Rosh Hashanah ‘in the house tonight’ dances into the new year


Aish brings together rhythm, beats and davening for their Rosh Hashanah ‘in the house tonight’ dancing spectacle that parodies LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem.  Here’s the chorus from the lyrics, but be sure to watch the video for the full effect.

Rosh Hashanah’s in the house tonight
All the world is passing through the light
Let’s all get written in the book of Life
Shana Tova—it’s High Holiday time

 

Dancing in Rabin Square


I have danced in Rabin Square!  That’s a major happening in Tel Aviv the night of Yom HaAtzmaut, Independence Day in Israel. I have bounced my noise-making hammer off my fellow dancers all around me. That is also a major happening on Independence Day. I have no idea what the symbolic meaning of those plastic hammers is, but they are everywhere on Independence Day. The day before, I have stood silently by my car in the middle of a busy roadway.  For miles and miles I could see the cars stopped and the people standing at attention.  They were answering the call of remembrance signaled by the sirens heard all over the State of Israel.  We stood to honor all those heroes who had fallen while defending this land of freedom, redemption, and incredible opportunity. Yes, I have danced many times in Rabin Square to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, but this Independence Day, it is different.

People cannot choose their life span. I was lucky (or should I say unlucky) enough to be born into the most incredible history in the story of mankind. I first saw the light of day in St. Louis Mo, in the year, 1936. The great world-wide depression, of which I was totally unaware, was ravishing mankind. We were middle class, Midwest Americans. There were members of my family who were a lot poorer than us. We were witnessing the sun setting on a semi-sane civilization, and the rising darkness of the insanity of World War II. Of course, the greatest act of insanity was the attempt to annihilate the Jewish people and Judaism. 

If this wasn’t enough history, the world was to witness the rebirth of the State of Israel, just a few short years away. The Day of Independence, Yom HaAtzmaut exploded, literally, the moment that David Ben Gurion declared the birth of the State from that historic Hall in Tel Aviv.  Personally, I was almost blissfully unaware of all of these events. It wasn’t until the shock of the Yom Kippur war that I was thrust, kicking and screaming, into the tumultuous history of my people. I was in Israel, almost by accident, in the waning days of hostility of the 1973 war. I was so struck by the intensity of emotion of my own Jewish discovery that I have returned 69 times to the land of my cultural and spiritual birth. This land of Eretz Israel. Now, 37 years later, and with the help of the JNF, my life has changed forever.

So why is this year, 2011, different from all other years?  My son is about to experience the searing emotion of self-discovery that will be far greater than my own. Yes, besides my 3 daughters and nine grandchildren, I have an 18-year-old son. Can you believe this old man has a son who is just graduating high school?  I have three grandchildren older than him. So what is this great discovery that he is experiencing? Today, Max is in Poland for the March of the Living.  This is a program that has been an outstanding success for 23 years. This year there are 7,000 Jewish high school seniors, and hundreds of Holocaust survivors from all over the world trekking to Auschwitz and other slave labor camps in Poland. The interaction between the survivors and the students has been truly life changing. It is not lost on the kids that they are being led by members of the last generation of Jewish survivors. I am reminded of the line in the Passover Seder that reminds us that we are the “the last generation of slaves and the first generation of free men”. On May 2nd the 7,000 kids and survivors assembled in Auschwitz for the famous death march to the killing camp of Birkeneau. The kids understood that this was a daily occurrence during the height of the Shoah. But Birkenau was not the final stop for our kids.  Not this time, not on the The March of the Living. From Poland, the young students fly to Tel Aviv to celebrate Israeli Independence day.  In a few hours they will experience the transition from the blood-soaked earth of the slaughterhouses of Poland to the vibrant free soil of Eretz Israel. This is truly a journey from slavery to freedom. A new chapter of Exodus is being written by the Jewish people, and my son is there.

And so once more I will dance in Rabin Square. But this time it will be my Son, Max, who will wield the plastic hammer noisemakers, and will stand at attention to sing the Hatikvah. It will be Max who will dance at Rabin Square to secure the future of the Chosen People.  Could a father feel more pride than this? Am Yisrael Chai. The People of Israel live, and from generation to generation we will give each other strength. Amen!!

Bud Levin is a Vice President of Jewish National Fund.

Avi Saidiner-Jacobs dancing


Avi Saidiner-Jacobs showing off his dancing skills.

‘Dancing Auschwitz’ video gets mixed response


A YouTube video of a family singing and dancing at Auschwitz has received more than half a million hits and mixed reaction.

Australian artist Jane Korman filmed her 89-year-old father Adolek Kohn, a former inmate at Auschwitz, and her three children dancing outside the infamous death camp in Poland, as well as at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, Terezin in the Czech Republic and other Holocaust memorial sites in Europe to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”

The video, which was posted originally last December, has received mass viral attention this week, skyrocketing to more than 500,000 hits on the popular video-sharing Web site. The video also has generated more than 3,000 responses, many of them sympathetic. But some were scathing, and the video also has been exploited by neo-Nazi websites.

Korman, of Melbourne, posted a own message defending her work.

“To those that I have offended—I am sorry,” she wrote. “My intention was to present a fresh perspective to younger generations who have often become desensitized to the horrors of the Holocaust. I hope ‘Dancing Auschwitz’ helps keep the lessons of the past alive so they will be forever remembered.”

When she first posted the video online, Korman wrote, “This dance is a tribute to the tenacity of the human spirit and a celebration of life. It is an affirmation that man can triumph over the darkest of circumstance and still strive to find beauty and peace.”

In an interview with the BBC this week, Korman’s father said first the family prayed for the martyrs.

“The dancing was also very important because we are alive, we survived,” Kohn said.

Not everyone agreed. Kamil Cwiok, 86, told The Daily Mail that “I don’t see how this video is a mark of respect for the millions who didn’t survive, nor for those who did. It seems to trivialize the horrors that were
committed there.”

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks Dec. 27- Jan. 2: Hot Rod Chanukah, Moroccan New Years Eve


SAT | DECEMBER 27

(CHANUKAH BASH)
The week has been loaded with holiday merrymaking, but if you’ve got a drop of energy left, you’ll want to make it last all night long at the Hot Rod Chanukah Party hosted by The Jewish Federation’s Young Leadership Division and Birthright ” target=”_blank”>http://www.birthrightisrael.com. Non-alumni may buy tickets at ibakal@alpertjcc.org. circle@circlesocal.org. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jclla.org.

(CHANUKAH)
Nope, the Chanukah celebrations aren’t over yet. That’s one of the great things about being Jewish, isn’t it? Instead of one night of merriment, the parties just go on and on and on… Jumping right in is the Israel division of The Jewish Federation/ Valley Alliance, which is throwing its own holiday family festival complete with a magician, festive singing, a menorah-lighting ceremony, and — old magazines? Actually, attendees are asked to bring some along to turn them into a menorah. Not to worry, there will be expert magazine-menorah-makers on hand to help with the project. Sun. 4:30-6:30 p.m. Free. The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3206. sbjts@cox.net.

