his place in the world (See last week’s story at

Anders Thomas Jensen’s “Adam’s Apples” (Denmark), a black comedy spotlighting a disgruntled neo-Nazi sentenced to community service at church

Yoav Shamir’s documentary, “Five Days” (Israel), on the historic evacuation of 8,000 even more disgruntled Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Frieda Lee Mock’s “Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner,” which profiles the Pulitzer Prize winner who was raised Jewish on a bayou and channels Jewish themes into his work.

Alan Berliner’s “Wide Awake,” a self-portrait of the odd filmmaker’s insomnia, manias and obsessiveness.

Lian Lunson’s “Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man” (See main story).

Rex Bloomstein’s documentary, “KZ” (United Kingdom), about contemporary Germans living in the shadow of the Mauthausan concentration camp (See last week’s piece).

Tiffany Shlain’s short documentary, “The Tribe: An Unorthodox, Unauthorized History of the Jewish People and the Barbie Doll,” on how the busty blond figure — created by a Jewish American — serves as a metaphor of Jewish assimilation and identity

For film schedules and information, visit

Simultaneously, the sixth annual SchmoozeDance and KidzDance festivals — the Jewish counterpart to Sundance on Jan. 20-21 — kick off with a screening of Amos Gitai’s “Free Zone at Temple Har Shalom” in Park City, Utah. The Israeli film focuses on a confused American (Natalie Portman) on a road trip with a bickering Israeli and Palestinian. For information, visit


‘Thin’ Exposes Hefty Secrets and Lies

Alisa, a 30-year-old Jewish divorcee, consumed 200 calories most days. But every few weeks, she repeatedly binged on gargantuan amounts of junk food, then purged by vomiting, swallowing diuretics and Ipecac. After several days, the mother of two usually landed in the hospital.

“I remember at one point thinking … ‘This is the one thing I want so badly, to be thin. So if it takes dying to get there, so be it,'” she says.

Alisa is one of several severely ill eating disorder patients profiled in “Thin,” the film debut of renowned photojournalist Lauren Greenfield. The raw documentary also profiles Polly, who slit her wrists after eating two slices of pizza; Brittany, a goth teenager determined to lose 40 pounds, and Shelly, who was force fed through a surgically implanted stomach tube for five years. Handheld cameras follow their rocky physical and emotional journeys at the Renfrew residential treatment center in south Florida.

The movie joins an expanding body of work on female dietary obsessions, including the PBS documentary, “Dying to be Thin”; Eve Ensler’s play, “The Good Body,” and Greenfield’s own 2002 book and exhibit, “Girl Culture.”

Her documentary focuses less on the complex causes of eating disorders than the Herculean task of recovery for patients who use food the way addicts use drugs. Polly, a shy psychiatric nurse, weighs in at 84 pounds, but blissfully talks about the days when she sucked food out of her feeding tube with a syringe. Brittany reminisces about the “chew and spit” game she used to play with her mother: “We’d buy bags and bags of candy and just chew it and spit it out. We just thought of it as a good time.”

During 10 intense weeks at the center, Greenfield learned that while societal pressures often trigger eating disorders, they are actually mental illnesses with grim statistics. Anorexia is the deadliest of all psychiatric disorders, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry, with mortality rates of up to 20 percent. No statistics exist on Jewish women, but experts say they may be particularly vulnerable, in part, due to more zaftig body types and the drive to look all-American (i.e. svelte).

All seriously ill patients are tough to treat: “Secrets and lies are a big part of eating disorders, because you have to hide your habits from friends and family,” Greenfield explains from her Venice, studio. “At Renfrew, women would clandestinely jog in place in the shower, or conceal weights in their clothing to cheat the scale.”

The center’s rules, therefore, are strict. When Polly arrives at the clinic, staff members promptly search her luggage and whisk away “contraband” such as cigarettes and prescription drugs. In another scene, the usually feisty Polly is obliged to eat a cupcake for her birthday, which she consumes slowly and with disgust. Afterward, she cries bitterly.

Alisa also appears pained when required to sketch a silhouette of herself, which she draws as an obese figure — though after a month at Renfrew she is healthily trim, with an uncanny resemblance to Natalie Portman. She traces her eating disorder to age 7, when her pediatrician declared her fat and she was placed on a 1,000 calorie per day diet.

On camera, she does not discuss how her Reform background fueled her disease, but she answered e-mailed questions through Greenfield.

“Alisa believes that Jews are a proud people; they are very concerned about self-image and there is a strong emphasis on education and money,” the director says. “She thinks that makes for more of a need to overachieve and be perfect, which can drive an eating disorder. So her sense is that being Jewish contributed a lot to her [illness].”

The filmmaker, who is also Jewish, relates to her subjects because she was once obsessed with the scale. At 12, she began physically comparing herself to the other girls at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu and went on to become a chronic teenage dieter. At Harvard University, she “went on a crash diet and lost 26 pounds, in the process gaining so much confidence that I threw myself into my first serious relationship,” she says.

Eventually Greenfield — named one of 25 top photographers by American Photo magazine — dedicated much of her career to chronicling how the Barbie-doll culture scars women. But her 2002 book only touched upon the life-threatening topic of eating disorders, save for several pictures snapped at Renfrew. The artist remained haunted by one of a gaunt patient standing backwards on a scale so as not to see her weight gain.

In June 2004, Greenfield returned to Renfrew with cinematographer Amanda Micheli to further explore the subject, this time in a cinema verite-style film. But she found that earning patients’ trust proved difficult.

After many setbacks, Greenfield won them over by showing she would turn the camera off whenever she was asked to do so. Polly made the request while on a suicide watch, but changed her mind after the director spent the night talking with her. She allowed Greenfield to shoot her purging her breakfast the next morning, an act that is almost always done in secret and is forbidden at the center.

Alisa also purges on camera, but expresses a moment of hope during one group therapy session.

“For a fleeting moment I imagined a better life,” she says. “And maybe — pun intended — I can taste recovery.”

“Thin” will screen at the Sundance festival Jan. 19-29 and on HBO this fall.


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.

Spectator – Sweet Music Amid Turmoil

Those who have followed the documentaries produced by the Simon Wiesenthal Center know what to expect: Films like “Genocide,” “Liberation” and “In Search of Peace” that hit you right between the eyes and in the solar plexus.

Thus, it is more the surprise that its Moriah Films division’s latest documentary, “Beautiful Music,” a 39-minute film narrated by Brooke Shields, proves to be sensitive and understated. “Beautiful Music,” directed and written by the Wiesenthal Center’s Richard Trank, was based on original material by Trank and Rabbi Marvin Hier.

It’s about a blind and autistic Arab girl who blossoms into a musical savant under the tutelage of a caring Jewish piano teacher.

Rasha Hamad, who is deaf and blind like her younger sister, is locked into a small room with her sibling by their parents and later abandoned. Traumatized and helpless, the girls are given a warm home in the Arab village of Beit Jala by a Dutch missionary couple, Edward and Helene Vollbehr.

The girls seem unable to respond to human contact, they beat themselves on the heads and they scream endlessly. But then the Vollbehrs notice that Rasha calms down when listening to classical music and shows an amazing aptitude for playing the piano.

The Vollbehrs turn to the Jerusalem Conservatory of Music, where Rasha is entrusted to Devorah Schramm — although the task is daunting even for this devoted teacher. While Rasha’s piano playing keeps improving, and she even starts to compose her own music, it takes two or three years of daily lessons before Rasha shows any signs of bonding with her teacher. Rasha also suffers when the larger world around her goes awry, when Scuds fall during the 1991 Gulf War or during the terror of the two intifadas.

With calmer days, Rasha picks up again, The last scene shows her performing a Chopin sonata, joined by Jewish classmates, to the applause of the Jewish audience, which had pitched in to pay for her lessons.

Summing up her experience, Schramm observes, “If we look at the headlines, we see generalities. But when we look at one individual, we see more deeply.”

