Southern Israeli kids getting free Bieber tickets


Some 700 children from southern Israeli communities that have been hit by rockets and missiles from Gaza were given free tickets to pop star Justin Bieber’s concert.

The tickets for Thursday’s show in Tel Aviv, as well as transportation, are a gift of The Schusterman Foundation-Israel, The Morningstar Foundation and ROI Community of Young Jewish Innovators.

ROI approached The Schusterman Foundation to help cover the costs of the tickets, which were provided at a discount to help the Israeli children.

“I feel blessed to partner with The Morningstar Foundation to counter the din of missiles and mortars with the exuberance of rock music for these young Israelis,” Lynn Schusterman said in a news release.

Bieber arrived Monday in Israel and is scheduled to tour the country. The teen idol reportedly will visit Christian sites in the Galilee, the Dead Sea, Masada, Acre and Caesaria. He also reportedly is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

With ticket sales slower than expected, concert promoter Gadi Oron announced Sunday that a parent could enter the concert free with the purchase of two tickets for children at the regular price. Many Israeli parents have balked at sending their young teens alone to a major rock concert in the middle of Tel Aviv.

Festival-goers this year can party under the moonlight



For Yoram Gutman, the Israel Independence Day Festival is a yearlong effort.

“The minute one festival ends, I start working on the next,” said the Reseda businessman, who has served as the festival’s executive director since 1994.

This year’s festival, which celebrates Israel’s 60th birthday at Woodley Park on May 18, is expected to be a larger, more extravagant affair than in years past. Organizers anticipate more than 50,000 Israelphiles to attend the festival, which is adding three hours this year, stretching the celebration from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“Last year we had 30,000 people participating, but this year, because Israel is celebrating 60, we hope to see more people,” Gutman said.

Israel to rock the Kodak but hoping for more glam


Get ready to sing . . . Hatikvah!


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May Days!

There are a lot of holidays this month, and your school or synagogue probably has special activities for them. We’ve listed them below … but we’ve taken out the vowels. See if you can fill in the blanks and then match the holiday to the date we celebrate it on. Scroll down and see if you have the right answers.

1) L_G b’_M_R
2) M_M_R__L D_Y
3) M_TH_R’S D_Y
4) R_SH CH_D_SH _Y_R
5) Y_M H_SH__H
a) May 1
b) May 5
c) May 11
d) May 23
e) May 26

A Time to Celebrate

Israel turns 60 on May 14. Which, of course, means it is party time! On May 18, Los Angeles is having an all-day bash in the park. From 10 a.m.-10 p.m. at Woodley Park (between Burbank and Victory boulevards) in Encino, hear music, watch a fashion show, enjoy tons of food, play games, enjoy rides, buy Israeli products and wish the Jewish state a happy birthday.

The Jewish Journal will be there with our friend, Anne Marie Balia Asner, author of the Matzah Ball Books series, including “Shmutzy Girl” and “Noshy Boy.” Anne Marie will be signing her latest book, “Klutzy Boy,” so be sure to stop by our Readers Lounge and take a break from the heat. Yom Hooledet Sameach Yisrael!

For more information, visit

‘Inside Idan Raichel’ — it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it


I never fashioned myself a groupie. Of course, when I first saw Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” I spent a moment or two contriving a fantasy about becoming Penny Lane and hitting the road with Mick Jagger or David Bowie. But since I wasn’t alive in their heyday, and Kurt Cobain died, and Dave Matthews got married, the dream dissolved.

Sitting on a red velvet couch in a private room with Israeli superstar Idan Raichel, the fantasy was reignited. Energized by his enigmatic presence, the all-black attire, the thick ebony dreadlocks dangling like streamers around him, I was captivated. Sensual, charming and soft-spoken, Raichel is an ethereal rock star. On stage, he performs with his whole body, writhing up and down, striking his keyboard. As much a visionary as he is a musician, the architect of The Idan Raichel Project, a group of vocalists and musicians with roots in Ethiopia, Sudan, South America, Iran and Israel, Raichel has fused the artistry of minority cultures into a unique blend of world music. On his stage, people from disparate backgrounds are unified by a multicultural musical harmony. Their love is music and their message is peace.

During a two-hour performance at UCLA’s Royce Hall Nov. 15, where an audience of all ages and ethnicities rushed the stage, The Project rocked a full-house with their exotic, evocative sound: the shattering vocals of Cabra Casay and Lital Gabai channeled the power of unmitigated yearning; Rony Iwryn stunned onlookers with a splashy beat on the water drum, a rhythm he improvised by tapping the surface of the water; Gilad Shmueli drummed people out of their seats with his rumbling boom.

And then there’s Idan — the creator, the composer, the poet. His allure incites hysteria from young girls and garners the respect of an international audience. He proudly represents Israeli society wherever he goes — and he deftly avoids the politics.

“For me, it’s only music and it’s only music I did with friends. Nowadays I feel it has lots of side effects,” he said. “Mostly when we perform out of Israel, people find it interesting to know about Israeli society; people are fascinated by how people that came from such diversity are singing side by side.”

When Idan sings “Bo’ee” (“Come to me”), you listen, believing that if you do, you’ll have a front-row seat when he changes the world. With this artist, that may actually prove to be true, and I want to be a groupie for that.

Greening the Earth

I thought suffering from an alcohol addiction was bad, but an oil addiction is worse, according to Gary Ratner, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, who opened for various panelists, including “Internal Combustion” author Edwin Black, at the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) Thomas Edison Energy Awards at the Four Seasons hotel Nov. 11.

Approaching the hotel, I expected to swim in a sea of suits, but found amid the 240 guests a mix of young professionals, war veterans and firefighters in uniform, who were being honored for their recent services in the Southern California fires. Over cocktails, I mingled with the tall, dreadlocked black activist, Ted Hayes, who combats homelessness and illegal immigration in Los Angeles. He was draped in a knee-length hemp robe, a colorful Rasta-style hat, and wore a long, gold-chained Star of David necklace.

In the Four Seasons banquet hall, decorated with plants, candles nestled in sand and rocks, and chocolate-covered dollar bills, the event publicist summoned me to sit next to a cute, dark-haired young man, whispering in my ear, “maybe it’s beshert.” Accepting her offer, I plopped down into the single-gal seat, feeling stamped with the Jewish scarlet letter, only to find he’s engaged. No matter, because actor and environmental activist, Ed Begley Jr. was presenting the energy awards. I told him I remembered him from the film “Death Becomes Her,” but shamefully learned, from him, that it was “She-Devil.” He assured me they could be confused because both movies star Meryl Streep.

Begley Jr. added comic relief to the night, commencing his speech about Honda’s energy conservation efforts with a clip from the HGTV series “Living With Ed,” which showed his wife Rachelle living a green lifestyle with her actor-husband in Studio City (instead of Hollywood or Beverly Hills) and driving a not-so-glamorous electric car.

Watching clips of Honda’s innovative hydrogen-powered fuel cell car, I felt guilty for driving my gas-guzzling SUV. Honda and the AJCongress voiced productive suggestions for halting dependence on foreign, Arab oil and bettering the environment. Now, if only the rest of us would catch on …

— Celia Soudry, Contributing Writer

group photo
From left: Ed Begley, Jr.; Rachelle Carson; Gary Ratner, executive director, American Jewish Congress; Dan Bonawitz; Pamela Bonawitz; Chris Martin.

Crooners celebrate Canuckia’s Cohen and a first for our very own Greenberg


Saturday the 24th

A Leonard Cohen love fest takes place at Royce Hall this evening. The enigmatic genius poet/songwriter is paid tribute in an event titled “The Gospel According to Leonard Cohen,” which is presented by Perla Batalla, a vocalist with whom he has frequently worked. While surprise guests are promised, confirmed performers include Jackson Browne, Michael McDonald, Howard Tate, Bill Gable, Bill Frisell and Don Was.

8 p.m. $17-$52. UCLA Royce Hall, Westwood. (310) 825-2101. ‘ target=’_blank’>www.sundancechannel.com.

Tuesday the 27th

Despite what we feel is a terrible title, “Melanoma My Love” may be worth your attention. The interesting premise of this Israeli film is a tragic tale about a young dancer who is diagnosed with melanoma at age 30, and given only three months to live. Not wanting to shatter her spirit with such precious time left, her husband chooses to hide the prognosis from her. The film screens — with a conversation with star Sharon Zukerman to follow — at UC Irvine tonight, and Pomona College tomorrow.

Feb. 27, UC Irvine.

Feb. 28, Pomona College International Theater, Pomona.
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Thursday the 1st

Local author T Cooper signs her new acclaimed novel, “Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes” at Malibu’s Diesel bookstore on Wednesday, and Skylight Books today. To quote Publisher’s Weekly’s assessment of her latest, “[Cooper] takes apart the usual Jewish heritage tale and the themes of assimilation, touching them with postmodern parody and Chagallesque folk magic.”

