French Jewish communities condemn Muhammad cartoons

The president of the representative body of France's Jewish communities has condemned the new publication of caricatures of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

The publication Wednesday of the caricatures in the French weekly Charlie Hebdo  “in the current context” is “irresponsible,” Dr. Richard Prasquier, the president of the Jewish umbrella body CRIF, said in a statement.

The weekly published the caricatures in a defiant move it said was meant to celebrate freedom of seech after deadly riots that broke out in Muslim countries over the recent release of an anti-Muslim film titled “the Innocence of Muslims.”

The front page cartoon of Charlie Hebdo  showed an ultra-Orthodox Jew and a Muslim saying: “No mocking.” It was titled “Untouchables 2,” a reference to a French film.

“Considering the fatalities [in riots connected with the film] we disapprove of the initiative of Charlie Hebdo,” Prasquier added. “The critics of religion must themselves heed criticism – not of their principles but of the timing of their actions.”

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius criticized the publication as a provocation and said he had ordered security beefed up at French diplomatic offices in the Muslim world.

Charlie Hebdo's Paris offices were fire bombed last November after it published a mocking caricature of Muhammad.

Over 30 people have been killed in the violent backlash over a 14-minute YouTube trailer for the film, titled “Innocence of Muslims,” believed to have been produced by a small group of extremist Christians in the United States.

In 2005, Danish cartoons of the prophet sparked a wave of violent protests across the Muslim world that killed at least 50 people.

Dr. Seuss and the Holocaust in France

Seventy years ago this week, 15-year-old Annie Kriegel was sitting in her Paris high school classroom, taking an exam, when her mother suddenly burst into the room and warned her not to come home—the Nazis were preparing to round up and deport any Jews they could get their hands on. 

More than 3,000 miles away, the cartoonist known as Dr. Seuss was setting pen to paper to alert America about what was happening to the Jews in France.

Annie found a place to stay that night. The next morning, as she later recalled, she was making her way towards the city’s Jewish quarter when, “at the crossing of the rue de Turenne and the rue de Bretagne, I heard screams rising to the heavens.” They were “not cries and squawks such as you hear in noisy and excited crowds, but screams like you used to hear in hospital delivery rooms. All the human pain that both life and death provide. A garage there was serving as a local assembly point, and they were separating the men and women.”

Stunned, the teenager sat down on a nearby park bench. “It was on that bench that I left my childhood.” (Kriegel’s experience is recounted in Susan Zucotti’s 1993 book, The Holocaust, the French and the Jews.)

Over the course of the next two days, more than 13,000 Jews were rounded up in Paris by the Germans, with the active collaboration of the Vichy French government headed by Nazi supporter Pierre Laval. The majority of those arrested were couples with children. They were held for five excruciating days in the Velodrome d’Hiver stadium, in the summer heat without food or water. Eyewitnesses described it as “a scene from hell.” Then they were deported by train to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

The brutal details of the roundup process were amply reported in the American press. The New York Times described the “scenes of terror and despair” in the streets of Paris, including suicides, Jewish patients dragged violently from hospital beds, and children violently separated from their parents. Unfortunately, the article was relegated to page 16.

Theodor Geisel, who drew editorial cartoons for PM under the pen name “Dr. Seuss,” was outraged by the news from France and decided to use his cartooning skills to help publicize the plight of the Jews.

The future creator of such beloved classics as The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham employed stark and disturbing imagery in his July 20 cartoon. He drew a forest filled with corpses hanging from the trees, with a sign reading “Jew” pinned to each body. Adolf Hitler, with extra rope draped on his arm, and Vichy leader Pierre Laval were shown singing happily.

The first words of the Hitler-Laval song, “Only God can make a tree,” were taken from “Trees,” a famous Alfred Joyce Kilmer poem about the unique and eternal beauty of trees. The killers’ second line, however, “To furnish sport for you and me,” was a lyric concocted by Hitler and Laval to celebrate their “sport” of mass murder.

In one important respect, Seuss’s cartoon was prescient: unlike many of his contemporaries, he correctly perceived that France’s Jews were doomed to be killed. At the time of the roundups, the Germans claimed the Jews were being sent for “work in the East,” and the deportees’ true destination was generally unknown abroad.

