‘Women and War’

Growing up in Beverly Hills, Marissa Roth remembers her father and mother, both European refugees, as parents who repressed their emotions and personal suffering, and forbade their children to cry.

So there is some irony, or perhaps compensation, in the title of Roth’s one-woman photo exhibition, opening Aug. 16 at the Museum of Tolerance, titled “One Person Crying: Women and War.”

The exhibit consists of 88 gelatin silver prints, culled from some 27,000 photos taken over 28 years in a dozen countries torn by fighting, massacres and natural catastrophes.

Almost all the subjects of Roth’s lens are women, in order “to reflect on war from what I consider an underrepresented perspective,” she said. “The project brought me face-to-face with hundreds of women who endured and survived war and its ancillary experiences of loss, pain and unimaginable hardship.”

There are photos so eloquent that no explanations or commentaries are needed, such as the picture of Sara Duvall, holding a flag and a photo of her Marine Corps son killed in Iraq.

Or the two fully veiled Afghan women, who make Roth wonder what lies under the burqa. Also, the 12-year-old Pakistani girl, her head completely shaved, who, Roth said, “implored me to continue my project and kept me going.”

Los Angeles Times international correspondent Carol J. Williams, who has seen her share of wars, commented, “Marissa Roth’s images of women who’ve survived war are alternately disturbing, inspiring and illuminating of the staggering burdens borne by those fighting with their hearts and minds to protect home and family.

“The battle to restore normalcy drags on for years after the shooting stops, and women’s forced roles as provider and protector forever transform their relationships and family status when the men, whether victorious or vanquished, stagger back home.”

Marissa Roth Photo by Iris Schneider

Over nearly three decades, Roth and her 35mm Nikon FE2 camera have portrayed women’s lives amid war and the aftermath in Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Albania, Japan, Northern Ireland, Germany, Cambodia, Bosnia and The Philippines.

In parallel, she had covered on-the-spot news stories across the globe for major publications and was part of the Los Angeles Times photo team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

And, particularly in the early 1980s, there was Roth, the commercial photographer, who shot high society fashions and red carpet Oscar receptions, as well as the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

By inclination and family background, Roth seemed fated to become a roving witness to history in the making.

Both parents separately fled the gathering European storm clouds in late 1938, her actress mother from Budapest, and her father from Novi Sad, then part of Yugoslavia and now Serbia.

They met during a trans-Atlantic voyage aboard the Queen Mary, but then lost sight of each other after landing in New York. Five months later, they bumped into each other in — where else? — Times Square, and the shipboard meeting eventually culminated in marriage.

Roth’s paternal grandfather had been a textile manufacturer in the old country and her father followed up in the new California home by establishing a clothing line in West Hollywood.

Another member of the family was Roth’s uncle, violinist Feri Roth, founder of the famous Roth Quartet.

Born and raised in Beverly Hills, Roth went through the city’s renowned public school system, augmented by private finishing school classes.

At 10, she was given a Brownie camera and started snapping pictures of family and friends and taking photo classes in school. At 17, she got her first 35mm camera, “instantly taking to it,” she said, and set up her own darkroom.

“Afghan Kite,” Los Angeles, California 2002

However, showing an early rebellious streak, she said she “loathed Beverly Hills as soulless and phony, the whole status thing. I was conscious of the civil rights movement and very aware of Vietnam and the woman’s movement. I yearned to be a hippie. I was wild inside but a good girl outside.”

Another factor was the impact of the highly popular illustrated magazines of the time, such as LIFE, Look and National Geographic. Through them, she said, “I began to understand visual language, and the magazines’ coverage of world events probably turned me into a journalist, rather than an artist.”

After high school, she left “phony” Beverly Hills for the real world and people at the University of Colorado, but after two years found Boulder a bit too “small townish.”

She transferred to UCLA and launched her future career as a staff photographer on the Daily Bruin, covering the campus but also the Hollywood film and rock scenes.

Twice married and divorced, Roth is quite open about her age (55) and personal relationships.

“Photography saved me when I was in my early 20s and I met a lovely guy, who was killed in a plane crash,” she recounted. “That event changed my life and shattered my innocence. It pushed me to live my life flat out, to seize life’s moments.”