Feb. 28, 7 p.m., Diesel, A Bookstore, 3890 Cross Creek Road, Malibu. (310) 456-9961.

March 1, 7:30 p.m. Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 660-1175.

Friday the 2nd

A Shabbat service with vocal resonance awaits at the Wilshire Theatre, this evening. The 50-voice Tabernacle Gospel Choir led by Justin White joins the Tova Marcos Singers of Temple of the Arts in an interfaith, intercultural “Shared Heritage of Freedom” service. They will be led by Rabbi David Baron and Bishop Charles Blake of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ.

8 p.m. Wilshire Theatre Beverly Hills, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 658-9100. IFF: Engaging in disengagement — five horrible days in Gaza

Versatile Israeli Violinist Gains ‘Dream’ Hip-Hop Hit


Perusing the hot R & B/Rap Billboard charts, one does not expect to see a red-headed Israeli artist — replete with a classic “Jewfro” mop of curls — represented by the No. 3 song. ” TARGET=”_blank”>Miri Ben-Ari, however, doing the unexpected is standard fodder; so it should come as no surprise that her new single, “Symphony of Brotherhood” (featuring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech weaving in and out of an extended string solo) topped the charts just one month after its radio release.

Given the violin diva’s penchant for multitasking high-profile projects, it also should come as no surprise that topping the charts is just a drop in the bucket for Ben-Ari. Since April, she has been featured on billboards internationally as the poster girl for Reebok’s “I Am What I Am” campaign; in May, she and Israeli hip-hop mogul, Subliminal, recorded a video, “Classit VeParsi” (Classical and Persian) — which topped Israel’s video charts.

Next Ben-Ari went on national tour with the popular hip-hop group, The Roots, even as she was getting ready to release a hip-hop single about the Holocaust. Meanwhile, VH1 announced her as a new artist working with its Save the Music Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to restore instrumental music education in U.S. public schools.

For many, it’s exhausting just to read Ben-Ari’s list of accomplishments, but the artist is full of energy. She is, after all, on a mission: “I want to bring music back,” she said matter-of-factly. “In an era where everything is music samples, I’m representing a movement that’s turning to live music again.”

Ben-Ari grew up as a classically trained violinist in Israel, and as a child prodigy, she caught the attention of violin virtuoso Isaac Stern. Though she bowed to the top of one music competition after another, Ben-Ari was convinced that the classical scene was not for her.

“The whole time, I knew I wasn’t going to be a classical violinist,” she explained. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I was really good with the violin. It was fun playing so fast on the instrument — almost like a sport. But I wasn’t feeling the orchestra thing.”

At 17, Ben-Ari won a scholarship to study music in Boston, where she was exposed to jazz for the first time. After hearing a Charlie Parker CD, she knew where her future lay.

“I had to study whatever it was that Parker was doing,” she said. “I had to be able to improvise like he did. I had to learn that language!”

Following obligatory service in the Israeli army, Ben-Ari packed her bags and moved to the Big Apple — where she hustled gigs every night. “If I walked into a club, and there was a stage,” she said, “I’d pull out my violin and play. If there was no stage, I’d still play. At first I’d get my ass kicked. But you go home, practice all day and go out and get your ass kicked again.”

Persistence and gutsy acts — which Ben-Ari attributes to Israeli chutzpah — got her noticed by jazz greats like Wynton Marsalis and the late Betty Carter, as well as by hip-hop moguls like Kanye West and Wycleff Jean. Once the heavyweights got into her act, it was not long before Ben-Ari had played Carnegie Hall, The Apollo, and Jay Z’s Summer Jam — where she received a standing ovation from 20,000 screaming audience members.

“I was a nobody,” Ben-Ari chuckled, “but I had the second feature, after Missy Elliot.”

Since then, Ben-Ari has gone on to record and perform with pop icons like Alicia Keys and Britney Spears, and she won a Grammy in 2004 for her violin chops on Kanye West’s smash-hit single, “Jesus Walks.”

It is heartening to know that someone so openly Jewish and Israeli can receive so much love from the non-Jewish world.

“Wycleff Jean and Jay Z put me on the map,” Ben-Ari said with passion. “They were not Jewish white people. I’ll never forget that. This is also why I relate to [African American] history. I’ve been working with them. I got embraced by the black community, more than any other community — including the Jewish community. They loved me like one of their own.”

The fact that she is Israeli, Ben-Ari continued, actually strengthens her connection to African Americans, whether Jewish or not. “Struggle relates to struggle,” she said. “They appreciate that I’m from Israel, because I’m coming from struggle.”

That mutual struggle, Ben-Ari continued, was in fact the inspiration for her recent hit single: “MLK is the hero for the black American struggle. Of course, if you’re coming from a struggle yourself, you can’t help comparing…. It always crosses my mind — if we had MLK in Nazi Germany, would it have helped?

Would it have affected the outcome of the Jewish Holocaust?”

These kinds of questions are what led Ben-Ari to work on the Holocaust hip-hop single, due to be released in the coming months.

“It’s almost like they say, ‘music is therapy,'” she explained. “It’s a way to deal. There is no other way for me.”

‘Aida’ Not So Tragic for Israeli Maestro


 

Dan Ettinger looks nothing like the popular image of a classical conductor.

The Israeli is making his American debut with the Los Angeles Opera in Verdi’s “Aida.” Appearing considerably younger than his 33 years and standing a sturdy 6-foot-1, Ettinger wears his hair short-cropped, his approach is casual, and he speaks of his work with the care of a skilled craftsman.

Dealing with an unfamiliar orchestra of more than 80 instrumentalists in “Aida,” advertised as “the grandest of grand operas,” is a major challenge, especially for a self-described “control freak” and “young pisher” (genteelly translated as a “young squirt”).

We talked to Ettinger in the Maestro Room of the downtown Music Center the morning after opening night. He seemed fairly satisfied, although he said that it takes three or four performances before a new opera production hits its peak.

Ettinger is descended from Romanian immigrants to Israel — his father and grandmother are Holocaust survivors — and he grew up in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon.

Early on, he was exposed to his parents’ large classical and jazz collection and the boy showed an early interest in music.

“I wasn’t a child prodigy and I had a normal childhood, but I always knew that I wanted to be a musician,” he said.

Ettinger attended a special high school for the musically talented, training as pianist and singer, and then enrolled in the Rubin Academy of Music at Tel Aviv University. He quit after one year, because “the school system didn’t work for me, I wanted to do things my own way,” he recalled.

From then on, he developed his diverse musical talents by doing, rather than studying, although he credits the help of private mentors.

Ettinger started his professional career as a baritone at age 19 and cites as his favorite role Papageno in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”

Nowadays, Ettinger no longer sings on stage, although when rehearsing “Aida,” he sings along all the parts.

“I find my singing background a real advantage as an opera conductor, because I can identify with the singers, I can phrase with them and breathe with them.”

In a third career, Ettinger continues as a concert pianist, accompanist and coach, and he describes his “ultimate musical experience” as doubling as pianist and conductor in a Mozart piano concerto,

Since 2003, Ettinger has been the resident director of the prestigious Berlin Staatsoper Unter den Linden, handpicked for the job by fellow Israeli Daniel Barenboim.

Many of the current leading musical figures in Berlin are Israelis, Ettinger said, perhaps an ironic footnote to recent world history.

In the coming fall, Ettinger will also become the music director and principal conductor of the Israel Symphony Orchestra in Rishon L’Zion, ranked second in his native country only to the more established Israel Philharmonic.

Yet, he is not entirely happy with the state of opera around the world. For one, budget problems everywhere have forced cuts in rehearsal time, including in his present “Aida” stint.

Of more concern is a shift in the staging of operas.

“It used to be that an opera was the conductor’s world, but now the emphasis is more and more on spectacular visual productions,” he said, though he hopes for a gradual return to more traditional presentations.

After he finishes his current assignment, Ettinger is off to Tokyo to conduct Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte,” but he will return to Los Angeles next year, leading the orchestra in Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.”

Performances of “Aida” will continue on select dates through Feb. 19 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. For tickets and information, call (213) 972-8001 or visit www.LosAngelesOpera.com.

 

Yom HaShoah Events


Friday, April 16

Laemmle Theaters: Release of the Academy Award-nominated documentary, "Prisoner of Paradise," about German Jewish actor Kurt Gerron, sent to a concentration camp and forced to write and direct Nazi propaganda. Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills. (310) 274-6869. Laemmle Theatres Town Center, Encino. (818) 981-9811.

Congregation B’nai Emet: 8 p.m. Shabbat and Yom HaShoah service. Dachau survivor Bernie Simon speaks. 4645 Industrial St., Simi Valley. (805) 581-3723.

Saturday, April 17

Adat Ari El: 7 p.m. Mincha and discussion on "Understanding the Shoah and Human Atrocity: Moving Beyond God as Punisher, Enigma or Absentee." 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.

