NOW YOU SEE ME 2 *Movie Review*


Sometimes movies just need to give their audiences what they came looking for, and in this case it’s heist scenes and magic.  NOW YOU SEE ME 2 really shines when it draws from the first one’s playbook and showcases those elements.

Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, Lizzy Caplan, Woody Harrelson and Daniel Radcliffe comprise this talented cast.

For a full review and analysis of the film’s themes and eagle eye details to watch for, take a look below:

—>Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

‘Smoke and Mirrors’ creator has magic touch


The day may arrive when writer-actor Albie Selznick declares his magic-infused theatrical performance “Smoke and Mirrors” a finished product, but audiences probably shouldn’t hold their breath. Given that Selznick is a self-described perfectionist and workaholic — and because there are always new illusions to learn — “Smoke and Mirrors” could continue to evolve as long as its creator is willing to tinker. 

“It has been a constant rewriting, working, rewriting, working,” he said. “It’s just never good enough. I keep seeing ways it could be better. But I feel like this is the closest it has ever been to being as good as it can be.” 

Imperfect or otherwise, the autobiographical show has been embraced by audiences and critics alike, earning Critic’s Choice laurels from the Los Angeles Times and L.A. Weekly. The current version, directed by David Schweizer, is back at the Odyssey Theatre through Dec. 20 after playing there earlier this year from January through March.

The seed of “Smoke and Mirrors” was developed in an acting class with coach-to-the-stars Larry Moss approximately 15 years ago. In 2010, Selznick took an early version to the Hollywood Fringe Festival and subsequently produced it at Theatre Unlimited in North Hollywood. Engagements followed at the Santa Monica Playhouse, the Promenade Playhouse and a yearlong run at the Road Theatre, where Selznick has been a member and frequent performer. 

Concurrent with the Odyssey engagement, Selznick has instigated Magic Mondays. For five Monday nights during the run, some of his celebrated illusionist friends from the Magic Castle — where Selznick is a lifetime member — will take the stage to perform their own feats. Selznick said that several of these performers are, like him, Jewish. 

“I’m generalizing here, but magicians tend to be nerdy kids and introverts. They’re usually not athletic,” Selznick said. “On the outside, they’re scary and powerful, like the Wizard of Oz. On the inside, they’re these nerdy little kids trying to cover up the fact that they can’t get the girl. I think Jewish people like that either become comedians, Hollywood producers or magicians.”

As he relates in “Smoke and Mirrors,” Selznick was a frightened, introverted little boy who turned to magic after the death of his father, Sheldon Selesnick, when he was 9. The older Selesnick gave Albie a magic kit. Feats of wonder became not simply an escape, but possibly a way to help keep his father alive or maybe even bring him back. 

“I’ve never been good at relaxing,” Selznick said. “When I was a kid, if I wasn’t doing four magic shows a week at birthday parties, I didn’t think I was doing enough. It could be a possibility that I was trying in some ways to make up for the fact that I didn’t have a dad, or to get him, subconsciously, to come back if I was a good magician.” 

“Smoke and Mirrors” contains plenty of illusions, sleight of hand, escapes, live birds and “how did he do that?” kinds of tricks. But the show also has an undercurrent of darkness as well. In addition to assistance from a giant rabbit; Harry Houdini’s widow, Bess; and a spooky oracle who guesses the secrets of audience members, “Smoke and Mirrors” offers Selznick ruminating on themes of life, loss, fear, mystery and death. 

A magic show that is just tricks and no story is far less effective, according to Selznick, as the audience will spend all its time trying to figure out how the tricks work. 

“I love magic with a purpose,” he said. “When you see a really good magic show that has some kind of hook to it, I think you can sort of suspend your disbelief and be in that place when you were a kid, when everything was possible.”

Trained across an array of disciplines, Selznick co-founded the juggling circus trio The Mums, which opened for a number of bands in the 1980s and 1990s. He was a tightrope walker in the Olivia Newton-John movie-musical “Xanadu” and took to the wire again as a daredevil Mercutio in Deaf West Theatre’s production of “Romeo and Juliet.”

He has worked steadily as an actor in commercials, film and TV since the mid-1980s. He played a detective turned villain on “The Young and the Restless” and had a recurring role as Rabbi Ben opposite Brooke Shields for two seasons on the sitcom “Suddenly Susan.” 

When Selznick enrolled in Moss’ acting class in the mid-1990s, Moss was not aware of any of Selznick’s other skills — until he assigned the students the task of taking a profound incident from their life, relating it and then putting it on stage. Selznick recounted the story of a poignant encounter he had with a little boy named Nigel while performing in New Zealand. In telling the story, Selznick includes magic, and lo these many years later, Nigel is the climax of “Smoke and Mirrors.”

“I think everybody in the class was very excited by his abilities as a magician and by the story that came out of him,” said Moss, who saw the completed “Smoke and Mirrors” many years later. 

“It was a beautiful juxtaposition between humanity and vulnerability with an expertise of his technique. It was a wonderful balance. You feel a thrill when you watch your students succeed with something that is really valuable artistically.”

“Smoke and Mirrors” continues 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 20 at the Odyssey Theatre.  smokeandmirrorsmagic.com.

Adrien Brody performs tricks, shticks of the Great Harry Houdini


Erik Weisz, son of an unsuccessful immigrant rabbi from Hungary, settled in Appleton, Wis., became a world-famous magician and escape artist and changed his name to Harry Houdini.

He always liked to live on the edge. In one spat with his wife, Bess, he told her, “I’d rather escape death than dry the dishes.” Furiously, she replied, “And I’m just a dumb girl who married a Jew.”

The lives of Houdini, his wife, his mother and others around him get a thorough exposure in “Houdini,” airing at 9 p.m. on Sept. 1 and 2 on the History Channel in two two-hour segments.

The source book for the script is “Houdini: A Mind in Chains: A Psychoanalytic Portrait,” by Bernard C. Meyer, so it’s no surprise that the four-hour show leans heavily toward psychological interpretations.

That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of body action. Although the title character makes it a point to explain the tricks underlying his death-defying shticks, there was real physical danger in his acts.

In his Chinese Water Torture Cell act, he was lowered, hog-tied and chained head-first into a water-filled tank, and had to free himself before he ran out of breath, which he could hold for minutes on end.

As audiences demanded more and riskier stunts, and were diverted by the invention of silent movies, Houdini had to keep upping the ante.

One of his more spectacular performances, shown twice in the film, has him, chained and padlocked, leaping from the top of Eads Bridge in St. Louis, Mo., into the frozen river below through a hole chopped into the ice.

But all of this wasn’t enough of a challenge for the man. With World War I looming, Houdini happily became a spy for the British Secret Service. Using the fluent German of his parental home and the entrée granted in performing before the crowned heads of Germany and Russia, Houdini made off with some of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s most cherished war plans.

After the war, he set his sights on the raw new Hollywood, and for a short time, newspapers debated who would become the greater star — Houdini or Charlie Chaplin?

The first evening’s segment digs energetically into these exploits, making for an exciting, fun-filled show.

As Houdini, the lean, hawk-nosed Adrien Brody (himself the son of a Czech-Jewish mother) knows how to get the most out of these moments, as well as out of passionate clinches with Bess (Kristen Connolly).

Always in the background or at his side is his loyal assistant and ingenious inventor of escape equipment, Jim Collins (Evan Jones).

Being a nice Jewish boy, Houdini adores his doting Hungarian mother (Eszter Onodi), who speaks a mix of Yiddish and German, but not one word of English.

