Austrian museum reaches settlement over Nazi-looted artwork


Vienna's Leopold Museum said on Thursday it had reached a settlement over five Nazi-looted works of art in its collection that will return two of them to the heir of their original Jewish owner, a victim of the Holocaust.

The five pieces, all by Austrian painter Egon Schiele, had been owned by Viennese businessman Karl Maylaender, who died after being deported to a labour camp during World War Two. The museum will return two watercolours, including a self-portrait of Schiele, to Mayhlaender's 95-year-old heiress.

The remaining three pieces will stay in the museum, which owns the world's largest Schiele collection.

“This is a happy day,” Austria's Culture Minister Josef Ostermayer said at a news conference. The long-running discussion had cast a shadow over the museum and now a “Solomonic solution” had been found, he said.

Under Adolf Hitler, the Nazis forced Jewish artists and collectors to sell or give away their works, and many pieces were confiscated outright. A law Austria introduced in 1998 directed that its museums return the looted art, and major works have been given back to descendants of the former owners.

However, the Leopold Museum – privately funded and therefore not obliged to follow the law – would have preferred to keep all five drawings. In 2011, it sold one Schiele painting so it could pay $19 million to the heirs of a Jewish art dealer and – as part of the deal – keep another painting.

The New York-based heiress with whom the museum reached Thursday's agreement, who officials connected with the case said preferred to remain anonymous, had turned down an offer of money and insisted on getting the artwork back.

The Austrian Jewish Community, which backed her, said the now-found agreement was a good solution. “I am happy that the heiress can still enjoy the drawings,” community representative Erika Jakubovits said.

Elisabeth Leopold, widow of museum's late founder, Rudolf Leopold, who bought the pieces in 1960 from a Maylaender friend, said: “I have made a huge sacrifice in memory of Karl Maylaender.”

Passing an art legacy on to the next generation


During the lengthy visits she would have with her great-uncle and great-aunt, David and Rivka Labkovski, at their home in South Africa, Leora Raikin — who was a young girl at the time — recalls these relatives being a bit eccentric.

David owned one pair of shoes, and Rivka — the sister of Raikin’s grandmother Zlata Spektor — had but two dresses. Husband and wife wanted herring with every meal, a carryover from the frugal ways they lived during the years they spent in a Siberian prison camp during the Holocaust. 

“He used to take my face in his hands and say, ‘Do you want to be smart or do you want to be pretty?’ and I would say, ‘Can’t I be both?’ ” Raikin said. “With Rivka, it was all about knowledge, intellectual ability and learning something new every day. She always wanted to know, ‘What have you learned today?’ ”

David Labkovski had been an artist in his native Vilna, Lithuania, and during eight years in a Siberian prison camp, where he served as a sketch and tattoo artist. After the war, he resumed his artistic career in Israel, where he lived in the artist colony of Safed from 1958 until his death in 1991.

Labkovski would sometimes give Raikin a painting or a sketch as a present. She always hoped the gift would be “one of the happy ones,” such as a picture of flowers. 

Not all of Labkovski’s work was so upbeat. 

His imagery covers a spectrum, from images of his homeland, including scenes of everyday life in Vilna and its Nazi occupation during the war and its destruction during the Holocaust. Labkovski returned to Vilna in 1946 and met with survivors, capturing their memories on canvas. He also produced a series of works portraying the characters of Sholem Aleichem.

Works spanning Labkovski’s career are represented in the exhibition “The Art and Life of David Labkovski,” on display at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) through June 14. The LAMOTH exhibition marks the first time a comprehensive collection of Labkovski’s work will be seen in the United States. His family regained possession of the collection nearly three years ago, after a lengthy court dispute in Israel over ownership of the works. 

During his lifetime, Labkovski’s views on the placement of his art were as complex and conflicted as the man himself. He wanted the work seen in the Diaspora, but only when the viewers — particularly the next generation — were ready for it. He refused to sell his work, and, after a 1959 exhibition of his work in Israel, he and Rivka concluded that the time was not right, according to Raikin. 

“The audiences in Israel were not ready to confront the horrors of the Holocaust. It was an Old World thing — they wanted to move forward,” Raikin said. “David and Rivka had this absolute belief that one day a generation will come along that will appreciate this life that was lost, the enormity of it.”

According to Raikin, after the deaths of her great-aunt and great-uncle, the artwork was left to the city of Safed. A small museum was badly maintained and eventually fell into disarray, and the art eventually fell under court conservatorship, Raikin said. By the time the court case was settled and the art came to Raikin’s mother and her siblings, more than 20 years had passed. 

An artist herself, Raikin wanted the work to be seen, and she found people of like minds in Connie Marco and Lisa Lainer-Fagan, both of whom are parents of students at New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) in West Hills. Marco, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, also volunteered at LAMOTH and worked closely with the museum’s executive director, Samara Hutman. 

Hutman studied the Labkovski collection — the haunting self-portraits, the vibrant depictions of market scenes and shtetl life — and immediately knew that she would put the paintings on display. 

“There was something incredibly prescient in the mind of the artist,” Hutman said, “to sort of hold his body of work together to keep the integrity of the collection and of the vision and to save it for when the time is right.

“The work is magnificent, and I think there’s something in really incredible alignment for us to exhibit this work,” she added. “It has a lot of symmetry with the narrative of the museum. It is all about finding these little shards and remnants of a world that was blown apart by the Holocaust, and now we’re all in this work of recovery and excavation and redignification.” 

The more people who saw Labkovski’s work and heard Raikin’s story, the more his great-niece was encouraged to get the art displayed, and the more the circle of support grew. A smaller version of the exhibition had an initial stop at the school, where a group of art students co-curated the exhibition under the guidance of art instructor Benny Ferdman.

Labkovski’s work resonated not only with the art students, but with a spectrum of departments across the NCJHS campus. In addition to the eight co-curators — who argued and debated which works should be included — two film students are assembling a documentary about the Labkovski experience. Students have written poetry that accompanies the work at the school and at LAMOTH, and a student sang a song in Yiddish about Vilna at the openings.

This was the first time such a cross-department art display had come together at the school, said Ferdman, arts director and artist-in-residence at NCJHS.

“When you look at an artist’s work over time and place, that kind of turns the work into an artifact as well,” Ferdman said. “Beyond its aesthetic value, it becomes the witness to a time and place. It was like a little time machine from the past coming to us now.”  

Wherever the journey next takes Labkovski’s art after LAMOTH, Raikin feels that by passing through young hands, the work has found its place again.

“I think we all feel it’s our responsibility to make sure this next generation cares,” Raikin said. “That the [NCJHS] students were so involved and vested, that superseded any dream I possibly could have had. It would have made David and Rivka so, so happy to have seen these students so interested. I can walk away and say I feel safe. I feel that these kids get it. They can pass it on.” 

For more information on “The Art and Life of David Labkovski,” visit lamoth.org.

Nazi-looted trove contains lost works by Matisse, Dix


Previously unknown paintings by Henri Matisse and Otto Dix are among a vast trove of Nazi-looted art found in a Munich apartment that includes works by some of Europe's most celebrated artists, German experts said on Tuesday.

Customs investigators seized the 1,400 art works, dating from the 16th century to the modern period and by artists such as Canaletto, Courbet, Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec, last year, an official said.

They had remained silent until now not because of any “improper intentions”, they added, but because they had chanced upon the art during a tax evasion probe, which compels secrecy.

While experts consider the works to be of huge artistic value, the task of returning them to their rightful owners could take many years and poses a huge legal and moral problem for German authorities.

The haul, found in the flat of Cornelius Gurlitt, the reclusive son of a war-time art dealer, is one of the most significant discoveries of works seized by the Nazi regime. It could be worth more than 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion), according to a German magazine, although officials declined to comment.

Gurlitt, who occasionally sold paintings to support himself, has since vanished.

The paintings, which were found in generally good condition, are being stored in an undisclosed location and no list will be published – something that has been criticised by those seeking to recover lost art. The decision may be intended to deter false claims that would distract expert investigations.

“When you stand in front of works that were long considered lost, missing or destroyed, and you see them again, in a relatively good condition – a little bit dirty but not damaged – it's an incredible feeling of happiness,” said Meike Hoffmann, an art expert from Berlin's Free University who has been assessing the find.

Hoffmann said that among the previously unknown paintings was a self-portrait by Dix, in impeccable condition, and probably painted around 1919.

A similarly unknown Matisse painting, of a seated female figure that he had painted several times, probably dated from the mid 1920s and was confiscated in 1942. There was also a work by Marc Chagall not previously known.

Slides of the works were shown during a news conference, including the Matisse and a group of horses by German expressionist Franz Marc.

SYSTEMATIC PLUNDER

The Nazis systematically plundered hundreds of thousands of art works from museums and individuals across Europe. Thousands of works are still missing.

Investigators made the spectacular find after Gurlitt, believed to be in his seventies, aroused their suspicions as he travelled by train between Zurich and Munich, with a large sum of cash, according to German media.

Jewish groups have urged that the origins of the art works be researched as quickly as possible, so that, if looted or extorted, they can be returned to their original owners.

For some families missing art constitutes the last personal effects of relatives murdered during the Holocaust.

“Had this discovery been made public at the time it was made, families looking for their lost art would have been able to potentially identify works within this collection,” said Julius Berman, Chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

“Publicizing the existence of Nazi-looted art is essential to the process of finding heirs,” he added.

The group cited an agreement struck in Washington in 1998, where 44 governments endorsed a set of principles for dealing with Nazi-looted art, including that every effort should be made to publicise it.

Besides paintings the haul included a large number of drawings and pastels on paper.

“We were able to confiscate 121 framed art works and 1,285 non-framed works, including some famous masterpieces,” Nemetz said. “We had concrete clues that we were dealing with so-called 'degenerate art', or so-called looted art.”

NAZIS' DEALER

Cornelius's father Hildebrand Gurlitt was, from 1920, a specialist collector of the modern art of the early 20th century that the Nazis branded as un-German or “degenerate” and removed from show in state museums, or displayed simply to be mocked.

Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels recruited Gurlitt to sell the “degenerate art” abroad to try to earn cash for the state. Gurlitt bought some for himself and also independently bought art from desperate Jewish dealers forced to sell.

Investigators said the collection comprises works which are clearly from the Nazi regime's state-owned collection of “degenerate art”. Others, which may have had several owners or may have been extorted from owners fearing Nazi persecution, will need extensive research.

Jonathan Petropoulos, a history professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California, and author of “The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany”, said: “Hildebrand Gurlitt became a dealer for Hitler and went to the Nazi art-looting headquarters in Paris where he presumably got a lot of works.”

Gurlitt, who fled to the West after the war, claimed he had lost all his art and papers in the bombing of Dresden. “Obviously that was a lie,” Petropoulos added.

Germany has faced criticism that the restitution process is too complicated and lacks sufficient funding.

Restitution groups and lawyers have often criticised state and museum authorities for not doing enough to research works' origins themselves and instead leaving the onus on relatives.

Art without hate: Established, emerging artists join Anti-Defamation League for L.A. ‘ArtWorks’ gala


Artistic inspiration doesn’t traditionally come from a place of absence. Still, the nearly 50 artists donating works as part of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) centenary anniversary campaign are having no difficulty creating out of a concept centered around the word “without.”

Of course, the subject of “ArtWorks ADL: Justice, Advocacy & Art” is anything but a void. The centenary theme “Imagine a World Without Hate” opens a universe of creative possibilities, as a number of the participating artists will attest.

“I’m very interested in projects that look at diversity and human rights themes, as well,” Kenturah Davis said. “It all came about very organically.”

“When I came to Los Angeles as a teenager, I didn’t understand what freedom was,” added Zhenya Gershman, who was born in Russia. “For me, the subject of a world without hate, a world where differences are celebrated, is my life’s mission in a way.”

Davis and Gershman — both painters — are joining a lineup of sculptors, photographers, muralists and mixed-media artists whose work will be briefly displayed and then auctioned off at the ArtWorks gala to be held Sept. 17 at the home of collectors Jeanne and Tony Pritzker. All proceeds will benefit the ADL. Philanthropist and art collector Eli Broad is the evening’s honorary chair. 

The participating artists are of all genders, ages, faiths and religions, united only by their ties to the Los Angeles community and by the theme. However, coordinating this many people — this much creative spirit — for a single night and in the interest of a single goal, has been a logistical feat, according to event curator Caspar Martin.

“It has been a yearlong process,” said Martin, director of Hinge Modern, a gallery in Culver City. “Artists have different speeds at which they work and very different work habits. It can be very complicated. The art world is a global business, but the criteria of having everyone be represented by a gallery in Los Angeles helped focus it a little bit. Once we came up with our list, everyone we approached agreed to participates, which was wonderful and which made it a lot easier.”

L.A. ArtWorks follows the inaugural campaign that took place in New York in June, although according to Martin and Diane Lazar, ADL director of major gifts, the Los Angeles effort is “more of a major donor event” than its East Coast predecessor. “We’ve sort of super-sized it,” Lazar said. “We wanted a range of both established artists and emerging artists.”

To that end, works include everything from the bright patchwork sunflower adorning the campaign’s street banners created by David Cooley to the pop style of Gary Baseman (subject of a recent Skirball Cultural Center exhibition) to Lily, the superhero of the mural created by the German graffiti artists known as Herakut. 

Some of the artists donated already existing works that fit the theme. Others made new works. 

“Most of them came up with something great, and very quickly,” Martin said. “That really speaks to the mission of the ADL. The theme this year is something that really speaks strongly to a lot of artists. A lot of them have come from backgrounds where they have had to struggle. Many are not socially gregarious people and they struggle with a sense of being outsiders. So they usually have a very interesting perspective on ‘Imagine a World Without Hate.’ ” 

“Mis-shapen Chaos From Well Meaning Forms” by Craig Skibbs Barker.

Gershman is a prime example. As a little girl in Moscow, Gershman remembers receiving a Star of David to wear around her neck and then immediately being told “but you can’t wear it outside. You have to tuck it into your clothes.” Several years later, as a teenager newly arrived in West Los Angeles, she looked up at one of the central buildings at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and saw that same Star of David blazing proudly.

“My immediate realization was that we had made a journey from a place where you had to hide to a place where you can celebrate your identity,” Gershman said. 

The painting she has donated to the ADL campaign, “Pervoie Sentebria,” was inspired by an old family photograph. For it, Gershman draws on her experience as a young child who felt like an outsider on her first day of school. Preparing to leave the safety of her family and move into an uncertain world, the girl stands awkwardly and fidgeting, on the side of the image. 

“I’m holding on to my dress looking out into the world, where the viewer would be standing,” she said. “I’m asking, ‘Is the world safe? Am I OK?’ ”

The painting has additional reverberations for Gershman, who recently sent her own 5-year-old daughter, Nikka, out into an equally uncertain world on Nikka’s first day of school. 

