Children’s art exhibit gives expression to illness

Artwork created by children with serious illnesses will be auctioned off, along with works by professional artists and celebrities, at Chai Lifeline’s “Through the Eyes of our Children” on May 21.

Chai Lifeline West Coast provides support to 325 seriously ill children and their families, and most of the 40 works being exhibited were created in art therapy programs. In addition to the children’s work, celebrities such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jamie Lee Curtis and David Beckham have created works specifically for this event, and more than 20 internationally and nationally acclaimed artists, including Kim Abeles, Lita Albuquerque, Doni Silver Simons and Ruth Weisberg, have donated works to benefit Chai Lifeline West Coast.

Entry to the exhibit is free. To RSVP, contact, call (310) 274-6331, or go to

My Brilliant Masterpiece

All the Casanovas open with some killer line.

I stick my foot into my mouth every single time.

If I were a great artist, I would use my expertise,

Turn this foolish scene into my brilliant masterpiece. — Don Conoscenti

That’s the chorus of a song by a singer-songwriter I stumbled upon while trying to think of something to say to a girl in a music club in Kentucky.

In the midst of wishing I knew what to say, I listened to this troubadour with a whole song about wishing he could know what to say.

Sometimes music is like that. It finds us when we need it; it fills the prescription. It comforts us by saying: At least some obscure folk singer-songwriter who lives out of a minivan can relate to me.

I was so overwhelmed by the sentiment and timing that, uncharacteristically, I’m willing to forgive the attempted rhyme of “line” with “time.” I do this only because Mr. Conoscenti belongs to that tiny minority of lyricists (especially folk singers) who uses the subjunctive: If I were a great artist, not “was.”

In case you’re ever on my bad side, it’s handy to know that correct use of the subjunctive will afford you a lot of slack.

Do what you will, but tell me: “If I were a better girlfriend, I wouldn’t have stolen your car, sold your cats and slept with your best friend” and most everything will be forgiven.

Anyhow, this song was about talking to girls, or more to the point, not talking. Being “frozen in their lights” as an earlier verse goes. I can relate all too well.

I go to a bar and all my wit, worldly experience and education instantly deteriorates into those POV shots in “The Terminator.” Suddenly, I’m scanning my database for a response. And unlike that title character, I come up with nothing. There’s a short-circuit. The CPU crashes. I’m not programmed for this. I’ve failed in my mission to become a player, or a futuristic murdering robot-turned-governor.

What gets me is knowing — or at least believing — that someone else in this situation would know what to say and do. All those Casanovas opening with their killer lines and closing with a phone number wile I’m left just fingering the Chex mix.

But if I were a great artist….

I’d love to be Cary Grant, James Bond — who am I kidding? I’d settle for Jimmy Fallon on a good day. (I can be foppish yet aloof, can’t I?)

I’d love to display ease and mastery of a social situation — especially one that has potential to result in meeting the love of my life (or at least the love of my evening).

Honestly, maybe I’m too hard on myself. Didn’t James Bond have his awkward teen years? Just once, wasn’t he unable to screw up his courage? Didn’t he ever say: “Bond, James Blond — I mean Bond! Oy, listen to me! I sound like such a shmuck.”

They don’t show those scenes in the movies though, do they? Instead, James Bond taunts me with his perfect swagger, perfect hair, and perfect women. I tell you: I’m beginning to think he may be a fictional character.

But back to the reality of the barroom, where I hope to craft my masterpiece. Let’s assume for a moment that a bar can be where art can happen, that The Cat & Fiddle is a canvas.

Art is risk and a great risk demands an occasional spectacular nosedive. Not every attempted Picasso is, well, a Picasso. Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline,” Spielberg’s “1941,” Prince’s “Black Album,” Bochco’s “CopRock,” America’s 43rd president. These are all necessary stumbles that made future work even better.

And even with a bona fide masterpiece, surely there are drafts, sketches, revisions, rough cuts. Even Jackson Pollock didn’t get the drips right the first time.

I want to keep these artworks in mind the next time I approach a woman awkwardly. I must remember: Like any artist, to make something beautiful, I have to be willing to get ugly. I’m going to get paint in my hair, fast-spinning clay under my fingernails, paper cuts, carpal-tunnel, welding burns. I’m going to have to put up with editors and critics and bachelorettes who just don’t get me.

It’s the cost of doing business, and if you keep going, you get to something ultimately more valuable than the phone number of a girl at a music club in Kentucky, or the song you keep in her honor.

By the way, don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Conoscenti — most people outside of his immediate family haven’t. If you want to learn more, visit, or else join me on my next road trip across the desert. Just don’t blame me when you realize the doors are locked and you’re miles from nowhere as I’m singing folk songs with the subtle nuances of an air raid siren.

People in passing cars must think this a foolish scene, but I know better: It’s my brilliant masterpiece.

Keith van Straaten is a writer and performer who hosts “What’s My Line? — Live on Stage” Wednesdays in Los Angeles. For more information, visit

Lighting Up Your Life

One depicts six grandchildren. Another is gold-plated and
marks the 50th anniversary of Israel. Yet another was smuggled out of Russia
and made its safe passage through Ellis Island in a brown paper bag.

