7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, February 25

Havdallah includes a redemption song tonight. Following services at Beit T’Shuvah, con man turned rabbi Mark Borovitz talks to Rabbi Ed Feinstein about his story, as outlined in his bestselling book “The Holy Thief,” newly released in paperback.

5:30 p.m. (havdallah), 6:30 p.m. (conversation). Free. 8831 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 204-5200.

Sunday, February 26

Sephardic culture is placed center stage in this weekend’s colloquium at Cal State University Long Beach, titled “My Heart Is in the East and I in the Uttermost West.” The weekend begins with a concert of Ladino music by Vanessa Paloma and Jordan Charnofsky on Saturday, continues today with various lectures and closes with a presentation this evening on Sephardic musical traditions in Italy, Corfu, Salonica and the New World.

Saturday: 8 p.m. $5-$50. Sunday: Noon-8:30 p.m. Free. Locations on CSULB campus vary. (562) 985-4423. www.csulb.edu/programs/jewish-studies.

Monday, February 27

Jewish lit maven and Tel Aviv University professor Hana Wirth-Nesher visits us this week. Tonight, see her presentation on the writings of Grace Paley as part of the Jewish Community Library and The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Book Salon. Tomorrow, USC Casden Institute sponsors her talk on “The Accented Imagination: Speaking and Writing Jewish America” at Temple Emanuel.

Monday: 7:30-9:30 p.m. Free. Private residence. R.S.V.P., (323) 761-8644 or resource@jclla.org.
Tuesday: 7 p.m. Free. 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (213) 740-3405 or casden@usc.edu

Tuesday, February 28

In theaters now is Academy Award nominee for best foreign language film of the year, “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.” The film tells the true story of the German anti-Nazi activist and heroine, and has already garnered awards in Germany — its country of origin — as well as three European Film Awards.

Laemmle Theaters: Town Center, Encino; Music Hall, Beverly Hills; Monica 4, Santa Monica; Playhouse, Pasadena. Â

Wednesday, March 1

The controversial, and now out of hiding, Salman Rushdie, is tonight’s star of the Music Center Speaker Series. The Indian-born British author’s public appearances are rare, but he speaks this evening in conjunction with his newly released novel of magic realism, “Shalimar the Clown.”

8 p.m. $45-$200. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 271-6631. www.ticketmaster.com.


Thursday, March 2

Hillel at UCLA and the Daniel Pearl Foundation present a Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture by Larry King, on “The Art and Science of the Interview: Musings About Everything.” Hear King speak live and in person, in a talk moderated by law professor Laurie Levenson.

7:30 p.m. Donation requested. Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA, Lee and Irving Kalsman Campus, 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081, ext 107. R.S.V.P. by Feb. 27, www.uclahillel.org.

Friday, March 3

Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy with a little help from National Jewish Outreach Program. The group has organized the 10th annual “Shabbat Across America” tonight, which will have thousands of Jews across the country and Canada participating in the rituals of Shabbat prayer and dinner. Many L.A.-area synagogues are taking part, so see their Web site to find one near you.

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Spectator – Movie for ‘Rent’


More people can afford “Rent” this month, thanks to Revolution Studios. The production company brings a film version of the Jonathan Larson rock opera to movie theaters this week, directed by Chris Columbus and starring most of the original Broadway cast.

Set against the backdrop of New York’s East Village in the late 1980s, and based on Puccini’s opera, “La Boheme,” “Rent” tells the story of bohemian artist friends struggling with poverty, heartbreak, drug addiction and AIDS.

Perhaps because of its gritty, real themes and characters, the show has been credited with generating interest among younger generations in musical theater. “Rent” is currently the eighth longest-running show in Broadway history, with a fan base affectionately called “Rentheads.”

Notably absent from the film creation is show creator Larson, who died of an aortic aneurysm on the eve of the play’s first preview. Larson’s sister, Julie, is the film’s co-producer, which should ease fans’ minds about the filmmakers’ desire to do justice to a show that has won both Pulitzer and Tony awards.