One senior U.S. diplomat in France, S. Pinkney Tuck, urged the Roosevelt administration to take in 4,000 Jewish children who had been separated from their parents, on the grounds that they should be regarded as orphans since the Nazis would not let their parents survive. But State Department officials complained that Tuck was exceeding his authority, and Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles assured American Jewish Congress leader Rabbi Stephen S. Wise that the deportees were just being relocated for “war work.”

Dr. Seuss drew many anti-Nazi cartoons during his years at PM, but for reasons that are unclear, he never returned to the subject of Hitler’s Jewish victims.

The dangers of fascism seem to have haunted Seuss for many years to follow, however. Reworking a scene of a tower of turtles from one of his 1942 cartoons, he used the framework of what was ostensibly a child’s fable to inveigh against totalitarianism in his 1958 best-seller, Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories. Yertle is the king of a turtle pond who exploits his fellow-turtles in order to increase his power and personal glory. Furious when he realizes the moon is higher than he is, Yertle commands his subjects to form themselves into a tower so that he can stand on them and reach the sky.

Seuss said later that Yertle was meant to symbolize Hitler, and the story was a warning against fascism.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and coauthor, with comics historian Craig Yoe, of the forthcoming book “Cartoonists Against the Holocaust.”

Barmitzvahman — Hero for more than a day

Who is the hero of a bar or bat mitzvah? It’s the 13-year-old, who, after a day of chanting, speaking and being bear-hugged by distant relatives, sees himself or herself imbued with powers of memory, eloquence and forbearance far beyond that of ordinary teenagers. But how do you help yours to hold on to that feeling?

Take photos, certainly. Hire a videographer? Perhaps, if your synagogue allows it.

Because they are heroes, what about putting them in their own comic book? Portraying them as Barmitzvahman or Batmitzvahwoman, outsmarting the forces of nervousness and confusion, and ultimately “KA-POWING” their way through their speech? Using the services of a comic book publisher in Camarillo, that’s what one mother in Texas did.

[Download the Barmitzvahman graphic novel here!]

In 2010, Dallas resident Brenda Burstein was looking for a special way to connect her son Raphe, who was a fan of comic books, to his bar mitzvah day.

“He had always enjoyed comics like ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Futurama’ and ‘Bone,’ ” she said in a recent interview.

About a year before Raphe’s bar mitzvah, following a family trip to New York City that included the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, a secret plan began to take shape.

After Burstein searched in vain for a publisher, Keith Colvin, the owner of Keith’s Comics, a Dallas comics shop that Burstein’s son frequented, gave her the name of Nat Gertler, a comic book writer, and more importantly, the owner of About Comics, a Southern California publisher that produces custom comic books.

“I contacted Nat and explained what I wanted,” she said.

“We talked about Raphe and what kind of comics he likes. He was so into ‘The Simpsons,’ ” said Gertler, who is also co-author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel.”

The result is very Simpsons-esque: All the characters have bulbous eyes, orangey complexions and wide, toothy smiles.

“We used the style, not the characters,” Gertler said.

To create the characters, Burstein sent Gertler photos of her family, even the family dog, Bleu. “All of the characters look like family members,” said Burstein, who admits when she first saw the drawing of herself, she asked Gertler if the comic’s illustrator, Jim MacQuarrie, could “shave a little off the belly,” she said.

“ ‘Radioactive Mom’ is me,” said Burstein referring to a chiseled and red-suited mom shown on a parody cover of Marvel Comics’ “Radioactive Man” that appears on the bar mitzvah comic’s inside cover. On a second parody comic cover, Raphe’s younger brother, Zev, is shown chiseling off from the Ten Commandments an 11th, “Honor thy big brother.” A third cover, called “Futurelle,” shows a cartoon version of his sister, Arielle, wearing dark glasses and saying, “Arielle’ll be back,” mimicking Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the “Terminator” films.

For the bar mitzvah comic, Burstein originally wasn’t looking for “overtly Jewish elements; Nat brought those in,” she said.

© 2010 Nat Gertler, Jim MacQuarrie

“There is a Jewish tradition of playfulness that I thought we would be able to work within,” Gertler said.

The comic’s cover shows Raphe with a tallit flying over his shoulders, and a “bat signal”-style spotlight image of a Torah scroll projected in the sky.

“I didn’t want God’s name to be spelled out,” said Burstein, who is Orthodox.