It’s the mother’s death that suffuses the second part of the film with a more somber tone, as the heartbroken son turns to clairvoyants and séances to contact his mother beyond the grave.

The veteran Houdini easily sees through the tricks of the spiritualists and, enraged, starts a lifelong battle to expose their tricks.

That quest earns him many enemies, especially his former friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and Doyle’s wife, both convinced believers in communing with their deceased loved ones.

Houdini died in 1926 at 52, after he insisted on performing with both a broken ankle and a ruptured infected appendix.

His funeral was attended by 2,000 people, and he was mourned by millions more, who validated Houdini’s saying, “Everyone wants to escape death — I do it for them.” 

The Mensch List: A magical ability to conjure up fun


California “Super Lawyer”/magician Stephen M. Levine likes to joke that he can make legal troubles disappear. Ditto for rabbits and quarters.

Unfortunately, he can’t make the same promise about the troubles facing all of the people he meets through his volunteer performances — sick kids at a children’s hospital, aging amputees at a Veterans Administration (VA) campus.

“It tugs at you,” Levine, a father of two, said. “You wonder, are they going to be around next year?”

But the Agoura Hills resident — also known as Stephen the Spectacular — does what he can to at least bring a smile to their faces. Despite working full time as a real estate and business trial lawyer, he regularly trades in his briefcase for a magic wand.

“I do it because I love performing for the kids,” Levine said. “I enjoy it — to make people feel good, to give them that sense of wonderment.”

Sometimes he is paid when he performs, but Levine believes it’s important to give back, too. A member of the Magic Castle’s outreach committee, he was among those who strolled through a group of 4,000 veterans, active-duty personnel and their families, doing magic for nearly five hours during a recent holiday event — only to leave for another charity event. 

Adept at stage, parlor and close-up magic, Levine has opened his bag of tricks for schools, synagogues, senior living facilities, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the VA, an autism support group and other places. Sometimes he’s there to help with fundraising, other times he just wants to spread a little fun.

Don’t assume Levine’s work is only about catering to kids. These days, parents and grandparents may need to believe in a little magic, too.

“Adults, I think, want to believe more, especially in these times. They want to be able to suspend reality,” he said.

Levine, 50, grew up on Long Island in New York, where he first got into magic as a preteen. He gave it up when he went to college, only to rediscover the skill much later as a means of calming his then-3-year-old daughter.

These days, he’s well practiced. He can make your body levitate and your head disappear. 

Perhaps his best tricks, though, have nothing to do with magic. At The New Shul of the Conejo in Agoura Hills, for example, he founded the Men’s Club and is currently the group’s president. In this capacity, he’s helped initiate things like family hikes and single-malt scotch tastings.

“For a lot of guys, especially ones that work, it gives them a sense of camaraderie and community,” he said.

And as the head of Friends of the Agoura Hills Library, he’s helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years by assisting with its used-book store, the Book Cellar. That money pays for periodicals, programming and more.

No need to thank Levine for any of this, though. Really. He remembers some veterans in wheelchairs who once tried.

“I said, ‘No. Thank you. I appreciate what you did for this country.’ ”

‘Mind Meld’: Love, marriage and magic


For Jeff and Kimberly Bornstein, first came love. Then came marriage. Then came a spellbinding, mouth-agape mind-reading show. 

In 2005, Jeff, who was doing road gigs as a comedian, wasn’t having any luck finding a girlfriend on Match.com. He sent out an e-mail on the site, telling people he was headlining the Loony Bin in Oklahoma. To his surprise, he received 50 replies, one of which was from Kimberly, who lived in the state. “We talked for about two weeks on the phone every single day,” Jeff said.  “The conversations were so intense, and after going back and forth, I flew her out to see me,” in Los Angeles.

For two years, the couple dated long-distance. Kimberly asked Jeff if he wanted to move to Oklahoma, but the opportunities to perform there were, well, scarce. Instead, he bought a ticket to see her without her knowledge, knocked on her door at 11 p.m., and told her to pack. “I basically adult-napped her,” he said. “We drove from Oklahoma to Los Angeles, and we’ve been together ever since. That was over seven years ago.”

Today, Jeff and Kimberly perform their two-person show, “The Bornstein Experiment,” all over Los Angeles and the world. In it, Jeff does stand-up comedy, while Kimberly reads audience members’ minds. She’ll tell them what streets they live on and how much money is in their pockets. The official story is that she gained her psychic ability when she was 10, when she fell off a tractor and hit her head. The two don’t reveal in the show whether the mind reading is real, either. “We let you decide,” Jeff said. “We don’t claim to have supernatural powers. She just takes her sixth sense to the 10th power. And then we leave it up to you.”

They will perform their new show, “Mind Meld,” which also focuses on mind reading, at the invitation-only Magic Castle on Jan. 22 and Feb. 5, 12 and 19, and at the ACME Comedy Theatre on Jan. 23 and 30, and Feb. 6 and 13. The show will be hosted by Fritz Coleman, the performer and NBC4 News weathercaster. 

In the traditional act, Jeff does stand-up at the top, and he and his wife talk about the ways Kimberly reads body language. “Our show is about communication, and we draw the differences between what it’s like when you have communication and when you don’t,” Jeff said.

Geared toward adults over 25, the show was an idea Jeff came up with after Kimberly suggested they do an act together. She had never performed, but after their initial 10-minute show, the audience adored her. Jeff said, “I thought she would see that it’s too tough and too much work to be on stage. Our first one we did, she was a hit. She was the star, and to this day, she is still the star and steals the show.”

Aside from performing at the Magic Castle and ACME, the two also produce “Operation Magic,” a comedy and variety show for the military. They’ve taken “The Bornstein Experiment” to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. One of the most touching moments in her performing career, Kimberly said, happened at a base when “a mom came up to me and said her husband just got deployed. She said ‘I don’t know if my husband is coming back, but this one hour you guys performed, you made me not think about that.’ That meant so much. That brought tears to my eyes. I was beside myself.”

The two also juggle day jobs in addition to their stage work: Kimberly is an executive assistant, while Jeff does stunt work. He’s appeared in “The Specialist,” “Lethal Weapon 3” and “Star Trek VI.” 

Joe Monti, a friend and magic producer and senior consultant on A&E’s “Mindfreak,” said their chemistry is apparent. “They are husband and wife, and that really shows on stage. Although people who are not performers wouldn’t notice, their technique is flawless.”

Creative consultant Bruce Gold said that keeping the audience doubting is what makes Jeff and Kimberly’s act so good. “I don’t think it needs to be real. As long as there is doubt, it makes it entertaining. If you wonder how they are doing it, then you are engaged, involved and entertained. Whether or not it’s real is immaterial. The thing that’s important is the possibility of it being real.”

Kimberly said that working 12-hour days and rushing to perform on stage at night is worth it. “It seems that every show I do, it’s almost like I get to do it for the first time, every time.” 

Although Jeff and Kimberly are still striving to make it, doing their act together only makes them stronger. “Especially now, times are tough, and families are working three jobs to make ends meet,” he said. “We get to struggle together on stage and laugh and joke about it, which really makes it a lot more fruitful. When one person is down, the other lifts the other person up. When we are together, wherever we are, we’re home.”

