A few years ago I was leading a group of American Jews on a tour of sites in Eastern Europe. Convinced that the narrative and psychological history of Poland cannot be understood without a visit to Jasna Gora, the great pilgrimage church in Czestochowa, and a view of its devotional painting, the so-called Black Madonna (believed to have been painted by St. Luke), I brought the tour group there en route to Auschwitz. To my disappointment, many in the group were puzzled, some even amused, at the crowds of people intensely venerating the small painting.
“Jews don’t do that sort of thing,” they said. When I asked how many of them had placed a small slip of paper in the crevices of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, they assured me “That’s different!” and rejected my argument that we have our own kinds of object veneration, best exemplified in the ceremonial kissing of the Torah as it is carried around the synagogue.
The Getty Center’s upcoming exhibition “Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai” (Nov. 14-March 4) provides a great opportunity to ponder these religious confluences, while also coming almost face-to-face with some of the earliest, and most beautiful, images in Christian art. Mount Sinai resonates for Jews as the place where Moses received the Law from God. The wilderness of Sinai is the place where the Israelites wandered after their escape from Egypt. The images come to the Getty from Saint Catherine’s Monastery, located at the foot of the rugged mountain, which is said to where Moses communicated with the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:1-5). But viewers might be surprised to see that the Moses images in some of these extraordinary works aren’t the ones we’re accustomed to seeing.
The exhibition includes images from both the “New” and “Old Testament,” but it is the link between the former and the site from which they emanate that may be most interesting to the Jewish community. It’s a major accomplishment for the J. Paul Getty Museum to have persuaded the religious powers in charge to lend treasures from this venerable, yet almost inaccessible, site; but it’s also a coup for Angelenos, since the exhibition will not be seen elsewhere, and few of us are likely to have the opportunity to visit the monastery itself.
But this is more than an opportunity to ogle rare treasures. Indeed, they come to us with a visual tradition of their own, and need to be understood within that tradition. Byzantine art, with its vast time span, from the fifth century almost to the modern era, is generally characterized by stylized frontal figures and a rich use of color, especially gold. It doesn’t look like the more naturalistic art we have come to know since the Renaissance, although visitors will recognize in these icons the underpinnings of much early Italian panel painting. Initially, the somber narrative images may look static, but they merit careful attention to uncover the magic of delicately doleful faces, almost every one with a unique personality, sharing in a piety to which we can only aspire.
As devotional objects, the icons are eloquent, and it’s probably worthwhile imagining the pious monk communicating with these images on a daily basis. They must surely have become personal devotional friends, assistants on the route toward salvation. Seen as mantras for meditation exercises, these icons have a universal quality that goes far beyond the specificity of a given saint or religious narrative.
While the Getty exhibition centers on approximately 43 rare icons, from the sixth to the 17th centuries, the exhibition will also attempt to explicate their context in the isolated monastery whose construction was ordered by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century (he’s the one who built the famous, and beautifully ornate, Byzantine church, Hagia Sofia in what is now Istanbul).
Yale professor Robert S. Nelson led a team of curators who obviously became as transfixed by the place as by the works they were borrowing, attempting to present in the exhibition design a sense of the environment in which Saint Catherine’s sits. For those who want to contemplate the difficulties of land and climate endured by the wandering Israelites, that aspect of this exhibition should be an added incentive to visit the Getty.
Yet the concept of a 1,400-year-old monastery as a Christian pilgrimage site that is so intimately tied to Jewish history would likely be a seductive subject, even without the inspirational art. The show will explicate the role of icons in Christian liturgy, which ought to intrigue both Christians and non-Christians. As professor Thomas Matthews writes in the splendid catalog, the icons “bring us face to face with the deep debt of Christian religion to its pagan antecedents … [and] challenge our understanding of the underlying religious phenomena.”
That will surely be evident to Jewish viewers, as well, for the affinity of so many of our own rituals.
Given the Sinai origins of this exhibition, you won’t be surprised to find a number of images of Moses: Removing his sandals in front of the Burning Bush, receiving the Law and even standing beside the Virgin and Child. You won’t encounter the Moses we’ve seen in later Western art, who’s also the venerable law-giver we know from Jewish ceremonial objects — all of which have their origins in Christian art. Here Moses is a young man, generally beardless, almost diffident, in awe of his God, rather than awesome to his People. This might be a reflection of the monks’ considering Moses as a role model in their lives of meditation and prayer — a Moses striving for, rather than automatically imbued with, sanctity; he is the law-receiver, rather than the law-giver. Among the small number of non-icon artifacts in the exhibition is a sixth century cross incised with scenes from the life of Moses.
Remarkably, these icons were first published only in the 1950s, so this rare public display promises to expand our understanding of an important chapter of art history, especially in regard to European panel painting for which these paintings are important antecedents. The earliest ones have also provided new insights into the cult of icons and the religious sensibilities underlying this major aspect of Christian worship, as well as its debt to earlier pagan sources.
Architecture is for the photographer Julius Shulman what green peppers and sand dunes were for Edward Weston or Yosemite for Ansel Adams. Born in 1910, Shulman’s iconic images have become a staple of every book or magazine that touches on the subject of modern architecture.