To meet this requirement, in one caption that contains a Hebrew line from her son’s Torah reading, Gertler had the illustrator use the dog to obscure the name of God.

The comic’s plot, titled, “Keep Out of My Kippot!” turns on how the hero, Raphe, a half hour before boarding the flight for his bar mitzvah, recovers when Bleu leaps off with his “ultra-high-tech yarmulke of Jewish knowledge” that has his bar mitzvah Torah reading stored in it.

According to Gertler, there is even a precedent for bar mitzvah comics.

In 1988, Godfrey Bradman, a wealthy British property tycoon, had a custom Superman comic published by DC Comics for his son Daniel’s bar mitzvah. Titled “This Island Bradman,” the full-color comic features an adventure where the bar mitzvah boy’s family and friends are worked into the story line. A limited number of copies were given out, and a copy of the now-rare comic recently sold on eBay for $800.

As for the day when the printed comic was presented to Raphe?

“I didn’t know about it all,” said the post-bar mitzvah boy, who is now 15.

“When I first saw it, we were in the airport waiting. I was very excited to see that she did this for me. It was very good,” he added.

After the bar mitzvah, which was held at a Chabad in Salt Lake City, copies of the comic book were waiting on tables for family and friends.

“I think the rabbi found it amusing,” Raphe said.

Upon retuning home, “My mom brought them to my school and handed them out. They seemed to enjoy it,” said Raphe, who now attends Yavneh Academy of Dallas.

After school, he sweeps up at Keith’s Comics, the place in the bar mitzvah comic where he goes for help once he loses his yarmulke of Jewish knowledge. To save the day, the resourceful Keith pushes the comic book emergency button and instantly retrieves a stack of Bible comics, all “strictly Old Testament,” of course.

Did the cost create a parental emergency?

The total cost was in “the lower four figures,” Gertler said of the finished comic, which included 11 pages of original full-color illustrations, as well as hundreds of copies of the finished work.

“We didn’t spend $30,000 on a big bar mitzvah bash,” Burstein said.

“This was a labor of love. The finished comic is like a snapshot of our life,” she said.

Editorial Cartoon: Frogs in hot water

Draw a Tree, Win a Contest

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. That’s how the judges of The Jewish Journal’s first Tu B’Shevat Art Contest feel about having to pick just three winners out of so many terrific entries.

The Journal was deluged with drawings from children aged 2-13 throughout the region. Competition was stiff, perhaps because the prizes are so special: each winner will receive a live fruit-bearing tree courtesy of TreePeople. TreePeople founder and director Andy Lipkis donated the trees hoping winners would be inspired to continue the organization’s mission of greening urban spaces and parklands and educating people about the importance of trees (

The judging took place at The Journal’s offices last week. Entries were judged by how well they illustrated this passage: “For we are as trees of the field; this means that our life depends on the trees.

The contest was very close. Thank you to all our contestants — we look forward to seeing what you come up with next year.

Ages 2-5


Batsheva Lipsker, Age 5, Los Angeles,

Ages 6-9


Arianna Condon, Age 9. Newport Beach,

Ages 10-13


Anna Fleischer, Temple Ahavat Shalom,

Age 13, Valencia

Remembrance Through Art

The Holocaust, impossible to grasp in its entirety, has been depicted, in part, through every conceivable format and medium. Two joint exhibitions, now at The Jewish Federation’s Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, surprise with new and affecting insights into the measureless catastrophe.

“The Holocaust Through Czech Children’s Eyes” is a collection of 26 drawings and paintings by 11- to 17-year-old non-Jewish Czech children, created after a visit to the Ghetto Museum at the former “model” concentration camp at Theresienstadt.

The paintings are remarkable, both for their sensitivity and craftsmanship. They range from a defiant “We Are Alive” by 11-year-old Veronika Machova, showing three girls at play, to an almost surrealistic “What the Future Holds for Us” by 17-year-old Jaromir Slaby.

What is even more impressive is that all the paintings were completed in a single day during the Ghetto Museum visit, after the children had learned about the Holocaust in their schools.

The story behind the annual Czech visual arts competition, which last year drew 2,000 entries, illustrates what can be done by one determined woman.