ACME Theatre, 8 p.m. Jan. 23 and 30, Feb. 6 and 13, 135 N. La Brea Ave. Advance tickets $10 online, $15 at the door. A drink discount with your ticket will be good for $1 off a beverage at the adjoining Amalfi bar. Shows at the Magic Castle are by invitation only.

Jewish masters of magic materialize at Skirball


Prestidigitation as a Jewish vocation? Could there be such a thing as Yiddeshe legerdemain? Pulling an answer out of its hat, the Skirball Cultural Center is set to open two shows: a traveling exhibition that originated at the Jewish Museum in New York, “Houdini: Art and Magic,” and a new show organized by the Skirball, “Masters of Illusion: Jewish Magicians of the Golden Age.”

The shows, which will run concurrently from April 28 through Sept. 4, 2011, conjure up a world of mystery and mastery, a little-known world of Jewish magicians.

We find that Harry Houdini, the son of a rabbi, born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary, in 1874, though a great escape artist, did not try to escape his Jewish identity.

“Coming to America, Houdini’s family faced a lot of the same issues that other Jewish immigrants faced, including anti-Semitism,” said Brooke Kamin Rapaport, guest curator of the Houdini show.

Houdini in chains, 1903, photograph. Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections.

“I never was ashamed to acknowledge that I was a Jew, and never will be,” Houdini is quoted as writing to a friend in the show’s sepia-toned and well-documented catalog.

According to the exhibition wall text written by Rapaport, Houdini’s escapes “had particular resonance for those who sought liberation from political, ethnic or religious persecution.”

Houdini, who Rapaport considers “the most famous magician who ever lived,” died Oct. 31, 1926, of peritonitis that resulted from a ruptured appendix.

“He really was involved with the new media of this time. He was a savvy marketer,” Rapaport said. With more than 160 objects, the show includes advertising posters and broadsides that Houdini used to promote his shows.

Houdini’s Straitjacket, c. 1915, canvas, leather, and copper. Collection of Arthur Moses, Fort Worth, Texas. Photo by Robert LaPrelle

Also on display will be magic apparatus Houdini made famous: handcuffs, shackles, a straitjacket, his Metamorphosis Trunk and a milk can that Houdini squeezed himself into. Contemporary works by artists influenced by Houdini will be on view as well.

New to the show is a finely crafted reproduction of Houdini’s famous Water Torture Cell created by illusion designer John Gaughan; the cell will be on view only at the Skirball stop of the show’s tour.

In addition, with a deftly shuffling sleight of hand, the “Masters of Illusion” show puts on display an entire deck of Jewish magicians — kings, jacks and jokers.

The show skillfully reveals the careers of several influential Jewish magicians, including the Great Leon, who created the Death Ray Gun, as well as several generations of two magical dynasties: the French Herrmanns and the Dutch Bambergs.

According to Richard Hatch, an expert on magic who consulted with the Skirball on the show, the Herrmanns — Carl “Compars” (1816-1887) and brother Alexander (1844-1896) — helped to popularize the “Mephistophelian appearance,” the devilish pointed beard and mustache, as well as the stage wit and charm that influenced generations of magicians.

Even up close, Minkin’s illusions are magical


If you closed your eyes, it sounded like soft rain falling in the dimly lit wine cellar. The sound gradually grew in intensity as two-dozen hands rubbing against one another switched to rapid snapping, then to clapping, creating the auditory illusion of a rainstorm.

David Minkin then turned the illusion into reality — he conjured water out of thin air, standing a few feet away from his awestruck audience.

It took Minkin, an accomplished close-up magician, four years to develop this signature piece. The rain trick was inspired by a Temple Ahavat Shalom weekend retreat, where the 12-year-old Minkin sat among other Jewish adolescents and learned to mimic the sound of water falling from the sky with his hands.

“The sound was magical,” said Minkin. “And it always stayed with me.”

The rain trick, more complex and wondrous than can be adequately described in words, is the grand finale of Minkin’s mesmerizing magic performance, “Evening of Enchantment,” which he will reprise at Malibu’s Beau Rivage restaurant on Aug. 24. The evening combines wine tasting and magic in an intimate setting where seating is limited to 28 guests per show, an ideal venue for the magician to perform his highly personal and nuanced repertoire of close-up magic tricks.

The soft-spoken, self-assured Minkin plunged into the world of magic relatively late in life but has already succeeded in levitating to the top of the field, winning first place in the International Brotherhood of Magicians’ Gold Cups Competition in 2007 and a gold medal in the Magic Castle’s Strolling Olympics in 2002. He was in the midst of earning a master’s degree in physical therapy at Cal State Northridge in 1997 when a classmate and part-time magician awed him with a Chop Cup routine and inspired him to hit the books — well, the magic books.

Minkin learned the craft the old-fashioned way, from titles such as “The Mark Wilson Course in Magic” and “The Royal Road to Card Magic,” and fine-tuned his inherent knack for creating illusions by practicing them anywhere he was permitted, and not permitted. He once strolled into a Chili’s restaurant unannounced and rehearsed a new coin trick on table after table until he finally had it perfected.

“Twelve years of college education down the drain,” joked Gary Minkin, the magician’s doting father and an avid fan, at a recent Sunday evening performance at Beau Rivage. In addition to physical therapy, Minkin also studied music and business and took up real estate for several years before turning his growing passion for magic into a full-time career.

“I’m unusual, and lucky,” said Minkin, dressed in an elegant black suit and sipping a mojito. “I had to develop social skills before I learned magic.” Many magicians and amateur hobbyists get into magic as young boys, he explained, perhaps even using their hobby as an outlet for their social awkwardness. Hence the stereotype of magic enthusiasts being shy, reclusive and even nerdy.

Minkin, however, is hardly a geek. Nicknamed the “rock star of magic” by fellow illusionists at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Minkin is in his late 30s, handsome and exudes a subtle confidence in and out of the spotlight. He injects his performances with an easy-going charisma. His sleight-of-hand coin and card tricks are interspersed with witty banter, personal anecdotes and playful interaction with audience members.

“Until an audience likes you, they’re not going anywhere with you,” he said. Minkin takes audiences time traveling, using a marble that he turns into an hourglass filled with sugar; into a world of lucid dreams, where driver’s licenses become butterflies flitting through the air, or through summer rainstorms in the middle of a cozy wine cellar.

Minkin’s theory is that there is a hierarchy to magic — a puzzle is at the very bottom, then a trick, a mystery, and finally transcendence. A magic routine that reaches transcendence reflects the human experience, touching upon concepts such as the passing of time, immortality and dreams.

“I want to make people think and feel a range of emotions — wonder, surprise, nostalgia, delight,” said Minkin, who strives to create a one-of-a-kind experience for each audience by improvising, playing off their unique energy and using their differing reactions to change the flow of the show.

Minkin prefers the face-to-face contact of close-up magic and cozy settings such as Beau Rivage’s cramped wine cellar or the Magic Castle’s intimate close-up theater. He says he doesn’t aspire to perform in the cavernous theaters of Las Vegas or marketing himself to achieve superstar status.

“I really just want to focus on performing,” said Minkin, who has been invited to appear in upcoming conventions in Italy, Sweden, England and Israel. His audience has included Hollywood celebrities such as Johnny Depp and Rob Reiner, politicians, Fortune 500 executives and even one Saudi Arabian prince.

Minkin got a taste for working in television in 2007 as a writer and performer on the MTV horror-prank show, “Room 401.” In the first episode, Minkin brought an unwitting crime-scene cleaner to tears as he rose, ghostlike, from a murder victim’s body. Minkin is hoping to pitch a series of television specials featuring original magic done on location with real people and everyday objects.

