Jack Bender: ‘Lost’ and ‘Found’


Just as he has in so many past years, TV veteran Jack Bender will attend the Emmy Awards this Sunday. He’s nominated again this year in the category of Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for his work on the hit ABC show “Lost,” for which he is also an executive producer. But after some 25 years working in television, Bender has finally gone public with his other occupation.

This weekend also marks the opening of his first major art exhibition, titled “Jack Bender FOUND,” at Timothy Yarger Fine Art, a gallery in Beverly Hills.

The themes of “lost and found,” of seeking and finding, and of faith, play a major role in “Lost,” a drama about a group of plane-crash survivors stranded on a mysterious island. But these are equally apt themes for Bender personally. He is the husband of a rabbinical student, but says his own faith is not as easily defined. And he is an artist who describes his work, both behind the camera and on canvas, as having a life of its own.

“If you’re good at directing, you let life happen,” he says, and similarly, “you have to let the painting have its voice.”

Bender tends to work quickly on his paintings, favoring bold colors and brush strokes, layering on paint as well as objects, such as Perrier bottle caps, blue jeans and vintage photographs.

In many cases, he is commenting on American society. But Bender also explains that in most of his pieces, “it’s not as much of an intellectual statement as a visceral one.”

He goes for raw emotion, creating pieces that conjure artists from Basquiat to Gauguin or Picasso.

One of his works, “Jazz Man” will be auctioned off at Saturday’s opening reception, with proceeds benefiting Friends of Washington Prep Foundation, an organization that supports and develops arts programming at George Washington Preparatory High School in South Los Angeles.

“It’s a remarkable place…. They have taken guns out of kids’ hands and given them instruments,” Bender said.

Also scheduled at the opening is a performance by The View Park Prep Jazz Combo, and one more highlight.

Bender’s “The Hatch Painting” is a mural that was featured on “Lost” last season, and has been the subject of much chat room conversation by show groupies attempting to decode its many symbols. Fans can see it in person at the gallery, but as far as secrets hidden within the work, Bender offers only this: “There are definitely Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs in the forest there. So people should come see it.”

The 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards air on NBC, Sun., Aug. 27, at 8 p.m.

The opening reception for “Jack Bender: FOUND” takes place Sat., Aug. 26, at 7:30 p.m. 329 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (310) 278-4400.

Spectator – Music First,


Even during the tensest days of the intifada, the four Jewish and four Arab musicians of the SheshBesh ensemble performed before mixed — and appreciative — audiences.

The ensemble’s fusion of western and Asian music and instruments can be heard Sunday, June 26, at Temple Israel of Hollywood, as part of the temple’s Nimoy Concert Series.

“This unique group of classical artists from the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), and their equally skilled colleagues from the Arab musical tradition, reflect the best of multicultural Israel today,” said actor Leonard Nimoy, who with his wife, Susan, is sponsoring the series.

Percussionist Bishara Naddaf has been with the ensemble since its beginning six years ago. His instrument is the deff, which looks like a tambour drum, and, in the hands of a master like Naddaf, can sound like an entire percussion section.

“I am a Christian Arab and my father did work on a kibbutz,” Naddaf said. “During the school year, we visit schools throughout Israel and perform for the students.”

When asked about attitudes among Arab and Jewishmembers of SheshBesh, which takes its name from a game similar to backgammon, Nadaff was effusive.

“We’re first of all musicians and human beings, and in that there’s no difference between Arab and Jew,” he said. “We love each other and we embrace each other.”

When it comes to discussing politics, “We talk a little among ourselves, but never in front of audiences,” he said.

Nadaff’s oldest friend on the ensemble is Peter Marck, who has been the IPO’s principal double bass since 1979 and helped found its educational outreach program to schools. Other musicians are Yossi Arnheim, the IPO’s principal flutist, violinist Wisam Gibran, Russian-born violinist Eugenia Oren-Malkovski and vocalist Haya Samir, a Jerusalemnite of Egyptian heritage.