Southern California Warsaw Ghetto Anniversary Committee: 7:30 p.m. "A Song to the Unsung: Heroines and Heroes of Resistance." Warsaw Ghetto uprising annual commemoration and tribute to the Holocaust martyrs. In Yiddish and English. Institute of Jewish Education, 8339 W. Third St., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

Sunday, April 18

Congregation Mishkon Tephilo: Yom HaShoah Service. 206 Main St., Venice.

(310) 392-3029.

Museum of Tolerance: Screening of "The Long Way Home." 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 553-9036.

Temple Sinai: 10:15 a.m. Yom HaShoah Commemoration. Survivor Robert Geminder speaks. 1212 N. Pacific Ave., Glendale. R.S.V.P., (818) 246-8101.

Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary:

11 a.m. Service honoring resistance fighter Hannah Szenes on the 60th anniversary of her death. 6001 Centinela Ave., Los Angeles. (800) 576-1994.

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust/ Jewish Federation/Los Angeles Holocaust Monument/Second Generation: 1:45 p.m. Community Commemoration. See above.

City of West Hollywood: 6:30 p.m. Candle lighting and klezmer music. Writer Suzan Hagstrom speaks. Plummer Park,

7377 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 848-6307.

B’nai David Judea: 7 p.m. Yom HaShoah Seder. Memories, ritual and song. Workmen’s Circle, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 276-9269.

Colburn School of Performing Arts:

7:30 p.m. "Concert of Remembrance" featuring music by four composers, all survivors or victims of the Holocaust. $15. Herbert Zipper Hall, 200 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 890-0276.

Monday, April 19

Simon Wiesenthal Center: 10:30 a.m. Annual commemoration. Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky discusses "The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism Worldwide" and Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Laszlo Kovacs speaks in honor of the 60th anniversary of the deportation of Hungarian Jewry to Auschwitz. Posthumous honor will be given to Abdol Hossein Sardari, whose work as an Iranian diplomat in Paris during World War II saved Iranian Jews from deportaion. Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 553-9036.

Thursday, April 22

Adat Ari El: 7:30 p.m. "Commemoration of Our Six Million." "Kaddish," candle lighting, readings and songs . $2-$4. 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 376-1640.

Friday, April 23

Temple Adat Elohim: 7:30 p.m. Shabbat and Yom HaShoah service. Survivor Marthe Cohn speaks. 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-7101.

The Circuit


Triumph of the Technion

Two students and a professor from the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology, toured Southern California in a late February fundraising tour for the Haifa school’s new cancer research unit.

A Feb. 26 gathering brought about 20 philanthropists to the Beverly Hills home of Joan Seidel, president of the local chapter of the American Society of Technion. There they listened to an informal talk by engineering student Adi Gurfinkel, cancer researcher Itay Shafat and aeronautical engineering professor David Durban.

When asked if suicide bombings have hurt fundraising efforts, Durban said, “On the contrary, people are now much more willing to give and donate to scientific fellowships, scholarships, research. There’s no question that the Technion is the embodiment of the promise of the Zionist dream and Israel’s hope for the Jewish people.”

Critical problems in Israeli education, Durban said, are due partly to serving the 1990s massive influx of immigrants to the Jewish state, notably from the old Soviet Union.

“Twenty percent of the Jewish population arrived in 10 years,” he said.

Philanthropist Janey Sweet, a co-chair of the fund for Technion’s new cancer institute, said donations to the school go further because Israelis have less administrative costs to cover.

“You really get a lot more bang for your buck in Israel than you do [with U.S. institutions],” she said. “Without the Technion, there wouldn’t be an Israel today.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

The Circle of Friendship

About 200 parents and kids attended a pre-Purim party Feb. 29 for special-needs and emotionally handicapped Conejo Valley children at an Agoura Hills elementary school.

“We wanted to give the children with special needs the idea that Purim is theirs, too,” said Rabbi Moshe Bryski, executive director of Chabad of the Conejo. “Unfortunately they’re always getting lost in Purim. Families stand out. Here the whole environment is theirs.”

The two-hour Purim masquerade party at Willow Elementary School was sponsored by the Chabad’s Friendship Circle, an outreach program that services special-needs children and their parents.

With similar children at the Purim party, the Israeli-born mother of a 6-year-old autistic boy said, “You don’t have to be proper. Everyone here is like us, and you don’t have to look at the ‘weird’ behavior.”

The event appeared to relax stressed-out parents; after one young couple placed their 8-year-old son among the other kids, they grabbed a snack, smiled and kissed each other.

About 10 Agoura High School students volunteered for the Sunday afternoon party of songs, pizza, costumes, finger painting and other activities building on their regular weekly visits to local special needs kids and their siblings.

Agoura High senior Adina Farkash, 17, had spent much of Sunday working on a term paper for her English class. But hanging out among the kids at the nonstressful Purim party, Farkash said, “You get to come out and play around.” — DF

Request Granted

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles announced $100,000 in new grants on Jan. 29. The grants went to the Advocacy for Youth, Business Committee for the Arts Inc., Center for Cultural Innovation, Community Advocates Inc., Community Partners, Exceptional Children’s Foundation, Grand Performances, Homeboy Industries, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, OPCC (Formerly Ocean Park Community Center), Project GRAD Los Angeles, Inc., Puente Learning Center and Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, Inc.

“These grants exemplify The Foundation’s continued commitment and effort to help the Southern California community,” said Marvin I. Schotland, president and CEO of The Foundation. “The grants reach beyond just secular causes and support a broad range of programs intended to improve the quality of life in the region. In today’s challenging environment, every dollar of these grants plays a crucial role in building our greater Los Angeles community.”

And speaking of grants, the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles received a $450 grant from The Library of America and the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop programs about Isaac Bashevis Singer that will be free and open to the public. The library will also receive the three-volume, authoritative collection “Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories,” which The Library of America will publish in July 2004.

Hillside Views

Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary dedicated the Court of the Matriarchs and the Garden of the Matriarchs — an elegant new garden mausoleum — in early February. The new mausoleum has rotundas on each end, breathtaking city views, is surrounded by a three-level garden with a central fountain and adds 2,854 mausoleum spaces.

Mentoring Man

Joe Berchtold, board chair of Los Angeles Team Mentoring, announced that Michael Hirschfield will be his organization’s CEO.

Previously, Hirschfeld served as executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, the public policy and political affairs arm of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Team Mentoring is the largest mentoring program in Los Angeles’ middle schools, and it currently serves more than 1,000 Los Angeles Unified School District students in nine schools. Hirschfeld said he hopes to double the number of students participating in the Team Mentoring program over the next several years through significant expansion.

Ambulances Ahoy

During the High Holidays at Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, Rabbi Alan Greenbaum appealed to his congregation to raise enough money to donate a $60,000 ambulance for American Red Magen David for Israel. The community stepped up to the plate by raising enough money for two ambulances. In December 2003, Greenbaum led a congregational tour to Israel, and the group got to go Tel Aviv and see their gifts and dedicate the ambulances.

TV Tune In

Even if you know the snaps and don’t know the words, “The Addams Family” theme song is one of those melodies that, once you hear it, you just can’t get out of your head. We have Vic Mizzy to thank for that tune. Mizzy has been composing hit songs since the 1930s, and now, at age 82, he still considers music a very important part of his life.

After hearing that the students had been learning “The Addams Family” theme song as part of their curriculum, Mizzy paid a visit to Woodland Hills Elementary School on Feb. 2 to teach a fourth-grade music class about the finer points of music composition and the lighter side of songwriting.

“Music should be an integral part of every child’s life,” Mizzy said. “If kids are taught from an early age to enjoy and appreciate high-quality music, their lives will be richer and fuller.”

Roth Your World

The American Jewish Committee is presenting Revolution Studios founder Joe Roth with the Dorothy and Sherrill C Corwin Human Relations award on March 31 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire.

Sean’s Last Ride


On Aug. 21, my dear friend Sean Nova, a beloved member of the Pico-Robertson and greater Los Angeles Jewish communities, passed away in a freak accident while repairing electronic equipment in his studio. Sean was only 30 years old.

I first met Sean in 1996, several years after he moved here from Israel. Born Chen Novakovitch, he finally changed his name to Sean because people thought "Chen" sounded Chinese, and "Hen" sounded too much like poultry. Sean was one of the first people to attend my Friday night program, Aaron’s Tent, and was well known to many in the young Israeli Community as well as Sinai Temple’s Friday Night Live.

Sean had black hair and striking green eyes. He worked briefly as a model in Israel and was often mistaken for actor Peter Gallagher. He was a prodigy who won scholarships for his musical achievements. At a very young age, his success in conducting, composing, trumpet performance and sound engineering led him to brief careers as both a session player and a sound engineer in Israel. He worked with some of the country’s top producers, including one of Bruce Springsteen’s early engineers, Louis Lahav. While he was in Israel, he quickly ascended to top post-production positions on television shows and motion pictures for the Walt Disney Company, Fox Studios and Saban Entertainment.

