Florida Holocaust survivors back in Warsaw to perform in former ghetto

A musical duo of Holocaust survivors from Florida who have toured the United States returned to their native Poland to perform there for the first time, at an outdoor concert in Warsaw.

Krakow-born Saul Dreier, 91, and Reuwen Sosnowicz, 89, landed in the Polish capital Thursday to perform next week before some 500 people on Grzybowski Square, which was part of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Polish television and radio stations will be broadcasting their concert live to millions of people, according to From the Depths, an organization which does Holocaust commemoration work in Poland.

Dreier learned to play the drums in one of three concentration camps he survived. A cantor taught him to play using spoons, he said.

Sosnowicz, who was born in Warsaw and for whom this is the first visit to his native country since he left after the Holocaust, has been playing the accordion all his life. He was saved by Polish non-Jews who hid him during the Holocaust and then immigrated to Israel before leaving for the United States.

“I am very excited to return to my childhood hometown,” he told JTA. “I am not happy to face the memories of the war but I have to return before I go to heaven as an ambassador for peace, play my beautiful Jewish music and tell the world that we must all live in peace and that love and respect for each other will triumph hate and killing.”

Both he and Dreier lost most of their family members in the Holocaust. They started their duo, the Holocaust Survivor Klezmer and Multicultural Band, in 2014 and have since performed in Florida, New York and Las Vegas.

During their visit, Sosnowicz and Dreier are scheduled to visit Auschwitz, the former Nazi death camp in southern Poland, and the former Treblinka camp. They intend to play without an audience not far from the camp in memory of the people killed there. They will also visit the Polish presidential palace, for a meeting with several cabinet ministers.

At the Warsaw concert, they will be sharing a stage with Muniek Staszczyk, one of Poland’s best-known rock stars.

From the Depths founder Jonny Daniels said his group helped raise some of the tour’s costs because the musicians need to be able to “share their message with thousands and make them their witnesses,” especially at a time when  “the greatest generation, the generation of survivors, sadly is passing away.”

Madonna to begin world tour in Israel

Madonna will go on tour from May for the first time in three years, starting in Israel before moving on to Europe, with legs in South America and Australia, where she has not performed for 20 years, tour promotion company Live Nation said on Tuesday.

The 2012 World Tour will be the first for the Grammy Award-winning 53-year-old Material Girl since her “Sticky & Sweet Tour” in 2008 and 2009 and will stop in more than 20 European and Middle Eastern cities including London, Edinburgh, Paris, Milan, Abu Dhabi and Berlin.

The tour starts on May 29 in Tel Aviv and then visits Abu Dhabi and Istanbul in early June before moving on to Europe. The European leg concludes on August 21st in Nice, France and the North American leg will end in Miami, with the date yet to be confirmed, the company said in a statement.

Dates for the South American and Australian legs and locations were not yet set and additional cities and venues are to be announced, they added.

The announcement came just days after Madonna’s halftime performance at the Super Bowl on Feb 5, with a record 114 million people tuning in to watch the glitzy, Cleopatra-themed show, which was lauded by critics but resulted in an apology from television network NBC and the NFL for a rude gesture made by British hip hop star M.I.A. during the show.

Activists heckle actors during performance

Three activists, including an Israeli lawmaker, heckled actors during a performance at a theater in Tel Aviv.

Monday night’s disruption was a protest of the more than 50 Israeli theater professionals who signed a petition in late August saying that they will not perform in the new Ariel cultural center in the West Bank when it opens in November. The activists included Knesset member Michael Ben-Ari of the National Union Party.

Both the playwright and the director of Monday night’s show at the Cameri Theater signed the petition.

Lead actor Oded Teomi, one of the Cameri’s veteran performers, did not sign the letter and tried to tell this to the hecklers.

“Because of your behavior, maybe we should consider whether there is anything to perform to in Ariel,” he then told the protesters, Haaretz reported. 

The Ariel cultural center, which cost more than $10 million, was built with public funds. Several major Israeli theaters are scheduled to stage productions there this year.

At least 150 Israeli academics and authors, and another 150 American and British television and film professionals, also threw their support behind the boycott.

Ariel is one of the largest Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

For top stars like Madonna, Israel gig becoming more common

Madonna managed to sprinkle some of her fairy diva dust on Israel during her recent tour, calling the Jewish state the world’s “energy center,” wrapping herself in the flag on stage and even lighting Shabbat candles with Sara Netanayahu.

Audiences, local promoters and officials are hoping her magic will linger and boost an already emerging trend in which Israel is becoming a draw for big-name artists in relatively large numbers.

“Anytime you have a successful concert or artist of that caliber here, people will take notice,” said Jeremy Hulsh, a concert promoter who also founded Oleh Records, a company that promotes Israeli artists abroad.

“This year was particularly strong and next year looks to be strong, too. There are lots of newcomer promoters willing to take risks because they are seeing great potential,” he said, noting that Israelis are willing to pay top dollar for tickets and thus help the bottom line. “Israelis are both excited and grateful to see any big names coming to Israel.”

September alone is seeing the likes of Madonna, Leonard Cohen, Julio Iglesias, Dinosaur Jr. and Faith No More performing here. Earlier this summer, the Pet Shop Boys played, as did the new pop sensation Lady Gaga.

Madonna played two concerts last week to a total of some 100,000 fans, while Cohen’s performance for 47,000 sold out in 17 hours—faster than his shows anywhere else in the world.

As promoters and agents talk among themselves, word seems to be spreading that Israel can be a lucrative and successful new stop for performers. Logistics and facilities are top rate, fans pay as much as $400 for good seats for a big name and, despite an uncertain security situation, artists realize when they arrive that the country belies its image as a war zone.

In an age where Israelis feel particularly besieged by international criticism amid calls for cultural and other boycotts, the celebrity acts and the glamorous star power they emit feel especially welcome.

“Madonna is the best ambassador for the Jewish people,” gushed Liav Mizrahi, a 31-year-old art teacher from Tel Aviv who saw her first of two concerts here and was still breathless the next day.

Andy David, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said he hoped the message that Israel is a “normal” country was a happy by-product of high-profile acts like Madonna coming to the country.

“We are a normal country where people enjoy music and performers understand there is a market here for their music, he said, adding later that “it’s good business and a good place to come.”

“We are not some crazy corner of the world where everything is upside down,” David said.

Madonna in particular has forged a unique connection with Israel following her involvement with the Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles. Although her last performance here was 16 years ago, she has been to Israel several times in recent years on private visits that included the Western Wall in Jerusalem and the graves of mystics in Safed.

Although the average Israeli seems a bit befuddled by the Queen of Pop’s interest in Jewish mysticism, especially the Kabbalah Center’s version—serious Jewish scholars have dismissed it as a flashy and inauthentic New Age perversion—they have embraced her all the same.

Officials also have embraced the celebrity fawning with enthusiasm. Madonna dined with Tzipi Livni, a prime ministerial hopeful and leader of the opposition, at a trendy Tel Aviv restaurant. Last Friday evening the singer met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. Madonna, who reportedly knows some Hebrew, recited the blessing over the Sabbath candles with the first lady.