Among Roth’s emotional impressions during her career, a few stand out.

“In late 1984, I went with my father to his birthplace of Novi Sad, and we found the house where he grew up,” she recalled.

“Beckie Dixon.” Beckie Dixon’s son Christopher was the youngest Marine killed in Iraq in August 2005. He had just turned 18 a few months earlier. Photographed on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 12, 2005, at the moment that she found his memorial flag, in Columbus, Ohio.

That was also the house where her grandfather and great-grandfather were killed by rampaging Hungarian troops, who staged their own pogroms of Jews and Serbs in January 1942, dragging bodies across the ice and dumping them into the Danube.

A few years later, she traveled to Afghanistan and met some of the 100,000 women widowed during the nine-year war (December 1979 to February 1989) between their country and the Soviet Union.

“Something happened to me there,” Roth said. “I found a completely different world, where women were completely segregated.”

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Roth photographed the bombing of Kosovo, wedged between Serbia and Albania, and atom bomb survivors in Hiroshima.

After reading the book “A Woman in Berlin,” which described the mass rapes by Soviet troops immediately after the conquest of the city in the spring of 1945, Roth traveled to Germany in 2008 to meet and photograph some of the victims.

“I had seen Warsaw and Auschwitz, and it was hard for me to go to Berlin. I kept seeing the ghosts of the past, but I tried to be as nonjudgmental as possible,” she commented.

The Museum of Tolerance also hosted Roth’s 2005 photographic exhibit of 70 Holocaust survivors serving as volunteer guides and lecturers.

“One Person Crying: Women and War,” curated by Howard Spector, opens Aug. 16 and is scheduled to run through Oct. 18 at the Museum of Tolerance. For more information, call (310) 553-9036 or visit jewishjournal.com.

VIDEO: The Goldbergs (1955) ‘Member of the Jury’

Episode of the classic 50’s TV program “The Goldbergs”, taken from then final season. ‘Member of the Jury’

Adding Soul to the Syllabus

One by one, a class of sixth-graders read aloud a passage and title that each has selected to go with one of Zion Ozeri’s striking black-and-white portraits.

Seated with the young critics at Morasha Jewish Day School, the New York photographer seems pleased when students accurately discern the context of his untitled images, which the students have filtered through their study of Jewish values.

Neither does he hesitate to crib from one who summoned a particularly apt metaphor for a photo of candle lighting. “What was that title?” he asked, scrambling for pen and paper during a morning-long session last month.

Ozeri is the third visual artist invited in two years to the 110-student school, the county’s smallest day school, located in Rancho Santa Margarita. The school’s progressive director, Eve Fein, is convinced that art can be an educator’s most powerful resource for giving dimension to abstract concepts from books.

“These are Jewish artists interested in making Judaism relevant by making traditions meaningful,” Fein said about Ozeri and other artists who have visited — a muralist and a ritual object maker.

The photographer’s muse is his Yemeni parents’ first home in Israel, a tented camp near Tel Aviv where a half-dozen languages and cultures mixed. His images capture disappearing traditions of his parents’ generation and evolved to focus on contrasts between generations.

The catalyst behind Fein’s creative approach to education is a high-minded, three-year research initiative whose outcome will defy objective measure. The aim is to add soul to the school syllabus.

Along the way, the surprising result at Morasha and other sites is a change of campus culture that redirects parents and staff every bit as much as students. The outcome is getting attention from national authorities in Jewish education, such as the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education.

Morasha is one of eight schools selected nationwide to participate in the research, known as Jewish Day Schools for the 21st Century (JDS-21). It is underwritten by New York’s Avi Chai Foundation and directed by Michael Zeldin, a professor of Jewish education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s school of education.

While last century’s Jewish immigrants learned American values in day schools, Zeldin contends most teachers are poorly prepared to make the intercurricular connections expected of contemporary instructors. His premise is that day school students, removed from their immersion in American culture, should be absorbing more than secular subjects and Judaica. Parents, staff and the school environment all should support seizing Jewish moments in the academic day.

Zeldin’s proposed solution is deceptively simple. He asks administrators to use Jewish texts to start a campus conversation about identifying the school’s values; to find an imaginative way to express them; and to develop ways to integrate them into the school.