Sean’s love of music and recording brought him first to New York, where he worked in various studios, and ultimately to Los Angeles, where he worked for several record companies. Within his first year in California, he founded Sonic Mastering Studios, which eventually became one of the leading mastering facilities in its bracket. Sean’s clients included some of the biggest acts and labels in the industry, including Elton John, Madonna, Paul Simon, Sony Music, RCA and Warner Bros.

Sean was also an inventor, creating a technology called Equalizer Harmonics (Weiss Engineering Ltd.) and co-developing another called Sonic CD Protection. He had most recently fulfilled a personal dream by founding his own record label, America Records. I believe that the name sprang from his love of America and all of the promise that it held for him.

Despite his success, Sean never lost touch with his friends, and would often take time out from his lucrative studio work to help people do menial things like install software or repair computers. He was incredibly kind and generous. At Jewish events, he’d volunteer to drive a stranger home, no matter how far out of his way the trip would take him.

Although Sean was religious as a young boy, on the road to music he left the path of observance. He would always tell me how "one day" he hoped to become observant again.

In the last six months of his life, at the height of his commercial success, Sean began doing teshuvah and returning to his religious roots, at a very fast pace. I would regularly see him davening at Aish HaTorah, an Orthodox shul in the Pico-Robertson area. He became fastidious in his observance of Shabbat, walking home four miles every Friday night from shul, and then walking back another four the next morning. At the end of the Saturday night services, he would always be the last person to leave the shul, remaining to daven with a focus and intensity that implied: "I have so much more to say."

I saw him less than a month ago at shul as Shabbat ended. He had one of the firmest handshakes I had ever felt in my life; it came from his study of Krav Maga.

"Do you need a ride home?" he asked me. Those were the last words he spoke to me. I can still feel the grip of his handshake, and his voice still rattles around in my head.

Sadly, now his voice can exist only in my head. His parents have returned his body to Israel for burial and I know now that ironically, he has gone on his final "ride home."

May his memory be a blessing to all of those who knew him.

Sean Nova is survived by his father, Elan Novakovitch; mother, Yaara Wein; and sisters, Sella and Hilla Novakovitch. A memorial service will be held Sunday, Sept. 21 at 5 p.m. at the Aish HaTorah Center, 9100 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.


Aaron Shohet Kemp is a theatrical representative for SAG and founder of Aaron’s Tent Jewish Singles Program.

NPR Israel Coverage Sparks Protests


"The Palestinian uprising and subsequent Israeli offensive in the West Bank stirred enormous sympathy for the Palestinians throughout the Arab world…. Over the past year, scores of Egypt’s top singers have come out with songs about the Palestinian uprising. Most are accompanied by music videos featuring slain Palestinians, weeping families and homes destroyed by Israeli tanks…." — "Weekend All Things Considered," May 22, 2002

The above quote is from a National Public Radio (NPR) report "Egyptian Empathy for Palestinians Manifests in Art." But some Jewish groups think the quote says a lot more about politics at NPR — or what they call "National Palestinian Radio" — than it does about Egyptian art.

The Committee for Accurate Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) and the Los Angeles-based StandWithUs are among the Jewish groups that see examples of this bias in many of NPR’s reports about the Middle East conflict. They charge that the language NPR uses when reporting about Palestinians often sugarcoats the reality of the situation, for example, using the innocuous sounding word "uprising" instead of the more evil sounding "terrorism," and the evocative references to Palestinian suffering but no mention of Israeli suffering caused by Palestinian terrorism.

On Wednesday, May 14, they will join pro-Israel groups across the country in holding demonstrations outside NPR affiliate stations in 33 cities, including Los Angeles. In addition to the protest, called "NPR: Tell the Truth," the Boston-based organizers are asking participants and corporations to withhold financial support from NPR stations until the alleged bias is halted. In Boston, the tactic has been so successful that the NPR affiliate, station WBUR, reportedly lost more than $1 million in funding.

This is not the first time a media outlet has been accused of bias against Israel. In the last two years alone, Jewish groups have called for boycotts against media outlets ranging from the Los Angeles Times to The New York Times. As the conflict in the Middle East comes to the end of its second year with no clear solution in sight despite the "road map" (see story p. 18), advocacy groups — on both the Israeli and Palestinian side — in America increasingly go after the media for biased reporting.

NPR representatives said they are constantly reviewing their Middle East coverage, and denied it is biased. They pointed out that pro-Palestinian groups and media watchdogs, such as FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), charge NPR with being too pro-Israel.

NPR programs such as "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered" and "Talk of the Nation" are distributed to 700 affiliate stations and have an audience of more than 21 million, making it one of the most widespread news sources in the United States.

CAMERA, a pro-Israel media watchdog, has been monitoring NPR for 10 years and has issued numerous bulletins alerting listeners to alleged instances of bias and inaccuracy. The Massachusetts-based organization has lobbied to get NPR to issue corrections, which, according to CAMERA, it did in four instances.

NPR discounted many of CAMERA’s criticisms, saying they come from a group with an agenda.

"CAMERA is an organization that has an absolute commitment to making sure that the Israeli issue gets covered from a certain viewpoint, and they do a damn good job," said Ruth Seymour, general manager and program director at local NPR station KCRW. "NPR is a journalistic organization, and it has other obligations."

But NPR critics discount the denials, saying that NPR doesn’t want to be held accountable. On March, 11 congressman, including Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo) and Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) sent a letter to NPR President Kevin Klose, requesting an internal audit of coverage. Klose denied the request because, he said, it would "open a door to political interference."

"When NPR is funded at the expense of us all, then a statute [from the Public Telecommunications Act] applies that it has to be balanced," said Sherman, who is considering action on a bill that funds operations like NPR.

Most of NPR’s funding comes from membership dues, program fees and contributions from private individuals, foundations and corporations. Federal grants make up a small percentage of its financing. The amount of government funds, NPR says, is only 1 percent or 2 percent of its total budget. NPR critics say the percentage is much higher.

"It’s very dangerous to have an unbalanced government information service. The attitude I get from NPR is that they are above criticism, which is an amazing position to take," Sherman said.

The question of bias often enters into a circular "he said, she said" debate with either side unable to prove their cause. "Bias is in the eyes of the beholder," said Murray Fromson, a professor of Journalism at USC, who has worked as a journalist for more than 50 years. "I listen to NPR every day, and there are pieces that are favorable to the Palestinians, and pieces that are favorable to Israel. There are pieces [on NPR] that absolutely outrage me, but on the whole I think there is a balance," he said.

In Los Angeles, the protest against NPR is sponsored by StandWithUs and is scheduled on May 14 at 11 a.m.-1 p.m. outside of KCRW, 1900 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica.

Onboard the RebbeSoul Train


It’s the fusion of world music, electronic tones, prayer samples, nature sounds and religious intensity that gives multi-instrumentalist RebbeSoul his edge in the world of contemporary Jewish music. His mystical sound is anti-"Hava Nagila," but unlike the sluggish dirges that characterize the Jewish music scene, he still manages to keep in touch with the traditional.

"I love recording davening," said RebbeSoul, aka Bruce Burger. "I happen to have a lot of ‘Kaddish’ sounds from Jewish communities in the Diaspora. I have ‘Kaddish’ that was recited at the grave of the Rambam at his Yarhzeit in Tiberias. I had an Ethiopian ‘Kaddish,’ a Persian one, a Sephardi one and a Yemenite. I take the samples and then I put a groove to it."

The eclectic collection of "Kaddishim" make up a track on RebbeSoul’s new CD, "Change the World With A Sound." The album features mandolins, balalaikas (a Russian stringed instrument), darbukas (middle eastern percussion instrument) and riqs (Arabic tambourines) accompanied by electric guitars and keyboards. It features African American rappers singing along to niggunim (Chasidic melodies). "We kind of mix the electronic and the traditional, the modern and the ancient at the same time," RebbeSoul said.

RebbeSoul recently returned from a concert tour playing in Israeli towns ravaged by the conflict and has dedicated the CD to peace in the Middle East. "People think you get off the plane in Israel and you walk into a firefight," he said, "but they are still pushing on and living their lives. There is a sort of depression there. People feel hopeless. I spoke to a lot of victims, and I just wanted to show them I cared. The best thing I could think of doing for them was playing for them."

RebbeSoul’s CD “Change The World With A Sound” will be
released on Sept. 24 and available at Tower Records. For more information, visit
www.rebbesoul.com .

World Briefs


Israel Captures Hebrew U. Bombing
Suspects

Israel arrested a Hamas cell believed responsible for several suicide bombings, including one late last month at Hebrew University. The men, East Jerusalem residents whose Israeli ID cards allowed them to travel the country freely, also are believed to be behind the Moment cafe bombing in March that killed 11 people. In total, they are considered responsible for 35 deaths, including five Americans killed in the July 31 bombing at the university. Israel made the arrests Saturday night, but only released the information Wednesday. According to reports, Mohammed Ouda, a resident of an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem who worked as a painter for an Israeli contractor at the university, planted the bomb. The night before the attack, Ouda, 29, jumped the university fence and hid the bomb in a bag behind a bush, according to reports. The following day, he entered campus using his identity tag and retrieved the bomb. He planted it inside the Frank Sinatra cafeteria and covered the bag with a newspaper. He then left campus, later setting off the explosive by remote control.