Indeed, the sound and feel of Broadway’s “Rent” are intact, even while the music assumes a slightly edgier rock core, and some dialogue is spoken rather than sung.

Jewish Rentheads can also rest easy, as the little nods and throwaway lines Larson wrote for Jewish character Mark Cohen are still there, too. Mark still mentions his bar mitzvah, and talks about learning to tango with Nanette Himmelfarb, the rabbi’s daughter at the Scarsdale Jewish Community Center.

The filmmakers also kept the part where Mark’s mom calls him on Christmas to wish him a happy holiday. That may sound strange, but actor Anthony Rapp, who reprises the role from Broadway, explained that Mark’s character was drawn from Larson’s own experience.

“I know that Jonathan did celebrate Christmas in their house, but I think they also had a menorah,” Rapp said.

This loyalty to Larson’s vision is a hallmark of the film.

“We’re here to serve Jonathan and the play,” said Tracie Thoms, who plays Joanne in the film. “And we’re here to serve all the fans who were touched and moved and saved by the play.”

“Rent” opens in theaters Nov. 23.

 

L.A. Authors Break the Heroine Mold


 

California purists who like to shop local, travel local and eat local will have no problem reading local. Among the season’s offerings of new books are several impressive works by Los Angeles-based writers.

Although the many writers at work in this city choose different genres, four novelists — Maggie Anton, Merrill Joan Gerber, Lynn Isenberg and Rochelle Krich, all fine storytellers — will be particularly visible this fall, reading from and talking about their new books at venues around town (for listings, see facing page). Two of the novels are contemporary tales set in and around Los Angeles, another is a story that takes place in Florida in the 1950s and the fourth is a historical novel set in medieval France. Anton’s is a debut novel and the others are by veteran writers.

The novels are so different in tone, style and theme that it’s difficult to identify any common L.A. sensibility, but these women are writing within miles of one another, probably looking out over some of the same landscape.

As “Six Feet Under” ends its run, Isenberg’s “The Funeral Planner” (Red Dress Ink, $12.95) breaks new ground as a novel involving bereavement. It’s the story of building a business, with doses of romance, challenges of friendship and family, with old rivalries and new partnerships. The book is full of humor and has been the spark of a new business.

Since writing the novel, Isenberg, a media developer, took her idea of planning one’s own very personal funeral in advance — at the heart of the novel — and turned it into an actual business, Lights Out Enterprises. This is a case of fiction inspiring reality. She wrote the book soon after her own brother and father died a year apart to the day, causing her to have lots of grief to deal with — along with much experience with funerals.

The novel’s main character, Madison Banks is an L.A.-based overachiever, a risk taker determined to build a successful business before she dies. She comes up with the idea for a personalized funeral ceremony after sitting through a dreadful canned eulogy for a dear friend, given by a minister who never met the 31-year-old woman. Her business plan is to work with individuals and their families ahead of time to create funerals that are celebrations of life rather than a mourning of death: She doesn’t seek to eliminate the grieving process but, rather, hopes to influence the way people deal with grief.

Banks always wears a watch that has the internal mechanisms showing through the Lucite face: She likes to know how all things work. Not a practicing religious Jew, she does have an affinity for ritual, Jewish and self-invented ones — they give her a sense of stability. She realizes that most of the people working in the funeral business are the sons and daughters of others who’ve worked in this business; they think largely in traditional terms, while she is able to think, so to speak, out of the box. Her business is geared to baby boomers who “want to validate their lives by giving meaning to their deaths.” Although the business initially fails, she remains determined and is open to new interesting developments in her life. The novel, from a publisher specializing in chick lit, makes for entertaining reading, and might inspire some readers to look up Lights Out.

The author, a self-described avant-garde content creator, producer and narrative marketing strategist, is the author of two previous novels, including “My Life Uncovered.” Her television credits include “Youngblood” and “I Love You to Death,” and she is the founder of the Hollywood Literary Retreat.