“I used the photo as a trigger for memory, and now I’m carrying the story forward,” she said. “A person may be touched by it, [or] have it trigger a memory for them, and carry it forward themselves.”

Davis’ painting drew its inspiration from the 1963 bombings of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four young girls. Davis recalled watching the Spike Lee-directed documentary “4 Little Girls” and being touched by one of the victim’s mothers saying it is important to “get past the hate.”

“So when I heard about this project, I thought it would be the perfect subject to return to,” Davis said. 

Although Davis and Gershman, like the majority of the artists, clicked quickly with the theme and the request for work, a few hit a wall. According to Martin, there is one additional significant artist, not ytet on the ADL list of contributing artists, who will be donating.

“But he’s struggling,” Martin said. “It will be a great story,” he promised, “but I can’t share it.”

For more information about the Sept. 17 ArtWorks gala, visit adl.org/ArtWorksLA.

Drawing new interest to the Talmud


This story originally appeared on JNS.org.

Last August, in conjunction with the beginning of a new seven-and-a-half year cycle of “daf yomi”—the daily study of a double page of the Babylonian Talmud that is observed by tens of thousands of Jews worldwide—Nicholls inaugurated an online “Draw Yomi” project that day-by-day results in a hand-drawn response to what she has studied.

“Here I go. Full of optimism and hope that I will not be defeated by the daily discipline of learning,” the London-based Jewish artist wrote on her blog to initiate the project.

With drawings of a human heart, a scorpion, and the Hebrew word “Amen,” Nicholls introduces and explicates the often-arcane world of the Talmud.

“Drawing is a way to slow down and get the brain to take a different path,” she told JNS.org.

After several months, that path—which is available for view on her website, http://drawyomi.blogspot.com/—has illuminated with graphic and thought-provoking drawings a world of Jewish law, storytelling and contemplative thought that had previously been limited mostly to the word and textural study.

In Nicholl’s illustrations—each illustration is accompanied by a reference to the text from which she bases the illustration—Talmud study shifts to the visual as Hebrew letters anthropomorphize into fists, and a human skull helps to illustrate “the blessings on all the weird and wonderful things in the world.”

As a kind of warm-up to Draw Yomi, Nicholls had earlier created a drawing a day for the 49 days of the counting of the Omer. As it turned out, she missed the ritual of sitting down to draw every day. “I like the immediacy and deadline,” she said.

To create her illustrations, Nicholls, who describes herself as a traditional Jew, first studies the double page portion to get a “sense of what’s up on the daf (page)” and to search for a theme she can illustrate.

With raised fists, Jacqueline Nicholls's interpretive Talmud drawings also take on social issues. Credit: Illustration by Jacqueline Nicholls.

Sitting in her studio, she limits her time for the drawing to thirty minutes. “I use a kitchen timer,” she explained. “The drawings are not a finished piece of art–more like a sketchbook,” added the artist, who in September had a showing of her previous artwork at the Laurie M. Tisch Gallery in Manhattan.

Nicholls said she has found that drawing is not only a process of study, but also a “way of taking the daf out of the yeshiva.”

Moving even further from the yeshiva, Nicholls, who studied anatomical art and medical drawing, does not shy away from illustrating the female form. For example, to illustrate a daf that she interprets as being “all about life and babies,” she illustrates a pregnant woman in position for childbirth.

Each week, to further explore the text, Nicholls invites a learning partner to add another voice to the ongoing Talmudic conversation by engaging in chevruta—the time-honored method of Talmud study where two students bounce ideas, questions and interpretations off of each other.

“She has changed the medium for commentary,” said Rabbi Deborah Silver, who has been one of Nicholls’s chevruta partners. “She holds up a particular kind of mirror to the text,” added Silver, the assistant rabbi at Temple Adat Ari El in Los Angeles who studied with Nicholls before she began the Draw Yomi project. “I know her for along time, and this is her language,” she said.

Silver explained that the drawings are a “springboard” serving to “take the conversation deeper, quicker,” showing a more concentrated view of Nicholls’s thought process.

Depending on the Talmud daf (page), Jacqueline Nicholls's interpretation can take a whimsical approach. Credit: Illustration by Jacqueline Nicholls.

For instance, to illustrate a daf on what it means to forget, and specifically to forget Shabbat, Nicholls shows a woman missing the top of her head. “Is forgetting the same as never knowing?” she asks.

To capture a Talmud page on waiting for Shabbat to be over, Nicholls shows a clock overseen by three stars. On the belief that crying can cause blindness, she draws a tearful smoldering eye.

If there is humor in the text, Nicholls shows that, too. To illustrate a page that likens a city to a person with limbs, we don’t see a serious city with “Broad Shoulders,” as we might imagine from Carl Sandberg’s  “Chicago,” but an animated town with bent arms, cartoony fingers, even a couple of feet.

But to illustrate another page of Talmud that speaks of “cities that are dangerous to enter if you are from the wrong neighborhood,” Nicholls’s buildings grow angular, and with raised arms, look ready for a fight.

After more than half a year of the project, Nicholls has received interest from several quarters, including “a fairly right-wing chasidic chap,” and others who are approaching daf yomi using social media and international conversation. There has even been interest from those wanting to buy the drawings.

A woman with the top of her head missing in a depiction of a daf (page) from Tractate Shabbat in the Talmud by Jacqueline Nicholls. Credit: Illustration by Jacqueline Nicholls.

In May, Nicholls was also invited to serve as a scholar and artist-in-residence at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, where she presented the Draw Yomi project and heard comments from people who had been learning daf yomi for years. She said she was “pleasantly delighted” by the feedback she received.

At this stage of the Draw Yomi project, Nicholls knows “a couple of people who like my art, check in and see my drawings quite regularly and have now started learning daf yomi themselves.”

“What she does is jump the language barrier,” said Rabbi Silver.

Sculpture in San Diego sun


Downtown San Diego is home to plenty of famous attractions — including the San Diego Zoo and The Old Globe Theatre — but, for art lovers, the city also boasts an impressive collection of post-World War II works by internationally recognized Jewish artists like Sol LeWitt, Louise Nevelson and Richard Serra. 

Beyond pleasing the eye, these works tell multilayered stories of Jewish artists’ roles in shaping contemporary American art movements, narrating the immigrant experience and expressing a sense of in-your-face, post-Holocaust survival.

Where to begin? 

“Two of the great works by prominent Jewish artists in San Diego are sculptures: Louise Nevelson’s monumental work in San Diego Museum of Art’s Sculpture Court Café, and Sol LeWitt’s large open-cube sculpture in the main entry of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego Downtown,” suggested University of San Diego art history professor Derrick Cartwright.  

Al fresco art makes sense in this seaside city — especially in the summer — so off I went to the San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA, sdmart.org), located in beautiful Balboa Park and home to a wide-ranging permanent collection that includes works representative of the Italian Renaissance, Post-Impressionism and pre-20th century America, among others. 

Nevelson’s welded, Cor-Ten steel work “Night Presence II,” of 1976, presides over the hubbub of the museum’s tented-courtyard café. The 13-foot-tall, rust-colored piece, referencing architectural forms like columns and finials, appears as an oversized Cubist collage sprung to 3-D life.  

Amy Galpin, the museum’s associate curator for art of the Americas, described “Night Presence II” as an homage to Manhattan, where Nevelson lived and worked as an artist for 50 years.  

Born in 1899 in Czarist Russia, Nevelson immigrated to Maine with her family in 1905. She learned English in school and spoke Yiddish at home. A strong, independent woman, she left her wealthy shipping magnate husband in 1933 to pursue her art. Calling herself “the original recycler,” Nevelson was at the forefront of using found objects — furniture legs, chair backs, architectural ornaments — to create monumental pieces of art. 

“The rise of feminism in the 1960s and ’70s pushed Nevelson to the forefront as one of the most important American sculptors of the 20th century. Her work is in museum and private collections all over the world,” Galpin said. 

“Night Presence II” incorporates a figurative representation of a bird. As I sat in the sun-drenched SDMA café sipping an aranciata, I imagined Nevelson as that bird flying from the old country to the New World, and from the conventions of suburban married life to her identity as a world-renowned, bohemian artist (who had a brief affair with Diego Rivera). 

Tearing myself away, I eventually headed two miles southwest to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s (MCASD, mcasd.org) downtown location. (MCASD also has a stunning, oceanfront branch in La Jolla.) The downtown space, dedicated to works created after 1950 across a spectrum of media and genres, straddles Kettner Boulevard, with one space right next door to San Diego’s historic Santa Fe train depot. That building once served as the train station’s baggage storeroom. Famed minimalist architect Richard Gluckman elegantly repurposed the storeroom as a showcase for contemporary art by retaining the large, Spanish-style arched window frames and using bare concrete floors to create an airy, open space, with loads of natural light and no visual distractions.

Being adjacent to the terminus of Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner makes the museum easily accessible by train from downtown Los Angeles’ Union Station. 

LeWitt’s sculpture “Six-Part Modular Cube” (1976) looks perfectly at home in MCASD’s minimalist space. The gleaming white, open cube structure, prominently displayed in the museum’s foyer, invites the visitor in to view art free from preconceived restraints of what art “should” be. Constructed of aluminum, each cube sits at eye level – enabling the viewer to interact with the piece on a human scale. 

LeWitt was born in 1928 to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents in Hartford, Conn., and is considered a founding father of both the conceptual art movement — in which the idea is the most important part of the work — and minimalism. Minimalist art sets out to expose the essence of a subject by eliminating all nonessential forms. LeWitt’s cubes demonstrate this, allowing natural light and open space to define their essence. 

“He often referenced how his Jewish cultural background influenced his work and gave him a mystical sense of connection to the larger world,” said Kathryn Kanjo, MCASD’s chief curator. The clean lines of LeWitt’s “Six-Part Modular Cube” might evoke a sense of spiritual purification and possibility for redemption.

Located just outside the museum’s wall-length, glass-paneled back doors is Serra’s monumental, site-specific sculpture installation, “Santa Fe Depot.” The world-famous artist was born in 1939 to a Russian-Jewish mother who emigrated from Odessa to San Francisco. 

When MCASD commissioned the work in 2004 with a generous gift from longtime patrons, it gave California native Serra the freedom to decide where to install it. He chose to place the sculpture, consisting of six individual blocks of forged weatherproof steel, just yards away from the train tracks. Each of the six blocks weighs 25 tons. 

As I approached the blocks, lined in two rows, I asked Kanjo, “Am I allowed to touch them?” 

“Oh, yes — they are solid and see a lot of action,” she said, laughing.

Serra’s works — like “T.E.U.C.L.A.,” in the plaza of UCLA’s Broad Art Center, the mammoth “Snake” at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and “Sequence,” which was on view for three years at the Broad Contemporary Art Museum of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art — encourage movement around them. “Santa Fe Depot” exemplifies Serra’s in-your-face work. Passengers must move around and between the blocks to catch a trolley or train. 

“Serra’s blocks suggest a kind of repetition and inevitability — like the comings and goings of train after train,” Kanjo said.

When contemplating Serra’s installation in a Jewish context, his choice of location struck me. Those 25-ton steel cubes sited alongside railroad tracks just outside a train station, considered in light of Holocaust concentration camp transports, suggest permanence, immovability, solidity and survival. 

While I gazed out the museum window, I saw a man waiting for a trolley deposit a plastic grocery bag full of trash on top of one of the cubes. A city janitor came by a minute later, picked it up with a trash-grabber and put it in his garbage bag. Again, the survival analogy came to mind: “Sure, you can dump garbage on us, but we’ll find a way to carry on.” 

This really moved me. I’m not sure if Serra intended anything close to this type of reaction, but art can be what we make of it, right? Go, and see for yourself.

Surviving a Survivor


It’s an age-old, common dilemma faced by adult children of aging parents: What is the right thing to do when those parents begin to lose their faculties? That theme is at the heart of “Surviving Mama,” by playwright Sonia Levitin, which opens Oct. 12 at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica.

“When you have an aging parent and you have to make a decision, it can’t just be a cookie-cutter decision,” Levitin said in an interview. “You have to take into account everything about that person — their early life, what they endured, their personality and how they are going to react. What’s going to be the next step for them? And people are very different. Almost everyone I talk to has an aging parent, and I hear many different stories — of sibling rivalries coming out, some parents going on their own, making a plan; others a little resistant.” 

Levitin’s play traces the life of Marlena, called Mama (Arva Rose as the older Marlena, Gina Manziello as her younger self), who, when we first meet her, is a feisty, independent woman of German-Jewish heritage in her mid-80s. She has almost set her apartment on fire and is displaying other signs of encroaching dementia. Her youngest daughter, Anne (Manziello, in a dual role) continually clashes with her middle daughter, Stella (Sharon Rosner), over whether to put Mama in a home, and it is clear Mama resists the idea with all her might.

Much of the action is shown in flashback, as we revisit significant events in Marlena’s life. The story reverts to Germany in 1923, when, at the age of 26, she exhibits the strength and resolve that will carry her through life by defying her autocratic father, learning a profession, and marrying the charming, flamboyant Gustav (Peter Lucas). Fifteen years later, with the advent of Nazism, Gustav flees to Cuba, and Marlena escapes to Switzerland with their three young daughters, where they are helped by a priest who enlists the aid of a Catholic family.

The following year, Marlena, the girls and Gustav reunite in America, and Gustav, who is a designer, goes into the shmatte business. But he is a womanizer, and Marlena endures an unhappy marriage.  

After Gustav dies, Marlena falls in love and has a short-lived relationship with another man as the dementia overtakes her.

Levitin based the work on her own late mother’s life, incorporating memories her mother related, as well as on her own recollections, some of which go back to her days as a young child in Nazi Germany.

“I remember that Hitler parade that I refer to in the play. It was very frightening.  I remember scattered things. I remember being in Switzerland.”

Levitin said she also remembers how impoverished she, her mother and her sisters were in Switzerland. “My mother wasn’t allowed to work because she wasn’t a citizen, and you had to be a citizen. She was willing to do anything, and she was absolutely destitute. She went to an agency that was supposed to help refugees, and they told her to go back to Germany. She did go to a rabbi, and he found families for her who were not Jewish but would take the children.” 

Once in America, Levitin’s mother, who had been raised in a beautiful home, with a nanny and maids, still struggled. “She had to work,” Levitin recalled, “and she had to work at very grimy jobs, cleaning other people’s houses, scrubbing the floor, after hours, in a restaurant. This is a woman who came from a well-to-do family.

“My mother’s experience has had an effect on my children, in that they understood her independence and her courage,” Levitin added.