Whatever the medium, Minkin strives to elevate his magic to an art form that is both entertaining and enlightening. He is constantly reworking his act, developing new material and putting his theories about magic on paper, which he hopes to develop into a book. For Minkin, magic is an ancient and noble craft that is in danger of losing its luster in an age where people don’t believe in much of anything anymore.

“Regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen in reality,” he said, “the effect on people is magical.”

The next “Evening of Enchantment” is Aug. 24 at Beau Rivage, 26025 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu.

Calendar Girls picks and clicks for July 5 – 11


SAT | JULY 5

(THEATER)

Only a psychotherapist-cum-theater entertainer could do justice to the zany and improbable Jewish journey spotlighted in the play “Rose.” The one-woman show runs the gamut of 20th-century Jewish geography, “from a Ukrainian shtetl to the Warsaw Ghetto, to Atlantic City and Miami, with side trips to a hippie commune in Connecticut, onboard the ship Exodus, to an Israeli settlement on the West Bank.” Actress Naomi Newman, the aforementioned shrink, is also the co-founder of San Francisco’s Traveling Jewish Theatre and will be bringing Martin Sherman’s script to life. Sat. 8 p.m. Wed.-Sun. Through Aug. 31. $25-$45. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>burgers and hot dogs (meat and veggie), beer and snacks in a gorgeous Malibu mansion overlooking the coastline and mountains. Teaming up to sponsor this popular annual gathering are two heavy-hitters of the Jewish singles scene — the Chai Center and JConnectLA. Sun. 2-6 p.m. $13 (online), $18 (at the door). Private home, 6288 Porterdale Drive, Malibu. For more information, call (310) 271-8666. ” target=”_blank”>http://clairejamessteinberg.com.

TUE | JULY 8

(DOCUMENTARIES)

Israeli brothers Barak and Tomer Heymann have tackled Israeli-Palestinian relations, homosexuality, Israeli pop music, drugs, flamenco and the world of ” target=”_blank”>http://www.skirball.org.

(ART)

Born in Brooklyn to a working-class Jewish family, artist Al Held soon broke out of that mold. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II before jetting off to Paris to study fine art. Now he is an internationally renowned artist with a Guggenheim fellowship and a teaching stint at Yale on his resume. The University Art Museum at Cal State Long Beach presents an exhibition of Held’s work, “Al Held: The Evolution of Style,” a comprehensive collection of his expressionist paintings. Expect “hard-edged abstraction,” “two-dimensional picture planes” and “perspectival illusionism” — all of which describe his artistic evolution over a five-decade career. Gallery open noon-5 p.m., Tue.-Sat. Through Aug. 10. $4 (general), free (students). The University Art Museum, CSULB, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach. (562) 985-5761. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.genesimmons.com.

WED | JULY 9

(MAGIC)

” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>Tony and Oscar nominee David Mamet, a seasoned author, essayist, playwright and film director. Don’t miss this chance to catch a master of the art of deception in a rare L.A. visit before he vanishes, taking his act back on the road to wow other magic connoisseurs and curious fans. Wed.-Thu. 8 p.m., Fri. 8:30 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 8 p.m. Through Aug. 26. $75-$250. Geffen Playhouse, Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-5454.

Uri Geller bends self into Israel ‘reality TV’ stardom


Israel is no stranger to reality TV. Knockoffs — or shall we say adaptations — of popular American TV talent shows, like “American Idol” and “The Apprentice,” have become hits. But recently, Israel has developed its own inimitable, highly successful talent contest in which Uri Geller, the famous, controversial, Israeli paranormalist, is seeking an heir.

It’s only natural, Geller said in a telephone interview, that Israel pioneer a contest for mentalists (read “mind readers”).

“I think this field — call it mentalism, parapsychology, real magic, kabbalah, Jewish mysticism — all started here 5,000 years ago, when the Jews left Egypt,” he said. “It’s all riddled in the kabbalah — the mystical letters, the powers, the energy of the universe. People are believers here…. Our race is steeped in mystery attached by a spiritual thread to universe.”

Geller cited Houdini, David Copperfield, David Blaine and even Einstein as examples of Jews who have learned to understand and manipulate natural phenomena.

“The Successor” debuted Nov. 18 to record-breaking ratings. Almost one-third of Israel tuned in to watch Geller judge the nine contestants as they dazzled audiences with their mind-reading, mind-bending powers. The show has attracted international attention and, according to Geller, has sparked interest from producers abroad who are considering adopting its format.

Geller is most famous for bending spoons “with his mind,” a feat that commonly figures into legends, jokes and parodies about him, although the contestants perform more sophisticated stunts on the show. The acts use three local celebrities (always including a pretty actress or model) to perform their sleights of “mind”: drawing images, determining numbers and phrases and even playing songs the celebrities secretly choose in their mind.

The show also marks Geller’s romanticized and widely publicized comeback to Israel. He left in 1972 to pursue a worldwide, profitable — and at times notorious — career as a paranormalist, entertainer and author. Geller immediately signed on to “The Successor” when Keshet Productions approached him with the idea. At the time, he was visiting Israel on a mission for the International Friends of Magen David Adom, which he chairs.

For the next few weeks, he’ll shuttle between Israel and his mansion outside of London for the weekly live tapings, although he recently bought an apartment in Jaffa so he can spend more time in Israel, even when the show is over.

“Spiritually, mentally, psychically, I’m attached to Israel,” Geller said. “I was born here. I’m a sabra. I also have a dream to make the performers become as famous as I am.”

The winner will headline at a tourist hotspot in Macao, China, and receive a secret prize, plus the chance to boast of being Geller’s heir.

“I think they are fantastic, professional entertainers,” Geller said of his potential heirs. “They are riveting, mesmerizing. Each of them has a personality”

Aside from talent, Geller is also looking for charisma, charm, personality and stage presence. Each week a contestant is voted off by viewers at home, but the final choice will be up to Geller.

At the start of each show, Geller demonstrates that he hasn’t lost his own touch. He successfully “mind-read” the image an El Al pilot drew in his cockpit prior to landing (it was a fish) and located a expensive diamond necklace hidden in one of five Chanukah candle boxes.

However, Geller, whose patriotism has been triggered anew by his return, won’t be satisfied with passing just one torch (or shall we say a telekinetically altered spoon): “I would love to take them to Las Vegas as a team and create some kind of a Uri Geller show. I feel like it’s about time that more Israelis become well known and famous around the world, because how many do you know?”

Live in the ‘hood: lingering Shabbat


I thought I understood the unique power of Shabbat, until I moved to the Pico-Robertson neighborhood a few months ago.

It’s not like I’m a novice on thesubject. For several years, in the late ’80s and early ’90s in Venice Beach, I was part of an eclectic band of yuppie frummies who made Shabbat a major happening (Shlomo Carlebach slept in my house!). And for more than a decade after that, in Pacific Palisades and in Beverly Hills, I participated in more than my fair share of Shabbatons, farbrengen tables, shiurims, melave malkas, you name it; we didn’t just do Shabbat, we invited everyone to celebrate along with us.

So how is it possible that moving to a heavily Jewish neighborhood could change my perception of this one day that I thought I knew so well?

It hit me indirectly on the day after Sukkot, when I was invited to the neighbors for the first post-sukkah holiday meal. Someone made the comment that it was sad to see the sukkah now, because the magic was gone, and someone else added that that was precisely the point — the sukkah was there to remind us of how transient life can be. Next year, the sukkah and its magic will come again, and it will go away again.