No question, the young women in the vintage photograph — seen peeking out the windows through Venetian blinds — on the jacket of “Glimmering Girls: A Novel of the Fifties” by Gerber (Terrace Books, $24.95) are looking at guys. And they’re trying not to be seen, while hoping to be seen.

This is a novel of college life, set at a time when college girls wear leather-heeled loafers and rarely go out without girdles. These coeds set their hair in large foam rollers, live in a strict-curfew dormitory where “four feet on the floor” is the rule when men visit and follow the dictum: Marry before graduation or be lost forever. “Glimmering Girls” is a period piece and also a coming-of-age story, particularly for Francie, a transplanted New Yorker who is one of the few Jews at the University of Florida.

Francie is also unusual in that she’s not at all desperate — like many of her classmates — to become engaged before graduation. While her roommate reads Bride’s magazine, she writes a paper on D.H. Lawrence’s “Sons and Lovers.” During her senior year, she accepts an invitation to move out of the strict-curfew dormitory with two more worldly girlfriends into a house off-campus, sharing it with the boyfriend of one and a pair of male twins.

She doesn’t want to be a teacher or nurse — the chosen professions of those young women not marrying immediately — but wants to be a writer, although she doesn’t know what that means. As she nears graduation, she muses, “All her life she has been in a long tunnel, and finally she is about to burst into clear air and open skies.”

Gerber writes of these women’s adventures, their longings and their self-discovery with sensitivity, quiet humor and an authority that a reader guesses is born of knowing that era intimately. The author of many novels, short-story collections and nonfiction works, she teaches fiction writing at the California Institute of Technology.

Krich brings back her appealing Orthodox sleuth, Molly Blume, in her newest suspense novel, “Now You See Me…” (Ballantine, $13.95), to be published in October.

Recently married to a rabbi and author of a new true-crime book, Blume gets drawn into a case involving the daughter of a well-known rabbi who had been her teacher. The high school girl disappears, it seems, with someone she met in an Internet chatroom. The family refuses to turn to the police, in fear of the reputation of their daughter — and ultimately the entire family — in their close-knit Orthodox community in Los Angeles.

Blume visits the chatroom, struggles to get the girl’s classmates to speak openly with her, calls in favors from friends in the police department without revealing details of the missing girl and unravels some interlocking mysteries in trying to solve the case, which ultimately involved a murder. Krich’s distinctive style is to mix in details about Judaism, about the Orthodox lifestyle in particular, with the clues.

The chatroom where Hadassah meets the person who lures her to meet him is called Jspot — it’s a place where religious kids talk anonymously about sex, drugs and other subjects that are otherwise difficult to discuss in their lives. Her parents are shocked to learn that their daughter would frequent this site, and they also learn other facts of her life that are surprising. The intricacies of the plot can’t be described without giving away details key to the pleasures of discovery for readers.

The book’s epitaph is from the book of Genesis, when Dinah, the daughter of Leah, is taken by Shechem, prince of the land. “He loved the maiden and spoke her heart.”

Maggie Anton’s first novel (and the first in a projected trilogy) is inspired by her own adult study of the Talmud. Every talmudic student quickly learns of the work of the great medieval French scholar Rashi, whose commentary appears in every printed Talmud. Another column on the page includes the work of the tosaphists, the grandsons and disciples of Rashi. Anton’s book “Rashi’s Daughters — Book One: Joheved” (Banot Press, $15.95) tells the forgotten story of the generation of women sandwiched in between. She imagines what the personal and intellectual lives of the three daughters, Joheved, Miriam and Rachel, might have been like. Little has been written of them, although they played a crucial role in Jewish scholarship.

Rashi is an acronym for Rabbi Solomon Yitzhak ben Isaac, who was born in Troyes, France, in 1040. The novel is published on the 900th anniversary of his death.

At a time when most women were illiterate, Rashi learned Talmud with his daughters. From the time of the birth of their new sister, the two elder daughters, Joheved and Miriam, began a bedtime secret ritual of studying Talmud, which readers can follow. When it is time for the family to begin thinking about a betrothal for Joheved, even though she is quite young, she makes it clear that she desires to marry a scholar. Indeed, she marries a young man who is a former student of her father. The book includes an absorbing, detailed account of the process of betrothal and marriage.