“Other schools have values like honesty and integrity, but they are not Jewish values tied to text,” said Zeldin, noting that a contemporary rabbi suggested a Jewish path exists to universal values. “This helps schools set a Jewish path,” Zeldin said.

It took two years for Morasha to distill its top 10 values: repairing the world, greater Jewry, faith, being a good person, Israel, prayer, education, customs and rituals, respect and community.

Kathleen A. Canter of Aliso Viejo, a parent who chaired Morasha’s CDS-21 task force, discovered that it was an enriching experience to study Jews from antiquity who grapple over values. Values take on deeper meaning when they come from your own history, she said.

Just articulating the values, Fein said, “helps sharpen or deepen their presence in our school.”

She also made the intellectual leap to see values depicted in images by Ozeri, who hopes to use Morasha’s project as a model elsewhere.

The entire sixth-grade class cherry-picked images from Ozeri’s portfolio that captured each of the school’s values. Before the photographer’s visit, students looked for texts to support their assumptions about the photos. The final piece was to give students a disposable camera to capture on film an image showing a Jewish value. Ozeri offered expert advice on composition. “You don’t have to go to India, like I did,” he said. “Use what you have.”

“This is nothing new,” said Lili B. Landman of Aliso Viejo, a mother with two girls at the school, who videotaped Ozeri’s presentation. “This school encourages [students] to go out and explore. It’s a different way of learning, with a camera. But they’ve done it in other ways, too.”

Zeldin applauds Fein for finding an innovative method to evoke the school’s values. “It’s the perfect point of entry because it speaks the language of children,” he said, who are visually oriented.

“Art touches the soul in a way spoken language rarely does,” Zeldin said.

Other schools involved also focused their agenda around Jewish values. Parents at the Rashi School of Newton, Mass., for example, were determined that the value of respect, recognized for teachers and students, also extend to them. Text study at the Pardes School in Arizona deepened surface relationships and provided a common language between parents and educators, who often spew jargon.

Some schools, which Zeldin declined to identify, lose patience with the process. “This process is meant to transform the ways schools do business,” Zeldin said. “To get there takes time. The detractors say, ‘Can’t we come up with a program for Jewish learning without the text?'”

Those engaged in the JDS-21 project are changed by it, he said, describing one task force that for a mutual friend decided to jointly purchase a gift. Their Shabbat-basket wedding gift included candlesticks, candles, wine and Jewish texts on love. “It was so meaningful for them to gather the text,” Zeldin said.

“Every time I hear those stories, I’m astounded,” he said. “The byproduct is more powerful than the product.”

Heroes’ Stories Discovered Again

“The Jews of Ethiopia: A Personal Journey Back to Their Past” consists of a collection of some 60 black-and-white photos taken by Dr. Wolf Leslau during a number of explorations of the Ethiopian hinterlands, starting in the mid-1940s.

Leslau, an internationally renowned professor of Semitic languages at UCLA for four decades, was one of the first scholars to visit the remotest Jewish villages and record the people’s faces, holidays and lifestyle reminiscent of biblical times.

The photos were rescued from oblivion by co-author Colette Berman. She took them to Israel and showed them to young immigrant Ethiopians, who joyfully recognized their parents and grandparents.

Leslau is now a lively and hard-working nonagenarian, and some of the flavor of his journeys can be gleaned from his introduction to the book, which is reminiscent of journals by 19th-century British explorers.

“I left Gondar on April 8, 1947, accompanied by my cook, two Ethiopian Jewish guides, and some servants of my guides,” he writes. “The news of my departure for Uzaba, a region entirely inhabited by Ethiopian Jews, preceded me, and after a mule ride of over an hour, two young men with rifles appeared at the top of the hill…. An hour later, I was confronted by some 50 Ethiopian Jews, young and old, emerging from a thicket, armed with rifles and sticks.”

The text of “The Jews of Ethiopia” is in English, Amharic and Hebrew, and the book can be ordered from Millhouse Publishers, P.O. Box 84259, Los Angeles, CA 90073 for $20 a copy and $2 for shipping. For information, e-mail bercol@juno.com.