Levitin recalls that just as the character of Anne, her counterpart in the script, is in denial about Marlena’s dementia, she herself could never acknowledge her mother’s mental deterioration. 

“Anne says in the play, ‘You know, I haven’t even said it to myself.’ And it was gradual, and the truth is, I never said it until this woman came over to assess her, the woman who ran the group home, who was lovely. She met my mother, and we talked. I remember it was outside on the lawn, and my mother went in for a sweater or something, and the woman said, ‘Well, she’s going to fit right in. They’re all demented.’ It was like the bottom had just dropped out. Yes, I knew, but I didn’t know. I had managed her; I really had.”

The character of Marlena as an old woman shares her life story with the viewer at key moments in the play, coming to the apron of the stage to address the audience directly. Those segments transition into flashbacks, and, for director Doug Kaback, they represent Marlena’s growing isolation.

“Her mind is drifting to the events of her past, and I think what she’s really analyzing and experiencing in a way, because we bring these events to life, is a sort of validation of the things that she did to save her children and herself, to hold on to a marriage that was proving very fateful and without passion. Her arc is to come to terms with that and to recognize that, even though she sometimes has a caustic character, she has tremendous love and value, and has accomplished really heroic things in her lifetime.”

But, Kaback added, she is burdened by a lifelong sense of guilt.

“She carries such a huge weight, and this terrible horror of what she experienced getting out of Nazi Germany, and the fact that so many loved ones remained, and that she couldn’t help them, and the tragedy of their early deaths, is something that she just can’t quite make whole for herself.  Consequently, she drifts more and more internally, into a world of loss, and she’s pulling back from life in a way.” 

Rose, who plays Marlena, believes that her character’s guilt over having left her contentious mother, Lucie (also played by Rose), in Germany as the Nazis were taking power is pivotal.

“It creates a deep sadness, a great defensiveness and a depression that is not uncommon in many Eastern European Jews,” Rose said. “We come to guilt easily. She didn’t just abandon her mother. She abandoned her mother knowing, in her gut, that she was abandoning her to something terrible. So, even though she begged her to leave, she knew that she could have done more, and that it was, to a certain degree, self-serving that she didn’t do more.”

Rose was particularly drawn to this material because of its ethnic underpinnings. “I’m very Jewish. Most of the theater that I do, that is of consequence and that matters to me, often has a Jewish theme. I am not just an actor. For the last 25 years, I’ve been a family therapist, and the combination of the family dynamics, the Jewishness of the plot and the characters, made it completely irresistible to me.”

Rose would like the play to transmit a sense of what she calls “the incredible bond between family members, particularly mothers and daughters.”

And Kaback hopes that “whatever station we’re at in life, we’re able to see in Marlena a reflection of ourselves, and a recognition that we, too, have to confront some very challenging and difficult questions as we grow older.”

As for what Levitin would like audiences to take from her play: “I want them to come away with a feeling of the fullness of life, the triumph of life and of people over all the things that can befall them. I want them to become encouraged by the show, and to say, ‘Wow! That was a woman who knew how to live.’ ”

 


“Surviving Mama”

Edgemar Center for the Arts, on the Main Stage

2437 Main St., Santa Monica, CA 90405

Oct. 12- Nov. 18

Fri. at 8 pm, Saturday at 3 and and 8 pm, Sunday at 5 pm.

Tickets:  $34.99

RESERVATIONS: (310) 392-7327

ONLINE TICKETING: http://www.edgemarcenter.org/ 

Sukkah splendor


The sukkah in the backyard of Leat Silvera’s home in the Beverlywood neighborhood of Los Angeles is up a little early this year. It’s not because she’s trying to get a jump on the holidays; it’s because she needs a place to look at her work — three large sukkah wall hangings that she designed herself. She’s just gotten the samples of her mass-produced versions on waterproof canvas back from China, and something about the color in one of them isn’t right. While it would likely be overlooked by anyone but Silvera, she’s not going to let it slide, so there’s more tweaking to do.

Silvera traces her aesthetic sense to growing up with her family in Los Angeles, particularly her father. For them, Sukkot was a special holiday, a time of joy and celebration, and it was in their tradition that Silvera got her start. She grew up in a traditional home, but when she was 12, her brother was tragically killed by a drunk driver, and her parents started going to Chabad. It was through Chabad that Silvera and her family drew closer to Judaism. “My father, who’s a contractor, liked to build these beautiful, elaborate wooden sukkahs in his backyard. And he would take the time to pleat these beautiful white sheets all the way around; it would take him days and days. One year, he ran out of the amount of sheets, and he just made a few walls flat, and I looked at them and I said, ‘Can I draw a picture on them?’ ”

Silvera’s father gave her permission to experiment. “A few sharpies later, I had a couple of designs on there, and they loved it,” said Silvera. Her family and their friends liked the designs so much that, according to Silvera, “the next year all the sukkah walls became flat, and I had to paint all the walls in the Sukkah.”

When Silvera went off to college at UCLA to study fine art, she left her sukkah-decorating days behind for a while. Her work at school — oil paintings focusing on realism — was completely different from the work she produces now. “These are whimsical,” she says, showing off the three sukkah wall hangings she’s made, “they’re much more bright and colorful.”

Silvera’s wall hangings are indeed colorful, and quite large, measuring 8 feet by 5 feet, and they are meant to transport the viewer to a peaceful, joyous place. One depicts a scene of rabbis dancing in the street with Torahs, another, a scenic view from a window ringed by pomegranates, and the third, a playful Jerusalem landscape.

“I had a lot of requests for doing the ushpizin,” said Silvera of the traditional welcoming of the seven exalted guests to the Sukkah, “and I did a lot of sketch work for it, and I worked it through and everything, but what ended up happening is that you didn’t capture a moment, you captured a lot of different moments, and to me that’s very distracting and almost disturbing as an artist, so I dropped it.” 

“What I like to do in general with art is just capture a moment in time, a moment of emotion that can pull you in,” said Silvera. To do this, she goes through numerous sketches before settling on moments that speak to her.

The process is a welcome one for Silvera, now in her 30s and the mother of four boys whom she home-schools. Silvera used to hide most of her paintings once they were completed, but now she sells them, and having them hanging in sukkahs around Los Angeles is a huge step for her. “Whatever anyone gets from that, even just a little bit of happiness, a little bit of joy, a little bit of that transportive feeling, that’s an incredible amount of fulfillment for me as an artist.”

Silvera started making her wall hangings for a wider audience last year. She’d painted the one of the rabbis dancing with the Torahs, and “decided I’d make about 50 copies and see what happens. The problem was, they came the morning before Sukkot.”

Undeterred by the late hour, Silvera pushed ahead with her plans to sell her pieces. “The morning of Sukkot I went to some close neighbor friends and said ‘I have them, what do you think?’ Not only did they buy them, but they called their mother-in-law, their best friend, and long story short, I sold maybe, that morning, 25 pieces.” Silvera was extremely pleased with the results. “I thought, OK, this is nice, this is something people want to have in their sukkahs. So I’ve created two more for this year; we’re selling all three of them this year, and hopefully people will enjoy them.” In addition to the dancing rabbis, there are lyrical images of Jerusalem, painted in soft washes of color.

Silvera currently sells her pieces at her Web site, leatsilvera.com, each priced $225, and she has also been trying other ways to get them noticed. “I’m trying to distribute them through shuls, through schools, Facebook, Pinterest, using whatever mediums I can through the Internet, but mostly I think it’s going to be word-of-mouth, because you can’t really tell what these look like until you see them in person.”

More than anything, Silvera feels lucky to be able to use her artistic talent to brighten one of her favorite holidays for others. “To me, it [Sukkot] is the apex of it all [the Holy Days season] and brings everybody together in such a wonderful way,” Silvera said. She sees how many of her friends want to make their sukkahs beautiful, but maybe don’t have the time or skill to pull it off.

“Maybe I can help. It’s almost like me coming into their sukkahs and helping paint a little mural to make it feel more beautiful for them.”

And since all three of her murals strongly evoke Israel, where she’s visited many times and to which she feels a strong connection, she feels like she’s bringing people closer to the Holy Land as well. “Sukkot is my favorite time in Israel. … I love seeing the apartment buildings where every balcony has a sukkah, and every staircase has a sukkah, and they’re just everywhere, and when you walk down the streets, you hear singing from outside, everyone has kind of removed themselves from that incubation or that secluded area of inside, and now everybody’s open and out and together.”

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Sep. 15-21, 2012


SAT SEPT 15

“With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story”
The feature-length documentary explores the life of the 89-year-old, comic-book legend, co-creator of the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Hulk. Directed by Terry Douglas, Nikki Frakes and William Lawrence Hess, “With Great Power” highlights Lee’s Depression-era upbringing, his early years at Timely Comics, his military service during World War II, the dawn of Marvel Comics and more. Narrated by Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber), the doc features interviews with Kevin Smith, Patrick Stewart, Samuel L. Jackson and Eva Mendes. A Q-and-A with the filmmakers follows the screening. Sat. 7-9 p.m. $10. Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main St., downtown. (213) 617-1033. downtownindependent.com.


SUN SEPT 16

High Holiday Food Drive 2012
SOVA needs your help. This Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles program, which provides free groceries and an array of support services to more than 12,000 individuals each month, is collecting canned beans, meat, tuna, dry milk, pasta, noodles, rice, dry soup, peanut butter, toiletries and other items. Drop-off locations include the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles as well as participating synagogues and day schools. Sun. Through Sept. 26. The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Call (818) 988-7682, Ext. 116, to find drop-off locations in your area. jewishla.org, jfsla.org/sova.


TUE SEPT 18

Matisyahu
The Grammy nominee appears live in support of his latest record, “Spark Seeker.” Like its predecessors, the new album — Matisyahu’s fourth — features a blend of reggae, hip-hop, beat boxing and spiritual lyrics, but also showcases traditional ancient sounds and electro beats. Expect to hear lead single “Sunshine” as well as other new tracks, and older material off of albums “Light” and “Youth,” during tonight’s performance. Opening bands include reggae-rock ensembles Dirty Heads and Pacific Dub. Tue. 6:30 p.m. $27.50. Hollywood Palladium, 6215 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (800) 745-3000. livenation.com.


WED SEPT 19

“Sarin Zakan & Eshel Ben-Jacob: Bacteria Art and Eco-Fashion”
Israeli fashion designer Sarin Zakan, who creates eco-couture clothing that blends science and art, makes her U.S. debut at the Pacific Design Center. Zakan’s work — including collars and dresses — features patterns formed by bacteria. Her pieces will be displayed alongside the work of her mentor, Tel Aviv University physics professor Eshel Ben-Jacob, who is called the godfather of bacterial art patterns. Wed. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Free. Through Nov. 9, Mon.-Fri. Pacific Design Center, 8867 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 657-0800. pacificdesigncenter.com.


THU SEPT 20

Mitch Albom 
The best-selling author of “Tuesdays With Morrie” and “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” sits down with Rabbi David Wolpe to discuss his new book, “The Time Keeper.” Albom’s novel follows the inventor of the world’s first clock, Father Time, who, after being punished for trying to measure God’s greatest gift, is given a chance to redeem himself by teaching two people — a teenage girl about to give up on life and a wealthy old businessman who wants to live forever — the true meaning of time. Admission includes a copy of the book. Thu. 8 p.m. $20 (Sinai members), $25 (general). Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3243. sinaitemple.org


FRI SEPT 21

Martin Amis and Matthew Weiner
Matthew Weiner, the marvel behind “Mad Men,” appears in conversation with Martin Amis, a master of ironic prose (“Money: A Suicide Note”). A postwar British writer of fiction, nonfiction, short stories, essays and reviews, his new novel, “Lionel Asbo: State of England,” follows the problematic relationship between a thuggish and lottery-winning English uncle and his nephew. Though experts in different mediums, Weiner and Amis share a fascination with the lives of the privileged in their respective works. Fri. 7:30 p.m. $20. Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 855-0005. writersblocpresents.com.

“Abraham”
French singer-songwriter and actor Michel Jonasz embodies Abraham, his cantor grandfather, in this one-man show. Set before his death, the play follows Abraham as he recalls his deepest memories — his childhood, escaping from Poland, meeting his wife, his deportation to concentration camps, and the joys and sorrows of existence. In French with projected English translations. Fri. 7:45 p.m. Through Sept. 22. $50 (general seating), $75 (premium). Theatre Raymond Kabbaz, 10361 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 286-0553. theatreraymond-kabbaz.com.

The illusion of a solution


Of all the incendiary books that have been written about Israel over the last year or so, none is quite as fiery as “Israel: The Will to Prevail” by Danny Danon (Palgrave Macmillan: $26).

Danon is a young activist in the Likud Party and serves as deputy speaker of the Knesset. He agrees with the various critics and commentators on the left on only a single point: “We are now at a critical juncture in our brief but momentous history,” Danon writes, “and our very survival is once again at stake.” Unlike Peter Beinart or Jeremy Ben-Ami, however, Danon rejects the notion that the United States (or, by implication, American Jews) is entitled to tell Israel how to conduct its affairs.  

“Israel must take firm hold of its own destiny, with a ready willingness to act decisively on its own behalf,” he insists. “[H]istory shows that when we act on our own, according to our own best interests, the results are not only better for Israel but for world peace as a whole.”

Lest anyone mistake his political colors, however, Danon pointedly insists on using the words “Jewish communities” and “residents of these communities” in place of “settlers” and “settlements.” The West Bank, of course, is referred to as Judea and Samaria. “The Jewish people’s claim to Israel,” he writes, “is older and stronger than any other people’s in the history of the world.” Indeed, Danon presents his fierce little book as nothing less than “a road map for Jewish victory — achieved with or without backing from her allies.” 

Danon insists that it is in the strategic best interest of the United States to support Israel, by which he plainly means the hard-line policies of Likud. “It’s an unfortunate fact that Israel has grown more distant from the United States,” he writes, “and I believe this puts both our countries in peril.” And he cites President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as advocates of what he calls “the growing acceptance in the United States and abroad of a left-wing, so-called progressive position on Israel” and “a one-sided view of Palestinian aspirations.”

“Discomforting behavior continues to come from the White House, which makes Israelis wonder whether the United States is really on our side,” Danon writes, “and strengthens the case that we must be confident to take matters, when necessary, in our own hands despite world or U.S. opinion.”

Nowadays, of course, the demarcation between left and right is blurry. Who, after all, would disagree with Danon’s assertion that “Israel’s experience with Gaza demonstrates the folly of those who say that the only pathway to peace involves handing over our land to the Palestinians.” Yet Danon also insists on salting his prose with fighting words — “our land” is a phrase that simply ignores the fundamental question of where the boundary is to be drawn between Arabs and Jews. Even when he claims that he “actively welcome[s] a healthy debate on the subject of Israel and the United States,” it is hard to discern where “healthy debate” leaves off and “criticism that demonizes Israel” begins.

