Calendar: June 22-28


Sunday, June 23: KINDRED SPIRITS

The Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, under the direction of Noreen Green, performs during this benefit concert with Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Melissa Manchester, musical theater star Cantor Ilysia Pierce, tenor Cantor Ilan Davidson, gospel soprano Diane White-Clayton and the Faithful Central Bible Church’s 60-voice gospel choir. Dr. Susan Love and Manchester will be honored with the 2013 KindredSPIRITS Humanitarian Award, for research contributions in the eradication of breast cancer and for artistic contributions in supporting cancer research, respectively. The event raises funds for the Cancer Support Community, an international nonprofit dedicated to providing support, education and hope to people affected by cancer. Sun. 7:30 p.m. $36-$180. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown. (323) 319-4849. kindredspiritslive.org.


SUN | JUNE 23 

“DIVAN” 

Filmmaker Pearl Gluck, living a secular life in Manhattan, must answer to her father, who wants her to marry and return to the Brooklyn Chasidic community she left behind as a teenager. Part memoir documentary and part travelogue, “Divan” follows Gluck as she travels to Hungary in her search for a family heirloom and encounters a colorful cast of characters, including a couch exporter, her ex-communist cousin in Budapest and a renegade group of formerly ultra-Orthodox Jews. CSUN Jewish studies faculty members Jody Myers and Jennifer Thompson participate in a post-screening Q-and-A. Sun. 10 a.m. Free (RSVP required, two-ticket maximum). Laemmle’s Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 677-4724, jewish.studies@csun.edu. www.csun.edu/jewish.studies.


MON | JUNE 24

ASSOCIATION FOR ISRAEL STUDIES CONFERENCE

The 29th annual international gathering of Israel scholars meets for the first time on the West Coast to examine “Israel in the International Arena: Scholarship, Imagery, Discourse and Public Policy.” Highlights include a keynote discussion, “Israel, Zionism and the World,” led by former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami; and a Wednesday plenary session, chaired by Journal President David Suissa, that explores “Israel Education and Scholarship: The Academy and the Community.” Mon. 6-7:15 p.m. (keynote). Through June 26. $160 (three-day conference), $20 (keynote only), free (plenary session only). Advance registration required. Keynote: UCLA campus, Schoenberg Hall, Los Angeles. Plenary session (June 26, 12:30-2 p.m.): UCLA campus, Dodd Hall, Room 147, Los Angeles. (310) 825-9646. international.ucla.edu/israel


TUE | JUNE 25 

JAMI ATTENBERG 

Attenberg’s latest novel, “The Middlesteins,” explores the strained bonds of a quirky Midwestern Jewish family. Richard Middlestein recently abandoned his wife of 30 years, Edie, who has a life-threatening obsession with food, and now it’s up to their kids to pick up the pieces. Today, Attenberg appears in person to discuss the comic-tragic family portrait, which was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist. The event is part of the Diesel Author Luncheon series. Tue. noon-2 p.m. $55 (includes paperback copy of the book). Wilshire Restaurant, 2454 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 576-9960. dieselbookstore.com.

ALBARE 

The jazz guitarist’s latest album, “The Road Ahead,” fuses his Moroccan roots with six-string influences ranging from Wes Montgomery to George Benson, while drawing on elements of blues and soul. Tue. 8:30 p.m. $20. Catalina Bar and Grill, 6725 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 466-2210. catalinajazzclub.com.


THU | JUNE 27 

DODGERS JEWISH COMMUNITY NIGHT 

A pre-game tribute to the great Sandy Koufax kicks off the 14th annual Jewish Community Night. After, enjoy a kosher nosh, including hot dogs provided by Jeff’s Gourmet Kosher Sausage Factory, as you watch the Boys in Blue (and white) take on the Philadelphia Phillies. The first 50,000 fans in attendance receive a Sandy Koufax bobblehead. Thu. 7:10 p.m. $25-$210. Dodgers Stadium, 1000 Elysian Park Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 224-4287. losangeles.dodgers.mlb.com.

“KESHET @ 30”

For the past 30 years, the Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble has entertained audiences around the world with its blend of ethnic, melodic and rhythmic movement. Tonight, the Israeli-American nonprofit dance company celebrates its anniversary by performing a fundraising concert at American Jewish University. Guests include singer-songwriter Meshi Kleinstein, daughter of Israeli megastars Rita and Rami Kleinstein. Israeli actress Yafit Josephson (“New Eyes”) hosts the event. Thu. 8 p.m. $50-$100. American Jewish University, Gindi Auditorium, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (818) 986-7332. kcdancers.org.