Nearly 60 Chanukah menorahs of historic and artistic merit
and borrowed from local collections are on display through Jan. 3 in “The
Triumph of Light” at Aliso Viejo’s Temple Beth El. The chanukiyot are described
in an exhibit guide that accompanies the inaugural exhibition of the
synagogue’s newly opened, one-room museum.

The aim of the museum, endowed by the family trust of
congregants Norma and Reuben Kershaw, is to promote understanding of Jewish
heritage by hosting exhibits that will appeal to the general community.

Since retiring and relocating from New York 12 years ago,
Norma Kershaw, a former professor of art history and archaeology, has not let
her professional passion idle. She was instrumental in bringing a Holy Land
exhibit last year to the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art. She started a local chapter
of the Archeological Institute of America that now has 200 members.

The museum is a former classroom near the sanctuary. Paul
Johnson, a Bowers exhibit designer, suggested the top-drawer renovations,
including elevating the ceiling, replacing flooring with stone, adding
directional lighting and built-in display cases.

Exhibits on Egypt and local Jewish history are planned for
next year, Kershaw said, adding that permanent loans of antiquities have
already been promised from collections of Los Angeles’ Skirball Cultural Center
and Jerusalem’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

A World Destroyed, to Be Displayed

Not long ago, a group of distinguished academics and government officials from Poland filed into the Santa Monica offices of world-renowned architect Frank Gehry. They came to talk about a Jewish museum.

Gehry is their dream pick to design the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews. Slated for completion in 2005 at an estimated cost of $55 million, the 46,000-square-foot Warsaw museum will display an integral part of Poland’s past to future generations.

"The Polish people should be acquainted, and to some degree confronted with the Jewish history of Poland," said historian Jerzy Halbersztadt, project director. "The Holocaust brought Jewish life in Poland to an end. We need this important part of our history, which was amputated in such a brutal way, to be brought again to us so it will not haunt us like a phantom limb."

The museum will rise across from the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, on land donated by the city. On the same plot of land in 1944, the Jewish Council, or the Judenrat, organized for the last stages of the ghetto.

Inside the state-of-the-art museum, visitors will see Polish Jewish life in all its glory, as well as in its depths. Using multimedia technology and life-sized re-creation, the museum will allow visitors to enter the homes, streets and villages that nurtured Polish Jewry for almost 1,000 years. Visitors will be able to witness the thriving 16th-century yeshiva world with a visit inside Salomon Szachna’s yeshiva in Lublin, and see a performance of S. Anski’s "The Dybbuk," with the famous actress Ester Rachel Kaminska.

Event Communications, a British design group, will help historians re-create Nalewki Street, a bustling thoroughfare from Warsaw’s prewar Jewish quarter.

The museum will draw on its collection of tens of thousands of artifacts to enhance the displays.

Those displays will include exhibits on the Nazi invasion of Poland, and the subsequent extermination of the majority of the country’s Jews. A model of the Warsaw Ghetto, complete with walls rimmed with barbed wire and glass shards, will also have a prominent place.

The push to finance and build the museum comes as Poland struggles to deal with its Jewish past. Some 3.5 million Polish Jews perished in the Holocaust. The communist regine stifled investigation into the war years, but since communism’s fall there has been national soul-searching regarding the country’s wartime atrocities against Jews.

At the same time, Jewish culture in Poland is undergoing something of a revival. New Jewish theaters, Yiddish and klezmer festivals, Jewish restaurants and bookshops have become widely popular among all Poles, not just the country’s 8,000 Jews.

The impetus behind the museum came as much from Polish Jews as from the government. The founding director was the late Jeshajahu Weinberg, creator and past director of the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv. The project’s chief historian is professor Israel Gutman of the Hebrew University and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres heads the museum’s international committee.

The Holocaust is a blot on Polish Jewish history, say organizers, but it must not obliterate the high points of Jewish life in Poland. Announcing the museum to Jewish leaders in New York earlier this year, Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller said, "Jews were not just ordinary guests in Poland. The nations of Poland and the Jewish nation have over a thousand years of common history, and the disappearance of Jews from Poland was a great impoverishment for the country."

The exhibits will feature some of the notable heirs of Polish Jewish culture, from I. B. Singer, Sam Goldwyn and David Ben-Gurion to director Roman Polanski and architect Daniel Libeskind. Gehry, himself, is the descendant of Jews from Lodz, Poland.

Organizers hope the museum will serve to educate not just future generations of Poles, but Jews as well. Over 100,000 Jewish tourists visit Poland each year, many of them from Israel. In addition, numerous Jewish youth groups tour through the country. By some estimates, as many as 80 percent of Jews across the world can claim some Polish roots. Organizers project that 250,000 people a year will visit the completed museum.

The Polish government will provide 25 percent of the museum’s construction cost, with private donations expected to make up the rest. So far, organizers have raised a fraction of that, and they are turning to Jewish Americans of Polish ancestry for financial help. Locally, the Polish Consulate General is helping to establish a Los Angeles-area fundraising group (send e-mail to for more information).

