Saturday, July 8
The Hollywood Palladium’s got the beat tonight. Head there for ’80s retro fun wrapped up in a good cause. Bet Tzedek — The House of Justice presents its annual Justice Ball benefit with headliners The Go-Go’s.
8:30 p.m. $75-$150. Hollywood Palladium, 6215 Sunset Blvd. (323) 656-9069. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Sunday, July 9
A midsummer night’s edutainment comes courtesy of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony. Tonight, they perform “Ahava: From Israel with Love” at the Ford Amphitheatre, with Chen Zimbalista on marimba and Alon Reuven on French horn. Explanatory introductions of each piece will be given by conductor Noreen Green.
7:30 p.m. $12-$36. 2850 Cahuenga Blvd., East, Hollywood. (323) 461-3673.
Monday, July 10
TV gets some artistic recognition, thanks to Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM). Today FIDM opens its new exhibition, “The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design,” which continues through Sept. 9. On display are highlights from 40 years of television costuming, including clothes worn by Sonny and Cher, Barry Manilow and Carol Burnett, on their shows and specials.
10 a.m.-4 p.m. (daily, except Sundays). Free. FIDM Museum and Galleries on the Park, 919 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 624-1200, ext. 2224.
Tuesday, July 11
The sound of music drifts through the air, mixing with that signature zoo scent, this evening. The Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association kicks off the first of two “Music in the Zoo” nights. Tonight, hear the Masanga Marimba Ensemble of Zimbabwe, the Scottish Wicked Tinkers, the Mediterranean music of Shaya and Rafi and the Irish Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder. Plus, the animals get a later bedtime of 8 p.m. and “Club Med Circus Performers” monkey around.
Tues., July 11 and 25, 6-9 p.m. Free (children 5 and under), $7-$16. Los Angeles Zoo, Griffith Park. (323) 644-6042. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Wednesday, July 12
Invisible friends get revenge in “Bunbury: A Serious Play for Trivial People.” The play by Tom Jacobson features the never-seen characters of Bunbury (of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”) and Rosaline (of “Romeo and Juliet”), teaming up to sabotage classic literary works. It is performed at the Skirball Cultural Center, and recorded to air on L.A. Theatre Works’ radio theater series, The Play’s the Thing, which broadcasts weekly on public and satellite radio, including 89.3 KPCC.
8 p.m. (July 12-14), 3 pm. (July 15), 4 p.m. (July 16). $25-$45. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P.,
Thursday, July 13
July gets a little hotter with Stephen Cohen Gallery’s “Summer Skin” exhibition. The group show features nude works, some naughty, some nice, by artists like Diane Arbus, Anthony Friedkin and Horace Bristo. The raciest stuff, by guys like David Levinthal, Larry Clark and Robert Mapplethorpe, can be seen in a separate viewing room.
July 7-Aug. 26. Free. 7358 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 937-5525.
Friday, July 14
Literature takes center stage with The New Short Fiction Series, a host of evenings in which actors read from a published work of fiction. This year’s first featured writer is author and poet Carol Schwalberg, whose “The Midnight Lover and Other Stories” will be performed, tonight.
8 p.m. $10. Beverly Hills Public Library Auditorium, 444 N. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-2220.
7 Days in the Arts
Brain-Busting Doc, Eight Letters
The cult status of The New York Times Crossword puzzle is the subject of “Wordplay,” an uneven but entertaining documentary by director Patrick Creadon about the people who design the fiendishly difficult crossword puzzles for The Times and the gifted eccentrics who devote their lives to puzzle solving and who compete against each other with all the fury and devotion of Olympic athletes.
Before we go further in discussing “Wordplay,” there is one question that needs to be dealt with, in the context of this publication: Is the Times crossword somehow a Jewish thing? The short answer is, well, yes and no.
Although the Gray Lady, as some media critics dub The Times, is published in one of the largest Jewish communities in the world, “Wordplay” does not convey the sense that there is any Jewish preponderance among the crossword-puzzle community. Judging from the range of competitors in the 2005 national annual crossword in Stamford, Ct. documented in the film, both the enthusiasts and the winners are reassuringly rainbow.