She is Hana Greenfield, a native of the Czech city of Kolin, who was deported to Theresienstadt as a 16-year-old girl. She survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen and came to Israel, where she met and married Murray Greenfield, one of the American volunteers who ferried “illegal” immigrants to Palestine after World War II.

In the early 1990s, struck by the fact that after 40 years of Communism hardly a single Czech child knew anything about the Holocaust and a once-thriving Jewish community, she organized and largely funded an essay competition on the Shoah for Czech students.

The competition drew an unexpectedly heavy response, and the following year she persuaded the Czech education ministry to allow her to organize the painting competition.

Greenfield’s book “Fragment of Memory” (Gefen Publishing House) has recently been translated into English and four other languages.

The second exhibit at the museum, “Recollection: Lost Synagogues of Poland and Russia,” recreates another fragment of the Diaspora at another time.

Susan Cooper, a Los Angeles-born artist now living in Denver, has resurrected the memory of the 16th- to 19th-century wooden synagogues of Eastern Europe through a wall sculpture representing 74 synagogues destroyed during World War II.

Integrating architecture, sculpture and painting, the relief frieze measures seven feet high and 100 feet long. Between the buildings, Cooper has “planted” trees as a metaphor for the tenacity and complexity of humanity and life.

“Each building represents a synagogue, each synagogue symbolizes a community, the spiritual centers of Eastern Europe,” Cooper writes in a catalog of her work.

The two exhibits will continue through Jan. 18 at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, 6006 Wilshire Blvd. Museum hours are Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tuesday evenings until 8 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Sunday, 12 noon-4 p.m. There is no admission charge, but reservations are required. Phone (323) 761-8170.

Sneakers for Mirjeta

During my visit to a refugee camp in Macedonia with a group of 16 American Jews last week, a waif-like girl wearing a dusty black-and-red parka stood on her toes to peer into my notebook.

She was painfully thin, had big black eyes, short black hair and a huge smile. Instinctively, I drew a smile face in my notebook and showed it to her. She took my notebook and pen and began to draw a body on the smile face. With a few strokes of the pen, she drew the figure of me, complete with a camera bag and yarmulke.

I indicated that she sign the picture with her name and age. Mirjeta Bajrami, 14, she wrote.

It was the perfect way to meet across the language barrier that separated us. Mirjeta, like all the Kosovar refugees, spoke Albanian, but she also understood quite a bit of English. Where did she learn it? In school, she told me, and also from her favorite bands, Back Street Boys and Spice Girls.

She told me she was from the village of Seva Reca, a name I knew because it had been the scene of a massacre of ethnic Albanian civilians by Serb forces in March. Draw me a picture of the house where you lived, I asked, handing Mirjeta my notebook. She drew a small farmhouse with the roof ablaze and surrounded by soldiers.

My group spent 10 hours that day at Stankovich 1 refugee camp, part of our mission to bring supplies and words of support to ethnic Albanians who had fled the tragic war in Kosovo. We visited with a troupe of amazing Israeli youth volunteers who run an athletic, crafts and music program for the refugee children among the 30,000 souls in the crowded and fetid tent camp. “Our job is to make children smile,” said the head of the program, Azi Rahim. “Nobody else does that.” Our American group brought 32 huge duffel bags stuffed with shoes and toys for the children.

Mirjeta spent the day playing with her friends, but on regular intervals, she would seek me out to draw in my notebook and give me additional details about her life. Her father had died three years earlier in a car accident, leaving her mother with five children. They fled their village with Mirjeta’s aunt and her family after the Serbian assault in March and arrived at the Macedonian border with only the clothes on their backs.

At one point, I asked if I could see Mirjeta’s tent. With a skip in her step, she led me down a dusty road past row after row of army tents, pitched one right next to the other. The stench from overflowing latrines fouled the air. In the doorways of the tents, adults sat, looking bored and hopeless. And there were long lines of people everywhere, at the water faucets, at the hospital, at the mess hall and at the government tents where refugees could register for asylum with different countries.

We arrived at Mirjeta’s tent, a space no bigger than the modest living and dining room in my Manhattan apartment. Inside lived 10 people — Mirjeta’s mother and her five children, her aunt and uncle and their two children. Her mother was not in, but her aunt greeted me and beckoned me to enter. The place was immaculate, with blankets covering the dirt floor and clothes and blankets piled neatly around the perimeter. In one corner were the family’s rations for the day: a few tins of meat, some bread and a bunch of bananas. The aunt bent down, retrieved a can of juice and offered me a drink. Even in such crushing poverty, these people retained their essential human dignity.