In the meantime, Gehry has done some initial consultation, and organizers are hopeful that they can raise the remaining funds. The museum won’t diminish the Holocaust, Halbersztadt said, adding, "Our museum will be a museum of life."

Picture Perfect

A bubbie standing in front of the colorful mural on the Workman’s Circle building in West Los Angeles. Shopkeepers on Fairfax Avenue. The Tel Aviv skyline lit by a thousand cars on a freeway at night. These are just a few of the images on display at the Finegood Art Gallery as part of a an exhibit of 100 photos taken by teenagers in Los Angeles and Tel Aviv.

A project of The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance, the exhibit showcases the work of students from Milken Community Day School, Cleveland High School, Calabasas High School and other L.A. area schools alongside photos by students from the Yitzhak Rabin New High School and other Tel Aviv institutions of learning. It’s part of the Valley Alliance’s continuing effort to help young people forge relationships with teens in its sister city.

The photos represent the diverse experiences of Jewish cultures, with frequent references to modern life as seen through the eyes of a teenager. In one striking photograph by Ina Laks of the Rabin school, graffiti serves as a backdrop for the memorial to her school’s namesake. A photo by Lindsey Gelb of Mira Costa High School captures a man carving an ice sculpture of a menorah on Manhattan Beach, with a rainbow reflected through the sculpture like a prism.

“We’re very excited about the exhibit,” said Loren Fife, chair of the Picture L.A./T.A. 2000 committee. “It is a terrific example of the Los Angeles and Tel Aviv communities working together. It accomplishes a number of goals for us, educating our kids about photography as an artistic medium and teaching about the similarities and distinctions between our two communities. We’re also gratified at the quality of the photos that have come in from teenagers — there’s some fabulous work. We hope to do many more similar exhibits in the area of arts and culture, bringing Tel Aviv to Los Angeles and Los Angeles to Tel Aviv.”

The exhibit will remain at the Finegood, located on the second level of the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, until April 16. Some of the photographs will also be displayed at the Skirball Cultural Center May 7-July 23. For more information on the exhibit or gallery hours, call (818) 464-3200.

Shabbat in Style

Anybody can make a Shabbat meal that tastes good, but not everybody can make one that looks good. For a lot of people, holiday decorating begins and ends with a pair of candlesticks and a kiddush cup.

Home decor is the weak link in a lot of Jewish celebrations. I’m not talking about aping Martha Stewart, or stringing blue and white X-mas tree lights at Chanuka time. But with just a little effort, you can use decorating to add mood, even emotion, to holiday events.

True, the meaning and warmth of a holiday don’t come from the table settings. Ritual, tradition, family — of course these things matter most. But the table itself can become a memorable part of the holiday, something to look forward to and something to cherish, as much a part of holiday memories as friends, family and food.

To get started, you’ll need to keep in mind these three simple concepts :

Use Nature For Bountiful Displays

I rush home from work about one hour before our friends are arriving for Shabbat. As I start to take out olives and wine, I also retrieve my garden clippers (kept by the kitchen sink) and set my gaze on one of Shabbat’s blessings — a chance to visit my garden.

During the week, I barely have time to even look at it, so I look forward to pruning a display as sunset approaches. Dismiss the idea of only displaying flowers — think about large, inspiring branches. A favorite of mine are eucalyptus branches, towering out of a French flower-stall bucket.

Remember to include herbs as displays. A vase of rosemary, dill or parsley looks great in the kitchen or on the table, and you can pick them up when you are at the market.

You don’t have to have a garden to use nature. Try store-bought carrots with their leafy fronds still intact, or exotic fruits in season like passion fruit. A tray decorated with abundant artichokes and lemons is beautiful. Keep it seasonal (pomegranates in fall, peaches and plums in summer) and make sure each piece is wiped clean. The point is that you do not even need to prepare the food — just display it.

Use White For



A table finished with a white tablecloth is not just traditional, it’s also elegant. Also use white oversized dinner napkins. For Shabbat white implies bride-like purity.

Laundering may seem a nuisance, but a linen cloth can be placed in a hot wash with bleach, removing most stains. First try treating the stain with a little salt and seltzer.

Use Surprise for Distraction

and Humor.

A little surprise doesn’t take a lot of planning. Place something unexpected at the table, especially helpful when children are arriving. The surprise will add a little distraction at a time when you need to take a breath, and attend to the final details of the meal. You can slip a gold chocolate coin under each plate, or a tuck an inexpensive toy into the napkins.

These style suggestions are just that, suggestions. Add details to your own table that reflect you and your family’s personality. The days jumble by, and Shabbat seems to be the only time we can step back and reassess life’s purpose and true meaning. Giving attention to the aesthetics of the Shabbat table is one more way to set the day apart and make it special.

Last week we went to our friend’s home for Shabbat, and the table was prepared beautifully, white linen tablecloth and all. As we said the blessings, their son poured sweet red wine into his kiddush cup –with some extra spilling onto the tablecloth. No one even flinched. The point is that he loves Shabbat in his home, and he poured the wine himself. That is style. The real glamour is you.

Naomi Zimmerman is an interior designer in Los Angeles.