In recognition of his reach and historical significance, the Getty Center-Research Institute acquired Shulman’s archive of 70,000 images earlier this year; currently, a selection of those images is included in “Julius Shulman, Modernity and the Metropolis” in the institute’s exhibition gallery.
Shulman sees formal elegance in what others might overlook: banks, gas stations, churches and restaurants, for example. His keen compositional eye discovers the iconic aesthetics of edifices, revealing and reveling in their symmetry. Although he has photographed using color throughout his career, his work is best known for its vivid use of black and white.
Brooklyn born but an L.A. resident since 1920, Shulman has also documented the development and urbanization of Southern California with the same eye for detail that New Deal photographers like Dorothea Lange recorded the Dust Bowl.
Shulman’s structural subjects stretch from the Shangri La mountains in Ojai to Chavez Ravine to the Stratosphere at Los Angeles International Airport.
A 1964 gelatin silver print of the Richard Neutra-designed Moore residence in Ojai prominently features the mountain range where Frank Capra shot the Himalayan sequences of 1937’s “Lost Horizon.”
A 1953 photo reveals the Chicano neighborhoods of Chavez Ravine, before they were bulldozed to make way for Dodger Stadium, .
A 1960 image of the famed Chemosphere, created by John Lautner and now belonging to the German publisher Benedikt Taschen, illustrates the futuristic vogue of space-age design as Kennedy’s New Frontier dawned.
A 1947 photograph of the patio of the 1936 home Neutra originally designed for movie director Josef von Sternberg shows the architect socializing with Ayn Rand at her Northridge home, where the author wrote “Atlas Shrugged.”
In an interview, Shulman declared: “The point is, I want to expose to the public what it’s like to live in a contemporary house … not 1890 or 1790, but a house that is done in this day and age … to avail ourselves of the best possible architecture … floor plan, the best productive way of enjoying their lifestyles…. So, my photography has successfully portrayed for 69 years how it is to live in a good house.”
The exhibition shows that Shulman’s interests aren’t limited to homes, however. Throughout the decades, Shulman’s unerring eye has captured the architectural Zeitgeist of each era. For instance, the peaked Melanesian-style roof of Coffee Dan’s coffee shop in Van Nuys expresses the tiki craze of postwar Pacific Island-inspired architecture. Another series from the 1960s focuses on churches in California, Colorado and Illinois.
Shulman still lives in the same house in the Hollywood hills that architect Raphael Soriano built for him in 1960. Still feisty at 95, he continues to take photographs and travels widely. He also lectures and presents workshops and seminars, most recently in Philadelphia and Frankfurt.
“Julius Shulman, Modernity and the Metropolis” continues through Jan. 22 at the Getty Center-Research Institute, 1200 Getty Center Drive Los Angeles. For information call (310) 440-7300.
As a child, teachers complained to my parents that I was neglecting my studies by “drawing flying men,” yet I went on to create Manaman, the Noble Savage, the first Polynesian comic strip published in a weekly newspaper, The Samoa Times. Cartoon and comic book artists have long been the Rodney Dangerfields of artists, denied respect by the art world establishment, so I’m personally gratified that the Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art have joined forces for an unprecedented collaboration to present the dual-venue exhibition, “Masters of American Comics.”
This rock-’em-sock-’em exhibition reveals why there are often more exclamation points in a single comic than in the entire Bible, displaying 900 objects by 15 cartoon and comic book artists who helped shaped this cinematic medium with its close-ups, long shots and camera angles.
“More than half of the artwork displayed [are] original drawings by the artists’ … pen and ink, that are one of a kind … made for reproduction in the newspapers or comic books, and a large selection of old printed newspaper pages and comic books … and graphic novels,” explained co-curator/cartoonist Brian Walker, son of Mort Walker, creator of “Beetle Bailey” and “Hi and Lois.”
Some may feel the show makes omissions, such as DC Comics, which gave us “Superman” and “Batman.” But Walker said he and his co-curator, art historian John Carlin, selected the artists included in the show because they were “all … very influential in their times and influenced other artists.”
The exhibition “focuses on form over content,” he said. The artists include George Herriman (“Krazy Kat”), E.C. Segar (“Popeye”), Chester Gould (“Dick Tracy”), Milton Caniff (“Terry and the Pirates,” “Steve Canyon”), Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”), Will Eisner (“The Spirit”), Jack Kirby (“Captain America,” “Fantastic Four”), Harvey Kurtzman (“Mad Magazine”), R. Crumb (“Zap Comix”) and Art Spiegelman (“Maus,” “In the Shadow of No Towers”).
As with movies, musicals and other art forms, Jews “made a tremendous contribution in all areas of cartooning,” Walker said. “Most of the early comic book artists were Jewish.”
Fleeing pogroms and other persecution, newly arrived immigrants and their children often felt powerless, so they compensated by creating superheroes who defended the underdog, especially during the Nazi era. Ancient traditions, from Moses to the Golem, influenced these Jewish artists, from Superman’s Siegel and Schuster to Batman’s Bob Kane to Spiderman and the Fantastic Four’s Stan Lee to Li’l Abner’s Al Capp. Of the artists represented in the exhibition, Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg), Eisner, Kurtzman and Spiegelman all are Jewish.