That, I realized, is pretty much how I’ve always seen Shabbat — as a magical celebration that comes and goes every week.

I can tell you that in this neighborhood, Shabbat does not just come and go every week. In fact, it never really goes away. It’s more like a state of mind, a way of life, an energy source.

You can probably imagine what the actual day of Shabbat looks like in this neighborhood. Time stops. A thousand strollers are out. On Pico Boulevard, shul goers walk with a sense of purpose to their respective shuls. Most of the stores are closed, and the car traffic is reduced, but you can still see that it’s a major thoroughfare.

I feel the Shabbat energy more in the residential part of the hood. From certain Shabbat tables (I was in one of them), you can see and greet neighbors walking by (more and more, I hear Ashkenazim say “Shabbat Shalom” and Sephardim say “Good Shabbos” — long live integration). Well-dressed families stroll along the quiet streets, adding a sense of dignity to the atmosphere. Kids play on the street, and on my block at least, most of the front doors stay open. Needless to say, the Shabbat feeling is everywhere.

But what I find especially revealing in this neighborhood is what happens after Shabbat — the way the Shabbat energy overflows into the regular week. I spend a lot of time here during the week, and much of what I see and feel is similar to what I see and feel on Shabbat. The special restrictions — like no driving — are gone, of course, but the peaceful nature of Shabbat is still very much present.

You can feel this quiet energy that encourages you to keep certain Shabbat rituals going. Who needs video games and TV during the week?Why not have a few more get-togethers? Why not spend more time with the kids, or do more reading and, learning like we love to do on Shabbat?

It’s a classic neighborhood dynamic. The people you eat, pray, learn and play with on Shabbat are often the same people you see everyday — in one of the local shops, at a Torah class or just on the street. So the Shabbat memories are always fresh; they “live” with you throughout the week.

This phenomenon — the lingering Shabbat — is very alive in my new neighborhood.

And it can have as much, if not more power, than the day of Shabbat itself. Many of the Shabbats I had in the Diaspora (Pacific Palisades) were actually more intense than the ones I have in the hood. But when Sundays rolled around, boy would you feel the exile. Here, when Sunday arrives, Shabbat still “carries” you; all the familiar “Shabbat faces” are still walking around the neighborhood, as they do throughout the week. The friendly glow of Shabbat does not easily fade.

Some people might find this lingering Shabbat suffocating, others comforting. I actually find it helpful, because I like to be reminded of the Shabbat way: peaceful, joyous, unplugged. During the week, these “Shabbat moments” keep me centered, and help me navigate the uncertainties of life.

Because the source of power for the lingering Shabbat is the day of Shabbat itself, the weekly rhythm is critical. You’re never more than a few days away from the big day. This anchors you. You celebrate some big ones — Passover, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, etc. — once a year, but thanks to Shabbat, your weekly source of power is always right around the corner. When you leave a holiday celebration, and you say “see you next year” instead of “see you next week,” that does not anchor you. It’s more likely to just blow you away (literally), like a Super Bowl or an Academy Awards show might, until you get blown away again next year.

Shabbat, the way I experience it in this neighborhood, doesn’t blow me away. It blows me in. I live it one day, then I feel it lingering around me all week long, and I better understand its elusive power.

To tell you the truth, I love the lingering Shabbat as much as I love Shabbat itself. I want more of it. I need more of it. I need the peacefulness that I taste on Shabbat to kick in on Wednesday morning, just before I’m tempted to yell at the kids because they’re late for school; or on Thursday afternoon, just before I’m tempted to say something that might hurt my mother’s feelings; or on Monday night, just before I plug in to the computer instead of plugging in to my kids.

The Kotzker Rebbe once explained that the commandment to keep the Shabbat also means that we should keep it with us at all times.Until I moved to the hood, I never totally understood what he meant.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

War enhances intensity of Israel trip


The siren went on for at least a minute.

It was a Friday evening in early July 2006, during the war with Hezbollah, and I was sitting on a hill overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, getting ready to welcome in the Shabbat with the Kabbalat Shabbat prayers.

Unlike the previous week, when we quickly evacuated the north, the siren we were hearing now was not an air strike or emergency alarm. It was the customary siren sounding the start of Shabbat, unique to Jerusalem.

Along with 44 other teenagers and six staffers, I was on the Eastern Europe-Israel Pilgrimage, sponsored by the Conservative movement’s United Synagogue Youth. We had arrived in Israel that week after spending two weeks traveling through Prague, Warsaw, Lublin, Krakow and Budapest, and everyone was so enthusiastic and completely ecstatic that the air was charged with happiness and excitement. As we sat there, we had a moment of silence listening to the alarm.

We had been supposed to spend our first week on the banks of the Kinneret, but the plans were canceled after five rockets hit a town 15 minutes from our hostel. Even though it was Shabbat, we were immediately evacuated back to Jerusalem. Later, our free time in public places was suspended because a suicide bomber was caught right before entering the Old City through Jaffa Gate, which we used regularly.

While our family and friends back home voiced concerns for our safety when we called them, nobody in our group felt in danger or unsafe. Nobody wanted to go home. Instead of fear, I felt anger that there was a war and anger that Israel still has to fight for her existence.

Being at that hilltop as we welcomed the Shabbat and listening to the siren and watching the Old City’s walls as the Holy City went dark, I felt so many emotions. Though we had been there a week, the realization that I was in Israel — the country of the Jewish people — our land — hit me hardest at that moment. I held back tears of gratitude, joy and happiness as we went around the circle we were sitting in, discussing our favorite part of the week. Mine was that moment.
The strong feelings I had came not only from the realization that we were in Israel. It was the magic of the moment or the magic of the city — the lights were so astoundingly beautiful, the walls gave off an air of age, history and religiousness and the view could not have been more perfect. The breeze ruffled the treetops, and I felt that God was hovering over us, watching.

What made this unforgettable experience even more irreplaceable was the two weeks that came before renewed my understanding of how much Israel means.
While traveling in Eastern Europe, our close-knit group visited the concentration camps, sites of mass murder and mass graves, the ghettos and places of resistance. Viewing all these places where history made its horrific mark was actually proof of what we had been learning since elementary school. We saw the gas chambers, the crematoria, the indentations in the earth that formed years after a mass grave was filled.

We saw what happened, and it became real in our eyes. It was no longer something we read about in textbooks — the ashes kept at Majdanek were once people, Jewish people; at Mila 18 in Krakow, the bunkers where the partisans of the Krakow ghetto had once fought. I understood more about the Holocaust and the resistance. I also understood how much Israel means to our people and to me.

I looked at the partisans, the resistance fighters, the Zionists, the Haganah fighters, the early halutzim or pioneers, and I saw the determination and love they had for Israel. I understand now that Israel is not just the place toward which we face when we pray daily, or the distant homeland, or the place where our forefathers lived but our haven and our land. It is the place where Jews from all over the world look to for hope in seemingly hopeless times.

Especially the week after being in Krakow, when the war started, I felt so lucky to be there, so lucky to actually have an established Jewish state.

Instead of making me feel cautious and insecure, being there during a time of war allowed me to connect more with Israel. I only realized with stronger effect that Israel truly is my homeland and haven — the one place in the world I can be a Jew in the land of my forefathers.

