At-home interview with “Major Crimes” stars Phillip P Keene, Kearran Giovanni


Phillip P Keene and Kearran Giovanni star on TNT’s top-rated drama, “Major Crimes”.  Their characters, Buzz and Amy, may be friends on screen, but once the cameras stop rolling the pair become more like family.  It was clear just how much they care for each other when I joined them recently at Phillip’s home to discuss the show as well as his former career as a Pan Am flight attendant.

‘Bad Blood’, last night’s episode of “Major Crimes”, hit home for Phillip.  One of his relatives served as the inspiration for the show’s victim, though he didn’t realize it immediately.  The close-knit cast did and were there to support him as he worked through his “funk”.

The conversation didn’t stop there.  The friends shared personal stories about when it’s like when their personal and professional lives intersect.  In fact, Phillip is married to “Major Crimes” creator and executive producer James Duff.  Kearran planned their wedding as well as a more recent 50th birthday party for Phillip.

The theme?  Phillip’s passion: Pan Am.  Phillip talks with nostalgia about the years he spent as a Pan Am flight attendant.  He owns one of the largest collections of Pan Am memorabilia in the world and looks forward to cataloguing and displaying these pieces of history for the public.

For exclusive party photos, a close look at Phillip’s Pan Am collection and more, take a look below:

 

—>Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

NCJF: A treasury of Jewish cinema


Sharon Pucker Rivo recently dropped by my home to talk about the National Center for Jewish Film (NCJF) and left behind a catalog of the center’s holdings.

It’s rare that a catalog makes for spellbinding reading, but I discovered in it a new and fascinating picture of pulsating Jewish history, as viewed by filmmakers over more than 100 years.

The oldest film listed is the silent “Levy and Cohen: The Irish Comedians,” which was made in 1903 and runs for all of one minute. By the time the great American director D.W. Griffith (“Birth of a Nation”) made “Romance of a Jewess” in 1908, the 16 mm film ran an astonishing 10 minutes.

Rivo dropped off a DVD of one of the latest catalog listings, Paul Mazursky’s “Yippee: A Journey to Jewish Joy.”

I hate to admit it, but after decades of writing about Jewish-themed movies, I had only the vaguest notion of the National Center for Jewish Film (NCJF), but executive director Rivo filled me in.

Located on the campus of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., as an independent entity, NCJF holds the world’s largest, most comprehensive collection of Jewish-themed films and videos.

Included are some 10,000 cans of film, holding features, documentaries, shorts, newsreels, home movies and institutional films from 1903 to the present, augmented by thousands of master videotapes.

Many of the older holdings have been restored by the center, which also serves as a research resource, organizer of film festivals and distributor to institutions and individuals.

Almost every Diaspora community in the world is represented, with particularly rich holdings from Poland, the Soviet Union and the United States. Holocaust films record the Final Solution at work in obscure places, and there is even a selection of Nazi propaganda films.

Rivo takes special pride in her Yiddish-language collection of 35 features, including restored productions of Poland’s “Yidl Mitn Fidl” (Yiddle Wth His Fiddle), the Soviet Union’s 1919 “Tovarish Abraham” (Comrade Abraham) and America’s “Der Yidisher Kenig Lir” (The Yiddish King Lear), in which the Shakespearean tragedy time-travels to the Jewish Vilna of the early 1900s.

Originality trumps repetition in the holiday songs battle


I will be frank. I’m tired of hearing the same holiday songs over and over. So the best Chanukah present I’ve received this year is a pile of Chanukah-themed CDs with lots of new holiday songs, many of them quite good. Here’s what crossed my desk this December.

The Klezmatics: “Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah” (JMG) and “Wonder Wheel” (JMG). I wasn’t that enthused by the “Matics” Guthrie Chanukah set when it was released last year, but I have to admit I was wrong.

This is a spirited, jaunty and frequently funny set that should be particularly appealing to children (and will give their parents a respite from “The Dreydl Song”). The set adds four instrumental tracks to last year’s release, allowing the band to stretch out and show their chops, but my favorite is a carry-over, “The Many and the Few,” a classic example of Guthrie’s skill at rendering narratives into song lyrics redolent of ballad classics.

“Wonder Wheel” continues the Klezmatics’ collaboration with the Guthrie Archives, which is looking like a very fruitful pairing indeed. Drawing a wide range of moods and tones from the archives collection of previously unset lyrics, the band gets to show off its considerable range, from a funky faux-Latin “Mermaid Avenue” to a lovely Calpyso-ish lullaby “Headdy Down,” from a weirdly Asiatic/alternative-country “Pass Away” to a klezmer “Goin’ Away to Sea.” One of the surprises of the set is how profoundly spiritual some of the Guthrie lyrics are. One expects the good-natured progressivism of something like “Come When I Call You” and “Heaven,” but the deeply felt religious feeling of “Holy Ground” is unexpected and moving.