The film will screen at the Hollywood Film Festival on Sunday, Oct. 23 at 3:30 p.m. at the Arclight Theatres, 6360 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. For information visit


7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, August 6

While we are of the opinion that adult twins who dress alike are about as cheesy or creepy as you can get, we can’t speak for the Rosenblum Twins’ comedic skills. The identically attractive Jewish girls perform their bit, “The Separation Anxiety Tour,” as special guests in tonight’s Masquers Cabaret lineup.

9:30 p.m. $15 (cover, plus two-drink minimum). 8334 W. Third St., Los Angeles. (323) 653-4848.


Sunday, August 7

Down-home blues and pretty bluegrass are just some of the sounds you’ll hear today at the Skirball’s “American Roots Musical Festival.” Acclaimed blues and gospel performers The Holmes Brothers and zyedeco artist Geno Delafose headline the daylong extravaganza that highlights our musical past.

2-7 p.m. $5-$15 (general), free (children under 12). 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (866) 468-3399.

Monday, August 8

The dirt behind the manicured lawns of fictional suburban town, Agrestic, Calif., is “Weeds,” a new Showtime comedy series. Created and executive produced by Jenji Kohan (Emmy Award-winner and sister of “Will and Grace” exec producer/creator David Kohan), the show stars Mary-Louise Parker as a different kind of desperate housewife. The widowed mother of two turns to selling pot to pay the bills after her husband’s sudden death. Elizabeth Perkins and Kevin Nealon also star. The show premieres this week.

10 p.m. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Tuesday, August 9

Cuz you can’t get enough industry talk in this city, head downtown tonight to partake in yet another conversation on the state of Hollywood through Zócalo at California Plaza. Robert J. Dowling, 15-year Hollywood Reporter editor-in-chief, and L.A. Times columnist Joel Stein discuss both the culture and the business of this business — and, most importantly, TomKat.

7 p.m. Free. 351 S. Olive St., Los Angeles. (213) 403-0416.

Wednesday, August 10

For one heck of a hora film, see Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in “Wedding Crashers,” about two friends who crash weddings to hook up with women. The opening montage includes the two hamming it up at various ethnic weddings, including a Jewish one.

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Thursday, August 11

The rich diversity of L.A.’s religious community is on display in photographer Robert Berger’s latest book, “Sacred Spaces: Historical Houses of Worship in the City of Angels.” The book’s title and contents also make up the Skirball Cultural Center’s new exhibition of Images representing L.A.’s religious sanctuaries of past and present. It opens today.

Runs through Nov. 27. Free. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Friday, August 12

For escapist humor don’t look to Theatre 40’s latest production. Jules Feiffer’s biting black comedy, “Little Murders,” will offer you humor all right, but there will be no escape. Set in an urban, violent Manhattan, the play centers on one family coping with the usual American family dysfunction, complete with overbearing mother, passive father and sexually confused son. It plays through Sept. 3.

8 p.m. (Thurs.-Sat.), 2 p.m. (Sat., Aug. 13, 20, 27 and Sept. 3; Sun., Aug. 7). $18-$20. Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills High Campus. R.S.V.P., (310) 364-0535.

Project Shabbat a ‘Go’ in Cannes

Every year in May, a phenomenon occurs in the South of France — the Cannes Film Festival. Like showy, migrating birds, “Zee American Show Beez people” make their annual flight to the Riviera convention of Hollywood deal-makers. Clinging to their cell phones, they stuff themselves with French food, ogle the topless Euro-hotties on the beach and swarm the narrow streets with fistfuls of business cards.

At the grand hotels along the Croisette (the promenade along the beach), desperate show biz climbers dart from one hospitality suite to the next, making frantic attempts to get on guest lists for parties where there might be celebrities or “money people” who might fund their movie project. Very few people go to Cannes for love of the art of filmmaking. They go to make money and connections. Most of the conventioneers are so busy trying to cut deals that they never even see the films competing for the Palme D’Or.

Months before the Cannes Film Festival, Scott Einbinder, producer of “The Velvet Side of Hell” and Steven Kaplan of Rainstorm Entertainment (an L.A. production company), decided to host a Shabbat dinner and invite people of all religions to enjoy an evening of Jewish spirituality in Cannes. In America, religion and business are like peanut butter and jelly, but “Jewish spirituality” on the Riviera? It seemed out of place at a film market in France, a country so proud of being secular.

At first I thought the Cannes Shabbat dinner was another clever networking angle. Religion is big at the box office these days. And what better way for a couple of young producers to rub shoulders with some of Hollywood’s big movers and shakers than to invite them to a Shabbat dinner?

But I was wrong about the angle. As soon as I got to the Rococo Villa on Boulevard Montfleury and met Scott and Steve, I knew they were just a couple of nice Jewish boys. They had a tiny budget, but because of their good will and good luck, their Shabbat dinner fell into place.

Miraculously, they secured a sumptuous Belle Époque villa in the hills above the Croisette and some colorful local rabbis to lead the service. Rabbi Mendel Schwartz, executive director of the Chai Center in Los Angeles, flew in to help out with the Maariv service. A generous kosher caterer came through with saumon fumé and a cassoulet de poulet aux herbes, more elegantly served than at a restaurant along the Croisette.

My friend Frédéric, a handsome Corsican who had given me a ride to the party from Nice, panicked when a rabbi offered him a kippah.

“I’m not Jewish! I can’t wear this hat,” he said. “I’m starving, there’s all this food but no one’s eating! Can I eat, or is that bad form for a Jewish party? And where are the stars? Aren’t there any Jewish stars coming?”

It’s difficult to explain to a French party-boy who is “doing Cannes” why he can’t eat or drink until the sun has completely gone down over the Mediterranean and that even Christian stars might not show up.

I introduced myself to the rabbi and automatically reached to shake his hand. He scooted backward.

“I cannot give you my hand but I can give you my heart,” he said.

A guest in a low-cut dress overheard.

“He didn’t shake your hand? How rude,” she said. “We have another party on the Croisette if you want to go. We’re leaving right after we eat.”

I explained to her that the rabbi hadn’t been rude, that he was actually being polite. (Orthodox men don’t touch women who are not related to them.) She quickly lost interest and walked to the other side of the pool where the people looked more important.

At 7 p.m., a group of serious-looking men wearing long beards climbed up to the balcony overlooking the Grecian-style swimming pool and began maariv, the evening prayers. It was all very cinematic, the men in black holding their prayer books, singing and rocking back and forth toward the Bay of Cannes. We stood below them, a group of around 50 Festivaliers surrounded by faux, naked, marble statues of Michaelangelo’s David (uncircumcised).

During the prayer, someone’s cell phone rang — loudly. The ring tone was more Compton than Cannes. Just above the rabbis’ heads, a large banner belonging to yet another company renting the villa read, “FILMLINELA.COM.” Above the banner, on the balcony, several scantily clad starlets leaned out of a window. They were drinking.

“We need female energy,” Schwartz yelled from the men-only prayer balcony. He hadn’t seen the girls giggling in the window above him and wanted us (female Shabbat guests) to chime in from pool area below. Many blank faces turned to each other. Few guests knew the prayer.

An Israeli woman next to me whispered, “It’s so divisive, this kind of Orthodox thing. In Israel, these people scare us. All the dividing of women and men — it’s terrible.”

After the Kiddush, people, about 40 in all, rushed to their tables to eat. I saw some hesitation on French faces about the single glass of wine being passed around.

“I feel completely dépaysé [out of one’s country],” Frédéric said.

At our table, there were American bankers, lawyers and publicists as well as a French economist, a French rabbi and an attractive Asian woman who worked for an American production company. She was continually pulling up the spaghetti straps of her skimpy dress and blabbing on her cell.

“I’m hanging with the Jews tonight,” she slurred into her Nokia. “Tomorrow, we’re having a big party at our villa. I’m a little drunk right now.”

She was having a hard time sitting in her chair.

A banker at the table told me about the “Velvet Side of Hell,” which was produced by our host. “It’s about a three-way with an American ambassador. It’s got extortion and Hungarian porn stars.”

“Are the Hungarian porn stars real actresses playing porn stars?” I asked.

“No,” said the banker, “the Hungarian porn stars are playing themselves.”