One major paper featured Madonna’s arrival on its front page, overshadowing news that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had been indicted on corruption charges the day before.

In a column in the weekend magazine of the daily Ha’aretz titled “You Really Like Me,” Gideon Levy described the history of Israeli politicians seizing photo ops with stars. A photo spread showed Golda Meir shaking hands with Kirk Douglas, Menachem Begin kissing Elizabeth Taylor’s hand and Shimon Peres visiting Jaffa with Sharon Stone.

“We have always longed for the world’s love, or at least the love of those of its stars who bothered to come here,” a sarcastic Levy wrote.

The occasional big-name music act certainly isn’t new to Israel. Paul McCartney performed last year, and Roger Waters, the late Michael Jackson and Elton John also made their way here over the years.

What is new, industry insiders say, is the volume of such performances, due in part to Israel’s sound track record as a place where fans will pay relatively high prices for tickets.

Performing in Israel involves not only security considerations and the extra insurance necessary to cover them, but the expense of flying in equipment, crew and backup musicians from Europe, as most performers include Israel as part of their larger European tours.

“It’s easier now because promoters are not afraid of Israel and the insurance companies are covering the risks of such shows,” said Perla Mitrani, a project manager for Israstage.com, a site that features Israeli concert dates. “Israel is now becoming a market like anywhere else, a normal stop on people’s tours. The question is how much people are ready to pay for this or that performer.”

According to Avisar Savir, a promoter who is arranging an upcoming concert here of the Chasidic reggae musician Matisyahu, the world economic crisis also has provided an opportunity for Israel.

“People need to open new markets,” he said, “and Israel is seen as a legitimate place to come in a way it wasn’t before.”

Spring Calendar

Trailer for the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, May 8


Sun., March 9
Barrage in “High Strung.” The young, hip cast of Barrage, a contemporary string ensemble, will dish out high-energy virtuosity in their newest show. The international cast features six violinists/vocalists, a drummer, a bass player and a guitarist who will present an amalgam of music, song and dance with a diverse fusion of cultures and musical styles. Join in on the spine-tingling fiddle-fest. 2 p.m. $35 (adults), $20 (17 and under), $10 (Pepperdine students). Pepperdine University Smothers Theatre, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. (310) 506-4522. http://www.barrage.org.

Tue., March 11
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The renowned dance company, founded by a giant of American dance, comes to Orange County for a program that incorporates gospel, jazz and popular music, modern dance and ballet. Highlights will include Ailey’s masterpiece “Revelations,” which has been performed on hundreds of stages around the world and has been received with awe and delight since its debut in 1960. As an added bonus, ticket holders are invited to a free performance preview with a member of the Ailey company, one hour before the show. 7:30 p.m. Through March 16. $25-$85. Orange County Performing Arts Center, Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (714) 556-2787. http://www.ocpac.org.

“Lessons From Bernard Rudofsky.” In a day and age where body image is the craze, an exhibition of the work of late Austrian-born Bernard Rudofsky will display innovative concepts of the body and fashion in an exhibit presented by the Getty Center Research Institute. Rudofsky, an architect, designer and critic, believed that people in Western society lost their spontaneity to design liberating, not restricting, clothing. Devoting his life to exposing the West to foreign architecture paradigms and unfamiliar customs, this breakthrough artist wrote nine books and more than 100 articles on the subject. View Rudofsky’s work accompanied by a 296-page catalogue with contributions from several talented artists. Tue.-Sun. Through June 8. $8 (parking). The Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300. http://www.getty.edu/.

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” It’s difficult to separate the dashing Johnny Depp from Sweeney Todd’s character, after having seen the recent film. Although Depp won’t be on stage at this show, you can still have an up-close-and-personal look at the eerie character in an exciting theatrical performance based on the 19th-century legend of a London barber driven to madness after a judge takes his wife and child away. Sweeney Todd, played by David Hess, plots his revenge with Mrs. Lovett, played by Judy Kaye, who conjures up surprisingly tasty meat pies infused with a secret ingredient. Adapted from a book by Hugh Wheeler, the production’s music and lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim with musical orchestrations by Sarah Travis. 8 p.m. Through April 6. $30-$90. Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. For tickets and additional show times, call (213) 628-2772. http://www.centertheatregroup.org.

Fri., March 14
“Beaufort.” The Israeli war film “Beaufort” stirred up scads of excitement this year with its Best Foreign Language Oscar nomination. Although the film didn’t win, it won many people’s hearts. Based on a novel by Ron Leshem, “Beaufort” was directed by Joseph Cedar and recreates the events prior to the Israeli troop withdrawal from the Beaufort military base in Southern Lebanon. Led by 22-year-old commander Liraz Liberti, played by Oshri Cohen, the small Israeli cohort of troops become weary of their mission when fellow soldiers are killed and injured. The film takes an in-depth look at the fear and drudgery of soldiers’ daily routines and examines the country’s ambivalence toward the 18-year presence in Lebanon. Playing in two locations: Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; and Laemmle’s Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. For tickets and show times, call (310) 274-6869 or (818) 981-9811. http://www.laemmle.com/index.php.

Tori Spelling at Barnes and Noble. Admit it, you have a tinge of curiosity about how Aaron Spelling’s daughter is prolonging her 15 minutes of fame. Since playing Donna Martin on “Beverly Hills, 90210,” the high-school soap-drama that started it all, Spelling has appeared on various reality TV series, wed and borne children and endured a public tussle with her mother over her alleged exclusion from her late father’s estate. Now, Tori Spelling is telling the story like it is with her new memoir, “sTORI Telling,” and today she’ll appear to sign books you can place alongside old “90210” posters. Just don’t expect her to talk about her “poor little rich girl” reputation. 7:30 p.m. Book purchase required for signing. Barnes and Noble at The Grove, 189 Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 525-0366. http://www.bn.com.

“Strauss Meets Frankenstein” at the Long Beach Opera. In a dramatic and different double-bill, actor Michael York will perform Tennyson’s epic poem “Enoch Arden,” about the love and loss that ensues when three friends find themselves romantically entwined. The heartbreak of destiny is deepened by Richard Strauss’ rich, evocative score. The performance changes tone when the audience enters the wild, macabre underworld of Frankenstein where rodents, vampires, werewolves, John Wayne and Superman coalesce in a real monster of a musical. 8 p.m. Also March 15 and 16. $45-$95. Long Beach Performing Arts Center, Center Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach. (562) 432-5934. http://www.longbeachopera.org.

Pasadena ArtWeekend. During a fun-filled weekend featuring more than 20 exhibitions, performances and cultural activities, Pasadena will host a comprehensive celebration of fine arts, visual arts, poetry, spoken word, music, storytelling and theater. Several cultural institutions will open their doors for “ArtNight,” offering a free peek at their collections. “ArtTalk” features a variety of performances, and the weekend is rounded off with “ArtMarket,” a design open market focusing on the work of students, faculty and alumni from Art Center College of Design and Pasadena City College, which will be available for sale. Sponsored by the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs with the Arts & Culture Commission. ArtWeekend will take place at various venues and times over the course of three days, and all events are free and open to the public. For more information, call (800) 307-7977 or visit http://www.pasadenaartweekend.com.