(WOMEN)
JConnect is no stranger to bringing L.A.’s Jewish community together, but this gathering is for women only. As part of their monthly women’s gathering series, guest speaker Tova Hinda Siegel will be discussing “A Light Unto Our Nation: Are WE Women the Guiding Light?” Siegel, a certified midwife and very active in the city’s Jewish community, is in a unique position to discuss women and their relationship to Israel. The conversation will take place over a kosher potluck brunch, so make sure to bring along your favorite dish. Sun. 11:45 a.m. Only cost is your contribution to the potluck. JConnectLA, 1801 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 322, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P to Michal@JConnectLA.com for the exact address of the event. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>Fuel in Studio City into a Moroccan-style lair of rich tapestries, lush cushions and sensuous belly dancers. The feast will not be limited to just your eyes: There will also be a decadent kosher Moroccan buffet by Bazilikum Caterers and Chef Sharon On, a free hookah patio with a variety of sweet flavors and a champagne toast at midnight. Sababa’s loyal DJ duo, Ziv and Titus, will be spinning ’70s, ’80s, hip-hop, dance, house and plenty of hip Israeli crowd-pleasers. Part of the proceeds from this relatively affordable NYE bash (a nod to the struggling economy) will be donated to Yad B’Yad, a nonprofit that provides services to abused children in Israel. 21 and over. Wed. 9:30 p.m.-2 a.m. $48 (prepaid via PayPal), $58 (at the door). Club Fuel, 11608 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (310) 657-6650. ” target=”_blank”>http://geffenplayhouse.com; ” target=”_blank”>http://www.elportaltheatre.com.

FRI | JANUARY 2

(SHABBAT LECTURE)
Rabbi YY, as Yehuda Yonah Rubinstein is fondly known, is one of the most requested Jewish speakers in the United Kingdom. There, he is a regular broadcaster on national radio and television and was named one of the top five people in Britain to turn to for advice by the Independent newspaper. He has written innumerable essays and a couple of books, including “Dancing Through Time” and “That’s Life.” Jewish Learning Exchange is hosting this veteran public speaker and teacher with a gift for fusing Torah, modern-day challenges and humor at a special weekend starting tonight. Rubinstein will lead Melava Malka on Saturday night and speak on the subject of what Judaism says about dreams. Guests are asked to specify if they need sleeping accommodations and/or meals. Fri.-Sat. $36. Jewish Learning Exchange, 512 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. Call (323) 857-0923 or e-mail info@jlela.com to register and to receive a detailed schedule. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.tebh.org.

VIDEO: Sukkot services with the Happy Minyan


The spirited, eclectic Happy Minyan of L.A. davening Hoshana Rabba concluding Sukkot. Guest chazans, New York’s Yehuda Green and Lazar Wax, lead and deliver the cantillation.

 

MUSIC VIDEO: Hassidic prayerful dancing


Joyous prayerful singing a la Rav Shlomo Carlebach? Sure. Now how about some prayerful dancing!

A Hole In One for a Good Cause


The Gift of Culture

Bram Goldsmith, chair of City National Corporation, and his wife, Elaine, long-time supporter of the arts, donated $5 million to the future Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, with the result that a 500-seat theater will become the Goldsmith Theater.

Bram Goldsmith has been chairman of the center’s foundation since its inception and a driving force for the center, located in the historic Beverly Hills Post Office at Crescent Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard.

“We are delighted to help create a magnificent theater and performing arts center which will enhance the worldwide renown of Beverly Hills,” Goldsmith said. ” It will give our residents and the residents of Los Angeles the opportunity to concurrently dine and shop in Beverly Hills and enjoy fine theatre in our community.”

Designed by the Performing Arts Center’s award-winning architect, Zoltan Pali of SPF: architects, the Goldsmith Theater will incorporate 500 seats in an elegant and intimate contemporary venue. Featuring state-of-the-art adaptable acoustics, lighting and stage equipment, it will present theater, dance, music, opera and professional children’s theater.

Beverly Hills Mayor Steve Webb praised the couple for their generosity saying, “Elaine and Bram Goldsmith are unquestionably one of L.A.’s most dedicated and philanthropic couples. We are especially proud that they call Beverly Hills home.”

Goldsmith has served as president of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles; chaired the Los Angeles United Jewish Fund Campaign and the United Jewish Appeal; and has served on the boards of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, The National Conference of Christians and Jews, the United Way and the Weizmann Institute of Science. Elaine Goldsmith is a long-time member of the Board of Governors of Otis College of Art and Design and former Chairman. She has also served on the Los Angeles Art Museum Council as well as the United Jewish Welfare Fund.

Music in the Air

The Ford Amphitheatre was packed July 9 when the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony (LAJS) presented an evening of Israeli composers. The crowd noshed on picnic goodies and soaked in the starry evening as Israel’s Consul General Ehud Danoch welcomed the crowd from the stage prior to the performance. Hannah Drew, daughter of LAJS Founder/Conductor Noreen Green and her husband, Ian Drew, led the singing of “Hatikvah.” Also in attendance was Israeli composer Hadas Goldschmidt-Halfon, whose “Knock on Wood” concerto for marimba, percussion and chamber orchestra had its North American premiere that evening. The piece was written for Chen Zimbalista, whose performance brought down the house. Israeli French horn soloist Alon Reuven also performed.

Sounds of Salsa

On July 20, Vista Del Mar’s Presidents Club hosted a “Salsa Under the Stars” networking cocktail reception complete with salsa dancing, sizzling Latin rhythms and an opportunity to learn how to positively impact the lives of Vista’s troubled children.

Members of the Presidents Club have the opportunity to spend quality time with the children of Vista Del Mar’s Residential Treatment program through monthly sporting events and dinners. Monies raised allow the Presidents Club to sponsor activities, special outings, exposure to vocational and career opportunities, and funding for scholarships.

Founded nearly a century ago in Los Angeles, Vista Del Mar has been providing residential and community-based mental health services to more than 5,500 troubled children annually. For more information, call (310) 836-1223 ext. 238.

Two Shows Set the Stage for Chanukah


Two winters ago, in one of its traditional Victorian teas, A Noise Within (ANW), the classical repertory theater company in Glendale, staged a series of holiday readings from actors as varied as Ed Asner and Fred Savage. One of ANW’s own troupe members, Len Lesser, in his inimitable New York accent, read a Chanukah story about a boy in the Bronx who, if memory permits, floats in the Big Apple firmament, going on a magical Chagallesque voyage through the city night.

Even if all of the other stories were about Christmas, this one Jewish tale stood out, if only because it was so unique, so rare, in a Thanksgiving-to-New Year’s climate in which Jews and other non-Christians are bombarded with Christian iconography, animated TV specials, carols and merchandise.