Champions of the annual event have included both men and women, including the winsome Ellen Ripstein, a self-described “48-year-old nerd girl” who looks like your sixth-grade math teacher and who can solve a Friday Times crossword puzzle in two minutes flat, give or take a couple of seconds. (Advice to movie goers: If you have any ego investment in your ability to do The Times crossword, you would be better off seeing “X-Men: The Last Stand.”)
If there is nothing intrinsically Jewish about the crossword puzzle, then, there may be something deeply Jewish about the way some Jews respond to this arcane verbal puzzle. As the proverbial People of the Book, there is a vein of Jewish culture about verbal ability and problem solving. The extremely compressed sentences of the Babylonian Talmud might be described as a kind of puzzle to be decoded as much as read.
Maybe The Times crossword is Jewish friendly because my family has been addicted to this obnoxious word game for at least three generations.
My grandfather, largely self-educated and boastful about being a reader of Proust, insisted on doing it in pen, the macho way where there is no turning back. My mother uses pencil, and my father used a pen. I used pencil before the electronic version arrived, usually leaving at least one hole in the newsprint where I erased one time too many. In a family that has not handed over a great deal in Jewish oral tradition, the notion of the Sunday crossword puzzle, accompanied by slabs of Nova lox and very strong coffee, and maybe some choral music on the radio, became its own kind of tradition.
There is perhaps another aspect about The Times puzzle, which may relate to some Jewish people, and a great many other people as well, and that is wit and humor. The Times crossword is both funny as well as a teasing. The people who solve it must have not only a great stock of general knowledge and unusual English words, but also a sense of fun.
More to the point, perhaps, The Times crossword, more than any other word puzzle, takes full advantage of ambiguity, particularly employing words with multiple meanings. Take “jar,” as a random example. Is it a noun or a verb? Is the solution “amphora” or “disrupt”?
Puzzle solvers must also know beforehand not to be misled by easy clues. If the crossword offers an obvious giveaway for a word that fits into the space provided, you can be assured that is the wrong answer.
One of the strongest moments of the movie shows a discussion between a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a 20-year-old student who is a contender for the national championship. The two wonder whether computers could ever be programmed to solve The Times crossword — the student says no, that computers cannot handle the ambiguity inherent in the wordplay because they lack the ability to judge different scenarios of meaning for a single word in order to choose the one that has best chance of fitting into an elegant geometric pattern with other carefully chosen words.
In other words, Times crossword puzzles are a subset of language as an enormous puzzle. And, although crossword puzzles cannot be described as literature, a good crossword can be a mind-expanding exploration of the many weird offshoots contained within the big tent of the English language, probably the most compendious language, in the number of words, in the world.
As a film, “Wordplay” follows a very conventional form. The filmmaker interviews the top contestants in each of their homes or daily environments — Ripstein is shown in a diner — and follows them on their breathless way into the competition, with the thrill, the agony and the like. So conventional is “Wordplay’s” form and direction that at times we think we are watching outtakes of a Christopher Guest movie like “Best in Show.”
One particularly strong sequence, however, shows a kind of symmetry between a man constructing a crossword puzzle and a group of people — including comedian Jon Stewart, former President Bill Clinton, film maker Ken Burns and indy rockers the Indigo Girls — all solving the same clue, each in his or her own fashion. Another strong moment is when the filmmakers provide a large-scale diagram that shows how quickly the competing crossword masters fill out the page.
All of them seemed a little stumped at a clue asking for a “novelistic quality,” with the bizarre answer of “Zolaesque,” in honor of Emile Zola, the French realist writer. This is the kind of clue that generates hate mail to Times puzzlemaker Will Shortz (“you are sick, sick, sick!”) from puzzle devotees.
Like many similar documentaries, “Wordplay” is an inquiry into a community of gifted people with a strong drive to make themselves champions, even if they are drab and underachieving in the other areas of life. Even people who have no attraction to crossword puzzles may find themselves involved with the notion of a society that uncovers the subtle genius of otherwise unremarkable people. And certain Jewish people may feel a hankering for the escape of spending a leisurely morning, with music and food, in the company of the world’s most maddening and enchanting word puzzle.