The LeeVees: “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?” (JDub/iTunes). When the LeeVees’ “Hanukkah Rocks” came out on JDub last year, I wrote, “Alt-rock heavies Adam Gardner of Guster and Dave Schneider of the Zambonis felt that the post-punk world desperately needed a Chanukah record of its own…. The result is a very funny, smart self-satire, with adolescent agonies turned into the difficult choice of sour cream vs. applesauce (‘Tell your mom to fry, not bake’) and of not getting presents (well, there are ‘six-packs of new socks from each of our moms’).” Now, they have added an EP, mostly of playful acoustic versions of the previous Chanukah tunes and a punchy new tune “Jewish Stars,” downloadable from iTunes. Like the originals, these are amiable, bouncy and witty rockers. Thirteen minutes of pure pleasure.

The Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble: “Chanukah Is Freylekh!” (self-distributed). This is a very jolly set of European-style performances — tsimbl and fiddle predominate, no brass — that often feels like a family gathering. And that’s appropriate, because the CD comes with dance directions for kids, as well as the usual translations, bios and such. It is a delightful recording, fueled by Cahan-Simon’s warm, friendly sound. Available from Hatikvah Music, (323) 655-7083 or hatikvahmusic.com.

Poppa’s Kitchen: “A Rockin’ Hanukkah” (self-distributed). A cheerful MOR-rock set of new Chanukah songs from Robert Romanus (who you may recall from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”) and Scott Feldman. The EP (only 21 minutes) has one song for each night, a cheerful blend of California rock and holiday spirit, witty lyrics and some hook-filled tunes. Available from cdbaby.com.

Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman: “Fli, Mayn Fishlang! Fly, Fly My Kite!” (Yiddishland). It is devoutly to be hoped that casual listeners will not dismiss Schaechter-Gottesman as the “flavor of the month” because she has become so prominent of late; she has more than earned the attention, and I, for one, hope it continues for a long time. The quality of musicians she attracts is one mark of how good she is — this set includes contributions by Lorin Sklamberg, Binumen Schaechter, Matt Darriau and Ben Holmes. This CD features her Yiddish children’s songs, which have a charming wistfulness that reminds me more of a French chanson than anything else. There are also songs for several holidays (including a couple of Chanukah tunes) and, as usual from Schaechter-Gottesman, a lot of yearning lyrics about the changing of the seasons. Available from yiddishlandrecords.com.

Julie Silver: “It’s Chanukah Time” (HyLo). Of course, there is another way to pep up those tired traditional holiday songs — you can reinterpret them, change the lyrics around, make them contemporary. This is often a recipe for disaster, but Silver’s “The Dreidel Song” reworked as a frisky country rocker works wonderfully (almost hilariously) well, and sets a high standard for the rest of this set. A reggae “Al Hanisim” and a Latin-flavored “Chanukah, Oh Chanukah” work almost as well. The only problem with this approach, even when it’s done right, is that the focus shifts from the message of the holiday to a guessing game: What’s next, a goth-metal “Mi Yimalel,” “Maoz Tzur” as a morning raga? Silver doesn’t do anything that absurd, so the set doesn’t spiral out of control, but there is an inevitable lingering doubt in the listener’s mind that some of the choices were motivated by the need for the unfamiliar rather than the musical possibilities. Still, it’s a nicely played and sung set. Available from hyloproductions.com and at Barnes & Noble.

In addition to these Chanukah-themed recordings, there are two big-ticket items to keep in mind when doing your year-end gift shopping. The ongoing partnership between Naxos Records and the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music has resulted in 50 CDs showcasing the remarkable range of Jewish American music; although they will continue to issue new recordings on a regular basis, they are celebrating this milestone by offering a set of those first sets. The deluxe box set of all 50 Milken Archive CDs will be available for $349, a savings of $100 if purchased individually. Available at milkenarchive.org.

If you are feeling less ambitious or less solvent, or if you know an aspiring Jewish musician, you should consider Yale Strom’s latest project, “The Absolutely Complete Klezmer Songbook,” published by Transcontinental Music. This volume boasts more than 300 songs that Strom has collected in his travels through the Old Country, and comes with a CD that features his performances of 36 of them. At $49.95, it is a must for anyone interested in East European Jewish music. Availble wherever music books are sold.

George Robinson, film and music critic for Jewish Week, is the author of “Essential Torah” (Shocken Books, 2006).

Holy Moses — The Getty’s latest collection puts a Christian perspective on the leader, lawgiver and


A few years ago I was leading a group of American Jews on a tour of sites in Eastern Europe. Convinced that the narrative and psychological history of Poland cannot be understood without a visit to Jasna Gora, the great pilgrimage church in Czestochowa, and a view of its devotional painting, the so-called Black Madonna (believed to have been painted by St. Luke), I brought the tour group there en route to Auschwitz. To my disappointment, many in the group were puzzled, some even amused, at the crowds of people intensely venerating the small painting.