If it’s OK for storekeepers to say “Merry Christmas,” as Kinky Friedman contends, then it is also OK for theatergoers to get a taste of Jewish entertainment in the midst of all the “Christmas Carol” and “Nutcracker” productions.

Guggenheim Entertainment and the National Jewish Theatre Festival have adapted Tchaikovsky’s ballet into a Chanukah-themed musical, “The Meshuga Nutcracker!” Shannon Guggenheim, one of the creators of the show, disputes the misconception by some that “if it’s a Chanukah show, it must hate Christmas”; this show’s edgiest moment comes in a good-natured opening song with a couplet about “Santa having the last laugh, this holiday lasts a month and a half.”

Although Tchaikovsky composed the music, many of the big, splashy numbers owe more to Andrew Lloyd Webber than the 19th century romantic giant. It’s not the music alone that’s changed; the story has, too. Now, instead of the songs being about sugar plum fairies, rat kings and nutcrackers, they are about menorahs, dreidels and Judah Maccabee. More broadly, Guggenheim says, “it’s about finding the soul in our lives.”

“The Meshuga Nutcracker!” features eight principal characters, symbolizing the eight days of Chanukah, who must wait for the “director” to show up, so that they can light the menorah. While the “director” sounds like Elijah or Godot, Guggenheim says that the character and plot device derive from the movie “Waiting for Guffman,” not the Torah or Samuel Beckett.

Dancing and singing in front of a giant dreidel, the performers, inhabitants of a mythical shtetl, wear garb almost as colorful as that of the Technicolor Joseph, and the stage floor in its multihued mosaic resembles a Wolfgang Puck eatery.

This is kid-friendly theater, which is not surprising since Guggenheim, along with her husband, Scott, and brother-in-law, Stephen, conceptualized the show around the time her 3-year-old daughter was born.

“Where are we going to take a child?” she used to ask herself, given the historic lack of Jewish holiday theater.

Coming to Los Angeles for the first time after two years of exclusive dates in the Bay Area, the show has yet to penetrate “the public-school sector,” although that is the next step, says Guggenheim, who views her role as being that of an educator. If she succeeds, “The Meshuga Scrooge” may be next.

“The Meshuga Nutcracker!” opens Thursday, Dec. 22, at the Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. Plays Through Jan. 1. 7:30 p.m. (Tues.-Thurs., Sat.); 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. (Sun.). $18-$36. The Jewish Journal sponsors the Sunday, Dec. 25, 1 p.m. show. For tickets, call (877) 456-4849.

Tchaikovsky has always transcended religion and ethnicity, so it’s not surprising that Zinovy Goro, a Ukrainian Jew, studied clarinet and composition at the State Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Kiev. Goro, along with Miamon Miller, who plays violin and mandolin, form a klezmer orchestra in Theater 40’s premiere of “Simcha,” another Jewish-themed play being staged during the holidays. From an elevated platform, they perform their admixture of plaintive yet heartening Jewish folk tunes before the actors arrive onstage, during intermission, and at pivotal narrative points.

Subtitled “An Evening of Jewish folklore,” “Simcha,” like “Meshuga Nutcracker,” is set in the shtetl, that fabled, liminal land in the Pale that captured the imagination of artists like Sholom Aleichem and Chagall. Indeed, “Simcha,” an original production written by Ross Pavis and Howard Teichman, bears the influence of both of these Russian-Jewish luminaries.

With a setup so classic that it has been used by everyone from Chaucer to Eugene O’Neill to William Inge, the play begins when a drifter named Simcha, part troubadour, part hobo, pleads his way into an inn. Though he has no groshen to pay for bread, he convinces the denizens of the inn that he can recompense them with a story. Make that three stories.

Despite his tatterdemalion rags and scruffy stubble, Simcha carries the promise of dream to these miserable inn dwellers, and is soon distributing copies of a script to each of them — the young boy and girl, in the bloom of love; the old man and woman, ignored by all; the termagant who runs the inn, and the meek owner who submits to her will.

They may seem like stock characters, but, as portrayed by Theater 40’s fine cast, they have the timelessness of archetypes. Maybe, it’s because all of these actors have great faces, in the way that John Garfield and Edward G. Robinson had great faces, etched with character and depth. None of the actors would be considered conventionally attractive; even the ravishing young girl, played by Karla Menjivar, possesses more of the exoticism of an Old World Jewess than the glamour of a runway model. But their faces tell of their suffering and longing for a new life.

Twirling about the stage like a dreidel, while the klezmer musicians play, Simcha looks upward as if picturing the magical skyscape of Chagall. And he weaves tales not unlike those of Aleichem, rife with matchmakers and Kabbalistic potions.

Teichman, a heavyset, bearded man who resembles Jon Lovitz, shines in the title part, narrating and directing the characters in the play within the play, a role that must come easily for him, given that he is also credited as director of the play itself. When each tale ends and he is asked questions about the story’s characters, he issues the caveat that he is “just a storyteller, not a philosopher.”

If there is any criticism of the play, it is its length. Holiday entertainment needs to be light, and this production would have been more effective as a one-act.

“Simcha” plays 8 p.m. (Thurs.-Sat.); 2 p.m. (Sun.), thru Dec. 18, at the Reuben Cordova Theater, Beverly Hills High School, 241 Moreno Drive, (310) 364-0535.

The Circuit


Life Is Beautiful

“Beautiful Music,” produced by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Moriah Films division, was winner of the best documentary award at the Hollywood Film Festival for director Richard Trank. It tells the story of a blind, autistic Arab girl whose astonishing musical talents are discovered and nurtured by a caring Jewish piano teacher in Jerusalem. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Desperately Thrilled

Dancing and celebration was the order of the evening recently as the Maple Counseling Center honored former Beverly Hills Mayor Mark Egerman; his wife, Dr. Lynn Egerman; and “Desperate Housewife”-psychologist Marcia Cross at its annual fundraising dinner. The room was filled to capacity with attendees who dined, danced and celebrated the work of this organization that doesn’t turn away anyone in need, regardless of ability to pay.

For information, call (310) 271-9999.

Singer’s New Tune

Bringing attention to the groundbreaking research, technological innovation and vast educational resources of the world’s largest Jewish university is the mission defined by Ruth Singer for her tenure as Western region chairperson of the Tel Aviv University: American Council. Recently named to the position by Tel Aviv University President Itamar Rabinovich, Singer will be responsible for making people aware of the institution’s accomplishments and needs.

“People know about other universities in Israel, but they don’t know enough about Tel Aviv University,” Singer said. “Yet this is where much of the world’s most exciting work is being done — breakthrough research on cancer, diabetes and Parkinson’s … not to mention pioneering work in social and political change. Just as important is the daily work the university does to provide undergraduates and graduate students with the highest caliber education, preparing them to shape Israel’s future — and the world’s.”

Singer has led more than 30 mission trips to Israel as the missions chairperson of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. As a former national officer of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, she worked with members of Congress to ensure that U.S.-Israel relations remain a top priority.