On our way back to the children’s program, Mirjeta asked me a question. “Tomorrow?” Yes, I reassured her. My group planned to return to the camp a second day, and I would see her again. She pointed to her feet and, for the first time, I noticed that she was wearing bedroom slippers. “Shoes?” It was the first time all day she asked me for anything. I asked her to take off her slipper. I rubbed the dirt from the sole and uncovered the size: 37. I said I would get her shoes.

When we returned to the children’s area, I marched right to the tent of the Israelis who ran the program. It was there, earlier in the day, that my group deposited our duffel bags of gifts. I started to open them to find the right pair of shoes for Mirjeta, when an Israeli asked what I was doing. “Shoes for a friend,” I said. “You can’t do that,” he told me politely. “You’ll start a riot. You give one, you’ve got to give them all.” He said that the camp officials had a system for dispensing gifts and that those who need shoes would get them.

That night, back in my hotel room in the nearby city of Skopje, I couldn’t sleep. I had shoes. I had a bed. I had electricity and running water. The child that I chose (or had chosen me) to be a symbol of the suffering of the Kosovars had become my conscience. I got out of bed and stuffed anything of value I had into my pillow case: my Dartmouth sweat shirt, three cans of tuna, my towel, my rain poncho, my flashlight. In the bag, I put my business card, circling my phone number in the vain hope that someday Mirjeta would have an opportunity to call me.

When I got off the bus at the refugee camp in the morning, I swung the pillowcase over my shoulder and nonchalantly walked past the barbed wire and Macedonian border guards. Mirjeta and a small band of children were waiting at the gate. I handed her the bag and said, “Tent!” She ran off to bring the goods to her family. I went straightaway to the Israelis’ tent. Luckily, no one was there. I unzipped one of the duffel bags and knocked it over so that shoes began to spill out. I bent down ostensibly to clean them up, furiously looking for a size-37 girl’s shoes. But the sizes on the shoes were American, 4’s, 5’s and 6’s. There was no one to ask. I picked up a pair of black suede sneakers that looked like they would fit and snuck them out in a bag, feeling like a smuggler, convinced that everyone’s eyes were on me and my contraband. After a few tense moments, I spotted Mirjeta. She circled around, took the bag and again ran off.

The leader of our group suddenly announced that we were leaving the camp to visit the Kosovo border, just eight miles away. We were told to board the bus. I, of course, wasn’t the only one in our group who had formed a friendship with the refugee children. Others hugged and kissed new friends they made and surreptitiously gave them gifts and business cards. Several of the children started crying, making us wonder if we did the right thing by befriending them. “Maybe we got their hopes up,” we wondered out loud. I stared blankly out the window as our bus began to pull away from the camp. Suddenly, I saw a girl running toward the bus; she was waving, smiling and throwing kisses. It was Mirjeta, and on her feet were the black suede sneakers. I blew her a kiss.

That afternoon, we started on the long drive from the Macedonian capital to Salonika, Greece, where we would catch the flight back to the States. At one point, there was a thunderstorm and lightning and the skies opened up with torrents of rain. Everyone on the bus fell silent. No one had to say it. Our minds all went back to the refugee camp where we knew that the dirt roads were turning muddy and the adults and children were all huddling in their tents, waiting for a brighter day.

Back home in New York, I can’t get Mirjeta out of my head. In the newspapers, there are reports that the refugee camps are slowly being cleared. The Kosovars are being granted asylum in Germany, Austria, Spain and other European countries. Some 450 arrived in the United States for processing at Fort Dix, N.J. I scan the newspaper and television photos for Mirjeta’s face. I know that there is a system for getting the refugees out, but, as I did with the shoes, I don’t want to trust her fate to the system.

The day after I returned, I called Jessica Pearl, the ever-capable information officer for the refugee camp we visited. I wanted to find out if I could sponsor Mirjeta and her family. Pearl put me in touch with Roger Winter of the U.S. Committee for Refugees, in Washington, who told me that only family members could be official sponsors, but that if Mirjeta’s family applied for asylum in America, I could help settle them once t
hey are here. I developed my pictures and sent a copy of Mirjeta’s photo to Pearl, who said she would try to locate the girl and tell her to make sure her family applies. Pearl’s task is, literally, finding one in 30,000.