Gypsy Kings at Cerritos Center. Starting on the shores of the French Cote d’Azur, the Gypsy Kings fused South American rumba with fiery Spanish flamenco and their colorful blend of rhythms, leading to international success and recognition on the World Music scene. Tonight they “cast their spell” for a Southern California audience. 8 p.m. $45-$100. (562) 467-8818.

Sondheim and Yiddish songs are ‘like prayer’ for Patinkin

Mandy Patinkin performs “Finishing the Hat” in Sunday in the Park with George
“I have acquired a taste for Patinkin verging on addiction,” Clive Barnes wrote in the New York Post in 2001.

Maybe you know him as Inigo Montoya, the Spanish fencer in “The Princess Bride,” who shouts, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”

Or perhaps you were introduced to him in “Yentl,” as the serious yeshiva boy whose confused feelings for Babs’ cross-dressing Torah student entwined him in romance.

Or maybe you simply know him as Mandy Patinkin, master showman.

The actor/singer/entertainer will perform for one night only on Feb. 2 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood in a career retrospective showcasing his original interpretations of Broadway songs with longtime collaborator pianist Paul Ford.

In his eclectic career of nearly three decades, Patinkin, 55, has moved comfortably from musical theater to television and film work, as well as solo performances showcasing his versatile singing voice. But the theme that unifies most of his work is his near-religious devotion to the stage.

“It’s what I love to do more than anything in the world,” Patinkin said. “It’s like food for me — to perform these songs at a time when the world is so stressed — physically, economically and environmentally bleeding.”

If that sounds bleak, he offers “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” lyrics as a kind of meditation: “When all the world is a hopeless jumble, and the raindrops tumble all around, Heaven opens a magic lane…”

Patinkin describes himself as a “mailman,” transmitting the messages of songwriters like Stephen Sondheim and Irving Berlin, but says he avoids encumbering the material with his own feelings.

Listening to Patinkin wax poetic, it seems implausible that he could keep a cool distance from any performance.

“I am someone who feels a lot,” he said by telephone from his home in New York. “I can’t choke off who I am.”

His intensity may stem from growing up a Conservative Jew on the South Side of Chicago, where he first experienced the power of music when performing in the synagogue choir.

Raised in a traditional family, Patinkin attended Hebrew school, performed cantorial solos during High Holy Days and studied drama at the local JCC, where he discovered his calling.

“If you love someone, tell them,” Patinkin remembers his drama teacher saying about the musical “Carousel.”

“If that’s what this genre of material is about, I like it. And I want to visit it more often,” Patinkin remembers thinking. This message sent him straight to Julliard to study acting.

One of his first and arguably best-known roles was as a yeshiva student opposite Streisand in the movie, “Yentl.” Other actors might have feared being typecast by a Jewish-themed film with predominantly Jewish characters, but not Patinkin.

“All my roles are Jewish,” he said. “Whether I’m Inigo Montoya or a Spanish cabdriver or Georges Seurat — there’s a Jewish core to all of them, because it’s me, and I can’t avoid who I am.”

Indeed, many of Patinkin’s career decisions have been motivated by emotion.

He caused a stir last summer when he asked to be released from his role on the CBS television show “Criminal Minds,” reportedly over creative differences. Although Patinkin wouldn’t say, rumors have circulated that he disapproved of the show’s treatment of violence. Another time, he left the series “Chicago Hope” because it kept him away from his family.

Is he afraid his choices might hamper his success?

“No. I believe attending to my family has only helped me professionally, never hurt me,” Patinkin said. “You prioritize by listening to your heart.”

His heart has found its voice in modern show tunes. Sondheim is “the William Shakespeare of our time,” he said. Show tunes are songs that “hit a nerve which humanity wants to revisit constantly.” Musical scores have “a heartbeat.”

For him, music is like prayer.

“Lyric is what always drives me, and the words and what the stories are, but great music is extremely spiritual,” he says, delivering his words with the emphasis of a Shakespearean soliloquy. “Great music without any lyrics at all is some people’s complete connection to spirituality and religion. Great religions almost all have music in them. When you combine the two, it allows you to feel the thought.”

If he is effusive about the stage, he is absolutely unconstrained with his feelings about Judaism. But during one performance, his Jewish exuberance translated into a political statement, and it was not well received.

On Sept. 10, 2001 Patinkin sang a Hebrew prayer during a performance in New York and then placed an Israeli flag and a Palestinian flag together on top of a stool. The sound of an explosion blared. He then sang the Sondheim lyric from “Into the Woods”: “Careful the things you do, children will listen.”

The next day, after the World Trade Center attacks, an Israeli performer angrily pointed out riotous celebration in Gaza, and said they were waving the same flag to celebrate the destruction of Sept. 11 that Patinkin had used the night before during a prayer for peace.

Patinkin hasn’t performed “Children Will Listen” the same way since.

“I’m not interested in making people upset or angry,” he said, defending his act. “If I don’t have your attention and your calm, than you won’t hear the positive thoughts these people wrote, the wishes for humanity, for people to be together and not hate each other. I can sacrifice certain things to gain greater attention to the cause.”

These days, instead of making political statements, he is pursuing peaceful Jewish causes such as the Arava Institute, an environmental studies center in Israel, and touring his formidable Yiddish repertoire.

“It’s a gift to have a heritage, a culture that you come from — it’s your gift! It’s your map of the world you came from. You can’t avoid it, and to deny it is stupid, it’s really stupid,” he declared.

For Patinkin, ignoring one’s heritage is ignoble and has consequences: “You’re depriving yourself of one of the greatest conscious and unconscious food sources that your history has to offer you.”

And then, without any drama at all, he said: “Being Jewish has been one of the great gifts of my life.”

Joan Rivers’ ‘Life’ — audacious, as always

“I’m angry about everything,” comedian Joan Rivers says.

“I’m angry about getting older, about men being morons, about Hollywood being such a use-and-discard business. I’m angry that for women it’s all about looks — when it isn’t for men — and you can tell me ‘No,’ you can yell and argue, but if you’re good in bed with big boobs and looking gorgeous, you’re gonna get someplace.”

For more than four decades, Rivers has used her rage to carve her niche as comedy’s most seething yenta. Whether she is skewering celebrities on the red carpet, doing stand-up or performing one of her autobiographical plays (“Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress” runs Feb. 13 through March 16 at the Geffen Playhouse) her acid tongue deliberately provokes.

What does Rivers claim to have told Mick Jagger? “Iron your face.”

Jesus “freaks”?: “If Jesus loved you, he would have given you an f— chin.”

Paris Hilton?: “Memories are precious — make more home movies.”

New Yorkers after Sept. 11?: “So who do you wish had died?”

You’d think she’d be booed off the stage for some of her most vitriolic bits, and audience members do boo, but mostly they relish her shtick, because “I tell the truth,” she says. “I say not only what I think, but what everyone thinks.”

Rivers’ new play, which she calls “a one-woman show with four characters,” was spurred by (what else) something that made her livid. She was preparing to work the red carpet at the Academy Awards four years ago when her job was on the line.

“Something horrible, just awful was done to me,” she says in her raspy voice. “My response was ‘Uch, nobody would believe this; this would make a great play.”