The conclusion he reaches is that Israel cannot afford to take the risk of a compromise with the Palestinians: “Over and over again,” he complains, “Israelis are exhorted to concede more and more, while the Arabs are only asked to stop incitement and killing.” And, crucially, he argues that “any manufactured claim to a Palestinian state” is trumped by the inevitability that “such an entity would be a serious and ongoing threat for Israel.”

Danon calls instead for “a three-state solution,” an antique approach to peace-making in the Middle East that would assign sovereignty over the Palestinians to Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Clearly, his plan is not likely to succeed, and I suspect that’s the real reason why he advocates it: “Before we can make the three-state solution a reality,” he warns, Israel must be afforded “real recognition” by the existing states, and “Israel must take on and defeat those who are against us — Hamas, Hezbollah, and others.” 

“Israel: The Will to Prevail” leaves me in   exactly the same place I found myself after reading books by his adversaries in the progressive wing of Zionism — it’s a locked room in which the doors and windows are only a trompe l’oeil on solid walls. How Israel and the Jewish people are to extricate themselves from our unhappy predicament remains unexplained.


Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. His next book is “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris,” which will be published in 2013 under the Horace Liveright imprint of W. W. Norton to coincide with the 75th anniversary year of Kristallnacht.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Sep. 9-13, 2012


SUN | SEPT 9 

“ARTHUR SCHNITZLER — BEING JEWISH”
A renowned writer and dramatist whose favorite topics were anti-Semitism, love, sex and death, Arthur Schnitzler chronicled turn-of-the-century Vienna. A Getty staged reading of Schnitzler's journals and correspondence portray a conflicted Austrian Jew who is not afraid to ask difficult questions. Held in conjunction with “Gustav Klimt: The Magic of Line,” a panel discussion with filmmaker Peter Schnitzler, Schnitzler's grandson, and Schnitzler expert Lorenzo Bellettini follows. Sun. 4-7:30 p.m. Free (reservation recommended). Getty Center, Harold M. Williams Auditorium, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300. getty.edu.

CHABAD “TO LIFE” TELETHON
Television icon Larry King hosts the 32nd annual Chabad telethon, featuring celebrity guests and, of course, dancing rabbis. Proceeds benefit Chabad of California's programs and institutions, including schools, summer camps, community outreach centers, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, crisis intervention and support for children with special needs. Sun. 8-11 p.m. KTLA. tolife.com.


MON | SEPT 10 

“SONGS FOR A BRIS”
Actor-singer Ben Goldberg's one-night-only musical exploration looks at the biggest decision every infant Jewish boy never got to make. The performance features music by Meat Loaf, U2, Cole Porter, Hootie and the Blowfish, and many others. Mon. $10. Rockwell, 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 661-6163. rockwell-la.com.

MACCABIAH MASTERS TENNIS TRYOUTS
Interested in representing the United States at the 19th World Maccabiah Games next summer in Israel? Maccabi USA is holding masters-level tennis tryouts today for men and women, ages 35 and older, at Mountain Gate Country Club. Buffet lunch included. Mon. 9 a.m. (arrival, check-in), 10 a.m. (tournament begins). $40 (application fee), $50 (participation fee), $30 (additional guest). Mountain Gate Country Club, 12445 Mountaingate Drive, Los Angeles. (215) 561-6900. maccabiusa.com.


WED | SEPT 12

KCET HIGH HOLY DAYS
The community television station honors the High Holy Days with four documentaries during the month of September, including “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles,” a story of how a family stays spiritually and physically connected through tradition; “The New Beginning,” which examines the ancient origins, evolution, symbols and traditions that have come to define the High Holy Days; “18 Voices Sing Kol Nidre,” which tells the story of the most sacred prayer in Judaism through the tales and anecdotes of those who have been touched by it; and “Where Birds Never Sang: The Story of Ravensbruck and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camps,” which looks at Hitler's largest concentration camp designed for women. Wed. Through Sept. 20. “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles”: Sept. 12, 2:30 p.m.; “The New Beginning”: Sept. 13, 10:30 p.m.; “18 Voices Sing Kol Nidre”: Sept. 16, 4:30 p.m.; “Where Birds Never Sang”: Sept. 20 at 10:30 p.m. For additional airing times, visit kcet.org.


THU | SEPT 13

“10Q: NO REGRETS”
Time magazine columnist Joel Stein hosts an evening of confessions. Just in time for the New Year, comedians, writers, celebrities and audience participants reveal their biggest regrets in an attempt to clean the slate. Folk-pop duo the Wellspring performs. Co-sponsored by Reboot and the Jewish Federation's Young Adults of Los Angeles. Thu. 7-10 p.m. $15 (advance ticket), $18 (door). Acme Comedy Theater, 135 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8324. yala.org.

ITZHAK PERLMAN
The Israeli-American master violinist performs Tchaikovsky's “Violin Concerto.” One of the world's most renowned classical musicians, Perlman has won more than a dozen Grammy awards, taken part in the inauguration of President Barack Obama and played with every major orchestra. Conductor Bramwell Tovey leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the final classic concert of the season with Johannes Brahms' “Hungarian Dances Nos. 10, 4, 5,” Tchaikovsky's “Violin Concerto” and Antonin Dvorák's “Symphony No. 8.” Thu. 8 p.m. $1-$133. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000. hollywoodbowl.com.

MICHAEL CHABON AND AYELET WALDMAN
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” and “The Yiddish Policemen's Union” appears in person to read passages from his new novel “Telegraph Avenue.” Set in Berkeley at the end of the summer of 2004, record store co-owners Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe and their midwife wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffee, face personal and professional problems that test the strength of their relationships and businesses. Writer Mona Simpson (“My Hollywood”) leads a post-reading discussion and Q-and-A with Chabon and his wife, author Ayelet Waldman (“Red Hook Road”). Thu. 7:30 p.m. Free. Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000. hammer.ucla.edu.

Palestinian TV features artist depicting Israel as child-eating monster


An artist who recently appeared on Palestinian Authority TV described one of his paintings that featured an ogre—wearing a skullcap with the Star of David—killing children on a bayonet before eating them, Palestinian Media Watch reported.

The painting shows two other monsters wearing similar skullcaps, as well as a pile of dead children.

“This painting is about the Gaza massacre,” Palestinian artist Abd Al-Hai Msallam said. “Here I show the people, the kids, and the Zionist enemy’s cruelty and savagery.”

Dr. Seuss and the Holocaust in France


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chanukah Events


Wed. Dec 1

First night

American Hasidic singer Lipa, Jewish rock band Pardes and Lenny Solomon perform at the Chabad of the Valley’s Chanukah celebration. Wed. 5-9 p.m. Free. Universal Studios City Walk, 100 Universal Hollywood Drive, San Fernando Valley. (818) 758-1818. chabadofthevalley.org.

Spend the first night of Chanukah on the Santa Monica Promenade for a candelighting with congregation Beth Shir Shalom. Wed. 4:30 p.m. Free. 3rd St. Promenade, Santa Monica (meet in front of Banana Republic). (310) 453-3361. bethshirshalom.org.

Thu. Dec 2

Second night

The Los Angeles Jewish Chamber of Commerce and the Latino Business Chamber of Greater Los Angeles co-host a Chanukah Mixer, featuring Wolfgang Puck cuisine and live musical entertainment. Thu. 5:30 p.m. $10 (members, advance), $20 (general, advance), $25 (general, door). Club Nokia VIP Room, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., downtown. lajewishchamber.com.

Fri. Dec. 3

Third night

Celebrate Chanukah and Shabbat at Beth Shir Shlaom. Bring your own dinner and chanukiah. Fri. 5:30 p.m.-dinner ($10 donation per family, call for reservations). 6 p.m.-family Shabbat, 7:30 p.m.-Chanukah Shabbat Celebration. Beth Shir Shalom 1827 California Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 453-3361. bethshirshalom.org.

Sat. Dec. 4

Fourth night

Young professionals (ages 21-39) “Hannukah Hop” at three different houses in Santa Monica for an evening of food and drink. 7 p.m. $12 (members), $18 (guests). For more information, visit atidla.com.

Sababa in the Valley: Crazy Chanukah Party features DJs spinning top 40, house beats and Israeli music. People who bring a toy for children of Chai-Lifeline receive a $5 discount at the door. Sat. 9:30 p.m.-2 a.m. $15 (before 11 p.m.), $20 (after 11 p.m.). Club Aura, 12215 Ventura Blvd. (second floor), Studio City. sababaparties.com.

Sun. Dec. 5

Fifth night

A Chanukah concert for kids features The Hollow Trees, The Living Sisters, The SIJCC Shabbat Band, The Silver Lake Chorus and Lucky Diaz. Other activities include food-creating contests Iron Chef Latke and Brisket Making. Sun. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. $10-$15 (adults free). Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, 1110 Bates Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 663-2255. sijcc.net.

Musicians Peter Himmelman and The Witcher Brothers perform at Down Home Hanukkah Celebration. The family-friendly event also includes woodworking and quilting demos and circus acts. Sun. 11 a.m. $10 (general), $7 (seniors and full-time students), free (members and children under 12). Skirball Cultural Center 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.

Israeli Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon speaks on behalf of the Israeli government, following a Chanukah celebration with Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple. Sun. 5:30-7:30 p.m. $10. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 390-7172. a4j.myevent.com/3/rsvp.htm.

Make eco-friendly menorahs using recycled materials during a Humanistic Judaism celebration. Sun. 10 a.m.-noon. Free. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (818) 518-7867. humanisticjudaismla.org.

A Chanukah-inspired scholarship benefit concert features performers Netanel Hershtik, Nati Bar Am and Herschel Fox. Sun. 7 p.m. $25 (friend), $36 (patron), $54 (donor), $108 (benefactor). Beth Jacob Congregation, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-1911. bethjacob.org.

Comedian Robert Cait performs at the Chabad of West Orange County’s annual Chanukah Latkes and Laughter party, which includes sushi and salad bar. Sun. 6:30 p.m. $14 (adults, advance), $6 (child, advance). $18 (adult, door), $8 (child, door). Chabad of West Orange County, 5052 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach. (714) 846-2285. chabadhb.com.

Tue. Dec. 7

Sixth night

Dance, eat and sing the afternoon away a Board of Rabbis of Southern California/the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ second annual Chanukah celebration. Tue. noon-1 p.m. Free. City Hall Rotunda, 200 N. Spring St., Los Angeles. RSVP no later than Friday, Dec. 3 to {encode=”barri.worth@lacity.org” title=”barri.worth@lacity.org”}. (323) 761-8600.

Wed. Dec. 8

Seventh night

Celebrate the last night of Chanukah with Temple Etz Chaim. Kindergarten through second grade students perform. Wed. 6:30 p.m. Free. Janss Marketplace, 275 North Moorpark Road, 
Thousand Oaks (meet by the fire pit located near the Mann Movie Theatres). (805) 497-689. templeetzchaim.org.

If you would like to add your Chanukah event to our listings, please email {encode=”ryant@jewishjournal.com” title=”ryant@jewishjournal.com”}.

Sholem Aleichem, Gogol Show Two Views of Shtetl Jews


Russians, Jews and literature scholars get excited about jubilee years, and for those who fit any of these categories, 2009 is a big year. One hundred and fifty years ago this month, a writer who would immortalize the Russian Jew in literature, Solomon Rabinovich (1859-1916) — better known by his literary persona, Sholem Aleichem — was born in the town of Pereyaslav, near Kyiv. This spring also marks the 200th birthday of Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852), who was born about 100 miles to the east of Kyiv, in the town of Sorochintsy. Gogol, too, helped to immortalize the Russian Jew in literature, but in a more problematic way: the Jews who crop up around the margins of his stories, most of them crafty market vendors, money-lenders and tavern keepers, are anti-Semitic stereotypes, an unsettling detail in the work of one of the greatest comic writers of modern literature.

Literary history rarely moves in a straight line. Gogol and Sholem Aleichem may have written in different languages and represented different cultures, but their lives, remembered together, offer a vivid picture of the interplay of Russian and Jewish cultural history, and their stories, read side by side, appear as if in conversation. Both writers were obsessed with the dangers of commerce and capital, a theme that renders them all the more current in 2009. Both hail from what is now Ukraine, and each came to be viewed as a literary ambassador from an ethnic group within Russian culture. Gogol knew Russian and Ukrainian, attended a Russian school, moved to Petersburg to become a writer and spent years traveling in Western Europe. Sholem Aleichem attended both a Jewish cheder and a Russian secondary school, a marker of assimilation in a Jewish family. He began writing in Russian and Hebrew, but found success in Yiddish. Like Gogol’s tales of Ukraine, which sounded quaint to the Russian elite, Sholem Aleichem exported tales of the Jewish Pale of Settlement to cosmopolitan readers via publications in Warsaw and Petersburg, and visits to the United States.

Best known in the United States for his Tevye character, who became a symbol of the Jewish departure from Eastern Europe thanks to the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” Sholem Aleichem was canonized in the Soviet Union as the representative Yiddish writer, and an abridged six-volume Soviet edition of his works, in Russian translation, was as expected a collection in any Soviet Jewish household (and in many non-Jewish households) as the collected works of Lenin or Tolstoy.

Gogol, now best known for his later works, like “Dead Souls,” “The Overcoat” and “The Inspector General,” first became famous for his tales of provincial Ukraine, which he peopled with an amalgam of Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, Poles and Gypsies. In his first successful story, “The Sorochintsy Fair” (1830), we marvel at how “a gypsy and peasant smacked hands then squealed from pain; how a drunken Jew slapped a woman on the backside; how vendors who had been arguing hurled profanities … and crayfish; how a Russian stroked his goatish beard with one hand, while with his other … “ In this story, a Jew buys and sells a demon’s coat, infecting an entire fair with evil. Gogol’s Jewish characters increase the sensation of a tale told from the margins of the Czarist Empire and often provide a moral lesson about overzealous trade.

Jewish stock characters later appear in Gogol’s epic novel, “Taras Bulba” (1835 and 1842), based loosely on Bohdan Chmielnicki’s Cossack uprising against Polish Magnates in 1648, an event in which thousands of Jews were killed. “‘Hang all the Jews!’ rang out from the crowd, ‘don’t let their Jewesses sew skirts out of our priests’ garments!’” In this story, a Jew, Yankel, escapes a pogrom in his shtetl but eagerly betrays his community by offering products and services to the Cossack warriors for the right price. “Taras saw that his protégé Yankel had already managed to erect a stall with an awning for himself and was selling flints, handfuls of gunpowder in paper cones, and other military items — even bread rolls and dumplings.”