Two masters of oriental instruments are Alfred Hajjar, who specializes on the flute-like ney, and Ramsis Kasis, who plays on and composes for the oud, the ancestor of the guitar and lute.

The concert by SheshBesh: The Arab-Jewish Ensemble, begins at 3 p.m., Sunday, June 26 at Temple Israel, 7300 Hollywood Blvd. Tickets range from $10-$25 for adults, and $8-$20 for children and seniors. For more information, call (213) 805-4261.

 

The Shofar


Davi Cheng had some trepidation when she went to Hillel for the first time. She tried to feel comfortable, but she couldn’t understand the language of the services and the liturgical rituals were confusing.

Then she spied something unfamiliar on a bookshelf that made her feel right at home: a shofar.

"I really wanted to go over there and pick it up and blow it," said Cheng, who converted to Judaism six years ago.

In the ensuing years, the shofar became a personal religious motif for Cheng. She had a rabbi blow a shofar while she immersed in the mikvah for her conversion. She studied its laws by learning ancient texts, its sounds by listening to CDs and ended up becoming the shofar blower for her congregation, Beth Chayim Chadashim. When she designed the stained-glass windows for her temple, she featured the shofar prominently.

"The shofar was always something that I was drawn to, and I can’t give you the reason why," Cheng said. "It’s primal."

Ironically it is this inarticulateness that perhaps describes best the essence of the shofar experience. It also goes a long way in explaining why the shofar has weathered all the morphings of the Jewish tradition to remain the same instrument that it was in ancient times, and to become, in many senses, one of the great unifiers of the Jewish people. Go into any shul on Rosh Hashanah in any part of the world, and the one thing every service will have in common is the blowing of the shofar. It is an indispensable part of the liturgy, and its deep symbolic value and meaning belies its simple rustic origin. And yet, for all its meaning, for all its kabalistic secrets and for all its historical significance, at its core, the shofar is, as Cheng said, primal. Each blast sings the longings of the soul and it transcends our contrived communal labels.

Unlike, say, phylacteries, a shofar is a religious item that requires little religious obligation or expertise. While the shofar itself needs to come from a kosher animal (but not a cow, so as not to remind God of the sin of the golden calf) we are obliged only to hear its blast. Increasingly, the passive experience of the hearing the shofar is giving way to a more active one. In many shuls it is lay people, not rabbis, who blow the shofar for the High Holiday services.

This month, more than 55 schools in Southern California had Chabad’s mobile shofar factory come and transform raw rams’ horns into blowable shofars with their students. Chabad even set up the shofar factories in 20 Albertsons supermarkets.

On the consumer side, a shofar is becoming a popular bar or bat mitzvah gift, so much so that Judaica store owners report that the current "trend" in shofars is rough-hewn, unvarnished horns. And manufacturers are responding to the demand by producing "easy-blow" and "scentless" shofars that have larger mouthpieces and no animal smell.

"The shofar is a universal symbol of the coming of the New Year, and that makes it a fascinating thing for people," said Rabbi Berel Cohen, West Coast Chabad Lubavitch youth program director.

In fact, the shofar ritual is so widespread that it has spilled over into the Christian community. Thousands of evangelical and charismatic churches in the United States are blowing the shofar as part of their services and selling shofars in their gift shops — showing the enduring popularity of the most oft-mentioned instrument in the Tanach.

The shofar was blown at most of the significant events in ancient Jewish history. When the Jews received the Torah on Mount Sinai, and the mountain was engulfed in flames, a mighty shofar sounded and the nation "trembled" (Exodus 19:19). Its blast was used to announce the new moon, and to sanctify the Jubilee year, the 50th year in the calendar cycle in which all debts were forgiven, slaves were freed and land in Israel reverted back to its original owner. When Joshua encircled the city of Jericho, seven priests blew seven shofars, and the wall of the city came tumbling down. Judges like Gideon and Ehud, son of Geira, would blow the shofar as a battle cry, before slaying Israel’s enemies. After the judges died out, the shofar was blown when kings were anointed. In the future, when the Messiah comes, Elijah the Prophet will blow the shofar to herald both his arrival and the resurrection of the dead.