NEIL GAIMAN

The acclaimed author of “Coraline,” “The Graveyard Book,” the comic book series “The Sandman” and the award-winning “American Gods” discusses his well-received new novel, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” with Entertainment Weekly’s Geoff Boucher. Thu. 8 p.m. $40-$103. Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. (818) 243-2539. alextheatre.org

Couch Quest — Path to Past and Future


Furniture, vital in everyday life, hardly ever plays a large role in art. Henry James’ "The Spoils of Poynton" comes to mind, in which the characters’ inner lives are manifested in their dreadful fight over inherited furnishings, as do stories by Anzia Yezierska, in which the meager possessions of immigrant Jews on the Lower East Side come to symbolize both their survival and their salvation. But for the most part, as in much of our lives, tables, chairs, sofas, bureaus, cabinets and the like are taken for granted in art, imbued with little meaning.

In "Divan," a lovely, funny and terrifically moving documentary by Pearl Gluck, the eponymous piece of furniture — a couch upon which several famous 19th- and 20th-century Hungarian rabbis slept — becomes not just a connection to a historical past, but an ironic, and at times contentious, symbol of family fealty and difference. In its 71 minutes, Gluck gives us not just a tale of high family drama, but a serious meditation on the nature of history, memory, betrayal and the significance and insignificance of furniture.

Gluck, who began making "Divan" in 1998 at the age of 27, was born to a Chasidic family in Brooklyn’s Borough Park. Her parents divorced when a she was in her early teens. While most of the women in her father’s community were married by the time they turned 18 and never pursued higher education, Gluck went to Brandeis University, got her bachelor’s degree, became a filmmaker and stayed single. When her father voiced a desire for her to marry and move back to the insular world of Borough Park, Gluck searched for a compromise that would repair family schisms but allow her to continue the life she had been leading. In 1996 she was awarded a Fulbright to collect oral histories of Yiddish-speakers in Hungary, where her parents still had many relatives and, before she left, her father gave her a video camera. He asked her, in lieu of returning to Brooklyn, to bring back from Hungary a family heirloom: the divan upon which the famous Kossonye rebbes rested.

While the narrative backbone of "Divan" is Gluck’s quest for the couch — a large, high-backed, cushioned, wooden structure closer to what we today might more likely call an upholstered bench — her story is actually a journey to the past to find a way to live in the future. Gluck has structured the film around two trips to Hungary: The first is her search for the divan and her quest to meet, for the first time, her parents’ relatives who survived the Holocaust; the second is a pilgrimage she takes with her father a year later to visit the burial sites of the founders of chasidism ("20 grave sites, thousands of miles, seven days"). It is on this frame (to stretch the metaphor thin) that Gluck adds the cloth textures and the cushions of interviews with friends — women and men who left chasidic communities and are now in the process of creating lives that fuse aspects of their past with interests that sustain their current spiritual and psychic growth.

This is a lot of complicated and emotionally charged material for just over an hour, and Gluck’s intelligence and subtlety as a filmmaker allow her to pull it off without either condescending toward her father or compromising her own vision, feelings and opinions. There are moving moments here — including a scene in which Gluck visits a memorial commemorating many of her relatives who were murdered at Auschwitz — but she often keeps the tone on the light side. At first this feels odd, and you wonder if she doesn’t understand the somber complexity of her own material. But as the film progresses, this contrasting tonality becomes increasingly powerful. Halfway through the film, when Gluck realizes that she may not be able to retrieve the divan because her more Orthodox relatives don’t approve of her secularism, we viscerally feel her sense of betrayal. Later, in various scenes — when she is asked by chasidic men to cover her arms in a public place while speaking to them, tie back her unruly hair in their presence and not use the video camera — Gluck’s sorrow in attempting to bring together two divergent pieces of her heritage and life become palpable. In many ways, "Divan" is intended as a peace offering to her father, yet he will not allow himself to be shown in the film.

The genius of "Divan" is that Gluck has managed, in both her life and the film, to find creative ways to bridge her past and present. Watching it inevitably brings to mind Sandi Simcha DuBowski’s recent documentary "Trembling Before G-d," in which his subjects are in spiritual and psychological agony over what they feel is their expulsion from their communities. The power of DuBowski’s film stems from the raw, unhealed and apparently irreconcilable pain of spiritual and sexual difference. (Interestingly, while none of the friends interviewed in "Divan" are identified on film as lesbian or gay, many of the issues they speak of as being problematic for their families — remaining unmarried, not having children — are resonant of the subjects in "Trembling" as well.)

While the excruciation of watching "Trembling Before G-d" was unrelieved, Gluck struggles to find common ground and a sense of solace that do not involve compromise. She never really gets her father to accept her completely, and she remains angry at all of the attempts to deprive her of her past, but at the film’s conclusion her father travels from Borough Park to her Manhattan apartment to work with her on editing this film. It is a bittersweet, semi-comfortable coda to complicated lives and complicated journeys. While her original plan to deliver the family’s venerable divan to her father becomes increasingly problematic and entangled, she does deliver this exquisite, often disturbing, but touching film to both him and us.

"Divan" opens May 21 at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theatre in Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869 and at the Town Center 5 in Encino, (818) 981-9811.