Little surprise, given the stereotypes sprinkled throughout his work, that Gogol has been dismissed by Jewish readers, from the Russian historian Dubnow to the Soviet critic Mashinsky, as one of Russia’s many literary anti-Semites. But Sholem Aleichem chose to model much of his writing, and even his appearance, on Gogol. Ruth Wisse, in “The Modern Jewish Canon” (University of Chicago Press, 2003), has called Sholem Aleichem “the Jewish Gogol.” David Roskies, in “A Bridge of Longing: The Lost Art of Yiddish Storytelling” (Harvard University Press, 1995), reminds us, “Rabinovich kept a box marked ‘Gogol’ on his desk for work in progress, often quoted Gogol in private correspondence, and even wore his hair as Gogol did.” Had the two writers, with their dandyish bobs and whiskers, lived at the same time, they might have been mistaken for one another.

What Sholem Aleichem was borrowing from Gogol was a rural East European landscape that may have been dangerous, but could unite readers through the power of collective memory. He also learned from Gogol to soften this danger through laughter, and he often rewrites Gogol’s Jewish characters, correcting anti-Semitic stereotypes and narrating history from a Jewish perspective. Gogol’s heavily caricatured Jew tends to profit against all odds at Ukrainians’ expense, but Sholem Aleichem’s characters (like the author, who lost his inheritance in the Kiev Stock Exchange in 1890) are usually failures at trade, and their living conditions are squalid.

Sholem Aleichem devotes numerous stories and two full volumes to “Kasrilevka,” a fictional shtetl based, in part, on his childhood village, Voronka. The first, “Old-New Kasrilevka,” is a parodic Baedeker: “They turn out ‘A Guide to Moscow,’ ‘A Guide to Berlin,’ ‘A Guide to Paris,’ so why shouldn’t we have ‘A Guide to Kasrilevka?’ The guidebook includes seven sections, decreasing in appeal: “Transportation,” “Hotels,” “Restaurants,” “Liquor,” “Theater,” “Fires,” and “Bandits.” Eastern Europe was increasingly threatening to Jews, and Sholem Aleichem subtly expresses this by depicting the most despicable elements of the shtetl. Sholem Aleichem’s popular Menachem-Mendl stories (written between 1896-1913) find the title character traveling the world inventing get-rich-quick schemes. His adventures begin when he is given, in place of a promised dowry, a small sum of cash, two promissory notes and an illegitimate “draft” on bad credit (to be redeemed in Odessa). Menachem-Mendl’s wife, Sheyne-Sheyndl, remains at home in Kasrilevka, alternately scolding her husband for his bad investments and sending him money when his ventures fail. Gogolian characters occasionally appear in her shtetl. In one letter, she writes that a government inspector has arrived in town to ascertain what has become of certain sums of money meant for charity, an echo of Gogol’s “Inspector General,” whose anticipated arrival shakes a town to its core, unearthing the illegitimate finances of its provincial elite.

Sholem Aleichem’s 1900 “The Haunted Tailor” begins with a mock-biblical description of a community’s poverty:

And it came to pass that Tsippa-Beyla-Rayza was returning one summer day with her basket from the market, she threw down her bundle of garlic with a little parsley and potatoes that she had bought, and cried angrily, “This can all go to hell! Enough of thinking up what to cook for dinner. You have to have the head of a prime minister! Dumplings with beans and again dumplings with beans. May God not punish me for these words! But even Nekhame-Bruchkhe, who is destitute, miserable, a charity case, she has a goat!

For all their apparent misery, Sholem Aleichem’s hapless characters inspire the Yiddish reader to imagine a world that is not limited to the confines of the shtetl. This incitement to imagination looks something like the conversation, in Sholem Aleichem’s 1902 story set in Kasrilevka, “Seventy-Five Thousand,” between Yankev-Yosl and his wife, Ziporah, when the former has (erroneously) decided he has won a jackpot of 75,000 rubles:

“How much have we won?” she says, gazing right into my eyes, as if saying: “Aha! You’re lying, but you’re not gonna get away with it!”

“Gimme a for instance — how much do you figure we’ve won?”

“I have no idea,” she says. “Maybe a few hundred rubles?”

“Why not,” I say, “a few thousand rubles?”

“What do you mean by a few thousand?” she says. “Five? Six? Maybe as much as seven?”

“You can’t,” I say, “imagine more?”

(Translation by J. Neugroschel in “No Star Too Beautiful: A Treasury of Jewish Stories,” W. W. Norton & Company, 2004).

Sholem Aleichem wants his readers to imagine more, even if the ticket to get there proves to be one number off. His fiction, borrowed in part from Jewish literary sources and in part from Russian writers like Gogol, was, in its own way, revolutionary.

On May 15, 1916, when Sholem Aleichem was buried in the Mount Neboh Cemetery in Cypress Hills, Queens, his headstone was inscribed with his original epitaph, which ends with the following lines:

“And just as the public was

Laughing, chortling, and making merry

He suffered — this only God knows —

In secret, so that no one should see.

(Un davke demolt ven der oylem hot

gelakht, geklatsht, un fleg zikh freyen,

hot er gekrenkt — dos veys nor got —

besod, az keyner zol nit zeyen.)

The epitaph echoes Gogol’s famous “laughter through tears” passage from “Dead Souls,” which Sholem Aleichem used to keep, in a Yiddish translation, on his desk:

And for a long time still I am destined by a wondrous power to walk hand in hand with my strange heroes, to view the whole of hugely rushing life, to view it through laughter visible to the world and tears invisible and unknown to it! (translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky, Everyman’s Library, 2004).

As a writer, Gogol struggled with his simultaneous terror of a changing world and desire to entertain his readers through comedy. According to Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997: what did I tell you about 2009?), Gogol’s world vision was as single-minded as Tolstoy’s was. Sholem Aleichem was not nearly so single-minded. Rather than worrying about the dangers of foreign influence on the Russian Empire, he worried about the dangers in Russia for Jews, its perennial foreigners. But he did share Gogol’s struggle between tradition and creativity. The fine line separating Yiddish literature as a means of inciting social change, and social change as a force destroying Yiddish, gave Sholem Aleichem the fear of loss that he would take with him, quite literally, to the grave.

Sholem Aleichem enclosed his epitaph in his Last Will and Testament, written a few months before his death. In the first of 10 points outlined in his will, the Yiddish writer specified that:

Wherever I die, I wish to be buried not among aristocrats, big shots, or wealthy people, but precisely among ordinary folk, workers, the real Jewish people, so that the gravestone which will be placed on my grave will beautify the simple graves around me, and the simple graves will beautify my grave, just as the simple, honest folk during my life beautified their folk-writer. (Translation by Zuckerman and Herbst in “Three Great Classic Writers of Modern Jewish Literature, V. II,” Joseph Simon Pangloss Press, 1994.)

With this final wish, Sholem Aleichem promises to remain near those readers whose spirit he sought to evoke through the shtetls of his fiction, and, of course, in a more subtle way, he also remains with the memory of Nikolai Gogol.

 

Amelia Glaser is assistant professor of Russian and comparative literature at UC San Diego. She is currently completing a book about rural commerce in Russian, Ukrainian and Yiddish literature. She also translates poetry and prose from Russian and Yiddish; her translations include an anthology of Yiddish poetry, “Proletpen: America’s Rebel Yiddish Poets” (U. Wisconsin Press, 2005).

 

Rivers, refuseniks and traitors come together at L.A. Jewish Film Festival


The Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival will appropriately mark Israel’s 60th anniversary with an opening film on the country’s transition from British mandate to independent state.

“The Little Traitor,” kicking off the weeklong festival on Thursday, May 8, harkens back to 1947, when “Palestinians” referred to the Jewish inhabitants and the hated enemies were British soldiers wearing red berets.

Throughout the week, until May 15, the festival will present some 30 features, documentaries, short subjects and panel discussions at eight venues on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley, announced executive director Hilary Helstein.

Theodore Bikel, who has a small role in the film, will appear live at the opening night screening, along with director-writer Lynn Roth. Israeli Consul General Yaakov Dayan will also address the audience.

In other highlights, Joan Rivers will receive the Marlene Adler Marks Woman of Inspiration Award, named in honor of the late Jewish Journal editor and columnist. The May 13 event at the Skirball Cultural Center will include the premiere of “Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women.”

“Refusenik,” the story of the international campaign to free Soviet Jews, will have its local premiere on May 14, with Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, one of the movement’s pioneer activists, and director Laura Bialis in attendance.


‘Sixty-Six’ trailer

A sneak preview of the comedy, “Sixty-Six,” dealing with the conflict between a British boy’s bar mitzvah plans and the World Cup soccer series, closes the festival on May 15.

“Little Traitor,” based on the semibiographical novel, “Panther in the Basement” by Israeli author Amos Oz, combines the coming of age story of a young patriot with historical insights on the struggle for a Jewish state.

Proffy (short for “professor”) is an 11-year-old Jerusalem boy, who hates the British soldiers who occupy his land, impose strict curfews, and conduct midnight house raids.

With two like-minded playmates, he forms the “underground cell” FOD (“Freedom or Death”), which sprays “British Go Home” graffiti on walls and tries to disable a British convey by scattering nails on the road.

On most evenings, Proffy sneaks up to the rooftop to scan the roads for the British enemy through binoculars. Not infrequently, his attention strays to a lovely young woman in a neighboring apartment in various stages of undress.

One evening, Proffy, played with remarkable authenticity by Ido Port, is caught after curfew hours by British Sgt. Dunlop, played by a sympathetic, if slightly corpulent, Alfred Molina.

An unlikely but warm friendship develops between Proffy and the Bible-reading soldier during mutual language lessons, in which Dunlop explains the meaning of “snooker” and Proffy introduces his friend to the subtleties of “meshugge.”

After a short time, Proffy’s fellow young freedom fighters discover the relationship and denounce him as a traitor. Proffy is hauled before a Jewish Agency “court” and sternly examined by Bikel as an interrogator.

In one of its most emotional scenes, the film recreates the almost unbearable tension of the November 1947 vote by the United Nations, which will determine the partition of Palestine between Arabs and Jews. Families huddle around the radio, keeping score of each country’s vote, and then burst into the street in wild jubilation after the final count.

Lynn Roth, who directed “Little Traitor” and wrote the screenplay, is a veteran Hollywood writer and producer who has won numerous awards, especially as showrunner (executive producer) of the long-running 1980s television series “The Paper Chase.”

She has also been a longtime teacher in The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership Program and said that she had dreamt for decades about making a film in Israel.

After extensive preparations, she began filming “Little Traitor” in the old Musrara quarter of Jerusalem in the summer of 2006, and three days into the project the Lebanon War broke out.

“It struck me as ironic that I was making a film about fighting in Palestine in 1947, and now, almost 60 years later, the bullets were flying again,” she said.

Despite such distractions, including the army call-up of some of her crewmembers, Roth “miraculously” completed shooting the film in 28 days.

Roth, a New York native, said she is bound to Israel by many ties, not least the graves of all four grandparents in the Jewish state.

For detailed listing of films, dates and locations, call the Westside Jewish Community Center, festival sponsor, at (323) 938-2531.

How Hollywood’s Hunt ‘Found’ Elinor Lipman’s novel


Elinor Lipman, writer of smart and often hilarious modern-day social satire, considers herself “the luckiest writer.” Her first novel, “Then She Found Me,” well-received when it was published in 1990 and selling steadily ever since, has inspired the film of the same name — starring, co-written and directed by Helen Hunt — that opens in theaters this Friday.

But fans of Lipman’s novel should be forewarned: Don’t judge the movie by its book. Hunt spent nearly 10 years nurturing this project and in the process changed many of the novel’s particulars — adding and deleting characters and sub-plots, altering motivations. Yet the film is faithful to the heart of the story and retains Lipman’s signature balance of wit and pathos.

In the novel, 36-year-old, never-married high school Latin teacher April Epner, adopted daughter of Holocaust survivors Trude and Julius, is a no-nonsense, plain-Jane kind of gal — but one with a sure, quiet sense of self and a quick wit. Out of the blue, shortly after Trude dies (and less than two years after Julius’ death), a mysterious stranger appears with a message from April’s birth mother, employing stealth and melodrama to tell her, “I represent someone from your past … would that be welcome news?”

Thus begin the misadventures of the shy schoolteacher and her overbearing, confessional-talk-show-host birth mother, Bernice Graves. In Lipman’s novel, April struggles for self-definition — and compassion — in the face of Bernice’s glaringly different personality. Her turmoil is buffered by a blossoming love she shares with the equally retiring yet charmingly wry school librarian, Dwight Willamee.

Lipman, though neither adopted nor an adopter of children herself (she and her husband have one son), had nevertheless long been intrigued by the emotional conflict and drama inherent in birth-parent/adoptive-child reunions. When a friend found his birth mother when he was in his 40s, Lipman decided to further explore the subject and make it the focal point of her novel.

In Hunt’s film version, Bernice (Bette Midler, delivering some of the film’s funniest lines) and April (Hunt) similarly navigate the minefield of their budding mother-daughter relationship, but there’s no shy librarian in sight. Instead, April marries, then is summarily dumped by, her man-child fellow teacher (Matthew Broderick) and subsequently falls in love with the also recently dumped, nurturing father (Colin Firth) of one of her kindergarten students. The film’s April, nearing 40, desperately wants a child; this becomes a central theme in the movie.

Hunt explained that she was drawn to the originality of the novel and to “the way Elinor surprised me in the story.” She initially tried to acquire the film rights in the early 1990s, but the book had already been optioned — before it had even hit bookstores — by Sigourney Weaver’s production company, which rebuffed Hunt’s overtures for involvement.

Several years later, after Hunt had won four Emmys for her role in the NBC hit comedy series, “Mad About You,” and the 1997 Best Actress Oscar for her performance opposite Jack Nicholson in “As Good As It Gets,” she was finally able to secure the rights to Lipman’s book.

Meanwhile, not surprisingly, Lipman had been wondering if the film would ever be made.

“I got a call from Helen Hunt’s manager on the day my mother died [in 1998],” Lipman said; the call “was like a little ray of sunshine in an otherwise sad time.”

Despite Hunt’s fondness for the novel (“the novel is perfect,” she said), she wrestled with the screenplay for nearly five years, trying to translate what she considered a “subtle, internal” story into an external, visible story that would work on screen.

One solution was to have April want a baby; Hunt felt that would externalize a longing that remains inchoate in the novel. It was also a deeply personal addition for Hunt, who said she “wanted a baby very much during the time I was working on the script.” She now has a 3 1/2-year-old daughter with television producer and writer Matthew Carnahan.