“Ruth Singer leads by example,” said Sam Witkin, president of the Tel Aviv University: American Council. “Her national and international work on behalf of Israel is phenomenal, and we are fortunate to welcome her into the leadership ranks of our organization.”

That’s a WRRAP

The newly renovated Luxe Bel Air Hotel was the setting as the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was awarded The Rose Award by the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP).

The afternoon’s mistress of ceremonies was actress Christina Pickles who starred as Monica and Ross’ mother on the hit show “Friends.” The luncheon featured a stunning holiday boutique and silent auction with 95 percent of all money raised going to help low-income women exercise the full range of their reproductive rights.

Among the notable host committee members and sponsors were Elayne Boosler, Bettina Duval, Amy Everitt, Gloria Feldt, Katherine Forster, Debbie Goldberger, Billie Heller, Laura Kightlinger, Mary Leonard, Kathleen McDowell, Vanessa Poster, Marsha Rothpan, Julianne Scott, Cari Siestra, Heather Sourial, Gloria Steinem, Mary Jane Wagle, Faye Wattleton and Sarah Weddington.

WRRAP, which was started and nurtured at the Los Angeles section of the National Council of Jewish Women, raises money for low-income women of all ages, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds who are unable to pay for either emergency contraception or a safe and legal abortion. Its services are provided free of charge to clinics across the country.

For more information, call (323) 223-7727 or visit www.wrrap.org.Hatred Exposed

Closer to a Cure

Dr. Patricia Ganz, a nationally renowned expert in the identification and management of quality-of-life issues related to breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, has received the prestigious Jill Rose Award, an honor given to top cancer scientists, by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Ganz, director of cancer prevention and control research at UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center, was honored in New York for her “extraordinary research accomplishments,” which have changed the way doctors and patients deal with the physical and psychological quality of life issues that follow breast cancer treatment, said Evelyn H. Lauder, founder and chair of the foundation.

“No other individual could match her research accomplishments in this area,” Lauder said. “The impact of her work is profound.”

Named after a late New York philanthropist and founding Breast Cancer Research Foundation advisory board member, the Jill Rose Award carries with it a $25,000 grant.

For more information on the Jonsson Cancer Center, visit at

Buenos Aires Let Me Dance to Your Beat


 

In Buenos Aires you wouldn’t know about the Argentine economy’s disastrous crash — except, perhaps, by chatting with your taxi driver and discovering he was a former tycoon.

BA, as old hands call it, has retained its prosperous appearance and cosmopolitan cool, and it remains one of the world’s most fabulous cities. In fact, given the peso devaluation, the once-pricey Argentine capital should be visited soon, while its delectable cuisine and shopping, some of the finest in South America, are a relative bargain.

No wonder this glittering capital was so inviting to the upwardly mobile Evita in the early 20th century — this huge but green city boasts a level of European-style opulence and elegance equal to anything in Europe, and most closely recalls the finest residential neighborhoods of Paris.

Like Paris and London, Buenos Aires is made up of clearly defined neighborhoods, each with its own flavor. Visitors tend to concentrate in the smart enclave of Recoleta, which boasts not only the finest hotels but the city’s most intriguing attraction — the cemetery where Evita and all the rest of the town’s high society are buried. This fashion plate of a cemetery is a delightful and not remotely spooky place to stroll, with a wonderful craft market on the perimeter to boot.

Visitors are invariably trundled across town to the working-class neighborhood of La Boca, home of the signature postcard cityscape of brightly colored buildings amidst which young tango dancers strut their stuff on every street corner. Unlike laid-back Recoleta, the neighborhood is a bit of a tourist trap with its gaudy street art and restaurants where extra charges are levied for the entertainment that comes with lunch. However, it is worth a visit if only to see the immaculate young dancers in a more intimate setting than the big, fancy tango shows in halls packed with foreign tourists.

Another place to see tango dancers against a natural backdrop is Sundays at the Plaza Dorrego in the evocative San Telmo neighborhood, which with its cobbled streets and handsome 19th-century houses is definitely worth a stroll. Or the intrepid might consider visiting a milonga, one of the city’s many authentic dance halls where the natives gather nightly to tango; some offer lessons as well as an opportunity to gawp at the amateur experts.

In the city center, after a de rigeur cappuccino at the marvelous, if rather snooty, fin de siecle Cafe Tortoni, head for the Plaza de Mayo. The whole handsome plaza, bordered on one side by Evita’s Casa Rosada (Pink House) palace, is a wonderful testament to the public right to protest.

A visit to the Templo Paso shul in Once (pronounced Onsay), the old Jewish commercial area, can be arranged through specialist tour operator Last Frontiers. Once retains the odd Jewish clothing shop and other remnants of Jewish life while largely given over to newer waves of immigrants. Today’s shoppers are more likely to be found in and around the pedestrianized shopping area of Florida, where one of the finest stores is the Jewish-owned leather business of Silvia and Mario. Downstairs is a range of styles in sumptuous hides, upstairs the tailors who will custom-make any pattern in 24 hours.

Exquisite food is another bargain in BA while the peso remains devalued, and even kosher travelers can enjoy the world’s finest beef thanks to the city’s best hotel, the Jewish-owned Alvear Palace, which boasts a kosher kitchen. The Alvear is like the Savoy transplanted to South America, though it remains expensive, devaluation or no.

While many will adore its tradition, there is no doubting the value on offer at the nearby Four Seasons, whose huge suites and outdoor pool are not to be sniffed at. Next door is the city’s finest Italian restaurant, Piegari (in this city where 40 percent of residents are of Italian origin, pasta joints are numerous and excellent), while nearby is the city’s best steakhouse, the incredibly elegant La Cabana. This is not to be confused with the more informal but equally excellent Cabana Las Lilas in Puerto Madero, the lively reclaimed docklands area. Both restaurants serve fish and excellent vegetable dishes, and the rich, creamy spinach gratin alone justifies the trip to La Cabana.

One day in BA should be set aside for a trip into the watery suburbs of the Tigre Delta. Here 3,000 people live full time in delightful houses on a series of islands where every necessity from school teachers to ice cream is brought to their door by boat. It is feasible to try out the lifestyle by renting a cottage for the weekend, but it’s also a great idea to take the tiny suburban Tren de la Costa to the terminus for boat rides around the delta. Every station along the little branch line offers a different attraction — antique shopping on one platform, gourmet dining on the next — and it would hard to think of a more agreeable holiday outing than getting on and off the train for a nosh and a browse, finishing with a leisurely cruise through the backwaters. Don’t leave, though, without visiting the Puerto de Frutas craft market for pretty and unbelievably inexpensive sea grass baskets and other hand-made souvenirs.

Different tour groups offer a Jewish Buenos Aires Tour, which is a day tour of sites like the Immigrant Museum, Israel Embassy Plaza, Lavalle Plaza, Libertad St. Synagogue, AMIA Federation Building, and Paso St. Synagogue. For more information, visit www.AllAboutAR.com, The Argentina Travel Guide.