“Jews don’t do that sort of thing,” they said. When I asked how many of them had placed a small slip of paper in the crevices of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, they assured me “That’s different!” and rejected my argument that we have our own kinds of object veneration, best exemplified in the ceremonial kissing of the Torah as it is carried around the synagogue.

The Getty Center’s upcoming exhibition “Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai” (Nov. 14-March 4) provides a great opportunity to ponder these religious confluences, while also coming almost face-to-face with some of the earliest, and most beautiful, images in Christian art. Mount Sinai resonates for Jews as the place where Moses received the Law from God. The wilderness of Sinai is the place where the Israelites wandered after their escape from Egypt. The images come to the Getty from Saint Catherine’s Monastery, located at the foot of the rugged mountain, which is said to where Moses communicated with the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:1-5). But viewers might be surprised to see that the Moses images in some of these extraordinary works aren’t the ones we’re accustomed to seeing.

The exhibition includes images from both the “New” and “Old Testament,” but it is the link between the former and the site from which they emanate that may be most interesting to the Jewish community. It’s a major accomplishment for the J. Paul Getty Museum to have persuaded the religious powers in charge to lend treasures from this venerable, yet almost inaccessible, site; but it’s also a coup for Angelenos, since the exhibition will not be seen elsewhere, and few of us are likely to have the opportunity to visit the monastery itself.

But this is more than an opportunity to ogle rare treasures. Indeed, they come to us with a visual tradition of their own, and need to be understood within that tradition. Byzantine art, with its vast time span, from the fifth century almost to the modern era, is generally characterized by stylized frontal figures and a rich use of color, especially gold. It doesn’t look like the more naturalistic art we have come to know since the Renaissance, although visitors will recognize in these icons the underpinnings of much early Italian panel painting. Initially, the somber narrative images may look static, but they merit careful attention to uncover the magic of delicately doleful faces, almost every one with a unique personality, sharing in a piety to which we can only aspire.

As devotional objects, the icons are eloquent, and it’s probably worthwhile imagining the pious monk communicating with these images on a daily basis. They must surely have become personal devotional friends, assistants on the route toward salvation. Seen as mantras for meditation exercises, these icons have a universal quality that goes far beyond the specificity of a given saint or religious narrative.

While the Getty exhibition centers on approximately 43 rare icons, from the sixth to the 17th centuries, the exhibition will also attempt to explicate their context in the isolated monastery whose construction was ordered by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century (he’s the one who built the famous, and beautifully ornate, Byzantine church, Hagia Sofia in what is now Istanbul).

Yale professor Robert S. Nelson led a team of curators who obviously became as transfixed by the place as by the works they were borrowing, attempting to present in the exhibition design a sense of the environment in which Saint Catherine’s sits. For those who want to contemplate the difficulties of land and climate endured by the wandering Israelites, that aspect of this exhibition should be an added incentive to visit the Getty.

Yet the concept of a 1,400-year-old monastery as a Christian pilgrimage site that is so intimately tied to Jewish history would likely be a seductive subject, even without the inspirational art. The show will explicate the role of icons in Christian liturgy, which ought to intrigue both Christians and non-Christians. As professor Thomas Matthews writes in the splendid catalog, the icons “bring us face to face with the deep debt of Christian religion to its pagan antecedents … [and] challenge our understanding of the underlying religious phenomena.”

That will surely be evident to Jewish viewers, as well, for the affinity of so many of our own rituals.

Given the Sinai origins of this exhibition, you won’t be surprised to find a number of images of Moses: Removing his sandals in front of the Burning Bush, receiving the Law and even standing beside the Virgin and Child. You won’t encounter the Moses we’ve seen in later Western art, who’s also the venerable law-giver we know from Jewish ceremonial objects — all of which have their origins in Christian art. Here Moses is a young man, generally beardless, almost diffident, in awe of his God, rather than awesome to his People. This might be a reflection of the monks’ considering Moses as a role model in their lives of meditation and prayer — a Moses striving for, rather than automatically imbued with, sanctity; he is the law-receiver, rather than the law-giver. Among the small number of non-icon artifacts in the exhibition is a sixth century cross incised with scenes from the life of Moses.

Remarkably, these icons were first published only in the 1950s, so this rare public display promises to expand our understanding of an important chapter of art history, especially in regard to European panel painting for which these paintings are important antecedents. The earliest ones have also provided new insights into the cult of icons and the religious sensibilities underlying this major aspect of Christian worship, as well as its debt to earlier pagan sources.

Whose ‘Land’ Is It?