The Hammer’s portion of the exhibition presents work from the first half of the 20th century, while MOCA is showing work from the 1950s on. Admission at each of the venues also includes a $2 discount for admission at the other museum. As the Thing, who was revealed to be a Jew, says, “It’s clobbering time” for the joint exhibitions through March 12.
“Masters of American Comics” continues through March 12 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 626-6222, and at the UCLA Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000.
Jennifer Bornstein’s work on view at MOCA may initially appear to the unsuspecting eye to be pencil sketches, but they are, rather, copperplate etchings rendered through the archaic intaglio printmaking process used by Rembrandt, Blake and Goya.
Bornstein’s acid-dipped, serialized image-making technique is the most outstanding aspect of this first installment in the museum’s new Focus series, which is designed to highlight Southern California artists.
Produced since 2003, the 55 images by the Seattle-born 35-year-old include slices of life depicting ordinary people Bornstein has encountered, as well as abstractions and historical personages derived from photographic sources. The latter include images of Margaret Mead clad in aboriginal apparel, taken during the 1920s when the anthropologist conducted her South Seas fieldwork for “Coming of Age in Samoa.” In the frontal full shot, “Margaret Mead in Authentic Samoan Dress,” a youthful Mead stands on a mat of plaited pandanus, or coconut leaves, in a tapa lavalava (barkcloth sarong) that is decorated with breadfruit leaf designs.
My favorite work in the show is the most detailed etching, which best reveals Bornstein’s deft touch. In “Study for 16MM Film (Ruth Benedict, Lover and Mentor of Margaret Mead, Kneeling on a Hand Woven Navajo Blanket),” the ethnologist wears traditional haberdashery and a meticulously rendered garment designed with Pacific Northwest Indian animal iconography.
Bornstein said she feels an affinity for Mead’s work.
“There’s an anthropological aspect to what I do,” said the artist, who lives in Hollywood. She called her subject “a curious character … simultaneously really wonderful and problematic in the way she practiced anthropology.
“She’s a woman who got so far in that field. I felt she was very familiar to me, and I was working in a way that wasn’t so far from her own work.”
Other notables represented include ex-City Councilman Joel Wachs, Fatty Arbuckle, Lotte Lenya and even Bertolt Brecht’s Santa Monica home, where the playwright lived after fleeing Hitler. In a closely cropped etching redolent with irony, silent film comedian Buster Keaton — famed for his agility — faces the viewer, standing on crutches, his right foot bandaged.
Other less exotic works by Bornstein, who is also a sculptor and experimental filmmaker, are ruminations on roommates, relatives and friends going about everyday activities. These include “Alex Doing His Homework” and “Teenage Roommate Digging in Fridge.” They fall somewhere between ho-ho-ho and ho-hum.
Bornstein’s abstractions include proposals for sculptures, plus “Maps of Trails in Griffith Park, Drawn From Memory While Waiting for the Bus in New York City.” The latter resembles the playing board for the global conquest game, Risk, and is whimsical at best.
“Jennifer Bornstein” continues through January at MOCA, 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles (213) 626-6222.
Ed Rampell is the author of “Progressive Hollywood, a People’s Film History of the United States” (The Disinformation Company, 2005).
Since traveling to Cuba several times with her mother, who organizes relief missions for Cuban Jews through her travel agency, Daniella Gruber has returned home changed by the experience.
"Both Daniella and I will never forget the images in our minds of these old Jews, some who are Holocaust survivors, living in dingy rooms with chunks of ceiling falling down, bursting into tears when we delivered bags of food," said her mother Roe Gruber, who enrolled her daughter in Spanish classes one summer at the University of Havana.
For the last five years, Daniella, 16, has followed her mother’s example and tapped school families, her synagogue and a retirement community to collect medicines, clothes, hygiene products and school supplies for Cuba’s Jews, as well as for a children’s hospital and several orphanages. Her latest campaign is a shoe drive for mentally handicapped teens in a Havana orphanage.
"Watching her over the years doing all this organizing, promoting, collecting and sorting has been amazing," said Gruber, who thinks her daughter’s values differ from typical, self-absorbed teens.
In a surprise at a school awards assembly last month, the 11th grader at Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School received national recognition from B’nai B’rith International’s Cuban Relief Committee in Pittsburgh. The Amiga de Cuba youth award was created especially for her to spotlight her unusual example and hopefully to serve as an inspiration to others, said Stan Cohen, the committee’s chairman, who has organized 23 relief missions to Cuba from B’nai B’rith chapters worldwide since 1995.
"She’s obviously a great girl," Cohen said.
School principal Howard Haas, who presented the award, said, "She exemplifies what we want for every student at Tarbut — to be a role model."
While Israeli artist Avner Moriah was creating “Haggadat
Moriah” (Moriah Haggadah), his wife, Andy, was undergoing chemotherapy
treatments for leukemia.