Rivers won’t divulge specifics about that incident (she wants to surprise audiences), but she will say that the show is set in a dressing room at an awards show where her cheese plate is puny and her producer is “the bigwig’s nephew, not the bigwig.”

The shabby milieu prompts Rivers to reflect upon her tumultuous life. In 1986 Rivers was perhaps the most successful female comic of her generation when a feud with Johnny Carson, for whom she had been a favored fill-in host, devastated her career. She reinvented herself as a QVC shopping channel diva in order to hawk her own jewelry, then reinvented herself yet again, as a red carpet interviewer, after suddenly finding herself $37 million in debt as the result of a business setback. Along the way, she survived the suicide of her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, in 1987, and reworked her face with cosmetic surgery because “stretched-looking is better than wrinkled.”

Today Rivers is as known for her face-lifts and botox shots as she is for her catty patter.

“I’m a big advocate,” she says of nips and tucks. “You redo your car and repaint your house. So if you want to feel better and have a better looking nose, or lift your eyes, what’s so terrible?”

Onstage, Rivers ridicules her own vanity, claiming “I wish I had a twin, so I’d know what I look like without plastic surgery.”

She also professes to hate old people: “I really do hate them, because they remind me of me,” she says in a telephone interview. “Of course it’s all self-loathing. I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s making me a great living.”

Some of that self-analysis comes through in her plays, which, she says, are “quite different from my stand-up. They’re more controlled and there’s much more serious stuff happening. My new play is about survival and starting again, no matter where you are in life. It’s about when you do have to go back to the [proverbial] old dressing room, the old dirty dressing room that is waiting for you.”

Bart DeLorenzo, who is directing the play, says he was drawn to the piece because “it shows you the Joan Rivers you expect — the outrageous, manically funny, brutally honest performer — and also a side she’s never presented onstage, which is the story of her life. The stories she tells are funny and embarrassing and they’re also heartbreaking. Obviously, there was the huge crisis when the personal and the professional came together, when she was fired by Fox, and her husband died shortly thereafter. But Rivers has been tested throughout her life. The humiliation and the rejection she encountered is overwhelming, yet she endured and was driven to move on.”

On a recent afternoon, Rivers is ensconced in digs that seem light years away from that dressing room at the Oscars four years ago. She says she is sitting in her large bathroom-office — half the sink counter has been transformed into a desk — gazing out the window at a spectacular view of Central Park. She describes her outfit — “Chanel-they-should-only-drop-dead-because-they-hate-Jews pants” — and the Thanksgiving joke she told on “The View:” “Mel Gibson gave me my turkey recipe; it says, ‘preheat the oven to 9,000 degrees.'”

“I just like to remind people about Mel Gibson,” she says. “He made ‘The Passion,’ with the Jewish characters and their hook noses, and he says he’s not anti-Semitic? Bad, bad, bad. Any Jew who sees a Mel Gibson movie should be ashamed of themselves. I certainly won’t.”

If Rivers identifies in any way as a Jewish performer, it’s in the emphasis she places on survival — a skill she first learned from her immigrant parents.

“They both had to flee Russia because of the revolution, but my father left because his family was so poor, and my mother left because her family was rich — ‘court Jews’ who sold fur and bricks to the czarist army,” she says.

“My mother was only 6 years old when she left, but she remembered servants carrying big silver platters with pears stuffed with caviar in for dinner,” Rivers adds. “And then when her family came to America they were desperately poor, and my grandfather couldn’t take it. He went back to Russia and died of starvation in St. Petersburg. It was my grandmother who made the transition to life in America. And it was only in America that my parents could have met and married.”

Don Rickles on film for the very first time

Prithee, art thou a Jew?

Oojam at last year’s Ren Faire
Click the BIG ARROW to play

The women of Oojahm undulate on a makeshift stage of Oriental rugs at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire’s main entrance. Peasants and beggars hoot and holler while perched on nearby bales of hay as the turban-clad drummers provide the beat for this flirtatious performance.

But these belly dancers aren’t quite what you’d expect. For one thing, they don’t show any actual belly.

While squeezing into cleavage-popping bodices might be de rigueur for the commoners, the members of Oojahm buck the trend for the sake of historical accuracy. The dancers leave almost everything to the imagination, since their outfits must hem close to modesty standards of the 16th century Ottoman Empire. They don hair coverings, long fabric skirts, pantaloons (so the women don’t show skin when they twirl) and tunics that cover the arms and torso.

The dance troupe also sports another unexpected flourish: Jewish characters.

“We are a caravan [from the Ottoman Empire], and we have come to England to trade on the shire,” says Natalie Luskin, who plays Hadarah, the daughter of a Jew who died during childbirth.

“I was raised by the tribe, but because I am Jewish, I’ve been given the freedom to learn Torah,” she says, referring to her character’s biography.

Jews have participated regularly in RenFaire — which recreates with the greatest possible accuracy English life during the Renaissance — and actors like Luskin are now finding greater freedom to express their cultural identity in the roles they play. The main stumbling block to date had been that Jews were exiled from England 300 years before the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

The trade mission storyline allows this Ottoman tribe of 35 performers to slip its Jewish characters into the formerly Judenrein shire. In keeping with its historical recreation, Oojahm features a detailed history that includes Jewish-Muslim coexistence and cooperation.

This inclusion reflects a dramatic shift in how Faire organizers focus on multiculturalism.

During weekends from early April to late May, 1,200 actors representing the various social classes of England’s Renaissance era wander through village streets filled with crafts, clothiers and games, interacting with the public. Staged performances and concerts are complimented by wandering minstrels and other street performers. And food vendors offer everything from turkey legs to falafel sandwiches, inspiring lines at Ye Olde ATM.

Dozens of such festivals are held nationwide and in Canada throughout the year, but Southern California kicked off the Renaissance Faire craze more than four decades ago. Teachers Phyllis and Ronald Patterson began staging small Renaissance pageants in the backyard of their San Fernando Valley home in the early 1960s, and the couple held the first Renaissance Faire in North Hollywood on May 11 and 12, 1963, attracting about 8,000 people.

From North Hollywood, the Faire relocated to Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernardino and then to its current site, the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area in Irwindale. Today, it attracts about 10,000 people daily.

Starting in 2005, Faire organizers began addressing ways to widen the event’s appeal among Los Angeles’ diverse communities. Spanish-language television advertisements began airing this year. Entertainment has grown to include Aztec dancers and Middle Eastern music ensemble Baba Ku, and jousting matches once reserved only for English lords now feature Italian, French, German and Ottoman champions.

The public is taking note, and more visitors are arriving in period outfits that fall outside the realm of Elizabeth’s England.

“I don’t think we can look on ourselves as a one-dimensional society any longer,” says Rikki Kipple, owner of Renaissance Pleasure Faire. “There’s so many fascinating cultures, and the world in Elizabethan times was amazing … because the trade routes had opened up.”

Not that Jews were waiting on the sidelines for an opportunity to take part in the festivities.

The dearth of Jews in Elizabethan England might have made for slim pickings in terms of Jewish roles over the last 40-odd years, but Jewish actors and crafts workers have been involved in the Faire since its earliest days.