Today, we no longer use the shofar to signify God’s presence on a flaming mountain, or to bring down the walls of a city, but the biblical command of blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur remains. On those days, the shofar is a one-note instrument that plays a symphony of meaning. As Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of the world, we blow the shofar to proclaim God’s sovereignty over the world and us, to redeclare Him as our king.

The shofar is also meant to trigger the forces that will cause us to have a good year. It is the sound that should inspire us to repent, and it is also the sound that will provoke God to act mercifully when he is inscribing us in the Book of Life.

Maimonides writes of the shofar as a spiritual alarm clock that should awaken "sleepers from their sleep, slumberers from their slumber," and prompt everyone to repent. It puts us in God’s good graces, because as a ram’s horn, the Talmud says it reminds God of the binding of Isaac (the Torah portion that is read in synagogues on the second day of Rosh Hashanah), when Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son at God’s command, until the last minute when God relieved him of the obligation and Abraham sacrificed a ram instead. The blowing of the shofar is meant to remind God of our similar eagerness to do what He wants, to "bind" us to Him. The shofar is bent, commentators say, because we too should "bend our will" to God’s.

According to kabbalah, the blowing of the shofar causes a great esoteric tumult. The Zohar says that the sounds of the shofar are strong enough to "break the powers of wrath," and when they ascend to the heavens, "judgment departs" and "mercy is awakened."

The blasts are also meant to confound Satan. According to rabbinic tradition, on Rosh Hashanah, Satan is up in heaven just waiting to prosecute the Jewish people with lists of their misdeeds, but when he hears the second and third set of blasts of the shofar, he gets all confused and falls down in his prosecutorial duties.

"The shofar is really the clarion call of a Jew that allows us to access Hashem at the deepest level," said Rabbi Binyomin Lisbon, who blows the shofar at Bais Bezalel on Pico Boulevard. "Its language transcends words. The shofar represent the inner voice that we cannot access so easily during the year, because we are so busy."

Like many other shofar blowers in the city, Lisbon practices his blasts by blowing the shofar every day during the month of Elul, when it is customary to blow the shofar in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah.

There are three main blasts of the shofar: tekiah, a long, drawn out complete sound; shevarim, three shorter sounds of equal length; and the teruah, nine short staccato sounds. There is also the tekiah gedolah, which is a protracted tekiah.

"The tekiahs are like bookends for what is in between," said Robert Smith, the shofar blower at B’nai David-Judea. "The tekiah at the front and the tekiah at the back have to be same length as what is in the middle."

"Your lips have to be tight to blow," said Brent Kaplan, a 14-year-old French horn player who blows the shofar for the family minyan at Temple Emmanuel in Beverly Hills. "You have to use a lot more air and push it up from your chest rather than just your mouth, and you buzz your lips to get the sound."

For shofar blowers like Smith and Kaplan, the challenge of Rosh Hashanah is making sure preserving enough lungpower and strengthening their lip muscles to make it through the hundred obligatory blasts of the shofar during the Musaf service.

"The shofar blower is not supposed to talk from the time he makes the first blessing to the end of the last blast, and I do that," Smith said. "I really try to shut everyone out and just concentrate on the shofar blowing. It makes it an intense experience. But I am exhausted after I finish. I feel completely spent."

For other shofar blowers, the experience is not so much about getting the sounds out, but about remembering the reasons for the sounds.

"The first time I blow it I am thinking "let’s do it right," and I am paying attention to the task, but then when things are going smoothly I am thinking about how I want to reconnect my soul to God," said Dr. Simcha Goldman, a psychologist who blows the shofar at The Jewish Learning Exchange. "In the Orthodox version of repentance, you don’t confess to specific sins — it’s more about the need to enhance and repair one’s relationship with God. On Rosh Hashanah you have know who you are dealing with."

Goldman says it is up to the listener to extract the deeper meaning in the blasts.

"The listener should listen with appropriate concentration," he said. "It’s intended to elicit a thinking response from the person blowing it and the person listening to it."