“I sat next to her when the chemicals were dripping in,”
said the 50-year-old artist, in Los Angeles this week for an exhibit opening of
his work at the University of Judaism. “In Israel everyone davens and says
‘Tehillim’ when someone is sick, but I came up with images for the haggadah.
When I started, the images were really small but as she got healthier, they
became more colorful and more lively. When I finished [and Andy recovered] I
realized that I had painted my own journey from Egypt.”
Those hospital-bed images are bright, watercolor roundels —
circular panels — that interweave the ancient Israelites’ journey to freedom
with ruminations on modern-day “slavery” (e.g., being a slave to the office)
representing the cyclical repetition of Jewish history and life; panels that
illustrate the story of the text and add different interpretations that Moriah
found in his research; and a few full-page calming celestial paintings. The
illustrations manage to pay homage to the ancient text and make the story of
the exodus from Egypt a personal one that has as many modern understandings as
it does ancient ones.
Moriah paired his art with Hebrew calligraphy by Izzy
Pludwinski to create a limited-edition leather-bound illuminated haggadah that
Moriah is selling to collectors for $4,000.
Moriah’s new project also helped him turn away from painting
Israeli landscapes, a project made difficult by the intifada. For 30 years,
Moriah had been a landscape painter in Israel, capturing on canvas the vistas
of unique light that filtered through the Judean hills, and the vast changes of
terrain that roll through Israel, from the desert to the savannah areas. To
paint these works, Moriah would stand on hills with his huge canvases weighted
down with rocks.
“Wherever I painted in Israel, Arabs would always find me,
because they were always in the fields,” he said. “They would be curious and
they would come to look at my work, and offer me tea and coffee. But I wouldn’t
sit on the hills today by myself. It has changed that much in the last three
years. People are getting killed left and right, and I felt more secure to work
in my studio.”
In creating the haggadah, Moriah drew inspiration from
religious and artistic sources. He worked with Rabbi Shlomo Fox, a Conservative
rabbi and an old army buddy of Moriah’s (they were both officers together in
the Yom Kippur War) to study the text to get ideas on developing biblical
themes. He also looked at illuminated haggadot of old, as well as the Egyptian
and Assyrian wall paintings, reliefs and drawings of human and animal figurines
from the Bronze and Iron ages, the period when the Israelites settled in
Israel. While the haggadah has a definite modern feel to it — the bright reds,
blues and greens jump off the page — the figures in the illustrations are
elongated stick figures, much like the ones in ancient art.
“We are not religious,” Moriah said, “and this was one of
the reasons why I worked with Shlomo, to make sure that my ideas made sense and
that I was finding a visual way to come up with interpretations. In Israel,
most people who aren’t religious are anti-religious. I myself don’t practice
it, but I think there is a tremendous amount of beauty and culture in Judaism.
There is really no need to look for it anywhere else.”
As an Israeli artist, Moriah has spent much of his career
finding the beauty and culture of Judaism, and the horrors and meaning of
Jewish history. In addition to his landscapes, he did series on the expulsion
of the Jews from the Spain, the Holocaust and Middle East violence.
“I painted the intifada before it happened,” he said,
referring to his 1981-87 “Soldiers Series,” that, depicts in an Edward
Hopper-ish way, how violence in Israel insidiously infiltrates the domestic
He also painted two murals at the Jewish Theological
Seminary of New York, which explored biblical themes: “Gathering at Mount
Sinai” and “Women’s Zodiac.” Next up is a 45-foot-long illuminated Megillat
Esther, which will be painted on parchment so that it can be a kosher megillah.
Moriah is dyslexic, so it is through images that he
understands the world.
“Lots of artists are dyslexic,” he said. “The way our
electricity is connected is different. We don’t see things in a regimented,
organized way like most people. I hate reading and writing — and I respond to
images, not words. I barely know the words to ‘Hatikvah.’ I created the
haggadah for the dyslexic. I wanted the whole story told in a visual way.”
For more information about Avner Moriah, go to
“The Moriah Haggadah: The Creation of a Contemporary
Illuminated Manuscript” is now showing through May 23 at the University of
Judaism’s Platt and Borstein Galleries, 15600 Mulholland Dr., Los Angeles.
Exhibition hours are Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information, call
(310) 476-9777 ext. 201.
Robert Sturman said he never felt the need to observe Jewish rituals. Born in Los Angeles to Jewish parents, the 33-year-old photographer-painter said, “I would do anything to stand up for the Jews … but religion is a whole ‘nother story.”
Although he still doesn’t practice Judaism, a stop in Auschwitz-Birkenau in July 2002 intensified his Jewish identity. In his gallery book, “Reflections for the Soul” Sturman crafted four pieces of artwork that symbolize Jewish destruction and then triumph in war-torn Europe. Inspired by the pen drawings of prisoner artists, Mieczyslaw Koscielniak and Wladyslaw Siwek, Sturman sought to capture the haunted nature of the death camp.