I’ve spoken about Mirjeta’s plight to my family, to my classes at Columbia and to the members of my Manhattan congregation, Ramath Orah. When I tell the story of one child, the story of the faraway Kosovo comes alive for them. They ask, “How can I help?” I pray first for Mirjeta’s safety and second that she contacts me when she is settled, either here or in Europe or, at the end of this terrible war, back at her home in Kosovo. I want to hear from her; I’ve found a lot of people who are willing to help.

Ari L. Goldman wrote this account for The New York Jewish Week.

Dear Deborah

Family events do not necessarily create closeness. Painting “Tompkins Square Park” by Morris Shulman, from “The Jews in America,” 1994

One Big, Happy…

Dear Deborah,

I have always had the fantasy of having a big family. I complained bitterly to my parents about being a single child, with no relatives in the same city. Now, I am married to a man who has three children and who is tied to his parents and huge, extended family. Every week, there is at least one wedding, bris, bar mitzvah or holiday gathering. Every time I turn around, there are family expectations, craziness, chaos — and I can’t be me.

For example, last Labor Day, we were put in charge of hosting the family’s annual picnic at the park. Because I was a relative newcomer to the family, I didn’t know about everyone’s tastes and made what I considered to be a beautiful, gourmet spread. Things weren’t as perfect as I thought — the food was “too gourmet” for the kids and in-laws, and they complained. Instead of thinking, “Too bad, I did my best,” or “I’ll have to learn about their tastes,” I took it personally, felt like a failure and let it affect my mood long after they had moved on.

My friends and parents say that it’s my problem and that I need to loosen up and get used to being in a large family. My father teases me about getting what I asked for.

I really love my husband and am learning to love his children — although I must admit that I cherish our time alone (his ex has the kids about two-thirds of the time) — but he becomes a different person with a different personality around his big family, and I lose myself; I hate who I am and how I feel so lost. He is too busy for me and seems annoyed by what he sees as my dependency.

I’ve tried to discuss this with him, but to no avail. He says pretty much the same thing as my parents and friends. I find myself getting “sick” a lot to avoid family functions. I know I need to learn that it’s not my problem, to not let their moods and criticisms spoil my time — but I don’t know how, and I am beginning to dread Labor Day. I fear blowing it again. Any suggestions?

Lost In Crowd

Dear Lost,

“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family — in another city,” quipped George Burns. It sounds like you are still in shock from your own romantic notions about the big family thing, aren’t you? You are overwhelmed, uninformed and lack practical experience, yet it is time to stop whimpering and to roll up our sleeves here and dive into a crash course on Self-Micro-Management in Large Families.

First, call the kindest person in the family and tell them you need some help planning the Labor Day picnic menu. He or she will feel flattered, and you get to learn about the tastes of these pedestrian eaters. So stop trying so hard, and hit the deli. At these gatherings, instead of attempting to get along with the whole herd all at once, focus on activities with one or two of your stepchildren or, better yet, another family neophyte because, remember, they too might be frantically bailing water out of the same boat. Also, start inviting just one family member, or couple, at a time to socialize outside of these, uh, conventions.

You get the drift. It’s about building individual relationships so that you have some way to begin connecting the dots of your new leviathan of a family. Also, it sounds as if your husband may not be too sympathetic, having always been in his big family, to what it’s like to be bit player in a cast of thousands. So explain, without sniveling or expecting him to solve it. If he is not called upon to fix it, he might display some compassion.

Artist’s Way

Dear Deborah,

Why would a grown woman spend every evening drawing? My 29-year-old attorney daughter has never taken an art class in her life, because she couldn’t draw a straight line. Now, suddenly, she has an insatiable appetite for art classes and goes to classes most nights and weekends. My wife and I are concerned about these activities, especially since we invested at least $100,000 in her education.

We worry about her neglecting the duties of her job, and not engaging in the business of a social life and finding a husband. We don’t know what to do with her. She insists that her life is just fine, that she’s on track with promotions and friends. Any thoughts?