Anita Honor, 78, a retired teacher, started attending the Faire as a craftswoman in 1968. She says her children would accompany her on the weekends, and they camped out together in her booth after she had spent the day making and selling rugs.

“It was like a vacation,” Honor says. “It was like being in a foreign country.”

Her daughter and granddaughter are RenFaire regulars, and she beams with pride as she recounts how her great-granddaughter started attending this year.

Lauren Chroman, a self-described “RenRat,” grew up as a participant. She says the Jews who work there definitely are aware of one another.

The 21-year-old student at Occidental College wears a Star of David on her necklace as she plays any one of three Irish or English characters. As a rabble-rouser at the jousts, Chroman keeps the audience entertained. While in character on the streets, she regularly taunts Puritans who make period cracks about Jews.

Chroman says that one of the anti-Semitic Puritans is, in fact, a Jew.

And if you happen to catch the Poxy Boggards, the “drinking group with a singing problem,” Chroman suggests you listen carefully for Hebrew being substituted for Gaelic verses.

“Only the Jews in the audience understand the joke when the singer puts on a yarmulke as he switches over to the Hebrew lines,” Chroman says. “Suddenly he’s joined by voices from the audience who don’t know a word of Gaelic.”

Renaissance Pleasure Faire ends this weekend, May 19-20.

Hadarah (Natalie Luskin), right, dances with Sari (Mercy) as part of Oojahm at Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

Hadarah (Natalie Luskin), right, dances with Sari (Mercy) as part of Oojahm at Renaissance Pleasure Faire. Photo courtesy of http://www.renaissancefaire.net Copyright © 2007 Richard G Lowe Jr.

Theater: ‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’ — populism through a post-punk prism

“Populism, yea, yea!
Populism, yea, yea!”

Sung to an urgent pop beat, this rousing refrain from “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” is bound to stick in your head. Not just because it’s so catchy, but because the show gets you thinking about populism — what it meant to early 19th century America, and what it means to us today. Written and directed by Alex Timbers, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, “Bloody Bloody” is a rollicking, irreverent new bio-musical about Andrew Jackson’s life and leadership — viewed through the lens of “emo” music and 20th century pop culture.

The first American president from humble origins, Jackson pitted himself against authority and privilege. Scarred by early violent encounters, one of which left a bullet in his chest for life, Jackson bled himself in vain attempts to ease his pain. And long before Bill Clinton “felt our pain,” Jackson fashioned his wounds, youthful disappointments and family tragedy into an empathetic persona that appealed to those who felt powerless.

Although this is their first collaboration, Friedman and Timbers each bring impressive credentials to the production. Timbers, 29, is artistic director of the New York-based, Obie Award-winning avant-garde company Les ” target=”_blank”>The Civilians, a New York-based off-Broadway company that conducts extensive interviews to create theater that raises questions about contemporary cultural phenomena. Friedman, composer and lyricist for numerous Civilians productions, most recently penned pop music for the upcoming “This Beautiful City,” an inside look at evangelical Christian churches that probes the intersection of religion and civic life in America, premiering this March at Louisville’s Humana Festival of New American Plays.

Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that Friedman and Timbers share the conviction that emo — which they describe as hyper-emotional, post-punk rock that’s “so sincere it’s ridiculous, and so ridiculous, it’s heartbreaking” — is an ideal aesthetic to apply to Jackson and his era.

“There’s an entire language of the American presidency that’s invented during Jackson’s presidency,” Friedman said. And the invention of populism, he added, can be seen as “disenfranchised boys who didn’t think they were popular in high school getting their revenge.”

By using contemporary teenage idioms and post-punk music alongside 19th century speech and period details, Friedman believes “Bloody Bloody” highlights qualities of each period that might not otherwise be apparent.

“Often, the most simplistic things we come up with — like introducing Monroe’s cabinet to the strains of a Spice Girls song — are really helpful at focusing in on what the thing itself is,” Friedman said.

These pop culture motifs also add lightness and humor to what is — beneath a gloss of irony and absurdity — a serious subject.

A classically trained pianist who didn’t write his first song until he was 24, Friedman thrives on intensive research — whether it’s the hundreds of interviews that form the basis of The Civilians’ plays, or historical research for “Bloody Bloody” — and draws musical inspiration from a seemingly limitless range of styles.

“I approach my work anthropologically,” Friedman said.

For one project, he immersed himself in Senegalese rap — not expecting to actually write a Senegalese rap song, but instead to absorb the sounds in order to pick up a new trick or two.

“It might be about structure, or rhythm, or the way a melody works,” Friedman said.

Listening to other music also helps him concentrate while composing, and anything he hears might suggest an idea for works in progress: “I’ll be listening to my iPod and finally figure out what I want to do on a song … often it’s not even a direct correlation — I’ll hear a Mahler symphony and I’ll think, ‘Oh, “Trail of Tears” [from “Bloody Bloody”] should have a key change right here.'”

With his wide-ranging forays into musical style and his flair for eclecticism, Friedman has created a style that’s not easy to categorize.

“I’m kind of chameleon-like,” he said. For The Civilians’ “Gone Missing,” which recently completed a six-month run at New York’s Barrow Street Theater, Friedman called his score a “pastiche … there’s a Noel-Coward-esque song, a Mariachi number in Spanish, a big rock ballad….”

Friedman’s upbringing may have planted the seeds for his interest in, and facile navigation of, disparate cultural sources.

Raised in Philadelphia by a Jewish father of German descent and a non-Jewish, “Yankee, New England” mother, Friedman attended a Quaker school until college at Harvard. His father is from a family of “fiercely proud” German Jews who identified culturally, but not religiously, with Judaism.

“I was half-Jewish, half-Christian in a confusing way, both sides a little bit nonobservant, went to a Quaker school in the ’70s, when everything like that was very much up in the air,” Friedman said. This gave him a “sense of religious — and nonreligious — possibility” for his own identity.

Although he doesn’t believe that any particular “faith background” influences his work, Friedman believes he’s got his father’s German Jewish sense of “intellectual questioning, of learning for learning’s sake.”

That said, no one in his father’s family has any connection with their European roots, so they are, more than anything else, “Americans first,” he added.

“At this point — after so many generations — what else are you?” Friedman asked.

A very contemporary question, but one that also harkens back to the Jacksonian era, when the presence of Native Americans, Spaniards and African slaves within our borders challenged our ideals of democracy and raised issues of race and ethnicity in America.

What did we then, and what do we now, make of these “foreigners” on our soil?

Violinist Joshua Bell walks in the footsteps of masters

Although he doesn’t exactly think of it this way, Joshua Bell is the latest in a long line of Jewish violin-playing aristocracy.

His teacher was Joseph Gingold, and as Bell fondly recalled him, “He was a Russian Jewish violinist. He had an incredible joy for the violin that rubbed off. He introduced me to the older generation — Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Mischa Elman — and they became my idols.”

Those giants had been contemporaries of Gingold and, like him, were all Jews, too. Now Bell, who is generally acclaimed as America’s greatest living violinist, is the latest to be passed the scepter, even though he is only 38.