Two days after Auschwitz, Sturman took photographs in Kazimierz, a small Jewish town in Krakow, Poland. He came upon a poster framed by flowers advertising a film about the remaining Jews in Poland. As he was shooting, Sturman was accosted by an undercover police officer who began ridiculing Jewish practices. For Sturman, who never experienced anti-Semitism first hand, the encounter made what he had seen in Auschwitz-Birkenau all the more real. Titled “Memory and Healing: Krakow, Poland,” the piece sends a message of life in contrast to his darker shots at the death camp.
There is fluidity to all of Sturman’s pieces, as if one is viewing the artwork submerged in water. He first captures his images using Instamatic film, and then carves into the surface of the film while the emulsion is still wet. Though his work looks more like an impressionistic painting, the brilliant colors and contrasts are not painted in, but testify to his skill in achieving the perfect lighting for his shots. While the artistic process is intricate, Sturman said that the art is in the subject and the message — not the techniques.
Now that his Jewish identity has been reinforced, Sturman has an overwhelming desire to do a series in the Holy Land.
“I want to celebrate the culture … eat falafel and drink Coca-Cola with Hebrew writing on it,” he said.
"My work was driven by a sense of imminent loss," writes Frédéric Brenner in the introduction to his new book, "Diaspora: Homelands in Exile." "Two thousand years of history were about to vanish. I felt a desire and a responsibility to document these permutations of survival in exile before they disappeared…. As I began my journey, I realized how much loss had already taken place."
It was this sense of loss that led Brenner, a 44-year-old French photographer on a 25-year journey to more than 40 countries, to document the lives of Jews in exile. Brenner wanted to record the process of acculturation that has distinguished the history of the Jews since the Temple was destroyed and the Jews were scattered into exile.
"The journey undertook me more than I undertook it," Brenner told The Journal. "I needed to unveil and uncover the many threads which make up the fabric of my identity. I am a product of the East and West — my grandparents came from Algeria, and my other grandparents came from Ukraine and Romania. I am typical of the blending which makes up the fabric of our people."
So Brenner traveled all over the world, using his camera to tell stories that might otherwise never be told. He went to Abyssinia, where he photographed Jewish women who still practice the pre-talmudic custom of confining themselves to a hut during menstruation; he captured Jews in Yemen who know how to read Hebrew upside down, because they have only one book that all need to learn from; descendants of Marranos (secret Jews) in Portugal who light Shabbat candles in hiding and celebrate Passover in the attic; Russian peasant Jews who work on kolkhozes (communal farms); and Gen. David Dragunsky, the leading Russian anti-Zionist during the Brezhnev era. Brenner shot Jewish merchants in India; female rabbinical students, all wearing tefillin, in New York; Chasidim in Mea Shearim, and Hell’s Angels in Miami.
The photographs, all black and white, give the viewer a glimpse into the many permutations of Jews and Judaism today. They manage to shake any sense of complacency that one might have about definitions of what the religion should be, and should look like. All in all, they are profoundly moving, because it is only this gossamer chain of religious identity that is shared by all.
"What these people have in common is mainly their differences, and their acceptance of their own differences," Brenner said. "What Jews have in common is that they altogether make the experience of dispossession and dispersal, again and again and again. This experience is not only experienced passively as a curse, but very often it is claimed as reinvigoration. The ‘wandering Jew’ is something we reclaim, as a project, a vocation."
In "Diaspora" (Harper Collins) the photographs are presented in two volumes. The first installment is a coffee-table collection of some 260 photographs; the second is a selection of the shots with accompanying text surrounding them, laid out like a page of Talmud.
The text is written by a variety of authors: Jacques Derrida, Stanley Cavell, Sami Shalom Chetrit and Carlos Fuentes to name a few. They approach the photographs as a layered text, attempting to discern the meaning in the image, and to raise the issues that they see embedded in the duotones. "What rouses me against this photograph and doesn’t let me go?" asks Michael Govrin of a shot of four Greek Holocaust survivors, each stretching out their arms so the viewer can see the numbers tattooed there. "Did Frederic mark those nameless men yet again in a ‘composition’ of tattooed arms and clenched fists? Did he violate the pain etched in their bodies by imprinting it on film?"
Sometimes, the text tells the story of the person in the image, such as the wonderful letter, written in 1821, that accompanies the "Tribute to the Raba Family." The letter tells the story of the Rabas, Portuguese Jews who escaped the inquisition keeping their Judaism intact, and went on to amass a huge fortune in France.
"I don’t offer any answers, only questions," Brenner said of his images. "The texts chosen are very elliptical, and so there is a lot of space for the viewers to trust their own commentary."
Brenner is an outgoing, lively and handsome man, who is as likely to quote biblical commentators like Rashi in his speech as he is postmodern theorists. He gives the sense of always being in flux, his projects are infused with the same gusto that his every gesture exudes. One can easily imagine him jetting around the world, camera in tow, feeling invigorated as he traipses through a ludditic Ukrainian village looking for the last remaining Jew.
"Jews are people who subvert the archaical forces of death," Brenner said. "A large majority of Jews, and non-Jews, know how Jews died, but they don’t know how Jews lived. The history of the Jewish people is becoming the history of the Shoah; there is a fascination with our own disappearance and that is not Jewish. The fact that we have been victims for a large part of history has taken over the other part, which defines who we are. There is a famous verse in the Bible where God says ‘I will put in front of you life and death, and you will choose life’ — and that is what we have to do."