Anthea Gerrie writes for the London-based Jewish Chronicle.

 

Dancing the Chai Life


When Sarah Sommer started the Chai Folk Ensemble with eight other young girls in 1964, she had modest expectations. The young women practiced Israeli folk dancing in Sommer’s basement in Winnipeg, Canada, stepping in time to recorded music. When they started performing for live audiences in 1967, the recorded music was replaced with a live musician — the mainstay of all folk performances — an accordion player.

Now, 40 years later, The Sarah Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble (Sommer died in 1969) is no longer dancing in basements or clicking their heels to accordion music. The nonprofit troupe is run by a board of directors and has a full artistic staff, including costume designers, choreographers from Israel and Argentina, and a technical team that ensures that Sommer’s Israeli folk-dancing vision stays alive. The troupe itself now numbers 47 — including eight vocalists, nine musicians and 20 dancers. They perform in large venues all over the world.

“I don’t think that Sommer ever imagined that it would be as large or survive as long as it had,” said Reeva Nepon, the ensemble’s administrative director. “It really is unique to North America because there are no other [folk] groups this large that have live accompaniment — you won’t find our dancers dancing to recorded music.”

The group’s repertoire has also expanded. They use the dances to tell the story of Jewish communities all over the world, incorporating, Chasidic, klezmer, Israeli and Yiddish influences to give a terpsichorean voice to far-flung communities such as Yemen or Morocco.

At their upcoming Los Angeles performance, for example, the show will close with the dance “Chasida” — the Hebrew word for stork. The dance depicts “Operation Exodus” — the mass migration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the late 1980s. In the dance, the performers, wearing sackcloth coats, make their way to the Promised Land. There they shake off their coats and hold them high above their heads, revealing the pristine white dresses worn underneath, and a moment of heart-soaring joy.

“The whole stage lights up and it is so explosive, and so powerful,” said Tracy Kasner-Greaves, Chai’s artistic director. “The performers beam and glow from the stage.”

The Sarah Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble will start its first tour of Southern California on Feb. 10 at the Fred Kavli Theatre for Performing Arts, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., at 7:30 p.m. For tickets ($18-$54) call (805) 449-2787.

And There Was Music


At Sinai Akiba Academy recently, Bryna Vener vigorously conducted close to 100 first- through-eighth-graders in a passionate rendition of "Hava Nagila" as students danced in their seats. If the atmosphere was celebratory, it was because the assembly was a dress rehearsal for the orchestra’s 25th anniversary concert and alumni reunion June 10, when graduates will return to fete Vener and her remarkable group.

"What Bryna is doing is so important because she’s built perhaps the oldest and largest orchestra of that age level of Jewish children, anywhere," said Russell Steinberg, director of the Stephen Wise Music Academy.

"When she began, Proposition 13 had created a big void in music education in the public schools, which is only now starting to come back," said Sinai music teacher Adam Lerman. "So it was unique for these children to have an orchestra to go to."

The charismatic Vener, a conservatory-educated violinist, founded the orchestra when she herself became a casualty of Proposition 13 after teaching public school music for more than a decade.

When she enrolled her daughter, Dvora, at Sinai in 1979, she approached Rabbi Laurence Scheindlin with an idea: "I said, ‘If you let me do this on a volunteer basis, I promise you a Chanukah concert in two months," she recalled. "After the concert, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and the rabbi said, ‘Good. Now you can play for Purim?’"

Since then, the group has grown from 18 to almost 100 students — including a more accomplished group of chamber players — all of whom study privately as a condition of joining the program. At several yearly concerts, they play Jewish and Israeli music and "easy classics," such as Rossini’s "William Tell Overture"; they’ve also performed for the Israeli president, at Disneyland and for the opening of downtown’s Central Library.

At the recent assembly, 20-year-old alumnus Jeremy Stern, who just finished his Israeli army service, said he thought of the orchestra when he performed " with his yeshiva band.

While other students have gone on to become professional musicians, "that’s not why we teach music," Vener said. "We do it so students will become more sensitive, so they will learn to recognize beauty and develop a team spirit."

The 59-year-old Vener herself radiates that spirit: "This orchestra has been her passion for 25 years," said teaching assistant Sheri Caine-Marks, whose children are orchestra alumni. "She just exudes that energy."

For information about the 7 p.m. concert at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, 4401 W. 8th St., Los Angeles, call (323) 525-0146.

VBS Reaches Out With Tunes and Tie-Dye


Jewish tunes, Grateful Dead-style tie-dyed T-shirts and rows of singing, swaying, arm-in-arm Jews gave a summer camp feel to Valley Beth Shalom’s (VBS) "25th Hour" event, which marked the end of the Valentine’s Day Shabbat.

Nearly 400 people came to the Conservative Encino synagogue’s festive but compact Feb. 14 outreach to the 90 percent of San Fernando Valley Jews not affiliated with a synagogue.

"We wanted to create the world’s most user-friendly, welcoming Jewish experience," said VBS Rabbi Ed Feinstein, who led young singles, middle-age parents and their kids in songs, stories and prayers in the shul’s Malkin Hall.

The "25th Hour" positions Shabbat’s final hour as a first hour for unaffiliated Jews looking for community. With two more such music-filled hours set for this spring, the targeted demographic — professional Jewish singles and couples — has given way to a Ventura Boulevard "25th" billboard near VBS, plus some free event advertising in Los Angeles Family Magazine. Feinstein’s largest out-of-pocket "25th Hour" expense were the musicians, notably Craig Taubman, who in 1998 joined Rabbi David Wolpe to create the popular monthly "Friday Night Live" singles gathering at the Conservative Sinai Temple in Westwood.

"I didn’t expect there to be this big a turnout," said David King, a young attorney who sat in one of the "25th Hour" back rows with his Valentine’s Day date.

After starting exactly at 5:05 p.m., the Saturday evening hour moved swiftly. Aside from the musicians and T-shirts, the cozy gathering was a stripped-down operation lacking the sweets, cookies and beverages common at shul events. It also avoided the formal, religious air of the prominent Conservative synagogue.

"Don’t go to the temple unless you’re a guest of that bar mitzvah," Feinstein jokingly said to his casually attired, early Saturday evening flock.

The hour focused on a podium hourglass, of which Feinstein said, "the grains of sand come through the hourglass and you don’t grab every one of them."

About 30 of the "25th Hour" revelers came from Beit T’Shuvah, the Jewish, faith-based addiction treatment facility in West Los Angeles. Joanna G., a 28-year-old recovering addict, arrived at the "25th Hour" in a Mercedes-Benz filled with three other Beit T’Shuvah women ready to party with Feinstein and Co., their sedan’s speakers blasting MC Hammer’s, "U Can’t Touch This." After a quick cigarette break, the quartet crossed over from the parking lot to the synagogue hall for the lively hour.

"It’s really nice to have fun and be spiritual in sobriety," Joanna G said. "I would celebrate Shabbat at camp and things, but never at home."