But all agree that the shofar’s plaintive wail distinguishes it from all other instruments.

"When someone hears a French horn, they may not think about much," said Rabbi Jonathan Aaron, associate rabbi at Temple Emmanuel who plays the French horn in addition to being the temple’s shofar blower. "But when you hear the shofar it is dripping with the tradition of Judaism. There is something about a shofar that completely penetrates."

Israel Philharmonic Strikes Teen Chord


Wearing Ug boots and draped wool scarves, a chatty clique of
Milken Community High School girls slumped into their seats in a packed
auditorium. About 600 had assembled to hear the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s
(IPO) KeyNote Brass Ensemble perform with the school’s Chamber Ensemble and
Concert Choir.

The teens seemed unenthusiastic at best. But then the
KeyNote players explained how the shofar was the ancient ancestor of the brass
instrument family. They also performed “The Simpsons” theme song with the
Milken student musicians. Slowly, scowls turned to smiles, feet started tapping
and through the IPO’s KeyNote program, the Los Angeles teens learned about
instruments, music and the joy of playing.

“The assembly was amazing, and it was great to see my
friends play with a professional orchestra,” said Jessie Levine, a Milken
10th-grader. “Plus, I had no idea that brass instruments had Jewish roots.
That’s really cool.”

In 2002, The American Friends of the IPO received a grant from
The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership to support the KeyNote
Program, a 4-year-old outreach program that has benefited more than 14,000
Jewish and Arab students in Tel Aviv. The grant required that the IPO conduct a
reciprocal program in Los Angeles. Milken Community High School, which has both
an in-house music academy and a sister school in Tel Aviv, was chosen for the
program.

The Dec. 11 program consisted of a joint rehearsal session
between the IPO Brass Ensemble and the Stephen S. Wise Music Academy students,
a joint concert, lunch for the professional and student musicians and Q-and-A
sessions in the general classrooms The day was designed to integrate the high
school students with the visiting musicians.

“We wanted our kids to have the experience of hearing the
IPO, playing with the IPO and working with the musicians in the classroom,”
said Dr. Russell Steinberg, director of Stephen S. Wise Music Academy. After
the assembly, musicians visited English, Hebrew and science classes where
students who had just attended the concert asked questions about music, the
position of a Jewish orchestra in Israel and general social, political and
cultural concerns.

The IPO was in Los Angeles in December, giving a dazzling
sold-out performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall and Dec. 11 at the Orange
County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa (for more on the performance, see
next week’s Circuit).

Since its inception in 1936, the IPO has played at the
Proclamation Ceremony of the State of Israel in the Tel Aviv Museum (1948) and
on Mount Scopus in liberated Jerusalem after the Six-Day War (1967). The
orchestra has enjoyed associations with artists like Leonard Bernstein, Yo-Yo
Ma and Itzhak Perlman. But the current musicians, who hail from around the
world and tour at prestigious concert halls and festivals throughout the United
States, Europe and Asia, relish the opportunity to teach the young.

“We love playing with high school students because they are
the next generation of music lovers,” said Micha Davis, IPO’s bass trombone
player. “When we were in school there were musicians who played with us. It’s
an ongoing tradition.”

The Milken student musicians were thrilled to partake in the
tradition. After hearing the IPO perform at Disney Hall the night before, the
students were delighted to join the professionals on stage in their campus
auditorium.

“It was a really humbling experience. They are a world-class
orchestra, said Elizabeth Erenberg, a 12th-grade flautist who plans to major in
music next year at college. “I feel really honored to have met them and played
with them. They’re great people as well.”

The IPO, which travels the world as a cultural ambassador
for Israel, generated a new appreciation for music and a strong sense of Jewish
pride among the Milken students.

“I go to a Jewish school. I love music and I love Israel. So
today, was an incredible experience,” said Jason Abrams, a 10th-grade pianist
with the Chamber Ensemble.

“Knowing the current situation in Israel, it must be very
difficult for them to continue functioning like other major orchestras,”
Erenberg said. “I think it’s very admirable that they continue to make music.”

For more information on the KeyNote program, visit