The Healing Powers of Love
Shlub to Hero: Film Sketches Gehry Life
“He starts out with that,” says Barry Diller, alluding to a squiggle-like drawing in the new documentary, “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” and “he ends up with this,” pointing to a model of the InterActive Corp. (IAC) Building, currently under construction in Manhattan. Although made completely of glass, a material that likes to be flat, Gehry has molded the glass walls to resemble a row of sailboats billowing in the wind.
Even to the architect’s detractors — and there are many — buildings like the IAC offer something new and unexpected, even if a lot of looking is needed sometimes to wrap one’s mind around these edifices. In short, the IAC Building aspires to be a work of architecture that is simultaneously and unapologetically a work of art.
There’s an implicit question in the comments of Diller, the chairman of Expedia and Gehry’s client for the IAC Building: How did that blankety-blank squiggle turn into a really good building?
The film, a rare departure into documentary by Sidney Pollack, director of “Tootsie” and “Out of Africa,” assays the mystery of Gehry, an outwardly aw-shucks guy, who regularly produces some of the world’s most aggressive and attention-getting buildings.
While it is interesting to hear Gehry, 77, describe his formative influences — building blocks during childhood, the images of fish, the architecture of Finnish master Alvar Aalto — this kind of museum-docent talk does not bring us close to the core of Gehry’s creativity. Pollack’s film is strongest when filling in the human, rather than theoretical, background.
The real question here is: How did this lower-middle-class Jew from Toronto become the most celebrated architect in the world, and one of the rare people in the profession, outside of Frank Lloyd Wright, to become a household name? (What other architect is well-known enough to be spoofed on “The Simpsons”?)
Pollack, with his skill in developing character, locates the Freudian threads in Gehry’s life story. A Canadian in Southern California, the young Gehry, then known as Goldberg, struggled in architecture school, believing himself victimized by anti-Semitism in a largely all-WASP profession.
He has the outsider’s simultaneous rejection of, and reverence for, authority, here symbolized by the architectural profession, with its weighty baggage of uptight, exclusionary, backward-looking rules. The young Gehry wonders why architecture must be so authoritarian and rule-bound, as opposed to something akin to the delight he experienced as a child, building imaginary cities on the floor of his aunt’s apartment.
Gehry’s creative solution — his psychoanalytic victory — was to embrace the delight of free-form design, while making sure that his buildings met the needs of his clients. His freedom in designing what appear to be purely sculptural objects that subsequently win rapturous praise must make him the envy of all architects who secretly wish they could find such willing clients. Gehry seems to embody the myth of the artist-hero, a symbol of personal attainment and untrammeled freedom of expression.
Yet self-doubt remains. On the eve of his greatest popular triumph, the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, five years ago, the architect recalls walking around the spectacular complex, shortly to become the most photographed and discussed building of the past 50 years, asking himself, “What have I done?” It is the most touching moment in the film.
That kind of vulnerability and introspection makes “Sketches of Frank Gehry” at times resemble a Woody Allen movie. The plotline certainly sounds a lot like Allen: A sad sack, Jewish shlub who feels excluded from the country club set of architects, turns out to be the designer of amazing buildings that turn the world of architecture on its ear. Meanwhile, the hero, in all innocence, says things like, “Gee, did I really do that?”
Adding to the Allen-like texture of the film is a series of celebrity talking heads — Diller, ex-Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, actor Dennis Hopper, rock musician Bob Geldof, ex-talent agency director Michael Ovitz, artist Julian Schnabel, the late architect Philip Johnson — each expressing his admiration for cher maitre.
And in the archetypally Allen moment, we meet Gehry’s psychoanalyst of 35 years, who acknowledges with a coy smile that “Frank has made me famous,” while adding that he refuses services to other architects seeking to emulate Gehry’s inner transformation. (Question for Gideon Kanner: Is there a statute of limitations on physician confidentiality?)