With some children in the aisles almost swimming in their tie-dyed shirts, Feinstein told the crowd that he recently noticed, and also disagreed with, a book on Eastern spirituality titled, "Wherever You Go, There You Are."

"Wherever you go is not where you are," Feinstein said. "I’ve been lots of places where I wasn’t, [such as] high school. Sometimes if you’re really blessed, somebody comes and turns your shoes around. We just want to turn your shoes around, so you might really learn."

Karen Sonnabend, a Jewish Community Center program director at the West Hills campus, said she appreciated the hour’s summer camp sentiment with people singing and swaying.

"What grabbed me was the energy and the lightheartedness," she said.

The hour ended with the Hebrew song, "Am Yisrael Chai."

For more information about the March 13 and May 8 "25th Hour" events, call (818) 530-4092.

Cantor Steven Puzarne of Breeyah.


Carole Levine had been a member of Temple Israel of Hollywood for 28 years. During that time, she attended temple only during the High Holidays. Recently, Levine has started going to temple more often. As a flautist for The Chai Tones, a 10-piece temple band, Levine finds herself at the temple now at least once a month, playing jazzed-up versions of the regular synagogue melodies.

“I’ve felt more connected to the temple since I started playing there,” said Levine, a professional musician. “I know all the songs now and I know all the prayers I didn’t know before.”

To counter declining attendance during regular services, several temples are regularly holding arts-enhanced services — such as The Chai Tones at Temple Israel, Friday Night Live at Sinai Temple in Westwood, Shabbos Fest at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino and services at Temple Shalom for the Arts — to get the crowds in the door. Typically, these services increase the temple attendance by at least 25 percent and, for many, they facilitate an entree into synagogue life that they might not have experienced before.

“Friday Night Live [FNL] has made a tremendous difference,” said Rabbi David Wolpe, who started FNL with musician Craig Taubman as a way of appealing to the single and childless post-college population to attend temple. With its mixture of live music, Israeli dancing, singing and speakers, FNL now draws about 1,500 people to Sinai Temple once a month.

“It gives a lot of people the chance to be part of our community, and most come to other events at the temple as well,” Wolpe said.

“[These programs] attract people who are peripheral members of the temples, Jews-by-choice, people on their way to conversion as well as active members,” said Cantor Aviva Rosenbloom of Temple Israel of Hollywood.

In fact, these ventures have been so successful that there are two Los Angeles synagogue revitalization organizations — Synagogue 2000 and Breeyah — that are devoted to helping synagogues and temples develop arts-based services. Synagogue 2000 has already consulted with 95 synagogues in Los Angeles and 23 in other cities, and they use the arts as one of the ways to help synagogues give their congregants a more authentic spiritual experience. Breeyah, which was started by Cantor Steven Puzarne, has already assisted in the creation of 10 temple bands around the country.

“We have a theory that every synagogue should be a Jewish arts center,” said Puzarne, whose experiences at Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica — where only 30 people would attend regular services, but 300 came to the musical services — led him to start the organization. “The synagogue should be an extremely creative place that uses the arts as the center of that activity…. Every cantor should be the artist-in-residence.”

Arts-based services tend to be held in Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues. Although halachic restrictions prevent Orthodox synagogues from having live music, the success of congregations like The Happy Minyan in Pico-Robertson, where standing-room-only crowds regularly enjoy the extended singing and dancing, suggests that there is a place for a less traditional service in the Orthodox world as well.

“A lot of artists are soul-searchers and dreamers, and so, too, are people on a religious path,” said Rabbi Zoe« Klein of Temple Isaiah. “There are lots of different windows into the soul, and one of them is creativity.”

For more information on Synagogue 2000, visit www.s2k.org. For more information on Breeyah, contact (310) 572-7969. The organization’s Web site,
www.breeyah.org, will be up in mid-May.

Chabad rocks!


Chabad of California’s 22nd annual “L’Chaim to Life Telethon,” hosted by Dennis Prager, was humming along nicely with a long roster of talent that included classic actors James Caan and Elliott Gould, comic actor Dom DeLuise and Israeli singer David “Dudu” Fisher. Then 10:30 p.m. rolls around and the KCET soundstage — where the telethon is broadcast — went amok. Enter the Sand Man.

Yes, Hollywood’s most bankable comic actor, Adam Sandler — as in “The Waterboy,” “Big Daddy” and “Mr. Deeds.” While he didn’t pander to his Jewish audience with a performance of “The Chanukah Song,” Sandler did show some support for his pal, Arthur Brooks, who belted out his soothing-as-chicken soup rendition of “My Yiddishe Mama.”

“You dance amazing, rabbi,” Sandler told Chabad patriarch Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin onstage, as Cunin and sons whirled around the bewildered “Happy Gilmore” star.

Sandler, who is known for not giving interviews, nonetheless said a few words to The Circuit.

“I’m glad to be here and I’m honored to be here,” he said.

Sandler was not the only surprise guest of the evening. Arguably the most triumphant moment of the evening came when singer Neil Diamond melted hearts by singing “America” from “The Jazz Singer.” Hot off his performance, Diamond told The Circuit that his Chabad experience was “terrific. It was a wonderful time.”

In the VIP room, The Circuit caught up with other notables happy to support Chabad.

“Their persistence intelligence, energy, spirit, heart and soul” is what attracted Gould, who played legendary gumshoe Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman’s “Long Goodbye” and looked very Chandleresque in his floppy gray Stetson.

Caan, the gritty actor who shined in “The Godfather” and “Honeymoon in Vegas,” told The Circuit that Chabad’s drug rehab facilities helped his late sister, Barbara Caan Licker, who lost her battle with leukemia in 1981.

The “Brian’s Song” star affectionly recalled being prodded by her to attend High Holiday services. “She used to tell me, ‘Put on your blue suit, go to the Beverly Hills Hotel.'”

Also touched by Chabad’s good deeds: Dmitriy Salita, who will be fighting at Mandalay Bay in Vegas on Sept. 13, told The Circuit, “Chabad is what got me involved in Judaism. They turned my life around,” said the 20-year-old junior welterweight and Russian immigrant who gave props to Rabbi Zalman Lieberoff of Chabad of Flatbush in Brooklyn for showing him the Jewish way.

Looking grownup in his suit and tie was 10-year-old Daryl Sabara of the “Spy Kids” movies.

“I’m here to say some Jewish prayers and talk to the crowd,” said the redheaded Sabara, of German and Russian Jewish descent. Later onstage, the dancing Chabadniks turned the spy kid into a sky kid when they began hoisting him up in the air.

Onstage, freewheeling rap sensation Casanova was cool as a cuke as he stalked the phone banks and freestyled rhymes about the volunteers. But behind the scenes, the starstruck Casanova freaked when he recognized Gould. Gould came over and the two shared a moment of conversation.