(Scott, the producer, later explained that his film, set in Hungary, was a thriller, not a three-way, and that the banker’s description was all wrong: “None of the lead actors or even smaller role actors are porn actors.” The banker apparently had been carried away by Cannes’ decadent atmosphere, while also figuring that porn stars could be a selling point for “The Velvet Side of Hell.”)

Then the French economist asked me very directly about where I invest.

“Have you heard of Israel Bonds,” he asked. “I can get you 5 and a half-percent interest.”

I’m always interested in a financial tip and everybody at the table seemed to be breaking Sabbath rules, so I asked him how long I had to keep the money in to get the 5 and a half percent.

“Can you remember a number?” the kippah-wearing economist asked.

“No,” I said, “I’ll write it down. I’ve got a pen right here.”

“No,” he yelled. “It’s the Shabbat! You have to remember the number! I can’t give you a card. I’m not working!”

Across the table, the Israeli woman was arguing with a pro-Palestinian banker.

“Have you ever been to Israel?” she demanded.

He hadn’t.

“Well then you don’t really know what you’re talking about,” she said. “Come to Israel and see how tiny it is and see who is right!” Like he had touched a live wire, the banker swiveled in his chair toward me and away from her. “Have you seen ‘Hellboy,'” he asked me.

“I loved ‘Hellboy.’ He’s so shy and sweet.”

I know our hosts meant well by trying to bring a little spirituality to the Cannes Film Festival, but mixing morality with show biz is no easy task. It’s like trying to inject water into oil. Still, I enjoyed the party. The food was good, the view was great, the religious ceremony was uplifting and the business chatter was predictably ridiculous. When I left, I couldn’t help thinking that I had just experienced the real velvet side of Hell.

Carole Raphaelle Davis lives in Nice and Los Angeles. She can be contacted at

A Cannes-Do Triumph for Israeli Actor

Naomi Pfefferman, Arts & Entertainment Editor

When Hanna Laslo won best actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her role in Amos Gitai’s “Free Zone” May 21, she made Israeli cinematic history. It was the first time an Israeli actor has received the prize — perhaps second in prestige only to the Oscar — since Oded Kotler won for Uri Zohar’s “Three Days and a Child” in 1967.

Laslo, 51, plays a brassy cab driver who sets out to conduct business in Jordan’s “Free Zone,” a customs-free region where nationalities mingle in a giant auto bazaar. Along for the ride is an American Jew (“Star Wars'” Natalie Portman, who was born in Jerusalem) and a Palestinian woman (Hiam Abbass) who joins the Middle East road trip.

During her Cannes acceptance speech, the moon-faced Laslo — known in Israel for her edgy one-woman shows — proved as feisty as her character when she demanded that presenter Ralph Fiennes kiss her on the cheek. She then said she wanted to share the award with her mother, an Auschwitz survivor and with “victims in general, notably Arabs and Palestinians.” She also suggested the film’s true subject is Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

“It’s high time we come together and try to work out solutions to this problem,” she said, prompting thunderous applause from the star-studded audience.

In a press conference, Laslo said she identified with her character because she, too, loves her country and wishes for peace, while acknowledging that political strife makes life economically and emotionally rough for Israelis.

Her character is a metaphor of Israeli existence and the struggle to survive, she told the Jerusalem Post.

“It’s not for nothing that I mentioned Auschwitz in my [acceptance] speech,” she said.

7 Days In Arts


Let’s make a deal? Monty’s offering you one you can’t refuse. Continuing today and tomorrow is the 31st annual Merchant of Tennis/Monty Hall/Cedars-Sinai Diabetes Tennis Tournament. You might have missed last night’s cocktail reception, but that’s no reason to skip today’s tournament. Plus, Sunday’s championship finals take place at that earthly Valhalla — the Playboy Mansion.$450 (tournament entry fee). Mountaingate Country Club, 12445 Mountaingate Drive, Los Angeles. $150 (championship). Playboy Mansion, Beverly Hills. (310) 996-1188.

It’s got the trappings of a good murder mystery, but Col. Mustard stays away in Robert E. Sherwood’s “Idiot’s Delight.” Colorful characters go about their business while stranded in a Fascist Italy hotel on the eve of World War II.8 p.m. (Thursday-Saturday), 7 p.m. (Sunday). $20. Runs through Oct. 19. Lillian Theatre, 1078 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood. (323) 960-5521.


What with the kids back in school, it’s dawned on youthat you actually miss the little buggers. Indulge this tender moment and takethem with you to Park Labrea’s seventh annual Art in the Park Art Fair andFestival, featuring a children’s “fun field” with art workshops and children’sart display. 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. Free. 6200 W. Third St., Los Angeles. (323)549-5580. .

Jews, Muslims and Christians come together for some interfaith dialogue at the Laemmle Fairfax. The program includes a screening of Ruth Broyde-Sharone’s 18-minute documentary, “God and Allah Need to Talk,” as well as performances by Palestinian violinist Nabil Azzam, Iranian entertainer Mitra Rahbar, Ladino music singer Stefani Valadez and the Yuval Ron Trio with percussionist Jamie Papish.Noon-3 p.m. $10 (suggested minimum donation). 7907 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 837-2294.


Don’t let the title fool you. Those who love a parade shouldn’t attend Alfred Uhry’s “Parade” expecting baton twirlers atop toilet-papered flatbeds. It’s called irony, people, and Uhry uses it well. His Pulitzer Prize-winning musical tells the tragic tale of Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-born Jew living in Georgia, who was executed for a crime he didn’t commit. The show kicks off the Musical Theatre Guild’s eighth Broadway in Concert season at the Alex Theatre tonight.7:30 p.m. $35. 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. (818) 243-2539. Also Sept. 21, at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. $38. The Janet and Ray Scherr Forum Theatre, Countrywide Performing Arts Center, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. (805) 583-8700.


Short and sweet, “The Ice Cream Man” screens today at the Silver Lake Film Festival. That’s short, as in not feature length, and sweet, as in ice cream. Written and directed by Dylan Rush, the film tells the story of a turf war between ethnically divergent Venice Beach ice cream vendors.11:30 a.m. $10. Vista Theatre, 4473 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (866) 468-3399.


With the High Holidays approaching, do you know what you’ll be putting on the table? Perhaps you should let Sur La Table help you out. Chef Judy Bart Kancigor offers a cooking demonstration titled “Not Your Grandma’s Rosh Hashanah Dinner,” based on her cookbook “Melting Pot Memories.” On the menu: Layered Hummus Eggplant, Braised Turkey Breast Pinwheels With Spinach and Exotic Mushroom Stuffing, Southwestern Sweet Potato Tzimmes in Chile Pockets and Cream Puff Taiglach Towers With Honey Almond Caramel Sauce.6:30 p.m. $45. Farmers Market, 6333 W. Third St., Los Angeles. Also tomorrow in Santa Monica. (866) 328-5412.


Milla Jovovitch performs punk covers of klezmerfavorites and Adrien Brody ventriloquizes in Greg Pritikin’s new film, “Dummy.”Opening this week, the offbeat romantic comedy about a nebbish who still liveswith mom and dad follows his endeavors in learning the art of ventriloquism andin wooing his unemployment counselor. Some are hailing it “My Big Fat JewishWedding,” while others point to some disappointing clichés. We leave it to youto decide who the dummy is.


Give peace a chance? Maybe after today’s outing. Currently on display at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts is “Requiem for War: Paintings by Hans Burkhardt.” The works, which span the years 1938-1993, use abstract expressionist symbolism to reflect his responses to the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm and the conflicts in Latin America and the Middle East.10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tuesday-Friday), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Saturday). Runs through Sept. 30. 357 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 938-5222.

The Circuit

Film Fest Fun

The succession of subtitles onscreen was riveting and jarring: “The biggest singer in France is Israeli…. Mike Brant looked relaxed and beautiful, except his head was lying in a pool of blood.”

The text flashed across the screen during a teaser for “Mike Brant: Laisse Moi T’aimer,” an Israeli documentary exploring the stormy, short-lived starburst of Brant, an Israeli singer who didn’t even speak fluent French when he took France by storm with his pop hits in the early 1970s. By 1975, at age 28, he fell to his death from the sixth floor of his Paris apartment building in an apparent suicide.