When Hunt read an essay on betrayal by Jungian psychologist James Hillman, she finally “found her north star about what she wanted to explore in the film,” Lipman said.

The central theme of the film became, “You can’t really love until you’ve made peace with betrayal,” Hunt said.

So, in the film, April becomes both a victim and perpetrator of betrayal, who at times feels betrayed by God.

Hunt, whose paternal grandmother was Jewish, also made April more of a religously observant Jew, in order to give her protagonist “a deep sense of tradition [and] a specific version of faith that doesn’t back away from the difficult questions,” she said.

Composer Martin Bresnick’s classically unique style turns 60


Please don’t think that Martin Bresnick is having a “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” moment.
Sure the acclaimed composer and teacher celebrated his 60th birthday last month with a series of concerts and the release of a new CD of his music, “The Essential Martin Bresnick,” performed by a gang of his former students, centered on the Bang on a Can All-Stars and his longtime academic home, the Yale School of Music.

But he’s not the “grand old man” nearing retirement taking a retrospective look back at a parade of his students through a Vaseline-coated lens of memories.

“Well, there is a little bit of that,” Bresnick says, leaning back in the booth in a midtown diner where he has been sampling the apple pie. “But I don’t think of myself in that role. For most of my teaching career I haven’t been that much older than my students. It’s only recently that students stopped calling me Martin. I’m not an authority figure, and our work revolves around a sense of communal discovery.”

Bresnick likes to cite a famous Zen koan about teaching: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

But he is also highly attuned to the teacher-student interplay. He cites as an example his own studies with the great composer Gyorgy Ligeti (coincidentally, also a Jew).

“He was one of the greatest composers of our era,” Bresnick says. “You learn from what he said about things, but also from what he did. I had that as an example. It’s a way of saying, ‘I am a real composer and people who study with me know that.'”

And it is as a composer that Bresnick wants to be known. He doesn’t downplay the importance of teaching. On the contrary, it is an integral part of the ethos in which he was raised by his Yiddishist, socialist family.

“Teaching for me has always had a strong social component,” he says. “It’s part of giving back. I came out of a working-class family in the Bronx and was given a tremendous opportunity by others. I had it ingrained in me that you serve and have to share.”

That’s a lesson he was taught growing up in the Amalgamated Co-ops.

“I had a very devoted secular Jewish upbringing,” Bresnick says. “My family were dedicated Yiddishists, I was sent to the Arbeiter Ring [Workmen’s Circle] elementary school. My family ran the gamut politically from anarchist to liberal Democrats. I can still read Yiddish, and my aunt, Phylis Berk, is a well-known Yiddish singer. My mother, at 85, is still a professional storyteller who travels around the country talking about life in the shtetl.”

It was a wonderful milieu in which to grow up, but not so hot for learning classical music, he admits.

“When I was little, my parents had very few classical records,” Bresnick recalls. “I could memorize very quickly. Somewhere out there is a disk with me singing snippets of ‘Barber of Seville’ and ‘The Nutcracker,’ which were the two classical records they had at first. But they recognized that I had a talent, and they got me a couple of records when they could. The first time I ever heard a woodwind quintet was when I saw one live at the age of 9 on a school trip. I was completely dumbfounded by the bouquet of timbres.”

It was the beginning of a career and a calling.

“I would listen to a Beethoven symphony when I was 7 and feel that I understood what was intended,” he says. “I had some comprehension of the point of [writing] a symphony. And I felt, ‘I can do it too.’ I think I understood that it had something to do with what it means to be a human being.

“Music for many people at that age is a wonderful refuge. It offers them an ordered world. As a composer, you are making a world.”

On the other hand, Bresnick was also participating in the world around him. As a teenager, he played rock guitar, graduated from the High School of Music and Art at 16 “as the youngest beatnik ever,” he adds with a laugh, and was in grad school on the West Coast by 20. He saw Jimi Hendrix live, still admires Cream as “a great chamber-music group” and gigged as a working musician.

Even today, Bresnick “listens to everything,” and his own compositions have a uniquely American eclecticism.

“It’s Ivesian,” he says, citing the great American maverick, Charles Ives, “It’s totally democratic; everybody’s got a right to belly up to the table and contribute.”

Bresnick is a composer who can juxtapose the repetitive structures of minimalism with Stravinskian harmonies, who can use a Willie Dixon blues riff as the jumping-off point for a Brahmsian chamber piece, who can write movingly for marimba and orchestra.

If you ask him if there is any musical style that he would reject out of hand, he smiles and says, “I’m ready to accept almost any influence into my domain. My ‘border guards’ may ask them to show their passport first, though.”

He admits to excluding only one major late-20th-century movement.

“I’m not that interested in conceptual art,” he says. “Most of it has revealed itself to be poorer conceptually than any physically based art. I believe in the line from William Carlos Williams, ‘No ideas but in things.’ I like the pleasures of the physical world, and if I can embody something in the world of music, that’s good enough.”

Above all, he wants to be known as a composer first and foremost.

“No question about it,” he says emphatically. “I’ve never thought of myself any other way. I love teaching and I’m glad to be well-regarded as a teacher, but I have no doubt of my own self-identity.”

Anyone who hears Bresnick’s music, live or on disk, will agree.

“The Essential Martin Bresnick” featuring the Bang on a Can All-Stars, is available on the Cantaloupe Records label.

NCJF: A treasury of Jewish cinema


Sharon Pucker Rivo recently dropped by my home to talk about the National Center for Jewish Film (NCJF) and left behind a catalog of the center’s holdings.

It’s rare that a catalog makes for spellbinding reading, but I discovered in it a new and fascinating picture of pulsating Jewish history, as viewed by filmmakers over more than 100 years.

The oldest film listed is the silent “Levy and Cohen: The Irish Comedians,” which was made in 1903 and runs for all of one minute. By the time the great American director D.W. Griffith (“Birth of a Nation”) made “Romance of a Jewess” in 1908, the 16 mm film ran an astonishing 10 minutes.

Rivo dropped off a DVD of one of the latest catalog listings, Paul Mazursky’s “Yippee: A Journey to Jewish Joy.”

I hate to admit it, but after decades of writing about Jewish-themed movies, I had only the vaguest notion of the National Center for Jewish Film (NCJF), but executive director Rivo filled me in.

Located on the campus of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., as an independent entity, NCJF holds the world’s largest, most comprehensive collection of Jewish-themed films and videos.

Included are some 10,000 cans of film, holding features, documentaries, shorts, newsreels, home movies and institutional films from 1903 to the present, augmented by thousands of master videotapes.

Many of the older holdings have been restored by the center, which also serves as a research resource, organizer of film festivals and distributor to institutions and individuals.

Almost every Diaspora community in the world is represented, with particularly rich holdings from Poland, the Soviet Union and the United States. Holocaust films record the Final Solution at work in obscure places, and there is even a selection of Nazi propaganda films.

Rivo takes special pride in her Yiddish-language collection of 35 features, including restored productions of Poland’s “Yidl Mitn Fidl” (Yiddle Wth His Fiddle), the Soviet Union’s 1919 “Tovarish Abraham” (Comrade Abraham) and America’s “Der Yidisher Kenig Lir” (The Yiddish King Lear), in which the Shakespearean tragedy time-travels to the Jewish Vilna of the early 1900s.

AJ Congress wowed; Shaare Zedek gets record donation; Koufax in the house


Woolsey Wows AJC

It was an extraordinary evening when the American Jewish Congress (AJC) honored former director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey at a black-tie gala dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel Dec. 10.

Woolsey received the AJC’s Jerusalem Award for his extensive work on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people. The honor recognized Woolsey’s efforts in combating the United States and Israel’s reliance on oil from the Middle East. His work promoting energy independence has enhanced the security of the State of Israel and the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Woolsey’s political and legal career, including presidential appointments in two Republican and two Democratic administrations, has reflected consistent environmental involvement. He has worked closely with the advisory boards of the Clean Fuels Foundation, the New Uses Council and the National Commission on Energy Policy. He had been adamant in his beliefs and said, “The United States cannot afford to wait for the next energy crisis to marshal its intellectual and industrial resources.”

Special guest of the evening was Richard Perle, former assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration. Perle is a former chair of the Defense Policy Board and has served on the board of advisers for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

Shaare Zedek’s Healing

Dr. Norman Levan, a 90 year-old dermatologist in Bakersfield, donated a record-setting $5 million to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem to establish a Center for Humanistic Medicine.

The Dr. Norman Levan Center for Humanistic Medicine will seek out innovative and practical ways to further develop humanistic medicine within Shaare Zedek. The center will coordinate and host training seminars for staff from all departments within the hospital while helping to instill the importance of placing compassion as a primary objective in all interactions with patients and guests of the hospital.

In announcing Levan’s gift, professor Jonathan Halevy, Shaare Zedek director general, stated, “This most generous gift will allow us to further expand the legacy of compassionate care that has characterized Shaare Zedek for more than a century.

Levan’s contribution will enable the advancement and expansion of the medical center’s many existing programs.

Score one for the McCourts

The American Friends of Hebrew University hit a home run last week when they honored Dodgers co-owners Jamie and Frank McCourt with the prestigious Scopus Award. Former Vice President Al Gore showed his sense of humor as he spoke to the overflowing crowd in the Hilton Ballroom kibitzing and shooting barbs at Don Rickles, who’d entertained the crowd with his outrageous humor. Gore turned serious when praising the university, noting its three recent Nobel Prize-winning graduates as an example of “questioning intellect combined with a profound sense of moral purpose.”

Gore said he believes that love of knowledge has sustained the Jewish people through the ages and now Israel, as well. He said Israel possesses an abundant knowledge-based economy. Gore’s mood became somber when he turned the discussion to Iran, saying the world can’t ignore the threats and must be proactive, taking necessary action if talking fails.

Throughout the night, whispers of excitement were heard about the attendance of baseball legend Sandy Koufax, who presented the McCourts with their award. Vin Scully, hall of fame broadcaster and “voice of the Dodgers,” served as master of ceremonies.

The dress was formal, but the room was warm with generosity and good wishes as the event raised more than $3 million.

Open to Art

Rain and cold weather couldn’t deter several hundred people from attending the opening reception of the L.A. Art Association annual exhibition, “Open Show,” at Gallery 825 on Dec. 16. Collectors, artists, family members and friends crowded the gallery to view more than 1,400 works submitted by more than 400 California artists.

Only 61 works were selected by Ann Philbin, director of the UCLA Hammer Museum of Art, to be included in the exhibition. Two of the works were by Israeli-born American Sigal M. Bussel, who draws from her experiences in both countries. Bussel received an undergraduate degree from UCLA and a master’s from Harvard University.

The L.A. Art Association is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide opportunities, resources, services and exhibition venues for L.A. artists. Seen enjoying the exhibits were Danny DeVito and wife, Rhea Pearlman; actress Mindy Sterling, and Laurent and Bibiana Urich. The artworks will be on display until Jan. 20.

Books: Shmegegis of old, shmegegis of gold


“Old Jewish Comedians,” illustrated by Drew Friedman, edited by Monte Beauchamp. (Fantagraphics Books, $14.95) www.fantagraphics.com .

“Weep before God. Laugh before people.”
— Jewish Folk-Saying.

Who doesn’t love old Jewish comedians? Those mamzers of mirth and halutzim of humor who paved the road from the Catskills to Vegas as first-generation entertainers. Now comes “Old Jewish Comedians,” a book to honor these slapsticklers and ticklemen of the 20th century. Thirty-two pages of funny faces (all guys), the book is “An Illustrated Gallery of Jewish American Comedians, Comics, Comic Actors, Clowns, and Tummlers Depicted in the Sunset of Their Years.” Artist Drew Friedman’s portraits cover the greats and the greatly forgotten, from George Burns and Buddy Hackett, to Benny Rubin and Joe Smith.

Friedman, whom I first enjoyed for his funny illustrations in SPY Magazine, and whose work currently is seen in MAD, the New York Observer, Los Angeles Magazine and other publications, said that none of the comedians posed for him.

“I have a fairly extensive photo file which was very helpful,” he said.

He’s collected pictures of comedians since he was a child. (Bruce Jay Friedman, the author’s father, appears in “Old Jewish Comedians” in a photo from 1940 in the Catskills with comedian Jackie Miles.)

“Rich reality” is how Leonard Maltin describes Friedman’s style in his foreword. Included in the book are the real names for these “show-business survivors” as Maltin calls them: Shecky Green/Sheldon Greenfield, Freddie Roman/Fred Martin Kirschenbaum, Rodney Dangerfield/Jacob Cohen, Henny/Henry Youngman, et al.

Unfortunately, the only writing in “Old Jewish Comedians” is Maltin’s foreword.

“I didn’t want it to be ‘history’ book,” Friedman explained. “There are already those out there. I wanted their styles to be illustrated in their faces and the context of the drawing. Maltin’s intro puts everything into historical context.”

So where to go if you want to learn more about these Jewish jesters? The ones who didn’t make it because comedy was less marketable back then, 50 years before HBO, Showtime, Comedy Central and clubs expanded stand-up venues are described in detail by Betsy Borns in her 1987 treatise, “Comic Lives.” Most never even flashed the free- wheeling coffeehouse style that Gerald Nachman recounts in “Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 60s.” (Shelley/Sheldon Leonard Berman being the exception, appearing in that 2003 book and this one.)

To really evaluate the book, I went to 92-year-old Irving Brecher. After all, Brecher is old, Jewish and he has not only done stand-up, he wrote for some of Friedman’s alter kackers, like Milton Berlinger (Berle, on the cover), Nathan Birnbaum (George Burns, inside cover), and the Marx Brothers (Julius, Adolph and Leonard, middle two pages of book.)

Book open, over split pea soup and half a pastrami on rye at Label’s Table on Pico Boulevard, I quizzed Brecher about “OJC” who never found the fame of a Moses — Harry Horwitz/Moe Howard or Jerome Levitch/Jerry Lewis, a Jack Chakrin/Jack Carter or Archibald Donald Rickles/ Don Rickles, et al.

— Irv, here’s Harry Joachim.

“That’s Harry Ritz of the Ritz Brothers. Harry was the only one who was talented. Al and Jimmy were nothing.”

— Menasha Skulnik?

“That’s his real name. Great Yiddish comedian. The Yiddish theater was a remarkable place. I wish you’d seen it.”

— Joseph Seltzer?

“Joe Smith of Smith & Dale, the famous vaudeville team. They made a movie called “The Heart of New York,” which is a museum piece. For collectors.”

— Abraham Kalish?

“Al Kelly. Al did double talk. That was his style. He spoke gibberish in vaudeville sketches and all the people would try to be polite.

— While he mocked them?

“No, not mocking them. The audience would laugh. But people in the real world he dealt with would be taken in.”