The novel is also the story of the French Jewish community in medieval times, and the daily lives of Jewish women, many of whom were vintners, merchants, midwives and mothers.

In researching the book, the author who works as a clinical chemist, visited Troyes, Rashi’s birthplace where he founded a school, consulted with scholars in medieval and Jewish studies and read books in English, French and Hebrew. l

Sandee Brawarsky is the book critic for The Jewish Week.

Signings and Such


Signings and Such
Lynn Isenberg:
“The Funeral Planner”
Thurs., Sept. 29, 7 p.m.: Village Books
1049 Swarthmore Ave. , Pacific Palisades (310)454-4063.
Tues., Oct. 18, 7 p.m.: Dutton’s Bookstore, 447 N. Canon Drive,
Beverly Hills, (310) 281-0997.

Merrill Joan Gerber:
“Glimmering Girls:
A Novel of the Fifties”
Tues., Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m.
Reading and talk in conjunction with Jewish Book Month.
Borders at the Westfield Santa Anita Mall, 400 S. Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, (626) 445-1320.

Rochelle Krich: “Now You See Me…”

Sun., Oct. 2, 12:30-1:30 p.m.: (panel)
10 a.m.-6 p.m. (fair), “Gals with Guns: How Female Authors Have Reshaped the Modern Mystery Novel.” Moderated by Linda Palmer. Panelists: Rochelle Krich, Naomi Hirahara, Taylor Smith and Carolyn Wheat. Signing to follow. Fourth annual West Hollywood Book Fair, 647 N. San Vicente Blvd.
Los Angeles, www.weho.org/bookfair.

Mon., Nov. 14, 7 p.m.: Duttons of Beverly Hills, 447 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 281-0997.

Tues., Nov. 15, 5 p.m.: Book ‘Em, 1118 Mission, South Pasadena,
(626) 799-9600.

Wed., Nov. 16, 7 p.m.: Mysteries To Die For, 2940 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, (805) 374-0084.

Thurs., Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m.: Barnes & Noble, 16461 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 380-1636.

Sun., Nov. 20, 12:30-1:30 p.m.: Mystery panel moderated by Nathan Walpow. Panelists: Rochelle Krich with Jerrilyn Farmer and Robert Levinson.
Jewish Federation, Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, 258 West Badillo St., Covina, (626) 967-3656.

Mon., Nov. 21, 7 p.m.: Mysterious Galaxy,
7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., San Diego, (858) 268-4747.

Maggie Anton:

“Rashi’s Daughters — Book One: Joheved”

Sat., Sept. 24, 2 p.m.: Donald Bruce Kaufman-Brentwood Branch L.A. Public Library, 11820 San Vicente Blvd. (at Montana Avenue), Los Angeles, (310) 575-8273.

Fri., Sept. 30, 8 p.m.: Shabbat services at Temple Or Ami, 26115 Mureau Road,
No. B, Calabasas,
(818) 880-4880.

Sun., Oct. 23, 10 a.m.: Temple Isaiah, 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles,
(310) 277-2772.

Thurs., Oct. 27. 12:30 p.m.: Jewish Studies Department, CSUN Grand Salon in the University Student Union (just west of Parking Lot G4 off Zelzah Avenue), Northridge, (818) 677-3007.

Tues., Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m.: Long Beach JCC Jewish Book Fair (In conjunction with Cal State Long Beach’s Jewish studies department) Barbara and Ray Alpert JCC, 3801 E Willow St., Long Beach, (626) 426-7601.

‘Down’ on the Valley


“I still feel uncomfortable going back to the Valley,” 43-year-old filmmaker David Jacobson said. “To this day, I associate it with my childhood sense of feeling lost and lonely in a stark landscape. When I begin going over the 405, my spirits just start to drop.”

