Material Girl Nixes Israel Dates


Has the Material Girl become the new target for terrorists? According to Britain’s The Sun, Madonna cancelled the Israel leg of her Reinvention Tour after terrorists allegedly threatened to kill her and her children, Lourdes and Rocco, if she performed in Israel.

The threats reportedly came in the form of a series of poison-pen letters that were sent to Madonna’s Los Angeles office. According to The Sun, Madonna first thought she was being targeted because of her kabbalah beliefs, but then she realized that she was being threatened because she represented all the things that these terrorists hate about the West. The terrorists were reportedly Palestinian, and Madonna took them seriously enough to cancel her three September concerts at Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium — her first concerts in Israel since 1993 — because they knew intimate details about members of her staff.

But is it true?

Not quite, said Madonna’s representative at Warner Bros. Records.

“The Israel dates were never confirmed,” a rep from publicist Liz Rosenberg’s office told The Journal. “She was never threatened.”

Skipping the Holy Land, Madonna will show the rest of the world her new and improved self, made more refined, perhaps, through her very public association with the controversial Kabbalah Centre.

According to Madonna fan Denis Ferrara, who was quoted in Liz Smith’s New York Post gossip column, the concerts of the Reinvention Tour will have “no crotch-grabbing, pointed bosoms or pointless profanity from the star.”

Ferrara said Madonna was still an artist who wanted to amuse and engage, but, “She seems, however, to have put Shock — for so long her random companion — to bed. She never really needed him.”

Shoah-Era Opera an Allegory of Victory


When she was 11 years old, Ella Weisberger got her first starring role, playing the cat in a children’s opera called, "Brundibar."

But Weisberger didn’t perform in a grand concert hall; instead she sang in the barracks of Terezin, the "model" concentration camp that the Nazis set up in Czechoslovakia for artists and intellectuals.

"Brundibar" ended up being performed 55 official times in Terezin, and in countless other impromptu performances in the camp’s halls and barracks. A charming folktale where good triumphs over evil, this children’s opera became a symbol of resistance and hope for many of the 144,000 Jews interned in Terezin, most of whom were murdered before the end of the war.

Today, "Brundibar" is experiencing a revival of sorts. It is the title and story of a new children’s book written by Tony Kushner, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak (Hyperion Books for Children), and this weekend, the Jewish Community Foundation and the Dwight Stuart Youth Foundation sponsored Youth Opera Camp of Santa Monica College Conservatory will be performing the opera at the Miles Memorial Playhouse and Simon Wiesenthal Center.

"We have been taking the kids through a real journey understanding the social relevance of this piece," said Adam Phillipson, the special projects coordinator for Santa Monica College. "The theme of the opera is overcoming a bully, which is how we made it relevant for them, but we also wanted them to understand its historical relevance."

Hans Krasa composed the music of "Brundibar," and Adolf Hoffmeister wrote the lyrics in 1938 for a competition of the Ministry of Education and Culture in Czechoslovakia. According to some accounts, the impending war prevented the competition from taking place; others say that Krasa and Hoffmeister never got their prize because they were Jews. In 1939 when the Nazis invaded, Jews were prevented from participating in public activities. Krasa took his opera to a Jewish orphanage in Prague, where it had its first performance. In 1943, Krasa and the orphanage boys were shipped to Terezin, and his opera was smuggled into the camp in a suitcase. The opera was a favorite there. It was performed for a visiting Red Cross delegation in 1944, and a performance became part of the Nazi propaganda film, "The Fuhrer Presents the Jews With a City."

"Brundibar" is the story of two children who are trying to buy milk for their sick mother but have no money. They notice people giving coins to Brundibar (Czech for bumblebee), the mean old organ grinder. The children try their hand at singing, but nobody hears them over Brundibar’s racket. Out of frustration they start imitating Brundibar, who runs them out of the market. At night, a sparrow, cat and dog join the children to look after them, and advise them that strength lies in numbers. In the morning, a chorus of schoolchildren join them, and together, their voices are loud enough to drown out Brundibar. Villagers drop coins into their bucket, but then a jealous Brundibar runs away with it. The children chase him, get their bucket back and the opera ends with a song of victory.

"Music was part of the resistance against the Nazis," said Weisberger. "When we sang the finale of this little opera, Brundibar was like Hitler and [the message was] we will overcome him and we will win the war against him, and I believe the audience understood it. They would clap, and we would sing it again several times."