Barbara Grover had traveled the world photographing such heart-wrenching subjects as children living in trash dumps, but it was a garlic braid and a pair of kids’ shoes in a bombed-out house that moved her most of all.

That house belonged to Salah Shehada, commander of Hamas’ military wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam, the most lethal and extreme of the Palestinian terrorist organizations. Shehada and several members of his family were killed in 2002 when an Israel Defense Forces F-16 destroyed their home.

‘”[The garlic and the shoes] made me realize how both sides have forgotten the human face of this conflict,” the Los Angeles-based photojournalist said.

Grover’s observation only encouraged the project she was working on in Israel at the time — a collection of photographs of ordinary people from all sides of the conflict who would talk about what the land meant to them. That collection is now being shown at the Sherry Frumkin Gallery, in an exhibition titled “This Land to Me — Some Call It Palestine, Others Israel.”

Hanging in the exhibition are 12 life-sized black-and-white photographs, which are accompanied by 12 canvas panels that carry first-person narratives of the photographs’ subjects. In addition, a looped audio of excerpts from the interviews with the subjects plays overhead. The narratives and the photographs form a synergy that takes the relative tranquility of the images and bathes them in the violence of the region.

Grover’s aim for the exhibit is twofold: she wanted to create an oral history of the conflict and bring her subjects to life. The large photographs are meant to be confronting and to provide a way to see beyond the bloody images so often displayed across the television screens. Grover wants viewers to have a transposed idea of what ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are experiencing.

“I wanted the subject and the viewer to be on common ground,” she said. “We don’t really hear from most Palestinians or Israelis in the conflict — we hear from leaders and we hear from intellectuals, but with life-sized images people can look eye to eye at the other, or eye to eye at what they consider themselves.”

Grover chose her subjects by trawling the streets of Israel and the territories, looking for people with “presence.” She wanted a diverse range of people from both sides of the divide — from the settlers to the terrorists. She looked for people who wouldn’t give her spin, and who would be articulate and honest. And although she really wanted them to answer the question “what does the land mean to you?” she realized that even in the relative security of an interview, there was no way to escape the reality of the intifada and the suicide bombings.

“Here, you can go to a mall to escape,” Grover said. “In that part of the world if you go to a mall you are confronted with the [violent] reality.”

The answers Grover got to her questions were surprising. Amit, a young boy from Kibbutz Yaron who wears a soccer T-shirt and stares intensely at the camera with his deep and soulful eyes, thinks that Jews would be better off living in Uganda — an option considered by Theodor Herzl.

“It would have been hot in Uganda, but we would be living in peace,” says Amit in the statement accompanying his photograph.

In another photograph, Um Subhi, a Palestinian woman who lives in the Jenin refugee camp, stands at the door of her house in a floral housedress and a headscarf, looking suspiciously at the camera. The open door is both the entrance to the violence outside her house, and her family’s protector against it.

“I tell my own children and the shahab (Palestinian youth) that violence is not the answer,” she says. “Israel exists, let it exist.”

Other statements are more troubling. Hanadi, who stares defiantly at the camera with a picture of her husband — a member of the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade (recently renamed Brigades of Martyr Yasser Arafat) — in the background, laments that she can’t be a suicide bomber because she is pregnant.

“I don’t want to die because of my baby, but who knows what I would do if I wasn’t pregnant,” she says. “I am willing to do anything for my land.”

Grover defended the more disquieting opinions in her exhibit.

“I think that everyone deserves to be heard,” Grover said. “I think that understanding what brings someone to Al Aqsa is very important to understanding what this conflict is all about — it forces people to confront their prejudices and their fears.”

“This Land to Me — Some Call It Palestine, Others Israel,” is showing at the Sherry Frumkin Gallery, 3026 Airport Ave., Studio 21, Santa Monica, from Nov. 20-Dec. 31. For more information, call (310) 397-7493 or visit www.thislandtome.org.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

“The Nanny’s” Fran Drescher whines her way into heartsonce again, as she hosts the Jewish Television Network’s one-hour,all-the-stops-pulled-out”A Chanukah Celebration.” Today on PBS, Fran shares herown Chanukah memories, then introduces each of the segments that follow: anexplanation of “The Eight Lights of Chanukah” by Rabbi Irwin Kula; homedecorating tips with The Journal’s own Teresa Strasser; music by Craig Taubmanand Theodore Bikel; and “Aleph … Bet … Blast-off!” puppet show. 9 p.m. KCET.www.kcet.org .

Sunday

From yesterday’s “Celebration” to today’s “Chanukah Extravaganza.” Day Two of the Fest O’ Lights brings the Friendship Circle’s kick-off event. The program for special-needs kids presents an introduction to their organization for parents, children and potential teen volunteers, while avoiding the typical lecture-and-refreshments open house scenario. Today’s activities include a latke-making workshop, arts and crafts, sports and games and a bubble show.1-3:30 p.m. Chabad Persian Youth Center, 9022 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 653-1086.