“It’s an honor to be here again among my Jewish brethren,” said the rapper, who was once a wrestler named Oscar for the former WWF and has played the telethon on many occasions in the past decade. “I find Chabad awesome, and I look forward to coming back again,” he said

The Circuit also hung out between performances with Sephardic singing sensation Jo Amar, who flew in from Israel just to sing his signature “Barcelona” on the seven-hour program, reggae singer Elan and members of Rebbe Soul. Elan, who sang “Nothing Is Worth Losing You (Jerusalem)” and “Praises” on the telecast, is a reggae-rooted pop-rock-soul pastiche being groomed in the Shaggy tradition, with two tracks on the upcoming Santana album.

Elan’s connection with Chabad is personal. While on tour in Australia during Passover 1997, Elan found himself at Coffs Harbor, four hours from Brisbon.

“We were literally in the middle of nowhere,” Elan said. That’s where Chabad of Byron Bay came in, including him in their holiday services.

Ditto on an occasion when Elan and wife, Orly, were vacationing in Hawaii over Simchat Torah.

“They attend shul in Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts,” mused Elan of that Chabad’s constituency. “If I’m on tour, I always have a place to go.”

Actor Robert Guillaume (“Benson”), game show host Peter Marshall (“Hollywood Squares”) and California Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Dist. 24), were among the recognizables circulating through the VIP room. Also greeting fans was Fyvush Finkel (“Boston Public”), who has been the telethon’s master of ceremonies for the last three years, and was now the recipient of Chabad’s L’Chaim-To Life! Humanitarian Award.

Honorary Chabadnik and Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight once again proved himself the “Midnight Cowboy,” staying up and partying till the telethon’s midnight close, when Chabad scored its biggest grand total ever: $5,473,793 (edging last year’s $5,104,533).

As usual, Chabad knew how to throw a fundraiser party. Those in attendance stayed all night long. Perhaps Cassanova summed up the evening’s spirit with his economical exclamation: “Chabad rocks!” — Gaby Wenig contributed to this report.

About 200 people attended the gala dinner for the Southern California Jewish Center gala at the Beverly Hilton for the 22 Israeli victims of terror visiting Los Angeles. Attendees included a wide roster of celebrities and community members, such as Buzz Aldrin, Tom Arnold, Jaime Pressly, Renee Taylor, Joseph Bologna, Susan Blakely, Lanie Kazan, Charlene Tilton, Tina Louise, Leah Remini, David Suissa and Shelley Ventura-Cohen.

The event was chaired by Rabbi Shimon and Rebbetzin Vered Kashani from the Southern California Jewish Center. CNN anchor Jim Moret was the master of ceremonies, and Oscar-winner Jon Voight gave the keynote address.

Each of the victims of terror was awarded a medal in commemoration of their visit to Los Angeles, and a video presentation was shown of the impact of the terror attacks on the lives of the victims.

“I think it’s very important that we support the victims of terror,” Voight said. “It is important to put a face to the events and to realize the horror of them and stand up and speak out against them.”

“Normally we are here to honor people who play heroes,” said Arnold, referring to the fact that the Beverly Hilton is the home of the Golden Globe Awards. “So it’s good to be here to honor actual heroes themselves.” — GW

Stanley Gold has been elected chairman of USC’s Board of Trustees replacing John C. Argue, who died Aug. 10. The president and CEO of Shamrock Holdings Inc. and nine-year USC boardmember will assume leadership immediately.

Gold, who graduated from the USC Law School in 1967, joined the USC board in 1993 and has been vice chairman since June 2002.

He is a governor and former chairman of the board of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and serves on the board of councilors of the USC Law School, board of overseers of the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the board of the Walt Disney Company.

Gold, with his wife, Ilene, has two children, Jennifer and Charles (a USC master’s of business administration graduate). The Golds reside in Beverly Hills.

Fundraising veteran Wallace “Bud” Levin has been installed as national major gifts chairman for Jewish National Fund.

“While I knew that over the past 100 years, JNF has helped to reclaim, restore and nurture the Jewish homeland,” Levin said. “When I was in Israel this summer, I really saw how vital their immediate work is — both responsively and proactively.”

Levin began his career as a lay leader 40 years ago in St. Louis with the St. Louis Federation, United Hebrew Congregation Capital Campaign, and National United Jewish Appeal.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Step away from the Raid can and lean in for a closer look at that bug you’re about to zap into oblivion. After all, that cockroach is in the same scientific class as Jiminy Cricket and deserves some of your respect. Not convinced? Well, we can’t say we blame you. But before you go spray-crazy, head to Pages Books in Tarzana today for a little reminder that we are all a part of the kingdom animalia. Storyteller Shari Sack tells tales of “Bugliest Bug and Other Creepy Crawlies.” The kids’ll enjoy the craft project that follows, and you’ll emerge enlightened, feeling as warm and fuzzy as a tarantula.11 a.m. $3 (materials fee). Ages 3-8. 18399 Ventura Blvd., No. 15, Tarzana. For more information, call (818) 342-6657.

Sunday

You may think of a rotating exhibition of gallery inventory as a fancy term for “leftovers on display.” But we prefer to think of it as an all-you-can-eat art buffet. Check out galerie yoramgil’s current smorgasbord of Israeli and American art. You’re bound to find something you like at this “Group Show.”Runs through Sept. 1. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. (Sundays), 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (Tuesdays and Wednesdays), 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. (Thursdays-Saturdays), closed Mondays. 319 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 275-8130.

Monday

Tonight, the The Jewish Federation’s Legal Division and Bet Tzedek Legal Services sponsor a panel discussion addressing constitutional issues and a presentation on Holocaust reparations. But starting out the evening is the play, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” The one-act drama is sure to keep the legal mumbo-jumbo in proper perspective, as it chronicles the story of life behind the walls of the Terezin ghetto, as seen through the eyes of the children.6 p.m. (outdoor barbecue dinner), 7 p.m. (program). $35 (pre-registration), $50 (at the door). Santa Monica College Main Stage, 1900 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. For reservations, call (323) 761-8297.

Tuesday

Looking for the Zabar’s bagel of theatrical experiences? Well, the Denver Post’s Alan Stern says he’s found it in Donald Margulies’ comedic-drama “Collected Stories.” Guess that makes his characters Ruth Steiner and Lisa Morrison the ultimate toppers. We’re just wondering which one’s the lox and which one’s the schmeer?Runs through Sept. 4. 8 p.m. (Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays). $15 (general), $7.50 (students and theatrical union members on stand-by basis). Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Located on the Beverly High School Campus. For reservations, call (310) 364-0535.

Wednesday

Any musician who pays tribute to the great Barry “Oh Mandy” Manilow deserves to be lauded. (Hey, bet you didn’t know he wrote the song that makes the whole world sing, “State Farm Is There.” That’s right, Manilow is responsible for lots of commercial ditties now part of pop-culture consciousness. So back off, man.) But back to the subject at hand. Dale Gonyea, who wrote Grammy-nominated song spoof, “I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow,” has been compared to Dudley Moore, Garrison Keillor and Victor Borge and is performing “Gonyeaville, Here I Come!” tonight at the University of Judaism.7:30 p.m. $12. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. For reservations, call (310) 440-1246.