Frederic Brenner presents and discusses images from "Diaspora: Homelands in Exile," at the Skirball Cultural Center on Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m. This lecture is in association with "The Photograph and the American Dream, 1840-1940,"on view Oct. 18-Jan. 4. For more information, call (323) 655-8587.
An Argentine gaucho lounges near his horse. A Bombay bride displays her upturned palms, filigreed entirely with henna. An Ethiopian boy lights candles with a classmate. A woman poses stiffly in her kitchen in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. What unites these disparate images is that the people depicted in them are Jews, all of them captured in black and white by Israeli-born photojournalist Zion Ozeri.
Ozeri has made a career out of documenting Jewish communal life both in Israel and in far-flung outposts of the Diaspora, like Peru, India, Tunisia and Uzbekistan. The images are compelling. Ozeri has a strong sense of composition, an outsider’s eye for the telling or humorous detail and an ability to play on our emotions with shadow, light and reflection.
At first glance, his photos seem like intimate glances into the lives of people who are vastly different from us. They are rich in atmospheric details — the steam of the marketplace, the rough texture of cobblestones, the ropy muscles of laborers, the weave of embroidery on traditional costumes. But if what draws us at first is the exotic, what makes these images linger in our minds is their universality. Ozeri captures not just the foreignness of these other lives, but their intense humanity. In the process, he illuminates the colorful, global variety of Jewish life. It makes the title of his latest exhibition at the Skirball, "Portraits of an Eternal People: A Jewish Family Album," particularly apt.
Ozeri wasn’t always this passionate about cross-cultural experiences. Raised during the 1950s as an Israeli-born son of Yemenite immigrants, Ozeri’s formative years were spent trying to distance himself from his own family’s cultural distinctiveness. Born in an Israeli transit camp, and later raised in the town of Ra’anana, Ozeri chafed at the ethnic divisions and social prejudices that marginalized Yemenite Israelis. It was a time when Ashkenazim reigned supreme in Israel.
"When I was growing up, I just wanted to fit in," he recalled in an interview with The Journal. "In those days, fitting in really meant distancing myself from my parents’ generation. People my age wanted to be modern, to get rid of the stigma associated with being Yemenite or Sephardic."
Ironically it was his own heritage that propelled him toward cultural photojournalism. An early attempt to study premed in the United States was aborted when the ’73 war broke out and Ozeri returned to Israel to fight. Shortly after his six-month military stint, Ozeri decided to pursue his interest in photography instead of medicine.
After studying in New York, he began freelancing for magazines and newspapers. During a vacation in Israel in the early 1980s, it occurred to him that his own community was a ripe subject for the camera.
"I saw, at this point, that my parents’ generation was disappearing and that, in fact, all the generations of Israel’s immigrants were disappearing and no one was paying attention," Ozeri said. "So I decided to spend a few days of my vacation photographing Yemenites in the community of Rosh Ayin. I took pictures at the local market, and elsewhere around town. I began to appreciate my specific heritage as a Yemenite Jew. I outgrew my embarrassment as a kid and learned to see the beauty in it."
Ozeri’s photographs of Yemenite Jews in Israel became an eight-page photo essay in Moment magazine and ultimately led to a book, "Yemenite Jews: A Photographic Essay" (Schocken, 1985).
His Skirball show, which opened July 1, includes images from more than a dozen countries. However, it’s always Jewish spirit and ritual that are the common threads — from a photo of a challah maker in Chile to a Jewish day school in Zimbabwe.
"What I love is to compare and contrast, to see the beauty in other places, other communities," Ozeri said. "Sometimes, it’s amazing, there are only a few Jews in a given community, and yet, they are still keeping up all the traditions. In that way we are really a global community. I can go to a synagogue anywhere and I open the siddur and it’s a comfortable thing."
Some of the communities Ozeri documents are on the verge of extinction. He cites the 1,000-year-old Uzbekistan Jewish community as a case in point.
"There’s definitely more drama in photographing a community that is disappearing," he said. "You can feel the tension in the air. There is tension between family members. Some are headed for Israel, others to America. Some stay behind. It’s a unique experience."
For future projects, Ozeri is contemplating travel to Western Europe and Cuba. He has begun to see his work in ways that move beyond journalism and art photography into the realm of education.
"The more I am invited to lecture and speak about what I do, the more I begin to see the educational element in my work," he said. "People look at the exhibits and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know there were Jews here or there, or that they did this or that.’ My feeling now is that if you want to teach about diversity, the Jewish people are a dramatic example."
"Portrait of an Eternal People" is on display at the Skirball Cultural Center’s Ruby Gallery through Aug. 31. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Free. Noon-5 p.m. (Tuesdays-Saturdays); 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Sundays). For more information, call (310) 440-4500.