— Sounds like what Borat does!

“Haven’t seen it. But most comedians couldn’t do it like Al Kelly could. He was unique.”

— Here’s a fellow named Ben Rubin…

“Benny Rubin used to work for me! When he was up in vaudeville. I’d give him a part in “The Life of Riley” radio show. In Hollywood, when they wanted a Jew with a long nose, they’d hire him. The lousy Hollywood producers. He’d make $150. I’d never use a character with a Jewish accent. Like Jack Benny [Benjamin Kubelsky] did with ‘Mr. Schlepperman.'”

— He used a thick Jewish accent?

“I hated it, that very stereotypical annoying character.

— Who played him?

“Artie Auerbach. Listen, do they have Jan Murray in this book?”

— No.

“I’m surprised.”

Friedman said not to worry; Jan Murray/Murray Janofsky will appear in the sequel, “More Old Jewish Comedians,” due in 2008.

Brecher said he hopes the sequel has a bit, or routine, a catchphrase, something from each comedian to go with the pictures.

KCRW’s annual Chanukah show lets the light go out


Ruth Seymour, general manager since 1978 of KCRW-FM 89.9, is best known to many listeners for her annual Chanukah program, “Philosophers, Fiddlers & Fools,” which will have its final airing on Dec. 15. But Seymour is not stepping down.

“I’m not retiring,” she says over the phone in her classic New York accent. “I’m retiring the show.”

The Chanukah show has been a staple in Los Angeles, which, before its first airing in 1978, had been missing this classic blend of Yiddishkeit: folk music, readings of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s stories, memorials to Holocaust victims, Second Avenue “hit parade” songs.

Much has been made of the humble beginnings of KCRW, a station created after World War II to train veterans for careers in radio, which as late as 1978 was located in a middle school in Santa Monica and famously had the oldest transmitter in the West. Seymour has transformed the station into an institution by creating erudite programs like “Bookworm,” an essential half-hour for any literary Los Angeleno; issues-oriented shows like “Which Way, L.A.?” and political debates, such as “Left, Right & Center.”

Her emphasis on literature and politics is fitting, since Seymour grew up in a home of left-wing Jewish intellectuals in the Bronx. She relates a story in which her mother, upon seeing her tending to the plants outside, asked, “Why are you gardening? You could be reading ‘War & Peace.'”

By now, “Philosophers” fans know the story of how Seymour’s college professor, Max Weinreich, told her that “Yiddish is magic. It will outlive history.”

What many may not know is that some years ago, she received a letter in her mailbox with those words written on the outside of the envelope as a teaser. She opened it and found it was from YIVO, the Yiddish institute that focuses on the study of Jewish culture and literature. Apparently, one of YIVO’s employees had lived in Los Angeles and heard Seymour tell the Weinreich story on the air.

Seymour has always contended that the show should be “ephemeral,” out of deference to the Holocaust victims.

“There wasn’t any way to bring them back,” she says, which is why she has never recorded any of her Chanukah programs.

She has often cited the words of Andre Schwarz-Bart, French author of “The Last of the Just,” who wrote that the Holocaust victims disappeared “like the smoke from the chimneys of Auschwitz.”

Although Holocaust survivors have always wanted to preserve the apparatus of and artwork related to the Holocaust, so as to document the severity of the genocide, Seymour sees radio as being inherently “transitory.”

“There just comes a moment in your life when it’s over. The sources dry up. Do I want to psychoanalyze it?” she asked, “No.”

She adds, “It had a prolonged life, a life of its own.” She said she is astonished that it “touched so many people.”

One person who touched her was Schwarz-Bart, who recently died at 78. He spent time in the concentration camps during the war and wrote “The Last of the Just,” which won France’s highest literary honor, the Prix Goncourt, in the late 1950s.

He “literally seems to have survived to write it,” she says, pointing out that he began writing right after the war, when he was in his twenties, and spent
years working on it in a Paris library, since his home did not have heat.

Not surprisingly, Seymour, who has always paid homage to Schwarz-Bart on her Chanukah show, will do so again in her final segment.

Another author whom she intends to acknowledge in her last show is the late Singer, the only Nobel Prize laureate who wrote primarily in Yiddish. She met Singer many times when she was living in New York.

Seymour’s then-husband, poet Jack Hirschman, who wooed her with a letter from Ernest Hemingway, introduced her to Singer. They would get together in a vegetarian restaurant and discuss astronomy and the kabbalah with Singer and his latest girlfriend, never his wife. Singer fancied concentration camp survivors for dates; interestingly, Seymour says that these young women had “dreams [that] would always be amazingly similar to his stories.”

Seymour says she was never a devotee of radio when she was young, even though she is a contemporary of Woody Allen and was raised in the “Radio Days” era of the late 1930s and 1940s. “I landed totally by accident.”

The accident occurred in 1961, when Hirschman was teaching at UCLA, and KPFK-FM 90.7 came calling, asking for tapes of his work. Seymour provided the Pacifica radio station with the tapes and shortly thereafter, was offered the job of heading up the station’s drama department.

More than a decade later, she joined KCRW.

Although she will stop broadcasting her marquee program, she says she will continue to host programs like “Politics of Culture,” and we will still hear her over the air during fundraising drives. As for “Philosophers,” she says, “It was never something that was conceived to go on for 28 years.”

“Philosophers, Fiddlers & Fools” will air for the final time on Friday, Dec. 15, from noon to 3 p.m. on KCRW, 89.9 FM.

Theater: Troy vs. ‘Tsuris’


“How should I prepare?” asks playwright Mark Troy after agreeing to an interview the following morning about his new play, “Tsuris,” opening Friday, Dec. 22, at the Sidewalk Studio Theater in Toluca Lake. “Should I wear a blue tuxedo?”
Although he is not a standup comedian and says he has a “pathological fear of being in front of an audience,” Mark Troy is always “on.”

When asked whether he is Jewish, Troy responds, “You will be needing proof of that?”

Actually, there is no need for such proof from Troy, whose last name may conjure images of Hector fighting Achilles, but whose latest play is about battles of a more contemporary nature — among Jewish spouses, parents and their children in Florida.

Troy has written many plays about Jews, including “Join the Club,” which just played at a Malibu festival and revolved around the decision of a 35-year-old man to get a circumcision. Another play, “Getting to Bupkus,” focuses on a 12-year-old Jewish boy who runs away the night before his bar mitzvah and comes back 12 years later.

Their storylines may remind one of TV shows and films from the past, the first calling to mind the “Sex and the City” episode in which one of Charlotte’s dates decides to test out his newly circumcised penis on multiple partners, and the second bringing back memories of “The Bar Mitzvah Boy,” the film that every 12-year-old Jewish boy has seen.

Troy’s new play, “Tsuris,” also has a familiarity to it, but that doesn’t mean that his dialogue lacks freshness. Troy has his characters rattle off humorous lines like, “Florida is like dog years; you times everything by seven.”

Troy is not suggesting that everyone living in Florida is preternaturally ancient, but rather that “something slows you down” and you end up replicating your grandmother’s habits — going to K-mart, going to the pool, then another pool and, most of all, eating dinner at 4 p.m. at Bagel Palace or Bagel Nosh or Bagel Land.

At these bagel emporia, elders may even utter adages such as this parody of Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man speech: “They say every man should have three wives. When he’s in his 20s … there’s the lustful wife. Then in midlife, he has the motherly wife. Then in his final golden years…the companion wife…. Thank God I’ve found in Irma Messersmidt the lustful whore I’ve been missing.”

“Tsuris” plays Dec. 22 through Feb. 3 at the Sidewalk Studio Theater, 4150 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake.

European anti-Semitism spurs controversial comparison


Across Western Europe, thousands cheer neo-Nazi rockers calling for the killing of Jews, synagogues are defaced, Holocaust memorials and cemeteries are desecrated, Jewish schoolchildren are attacked and their parents are afraid to wear yarmulkes or religious jewelry on the streets of major cities.

In “Ever Again,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center, having documented the Holocaust and its aftermath in earlier films, presents a frightening picture of a rising wave of European anti-Semitism, fueled by Islamic fanatics and neo-Nazis.

During 74 minutes of graphic footage and wide-ranging interviews with both victims and perpetrators of abuse and violence, “Ever Again” tracks the new anti-Semitism in France, Germany, Belgium, Holland and Britain.

The film by the Moriah Films division of the Wiesenthal Center and narrated by actor Kevin Costner opens Dec. 8 at the Landmark’s Westside Pavilion Cinemas.

Some of the most disheartening interviews are with moderate Muslims who are afraid to speak out against extremists, and with public school teachers who won’t mention the Holocaust in class in the face of threats by their Muslim students.

Coming from the opposite ideological end, but aiming at the same target, is a revived neo-Nazi movement, especially among disaffected young people.

Director Richard Trank and Rabbi Marvin Hier, producer and founding dean of the Wiesenthal Center, are Academy Award recipients for previous Moriah Films documentaries.”I doubt that many Americans realize the amount of fear the Jewish communities of Western Europe are living under, due to physical violence and terrifying threats from neo-Nazis and Islamic fanatics,” said Trank. “Tragically, young Jews told us that the situation has become so bad that they no longer see a safe future for themselves and their families in their own countries.”

Hier warned that “many American Jews who have recently visited Europe have come to feel it is no longer safe for them there. The world in which a Jew can safely raise his or her children has become greatly diminished in recent years.”

However, noted Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum said he objected to the film’s title, with its clear allusion to the Holocaust-era battle cry, “Never Again.”

“There is no doubt that the situation in Europe must be taken seriously, but it’s a mistake to link it to the Holocaust,” he said.

Berenbaum, a University of Judaism professor, is currently editing the soon to be published book, “Anti-Semitism: Then and Now,” with contributions by 20 American, European and Israeli experts.

“Today’s anti-Semitism is a different and more complex phenomenon than it was 65 years ago,” he observed. “To a large extent, what we see now is the revolt of an underclass, spurred by anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism and anti-globalization.

“A major difference from the 1930s and ’40s is that anti-Semitism is not supported by governments. A country like Poland is Israel’s best friend in Europe, and Germany has the fastest-growing Jewish population anywhere.”

The Landmark’s Westside Pavilion Cinemas are located at Pico Boulevard and Overland Avenue. Call (310) 281-8223 for screening times. For more information about the film, go to www.wiesenthal.com.

Pick a cause


When I was in eighth grade, I went on a school field trip to the Museum of Tolerance. My grandmother being a holocaust survivor, I had learned much about the Holocaust and took an interest in it. At the Museum of Tolerance, however, I learned about other things as well.

At an exhibit called the Millennium Machine, the last stop, I was in shock at all the horrible things that are still happening to children today. I couldn’t believe that in the world I lived in, kids were being enslaved and starved. I had always been involved with community service, but at the sight of this exhibit I knew I had to do something to help these children.

It was only a couple of weeks later that I was shopping at a jewelry and clothing boutique, when the owner noticed my necklace — which I had made. She offered to sell it at the store. That very day I brought in a tray of my work, and my guitar-pick jewelry was an instant success at the store.

This was right before summer started, and before I knew it I would be spending my summer days making jewelry. When I realized how much money I could make, I remembered that exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance and how much those children needed the money — much more than I did.

So I decided to give all of my proceeds to these unfortunate kids, and I began looking up charities that benefit kids. The first charity I donated to was UNICEF, because I knew that the money I gave would directly help youths in other countries that I had seen in the video at the museum. Ever since, I have given all of my proceeds to various charities, amounting to about $10,000.

In addition to my business, I always take on the opportunity to help in my own community. I believe that it is important to help out whenever you can, whether it’s picking up trash at the beach or working at a charity benefit, as well as taking on new challenges.

I love art and jewelry making, but giving to charity is the heart of my business. I might not be making jewelry forever, but I know I will always be charitable, because I have a love for helping those less fortunate than I am. Since I am a creative person, I’m glad to know I can use my talents to help others.

I also realize how fortunate I am to live in a nice house and to have food to eat, something that is easily taken for granted. I have also learned that we fortunate kids hold the responsibility to help children who are in desperate need for simple things that we have an abundance of. I believe that one person can make a difference, and with my charitable business I would like other young people to see that they, too, can use their talents for a good cause.

Amanda Martin is a junior at Viewpoint School in Calabasas. Her jewelry can be purchased at www.pickmejewelry.com.


The this essay was written for the Service Learning awards given out by the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Sulam Center for Jewish Service Learning (julief@jewishjournal.com.

Will kill for laughs


“Comics, that gifted, exclusive society of professional fools.” — Larry Gelbart in his book, “Laughing Matters”

 
Stand-up comic Mark Schiff is sitting in his tiny office on Pico, near the Museum of Tolerance, talking about the time he played the Knesset.

 
“I pointed to the Chagalls and did the old line: ‘What a dump.'”

 
He kids the Knesset. But Schiff knows from dumps. In 25 years of doing comedy, he’s performed in some real ones. Now he and standup guy/pal Ritch Shydner have collected stories from their fellow pro fools in a book called, “I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America’s Top Comics.”

 
“I Killed” features headliners like Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Jonathan Winters and Shelley Berman for the first time telling tales away from the “comedy caravans” and “yuk-yuks” and even yuckier joints they endured while perfecting their craft.

 
“People don’t know much about this life,” says Schiff, wearing a long-sleeved shirt with pictures of Fat Albert and the Cosby kids all over it, as he stuffed books into mailing pouches with co-compiler Shydner. “A lot of my heroes were road guys like Kerouac and Woody Guthrie. These guys would go out for years and never look back. I always came back.”

 
In the book’s foreword, Seinfeld says there are just “four Great Jobs in the world: baseball player, race-car driver, professional surfer or standup comedian.”

 
What? Not rock musician?

 
“He doesn’t like jobs where you have to drag a lot of equipment,” explains Schiff, who tours with Seinfeld. “It’s not a big Jewish job. We don’t like to drag a lot of things. We carry a diamond, we carry a microphone….”

 
And some, like Schiff, after gigging for giggles throughout this great entertainment nation, make it onto “The Tonight Show,” the Promised Land for stand-ups (the book is dedicated to hosts Jack Paar, Steve Allen and Johnny Carson.) Other “road monkeys” never make it out of the bare-wall bars of Moline (“Death of a Joke Salesman,” anybody?), but from Ashville to Anchorage, comedic troubadours are truly brave.