Monday

One little girl thinks her school friends’ names don’tsuit them at all. Shira — whose name means song — doesn’t like to sing, and Avi — whose name means father — isn’t anyone’s dad. So begins the premise of “ShemotMuzarim,” (“Strange Names”). The newly released Hebrew kids’ book, written byShari Dash Greenspan and illustrated by Avi Katz, explores the meanings behindHebrew names from a child’s perspective. $12. www.urimpublications.com

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Tuesday

Perfect for gathering ’round the chanukiah, DebbieFriedman’s “Light These Lights” is her latest collection of Chanukah songs, outjust in time for the holiday. The CD features Friedman classics like “Not ByMight,” traditional songs like “Y’Mei HaChanukah,” as well as her interpretationof Peter Yarrow’s “Light One Candle.” $15.95. www.soundswrite.com

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Wednesday

Intercultural holiday warm fuzzies come in the form of afree six-hour music and dance show at the Music Center, sponsored by the LosAngeles County Board of Supervisors today. Included in the list of more than 38acts are performances as diverse as Persian santur-playing by ManoochehrSadeghi, a Haitian carol sung by the Compton High School Choir and Chanukahsongs by Valley Beth Shalom Congregational Choir, with live music by the LosAngeles Jewish Symphony and klezmer variations by the Oy!Stars. Other actsacknowledging the MOT’s are Louisville High School’s Christian-oriented choirand the San Fernando Valley Youth Choir. 3-9 p.m. Free. Dorothy ChandlerPavilion, downtown Los Angeles. (213) 972-3099. The show will also be broadcastlive on KCET. www.kcet.org

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Thursday

Your gift this Christmas morning? Jewishy fun at The Zimmer Children’s Museum. Just roll out of bed to be ready for their Pajama Party, featuring games, storytelling, exhibits, hat-making and snacks.Free (members),$3 (nonmembers) plus $5 (per family, suggested donation). 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8998.

Friday

Missed the nipple controversy the first time? Copro/Nason Gallery now offers you a second opportunity. Leonard Nimoy’s black-and-white photographic exploration of Jewish mysticism, spirituality and sexuality, “Shekhina,” is on display through Jan. 31.1-6 p.m. (Wednesday-Saturday). 11265 Washington Blvd., Culver City. (310) 398-2643.

Symphonies in Paint


When she was 18 years old, Desy Safán-Gerard conducted an a cappella choir in her native Chile and won a yearlong scholarship to study musical composition in Jerusalem.

Today, the Venice-based artist has long since left music, but not her love of it. Now an abstract painter and psychoanalyst, Safán-Gerard insists the fields are not mutually exclusive, saying that her interests in music, in painting and in psychology are thematically linked.

"Chaos and control in the creative process," is the connection, she said.

In her psychological work, Safán-Gerard has written analyses of famous artists like Lucian Freud, and many of the patients she sees privately are artists as well. Her artistic evolution shows this common thread as well, from her beginning experimentations with dropping paint — "and then I had to work with it" — to her latest abstract works now on display at L.A. Artcore Gallery, which were painted with both her right and left hands.

"I love the interplay of the deft line and the clumsy line. It’s like life and aggression," Safán-Gerard said.

The show, "Music to the Eye" is a collection of about 30 paintings, several of which are visual representations of musical pieces. While many artists paint to music, Safán-Gerard actually paints the music itself.

In her most recent works, she paints from left to right, in lines, the way a composer would put musical notes down on a sheet. With music by Pierre Boulez, Dmitri Shostakovich, William Kraft, Nestor Piazzolla or her nephew Nano’s drum track playing on her CD player, a model, Sara, moves to the music as Safán-Gerard mimics the sounds and motion by putting the paintbrushes to canvas.

And though Safán-Gerard has had people see visions of Jewish symbolism in her abstracts before — her work was featured in a show of Sephardic artists at the Skirball Cultural Center — she prefers to allow her subconscious to work unobstructed in her art.

"I leave my analytic talent in my office," she said.

"Music to the Eye" runs through Dec. 28 at L.A. Artcore at Union Center for the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles. An opening reception will be held Sunday, Dec. 7. On Sunday, Dec. 14, Safán-Gerard will appear in discussion with composer William Kraft and percussionist/composer David Johnson in "Eyes and Ears: Painting Music, Playing Graphics." For more information, call (213) 617-3274.

Russia Returns 16 Long-Sought Books


The Lubavitch movement is celebrating the transfer of 16 more religious books to a Lubavitch-run synagogue in Moscow. But it is unclear when — and indeed, if — the balance of the thousands of books that make up the “Schneerson Library” will come into the ultra-Orthodox group’s hands.