While I was in Jerusalem, I bought a ring that I hope to wear at least until I return. On it is engraved a passage describing my sentiments exactly: “Libi be’mizrach, veanochi b’sof ma’arav,” meaning, “My heart lies in the east while I am far to the west.” Especially after my journey, Israel will never be far from my heart.

Daniela Bernstein is an 11th grader at the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy.

Angels in America


Angels are everywhere in America these days, and a lot of them are tacky. When I was growing up you saw them once a year, adorning Christmas trees. Since then they’ve swarmed across the thin border that divides religious imagery from kitsch. Gift shops stock angel T-shirts, angel bookends, angel-print pillowcases and little angel wings to attach to your pet chihuahua.

Rarely a week goes by without an angel-themed book on the best seller list, and Hollywood has fallen into step with shows like “Touched by an Angel,” “Joan of Arcadia” and this season’s “The Book of Daniel.”

But this week’s cover story celebrates not make-believe angels, but real live ones.

Jews and angels, it turns out, have a complicated relationship. We borrowed the notion from the Sumerians, the good folks who clued us in on the serpent, the Flood, the ark and writing. The Hebrew word for angel is malach, which means “messenger.” In Jewish lore, these messengers shape-shift between the godlike and the human, not just from era to era, but from reference to reference. In Genesis, Hagar encounters an angel, then later refers to “the Lord” who spoke to her. God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but an angel of heaven intervenes to stay his hand.

In other passages, angels take the form of men, visiting Abraham to announce the birth of Isaac; then visiting Sodom to warn Lot to flee before destroying the city. In one of the most physical manifestations, an angel wrestles with Jacob, leaving him wounded. Reading the Bible, you are left with no clear notion of the Hebrew angels: Are they flesh and blood or the voice of God? Are they dreamed of or three-dimensional? The biblical notion of the angel is amorphous, open to argument, hardly the stuff of T-shirts.

In post-biblical literature, angels multiply. Scholars attribute this in part to the influence of other wisdom traditions on Jewish thought in Hellenistic times. By the Middle Ages, Jewish magic and angels were intertwined. By one estimate, the world of medieval Jewish mysticism counted as many as 496,000 angels.

“Houses and cities, winds and seasons,” writes Joshua Trachtenberg in “Jewish Magic and Superstition” (Penn, 2004), “each speck of dust underfoot … no thing in nature exists independently of its … heavenly ‘deputy.'”

Christians got angels from Jews. We meanwhile have all but sloughed off our belief in heavenly intermediaries. With the exception of smallish sects, most Jews see angels not as guardians from above, but as metaphor for the power of our souls, something akin to what that great Chasid Abraham Lincoln posited in his inauguration speech when he spoke of, “the better angels of our nature.”

This special issue of The Jewish Journal recognizes and celebrates those better angels.

Originally we were taken with the idea of the lamed vavniks, the 36. In Jewish lore, these are the 36 people who walk the earth anonymously, pure souls engaged in holy work, whose unique goodness is all that stands between humankind and God’s harsh judgment.

But — here’s the truth — we knew we wouldn’t have enough room in this issue for 36 profiles. The cruel realities of ad pages knocked 26 righteous people off the list.

Ten was the next-best number, because 10 was the number of decent people Abraham offered to find in Sodom to save the town from God’s wrath. Ten people — in this context we chose to consider families as one — going about their lives in humble goodness could indeed change the fate of a People, not to mention a wicked city.

We know that other publications produce annual year-end lists of The 10 Most Powerful or The 10 Hottest New Stars or The 10 Richest. More power to them. But we saw no point in telling people who already know they’re rich, or gorgeous, or powerful, that they are.

The people we chose to profile inside undoubtedly know that they are making a positive difference in people’s lives. They know they are doing so not because that’s their job, not because they have to, but because in helping others, they attend to the better angels of their nature. Some people may buy ceramic angels, and others might believe that angels watch out for them, but these people are compelled to intervene to improve the lives of others — to be the angels that humans have long imagined should exist.

Consider Jennifer Chadorchi, a 20-something Beverly Hills resident who has provided thousands of homeless men and women with food and social services. Or Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen, whose Pico-Robertson home serves as a collection and distribution center for goods to needy families.

Or consider Saul Kroll, 87, a retiree who volunteers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center 35 to 40 hours per week. He’s been doing that since 1987, logging some 24,400 hours. Sometimes he takes a day off to drive his 90-year-old neighbor to the doctor to receive cancer treatments. “Don’t tell someone, ‘OK, call me if you need help,'” Kroll says. “Just go on over and help.”

Now, that’s an angel.

 

David Gamliel’s Weird Science


It’s a wintery Saturday night in Hollywood, and I am having one of those quintessential L.A. outings. Sitting in the dank, stonewalled basement of the landmark Magic Castle, I am watching psychokinetecist David Gamliel move objects with his mind. Our well-dressed group stares at the short, intense, balding, goateed Israeli as his hands hover over a pair of eyeglasses that sit on a green felt table. His hands begin to make slow circles in the air, and soon the glasses levitate and circle, mimicking his hands’ movements. There is an audible sigh. He never touched the glasses — we all watched.

"These magnets cost a fortune," Gamliel jokes, easing the tension of the moment, and allowing the glasses to fall back onto the table.

"He’s a mutant!" one woman exclaims.

Later, Gamliel tells me he prefers to think of his abilities as a gift. Other tricks up his sleeve that night included spoon-bending and hypnosis. He says he’s always known he was different, even before he discovered his gift nine years ago.

"As a small boy, when we used to play hide-and-seek, I was able to know where everybody is," he says. "I always thought it was a natural ability; that other people can do it."

After 25 years in this country, Gamliel’s slightly broken English is still spoken with the hint of an accent. Maybe it’s that Israeli charm that does it, or that ever-elusive charisma, but there’s something about Gamliel that makes you want to believe. He backs up the talk with his act, too. Watching him bend a spoon with just his thumb and forefinger, or levitate a fork, it’s impossible to discern the trick — if there indeed is one.

This draw has taken him as far as Japan, and as close as the last bar mitzvah you attended: "I’ll start in the lobby while they serve hors d’oeuvres for about half an hour, then I go and do tables."

He also performs Thursday nights at Cafe Belissimo, and every couple months at the Magic Castle.

In the six years he’s been performing, Gamliel’s had his share of nonbelievers. But, as he puts it, "I always have arguments with people that study physics or psychology. But it brings us back to the fact that all they study is wrong and they don’t like it."

In truth, it seems the jury is still out on the reality of psychokinetics. Probably the most famous Israeli spoon bender and mentalist, Uri Geller, acquiesced to have his powers studied by Stanford Research Institute back in the 1970s. But the controversy surrounding his claimed powers has never really been settled.

And though too late for a ride on Geller’s proverbial coattails, the 53-year-old carpenter-by-day seems unconcerned. Gamliel enjoys his regular gigs, and says his eventual goal is to be able to use his abilities to help people more. Party tricks aside, he lists hypnosis, healing, mind-reading, psychic predictions and conflict resolution among his powers.

"I want to apply to be an adviser to our new governor," he says. (As I cynically wait for the punch line, I realize he’s being sincere.) "I think I can help him out to make the right decisions. I can do predictions."

It was during a visit with his sister in Holland that he realized he had these gifts.

"We were sitting in a restaurant and waiting to be served and I just started playing with a fork, and I noticed that the fork is acting really funny," he says. "It started moving inside my hand and it started getting warm. I remember this vividly. I came home to L.A., and I started calling people because I wasn’t sure what it is."