 
“I Killed” reveals the road to laughs sure ain’t paved with pretty. Flop sweating in front of eight people, bunking in trashed out “comedy condos” because brutal club owners skim on accommodations — comedians learn on the job, dancing that fine line between failure (“I died”) and a laugh (“I killed”) all because of the way they emphasize a single syllable sometimes. The camaraderie and competition, self-loathing and loneliness, the disgusting incidents with jazzman Kenny G. It’s all in here. Paul Reiser, Bob Saget, Steven Wright, Lewis Black and Rick Overton, all also featured in the hilarious documentary, “The Aristocrats,” share outrageous adventures. Here is Rita Rudner standing outdoors on a crate doing her act in somebody’s car headlights. Mike Myers chased by wolves. Richard Belzer sucking the gas out of whipped cream bottles before going onstage. All this nonstop “bombing” and “killing.” And all for the greatest of involuntary causes: laughter.

 
Like many successful comedians (Jan Murray, et. al.) Schiff began in the Bronx. He knew he wanted to do comedy at the age of 12 when his parents took him to see Rodney Dangerfield. (“I Killed” is full of funny tales about Dangerfield; he was beloved by fellow performers.) When Schiff started there were only a dozen clubs, but by the mid-’80s, with franchises like The Funny Bone and The Punch Line, the scene exploded, spreading stand up from strip joints to strip malls.

 
“You never know quite what you’re gonna meet on the road,” Schiff says.

 
“Everything from a woman with an axe to a woman who will marry you.”

 
Get the book to read about D.L. Hughley’s hatchet job, but Schiff actually did meet his wife at a comedy club. In San Antonio. (“I Killed” has a Richard Jeni story of playing San Antonio, and a big cowboy comes up and says: “We never seen a New York Jew,” and Jeni says, “I’m not a Jew.” “Close enough,” says the cowboy.)

 
Schiff was in San Antonio for “a one-nighter.” His wife, Nancy? “She was in charge of raising money for the federation there. We exchanged phone numbers and we’re married now 17 years.”

 
The Schiffs have two kids and pray at Young Israel of Century City. Their children go to the Maimonides School. While away on the road, Schiff has searched for minyans in strange towns and said Kaddish for his parents, but says he hasn’t faced overt anti-Semitism.

 
“I’ve run into people that have never met a Jew,” he says. “And they’re interested. I met a woman in Georgia who actually asked me, ‘Is it true about the horns?'”

 
Schiff loves gigging for Jewish audiences. And when he plays an Orthodox venue — as he will in Montreal next month — he includes in the contract, three Shottenstein Talmuds. “The collection is 73 volumes. I’m on my second collection now.”

 
“That’s interesting,” says co-editor Shydner. “I always require that the clubs give me two Dr. Pepper bottle caps and an auto repair manual.”

 
“I Killed, True Stories of the Road from America’s Top Comics” compiled by Mark Schiff and Ritch Shydner was released this week. Jerry Seinfeld is scheduled to appear on “Late Show With David Letterman” with the book on Nov. 20.

 

Hank Rosenfeld is writing a book with Irving Brecher, who wrote for Milton Berle and the Marx Brothers.

Surprise lesson lurks in show of painters’ works


Outwardly, the paintings of the Philip Guston and Giorgio de Chirico do not have much in common. De Chirico’s world is a silent place of deserted plazas, long afternoon shadows and motionless trains. In his interiors, faceless mannequins sit in airless rooms, surrounded by spears, shields and other emblems of ancient Rome. Guston’s paintings, on the other hand, are exuberant and crude looking, like enlargements of comic strip images from the Krazy Kat era. Far from the dignity of the classical world, Guston’s atmosphere is 100 percent American, a world of car horns, pratfalls and Bronx cheers.

The surprising lesson of “Enigma Variations: Philip Guston and Giorgio de Chirico,” currently on view at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, is that the irascible Italian master and the restless Jewish American painter are profoundly linked. The source of the link is the unwavering admiration of Guston (1913-1980) for the older artist (1888-1978). The admiration began in 1932, when Guston, then a teenage art student, first encountered two de Chirico canvases — “The Soothsayer’s Recompense” (1913) and “The Poet and His Muse” (1922) — in the Hollywood Hills home of Louise and Walter Arensberg. (Both works are on view in this show.)

After seeing this show of only 26 paintings, one can no longer look at Guston without thinking of de Chirico. And the hard-to-understand world of Guston opens up a little bit, when confronted with the many conscious references to images or devices in de Chirico’s work — a half-open door, a floor that floats in space, empty picture frames containing other empty frames – which the American painter made part of his personal iconography.

Both de Chirico and Guston eluded the neat categories often applied to modernist art. The Italian master was one of the most independent artists of the 20th century, and his most famous works date from the years just prior to World War I.

The irrational, non-narrative quality of his dreamscapes were quickly embraced by the Surrealists. (A 1922 canvas by de Chirico, “A Song of Love,” was a pivotal influence on Rene Magritte, the famed Belgian Surrealist.) Yet despite their admiration, the Surrealists failed to recruit de Chirico to their movement, and the Italian painter subsequently found himself left behind, isolated and even vilified by the fast-changing fashions of his time.

Guston would also find himself criticized for bucking the “official” line of the art world in 1969, when he exchanged his trademark abstract expressionist style of the 1940s and ’50s into the “impure” style of more narrative, cartoonish images. Using figurative imagery was anathema to serious-minded artists at the time, like painter Lee Krasner (widow of Jackson Pollock), who never spoke to Guston again. A look at Guston’s history, however, shows the seeming betrayal as a return to his roots, both pictorial and political.

Born in Montreal of financially struggling Russian Jewish parents, Guston, born Philip Goldstein, grew up in Los Angeles in the 1920s. Like many children of immigrants, Guston was a self-denying Jew (his daughter, Musa Mayer, has said she was unaware of her ethnic heritage until adulthood). And like many second-generation Jews, Guston was intensely political, a conviction probably strengthened by open anti-Semitism and the popularity of the Ku Klux Klan in California during his childhood and early youth.

After a series of “metaphysical” paintings clearly influenced both by de Chirico and his teacher, Lorser Feitelson, Guston graduated to lightly veiled leftist themes in murals he made for the WPA in the late 1930s, then finally moved to total abstraction by the early 1940s. After spending nearly 30 years as a respectable second-rank figure in the group that included boyhood companion Jackson Pollock and Wilhelm de Kooning, Guston startled the New York art scene with his unexpected break from abstraction.

Guston’s contemporaries might be forgiven for not knowing what to make of his later paintings. Comical-looking men wearing Ku Klux Klan hoods go wheeling through town in squash-shaped cars. They lie in bed smoking fat cigarettes emitting cartoonish smoke. Enormous unblinking eyes stare at the ceiling or the sky.

These “funny” paintings were never intended as jokes, however. They have no punch line. Indeed, they are strange, sad and enigmatic — not unlike to the evocative mood of the “metaphysical” paintings of de Chirico. The hooded klansmen are sometimes menacing and at other times benign and pensive; they seem to be alter egos of an artist never entirely comfortable with himself.

“The hoods are not just powerful and menacing, nor are they entirely benign,” said Lisa Melandri, one of the co-curators of the show. “They are complex, ambiguous, silly; they’re all these things at once. There is also a pathos to them.”

Other allusions point directly to de Chirico, such as a hooded figure leaning on its arm in “By the Window” (1969), which appears to be a reference to “The Poet and His Muse” or a clangorous battle of garbage can lids and baseball bats in “Ramp” (1979), reminiscent of the collision of spears, shields and legs in de Chirico’s “The Invisible Cohort” (1973).

As an institution without a permanent collection, the Santa Monica Museum of Art stands or falls on the quality of its shows. The interest of exhibitions like “Enigma Variations” suggests that the museum, standing almost hidden among the former industrial sheds in Bergamot Station, now occupies a presence in the art world far beyond its tiny footprint.

“Enigma Variations: Philip Guston and Giorgio de Chirico” is on view through Nov. 25 at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica.


Morris Newman has written about architecture and other subjects for many publications, including the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.



7 Days in the Arts


Saturday the 7th

Take a stroll for a good cause at today’s 14th annual Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk. More than 100 teams are scheduled for the 5K recreational walk around Hollywood Park racetrack, and those wishing to register today are also welcome. Also ambling are celebrities Peter Gallagher, David Hyde Pierce, Leeza Gibbons and Lea Thompson.

7 a.m. (registration), 8:30 a.m. (opening ceremonies), 8:45 a.m. (warm up). 9 a.m. (walk). 10:15 a.m.-noon (health expo, live entertainment, celebrity autographs and prizes). 1050 S. Prairie Ave., Inglewood. (323) 930-6228.

” TARGET=”_blank”>www.actoberfest.com.

Monday the 9th

Sneak behind the curtain into the life of Pulitzer and Tony award-winning playwright Tony Kushner in the new documentary, “Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner.” Following the writer from just after Sept. 11, 2001 to the 2004 presidential election, cameras captured Kushner’s work on the Broadway musical, “Caroline, or Change.” and the children’s Holocaust opera, “Brundibar,” as well as his “humor, ambition, vision and dazzling braininess,” according to Newsweek.

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Jewish Renewal leader Rabbi Shefa Gold debuts her first book, “Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land,” this month. Described as an approach for using the Torah as a path for spiritual growth, the text has been praised by Renewal leaders like Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Gold visits Los Angeles this week, offering workshops in conjunction with the release. Tonight, she is at B’nai Horin/Children of Freedom.

Oct. 10: (310) 441-4434 or e-mail PeggiS@mac.com.

For other workshop dates, visit ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.uclalive.org.

Thursday the 12th

Storytelling for grownups comes courtesy of UCLA Live this week. “The Moth,” a New York storytelling organization, comes west for a night at Royce Hall titled, “Out on a Limb: Stories From the Edge.” The show of real-life narratives will include host Andy Borowitz (creator of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”), Jonathan Ames (author, “Wake Up Sir!”), comedian Margaret Cho, Cindy Chupak (writer and executive producer, “Sex and the City”), RUN DMC’s Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Steve Osborne (retired NYPD lieutenant).

8 p.m. $25-$35. Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 825-2101. ” target = “_blank”>Loudon Wainwright III (photo below), read theirs tonight.

7:30 p.m. $8-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

The Circuit 06-30-2006


All About Aviva
It was a night of stargazing…and trying unsuccessfully to spot any flaws on the amazing “Desperate Housewife” Teri Hatcher, when Aviva Family and Children’s Services presented its annual Triumph of the Spirit Awards Gala at the Regent Beverly Wilshire. The evening sparkled as honorees recognized with Aviva Spirit of Compassion awards included Carolyn Strauss, president of HBO Entertainment; actress Raven; restaurateur and architectural designer Barbara Lazaroff, president of Imaginings Interior Design and partner and co-founder of the Wolfgang Puck group of businesses; and community leader and philanthropist Susan Casden. Hatcher served as honorary dinner chair, Jeff Garlin emceed and Macy Gray and Melissa Manchester performed.

Aviva is a nonprofit, nonsectarian, multiservice agency that provides care and treatment to abandoned, neglected, abused and at-risk youth in the greater Los Angeles community.

For more information, visit

Artists Dream in a Golden Age


Sam Erenberg spends most of the day, nearly every day, alone in a 1,000-square-foot box.

“It’s like a temple,” the painter says of his artist’s studio.

A lonely temple, that is.

“I’m the rabbi and congregation all in one,” he says with a laugh.

Working as an artist can be isolating, especially in the sprawling city of Los Angeles. And what good is inspiration without community?

The Jewish Artists Initiative of Southern California exists for artists like Erenberg. The group, consisting of about 30 members, constitutes one of the nation’s first organized networks of Jewish artists. Its aims are twofold: to create a support system for local artists and to transform the way the Jewish community relates to art.

On a recent evening, Erenberg sat among other artists in a garage-turned-studio in Larchmont Village. He, for one, was happy for the company.

“This is my ad-hoc family,” he said to the painters, photographers and sculptors who had gathered there for the group’s monthly meeting.

The Artists Initiative emerged three years ago, when Amelia Xann of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles approached USC’s Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life. Xann wanted to create a program to promote visual art by Jewish artists.

The organizations decided to found a group that would put on exhibitions, host a lecture series and provide a space for artists to explore the relationship between their Jewish identities and their art.

So, the Artists Initiative launched, with $40,000 in foundation grants for a speaker series and Web site.

The group staged its first exhibition in 2004 at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “Too Jewish — Not Jewish Enough” showcased paintings, sculptures, photographs, prints, ceramics and digital work that incorporated Jewish themes or adhered to “a Jewish sensibility.” (Art with a “Jewish sensibility,” Erenberg explained, exhibits “a kind of longing, a feeling that you’re connected to a long history.”)

The second exhibition, “Makor/Source,” concentrated on the sources of the artists’ inspiration. The exhibit opened this year at the Hillel: Centers for Jewish Life, at USC and UCLA.

Members are planning a third exhibition, which will likely have a California theme, to open in the next year or so at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. Art historian Matthew Baigell will curate the show.

Ruth Weisberg, a nationally recognized artist and the de facto leader of the group, said the initiative has ambitious goals.

“We really want to be another porthole, another entrance into Judaism,” said Weisberg, who is dean of USC’s Roski School of Fine Arts. “Younger people, especially, are often more at ease entering the Jewish community through cultural events than any other way.”

Weisberg, who illustrated the Reform movement’s new haggadah, said she hoped the group would also encourage Jewish artists to treat Jewish themes in their work.

“Many Jews who are involved in the art world keep their Judaism in one part of their life, and their cultural [expression] in another,” she said. Jews may fear being categorized — or even dismissed — as Jewish, rather than mainstream, artists. But keeping art and religious identity separate “is, I think, unnecessary and not that productive.”

Not all of the group’s members agree.

“I’m here protesting,” Channa Horwitz announced at the last meeting.

“I’m Jewish, and I’m an artist, but I’m not a Jewish artist,” said Horwitz, who uses complex patterns and bright colors in her work. “I don’t think art has anything to do with religion.”

Horwitz’s response reflects the diversity of the group, which includes Jews across the religious spectrum, from around the world, including the United States, Israel and Russia.

Despite their differences, or perhaps because of them, members find value in the group.

“It’s really great to sit in a room with people who get it,” said Laurel Paley, whose use of Hebrew text in her art has been criticized as “obfuscation.”

Members hope their network will become a model for communities across the country. To increase membership and public awareness, the group is updating its Web site. It has also applied for another foundation grant.

Should funding arrive in the fall, the artists hope to launch new projects. One idea they bandied about involves creating a Jewish community center for the arts, where the public can come not only to view art but also to create it.

As the artists speculated about the future, a sense of what could be — if only they had the world as their canvas — invigorated the group.

Exciting things happen when artists get together, said Bruria Finkel, a sculptor with works on display at the New Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington.

The Dadaists and Cubists of the 20th century began by meeting in groups, Finkel said. Now, with Jewish artists flourishing in the United States, especially on the West Coast, who knows what this group can accomplish?

“It’s a golden age,” she said.