This enjoyable, undemanding film from the hand of a master director holds no terrors for nonarchitects and others who feel flummoxed by the mystique and technical complexity of the profession. This very much reflects the attitude of Gehry, who seems intent on puncturing a certain kind of architectural snobbery.
What the film does not do is help us understand the process through which a scribbled drawing turns into a finished building. For all the accessibility of Gehry the man, Gehry the creative personality remains a mystery.
7 Days in The Arts
9/11 Museum Head Uses Shoah Lessons
Alice Greenwald vividly recalls touring the Auschwitz concentration camp with a Holocaust survivor and watching how the woman shared her story with her children and grandchildren.
It was as if she was trying to instruct her heirs as to the kind of people she wanted them to become, Greenwald remembers.
“What struck me about that experience was that in a world that exists after something like Auschwitz happens, every one of us is her grandchildren,” she said. “We all are obligated to understand what it means to be a human being and the kind of people our parents and grandparents want us to be.”
For more than two decades, Greenwald has been helping to give people a palpable understanding of the Holocaust through her work with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
Beginning this month, she will turn her attention to another terrible atrocity: Greenwald was named in February as the first director of the World Trade Center Memorial Museum in New York, which will commemorate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and their nearly 3,000 victims.
“Where the two [events] intersect for me in my professional life is in the area of memorialization,” she said recently in her Holocaust Museum office in Washington. “We deal with great loss here at this museum, incomprehensible loss. And we deal with trying to integrate that loss into our collective understanding of history, our personal history of what it means to be a human being.”
Greenwald was a member of the Holocaust Museum’s original design team, working from home as a consultant after stints with Jewish museums in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Chicago. She joined the museum full-time in 2001 as its associate director for museum programs.
Gretchen Dykstra, president and CEO of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, said Greenwald immediately understood the memorial’s goals.
“What struck us so quickly was how immediately she understood the sensitivity of what we were doing,” she said. “She’s not somebody who comes knowing a lot about 9/11, but she knows a lot about memorializing and education.”
The hardest part in designing the New York museum, Greenwald said, is that “there isn’t a human being on the face of the planet who doesn’t have a 9/11 story.”
Greenwald herself was unpacking boxes in her new Washington home on that day, having just moved from Philadelphia. Her husband, on an Amtrak train bound for New York, had called to ask if she knew why he and his business associates weren’t moving.
The carpenter working in her home heard her gasp when she turned on the television. They watched the second tower fall together, and immediately embraced.
“This was a man I knew for 10 minutes,” she said. “And we hugged each other in an embrace, watching the television in complete disbelief, because we needed to be with another human being in that moment.”
Emotions are still very raw for those who survived the Sept. 11 attack, and for the families of those who died. But Greenwald has experience dealing directly with survivors and families who may visit the museum.
“Other museums have other constituency issues, but I don’t think they have to deal with the sensitivities we have [at the Holocaust Museum],” she said. “We are immensely fortunate to have the voice of authentic witnesses.”
The proximity in time to the event will be one of her biggest challenges in New York, she said.
“The institution will have to be flexible, because the world will keep moving forward and we don’t know what events will re-characterize our understanding of 9/11,” she said.
She has watched the Holocaust Museum evolve, noting that it was built before “Schindler’s List” and other mass-media portrayals of the Shoah.
The Sept. 11 museum will be part of several structures planned for the area where the World Trade Center stood. The foundation is constructing the museum and a separate memorial, Reflecting Absence, that will honor those killed on Sept. 11 and in a previous attack at the World Trade Center on Feb. 26, 1993.
A visitor’s center and performing arts building also are being planned. Half the site has been zoned for new office buildings, which are being erected separately.
The museum will highlight the magnitude of the attacks, as well as the global response and civic rebuilding.
“You are dealing with a site that is a burial site. People died there. That gives it a sacred quality one has to respect,” Greenwald said.
She compared it to the Holocaust Museum, which she said garners its power from its proximity to other memorials and buildings of power in Washington.
Dykstra said she has been struck by the Holocaust Museum’s impact on visitors, and hopes to replicate that.