Gamliel says he eventually found a man who could explain it to him.

While he says he was scared by his own powers at first, he’s learned how to harness them and today has chosen to embrace them.

"My favorite thing is to make peace between people — between family members or between neighbors," he says. "I don’t know how I do it. I just talk to the people. By talking and showing love, they can change their opinions about each other and I make them understand that there’s no need for animosity or rage."

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m surprisingly touched by the warm and fuzzy spoon-bending mentalist. If it’s not real, I’d rather not know anymore, and so I have just one more question. Doesn’t all that silverware get expensive?

"I’m a regular customer at Denny’s," he says with a smirk.

Somebody Stop Me


I’ve been spending so much time and energy dating that it
sometimes feels like an addiction. Or at least another career. If only it paid. And didn’t involve so much time at Starbucks.
And didn’t require at the end of each meeting having to come up with a polite
way to say, “It’s perfectly okay with me if we never see each other again for
the rest of our lives; in fact, I’d prefer it.”

Which usually emerges from my careful-to-be-tactful mouth in
this fashion: “Very nice meeting you.”

In the first three years following my divorce, I went on 150
coffee dates. And by “coffee dates” I’m using the standard Merriam-Webster
dictionary definition: “first-time meetings, usually ending in disappointment.”
And I’m an optimist, mind you.

Now, I realize that 150 coffee dates sounds like a lot, but
spread out over three years, it’s just one a week. Of course, depending on the
person, 15 minutes with the wrong woman for the first time can seem like a
whole week. But I learned something very important from those 150 coffee dates:
If I’d saved all the money I spent on them, I could have afforded a Hyundai.
(Granted, four of the dates resulted in relationships, but the other 146 of
them only resulted in a thorough knowledge of the differences between lattes,
frappucinos and caramel macchiatos.)

Sometimes I think this dating odyssey is God’s way of
getting back at me for never having taken chemistry in school. He’s making it
virtually impossible for me to find chemistry with my beshert. Is mutual
worship and adoration too much to ask for? Of course not. You can ask for it
all you want. Getting it is another story.

It’s the same old story: Either they’re not attracted to me
or I’m not attracted to them. Sometimes they show up without a sense of humor,
without a sense of playfulness, without even the realization that someone else
is sitting across the table from them. One woman talked to me about herself for
a full hour without asking me one question about myself. Astounding. But if I
want self-absorbed, I’ll date actresses exclusively.

I admit that I do like the variety. I’ve gone out with a
judge, a cantor, a masseuse, a teacher, a network executive, a nurse, a college
student, a speech therapist, a doctor, an actress, a psychologist, a lawyer,
even a forest ranger. I’ve had a first date in an art museum that featured
life-sized, naked, anatomically correct male and female mannequins.

At a recent brunch, a woman immediately removed a digital
scale from her pocketbook and proceeded to weigh each item of food that was
served. Another date took me to the Holocaust-themed film “The Pianist”; but my
efforts to salvage the mood (“We Jews really have to stick together — wanna
come home with me?”) came to no avail. At one Starbucks, I waited an extra half
hour for my date to arrive, missing the fact that she was already seated a few
tables away — she looked so different from the photo that went with her profile
that I could not believe she was the same person. Still to this day I am
convinced she was my date’s mother.

And even though I’ve done my share of rejecting, I’ve also
experienced my share of being rejected. At first, I took it personally. Now I
consider it part of the process. Often, women can’t bring themselves to say,
“Sorry, not interested” to my face, so they’ll lie.

Once, I asked a date, “Can we go out again?”

She cheerfully responded, “Call me!” I never heard back from
her. Now when I hear a cheerful “Call me!” I realize it’s the kiss of death,
not unlike that given by Michael Corleone in “The Godfather.”

My favorite kiss-off, though, happened recently. When I
brought up the subject of a third date, I actually heard these words come from
her lips: “I’m going to be really busy in January.” Wouldn’t a quick slap
across my face have made the point more directly?

So why do I put myself through all this pain, aggravation,
expense and time over and over and over and over again? Am I masochistic? Or am
I a serial dater so addicted to the process that I consciously or
subconsciously never intend to settle down with one of them?

I don’t think so.

I go through it all because I’ve experienced the thrill of a
relationship when it works. In fact, I’ve been lucky enough to have had more
than one relationship in which both people worship and adore one another. I
think these kinds of relationships are rare — at least for me. But when they do
happen, it’s special, exciting, stimulating, life-enhancing. It’s magic. And I
know she’s out there somewhere, perhaps even looking for me.

All I ask is that at the end of our first date, she doesn’t
look me in the eyes, smile warmly, and cheerfully say, “Call me!” Â


Mark Miller is a former stand-up comic and current marketing manager at KCET. He’s also a comedy writer, who has written and produced TV sitcoms, sold feature film comedies to Warner Bros. and been a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and other publications.

Picks and kicks for February 23-29


SAT | FEBRUARY 23

(ART)
” target=”_blank”>http://www.fowler.ucla.edu.

(CONCERT)
Israel is not the only one celebrating its 60th Anniversary this year. Temple Beth David, a Reform synagogue in the San Gabriel Valley, also was founded in 1948 and is marking the event with a 60th Anniversary Concert featuring Grammy Award-winning composer and singer Doug Cotler and singer Julie Silver. Underwritten by the Kohl Youth Fund and the Dorothy Singer Simon Music Fund, the concert is being held in memory of Dorothy Singer Simon, the synagogue’s first choir director. 7 p.m. $5 (children), $10 (adults), $25 (families). Temple Beth David, 9677 Longden Ave., Temple City. (626) 287-9994. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ alt=””>
socialaction@adatelohim.com
.

(FILM)
The feature documentary, “Salud!” (which means “health” in Spanish) examines the role Cuba endeavors to play in making healthcare a global birthright. It explores the contributions of 28,000 Cuban health professionals working in 68 countries, as well as the 30,000 medical students in Cuba and how they aspire to improve access to quality healthcare around the world. 7 p.m. $5. The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.cohen-levi.org.

(RELIGION)
Mehnaz M. Afridi believes Jews and Muslims have more in common than they think. An academic with an extensive interest in modern Islamic identity, Judaism and the Jewish Diaspora, Afridi is committed to stimulating new dialogue on the religious, cultural and literary ties and tensions between Jews and Muslims. For three hours, she’ll espouse her wisdom on “An Illuminated History of Jewish-Muslim Relations” and their many, often overlooked, commonalities. 3-6 p.m. $20-$25. Levantine Cultural Center at Pacific Arts Center, 10469 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 657-5511. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jewishphotographersadventuresgroup.com.

(SPIRITUALITY)
Drums can drive you crazy if your teenage son is playing them at midnight, but they can also be a vehicle for spiritual enlightenment. Let the Nashuva Healing Drum Circle With Jamie Papish show you the power of hand drumming and ancient rhythms in connecting you to your own rhythmic being. Experienced and beginning drummers are welcome to join the class. 12-1:30 p.m. $10-$15. Pacific Arts Center and Dance Studios, 10469 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. jamie@jamiepapishmusic.com. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’ alt=””>
If you missed Tony Blair in January, it’s not too late to get in on the action because this month’s guest at American Jewish University’s Public Lecture Series is the infamous (or famous, depending on which side of the aisle you vote) Karl

Magic Jews


Steve Spill’s father was one of the first managers of the Magic Castle. Not surprisingly, growing up around the Castle cast its spell on Spill, who went on to forge a 20-year career as a professional magician.