Israeli troops began withdrawing from the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and two top P.A. officials agreed Sunday on a plan under which Israeli troops will gradually pull back from Palestinian areas, beginning with Bethlehem and the Gaza Strip. Hamas and Islamic Jihad vowed to continue attacks despite the agreement.

Popular Front Vows to Avenge Killing

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine vowed to avenge the killing of its leader’s brother. Mohammed Sa’adat, a brother of jailed Popular Front leader Ahmed Sa’adat, was killed in Ramallah on Tuesday after he fired on and wounded two soldiers attempting to arrest him. Ahmed Sa’adat, wanted by Israel for his part in the assassination of Cabinet Minister Rehavam Ze’evi last October, was imprisoned in a Jericho jail in May as part of an agreement lifting the blockade on Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters. In another development, the Al-Aksa Brigade vowed to carry out “massive attacks” to mark the first anniversary of the killing of its commander, Yasser Badwi, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Supremacists to Rock Against Israel

A white supremacist group is planning a large anti-Israel rally in Washington. The neo-Nazi National Alliance is planning a large demonstration and a “Rock Against Israel” white power music concert Saturday outside the U.S. Capitol. Hundreds are expected at the event, and a counter-demonstration by anti-racist skinheads and others is planned as well. The National Alliance has staged several anti-Semitic demonstrations outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington in the past year.

Bear Kills Girl in Catskills

A 5-month-old Chasidic girl was killed by a bear while vacationing with her family in the Catskills. Esther Schwimmer was snatched from her stroller by the bear and dragged to death in a bungalow community of Orthodox Jews. Her mother took two other children to safety, and by the time she came back for Esther, it was too late. The 150-pound black bear was later shot and killed by a local police officer.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The ‘Justice’ of Reggae


There’s something very, well, Jewish about reggae music. So Jewish, in fact, that Rastas in clubs, swaying to Bob Marley, are uncannily reminiscent of rabbis in synagogue, prayer books in hand.

No one knows this better than Elan, the 26-year-old singer/songwriter who will headline Bet Tzedek’s Justice Ball on July 20. As an Orthodox Jew who fronted Marley’s former reggae band, The Wailers, for three years, Elan felt a kinship with his Rastafarian bandmates. "I’d wake up and put tefillin on every morning, and they would always stand back in respect, because they understand that prayer is holy," he recalls. "They’re very similar to Jews."

A native Angeleno of Moroccan Israeli and Native American descent, Elan was offered the Wailers slot by guitarist Al Anderson, who, after working with Elan on his album demo, was moved by the then-20-year-old’s rich and powerful voice. It’s a voice that eerily echoes Marley’s own — and has even been mistaken for Marley’s by the likes of Carlos Santana. "He heard me singing once and thought I was lip-syncing," Elan says with a laugh. "Then he said he hadn’t been so moved since Bob was alive."

Elan took to the road with the Wailers without a single rehearsal, then spent three years touring the world with them. He’s shared the stage with artists like Shaggy and Santana, and performed classic covers, as well as his own material.

His conscious lyrics make him a fitting headliner for the Justice Ball: He composed "Nothing Is Worth Losing You," a paean to Jerusalem, with his rabbi, and insists that "people nowadays are eager for something real, something spiritual in their music." As he sings in "Check Yourself," a track from his soon-to-be-released album, "All Roads," "I’ve got a voice, but what is it worth if it fills the world with empty words?"

For more information on the Justice Ball, call (323) 656-9069. — Baz Dreisinger, Contributing Writer

Strike Up the Klezmer


This is not your grandmother’s halftime show. Unless of course, Grandma grew up in a kibbutz or shtetl with a 145-piece marching band in residence.

Santa Monica High School’s Viking Marching Band and Color Guard performs at halftime during the school football team’s home games. Band members from the school, which is familiarly known as Samohi, also travel en masse to field competitions throughout Southern California.

Under the direction of Terry Sakow, past Samohi field shows have been built around tunes from Broadway shows like "Phantom of the Opera" and from the classical music repertoire. For the just-concluded 2001 season, the band stepped outside the norm to present "Shirim" (the Hebrew word for "songs"), a field show dedicated to Israeli and klezmer music.

Assistant director of bands Carl Hammer, the product of a Mormon upbringing, took charge of arranging such familiar Jewish numbers as "Zemer Atik," "Hava Nagila," and "Jerusalem of Gold" for the marching band.

Among the musicians, Matt Leonard — who happens to be Jewish — has won special acclaim for his schmaltzy solo clarinet work. But the Samohi band, which prides itself on its ethnic diversity, attracts members from a multitude of backgrounds. At the last competition of 2001, Muslim band members performed while fasting because of the onset of Ramadan.

Judges have strongly praised the Samohi show for the originality of its concept. Band members have walked off with numerous honors, including a Grand Champion Sweepstakes trophy. The reaction from Samohi students and parents has been equally positive. Doug Campbell, a Christian parent of a band member, relates, "Klezmer music is not something I’d heard before. It’s a very pleasant sound. I’m thinking of buying a recording."

Ari Rosmarin, a featured clarinetist, says the show’s high point always comes when the musicians, along with a color guard waving blue-and-white banners, arrange themselves in a Star of David formation. The star, Rosmarin says, "usually gets applause … even in Orange County." Rosmarin is hardly inclined to see the applause as a manifestation of the onlookers’ Jewish pride. "I think it’s a recognizable shape, and they appreciate that."

7 Days In Arts


11/Saturday

Middle-aged, mild-mannered Barney Cashman craves excitement in the form of an extramarital affair. Neil Simon’s “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” follows this bumbling protagonist as he attempts to seduce three women, including his wife’s best friend, in his mother’s apartment. $18 (general admission); $15 (industry guild members); $12 (students and seniors). Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. Through Sept. 2. Knightsbridge Theatre, 35 S. Raymond Blvd., Old Town, Pasadena. For reservations or more information, call (626) 440-0821.

12/Sunday

On Aug. 12, 1952, Stalin ordered the execution of 24 prominent Yiddish writers and intellectuals in Moscow’s Lubyanka Prison. Today, a program titled “Remembering the Enduring Legacy of Soviet Yiddish Writers” commemorates the notable works of 14 writers who perished that day. Poetry in English and Yiddish will be read, accompanied by the Lomir Ale Zinger Chorus and conducted by Ruth Judkowitz. Light refreshments will be served. Free admission. 2 p.m. Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 552-2007.

13/Monday

Tonight, Galerie Yoramgil debuts “From the Treasure Chest III,” a group exhibition featuring new acquisitions from more than 25 of the gallery’s artists. David Aronson, the Lithuanian-born son of a rabbi and founder of Boston University’s School of Art, draws inspiration from his Jewish heritage; Dalit Tayar, a compulsive sculptor who specializes in bronze casting, studied art in Los Angeles and now lives and works in Israel; Israeli multimedia artist Uri Dushi draws from the clutter of urban culture; while Moti Cohen’s sculptures and paintings depict characters from the Talmud and kabbalah. Mon., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; and Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Through Sept. 5. 319 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 275-8130.

14/Tuesday

This “Sleeping With the Enemy” doesn’t star “America’s Sweethearts” star Julia Roberts; rather, it documents the struggle to find compromise between Israelis and Palestinians. The PBS-sponsored documentary focuses on 20 leaders from each side who attended a summit in Tokyo, held last year by the Japanese government. Far from the war zone, the group discovers ways to respect and understand each other. The newfound friendship between Benny, an Israeli police officer and Adnan, a Palestinian activist, exhibits the extent of the peace agreement between the representatives from each country. 9:45 p.m.-11 p.m. KCET (Check local listings for channel).

15/Wednesday

Dani fears letting go of her wild-and-crazy secular past when her husband-to-be converts to Judaism in “The Move,” a play written and performed by Dani Klein. As his religious observance becomes increasingly zealous, she finds herself swearing off shrimp, buying challah and lighting candles on Shabbat. The trouble is, she likes it. $15 (general admission). Tuesdays and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Through Sept. 12. Stages Theatre Center, 1540 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. For reservations or more information, call (323) 465-1010.

16/Thursday

The August Sunset Concert Series continues tonight with The California Guitar Trio, accompanied by bassist Tony Levin, performing a combination of jazz, country, blues and surf music, and blending such works as Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” and Dick Dale’s “Miserlou.” The band’s members include rock guitarist Paul Richards, classical guitarist Bert Lam and surf guitarist Hideyo Moriya. $5 (parking). 7:30 p.m. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-4500.