“I think what the Holocaust Museum does so beautifully is it takes a historic series of events and personalizes them in a way that universalizes them,” she said. “It’s overwhelming but not didactic.”
The Sept. 11 museum is slated to open on the eighth anniversary of the attacks, in 2009. Greenwald said there is much to be done before then, and she is excited to be a part of this “thrilling” stage of a museum’s birth.
“Each stage will have its own challenges and its own rewards,” she said. She calls it a “Dayenu situation,” saying that if she can at least advance the plans, it would be enough — although she hopes to see the museum built and operating.
“We have to remember that it’s about people,” she said. “There’s a tendency to want to memorialize the building, and there is some significance to that. But this is not a memorial to a building; it’s a memorial to people.”
Jews in Poland Speak of Shoah Remembrance as a Curse
‘Design’-ing Woman Comes to Town
“Kosher by Design,” (ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, $32.99) “Kosher by Design Entertains” ($34.99) and “Kosher by Design Kids in the Kitchen” ($22.99) by Susie Fishbein.
With the frenzied anticipation generally reserved for the appearance of a rock star — or at the very least, Oprah — the Orthodox community of Los Angeles is abuzz with excitement: Susie is coming!
“Susie” is Susie Fishbein, the effervescent author of the “Kosher by Design” cookbooks, who has turned kosher cooking on its proverbial ear. And no wonder she bubbles over. According to Gedaliah Zlotowitz, Mesorah’s vice-president of sales and marketing, more than 160,000 copies have sold with no end in sight.
Fishbein will be making three exclusive appearances this month in Los Angeles (see box), and those lucky enough to get a reservation will watch, kvell and sample as their idol cooks.
“Susie Fishbein has done for Jewish cooking what [rabbi and author] Aryeh Kaplan did for beginning Judaism,” said Rabbi Shimon Kraft of the 613 Mitzvah Store on Pico Boulevard. “They’re buying her cookbooks en masse. She’s a genius at editing and putting everything all together.”
“Our patrons are meshugah for her books,” echoed Abigail Yasgur, director of the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles. “We have over 30,000 resources here, and the most precious part of our collection is Jewish cookbooks. Hers circulate so robustly. They’re fabulous.”
Just what is this revolution in kosher cooking that Fishbein has spawned? As food columnist, cooking instructor and dinnerware designer Debby Segura explained, “Lots of people used to feel tied to a few kosher cookbooks, but so much has happened in kosher food over the last 20 years that just wasn’t being reflected, and if it was, it was too complicated. Susie gives you food styling, kosher tips, kitchen tips. But the big deal about Susie’s recipes is they work.”
Risa Moskowitz, who chairs the event for Emek, added, “When I booked the event, everyone said, ‘Oh my gosh, I live by her cookbooks!’ There wasn’t one person who said ‘Who?’ People who aren’t kosher don’t realize what’s possible for us now, the variety of foods and the way to prepare them. They think kosher means dried-out, salted meat. Her books have had a tremendous impact.”
Toras Emes chair Sara Leah Beinstock agreed: “These are the ultimate kosher cookbooks. There’s nothing close to them on the market. Her recipes are easy to follow, and the food is appetizing and delicious. It’s very exciting to have gourmet Jewish cookbooks.”
Fishbein, an Orthodox Jew and mother of four children ages 3 to 11, understands that today’s observant Jews want to prepare many of the same exciting dishes found on restaurant menus and serve them with style. Those who grew up on Grandma’s Shabbos brisket now embrace her Rack of Lamb with Fig-Port-Shallot Sauce.
“Kosher food doesn’t have to be simple or bland,” noted Fishbein by phone from her New Jersey home. “Just about every ingredient is available out there kosher.”
The luscious table settings and presentation ideas that party planner Renee Erreich and Fishbein created for these books — and that photographer John Uher shot — fairly leap off the pages. But everything is doable.
“The food looks intimidating, but the recipes are not,” Fishbein said. “It’s not about putting on a show. These are recipes the family will want to eat over and over.” And they do. So popular are these dishes that guests recognize them on each other’s Shabbat tables.