Earlier this month, a group of Lubavitch Jews gathered in a downtown Moscow synagogue to welcome the 16 books that were returned to the movement from the Russian State Library, formerly known as the Lenin Library, where the collection has been held for the last 80 years.

With the 16 volumes returned this month, the count of books from the collection released by Russia this year increased to 30. Fourteen books were returned earlier this year in two batches.

A few years after the Russian Revolution, the books — estimates range from 4,000 to 12,000 volumes — were seized from the fifth Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, as part of a crackdown on religion.

Excitement, singing and clapping filled the room as West Coast Chabad director Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, who described the transfer as “the fulfillment of 80 years of imprisonment,” carried the pile of antique books into the Bronnaya Synagogue’s main hall. Long tables were put together and covered with tallitot (prayer shawls), before the books were laid out.

Cunin opened the front page of the thickest volume in the pile. “It’s Gemarrah,” he announced, referring to a volume of Talmudic texts. Another book turned out to be a 200-year-old prayer book of the first Lubavitcher rebbe, and Cunin recited his evening prayer over the newly found treasure.

The return of the books came after more than a decade of efforts. Agudas Chasidei Chabad-Lubavitch, a group affiliated with the Lubavitch movement, was established in 1990 with the goal of achieving the release of the Schneerson collection.

It took appeals by three U.S. administrations, all 100 U.S. senators, heads of state from various nations and Jewish leaders from around the world “to get these 16 volumes,” said the Los Angeles-based Cunin, who has been spearheading the Lubavitch effort to get the books returned. More directly, a gesture from the Bush administration apparently made the return possible.

At a ceremony in Moscow earlier this month, the United States returned to Russia an archive of the Smolensk Regional Committee of the Communist Party. At the end of World War II, the U.S. armed forces came into possession of the archive, looted by the Nazis when they occupied Russia during World War II. To show its appreciation for the archive, Russia agreed to return part of the Schneerson library. A senior Russian State Library official in charge of the Schneerson collection said the library was asked “to expedite the return” of some books to Lubavitch when the United States indicated it was ready to give back the Smolensk archive.

“These books are now the property of Chabad,” said Meri Trifonenko, head of the Russian State Library’s Oriental Center, where the collection is stored.

Rabbi Berel Lazar, leader of the Lubavitch movement in the former Soviet Union and one of Russia’s two chief rabbis, confirmed that the books will be transferred to the library at Moscow’s Marina Roscha Synagogue and Community Center, the movement’s main facility in Russia.

As part of the arrangement, the books must stay in Russia for now. A decision on the matter by the Russian Ministry of Culture could allow the Lubavitch movement to transfer the books to Brooklyn, location of the group’s international headquarters. However, it is unclear whether all parts of the Lubavitch movement want the books taken out of Russia.

The State Library’s Trifonenko said no more books have been marked for transfer to Chabad in the near future. She said that only those books from the Schneerson collection that have duplicates in the State Library’s main collection were transferred to Chabad.

Lubavitch officials said they hope the Russians will follow up on the return of the books. Cunin indicated that Chabad will continue its practice of appealing to the U.S. leadership to press Russia on the matter.

Check Out the Library’s New Digs


Sally Hyam didn’t mind working on her birthday. A librarian for the last 19 years at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles (JCLLA), Hyam was actually delighted that some 40 visitors were checking out books and videos at the opening reception celebrating the library’s new location in The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles building at 6505 Wilshire Blvd.

"You’re the heart and soul of this library," one woman told Hyam.

"This is the best place," Hyam told The Journal. "It’s just one big happy family."

Unfortunately, "family" might be a more apt word for the library than "community," accounting for JCLLA’s annual traffic. The library still occupies a very marginal space in Los Angeles’ Jewish community of 600,000. Only 150-200 items are checked out daily. In the bigger picture, JCLLA serves a relatively small network of academics and individuals — a glorified extended family.

Abigail Yasgur, JCLLA’s executive librarian and driving force, believes that the nearly 60-year-old library has historically suffered from a lack of aggressive marketing. But JCLLA’s supporters are hoping that, at its new location, Los Angeles’ Jews will discover the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles Peter M. Kahn Memorial, which operates under the Bureau of Jewish Education, a Federation department and the library’s new floormate.

The library, with a staff of four, operates on a $100,000 annual budget. Friends of JCLLA, headed by Judy and Nat Gorman, raises an additional $20,000-$30,000 each year. Currently, the library boasts over 25,000 Jewish books, videos, DVDs and CDs and hosts lectures, readings and family-oriented events.

Like Los Angeles itself, JCLLA has always been saddled by impermanence. Over the years, it has moved around with The Federation, starting at its original 590 N. Vermont Ave. headquarters.

For the last four years, JCLLA shared ground-floor space on Museum Row at 6006 Wilshire with fellow Federation-supported entities the Jewish Historical Library of Southern California and Los Angeles Martyrs Museum.