He may seem young, but he has been playing professionally since he was 14, so, as he admitted with a certain amusement, “I’ve been playing violin professionally longer than I was not playing before. And when you consider that I had my first public performance when I was 7…..”

But he is always aware of those Jewish ghosts at his back.
“A lot of the things that I do when I play are not things I picked up from them consciously, but by growing up with their language, through their music, I internalized it,” he said. “For example, the way they use rubato, something that’s very hard to teach. Kreisler would play incredibly rhythmically but around the beat. He did it very tastefully, it was never overdone.”

Bell is, by his own admission, more of a cultural Jew than a religious one.
“My mother is Jewish, a very typical Jewish mother,” he said. “She was very involved in my practicing. Both my parents were behind me and loved music. But for me, Jewishness was very much a cultural tie. I feel very close to the Jewish side of the family. I grew up with my Jewish cousins, going to all the bar mitzvahs, so I feel very close to that side, and I identify myself as being Jewish.”

He feels that identification with particular acuteness when he performs in Israel.

“My mother lived there; my grandfather was a Sabra,” he explained. “I have family there, and last year, I saw some of them for the first time since I was 4. Even my violin [a famous 1713 Stradivarius] has a connection to Israel. It was owned by Bronislaw Hubermann, who founded the Israel Phil, and when Israelis hear that it’s ‘the Hubermann,’ they get very excited.”

What is it about Jews and classical music? If you ask Bell he is, understandably, a bit guarded
“That’s something you’d have to ask a Jewish sociologist, which my uncle happens to be,” he said, laughing. “I guess it’s a cultural thing. To be successful in music, you need to grow up with cultural influences; in the Jewish households, culture and music are valued. It’s also about role models. Fifty years ago, a Jewish child would be told, ‘You’re going to be the next Heifetz.’ You have to be careful when you say things like this not to be misunderstood.”

Certainly Bell grew up with music all around him.

“Music was very important in my family,” he said. “All the cousins would come over for family musicales, and everybody would play. Nobody was a professional, so there wasn’t a family member to get me started. For me it was Joseph Gingold.”

Bell enjoys one of the busiest schedules a musician could dream of. The three weeks he will spend with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in October represent the longest stretch that he will be in one place all fall and winter. But someday, when his schedule slows down, he would like to do for some young would-be Joshua Bell what Gingold did for him.

“I had such a great relationship with my teacher,” he said. “Gingold told me stories about Ysaye, who was one of the greatest violinists of the 19th century and his teacher, and I’d like to pass these things on at some point in my life. I can’t imagine not doing that.”

Joshua Bell will perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Oct. 19-22 and in an open rehearsal and question-and-answer session with the Colburn Conservatory Orchestra on Oct. 27, followed the next night by a concert with the Colburn. He will appear in a chamber music recital Nov. 1 and again with the Philharmonic Nov. 3-5. All these events will take place at Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, except for the concert on Nov. 4, which will be in Santa Barbara.

Bell’s newest CD, “Voice of the Violin,” is available on the Sony label.

For more information, call (323) 850-2000 or go to wdch.laphil.com.

7 Days in the Arts

Saturday the 23rd

How to make the holiday meaningful for the kids? Pick up a children’s book recommended by the Ratner Media and Technology Center at the Jewish Educational Center of Cleveland. Sylvia Epstein’s “How the Rosh Hashanah Challah Became Round” and Barbara Diamond Goldin’s “The World’s Birthday” are just two of many that make the list.

To view it in full, visit the Jewish Federation’s Web site, at ” width = 425 vspace = 6 alt=”YofiYah’s Kabbalah Kirtan”>

Jews looking for a spiritual soundtrack for their yoga practice may find it in YofiYah’s “Kabbalah Kirtan” CD. The musician and singer fuses Sikh musical traditions, known as Kirtan, with those of kabbalah. Listeners will hear the familiar words of Jewish prayers like “L’cha Dodi” and “Oseh Shalom,” set to perhaps less familiar Kirtan melodies or “two mystical traditions … united in ecstatic devotion.”

” TARGET=”_blank”>www.mtr.org.

Thursday the 28th

“Delirium” is the apposite title for Cirque du Soleil’s showcase of musicians, singers, dancers, acrobats and characters on a 130 foot, two-sided stage and 540 feet of projections (equivalent in width of almost four IMAX screens). Prepare yourself for sensory overload this evening, as JDate and the Museum of Tolerance sponsor their night of “Delirium,” which also includes the option of a preshow kosher buffet dinner and special reserve wine tasting, all benefiting the Museum of Tolerance.

6 p.m. (dinner and tasting), 8 p.m. (performance). $250 plus (show and VIP passes to the museum), $500 plus (dinner and tasting, show and VIP passes to the museum). Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles. (310) 772-2531.

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Pink Floyd’s Waters Caught Red-Handed

“No thought control.”

The famed lyrics from rock band Pink Floyd’s much beloved “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2” make for a powerful statement regardless of context. Scrawled last week in red paint on a concrete segment of Israel’s security fence in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem by Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters himself, though, the poignancy of the verse is undeniable.

Waters visited Israel to play a concert June 22 at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam (literally Oasis of Peace), a cooperative Jewish-Palestinian Arab village between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Originally scheduled to perform at the much more mainstream Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv, Rogers moved the concert to the fields of Neve Shalom in response to pressure from pro-Palestinian musicians.

“I moved the concert to Neve Shalom as a gesture of solidarity with the voices of reason — Israelis and Palestinians seeking a non-violent path to a just peace between the peoples,” Waters said in a press release.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the concert in its makeshift venue drew more than 50,000 attendees and became the cause of one of Israel’s worst traffic jams to date. Waters performed the album “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety, along with many of Pink Floyd’s greatest hits, including “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Wish You Were Here” and the especially iconic “Another Brick in the Wall.”

“We need this generation of Israelis to tear down walls and make peace,” Waters told the audience before his post-midnight encore.

Waters’ performance received much acclaim in Israel, but it is his spray-painting stint at the security fence in the West Bank the day before the showcase that is making lasting waves there and abroad. The artist’s paint and pen additions to the already graffiti-laden wall marked Waters’ first stop after arriving in Israel. According to reporters present at the Palestinian town of Bethlehem when he made the markings, Waters likened the barrier to the Berlin Wall, adding that “it may be a lot harder to get this one down, but eventually it has to happen, otherwise there’s no point to being human beings.”

The musician’s deliberately provocative gesture prompted right-wing activists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir to call for the artist’s detainment.

The pair submitted an accusation to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court June 23 alleging that Waters destroyed Israel Defense Forces property, according to Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Israeli authorities have not yet issued a response to the singer’s graffiti or to Marzel and Ben-Gvir’s retaliatory petition.

The fence that Waters dubbed “a horrible edifice” is being constructed in the hopes of preventing Palestinian suicide bombers and other attackers, who have killed and wounded hundreds of Israelis in the last six years, from entering Israel proper.

Additional information courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency, The Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz.


Sweet Sixteen and Ready to Rise

Even though 16-year-old singer Liel Kolet was born on a kibbutz in northern Israel, she’d prefer to be called an international artist rather than an Israeli one. That largely explains why many of the younger generation of Israeli rock/pop buffs would know little about her. Nor is she routinely counted among the growing crop of Israeli pop princesses, such as Shiri Maimon, who also will be performing in Los Angeles later this month. She hasn’t released an album in Hebrew for wide distribution, and her English songs don’t get Israeli radio play.