Concerned Parents

Dear Concerned Parents,

Why does she love these art classes so? Perhaps they are a much-needed contrast to her day job. Perhaps she always wanted to draw but lacked the confidence, and through these classes, she may have discovered a hidden talent. Who knows? Maybe the classes are her social life. Or perhaps she hates being a lawyer but doesn’t have the heart to squander your “investment.”

In any case, it’s not your call. She’s an adult, with an adult job, making her own decisions. As parents, just because you invested in your child — a human “commodity” — does not make her your own. You’ve expressed your concern. Now


Israel Through an Artist’s Eyes

By Diane Arieff Zaga,

Arts Editor

If you didn’t know that David Rose was one of our priceless assets, proceed to his pen and ink drawings on exhibit at the University of Judaism’s Platt Gallery. A look at this lively body of work suggests that virtually everywhere 20th-century Jewish history was being made, David Rose was there.

Very different in tone, style and intent is the work of 19th-century photographer Félix Bonfils. The Stephen Cohen Gallery presents his fascinating photographs of 19th-century Palestine. Like other commercial photographers working in the Near East during the late 1800s, Bonfils pictures are an outsider’s ethnographic exploration of an exotic culture — its working people, social life, native customs and dress. These views are infused with a recognition of their relation to stories told in the Bible. Bonfils’ small albumen prints, which feature Biblical places and references with an almost abstract quality, convey a strong sense of mystery and timelessness. Solitary figures appear against vast desert landscapes or sitting motionless near the water’s edge. The results are astonishingly beautiful. Both exhibitions open this weekend.

Above, left, David Rose’s illustration of the children’s area of a kibbutz bomb shelter near the Golan Heights, 1972. Below, Félix Bonfils’ “The Dead Sea,” c.1880.In his role as artist-reporter, Rose began early. “When I finished art school,” he told The Journal, “I went to Palestine. This was during the 1930s and I was very interested in the Zionist movement. I tramped around the country with a knapsack on my back. I knew some Hebrew and some Yiddish, and I just went from kibbutz to kibbutz. It was one of the most interesting experiences of my life.” Rose’s work from that time — which depicted the campfire cameraderie, irrigation efforts and other aspects of pioneer life — was widely exhibited. Some of it is on permanent display at the Israel Museum.

The artist’s Platt show, entitled “Celebrating 100 Years of Zionism,” is being sponsored, appropriately enough, by the Consulate General of Israel, but the subject matter in this body of work extends far beyond the life and times of pre-State chalutzim (pioneers). In the decades that followed, Rose continued to document life in modern Israel while on assignment for the Histadrut, the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish National Fund and other organizations. Equally important are Rose’s drawings of Jewish life worldwide: Polish Jewish refugees in Denmark, fleeing German Jews who were turned back at the Swiss frontier and drawings that depicted Nazi concentration camps.

In his six decades as a professional artist, Rose worked for everyone from Israel Bonds to Walt Disney. “The reason my career is strange,” he said, “is that I had to straddle two different directions — commercial art to support my family and fine art to pursue my career.” Disney Studios beckoned Rose shortly after his wanderings through 1930s Palestine, prompting him to move to California. During his four years there he worked on such legendary animated features as “Fantasia,” “Snow White” and “Pinocchio.” During World War II, Rose was assigned to a unit under film director Frank Capra that made films for the U.S. War Department.

After the war, Rose enjoyed a successful commercial art career in film and TV advertising as an illustrator and art director, but he continued to cover dramatic moments in contemporary Jewish history as they unfolded. On assignment to furnish courtroom drawings for Reuters, CNBC and NBC, he attended the trial of the infamous French war criminal Klaus Barbie. “Most of my parents’ family in Poland perished during the Holocaust,” Rose said, “so as these broken people, the survivor witnesses, each took the stand and gave their accounts, there were times I was listening to their testimonies that it so affected me my eyes clouded with tears. I had to stop drawing and wait until I could collect myself. That was the most moving moment I ever had during that kind of work.”

“Félix Bonfils – Views of Palestine c. 1880″ runs from May 30 – July 5 at the Stephen Cohen Gallery, 7358 Beverly Blvd., LA. (213) 937-5525. The David Rose exhibition at UJ’s Platt Gallery runs from June 1-15 with an opening reception on June 5. 15600 Mulholland Dr. in Bel Air. (310) 476-9777, ext. 203.