The long-intended move back into 6505 Wilshire comes with perks. The JCLLA’s staff is excited about the new space, which resembles the stacks at an Ivy League university, with its cozy carpeted floors and window nooks. Many believe that JCLLA’s placement will create a new kind of synergy with its Federation neighbors.

"This is where we belong," said Sandy Bernstein, former JCLLA chair.

"We’re delighted to have it near the Children’s Library and the Bureau [of Jewish Education]," said Jewish Federation President John Fishel.

While Federation brass salutes the JCLLA director’s passion and drive, Fishel did not always see eye to eye with Yasgur. In 1999, Yasgur was clearly frustrated with the state of her library, then at 6006 Wilshire. Yasgur had voiced displeasure over the library’s 5,000-square-feet designation, reduced to 2,500 square feet at 6505 Wilshire. She had lamented that one-third of the library’s collection was in storage.

Today, Yasgur does not view The Federation as a taciturn supporter.

"There’s no rift with The Federation," she said. "I don’t expect the library to be a priority over the Jews in Crisis campaign. John Fishel, [Executive Vice President] Jack Klein and [Vice President of Facilities] Cyndie Ayala have worked very diligently. The library looks great."

Space is no longer an issue either. The proximity to the library’s sister facility, the Slavin Family Children’s Library, will prove, according to its director, Amy Muscoplat, mutually beneficial.

"Now we have most of the collection available and for use with the children’s collection downstairs," said Yasgur, who even reserved a room as a community beit midrash (house of study).

Visitors enjoyed the new location. "It was too cramped at the old space," said Al Schoenberg.

"I come here for the [Jewish] music," said Lorette Ben-Nathan. "This place is more specialized [than public libraries]."

But Yasgur said she would love to see benefactors "step up and provide the base for a large, ongoing enterprise." She envisions a prominent $7 million Pico-Robertson area storefront.

Fishel finds such expectations quixotic.

"I would caution letting the dream carry them away," Fishel said. "I don’t believe they would raise that kind of money. It’s not only raising money for the physical facility, it’s a question of operationally, how are you going to finance it and maintain it."

Yasgur holds onto her long-term goal.

"If we build it, they will come," Yasgur said. "Once people find us, they exclaim, ‘Wow, this is a well-kept secret. I never knew there was a Jewish Community Library.’ Everybody will want to use this library if they know about it."

Artifacts of a Survivor


In 1949, 16-year-old Ernest Michel never dreamed that the very belt and pants he wore at Auschwitz would become treasured relics in a special exhibit. At the time, the young labor camp inmate was more concerned with survival. Now at age 79, the former executive vice president of the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) is proud to present "Birth of Two Democracies," a historic exhibit which will make its West Coast premiere in Los Angeles this month.

The collection includes over 130 items focusing on historical Judaica. Highlights include Michel’s admission papers to Auschwitz; a letter from an SS officer, which was transcribed by an inmate; an autographed photo of David Ben-Gurion signing the Israeli Declaration of Independence; a speech that Albert Einstein delivered to the UJA in 1952; and a photo of the Peace Treaty signing between Egypt and Israel, which was autographed by Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin and Jimmy Carter.

Also part of the display is the Kaller family exhibition, a collection of historical documents related to birth of the United States. Items include a rare copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and original documents signed by George Washington, John Hancock and Benjamin Franklin.

"This [collection] has become a lifelong obsession for me because I survived the camps," said the native of Mannheim, Germany, who was arrested by the Gestapo two days after Germany invaded Poland. After spending over five years at labor and extermination camps, he escaped from the last death march in April 1945.

Michel has visited Auschwitz several times over the years. Three years ago, he went with family and friends for what he deemed his final pilgrimage to the former concentration camp. "My feeling is that [Auschwitz] should be preserved as long as humanly possible. It should not be beautified or rebuilt," the survivor said, "but it should be preserved."

Israel’s Best Hangs


"Israel in Crisis: 20 Years of Israeli Art, 1980-2000," a summerlong avant-garde art exhibit at The Jewish Federation’s Bell Family Gallery, distills some of the best painters who have brought about a revolution in the Israeli art scene.

The collection is courtesy of Michael Hittleman, who since 1976 has specialized in Israeli artists at his eponymous gallery. A graduate of Fairfax High and UCLA, Hittleman said that even though the exhibit doesn’t overtly show the political and social aspects of Israel, those aspects permeate the subtext of works by the Israeli and American artists on display.

"It’s all blended in what they do," he said.

But you won’t find paintings of Israeli soldiers or Jaffa oranges at this exhibit. In fact, you might not know that most of the works were Israeli unless someone told you. For example, the iconographic poster art of the youngest artist in the show, 37-year-old Hilla Lula Lin, has an American art school aesthetic that could easily blend in at the Whitney Museum Biennial Exhibition.

