L.A.’s Jewish Community Library Likely to Move

A coalition of Jewish Community Library supporters say leaders at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have spurned their efforts to create an independent library and to stop a proposed merger with the American Jewish University.

Since March 2008, leaders of Federation, which funds the library through the Bureau of Jewish Education, and AJU have been exploring a merger of the 30,000-volume collection at the Jewish Community Library with AJU’s 115,000-volume library at the Mulholland Drive campus. AJU plans to expand its library facilities in the next few years and to open the library up to the community.

BJE leaders say the merger is the only way to keep the collection public, since Federation has been steadily reducing its funding for the library, which draws about 2,000 patrons a year to its third floor suite in Federation headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard.

BJE will not request funding to run the library for the 2010 fiscal year, BJE executive director Gil Graff told The Journal.

But library supporters say AJU shouldn’t be the collection’s only option. They have formulated a plan that would set the library on an independent course, to open a freestanding, centrally located facility, possibly with satellite facilities, that would increase community access to the library. They are not asking for funding from Federation – just to entrust it with the collection.

The supporters say a merger with AJU would sacrifice the library’s identity as a community resource.

“I just don’t think an academic library that sits on top of a hill, over a freeway, which you can’t even see from the street, which few people ever go to is the place to put a community library,” said Sherrill Kushner, an attorney who is heading up Save the Jewish Library, which also includes Orange County’s Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie.

But Federation officials say this plan is just another version of a 2006 plan that was already analyzed and rejected by a BJE task force set up to determine the library’s future. In 2008, that task force recommended pursuing the possibility of a merger with AJU. Those talks have been under way since June 2008.

Issues on the table include what to do with duplicate volumes, which could be placed in other libraries or institutions where the community could have access to them, Graff said. Still unclear is what would happen to the Slavin children’s library. Graff says BJE will not be asking for funding for that entity in 2010, either.

Eliezrie and Kushner say Federation leaders seem sold on the AJU plan, and they have had a hard time getting anyone to discuss their approach. While Federation vice president Beryl Geber said she is planning to meet with Eliezrie, Eliezrie said 10 days worth of emails to Geber, Graff and Federation President John Fishel have not yielded indication that a meeting will take place.

“The library should be an independent oasis for everyone,” said Eliezrie, who as Chabad’s liaison to United Jewish Communities is well seasoned in working with Federation. “I’ve been shocked that they won’t even talk about it. Let everyone meet and argue and hear what we have to say.”

Graff expressed pessimism about the ability of the grassroots effort would be able to take on the responsibility for the community collection with no facility, supporters or infrastructure to manage a library in place.

“It’s not clear to me that this is something as attractive as an entity with a history of 60 years and a campus,” he said, referring to AJU.

Kushner counters that it is difficult to fundraise without any indication that they could have access to the collection. The BJE and Federation will jointly decide whether the AJU merger will go through, and then the Federation’s Education Pillar will decide whether the new entity would get funding, and how much. Under a new structure put into place in Federation last year, Federation agencies do not get any entitlements and any non-profit can apply for funding – including AJU or an independent library.

The idea that AJU could get funding for absorbing the community collection is appalling to Abigail Yasgur, who resigned from her position as Jewish Community Library director in protest to the merger.

“Giving the library to the AJU serves only the interests of the AJU and the Federation, but not the interests of the people.  The arrangement serves the AJU by enlarging its collection. (While the specifics of the Federation-AJU arrangement remain unknown, should the Federation also decide to give funds to the AJU to take the Library, that would be scandalous,)” she wrote in an editorial submitted to the Jewish Journal. “The arrangement serves the Jewish Federation by lowering or eliminating the cost of running the library, which it has borne in major part.  But the losers in this deal, which has not been subjected to public scrutiny, are you and me and everyone else who seeks a Library that serves the people.”

Geber disagrees. She says the merger will give more people more access.

“What we are talking about is not the disappearance, but the expansion of the Jewish Community Library, and it relocation,” Geber said. “It means an expansion in the possible number of hours it is open, in the number of volumes, in the space it will have. These are all things it can’t do here.”

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Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad; ‘West Bank Story’ screening

Saturday the 3rd

Naughty Jewish girls need love, too. Show it to ’em this weekend. “Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad” returns to Los Angeles for three nights at Tangiers. The variety show features comedy, music, spoken word and burlesque, with a healthy helping of kitsch. Klezmer Juice also performs.

March 2-4, 8 p.m. $15. Tangiers Restaurant, 2138 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 666-8666.

Sunday the 4th

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Wondering where to see those short films you’d never heard of before your Oscar pool? The Very Short Movies Festival presents a perfect opportunity. March 8-11, the festival takes over the Egyptian Theater, where it will screen comedy, drama, documentary, animated and experimental shorts, including “The Tribe,” and Oscar-winner “West Bank Story.”