Now, 60 years later, the experience of "Brundibar" is still a bittersweet but happy one. It is both a reminder of prejudice and an escape from it. In the Sendak book, scattered among the brightly colored illustrations are Jews wearing the yellow star and even a Jewish cemetery. The opera camp took its 37 aspiring singers on a tour of the Museum of Tolerance and its Children of Terezin exhibit so they could better understand the historical context of the opera. Yet the specter of the Holocaust did not preoccupy the rehearsals of the opera itself.

"It should be playful," said director Eli Villaneuva to the singers during rehearsal, as they flexed their nimble bodies to look like the animals of the script. "You should feel like this is all pretty silly."

But the performers were aware of the significance of the opera. Eight of the 37 opera campers, who come from all over Los Angeles, are Jewish, and several of them had relatives who went through the Holocaust.

"I am continuing the legacy [of those who died] you might say," said Dana Edelman, 13, from El Segundo Middle School, whose great-great aunts and uncles were killed in the Holocaust. "It was really cool that ‘Brundibar’ had been performed by kids, and it was their way of being unified."

Weisberger said, "’Brundibar’ was our life."

"Brundibar, A Children’s Opera" will be performed Dec. 5 at noon and 7 p.m. at Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 434-3431; and on Dec. 7 at 1:30 p.m. at the Museum of Tolerance, 9876 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 772-2452.

The Musical Sound of ‘Lights’


Not all Chanukah music is kiddie music — even when it’s played by kids. On Sunday, Dec. 1, the Skirball Cultural Center will host the West Coast premiere of Russell Steinberg’s suite, "Lights On!" Steinberg will conduct the Stephen Wise Youth Orchestra, a group of 70 youngsters ages 9 to 18 from throughout greater Los Angeles, who attend more than 40 public and private schools.

The second half of the program will be Steinberg’s "Symphony No. 2," titled, "What Is a Jew?" featuring narration by actor Ed Asner, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin of Stephen S. Wise Temple and Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom.

"Lights On!" gives a symphonic twist to eight traditional Chanukah tunes. After beginning in darkness, the musicians add one melody after another, with the light increased for each tune, until they finish in a blaze of light and a complex intertwining of sound — a musical chanukiah on the eighth night of the holiday.

"I didn’t like most Chanukah music," Steinberg told The Journal, speaking from a residency at the MacDowell Colony, an artists’ retreat in New Hampshire. That disaffinity, he said, "gave me a blank canvas," and the piece wound up being "a lot of fun to write."

Steinberg, 43, who holds a doctorate in music composition from Harvard University, was hired at Milken Community High School four years ago to teach music. He created a conservatory at the school that gradually expanded to younger children. The youth orchestra is an outgrowth of the conservatory.

"We’re reaching out to the whole community, not just Jewish kids," Steinberg said.

A self-described "Valley boy," Steinberg said he came late to an interest in Jewish music, which was sparked by his involvement with Milken and through association with Noreen Green, director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony. Attending Shabbatons at Brandeis-Bardin Institute, he said, also brought him into Jewish life.

"I realized [music] was a wonderful way for me to explore Judaism," Steinberg said. "It’s a journey I never would have imagined taking."

The Stephen Wise Youth Orchestra will perform Sunday, Dec. 1, at 4 p.m. at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. $8 (Skirball members), $10 (nonmembers). For tickets call (310) 440-3500 ext. 3344.

Comedic Warfare


A funny thing happened on the way to the synagogue: A rabbi and an Egyptian American, both professional comics, teamed up to perform "One Arab, One Jew, One Stage" this week at Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village and Temple Beth El in Aliso Viejo.

"It sounds like a joke, especially as violence is escalating in the Middle East" says Bob Alper, 57, who bills himself as "the only practicing rabbi in the country doing standup — intentionally." "But the point is to diffuse the tension and to humanize our two groups."

The humor is nonpolitical, says Ahmed Ahmed, a 31-year-old actor who turned to standup after being typecast as cabbies and terrorists.

"You have no idea how tough it is to be an Arab these days," he begins his synagogue act. "[At] the airport….The man at the ticket counter said, ‘Did you pack your bags yourself?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ They arrested me."

When a nightclub hostess gaped at Ahmed, he said, "We just want to come in to celebrate. I just graduated from flight school."

But it was Ahmed who was nervous when Vermont-based Alper approached him about doing joint shows this year. The hip Hollywood comic had won over a potentially hostile crowd at the Comedy Store three days after Sept. 11. But playing a synagogue? "I told Bob, are you nuts?" he recalls. "Then I realized it could be a gesture of peace."

So did audience members who hugged Ahmed after East Coast shul gigs two months ago.

Yet one rabbi has refused to book the duo, stating that comedy is an inappropriate response to Mideast strife. Retorts Alper, "There is no better time, because the only other place you see a Jew and Muslim together is on split screens arguing on MSNBC."