17/Friday

Diane Keaton originally played the odd ESL teacher in the 1976 Israel Horovitz comedy “The Primary English Class.” Now Dana Rosenbaum is trying to teach English to five recent immigrants as she takes on the role with the L.A. Jewish Theatre. $18 (general admission); $16 (students and seniors). Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. Through Sep. 9. The A! Theatre, 1528 Gordon St., Hollywood. For reservations or more information, call (310) 967-1352.

Wagner Soap Opera


It was meant to be the "not Wagner" concert: Daniel Barenboim, the pride of Israeli music-lovers, conducting his Berlin orchestra, the Staatskapelle, on the last night of this year’s Israel Festival. Little did we know.

The festival had originally announced that the orchestra would appear with Placido Domingo and play extracts from "Die Walkurie." The very idea was denounced by Holocaust survivors and other Israelis who have not forgiven Wagner, known as Hitler’s favorite composer, for being a notorious (and well-documented) Jew-hater.

Israeli MPs beseeched the festival organizers to think again; so did Minister of Culture Matan Vilnai. He didn’t want to limit artistic freedom, you understand, but this was, after all, the Israel Festival, a state occasion. Barenboim, who launched his musical career as a child prodigy in Tel Aviv, got the message. Under protest, he agreed to change the program.

So, on Saturday night in the Jerusalem International Convention Center, 2,000 of us sat down to a rich, disciplined performance of Schumann’s "Fourth Symphony" by one of the world’s great orchestras, followed by an exuberant concert version of Stravinsky’s "Rite of Spring." When the Diaghilev ballet premiered the "Rite" in Paris in 1914, the audience went wild, some in anger, some in frenzy. The unshockable Israelis took it in their collective stride.

The drama came later. It was planned and choreographed. Barenboim, who has been trying to break the unofficial Israeli taboo on Wagner for years, manipulated the audience the way he manipulates an orchestra. He knew exactly what he wanted. He worked, subtly but firmly, to achieve it.

Israeli concertgoers expect encores. Barenboim gave us one, Tchaikovsky’s "Waltz of the Flowers." It was familiar and soothing after the pagan brass and percussion of the Stravinsky. We were relaxed, enjoying ourselves, and ready for more.

Then, after the applause died down, Barenboim turned to the audience. Speaking quietly, in Hebrew, without a microphone, he said he was talking to us man-to-man (and -woman). He reminded us why he had canceled the Wagner. But now, he went on, the official concert was over. If we really wanted to hear Wagner, they would play it as his "personal encore." Nothing to do with the festival, nothing to do with the orchestra. If not, the musicians would pack up and go home without a fuss.

The vast majority of the audience applauded enthusiastically. Yes, please, maestro. A handful walked out, perhaps in silent protest, perhaps because they had to relieve the baby-sitter (it was after 11). Half a dozen objected. "It’s a disgrace!" the widow of an eminent rabbi shouted. "It’s the music of the concentration camps!" an elderly man bellowed. Others yelled back: "If you don’t want to hear it, go home! You’ve had your money’s worth."

The dialogue continued for half an hour. Barenboim never raised his voice. At one point, the conductor invited a persistent heckler to come onstage and "discuss this like cultured people." The man, 40-something in a white shirt and small black kippah, declined and went on shouting. Another protested in English. "Shut up," someone retorted.

One man did go forward, faced the audience and said: "I was against playing Wagner in the festival, but now I’ve heard the maestro, and I understand that he’s talking about playing outside the state event. Now I’m in favor." More applause.

A man sitting in front of me took out his mobile phone, and I heard him say, "You’d better send a crew straight away." I thought he was a television executive, but he turned out to be an off-duty police superintendent. "I told them to send reinforcements, in case hooligans attack him," he told me later. Happily, it wasn’t necessary.

Finally, Barenboim signaled the orchestra and waited, baton poised, for silence. As they began to play a love song from "Tristan und Isolde," fewer than a dozen objectors walked out, slamming doors and stamping feet.

The rest of us sat enthralled through 10 minutes of wrenching, lyrical tenderness, the antithesis of the Teutonic bombast that turns some Jews (and not only Jews) off Wagner. You could hardly hear anyone breathe, let alone cough.

At the end, the audience gave Barenboim and the Staatskapelle a standing ovation. A middle-aged woman in a long, pastel-pale dress plucked a rose from a window box at the edge of the stage and presented it to the conductor. Barenboim accepted it with tears in his eyes.

This wasn’t the first time Wagner has been played in Israel. A provincial orchestra in Rishon Letzion broke the 50-year barrier a few months ago. But this was Jerusalem, the Israel Festival (disclaimers notwithstanding). It was Daniel Barenboim, a Jewish Israeli cultural icon, and a German ensemble that was the court orchestra of Prussian emperors and East German commissars. Can "The Ring" be far behind?

It’s Shuki’s World and We Just Live In It…


As he breezes into a Melrose trattoria, the international man of mystery known as Shuki could be mistaken for any other player in town — cell phone in hand, expensive suit, hardball negotiator demeanor — were it not for the long shock of Gene Simmons rock star hair tied back in a tail that betrays his youth.

Only 29, the Paris-raised Shuki Amar (who goes only by his first name) is the CEO of Shuki International, a multifaceted mini-empire that includes limousine services, private jets and luxury car rentals, tour buses, billboard space, and yes — kid you not — original hair care products. In other words, an amalgamation of all of Shuki’s business pursuits since arriving in Los Angeles from Tel Aviv in 1986.

But on this particularly day, Shuki is not interested in talking about his past accomplishments. For he is already looking ahead to May 3, the evening that Shuki International will present the 52nd Anniversary Israel Independence Day Extravaganza, a celebration of Israeli life and culture taking place at the Hollywood Palladium on Wednesday.

Dedicated to the late Israeli pop star Ofra Haza, the musical tribute will feature dancing, music and a slew of Israeli recording artists: Eyal Golan, Sarit Haddad, and host Pini Cohen. Also slated to attend is Rep. Brad Sherman (who, presumably, will not sing).

“She represented Israel and supported us,” Shuki tells The Journal of Haza, whose music he grew up listening to. The mono-monikered entrepreneur emphasizes in several different ways that “unity of Israelis, in America, in the world” is the true theme of his upcoming event.

Shuki promises an event that will make Jews feel connected: “”You will feel like you’re in Jerusalem, like you’re in a place where the spirit is clean.”

But in the material sense, the Palladium party is the culmination of Shuki’s latest interest in event planning — for the last year, the enterprising young businessman has been dabbling in the dance club scene in the Miracle Mile district, under the banner of Bar Shuki. For Wednesday’s event, the hyperbolic Israeli says that he has hired the best sound people and security personnel available, and that gift bags containing CDs, a cell phone, and a pager will be handed out to every one of the 5,000 attendees expected to show.

At the eatery, Shuki doesn’t order lunch, and it quickly becomes apparent why — within 10 minutes, he is juggling seven cell phone calls that would no doubt wreak havoc on a digestive system. But between heated telephone business conferences, he does manage to shed some insight, however redundant, on a day in the life of Shuki: “As soon as I wake up, the machine is rolling. Every day is a busy day.”

The 52nd Anniversary Israel Independence Day Extravaganza will take place on Wed., May 3, at the Hollywood Palladium, Hollywood. Tickets may be purchased at the Palladium box office or by calling 877-GO-SHUKI. A sold-out VIP after-party will take place at Bar Shuki, Shalom Hunan Restaurant, 5651 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information on Shuki International, go to www.shukiinternational.com.

Soulful Sounds


The sounds of heaven and earth merge when David De’or and Shlomo Bar, two internationally acclaimed Israeli artists, combine their musical talents.

De’or captivates his listeners with an astounding vocal range that covers 3 1/2 octaves. His voice, which plunges to the depths of a rich baritone only to ascend to the celestial melody of a contra-tenor, has captured the attention of music critics, the media and state leaders the world over, including the Vatican, the Italian press, the King and Queen of Sweden, various symphony orchestras and the Library of Congress — where he will perform on Oct. 22 together with Bar and his band, Habrera Hativ’it (Natural Band).

Bar lends a different yet complimentary musical flavor to De’or’s signature sounds. Influenced by the Sephardic and Middle Eastern musical heritage, Bar and his band create earthy and ethnic rhythms by combining Eastern and Western instruments such as the conga, bongo, tambura (a classical Indian string instrument) and flute. Bar weaves within the music, lyrics taken from a variety of sources such as the Bible, Israeli poets and hymns from Spain’s golden age.

De’or and Bar offer more than just technical mastery of their musical genres. Their performances evoke a sense of prayer, soul and expression that stir the heart. Audiences who do know Hebrew understand the importance of the lyrics by watching and hearing the artists’ soulful expressions.

De’or and Bar, who have also performed and produced albums individually, will tour the United States this October and November. They will perform at the University of Judaism’s Gindi Auditorium on Nov. 1. For more information and tickets, contact Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble, the tour’s producer, at (818) 784-0344.