$8-$10 (tickets), $12-$15 (festival packages). 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (866) 376-9047. Oscar 2007: A good year for the Jews!

7 Days in the Arts

Saturday the 2nd

This weekend represents a final opportunity to view two Skirball Center multimedia exhibitions. “Jewish Identity Project: New American Photography” presents photos, video and multimedia pieces by emerging and mid-career artists, exploring the theme of Jewish identity. “L.A. River Reborn” focuses in closer to home, on the Los Angeles River and the relationship between society and the environment.

Through Sept. 3. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. ” border = 0 align = left vspace = 6 hspace = 6 alt = “”>

Monday the 4th

This Labor Day the Workmen’s Circle hosts an opening reception for “Peter Whittenberg: Prints,” an exhibition of politically minded graphic art. The decidedly adult-only show features Whittenberger’s recurring character, Robert P. Vonruenhousen IV, who has male sex organs for a head, and represents what the artist feels is wrong with America today.

5-7 p.m. Free. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007. ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.thelikud.org.

Wednesday the 6th

Community spirit can be found at the Robertson Branch Library tonight. Families and kids of all ages are invited for “Neighbors Celebrating Neighbors: An Evening of Music and Stories.” The event features Uncle Ruthie Buell of KPFK, children’s book author Barney Saltzberg ,singer and recording artist Tiana Marquez and singer Tonyia Jor’dan.

6:30 p.m. Free. 1719 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 840-2147.

Thursday the 7th

The Academy does it short and sweet, this week. The Los Angeles International Short Film Festival, accredited by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is the largest fest of its kind. Included among this year’s films are “George Lucas in Love,” directed by Joe Nussbaum (“American Pie 5: The Naked Mile”) and “In God We Trust,” by Jason Reitman, director of “Thank You For Smoking” and son of director Ivan.

Sept. 5-14. ArcLight Cinemas, 6360 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. ” align = right vspace = 6 hspace = 6 border = 0 alt = “”>
Homage is paid to the brothers Gershwin in the 1983 Tony-winner “My One and Only.” Head to UCLA’s Freud Playhouse to see Reprise’s production of this “Funny Face” adaptation, that also includes Gershwin music from other sources.

Sept. 5-17. $60-$75 (single tickets), $165-$195 (season tickets). Macgowan Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 825-2101.

Long Overdue

Abigail Yasgur has a vision for the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles.

“Why can’t the library serve as a civic hub?” the director of library and information services asks. “Why not be a storefront for the [Jewish] Federation [of Greater Los Angeles], like Jewish Vocational Service and Jewish Family Services? Why can’t we have a gathering place for Jews of all types — from the unaffiliated to the black hatters — and have coffee? That’s what I envision.”

With so many community institutions housing formidable collections of Jewish literature, is her ideal realistic? That depends on whom you ask.

Howard Gelberd, director of Judaic studies at Stephen S. Wise Temple and Day School, has some logistical concerns.

“It’s not near a freeway. It’s far away. It’s peripheral to a chunk of the population,” Gelberd says. “Are Jews on the Westside or Woodland Hills…going to go there? You’d have to ask them.”

While Dr. Gil Graff, executive director of the Federation-backed Bureau of Jewish Education, thinks that “the library is pursuing the right path,” he is reluctant to take a definitive stance on Yasgur’s vision. However, presented with the reduced-space scenario, Graff concedes that “it wouldn’t lend itself to having large groups for programming. … In terms of realizing the fullness of the vision, it would be somewhat confining.”

Yasgur would agree. At its present Museum Row location, the library competes for limited square footage with two other Jewish Federation-subsidized agencies — the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. (“At our opening, there were 3- or 4-year-olds wandering into the Holocaust Museum,” Yasgur says.) As if these cramped quarters were not stifling enough, the library will occupy only 2,500 square feet — half of its original designation — when it eventually moves back to its old 6505 Wilshire Blvd. address. Meanwhile, one-third of the Library’s collection will continue to gather dust in storage.

Dismayed over what she perceives as a disparity in priorities between herself and the Federation, Yasgur claims that some officials have complained that the library is not as thriving as counterparts in more Jewishly centralized places such as Montreal — a comparison Yasgur deems disingenuous.

“The library is sort of suffocating under the weight of the Federation,” Yasgur says. “They don’t give us the money…to nourish the mind, which is as important as nourishing the body. We have wonderful resources, and people always say, they don’t know about it. … I’m sick of that refrain.”