Jacobson’s acclaimed new film, “Down in the Valley” — which opens the Los Angeles Film Festival June 16 — draws on his memories of desolation without and within. His parents divorced when he was 2; his older brother died in a car accident when he was 13; and the introverted boy suffered nightmares and fear of the dark upon moving into a Van Nuys tract home next to the 101. “The freeway, which we heard day and night, was an ominous presence, a violent place where hurtling steel rushed past you like bullets,” he said. “We played in empty, weedy lots.”

Jacobson’s isolation was exacerbated because he discerned no historical or cultural continuity with which to connect. Since his family was secular, he said, he had no Jewish education to help him feel part of a community and guide him through rites of passage. His bar mitzvah, in a sense, was moving in with his father after his brother’s death.

His memories led him to create “Down in the Valley,” starring Edward Norton as a delusional man who claims to be a cowboy with a mysterious past. Harlan Fairfax Carruthers (Norton) drifts from the Tujunga Wash to a Chasidic neighborhood as he pursues a dangerous friendship with two latchkey kids who regard him as a hero. Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood), a rebellious teenager, and 11-year-old Lonnie (Rory Culkin), who suffers a crippling fear of the dark, also wander aimlessly through vacant lots, strip malls, freeway overpasses and fast-food joints.

Like the director’s previous films, “Criminal” (1994) and “Dahmer” (2002), “Valley,” in part, is a disquieting portrait of a man unable to function within normal society. So it’s jarring to meet the bespectacled director, who seems more like a nice Jewish boy than the creator of distressing, if lauded dramas. He is mild-mannered and friendly, despite spending 16-hour days trimming “Valley” after Cannes reviewers called it “breathtaking” but overlong. (Variety called him a “prodigiously talented” filmmaker.) Without a trace of bitterness, he said his work places him on the margins of American independent cinema, which veers more toward the quirky than the profoundly disturbing.

It was while braving multiple rejections for his understated serial killer film, “Dahmer,” around 1999 that he started writing his latest film in France — one of the many places he has lived to escape the Valley. He currently lives in Hollywood.

Since he had identified with the isolation of Dahmer’s youth (but not with his perversities), he decided to “return to the personal in an even more direct way, by exploring my childhood,” he said.

Jacobson wrote much of “Valley’s” first draft in an 18th century rococo library in Paris: “Had I been in Los Angeles, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to deal with it, so having all that physical and emotional distance helped,” he said.

While writing, Jacobson attended a series of classic Western films, and the myths and images flowed into his story. “I wanted to depict the parallels between the bleak vistas and lifestyles portrayed in the Westerns and the modest West where I lived,” he said. “Growing up in the Valley, there was this sense of solitude, the constant fear of attack and the need of a hero to save me.”

To capture flat Valley spaces that retain old West emptiness, Jacobson decided to shoot the movie in anamorphic widescreen. But while scouting locations, he discovered the kind of childhood scenarios he remembered had moved to the North Valley. In Arleta, he found the tract home with cinderblock and overgrown palm trees that served as the children’s house. Harlan, for a time, inhabits rural Sunland, where bucolic ranches also harbor “abandoned junky cars, power lines and trailers — a weird netherland that’s both urban and rural,” he said.

While scrolling through the images in a dim Los Angeles editing room, Jacobson said the story eventually became less about the Valley than children left alone to complete rites of passage. “When they are left to their own devices, it doesn’t usually have the best ending,” he said.

The 263 movies in the Los Angeles Film Festival, June 16-26, of which The Jewish Journal is a promotional affiliate, include three Israeli films focusing on women’s issues: Raphael Nadjari’s “Avanim” depicts a young wife’s resistance to a claustrophobic, male-dominated culture; Eran Riklis’ “The Syrian Bride” tells of an Israeli Druze who cannot return to her village once she crosses the border to marry her Syrian fiance; and Anat Zuria’s documentary, “Sentenced to Marriage,” traces three Orthodox wives’ battles to divorce abusive husbands. For tickets and information, call (866) 345-6337 or visit www.lafilmfest.com.

 

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