Philosophers and Fools


Above, Suheil Hadad (left) and Muhamed Bakri (right) in “TheMilky Way”; Below, Arik Sharon in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda.

Features

‘The Milky Way’

This earthy, lyrical film by writer-director Ali Nassar is easilyone of the festival’s brightest highlights. Fresh, impassionedperformances and a solid script are enhanced by painterly, almostfable-like images. For the lilting, lovely score, Nahum Haiman’soriginal music is interwoven with traditional Arabic melodies. “TheMilky Way” reinforces some of the best reasons to go to “foreign”films. We’re drawn into an unfamiliar and fascinating world where weend up recognizing large parts of ourselves.

The year is 1964. The setting is an Arab village in the Galileeduring the last year of military rule. There, on rocky, sunlithillsides dotted with goats, and in modest, candlelit rooms, work,love and social ritual coexist with deep unhealed wounds — a legacyfrom the war in 1948, when many of the villagers fled or were killedin the fields where they stood.

Those left behind are a diverse bunch: There’s the opportunisticvillage mukhtar and his brutish, hotheaded son. The film’staciturn hero is a metalsmith named Mahmoud (Muhammed Bakri –chiseled and compelling as always), who shares a tender friendshipwith Mabruq, the town’s tragicomic fool. As the childlike Mabruq,actor Suheil Haddad is incapable of duplicity, and he wears theentire village’s emotional landscape on his rubbery, expressive face.

The central narrative is a neatly developed story about whatensues after the area’s Israeli military command discovers one of thevillagers has been issuing forged work permits. But linear plotsummaries don’t do justice to what filmmaker Nassar has achievedhere. “The Milky Way” is a richly knowing portrait of a worldbrimming with bawdy humor, petty cruelty, derailed dreams and smallsensual pleasures.

The rangy and reserved Mahmoud pokes his head flirtatiouslythrough the classroom window of the village schoolteacher, chidingher for the politically utopian songs she passes along to her youngstudents. Mabruq and a gaggle of boys play raucous games that reflectthe everyday reality of the adults — including the staging of akangaroo trial in which Mabruq, wearing a tattered, makeshiftmilitary uniform and holding one boy by the scruff of the neck, askshis court with mock outrage, “How did this dirty Arab threaten statesecurity?” “He pissed without a permit!” a boy shouts back amid awave of wild giggles.

Several times in the film, Mabruq shares tenderly romantic lookswith the orphaned Jamila, another badly damaged innocent herecognizes as a kindred spirit. The two are emblematic of life inthis village, where brutal realism and impossible poetry are intimateneighbors.

(Screens at the Music Hall on Nov. 9, 13, 15, 16 and 19, and atthe Writers Guild on Nov. 6.)

Documentaries

‘How I Learned to Overcome My Fear and Love Arik Sharon’

Is there a festival award for best title? The ostensible subjectof this video documentary is that (in)famous lightning rod, armygeneral-turned-pol Ariel Sharon. Director-editor-producer Avi Mograbidoggedly follows the rotund ex-general down the Likud campaign trailduring that volatile period between Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination andBinyamin Netanyahu’s election victory.

But as the playful title intimates, the movie is less about Sharonhimself than the place he occupies in the lives of Mograbi and otherdisaffected leftists like him. Mograbi’s eventual “love” for hissubject is, of course, a tongue-in-cheek falsehood. “Arik Sharon,”the filmmaker tells us at the outset, “is the only politician whosedoings, so I felt, had a direct effect over my life. And it wasscary.” Mograbi (who served jail time rather than serve during theLebanon War) proceeds to elaborate on the nature of his lifelongobsession with Sharon and the emotional havoc it has caused him.

It’s a funny, faux confessional delivered gloweringly into thecamera. Mograbi’s lumpy, affable face and bushy eyebrows are apicture of comic intensity as he relates how his childhood heroworship of the daring combat veteran gradually mutated into a fearand loathing that peaked with the bloody episode that occurred at theLebanese refugee camps Sabra and Shatila under Sharon’s indirectwatch. Mograbi’s documentary is film-as-therapy: He hopes to conquerhis complex obsession with the charismatic, seemingly likable manbehind the left-wing’s ongoing nightmare.

His initial failed attempts to gain access to Sharon are funny andtelling. They recall American provocateur Michael Moore’scat-and-mouse battle of wits with the head of General Motors in hisown satiric documentary, “Roger and Me.” Unfortunately, the parallelsend there. Although Mograbi’s resourcefulness and persistenceeventually gain him a limited kind of access to his cagey, powerfulsubject, unlike the brasher Moore, he’s not as certain of what to doonce he gets it. This proves to be the film’s undoing. Sharon’sentourage embraces Mograbi as one of them, and we see that theirdevotion to their leader is simultaneously discomfiting and touching.As for the fox-like Sharon (who repeatedly tells the filmmaker toshut down the cameras when he wants to eat), he tolerates Mograbiwith a wary affability when he’s not handily dismissing him as aminor logistical annoyance.

Mograbi may not love Sharon after all, but the bigger, unintendedirony is that he hasn’t overcome his paralyzing fear of him either.

(Screens at the Music Hall on Nov. 8, 13, 15 and 18.)

‘Jenny & Jenny’

Seventeen-year-old cousins Jenny Suissa and Jenny Guetta are bestfriends. They’re also cousins — third-generation North African Jewsgrowing up in the crowded, working-class seaside town of Bat Yam.Both are resolutely bored with high school, charmed by theirprovincial grandmother, exhilarated about boys and mightily alienatedfrom their blunt fathers. With empathy and insight, filmmaker MichalAviad tracks the two as they drift through their lives during thatseminal summer between girlhood and womanhood. The end result is adecidedly unslick video documentary that captures the way growing upfemale is done in this time and place.

This sort of material could easily end up a predictable fugueabout teen angst, sort of a low-budget version of MTV’s “Real World.”But Aviad avoids superficiality. Simple and complex truths emerge ontheir own, recalling the spirit of “Hoop Dreams” and — with itscinéma vérité scenes of domestic conflict– the raw candor of “An American Family.”

Ultimately, this is a very Israeli story. There’s poignancy inwatching these girls negotiate a blue-collar Middle Eastern worldrife with contradictions. Their cultural milieu is steeped inSephardic folkways and saturated with pop Western images. Theirparents invoke tradition but are confused about their ownincreasingly ineffectual familial roles. Religion as a spiritualresource is absent. Despite the Jennys’ penchant for sexy,midriff-baring tops, late-night club-hopping and enough finger andear jewelry to short-circuit a metal detector, their aspirations aresolidly retro: marry young, have kids, fade to black.

At times, their naiveté is painful to watch. Jenny Guetta’splan for the future pretty much consists of escaping from herdomineering father’s house into a husband’s. Her marriage celebrationwill have to be large and lavish, she says, because “if we have anunforgettable wedding, that will make sure we never stop loving eachother.”

It’s her smarter cousin, Jenny Suissa, who expresses a restlesshum of discontent. Her tentative, heartfelt search for the meaning oflife beyond Bat Yam’s figurative parameters provides this film withits best moments. To make that journey, she’ll need extraordinarycourage and imagination. During filming, her father abandoned thefamily for a new life in Las Vegas. Her older female relatives areloving, but of another era. Her swa
ggering male classmates (“My idealspouse? A virgin, a good girl who knows her place,” says one) areunlikely sources of salvation. This Jenny is poised uncertainly onthe brink of self-discovery. How it will all turn out for her is aquestion we’ve come to care about by film’s end.

(Screens at the Music Hall on Nov. 8, 12, 15 and 18.)

Family Business


Seated, the late Max Laemmle, founder of the theater chain, with son Robert, left, and grandson Greg.

Back in the heyday of the self-made Jewish movie moguls, the studios were, to a certain degree, family businesses. For Louis B. Mayer, Jack and Harry Warner, and others, nepotism was standard operating procedure, a way to protectively surround themselves with their own kind and to lend a hand to relatives and friends who otherwise may have had a rockier time of it, particularly during the Depression.

Nepotism reached unprecedented heights at Universal Pictures, which was founded in 1915 by Carl Laemmle, an affable and unpretentious German-Jewish immigrant. According to author Neal Gabler’s “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” Laemmle at one time had more than 70 friends and relatives on the studio payroll. It was a source of amusement within the industry, prompting Jack Warner to quip that Laemmle “was making the world safe for nephews.”

In retrospect, contemporary Los Angeles filmgoers have “Uncle Carl” and his unabashed nepotism to thank for the eventual creation of a lively, eclectic chain of movie theaters.

Two years after the family’s ties to the studio were severed during a 1936 corporate reorganization, Max Laemmle, a nephew who had been an able Universal executive under the elderly Laemmle, co-founded the Laemmle Theatre chain with his brother, Kurt. Today, almost 60 years later, Max’s son, Robert, and grandson, Greg, run the family business as president and vice president, respectively.