Robert Carlyle, of "The Full Monty" and "Angela’s Ashes" fame, gives a striking performance in the title role of the CBS miniseries "Hitler: The Rise of Evil." The film, which airs Sunday and Tuesday (May 18 and 20) at 9 p.m., focuses on Hitler’s life from Munich beer hall orator in 1920, through his political machinations within the Nazi party and against the Weimar Republic, ending in 1934 with the consolidation of all state power in his hands. Speaking with a pronounced Scottish burr (which he suppresses in the film) from his home in his native Glasgow, the 42-year-old actor discussed the challenges and rewards of his role with The Jewish Journal.
Jewish Journal: What were your thoughts when you decided to take the role of Hitler?
Robert Carlyle: At first I was frightened because I realized the potential dangers and pitfalls. But I decided I wouldn’t do a carbon copy of Hitler. I would do my own interpretation, that I could explore him like any other character. Then a window opened up and I wasn’t frightened any more.
JJ: One of your fellow cast members, Peter Stormare, said, "I can’t imagine being Bobby [Carlyle] and having to look at himself as Hitler every day because of all the images that flash before your eyes, all the time." What were your feelings?
RC: Once shooting began, in my quiet moments, I tried to empty myself of the character on a daily basis, rather than store it up for four months. Also, as Hitler, I didn’t look at all like myself. I had the mustache, a false nose, cheek pieces and more weight as Hitler got older.
JJ: What was your working day like when you were shooting the film in and around Prague?
RC: It took around one-and-a-half hours for the makeup and I worked 14-15 hours on an average day. As we went further along, the days got even longer.
JJ: I understand that you were offered the role of Hitler three times before you took this one.
RC:Yes, the first time was about three years ago but it didn’t come to anything. Another time was for the film "Max" [in which Hitler was played by Noah Taylor]. Five months before I started the CBS job, I worked for three months on a BBC television production which started with Hitler in the bunker and we flashed back to his earlier life. So I had already learned a good deal about the character.
JJ: I believe the BBC project was canceled, partly due to strong Jewish protests.
RC: I’m not sure. I heard that there were funding problems because the American studio partner backed out. I don’t know about Jewish protests, but if there were any I would understand that.
JJ: One of the concerns raised when CBS announced the project was that any good actor would try to find the human elements in Hitler and therefore make him more sympathetic.
RC: It wasn’t a question of searching for the human traits. I didn’t have to find that to get close to the character. I thought Hitler was very cunning and had a belief of you’re-either-for-me-or-against-me. I tried to focus on these things.
JJ: Were you aware of the objections raised by some Jewish spokesmen and organizations in the early stages of the CBS project?
RC: Not at all. I didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes. But I knew from the beginning that if I gave as honest a portrayal as I could, it would be all right. I didn’t want to upset anyone.
JJ: After you finished shooting, did you go through a decompression stage?
RC: Yes, I took off and spent a month in the country. A few weeks ago, I went back to London for some final dubbing and suddenly saw "my" Hitler on the monitor. And I said to myself, "Jesus, what a pompous little prick" and then, "You’ve done your job."
When rabbi and author Jan Goldstein was suddenly faced with the news that his 12-year marriage was ending — leaving him with primary custody of his three children — he felt his life was ruined, until he learned to make sense of his pain.
In his new book, "Sacred Wounds: Succeeding Because of Life’s Pain" (Regan Books, $24.95) Goldstein recounts his personal journey of self-actualization and offers a nine-step process toward transforming pain into empowerment.
"The pain is not going away. But it’s going to serve a purpose in our lives if we let it," said Goldstein, an award-winning poet, playwright and screenwriter, who is now happily remarried.
In addition to being instructional, each chapter includes a story about someone who has taken one of Goldstein’s nine steps. In "Step One: Acknowledging the Wound," Goldstein tells the story of Debrah Constance, a woman who overcame the obstacles of her three failed marriages, alcoholism, cancer and a near-death car accident, and used her own experiences to establish A Place Called Home, a safe house that today provides a nurturing environment to several hundred 9- to 20-year-olds in South Central Los Angeles. In the book, Constance says, "Coming to terms with my wounds has meant acknowledging and believing in myself. It has also meant learning to believe in others."
Goldstein said that while the book is always relevant, it is especially applicable in today’s time of war.
"The images and losses have an impact on all of us … and what they ought to be doing is reminding us what’s really important," he said.
Jan Goldstein will discuss and sign "Sacred Wounds: Succeeding Because of Life’s Pain" on Tuesday, April 22 at 8 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 111 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 585-0362.
An emaciated death camp survivor stares blankly alongside a
gaunt steer. “During the seven years between 1938 and 1945, 12 million people
perished in the Holocaust,” the image declares. “The same number of animals is
killed every 4 hours for food in the U.S. alone.”
The poster forms the heart of a new national campaign
launched last week by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that
compares the Holocaust and the meat industry — and that is ruffling Jewish
There was a time when the holidays meant choosing between a traditional stamp, like Madonna and child, or a modern stamp, like snowmen. But that all changed in 1996.
"That was the first time that a Chanukah stamp had come out," said David Mazer, U.S. Postal Service public affairs and communications manager in Los Angeles. "We made a real to-do about it at the time. I personally made a presentation to 30 area institutions — Valley Beth Shalom, the University of Judaism, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion — and it really went over well."