“Mike Brant,” an Israeli 2003 Cannes entry, was one of more than two-dozen cinematic offerings at the 19th Israel Film Festival, a film anthology spotlighting the latest crop of feature-film fiction and documentaries coming out of Israel.

Erez Laufer, director of “Mike Brant,” was one of the honorees at the opening-night gala, held at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills. Laufer, during his acceptance speech for the Cinematic Award, told the audience that he was pleased to be at Cannes 33 years to the date of Brant’s first performance on a French TV show.

Israeli filmmakers were, naturally, the focus of the fete, but they weren’t the only ones being honored on opening night. The festival also saluted a couple of local yokels who are doing all right for themselves. Richard Riordan, former L.A. mayor and prospective newspaper publisher, introduced Humanitarian Award-recipient Larry King. Marvel Entertainment’s Avi Arad presented the Visionary Award to Laura Ziskin.

Ziskin, who previously had a hand in “Pretty Woman” and “Fight Club,” said, “I work under the motto that movies aren’t made. They’re forced into existence.”

Meir Fenigstein, festival founder and executive director, shared his incredulity over his event reaching the big 19. He spoke highly of the “challenge bringing the unique films and creativity of Israeli filmmakers to the U.S.A.”

“The festival allows us to see Israel without the politics,” said Kobi Oshrat, the Israel Consulate’s cultural attaché. “It shows what Israeli society is all about.”

This year’s festival, which runs through June 8, highlights films like “Slaves of the Lord,” another Cannes entry; and festival opener “All I’ve Got,” a macabre romantic comedy written and directed by Keren Margalit, which was screened at the gala opening and underscored the special “Reflections of Women” category.

Following the screening of “All I’ve Got,” The Circuit chatted with Ronit Reichman, a Tel Aviv University graduate and the producer of “Under Water,” who is in the process of relocating her Tamuz Productions to Los Angeles, where she will produce a three-part documentary on Islamic terrorism. The Circuit also caught up with Laufer, also a Tel Aviv University alum.

“In France, there’s a big ’70s revival right now, so people were ready for this film,” Laufer said of his Cannes reception. For Laufer, chronicling the life of the late Brant was “a journey to try and piece it together from what people say, from archive footage. You try to find the person.”

Also in attendance: L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; “Wisdom of the Pretzel” producer Shai Werker-Option; “In the Ninth Month” writer-director Ali Nassar and star Nissrin Faour; “Return From India” producer Evgeny Afineevsky; “Local Hero in Jerusalem Beach” director Natali Eskinazim; David Lipkind, Israel Film Fund executive director; Meital Dohan, star of “God’s Sandbox,” and the film’s producer, Yoav Halevy; and Arthur Hiller, director of the original “The In-Laws,” who — with Arnon Milchan, Mike Medavoy, Michael Fuchs, Peter Chernin, Sumner Redstone, Sherry Lansing, Ron Meyer, Joe Roth, Terry Semel, Haim Saban, Steven Spielberg, Ted Turner and Jack Valenti — comprised the impressive roster of honorary chairs and co-chairs for 2003’s Festival.

For more information on the 19th Israel Film Festival, call (877) 966-5566 or visit .

7 Days In Arts


Somehow, USC Hillel and the Casden Institute have tracked down a few Jews in Hollywood. This weekend, the machers gather with Jewish student filmmakers from Los Angeles and New York for USC’s fourth annual Jewish Student Film Festival. Today’s itinerary: An afternoon “Pitch-Off” and “An Evening with Jonathan Kesselman.” From 4-6 p.m., students get to pitch their story ideas to William Morris agent Mark Itkin; creator and writer of “Freaks and Geeks,” Gabe Sachs; and Howard Rodman, chair of the writing department of the USC School of Cinema-Television. At 7:30 p.m., USC alum and writer-director Kesselman (“The Hebrew Hammer”) participates in a Q and A.Feb. 28-March 2. USC, Los Angeles. (213) 747-9135.


To coincide with the release of his novel for young readers, “Summerland,” wonder boy Michael Chabon speaks about “childhood, imagination and creativity” at UCLA today. Chabon is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” (Picador, 2001). A 20-minute Q and A with the audience and book signing will follow the one-hour talk.8 p.m. $15-$35. UCLA Royce Hall, Westwood. (310) 825-2101.


Those who missed its one-week coming out party this pastOctober can catch “The Trials of Henry Kissinger” on cable this month. TheSundance Channel airs it today (with eight more March screenings) to launch”DOCday” Mondays, a series which will premiere new documentaries every Monday at9 p.m. Finally, the lowliest of weekdays gets some respect. 9 p.m. SundanceChannel. .


“Fashion and Transgression” is the titillating theme of the USC Fisher Gallery’s current exhibition. American and European women’s fashions from 1900-1950 are examined, exploring “tensions between personal and social identity, as well as the tensions between the liberation and regulation of the body.” Materials on display include photos by Alfred Steiglitz, Man Ray and Edward Steichen, a rare book by Jean Saudé and prints and drawings by Salvador Dali and Otto Dix, taken from various Los Angeles collections.Noon-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Saturday). Runs through April 12. Free. USC Fisher Gallery, Los Angeles. (213) 740-4561.


Lee Miller defied convention as a fashion model-cum-combat photographer. Far from the typical muse, she inspired the likes of Roland Penrose and Man Ray with her beauty, as well as her artistic talent, evident in her paintings, drawings and photographs. Her art, as well as the art inspired by her, is on display in the Getty’s “Surrealist Muse: Lee Miller, Roland Penrose and Man Ray, 1925-1945.” Included are Holocaust images she captured as a photojournalist during World War II.10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tuesdays-Thursdays, Sundays), 10 a.m.-9 p.m. (Fridays and Saturdays). Runs though June 15. Free. The Getty Museum, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300.


Barbara Cook is only giving us a few days to catch the act that earned her a 2002 Tony nomination for Special Theatrical Event on Broadway. She stars in “Mostly Sondheim” at the Ahmanson with Wally Harper on piano and Jon Burr on bass. As you might have gathered, they’ll be doing songs by Sondheim, as well as others, like Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg and Irving Berlin.8 p.m. (Thursday, Friday and Saturday), 2 p.m. (Sunday). Runs through March 9. $20-$55. The Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 628-2772.


Titian meets tango in Ruth Weisberg’s latest exhibition, “Ruth Weisberg: Love, Sacred and Profane.” Her work is often inspired by fine art images, like Titian’s “Amor, Sacro e Profano” and William Blake’s engravings for Dante’s “Inferno.” In this exhibition, she uses both of these works as foundations for depicting the confluence of art history and personal history, as in her Titian-inspired piece, where lovers slow dance in the forefront of the painting.10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tuesdays-Fridays), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Saturdays). Runs through April 30. Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, 357 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 938-5222.

Songs of Power

On a December day in 1993, an anxious Lee Hirsch sat on a747 bound for riot-torn South Africa with $600 and a small video camera.

The 20-year-old filmmaker didn’t know a soul inJohannesburg, but he had two telephone numbers and a mission: To make adocumentary about the protest music that had spurred the anti-apartheidmovement. To buy his ticket, he had sold his car and ignored the StateDepartment official who had called about the travel advisory.

“It was months after [American student] Amy Biehl had beenmurdered in Cape Town, and the plane was empty,” said Hirsch, a politicallyprogressive Jew from Long Island. “I was very scared, and I was prepared toturn around and go home the next day.”

Instead, he struggled for nine years to make “Amandla! ARevolution in Four-Part Harmony,” which won the audience and Freedom ofExpression Awards at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and opens today in LosAngeles. Named for the Xhosa word for power, the exuberant movie explores the historyof apartheid and the music that helped overturn it. While some of the songshave previously been featured on the soundtracks of fictional films such as”Cry Freedom,” the documentary is the first to explore the phenomenon ofprotest music itself.