Last September saw the debut of his new venture, the Magicopolis Theater of Illusion.

Located near the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Magicopolis materialized after Spill conjured up visions of a different kind of magic venue: “I wanted to establish a beachhead for family-oriented shows that are clean and fun.”

The 44-year-old Spill, who co-owns the theater with his wife, Bozena Wrobel, recently divulged some tricks of his trade with Up Front:

Up Front: What separates Magicopolis from other magic establishments?

Steve Spill: We’re really a theater. We’re not a restaurant or a club or a dinner theater…we’re all about the show. We have the highest-quality performers anywhere. We’re not Vegas-y and nightclubish. People like Danny DeVito, John Malkovich and Jamie Lee Curtis are bringing their kids.

UF: From Harry Houdini (born Ehrich Weiss) to David Copperfield (nee David Kotkin), Jews have made a tradition of practicing magic. What’s the connection?

SS: I think that probably Harry Houdini doing his escape act…was a metaphor for Jews escaping tyranny. Jews inherently are dreamers; that’s maybe the connection you might have with David Copperfield.

UF: Have acts such as Penn & Teller and the Masked Magician helped or hurt the magic industry by revealing their tricks?

SS: Penn & Teller are very clever. They’re themed around the idea of exposing magic, when, in fact, the secrets they’ve devised are phony. Although many magic acts feel that they were damaged by the Masked Magician, these are generally tricks that fall into the public domain. If you go to your public library, you can probably find the secrets of these tricks. Fox was clever in producing a lot of hype. Both cases get people more interested in magic, and I think that’s OK.

UF: Which TV show possesses more magic: “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” or “Charmed?”

SS: I like “Penn & Teller Sin City Spectacular” on FX. Of course, I’m a little bit partial on that one because I worked [as a consultant] on the first eight episodes.

Magicopolis Theater of Illusion is located at 1418 Fourth Street, Santa Monica. For more information, call (310) 451-2241 — Michael Aushenker, Community Editor

L.A. 5758 Sephardic Spirit


To understand the mystic approach to life thatsuffuses the Pinto Torah Center, simply listen to Rabbi Yaakov Pintotell the story of how his parents met.

At the age of 18, Rabbi Moshe Pinto decided thathe was ready to marry, and so he went to his father, Rabbi ChaimPinto, the great tzadik , righteous one, and miracle worker of Mogodor (nowEssaouria), Morocco.

Chaim told his son his wife would be a woman yetunborn named Mazal Tov. He then told a woman whose daughters had diedin infancy that her next daughter would be born healthy, her namewould be Mazal Tov, and she would marry his son.

Fourteen years later, Chaim and Mazal Tov weremarried. “And their whole lives, he treated her like a jewel, and shetreated him like a tzadik,” says Yaakov Pinto, 36, sitting in hiswood-paneled synagogue on Pico Boulevard, the summer sun shiningthrough the glass bricks.

For Pinto, there is no questioning the truth ofthis and other, even more magical stories of his family.

“This is how it is. Every Moroccan Jew knows about[my family]; it’s not just some story you hear,” says Pinto, his cellphone and Wizard electronic organizer sitting on the white plastictablecloth in front of him.

Before Moshe died, in 1985, he told his familythat he wanted them to set up 26 — the numerical equivalent of God’sname — centers of outreach and Torah study across the world.

Celebrating a birth at Pinto Torah Center.Rabbi Yaakov Pinto is fifth from left.

So far, Yaakov and three of his brothers havecenters — call them the Chabad of the Sephardic community — inFrance, Israel, England, Tahiti, New York and Los Angeles.

Yaakov Pinto arrived in Los Angeles 14 years agofor a one-week honeymoon, before he and his young wife were to settlein France. The week turned into years, as Pinto found himself, likehis father and grandfather before him, dedicated to the goal ofbringing Jews closer to tradition and Torah.

The door is almost always open at the one-roomsynagogue, where the walls are lined with books and plants, and thelinoleum floor is covered with rugs. A mural of the Western Wallhangs high, and an ornate Elijah’s Chair sits in a corner.

Pinto holds three daily services and Shabbatprayers and meals, and he teaches classes in several languages. Thecenter also feeds about 400 homeless people a week.

Next door is B’er Moshe, the book and Judaic shopthe synagogue operates to ensure that his members have an amplesupply of Hebrew books at good prices. The store also providesanother gateway for those who Pinto hopes to bring closer. Somewander in to the store and find themselves having a glass of strongcoffee with the rabbi. Many of those who

Do You Believe


For a small donation, you can now e-mail your prayers to a site in Jerusalem where they will be placed into the Kotel, the Western Wall, on your behalf.

With a powerful computer, scholars in Israel have revealed the secret codes embedded in the text of the Torah — codes predicting the Holocaust, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, as well as calamities yet to come.

A local religious group touts the healing benefits of scanning pages of mystical texts, regardless of whether one can read the words or understand their meaning. Just having a set of the text in my home, an adherent urges, will bring blessings to my family.

How seductive is magic? Hidden knowledge, secret powers, special access to the inner workings of the universe — who can resist? It is an addiction that plays upon a deep sense of powerlessness and frustration with a complex world. I doubt my ability to navigate this world, so I turn to signs, omens and secret incantations to bring success and happiness. I doubt the presence of God in a world of AIDS, drive-by shootings and moral lunacy, so I look to secret codes for reassurance and guidance. But at what cost?

In turning to secrets and signs, do I not surrender the power of my intelligence, my judgment, my reason? Do I not surrender my capacity to imagine and create a better life, a better world?

This week’s Torah portion, which is about the lure of magic, breaks the narrative flow describing the desert journey of the Israelites and takes us to Moab, one of the nations in Israel’s path.

The king of Moab, terrified by the advancing Israelites, realizes that his only chance is to enlist the power of a well-known wizard, Balaam, to render them vulnerable. There ensues a remarkable negotiation. The king believes in the power of magic to destroy his enemies, and in his ability to buy this power. He believes in the multitiered cosmology of paganism. On the lowest level , human beings — pitifully weak and vulnerable. Above, rule the gods, who control the forces of nature. But above the gods, there is another level — the mysterious forces of ultimate fate. The only chance human beings have of shaping their own destiny is to employ secrets of these upper powers to manipulate the gods, forcing them to do human bidding.

This is the essence of magic — the manipulation of the forces of destiny through secret knowledge, spells and rites. So the king sends a bribe, contracting the wizard to curse Israel. But this is no ordinary wizard. In fact, he is no wizard at all. Balaam is a true prophet, who continually insists that he is only a conduit for the one, sole power in the universe — the God of history. This God works His will in history and will not be manipulated or bought.

In this remarkable exchange between the king and the wizard, the Torah has placed the contest between magic and monotheism. Magic is a form of slavery, confirming a sense of human powerlessness in the face of mysterious forces of destiny.

The God of the history takes us out of bondage, empowering human beings to shape our own destiny, to seek the Promised Land, with His gifts of intelligence, conscience and imagination.

When, at last, a final, huge bribe persuades the wizard to accompany the king, he stands over the Israelite camp, and out of his mouth come, not curses, but blessings: “Ma tovu ohalecha ya’akov” — “How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!”

God will neither be bought nor manipulated. God is not amenable to secrets. But God has shown us the way to turn curses into blessings whenever we are prepared to listen.

Ed Feinstein is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

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