This month, the Postal Service will re-issue the Chanukah commemorative stamp in the 37-cent denomination. About 35 million copies of the self-adhesive menorah stamp, designed by Washington, D.C., artist Hannah Smotrich, have been produced for this season.
Every year, the Postal Service’s 15-member Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee sifts through 40,000-50,000 stamp ideas sent in by the public. From that, the panel sends 25-30 new stamp ideas to the postmaster general, who has final say.
While stamps based on Passover and other Jewish holidays have not been created, Mazer pointed out that hundreds of Jews and Jewish-related images including composers Irving Berlin and Franz Waxman, artist Frida Kahlo and the Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., have graced U.S. stamps over the years.
So when it comes to holiday imagery
on government-issued stamps, are there any conflicts of separation of church and state?
A U.S. stamp will not bear individuals or institutions specifically associated with religious beliefs. However, if there is a larger humanitarian or pop culture component, these rules can be bypassed.
"Stamps are a reflection of popular culture and history," Smeraldi said. "[Christmas and Chanukah] are so widely celebrated, so it doesn’t go against those criteria."
Sounds like a stamp of approval to us.
Marlene Adler Marks
All Hadassah members nationwide — and especially those in Southern California — wish to express their heartfelt condolences to Marlene Adler Marks’ daughter, Samantha, and all of Marlene’s family. Through her Women’s Voice columns in The Jewish Journal and her articles in the National Hadassah magazine, Marlene expressed so much to, and on behalf of, all of us. What a tremendous loss for Jewish women and people everywhere. We are saddened by her passing, all too soon with, we are sure, so much left to say.
Marlene was an active member of Hadassah’s MorningStar Commission, sharing her sage advice with her fellow members, working so hard to improve the images of Jewish women in the media. In Marlene’s memory, MorningStar Commission members will certainly rededicate themselves to their purposes with renewed vigor.
We thank The Jewish Journal for sharing Marlene’s words of wisdom with all of us. Her life made a difference for so many. She was definitely a shining star in all of our lives. May her memory be a blessing and an inspiration.
Sharon L. Krischer , Chair Hadassah Southern California
I did not know Marlene Marks personally, only through her writing. She, however, made a profound impression on me and I always looked forward to her columns. She was often in my prayers. I was so saddened to hear of her untimely passing. Just a few weeks ago, I clipped her column “Friends” (Aug. 16) to keep with other memorable articles. It had so much meaning to me. She had the rare ability to find humor in the face of adversity, abundant courage and strength of character. Even in the end, although her voice failed her, many of us heard her, loud and clear. May she rest in peace.
Barbara Pria, Woodland Hills
Fifteen months ago, I put the names of Molly Ivins and Marlene Marks on my back at the Revlon Walk against women’s cancer — two very razor-sharp women commentators, both of whom seemed to read very different parts of my mind with ease, and both of whom were fighting valiantly against cancer. It was a joy to share her thoughts every week. Rest in peace, Marlene. We women will dearly miss you.
Joan H. Leonard, Sherman Oaks
Like so many, I found Marlene’s recent columns a challenge and an inspiration, but it is one very special column from long before cancer had ravaged her that is deeply important to me.
In January 1996, just a few months after the murder of my twin sister, Nina, Marlene wrote a column about me, how my life had altered in the aftermath of Nina’s death and how I was trying to make a life for myself and Nina’s children.
Today, I reread that column and cried again, because Marlene had so beautifully captured what losing Nina meant to me. More than that, I was overwhelmed by the goodness in her that moved her to write about how her readers could best help me. It was a loving action, one I never expected, and one that really made a difference in my life. Marlene was right: remembering helps. And I will remember her all my life and I will miss her so.
Abby J. Leibman, Los Angeles
Even as life is crazy for a rabbi (and for everyone else) during the aseret yemei teshuva, I feel compelled to write about Marlene Adler Marks, a woman whom I held in great esteem, and whose death I personally mourn even though I never met her.
The Talmud so eloquently states that the loss of a single soul is the loss of a complete world. Each person sees the world through one’s unique prism. Indeed, the depth of Marlene’s soul and the poetic nature of her thought revealed a neshama that was constantly seeking refinement. For this loss, I greatly mourn.
When she wrote of her newfound appreciation of “Modeh Ani,” I was inspired; when she declared that “you can radiate your brain without losing your soul,” I cried. Her struggle throughout her illness revealed a dignity that was special to behold even as it was a tragedy in process.
As an Orthodox rabbi, I must confess some of Marlene’s positions did not resonate with me. Her theological views were not traditional and her politics were not mine. Oh, how I wished I could debate her in person! I only regret that after reading her columns for 13 years in The Jewish Journal, I did not have the initiative to call her up and talk Torah with her.
May her struggle serve to inspire within our lives ever greater Jewish involvement and depth.
Rabbi Asher Brander, Westwood Kehilla
The biography for Gideon “Gidi” Grinstein (“Oslo Logic Still Valid,” Sept. 13) omitted that between 1999-2001, Grinstein served as the secretary of the Israeli negotiation team to the permanent status negotiations of the Barak government.