For the energetic Hirsch, who punctuates conversation withyouthful invectives such as “awesome,” one inspiration was the Jewish mandateof tikkun olam (repairing the world).

“I learned about it in a college class on the earlyChasidim, the Jewish radicals of their day,” said Hirsch, whose previous filmprofiled his godfather, the Holocaust survivor. “Coming out of the Jewishhistory of oppression, I feel we have the responsibility to stand up and makethe world a better place. In ‘Amandla!’ I wanted to show the power of music toaffect this kind of social and political change.”

Hirsch has been preoccupied with anti-apartheid music sincesuccessfully lobbying his Vermont boarding school to divest its South Africanholdings in the 1980s.

“I’d watch a news broadcast about unrest in a township andrealize that people were singing, because I could hear it under thenewscaster’s voice,” he said. “I started becoming obsessed with the music, andI vowed to learn more.”

Easier said than done. No studies or books existed on thesongs, which were largely undocumented. And the white, Jewish filmmaker didn’tknow any of the black activists or performers. His first break came when hecalled one of his telephone contacts two days after arriving in Johannesburgand reached a Zulu family whose son was prominent in the MK, the military wingof the African National Congress. Before long, he was tagging along tounderground meetings in the townships, which he describes as “row after row ofunpaved streets and garbage burning in overstuffed receptacles.”

“Suddenly, I was in the middle of things,” he said.

By the mid-1990s, Hirsch had partnered with “Amandla!”producer Sherry Simpson, an African American TV music producer based in LosAngeles, and had relocated to Johannesburg to develop the film. Over the nextfive years, he criss-crossed the country with his video camera, filling 12notebooks with research and persuading activists to appear in his film.

Parliament member Thandi Modise described how she sang tocomfort herself when her water broke during a prison beating and she was dumpedin her dank cell to give birth. An ex-death row warden stood in the former”hanging room” at Pretoria Central Prison and recalled leading shackledactivists to the gallows (they sang, too).

At a 1995 rally, Hirsch filmed a beaming President NelsonMandela dancing to a victory song before the country’s first democraticelections. 

He believes he was granted the access because he was aneager American, not a white South African; it didn’t hurt that he was Jewish.”It’s well known that most of the white anti-apartheid activists were Jews,” hesaid by telephone from his publicist’s office in Manhattan. “These people wereloved by the black community as if they were black, as if they were one of theirown.”

For two years, Hirsch lived in the guest bedroom of one suchactivist, Dr. Paul Davis, a “struggle doctor” who cared for detainees when theywere released from prison. Hirsch grew to love the multicultural Shabbatdinners Paul held with his wife, Allison Russell, a chief physician at thelargest black hospital in South Africa. “They were a tremendous inspiration tome,” Hirsch said of the couple. “We talked a lot about tikkun olam and what ourresponsibilities are to the world as Jews.”

Ten years after Hirsch set off on that empty flight forJohannesburg, he still considers directing socially-conscious films to be oneof those responsibilities. “I want to make movies that fuse my activism with alarger audience,” he said.

“Amandla!” opens Feb. 28 at Laemmle Sunset 5, 8000 SunsetBlvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500; and in March in Orange County. 

7 Days in the Arts


Monique Schwartz has people talkin’ about our mommas. No need to organize a posse though. This is actually kind of Schwartz’s way of doing that herself — to analyze and combat stereotypical depictions of Jewish mothers in film. Her documentary “Mamadrama: The Jewish Mother in Cinema” screens today as part of the Laemmle’s “Bagels and Docs: A Jewish Documentary Series.”

10 a.m. Laemmle’s Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. For more information, including other screening dates and times, call (323) 848-3500 or visit

The wacky duo is at it again, only this time they’re being sponsored by Muslims. Thanks to the Iranian Muslim Association of North America (IMAN), the comedy duo of Rabbi Bob Alper and Egyptian-born Ahmed Ahmed continue their goal of “building bridges in troubled times through laughter,” tonight at IMAN Cultural Center.

7:30 p.m. $18 (in advance), $20 (at the door). IMAN Cultural Center, 3376 Motor Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 202-8181.


It’s been 10 years since “The Quarrel” hit theaters, and this morning, the Sunset 5 hosts a special screening of the film about two old friends reunited after the Holocaust and the differences and disagreements that still separate them. Following the screening, the film’s writer-producer David Brandes moderates a discussion on “Good and Evil in Islam and Judaism” between Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and Dr. Khaled M. Abou Fadl. Proceeds benefit The Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity.

10 a.m. $12 (general), $118 (sponsors). Laemmle’s Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 556-5639.

Panic grips your heart as you realize you only have only 27 days left till Chanukah. We know, that lunar calendar’ll get ya every time. But fret not, dear readers. For today is the Contemporary Crafts Market. Jewish trinkets and tchochkes are yours for the buying at this gift extravaganza. So quit the kvetching and head on down.

Nov. 1-3, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. $6 (adults), free (children 12 and under). Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 1855 Main St., Santa Monica. (310) 285-3655.


We know there’s a pole-vaulting joke in here somewhere, but we’re pretty sure the folks involved in the two one-act plays that make up “Folk and Race” have got that covered. So instead, here are the basics: Act One is the dramatic interpretation. It’s a play about a Jewish pole vaulter who hides his religion to gain a spot on the 1936 American Olympic team after his better is kicked off for being Jewish. And Act Two is a parody of Act One, a la Mel Brooks. Take the leap and check it out.

8 p.m. Nov. 4, 5, 11, 12, 18 and 19. $12. The Theatre District at the Cast, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 651-5862.


Bursting with fruit flavor is Jewish artist Rebecca Newman’s latest exhibition “Between the Branches.” The 17 new drawings continue her study of Southern California tropical tree species, everything from bananas to bougainvillea. They’re on display now at TAG, The Artists’ Gallery.

11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Friday), through Nov. 9. TAG, The Artists’ Gallery, 2903 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 829-9556.


Things we can learn from (818), a non-profit “dedicated to furthering the education, production and distribution of filmmaking in the San Fernando Valley”: 1. “Valley film” is not a euphemism for porn. 2. The Valley has already made important contributions to the world of film. 3. It’s a worthwhile trip over the hill this week for the Valley Film Festival, screening 16 films, including four from Valley residents and one from Israel, called “Raging Dove.”

Nov. 1-7. El Portal Theatre, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. For information call, (818) 754-8222 or visit


The UJ’s series “In Their Own Words: Conversations With Writers” continues tonight when Journal arts and entertainment editor Naomi Pfefferman interviews author Dara Horn. Horn will discuss her first novel “In the Image,” a story that examines the nature of good and evil, and the presence of God.

7 p.m. $15. University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1546.


So you think the ballet “The Nutcracker” just conjures up Christmasy images of Sugar Plum Fairies. Not if Akiva Talmi, the kibbutz-bred producer of the esteemed Moscow Ballet, has his way. He pushed his ballet to informally dedicate its 2002 season to” celebrating the contributions of Jewish cultural heroes of the former Soviet Union,” who had to downplay their heritage to succeed back in the U.S.S.R.

Nov. 7-9, 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee. Terrace Theater, Long Beach Convention Center, 300 East Ocean Blvd.,Long Beach. (213) 480-3232.

Special Night of Music

At the end of August 1992, a young man, who had gone out to a bar because he was “bored,” struck our car. The drunken driver injured my family and killed Liana, my 18-year-old daughter, as we were returning home from Friday night services. Liana was going to fly out the next day to attend college at Brandeis University.

She studied Torah, played the piano beautifully and painted. She helped her family and friends, even reaching out to those she didn’t know well.

After we healed from our physical injuries, we asked ourselves what we could do to continue Liana’s unfinished dreams. My family, with the help of the Bureau of Jewish Education, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, started one project in 1997 that is the dearest to us: the Liana Cohen Music Festival.

The festival, which attracts fourth- to 12th-graders, starts with a competition and ends with a concert. Judges offer young musicians their time and advice to help them perform better.

The annual event — always on March 25, unless it falls on the night of Shabbat — is a celebration of Liana’s birthday, a sweet and special night that my family has decided to share with talented performers and participants. Every year we’re happy to see the number of students grow.