Routinely dubbed the Jewish Martha Stewart, Fishbein squirms at the comparison.
“I’m flattered, but it’s not really accurate,” she said. “Martha Stewart is all about a lifestyle. If you want beautiful flowers, you plant them and this is how you do it. We’re busy. We have kids. We have jobs. We’re in and out of the kitchen trying to make fabulous meals. I take shortcuts she would never take. I’m about cutting to the chase to accomplish our goals.”
Beloria Fink, whose sister will be driving from San Diego to join her for the Emek event, observed, “Susie can take a simple recipe and it looks extravagant and elegant, like you’ve really knocked yourself out. She’s taken the bland, traditional Shabbos meal and turned it into elegant cuisine. She shows you how to set a beautiful table for each holiday so you can create a legacy for your own children.”
“Kosher by Design” marries food to holiday traditions in new ways that resonate with those seeking a deeper Jewish experience for their families.
“When I think back to Passover in my childhood,” Fishbein reflected, “I remember my cousin Jeff scrubbing the maror, my aunt cutting sheets of egg noodles and Grandma Mollie making chremslach, because 10 minutes shouldn’t go by without her feeding us something. These memories are like yesterday. It’s a happy place for me. I want that for my kids.”
To accomplish this Fishbein went way beyond “It’s Rosh Hashanah, let’s have honey.” Case in point: Pomegranate Chicken. “I tell my kids, ‘You know why I made this dish, you guys? Pomegranate has 613 seeds corresponding to the 613 mitzvot in the Torah.’ Maybe it’s not my grandmother’s chicken, but it’s incredibly appropriate.”
Similarly, envelope-shaped Won Ton Wrapped Chicken appetizers for Purim are edible reminders of the lots (purim) Haman drew to select the date for the Jews’ extinction.
For Simchat Torah she incorporates the tradition of eating rolled foods to mimic Torah scrolls.
“I thought stuffed cabbage was overdone,” Fishbein noted, “but I’ve got this awesome Chicken Negemaki. Chicken is rolled around scallion and red pepper strips and tied like a scroll with a blanched scallion. True, God never told us to eat Chicken Negemaki, but he didn’t tell us to eat stuffed cabbage either.”
With “Kosher by Design Entertains,” Fishbein moved on to celebrations — a housewarming, dinner for two, an engagement party — nine in all, with spectacular menus and extravagant serving ideas along with the simple, yet elegant recipes she had become famous for.
Now “Kosher by Design Kids in the Kitchen” offers the dishes kids like to eat — and cook — clearly explained, beautifully photographed and coded for difficulty with one, two or three chefs hats (see story p. 49).
How does Fishbein herself explain the hoopla surrounding her books?
“I think I hit a nerve in the community,” she said. “People clearly have had a creative passion in them that was waiting to be unleashed. I’ve unleashed their inner cook.”
Rack of Lamb with Fig-Port-Shallot Sauce
From “Kosher by Design” by Susie Fishbein.
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
2 teaspoons dried minced thyme
2 racks of baby lamb chops, 8-9 chops per rack; have butcher French the bones
1 cup port wine, divided
8 fresh Mission figs or 6 dried figs, cut into quarters
1/2 cup chicken stock
Preheat oven to 450 F. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process 2 tablespoons olive oil, rosemary, thyme, and shallots 30-45 seconds or until thick paste forms. Rub herb paste into lamb.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium oven-proof skillet. Add lamb, fat side down, and cook over high heat 5 minutes. Turn lamb and cook an additional minute so that both sides are brown.
Add 1/2 cup port to skillet. Place skillet in the oven and roast 18 minutes.
Remove skillet from oven. Place lamb on a platter; cover with foil to keep warm. Add remaining 1/2 cup port and figs to skillet. Bring to a simmer. Use a spatula to loosen brown bits from pan. Add stock and simmer 3-4 minutes. Sauce will thicken to a nice amber color. Pour sauce over lamb and serve.
Makes four servings.
Additional recipes can be found at ” target=”_blank”>www.cookingjewish.com.
Susie Fishbein will appear in private homes on:
Marshall and Ricki Kulkin