As a resident, Roberta Lloyd, head librarian at Stephen S. Wise Temple, sees Los Angeles’ decentralized urban sprawl as no reason to eschew investing in a community library.

“Just because the Jewish community is spread out, doesn’t mean we can’t have a central library,” says Lloyd, who adds that Angelenos cannot avoid driving to get to anywhere in this city.

Federation officials declined to comment on the library.

Yasgur is proud of what the library has to offer. The director shows off the culinary collection, which she refers to as “anthropological study. You’re looking at a history of a people.” She raves about the video section, a “robustly circulating part of the collection” that includes everything from Bill Moyer’s “Genesis” series to popular Jewish-themed movies (“The Frisco Kid”) and television (episodes of “Homicide” and “Northern Exposure”). And she is particularly satisfied with the library’s comprehensive children’s programming and online capabilities. The librarian hopes to make the facility’s entire catalog Web-browsable within a year.

All these efforts have not gone completely unnoticed.

Rita Berman Frischer, director of library services at Sinai Temple’s Blumenthal Library, believes that the Jewish Community Library “functions amazingly well under the circumstances. … A library is a logistical nightmare when it’s out of house. … They have shown a lot of flexibility. I think they need a lot of support.”

Librarian Lloyd commends the library and its resources: “I think there aren’t a lot of people who know about it, [but] who should know about it.”

Four years ago, just prior to Yasgur’s arrival, Jewish Angelenos believed they might lose their library when the Federation tried to relocate it. Friends of the Jewish Community Library, spearheaded by Judy and Nat Gorman, came to the rescue, gathering enough funding to keep the site going. The Friends still raises $20,000 to $30,000 annually through direct-mail campaigns.

While she is thankful that the Federation continues to keep the library open, Yasgur hopes that the educational center’s core base of teachers, students and families will continue to grow. As she waits to see what the future brings, Yasgur offers a simple plea: “Let’s have a library we can be proud of.”

For more information on the Jewish Community Library, call (323) 761-8644; e-mail info@jclla.org; or visit www.jclla.org.

ArtsThe Year’s Best Jewish Children’s Books

Last month,the Association of Jewish Libraries announced the winners of its Sydney Taylor Award for this year’s most distinguished contributions to Jewish children’s literature. AJL’s award committee chose a holiday story and a mesmerizing collection of legends as the finest of the 70 books submitted by Jewish and secular publishers in the 1997 publishing season. Winners are the picture book, “When Zaydeh Danced on Eldridge Street” in the younger reader division and the anthology, “The Mysterious Visitor” in the older reader division. Honor books are “When Jessie Came Across the Sea” and “I Have Lived A Thousand Years”. Author Barbara Diamond Goldin won the Body of Work award.

The annual awards include a cash prize from the estate of popular children’s author Sydney Taylor of All-of-a-kind-Family series fame. Publishers add a gold foil winner’s seal to the book jacket. Winning authors and illustrators will receive their awards on June 23rd in Philadelphia at AJL’s national convention banquet.

“When Zaydeh Danced On Eldridge Street,” written by Elsa Rael, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, is a Simchat Torah story about the tension between a bright little girl and her fearsomely stern grandfather.

“The Mysterious Visitor: Stories of the Prophet Elijah” by Nina Jaffe, illustrated by Elivia Savadier, Jaffe chose Elijah legends from a wide range of geographical origins. Her charming versions brim with the oral quality expected in folklore.

Two honors reflect the diversity in Jewish children’s literature. “When Jessie Came Across the Sea,” by Amy Hest, illustrated by P.J. Lynch and published by Candlewick Press, recounts how a Jewish orphan maid makes her way in the wide world from shtetl to America.

The older reader’s honor book is “I Have Lived A Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust” by Livia Bitton-Jackson, published by Simon & Schuster. Vivid laughter describes a searing personal experience during the gory final year of the Holocaust when Bitton-Jackson, a Czechoslovakian Jew, was sent to concentration camps.

Barbara Diamond Goldin won the Body of Work Award for significant contribution to Jewish juvenile literature. Her primary picture books include original holiday tales which range from humorous to bittersweet and her older children’s books encourage understanding of observance and ethics. She won a 1991 Sydney Taylor Award for her Purim picture book, “Cakes and Miracles.” Goldin’s consistently commendable and recommendable books combine talented writing, solid research, personal commitment and deep caring about young Jewish readers.

These books are available at your synagogue, religious or day school libraries. For more information, contact Awards Chair Ellen Cole at Temple Isaiah’s Levine Library or Abigail Yasgur, director of the Jewish Community Library. — Staff Report

When Zaydeh Danced On Eldridge Street, written by Elsa Rael and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, is the winner of the Sydney Taylor Award in the younger reader division.