Unlike the Academy Awards, which will take place the same night, you can’t tape our concert and its wonderful spirit. Bring your children and grandchildren, and maybe they will be inspired to play an instrument and compete in future festivals.

Liana will be always present in our hearts, and we are happy that all these talented students continue to play. We are happy to share her memory and her dreams with so many people and know that her spirit will continue making a difference for a better future.

Liana Cohen Music Festival, Sun., March 25, 8 p.m. Free. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles.

Dr. RoseMary Cohen is the founder and director of the Liana Cohen Music Festival and author of “Korban: The Sacrifice of Liana.”

Rocky Mountain Chai

Move over Sundance, Slamdance, Digidance and Nodance. The two-week showbiz schmoozefest in Park City, Utah, traditionally a launching pad for Jewish indie cinema, is now home to SchmoozeDance, a forum for Jewish filmmakers, journalists, observers and studio execs to celebrate Jewish film.

“Since everyone’s schmoozing at Sundance, I thought the Jews should, too,” founder Larry Mark said.Mark has dedicated the past five years of his life to Jewish cinema. A circulation marketer at The New York Times by day, the movie buff was annoyed by the ubiquitous stereotypes he heard about Jewish film. “It was, ‘Oh, Jewish cinema — that’s “Fiddler on the Roof” or Holocaust stuff,'” he said. “But there’s so much more.”

Mark proved his point by starting, the online Jewish film archive; there are now some 800 listings, including past Sundance entries like Boaz Yakin’s “A Price Above Rubies” and Darren Aronofsky’s “Pi.” To keep his site current, Mark compulsively studies Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and worldwide film festival lineups. (He’s also the editor of

Now he’s turning his attention to Park City. “I’ve always wanted to go to a real industry film festival,” explained the affable Mark, who’ll use vacation time to attend the fests.

SchmoozeDance is starting small. This year, it’s an oneg Shabbat and a kiddush sponsored by Jan. 19 at Park City’s only shul, Reform Temple Har Shalom. “I even had yarmulkes made up that say ‘SchmoozeDance at Sundance,'” said Mark, who’s invited everyone from Village Voice critic J. Hoberman to Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein.

In 2001, movies to watch include Michael Apted’s “Enigma,” based on Robert Harris’ best-selling novel about Britain’s elite team of code-breakers facing their worst nightmare in March 1943. Nazi U-boats have unexpectedly changed their enigma code, endangering a merchant shipping convoy of 10,000 men.Sundance opens with Christine Lahti’s “My First Mister,” a March-October romance starring Albert Brooks and Leelee Sobieski. The festival will also premiere “Divided We Fall,” about a Czech family that harbors an escapee from Theresienstadt; the documentary “Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey,” about the life of the remarkable African American mediator of the 1949 Arab-Israeli armistice; and “Trembling Before G-d,” a highly anticipated doc about gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews by Sandi Simcha DuBowski (see story, page 27).

Then there’s director Marc Levin, winner of the 1998 Sundance Grand Jury Prize for “Slam,” a lyrical feature about an incarcerated Black poet; he’s back in Park City this year with Slamdance opener “Brooklyn Babylon,” a Black-Jewish “Romeo and Juliet” inspired by the Song of Songs. Set in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where Black-Jewish tensions have simmered since the riot of 1991, Sol, a charismatic rapper ready to break into the music business (hip-hop MC Tariq Trotter), meets Sara (Karen Goberman), a young Jewish beauty ready to break free of her religious background. Sparks fly.

The provocative pic brings Levin, director of the video version of Anna Deavere Smith’s L.A.-riot saga, “Twilight: Los Angeles,” back to his Jewish roots.

“[As] the millennium was approaching, I felt it was time to do my Bible film, a hip-hop Solomon and Sheba in the neighborhood where my parents and grandparents all grew up,” he said. “In a way, it completes my trilogy: ‘Slam,’ ‘Whiteboys’ and ‘Brooklyn Babylon.'”

In dramatic competition at Sundance, the Yale- and Stanford-educated writer-director Henry Bean offers “The Believer,” starring Theresa Russell and Billy Zane, based on the 1960s true story of an ex-yeshiva bocher turned anti-Semite. In real life, Danny Balint committed suicide the day The New York Times printed an exposé revealing he was Jewish. In the movie, we meet the 12-year-old Balint (Ryan Gosling) arguing with his rabbis and dodging gentile toughs on the street. By 22, he is a skinhead and budding fascist leader; when the court sentences him to “sensitivity training” with elderly Holocaust survivors, his conflicting feelings set him on the path to self-destruction.

While Balint was hiding his Jewishness, “at the same time he was compulsively revealing it,” said Bean, the screenwriter of “Internal Affairs” and “Enemy of the State.” “He would bring knishes back to the Nazi headquarters and hang out with girls who looked obviously Jewish. The notion of somebody hiding something and revealing it at the same time fascinated me.”

Fall Film Festivals

Fall is here, and with it a harvest of Jewish cinema. Two film festivals are offering sneak peeks of the best Jewish movies of the year. There’s an engaging assortment of features, documentaries, revivals and short films – some 30 in all – many of them personal stories of the Holocaust or assimilation.The Sephardic Educational Center’s Fourth Annual Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival (see page 33) opens Nov. 9 with the West Coast premiere of “K,” the latest thriller by French-Algerian filmmaker Alexandre Arcady. A North African Jewish cop is at the center of this mystery about a Holocaust survivor who may not be who he seems.

The International Jewish Film Festival & Conference, Nov. 8-21, opens Wednesdayat the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where actor Gene Wilder will appear at a screening of his rabbi-in-the-Old-West saga, “The Frisco Kid.” New fare includes the antiwar story “Kippur” from controversial Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai (story below); the Holocaust documentary “Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness” (see page 32); “Simon Magus,” a tale of love and demonology starring Noah Taylor of “Shine” fame; and reprises of terrific films such as Istvan Szabo’s Hungarian family saga, “Sunshine.”

For information on seminars and screenings (most are at the Laemmle Theatres), contact the Sephardic fest at (310) 273-8567 and the International Jewish Film Festival at (818) 786-4000.

Tamales and Tchatchkes

In celebration of both Latino Heritage Month and Rosh Hashanah, the Latino-Jewish Cultural Committee is hosting Fiesta Shalom, a showcase for the best in food, art and music from both cultures Sun., Sept. 24 on the campus of California State University, Northridge.

The festival is the brainchild of Réut Ness, field representative for State Sen. Richard Alarcón.”I’ve always figured the best way to promote dialogue is to work together,” Ness said. “What better way to work together than on a festival celebrating our two cultures.”

Fiesta Shalom’s host organization, the Latino-Jewish Cultural Committee, was created by Alarcón last year. Committee members include co-chairs Steve Martinez of Victory Outreach; former Valley Alliance Jewish Com-munity Relations Committee (JCRC) chair Scott Svonkin; Cantor Caren Glasser of Temple Kol Tikvah; Gerardo Guzman of the San Fernando Valley Mexican American Political Association; Robert Caine of El Portal Center for the Arts; and Saundra Mandel, director of The Jewish Federation Valley Alliance’s JCRC.

The event will feature food, entertainment, crafts and exhibits reflecting the diverse cultures of both the Jewish and Latino communities in Los Angeles. Cantor Glasser will kick off the entertainment with renditions of “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Hatikva” followed by a diverse group of performers including dance troupes Danza Azteca and Ballet Argentina, the Kadima String Quartet and Cantor Wally Schachet-Briskin of Leo Baeck Temple. Los Angeles Inca will play Andean folk music, and Archie Barkin will counter with Borscht Belt comedy. The Latino-Jewish Cultural Committee also hopes to host the acclaimed Yemenite Dancers and Klex-Mex, a klezmer mariachi group, although these groups’ appearances were unconfirmed at press time.