And that’s just fine with Kolet. While the dark, curly-haired singer remains deeply connected to her Israeli roots — even while trotting the globe in America, Europe and Canada — she has her sights on the big leagues.

“From the start the idea was to build me as an international singer,” she said.

And there are parallels with her idol, Celine Dion. As young singers, both set their sights on international stardom with the backing of a dedicated manager (Kolet’s manager is Irit Ten-Hengel). Kolet, like Dion, has a clean and wholesome image, singing heartfelt songs about love, humanity and “the children.” On May 20, Kolet will represent Switzerland at the Eurovision singing contest, just as Dion, originally from Canada, did in 1988. The title of Kolet’s debut album is “Unison,” also the title of Dion’s hit debut.

“I’m not trying to be Celine Dion — we don’t have same kind of music — but what she achieved in her career and the steps she’s been through and what she represents are an example to me,” said Kolet in a very slight Israeli accent during a telephone interview. “She is an example of what an artist should be: She has an amazing voice and presence on stage that really touches to the heart of people. People come to hear her voice. That to me is what an artist is about.”

Kolet has a powerful voice and range, but Israeli-born female vocalists have notoriously failed to make a successful U.S. crossover. With the possible exception of Ofra Haza, another of Kolet’s favorites, Israeli divas usually fare better in Europe, which is generally more open to musical diversity.

Still, Ten-Hengel, Kolet’s international manager, left her prestigious career as a music executive at Sony Europe to focus solely on Kolet, because she has little doubt that Kolet will achieve her dreams.

“Mark my word: When she’s 18, she’s huge in America,” said Ten-Hengel. “She has the whole package — voice, personality, love for music, passion and angelic beauty.”

A select audience will judge for themselves when Kolet headlines the May 24 black-tie award dinner of the International Visitor’s Council. Music industry bigwigs are expected to be there for their own look, including Grammy-award winning producer David Foster, who has produced several of Dion’s hits. Ken Kragen, Kolet’s U.S.-based manager, is the dinner’s honoree for his production of humanitarian projects, including We Are the World and Hands Across America.

A veteran manager of such artists as Kenny Rogers, Lionel Richie, Olivia Newton John and the Bee Gees, Kragen came across Kolet two years ago when he saw a video of her performance at the 80th birthday celebration for former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. At the star- and diplomat-studded event, Kolet spontaneously called Bill Clinton to the stage to sing a duet with her of Lennon’s “Imagine.” It happened to be one of her best career moves.

“I realized this lady had amazing poise and ability and was a wonderful singer with an amazing voice,” Kragen said.

Two years ago, Kragen introduced the aspiring starlet to American music industry executives in Los Angeles.

With no major American record deals were in the offing, Kolet spent the last two years building up an impressive resume of performances in Europe, particularly in Germany, where she has won several awards. Her management believes that she’s now poised to conquer North America, making her upcoming visit to Los Angeles all the more significant.

“It’s not easy,” Kragen said. “The record industry today is much less inclined to sign new acts. The difference now is that there’s a track record in Europe.”

Kolet’s participation in charity events has put her onstage with artists such as Elton John, U2’s Bono and, most recently, Andrea Boccelli. She has developed a close working relationship with Klaus Meine of the legendary German rock band, the Scorpions, having performed with him last year in Israel.

Her first international album, “Unison,” is a potpourri of ethnic-tinged love ballads, upbeat pop songs and music with a “message”; it includes three duets with Meine. Their take on Naomi Shemer’s “Jerusalem of Gold” is the most Israeli song on the album, reflecting the Israeli pride she says she’ll always carry with her.

As Kolet put it: “Singing for peace and everything that I do and my charity events are because I grew-up in Israel.”

For more information on Liel Kolet, visit www.liel.net.

Jazz and Classical in Perfect Harmony

Throughout his career, musician Uri Caine has gambled that he could find a niche in unconventional musical settings — and he’s usually won. His body of work includes hard-swinging jazz, contemporary imaginings of Jewish musical themes and controversial reworkings of hallowed masterpieces by Bach, Beethoven and Mahler. Not only has the 49-year-old Caine dared to alter the notes written by classical masters, but he’s also incorporated decidedly nontraditional sonic elements into his recordings — like D.J. effects and the voice of a Sephardic cantor.

For his next daring feat, as the composer-in-residence for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO), Caine will debut a concerto for two pianos and chamber orchestra this month in Los Angeles, incorporating improvisation between his piano and the piano of LACO music director Jeffrey Kahane, as part of a salute to Mozart in the year marking the 250th anniversary of his birth. Caine’s piece is hardly a clichéd “jazzing up” of Mozart. Instead, the new composition uses the Austrian master as a point of departure for a composition written in a contemporary musical language that is very much Caine’s own.

“People ask me, ‘How do we categorize this music?'” says Caine, who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with his wife, artist Jan Caine. “‘Should we put it in the classical department or put it in the jazz department?’ As an idealist, I say put it in both. See what happens.”

LACO’s Kahane, whose musician son Gabriel first urged his skeptical father to explore Caine’s music, says that because of the composer’s unusual level of mastery in multiple genres, Caine does far more than simply translate a classical style into a jazz idiom.

“He’s literally reimagining the music and placing it in a great many different contexts,” Kahane says. “His stylistic vocabulary is so vast, and he’s so skillful in moving from one vocabulary to another, that he’s able to use all these different languages as commentary on the piece — and uses the piece to comment on other pieces, and other pieces besides the piece to comment on it. One of the wonderful things about Uri is that you don’t know what’s going to come out.”

Caine has had his ears wide open to a broad musical palette ever since he was seduced by the jazz, classical, funk and pop music of Philadelphia as a teenager in the mid-1970s. His musical education also had a distinctive Jewish flavor; as the son of two professors who diligently taught their children “Eliezer Ben-Yehudah” Hebrew, Caine ended up hearing a lot of Israeli pop and Sephardic music. The family would sing Jewish folk songs together around the table.

“My parents grew up in the generation of young people after the Holocaust — and they were embracing the Hebrew movement,” Caine says. “They weren’t religious necessarily, but at some point they thought about moving to Israel, even though they never left — they still live in Philadelphia.”

After studying with prominent composers George Rochberg and George Crumb at the University of Pennsylvania, and heading off to nighttime jam sessions that sometimes included jazz legends Philly Joe Jones and Hank Mobley, Caine spent time finding himself. After stints in Philadelphia and Israel, Caine decided in 1985 to move to New York City, perhaps the most vibrant but challenging jazz city in the world.

Caine credits his successes today to a willingness to stick with his musical vision through lean times.

“Follow that instinct,” he urges young musicians. “It’ll happen, if you work hard, and you can keep moving somehow.”

Caine’s critical buzz arrived with the release of Urlicht/Primal Light, a bold re-imagining of various Mahler compositions, released in 1997. While tradition-minded listeners objected — some walked out in protest at a 1998 performance in Toblach, Italy — the piece received a composer’s prize for best Mahler CD of the year.