Thursday

Could be the Basque origins or the fact that you can’t understand what he’s singing about, but Kepa Junkera (with the help of his band) sure does put the “sex” in sextet. Playing tonight at the Skirball Cultural Center, Junkera blends rock, jazz and blues influences with Malagasy folk and Spanish pop trends. He apparently plays a mean trikitixas (that’s a two-row diatonic button accordion for you gringos). And the band accompanies on other well-named instruments, including the cuatro (Puerto Rican guitar) and txalaparta (percussion instrument). Don’t you just love the sound of that?7:30 p.m. Free. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-4500.

Friday

No excuses tonight. Take a nap when you get home and gear up for the Nuart Theatre’s midnight movie. Tonight only, super-Jew Alan Arkin plays Captain Invincible in the musical, “The Return of Captain Invincible.” It’s the 1980s and the captain is a washed-up former “Legend in Leotards” who’s forgotten how to fly. But when the evil Mr. Midnight (Christopher Lee) threatens to destroy the world with his hypno-ray, only C.I. himself can stop him.Midnight. $9 (general), $6 (seniors and children 12 and under). 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 478-6379.

Sunday in the Park


"Security" and "unity." Those were the two buzzwords of this year’s Israel Independence Day Festival. And both were in great supply in what turned out to be a festive and safe celebration of Israel and Jewish culture.

About 30,000 people converged at Encino’s Woodley Park for a day that included food, amusement park rides, cultural booths, live music and a procession of Israeli music-spinning DJs.

Popular KABC talk radio host Larry Elder emceed the daylong main stage proceedings, which included music by Rika Mercedes and festival honoree Pini Cohen, and featured appearances by Gov. Gray Davis, Los Angeles’ Israeli Consul General Yuval Rotem, Rabbi Steven Carr Ruben of Kehillat Israel of Pacific Palisades, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Assemblyman Paul Koretz and Scott Svonkin, his chief of staff .

Despite the high attendance and high-profile appearances, the Los Angeles Times did not cover the festival.

The festival was organized by chair Morrie Avidan and executive director Yoram Gutman, with the help of a core staff that included Nava Peri, Adee Glazer, Eddie Grimberg, Raffi Jacobson, Amnon Peery, Shifra Raz and Yaacov Yaffe. Sponsors included Promoting Israel Education and Publicity Fund, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Council of Israeli Community of L.A. and the Israeli consulate.

"I look at the children here and I hope that in 46 years, they’ll be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Jewish state," Federation President John Fishel said.

"We must remind the world that Israeli soldiers do not shoot civilians," said Temple Beth Am’s spiritual leader Rabbi Joel Rembaum. "We must be in Israel with our brothers and sisters. We can’t abandon our family when they are in need."

"The presence of Israel is a sign of wonder today. It’s proof that God is at work today," said Dr. Scott Bauer of Church on the Way, who, on behalf of Christians everywhere, apologized for the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and years of Jewish persecution in the name of Christianity.

Offstage, there was a lot of activity over at the booths, which attracted a who’s who of Jewish institutions and vendors. As the recorded music of Alabina mingled with the fresh air on the warm, sunny Sunday, Yiddishkayt’s Aaron Paley offered arts and crafts projects for children, while Temple Beth Torah of the San Fernando Valley advertised free face painting. Anna Marie Heller, executive vice president of Beth Torah, which is celebrating its 30th year, said it was important for her colleagues to have a presence at the festival "to support Israel and to let the Valley know about Temple Beth Torah."

Over at the Artists Pavilion, Hana Zafrani did brisk business selling hand-crafted jewelry and sculptures by Israeli artists.

Sharon Cooper, working the booth for Shavua Israeli, a West Hollywood-based Hebrew-language local paper, detected a shift in the Jewish attendees at the festival.

"Last year, there were more Israelis than this year," Cooper said. "This year, there seems to be more Americans. Many people told us that they don’t read Hebrew."

A big issue for this year’s festival promoters was security, because some feared negative reactions in response to Middle East political tensions. The festival took extra security measures — metal detectors, private security and an increased police presence. Despite some qualms, the day was calm and orderly, though turnout was smaller this year, perhaps due to security concerns.

"Everything seems to be going well," said Capt. Bob McNamara of the Van Nuys Police Division late in the afternoon. "We’ve had no real problems to speak of. Everybody seems to be in a festival atmosphere."

"I’m happy. I feel comfortable. The security is good," Cooper said.

A Portion of Parshat Ki Tisa


Oh boy, do the Israelites slip up this week. They have just received the Ten Commandments, have heard God speak to them and have vowed to do all that God commands them, even if they do not fully understand why they must. Forty days later, they’re dancing around a calf made of melted golden earrings and calling it a god! What happened?

Have you ever had a serious talk with your parents and vowed never to misbehave again? You will never pinch your sister again. You will never miss another homework assignment. The promise you make is a true one, made from the bottom of your heart. Two weeks later, you just can’t take it anymore, and, whoops!

Keeping your promises, especially the important ones, is always an uphill battle. But don’t give up. Wipe the slate clean, and start again.

Chabad’s Big Bash


Chabad’s Big Bash

The annual telethon offers a mix of celebrities,entertainment and appeals for necessary funds

By Rob Eshman, Associate Editor

Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin will once again be joined by JonVoight (left) and Jan Murray (right), at Chabad’s annualtelethon.As sure as the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, thedancing rabbis are returning to TV stations nationwide for the annualChabad telethon. Nothing in modern culture quite compares, or quiteillustrates just how topsy-turvy modern culture can be: Here areOrthodox rabbis in traditional 17th-century Polish noble garb dancingwith Hollywood stars in Armani suits, espousing lines of ancientTorah via the most advanced satellite technology, giving acenturies-old pitch for charity, and taking payment via credit card.What a wonderful world….

This year’s telethon will take place on Sunday, Sept. 7, from 5p.m. to midnight, on UPN Channel 13. Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, theWest Coast director of Chabad and founder of the telethon 17 yearsago, will lead the marathon endeavor, and comedian Freddie Roman willhost. Among the stars slated to show up — and eventually dance withthe rabbis — are James Caan, Mayim Bialik, Tony Curtis, Sid Caesar,Fyvush Finkel, Estelle Getty, Jan Murray, Tony Danza, Judd Nelson,Jon Voight, Regis Philbin, Edward James Olmos, Shelley Winters, theLimelighters, the Tokens and Ed Ames. Producer Jerry Weintraub ischairman of the event.

Last year, Chabad raised $4 million, which it says goes to supportits community-outreach and drug-rehabilitation programs and youth andsummer camps. This year, according to Chabad representative (and oneof Rabbi Cunin’s 13 children) Chaim Cunin, they hope to raise “abillion.” He’s only half-kidding, of course.

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