Despite their differences, the Jewish and Latino communities share a unique history, according to B’nai B’rith Regional Director Steven Koff, a member of the festival’s steering committee, who notes that both groups have their roots in Boyle Heights and have followed the same path into the San Fernando Valley.”I studied the history of the Jewish community in Los Angeles for the B’nai B’rith 100th anniversary last year,” Koff said. “The San Fernando Valley particularly has always been influenced and led by Jewish and Latino leaders. Réut is one of the top people with an understanding of both the Jewish community and the Latino community. I applaud her and Senator Alarcón for his leadership in creating and implementing this event.”

Koff said Fiesta Shalom will reflect not only the diversity of the two cultures but also the various groups within each community, with Ashkenazi and Sephardi groups represented from the Jewish side and the many countries of Central and Latin America included as well.

“It will be exciting to have a venue where you can try every-thing from empanadas to knishes,” he said.

Latino-Jewish relations have had a rocky history in the Valley. In particular, the clash between Alarcón and former assemblyman and Democratic leader Richard Katz during their contentious run for the California State Senate in 1998 resulted in a serious rift between local Latinos and Jews.

Alarcón hopes events like Fiesta Shalom will help heal that rift.

“Clearly, Latinos are emerging politically as they never have before. I don’t want our expression of political involvement to be confused with a cultural or a political battle,” Alarcón said. “There shouldn’t be a disrespect when Hispanics and Jews find themselves running against each other. I was very pleased when Richard [Katz] agreed to be on our honorary committee [for the festival].”

Not only Katz but a long list of former and current elected officials will be represented at the festival, from Sen. Barbara Boxer to Los Angeles City Council members John Ferraro, Michael Feuer, Cindy Miscikowski and Joel Wachs. In order to avoid the usual podium spiels at the event, Alarcón said he has asked anyone planning to speak to stick to one topic: his or her personal or political experience with either the Jewish or Latino community. Alarcón said he plans to share his memories of being inspired by Jewish teachers and coaches; he said he expects Jewish leaders have been similarly affected by their encounters with the Latino community.

“There is so much we have in common,” Alarcón notes. “We’re both immigrants, we’re both proud of our heritage, and we both share what I would call an underdog history, the feeling that we are always being challenged by bigotry. We hope to learn more about each other through this cultural exchange.”Fiesta Shalom will run from 11 a.m.-5 p.m on the CSUN campus in front of Oviatt Library. Admission and parking are free. For more information or directions, call (818) 781-7926.

Celebrating Mizrahi Culture

The Jews actually originated in the Middle East, as Abraham is thought to have ventured forth from ancient Ur or Sumeria – today’s Iraq. Jewish communities remained in the Middle East from the time of Babylon and Persia right up to the contemporary period.

Fittingly, this Sunday, Aug. 6, the Skirball Cultural Center will celebrate the Jewish cultures of the Middle East with the first Mizrahi Festival in Los Angeles.

Mizrahi Jews migrated to the countries bordering Eretz Yisrael after the destruction of the First and Second Temples. These communities established synagogues, schools, prosperous businesses and cultural centers and maintained a strong Jewish identity in the region for hundreds of years. Mizrahi Jewish traditions were also influenced by later migrations of Sephardic Jews to the Middle East; thus, the terms Sephardic and Mizrahi are often used interchangeably.

Enticed by the prospects of religious freedom and financial prosperity in countries like the United States and Israel, many Mizrahi Jews left the Middle East during the 20th century, taking with them a very unique and vibrant Jewish culture that emerged as an eclectic mix of diverse traditions. Today, Mizrahi arts and cultures are flourishing in international cities across the globe.

The Skirball festival features the desert traditions of composer, violinist and oud player Yair Dalal. He will perform with the AL OL Ensemble in a piece inspired by the Judeo-Arabic musical tradition of Babylonia and with the Tarab Ensemble, Bedouin musicians from the Azazme tribe of the Negev desert. Other festival activities include a dance and music performance as well as storytelling and family art projects. At least 2,000 people are expected, festival organizers say.

Among the local Mizrahi cultural organizations present at Sunday’s festival will be the Babylonian Jewish Heritage Center, the Center for Iranian Jewish Oral History, Ivri-NASAWI, New Association of Sephardic and Mizrahi Artists and Writers International, the International Judea Foundation, and Sephardic Tradition and Recreation. Each organization representing diverse communities will be available to answer questions about Mizrahi culture and other Mizrahi events taking place throughout Los Angeles.

Sun., Aug. 6, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. $8 (general admission); $6 (students/seniors); free for children under 12 and members. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Call (323) 655-8587 for advance tickets..

Alive and Well

Aaron Paley, Los Angeles’ impresario of Yiddish, finds his job is easier these days. He no longer has to work quite so hard to prove that Yiddish is not dead.”Two years ago, it was like pulling teeth to convince people why Yiddish language and culture is important,” says the director of L.A.’s second biennial Yiddish festival, “YK2! The New Face of Yiddish Culture – A Festival for the Next 1000 Years,” which has come to town this week. “Now people know. The Zeitgeist has changed.”

Paley ticks off the evidence. As Yiddish turns 1,000 years old at the dawn of the 21st century, the National Yiddish Book Center is digitally scanning every page of every Yiddish book ever published. KlezKemps and Yiddish-language ulpans are thriving everywhere from Oxford University to the Arbeter Ring (Workmen’s Circle) on Robertson Boulevard. L.A. is the site of dozens of Yiddish classes and clubs. And the Knitting Factory, where klezmer musicians and others on the radical Jewish culture scene play to hipsters on the Lower East Side, is about to open a branch on Hollywood Boulevard.

The Yiddish festival, which drew more than 10,000 Angelenos in October 1998, meanwhile, has nearly doubled in size to become the largest gathering of its kind in the United States. With more than 40 events in some 20 venues in 2000, including lectures, concerts and plays, the goal is simple.”We want to prove that Yiddish and Yiddish culture is not kitschy, moribund, tinged with sugary nostalgia or regret about the Holocaust,” says Paley, who is in his early 40’s and grew up attending the collectively run Yiddish Kindershule and Mittelshule in Van Nuys. “We want to prove that it provides a foundation of ideas and creativity that artists can draw on today.”

A case in point is Sara Felder, San Francisco’s favorite Jewish lesbian juggler-performance artist, who will present her comic monologue, “Shtick!” about a cross-dressing immigrant vaudevillian and a modern performance artist who connect from opposite ends of the 20th century (see sidebar). Acclaimed choreographer John Malashock, once a principal dancer with Twyla Tharp, is the co-creator of “Blessings & Curses,” about a contemporary artist who weaves old and new stories into cloth.

On a more traditional note, Yiddishpiel, Israel’s only professional Yiddish repertory theater, will perform a medley of songs and dialogues. And the West Coast Jewish Theatre will present “Der Onshtel Makher” (“The Make-Believe Maker”), which starts as a stranger knocks at the door of an inn on the outskirts of Bilgoray, Poland, on a foggy, frozen night in 1858.

If Yiddish has a theme tailor-made for multicultural Los Angeles, Paley says, it is how to survive as a minority culture in the larger society. Yiddish is, by nature, multicultural, the living product of Jewish expulsion and migration, always borrowing words from host languages.

“YK2,” therefore, highlights Yiddish in relation to its most significant host culture, that of Eastern Europe, Paley says. Brave Old World, hailed by The Village Voice as a “klezmer supergroup,” for example, will perform with the Canadian-Ukrainian band Paris to Kyiv. Boris Sandler, editor of the 103-year-old Yiddish-language newspaper Forverts (The Forward), will describe how Yiddish survived the Stalinist purges of the former Soviet Union. Performances celebrating Eastern European culture will take place in Plummer Park, the heart of Eastern European L.A. And an exhibition organized by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research will tell of the Jewish Labor Bund from its early days in the old country to the late 1990’s. “One Hundred Years of the Bund” begins with the story of how, late one evening in October 1897, 13 people gathered at a safe house in a secret location in Vilna, bent on establishing a group dedicated to the political liberation of Jews throughout the Russian empire. The exhibit tells the rest of the story through documents ranging from clandestine Bund brochures to present-day photographs.