Laemmle movie houses — there are eight locations in all — dot the Los Angeles landscape, from Pasadena to the grand Royal in West Los Angeles. On any given weekend, the chain screens a smart and interesting mix of mainstream hits, independent art films, festivals and retrospectives. Foreign-film showcases, revival screenings and campier themes, such as a recent series centered around noir-ish femme fatales, are Laemmle mainstays.

Last week’s movie listings are a case in point. Along with commercial flicks such as “Volcano,” “Father’s Day,” “Breakdown” and Bruce Willis’ new sci-fi epic, “The Fifth Element,” Laemmles also screened “Gray’s Anatomy,” “Das Boot,” “Ridicule,” “Pink Flamingos” and “I Was a Jewish Sex Worker.” As a result, the chain attracts a diverse audience — from the popcorn-munching masses to the culture vultures and film-school wonks who patronize such nonprofit venues as UCLA’s Melnitz Theater, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Bing Theater.

To a great degree, the bigger, slicker pictures at the chain’s multiple screen houses pay for the more marginal movies, including titles of Jewish interest such as “Carpati” and “Anne Frank Remembered.”

“In some respects, the special series that we do exist because of the multiplex phenomenon,” said Greg Laemmle, during a recent interview. “We couldn’t do this kind of programming without them.”

Greg Laemmle’s latest project is the Jewish Cinema Series, which begins on Friday, May 23, and runs through June 26. He also programs the company’s wintertime Cinema Judaica festival. Partly because of those efforts, the theater chain has become an important part of the local Jewish cultural landscape.

For Laemmle, a thirtysomething graduate of UC Berkeley and a onetime administrator at Brandeis-Bardin, it’s a role that he particularly enjoys.

“It was a lot of fun putting [the Jewish Cinema Series] together,” he said. “I remember being taken as a child to see ‘Hester Street’ and ‘Lies My Father Told Me.’ Movies aren’t the same as going to day school or to synagogue, but Jewish film is a fun, recognizable experience. You see your experiences documented up on the screen, and it puts them in a context.”

The series opens with “Like a Bride,” a Mexican production that chronicles the coming-of-age of two Jewish girls in 1960s Mexico City: One is from a traditional, marriage-minded family of Turkish-Jewish immigrants in the garment business. Her friend is the daughter of intellectual Eastern European Holocaust refugees.

“Saint Clara,” an offbeat Israeli-Czech production, follows with a one-week run, beginning on May 30. Opening on June 6 is the memorable klezmer documentary “A Tickle in the Heart,” the story of the “rediscovered” Epstein brothers. Interestingly, it was jointly produced by the German government and a Brooklyn yeshiva.

While all three films have made the rounds of the festival circuit — including previous stops in Los Angeles — they merit a second look.

A scene from “Mamele.”

Also getting some much-needed exposure are the 23 films from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s that constitute the “Yiddish Film Festival,” the final portion of the Laemmle series. These films first premièred as a major retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1991, before traveling to the Soviet Union, Europe and other American cities. They were restored and presented at MOMA by Brandeis University’s National Center for Jewish Film, which is co-presenting their Los Angeles première on June 14.

Several Yiddish actors featured in the series are tentatively scheduled to attend local screenings. For older moviegoers, titles such as “Mamele,” “The Light Ahead,” “Without a Home” and “Yiddle With a Fiddle” may bring back a welcome rush of half-remembered sounds and images. For the rest of us, they represent a rare chance to see up on the screen an earthy, witty and vital world that mostly vanished with the Holocaust.

As for the current state of “Jewish film,” Greg Laemmle finds the field of American independent features to be a bit discouraging.

“Jewish cinema may be all over the place in terms of directorial style, language, etc., but what the films have in common is that they address the Jewish experience,” he said. “The next question, of course, is quality. Unfortunately, I see a lot of stuff that may address Jewish content but doesn’t deserve to be in the theater.”

Laemmle pointed to a dependence on schmaltzy clichés as one example. Superficial, juvenile treatment of subject matter is another.

“What I see mostly is angry and dealing in stereotypes — usually revolving around the bar mitzvah experience,” he said, with a laugh. “Documentaries, on the other hand, have been a rich field. In a sense, this is really a great age for cinema, in that anyone with a camera can make a film. I’ve seen such compelling, authentic stories about Jewish subjects…but, unfortunately, if it’s a documentary, the public still regards it as academic, educational — something that will be ‘good for them’ like eating vegetables.”

Laemmle, who is married and the father of young triplets, maintains that despite their iffy profitability, Jewish film festivals provide an important cultural contribution in an era of rapid assimilation.

“So far, I’ve gotten very positive feedback,” he said, “but we’ve only put this festival on for two years now, and these things grow very slowly…. We do this without any financial support from the Jewish community. We don’t go out and solicit grants and donations or anything like that. We’re prepared to do it and perhaps lose a little money. But audience attendance and support will justify this program. If people think this is worthwhile, they have to get up off their butts and go buy tickets.”

Uncle Carl couldn’t have said it better.

The Jewish Cinema Series runs from May 23 to June 26 at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theatre, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Some movies from the Yiddish Film Festival will also screen at the Laemmle Town Center 5 in Encino. For a festival schedule or other information, call (310) 274-6869.


Three Films to See

“Like a Bride” (“Novia Que Te Vea”)

Filmmaker Guita Schyfter presents us with a rich, sharply rendered portrait of Mexico City’s Jewish enclave during the 1960s with this quiet, coming-of-age movie, based on a novel by Rosa Nissan. Through her two female protagonists — Oshinica Mataroso (Claudette Maille) and Rifke Groman (Maya Mishalska) — Schyfter explores the tensions between a Jewish minority and a Catholic majority, tradition and modernity, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, and men and women.

Oshinica, the dark-eyed daughter of Turkish-Jewish immigrants, dreams of studying to become a painter, a notion that her wedding-minded family finds ridiculous. She is groomed for marriage from such an early age that she recalls cavorting in the gowns from her trousseau as a young girl. Her best friend, Rifke, a firebrand and the daughter of intellectual Holocaust refugees, finds her own Zionist identity rocked by a love affair with a handsome, non-Jewish political rebel, the son of a right-wing politician.

The struggles of both friends to define their place in the shifting sands of the 1960s defines the narrative of this freshly told wry tale, but it’s the larger emotional crosscurrents and visual details of Jewish Mexico City that Schyfter nails with affectionate relish. Oshinica’s father conducts his Luganilla market shmatte business with appropriate theatrics. The local Jewish youth group is flush with Spanish-accented kibbutz idealism. The older women set the tone at home during their sewing circles and canasta games.

The direction is sometimes plodding, and Maille, best known here for her role in “Like Water for Chocolate,” delivers a rather stolid performance, but “Like A Bride” is ultimately a treat — restrained, funny, moody and brimming with la vida.

English subtitles. Opens on May 23.

“Saint Clara”

A quirky blend of Israeli attitude and Czech surrealism, “Saint Clara” is set in the Golda Meir junior high school of a remote Israeli industrial town. The eponymous Clara, a Russian immigrant and a wide-eyed teen psychic, falls in with a group of scruffy, punkish classmates who suddenly begin acing their math tests with the aid of her clairvoyant powers.

The movie, directed by Ari Folman and Ori Sivan and based on a novel by Czech dissident Pavel Kohout, veers between amateurish stabs at realism and delightful forays into dark absurdity reminiscent of “Montenegro” or the films of Jim Jarmusch. Despite uneven performances and the self-conscious hipness, there are some things to like about “Saint Clara.” Well-known stage actor Yigal Naor’s portrayal of Headmaster Tissona, a pompous and passionate Francophile with lonely delusions of Edith Piaf, is a central highlight. His character deserves a movie of his own. Israel Damidov is also fine as Elvis, Clara’s tragicomic Russian uncle. And for moviegoers who still entertain images of Israeli youths as the straight-arrow, ballad-singing kibbutzniks of old travel posters, this film should give them a bit of a surprise.

English subtitles. Opens on May 30.

“A Tickle in the Heart”

The engaging title refers to the emotions evoked by Yiddish music, and, happily, it’s also an apt description for the overall effect wrought by this beautifully photographed documentary. It tells the story of Max (on clarinet), Willie (on trumpet) and Julius (on drums) Epstein, three brothers who began playing klezmer music 60 years ago, only to watch it die out from the vantage point of their retirement community in Florida. To their astonishment and delight, the music’s resurgent popularity among a new generation leads them back out on the road, playing to affectionate crowds in Germany, along with gigs in Poland, Brooklyn and Florida.

Along the way, director Stefan Schweitert captures poignant, revealing and funny visual details. With the buoyant, elderly Epstein brothers as his subject, Schweitert has created a love letter to klezmer music and its bittersweet history that is infused with sensitivity and good humor.

Opens on June 6. — Diane Arieff Zaga, Arts Editor