"Twenty Years" offers a nice cross section of where Israel’s art has been, and hints at where it might be going.

Some abstracts, such as 1990’s "The Boat and the Flag" and 1997’s "Hunters and Sailors," both by Moshe Gershuni, carry the hallmark of the "dirty style," a messy expressionistic approach born out of 1986’s influential Tel Avivian exhibit, "The Want of Matter."

There is a rousing, bright and bouncy energy to the colorful "Jerusalem" by naive artist Gabriel Cohen, a Syrian-born, Paris-raised Israeli. By contrast, Farideh draws on her Persian background to create an oil sunset of "Jerusalem" that is much more vague and decorative.

The exhibit also features Moshe Kupferman, whom Hittleman said was Israel’s most influential painter of the last 40 years. "If you sort of get it, you never forget it."

The exhibit runs through Sept. 15 at the Bell Family Gallery, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. By appointment only. Contact Judy Fischer, (323) 761-8352. After Sept. 15, the artwork returns to the Michael Hittleman Gallery, 8797 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 655-5364.

Dead Sea Scrolls Visit Santa Ana


An Iron Age stone fragment that bears the first known reference outside the Bible to King David will be among the works shown in October during "The Holy Land: David Roberts, Dead Sea Scrolls, House of David Inscription" at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana. It will be a first for a U.S. institution.

The broken monument, or stele, is known as the House of David Inscription and is one of the most important artifacts in Israel. The ninth century B.C.E. fragment is a source of continuing controversy because it provides historical corroboration of a figure that some biblical scholars had argued was a mere legend. After 25 year toiling over an excavation in Dan, an ancient city of upper Galilee, an Israeli archaeologist spotted the ancient writing on a reused building stone used in a foundation wall in 1993. Since the finding, some skeptics have claimed the inscription a forgery.

The basalt stone is engraved with 13 lines of square Aramaic letters, a Semitic language also known as Old Hebrew, that are clear and unmistakable. It refers to a "king of Israel" and a king of the House of David. Archaeologists surmise this probably was a victory stele erected to commemorate a military victory of the king of Damascus over these two ancient enemies.

"Exhibiting it will settle the debate for many doubting Thomases," said Eric M. Meyers, a professor of Judaic studies and a biblical archaeologist at Duke University, who is one of the speakers featured during the Bowers’ exhibit which begins Oct. 6 and runs through Jan. 9, 2002.

"The artifact has its own integrity," Meyers said, though translation of the broken inscription remains a subject of interpretation by scholars.

The relic, along with two of the better-known Dead Sea Scrolls and a portion of a collection of rare original lithographs of biblical landscapes sketched in 1838 by Scottish-born artist David Roberts, are on loan from the Israel Museum. "We decided to participate in this exhibition, as we participate in other projects, as we believe it is important to share our treasures," said Silvia Rozenberg, the Israel Museum’s chief curator of archaeology.

Ran Boynter, who organized the exhibit’s blend of antiquities with "modern" lithography, sought the artifacts to provide a historic anchor for what had been expected to be the exhibit’s primary focus: one of the world’s best-preserved sets of Roberts’ hand-tinted lithographs. (Unfortunately, only 50 of the collection’s 123 prints will be on display. The Bowers lacks adequate exhibition space to display them all.)

The collection in its entirety was first exhibited in 1996 by the Duke University Museum of Arts, which acquired the set from St. Luke’s Gallery in Washington, D.C. Since then, the exhibition has traveled to New York’s American Bible Society.

The Roberts’ scenes follow the biblical account of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt. They include depictions of every important historical site along the route, from the Shrine of the Holy Sepulchre to an overview of Jerusalem. Even the caves in Qumran, on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, are depicted a full century before the ruins were excavated and the scrolls discovered there between 1947 and 1956. The scrolls were all determined to have been written from 200 B.C.E. to 68 C.E. by the Essenes, a Jewish sect that was at odds with the religious establishment in Jerusalem.

When published in 1840s London, Roberts’ illustrations of monuments, architecture and people of Egypt and the Holy Land were hugely popular. In its day, the work provided the public with its first glimpse of biblical scenes and places known in name only. Today, Roberts’ work is sought after by collectors and is widely sold throughout the Middle East. Its interpretive perspective, though, is somewhat controversial by contemporary standards. While Roberts could distill the majestic sweep of landscapes, he also reveals an Anglo-European bias by negatively depicting the indigent population of Jews and Arabs, Meyers said.

The Bowers Museum is at 2002 North Main St. in Santa Ana. Exhibit tickets are: $12 for adults; $9 for seniors 62+ and students; $7 for children 5-18; and free for children under 5. Call (877) 250-8999 for more information.

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