The Bund, like other aspects of Yiddish culture, defied the odds and survived the 20th century. And that, Paley says, is the point of “YK2.” “We’re still here at the beginning of the new millennium,” Paley explains, “and that is worth celebrating.”

“YK2” runs through May 21. For a schedule and other information, call (323) 692-8151.

Celebrating Jewish Filmmakers In a BIG Way

Earlier this year, Greg Laemmle wasn’t sure there was going to be another Cinema Judaica: The Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival.

The vice president of Los Angeles’ premiere art house chain founded the festival four years ago, theorizing that if cities like Fresno and Buffalo have a Jewish festival festival, Los Angeles should have one, too. Hollywood is the seat of the film industry, after all.

But six months ago, Laemmle was ready to give up. It wasn’t so much that the festival was losing a lot of money — it wasn’t. The problem was that coordinating the festival was overwhelming Laemmle and his company, “and the turnout didn’t seem to make all the work worthwhile.”

The change came last spring, when producer and publisher Phil Blazer walked into Laemmle’s office above the Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles. Blazer, president of Jewish Life, a not-for-profit organization that underwrites Jewish cultural projects, had a proposal for Laemmle. “He said he shared my feeling that Hollywood should have the best Jewish film festival in the world,” Laemmle recalls. “And he told me he could raise money and arrange publicity to make this a major event.”

The result is the first International Jewish Film Festival and Conference, Nov. 2-18, which is bigger and better than past Jewish film festivals. Blazer secured director Arthur Hiller as the festival chair, and Arthur Cohn, the Oscar-winning producer of the Holocaust classic, “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” and the lauded “Central Station” as the honorary chair. Blazer is also amassing some $80,000 in funding, which far surpasses Laemmle’s previous budget of $10,000. “I have at least that amount just to rent films,” Laemmle says.

This year’s 50 titles include classics such as “Schindler’s List” and Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” plus more new features and foreign films than ever before. There will be more than half a dozen Los Angeles premieres, including “Kadosh,” the controversial Israeli film about women in ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim; “Yidl in the Middle,” a documentary about growing up Jewish in Iowa; and “Train of Life,” Radu Mihaileanu’s Sundance-winning Holocaust tragicomedy, the festival’s opening night film at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The festival’s premiere event will take place Nov. 3, also at the Academy, co-sponsored by State of Israel Bonds Holocaust Division. The event will feature a screening of “Gentleman’s Agreement,” the landmark 1947 film starring Gregory Peck as a Gentile journalist who poses as a Jew to experience bigotry. The film was a seminal screed against anti-Semitism at a time when Hollywood Jews were loathe to address Jewish concerns on camera.

The gala will also feature a screening of “Children of the Night,” Cohn’s documentary about children who died in the Holocaust; and excerpts from “The Last Days,” the Oscar-winning documentary about the Hungarian-Jewish Holocaust. Peck will be honored, as will Renee Firestone, a survivor featured in “The Last Days.” Temple Shalom for the Arts is supporting the event.

On Nov. 4, Joan Micklin Silver will be on hand for a screening of her new romantic comedy, “A Fish in the Bathtub”; she will also appear with Mihaileanu and other filmmakers at a festival conference that “hopefully will inspire young directors to make Jewish films,” Laemmle says.

Other festival films will explore gay-Jewish themes (see sidebar), such as Jean-Jacques Zilbermann’s French hit comedy, “Man is a Woman,” which explores the relationship between a gay man and a Jewish heterosexual woman; and “Aimee & Jaguar,” about a lesbian affair between a Jew and a German during World War II.

If there is a theme that dominates the festival, it is the Holocaust, Laemmle says; more than half the films touch upon the Shoah. It is, apparently, still the defining Jewish experience for many non-Israeli filmmakers. The recent films, however, do not confront the enormity of the Holocaust: “We’re not seeing ‘Shoah’ or ‘Night and Fog,’ but very specific, personal stories,” Laemmle says. In the documentary “Nothing’s Changed,” a survivor returns to the Ukraine; “Tak For Alt: Survival of a Human Spirit” profiles survivor and Civil Rights Activist Judy Meisel; and “Train of Life” (see review) is Mihaileanu’s ode to his father’s Romanian shtetl. &’009;

“Train of Life,” he told The Journal, actually began with what the villagers called the Train of Death, a cattle car that drove in circles until its passengers died of thirst.

Mihaileanu remembered the ghost train at a Paris dinner party several years ago, when a historian described Russian villagers who supposedly evaded the Nazis by “deporting” themselves on a fake train. The director immediately realized the story could be told in a tragicomic way, a return to the Jewish tradition of utilizing humor to endure suffering. And he knew the film could help connect him to the shtetl world he never knew.

His father served as the consultant on the set, where he ecstatically helped recreate a fairy tale version of his shtetl. The elder Mihaileanu will be at hand when “Train of Life” premieres at the Academy next week. “It’s my Hollywood dream, and my father has to be there,” the director says.

The new International Jewish Film Festival is Laemmle’s Hollywood dream. “My hope is that it can do for Jewish film what Sundance has done to promote the growth of independent film around the world,” he says.

For general festival information, call (818) 786-4000. Tickets for the Academy events and invitations to the filmmakers’ conference (you must have an invitation) are available at (818) 786-4000. For State of Israel Bonds Nov. 3 pre-gala reception and event, call (323) 939-3000 and ask for Brigitte Medvin.

Most festival screenings will take place at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills and Laemmle’s Town Center in Encino. Tickets (excluding the special events) are $8, $4.50 (for a package of four) and $5 for senior citizens.

Meandering Plots Derail ‘Train’

“Train of Life” uses fantasy and humor to deal with a Holocaust theme. Sound familiar?

Actually, the French film (with English subtitles) was conceived and completed before “Life Is Beautiful,” and the central role of Shlomo the Fool was offered initially to Roberto Benigni, director and star of “Life Is Beautiful.”

It is “Train of Life’s” misfortune to be released a year after the Oscar-winning Italian film, to which it inevitably will be compared and judged.

Radu Mihaileanu, the Romanian-born writer and director of “Train” started with a clever and promising idea: news of the approaching Nazi army reaches a remote East European shtetl. The rabbi and the Chelm-like wise men ponder what to do, but it is Shlomo, the savant-fool, who comes up with an ingenious idea.

The shtetl will deport itself, via an old but renovated train, with some of the village people dressed up as Nazi officers and soldiers guarding the “deportees,” until the train reaches Israel, where everybody will live happily ever after.

The elders select Mordechai, the woodworker, to be the Nazi commander. The barber shears his beard and payes, the tailor fabricates a German colonel’s uniform, complete with medals, and off they go.

While “Life Is Beautiful” remained true to its fable on its own terms and stuck to a simple story line, “Train” is weighed down by meandering subplots.

One repugnant villager becomes a rabid communist and organizes a revolutionary cell aboard the train. A band of hapless partisans tries to blow up the train. A horde of Gypsies comes aboard and makes beautiful music (and love) with the shtetl’s klezmorim.

Then there is Esther, the shtetl’s sexpot, who is given to baring her breasts and poses fetchingly in the nude in a mikvah scene.

If the movie is approached with the same good-humored disbelief as in viewing, say, “Fiddler on the Roof,” it could work. Otherwise, the excesses of the story line extend to many of the character portrayals, with the rabbi and village elders bordering frequently on Yiddish caricatures, given to a great many “Oys” and gesticulating arguments.

An exception is Lionel Abelanski, who gives a touching and restrained performance as the wise fool.

Rufus (no last name) faced a special challenge. The Gentile actor had first to learn how to be a shtetl Jew, and then a shtetl Jew posing as a Nazi officer. Considering the strain of the double transition, he acquits himself credibly.

Agathe de la Fontaine, the passionate Esther, looks lovely, dressed or undressed, and not much more is required of her.

Writer-director Mihaileanu is the son of a shtetl-born writer and was a member of the Bucharest Yiddish Theater before leaving Romania in 1980. He moved to Israel and then settled in France, where he became a filmmaker.

“Train” has won more than 10 international awards, including the Audience Award-World Cinema at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival.

“Train” will open the Jewish Film Festival on Nov. 2 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science.