Caine thought of the Mahler project in the manner of a jazz musician interpreting an established work. Just as in the 1960s, Miles Davis would reconceive a tune written by Cole Porter, so Caine would transform Mahler’s teeming stylistic soundscapes. Inescapably, some listeners saw the piece as an artistic reaction that embodied Caine’s Jewish identity, because of Mahler’s ultimate conversion to Christianity.

“Maybe, if you’re a German, you’re looking at the project as this New York Jewish person reinterpreting Jewish music — on the one hand, that seems very racist, because everything is reduced to that,” Caine says. “On the other hand, I understand it. Mahler’s life is a very interesting subject from that point of view.”

Caine is fascinated by the complexities of Jewish identity, but resents having the aesthetic breadth and complexity of his work reduced to a simple religious or political message: “The artist should be free — I mean everybody should be free — to like what they like, and not have to be pressured by the group.”

Still, Caine is hardly dismissive of his Jewish background: “It’s that conflict between an individual just trying to embrace different things and use everything that is out there. And also the reality that you come from a tradition. A very long, proud tradition of survival and innovation and creativity.”

Caine’s own work is also marked by inventiveness. And yet, say admirers, he’s the rare bird who can take on intellectually demanding projects without drowning in pedantry. His work can be complex without losing its playful vitality.

Uri Caine will premiere his “Concerto for Two Pianos and Chamber Orchestra” on May 20 at 8 p.m. at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Boulevard, Glendale, and May 21 at 7 p.m. at Royce Hall, UCLA campus. $22-$80. For more information, call (213) 622-7001 ext. 215, or visit

L’Chaim to Kitsch!

On a dark spotlight-lit stage, a man in a long, black suit; yarmulke; and tallit slung over one shoulder fervently sings into a microphone, while a dance troupe in similar — but sexier — garb twirls behind him.

He’s not a cantor. He’s not a rabbi. He’s not even religious. He is Evgeni Valevich, a performer whose repertoire includes a program of Russian Jewish music in the genre called Estrada. Estrada may be a genre unknown to Westerners, but to Russians, the term is immediately recognizable.

This glitzy stage entertainment was popularized in the Soviet Union during the 1960s and 1970s, and a modernized and glamorized version is still highly popular in contemporary Russia. Its format is simple: a singer in glittering stage costume — sometimes backed up by a dance crew or a music ensemble, sometimes not — performs pop music numbers on a stage with a backdrop similar to the ones shown on the American TV show, “American Idol.”

The format of Jewish Estrada is identical to the Russian version: a lit-up stage, sparkling costumes, emotional music. The only difference is that the singers choose themes that reflect their Jewish identity. With his dress, Valevich plays up his Jewishness, although for others, the Jewish link can be weak.

At “A Night of Jewish Music and Humor” held earlier this month at the 2,500-seat Rossiya Concert Hall in Moscow, Joseph Kobzon — once recognized as the “People’s Artist of the U.S.S.R.” — performed a song in which the main verse ran: “L’chaim to all / Pour more (vodka) into the glass / Raise the glass higher.”

The keyword designating this song as “Jewish” is “l’chaim.” Otherwise, the song is Russian through and through.

For many Russian Jews, Judaism is still an exotic form of cultural expression. Russian, or even Soviet, culture is still closer to heart. That’s where artists like Kobzon come in.

“We started to go to these shows rather recently,” said Yevgenya Abramovna, a pensioner who has lived in Moscow her entire life.

She and her husband were attending “A Night of Jewish Music and Humor” in which Kobzon, Valevich and a half-dozen other Jewish artists performed.

This couple’s interest in Jewish culture was a new phenomenon that developed as they reached old age. The mere fact that singers sang in Yiddish or their songs touched on Jewish symbols was enough for them.

“We never knew anything about Jewish culture,” Abramovna said. “Where else can we go to see something like this?”

In the northern Russian city of Arkhangelsk, Valevich recently got a standing ovation from the few hundred Jews — a large majority of the Jewish Estrada fans are Jewish — who gathered to watch his performance. It wasn’t to thank him for braving a three-day train trip from Moscow. Instead, the ovation was for the same reason the audience snatched up his DVDs after the show: They were excited by his rather unusual and simple stage presentation of Jewish culture intertwined with a familiar entertainment genre.

Valevich’s performance is interesting because he boldly uses stereotypical Jewish images. Other Jewish Estrada artists make do with Jewish themes in their music and lyrics.

He not only sings about Jewish topics, he also dresses himself and his dance troupe in clichéd Jewish garb. For most of his performance, he resembles a shaved Chasidic Jew who has just emerged from shul — tallit casually draped over his shoulder.

Valevich goes even further by openly incorporating religious rituals into his performance. His number, “Shabbat,” takes the Shabbat candle-lighting ritual and prayer, backs it up with three female dancers twirling with candles in hand, adds violin music and turns it into what fans see as an emotionally moving stage number.

Although some criticize his use of Jewish imagery for propagating Jewish stereotypes, there’s a market for the type of entertainment he offers. While he’s only been in this genre for five years, Valevich, 29, and his troupe have toured extensively in the former Soviet Union, as well as in the United States.

It comes as no surprise that Jews living in Russia and in Russian immigrant communities in the United States enthusiastically receive him. For many Russian Jews, Valevich’s repertoire combines the two parts of their heritage that are difficult to combine: contemporary Russian pop music and Jewish themes.

“The very fact that this musical genre is in demand shows that Jewish culture is healthy,” said Evgeni Hazdan, a professional musician in St. Petersburg actively involved in Jewish folk music.

He believes that the diversity in Jewish musical tastes signifies that Russian Jews are experiencing Jewish culture according to their own varied tastes.

Although the only attendees at “A Night of Jewish Dance and Humor” younger than 40 seemed to be young children or young adults accompanying their aging parents, Valevich seems to think that there is a future for his type of show. The trick is to somehow involve the younger generation. He’s willing to try to drag them out and buy a ticket to one of his shows. His new techno number of “Hava Nagila” may just do the trick.

Who knows, maybe next time that nice Jewish boy taking his grandmother out to the concert will also take his Jewish girlfriend along.


Israeli Superstars Rock the Diaspora

Lo Ozev At Hair Avur Af Echad Anachnu Shnayim Tamid, Beneynu

(“I won’t leave the city/not for anyone/we are two, always/between us, one God.”)

— Shlomo Artzi and Shalom Chanoch, “Live at Caesaria”

Don’t believe everything you hear. Two of Israel’s greatest rockers — Shlomo Artzi and Shalom Chanoch — are leaving Israel, albeit briefly, pairing up for a joint three-concert tour to promote their new album, “Live at Caesaria,” in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles, homes to Israel’s largest expat communities.

Although Israeli stars have toured America for years — consider Idan Reichl’s recent popularity at the Kodak Theatre — this tour will be the Israeli equivalent of say, Billy Joel and Elton John touring together. These two Israeli mega-singer/songwriters have produced hundreds of pop songs over more than four decades, and they continue to sell out concerts despite their advancing ages — both are nearing 60.

But unlike Joel and John, who are increasingly relegated to “soft rock” and appeal primarily to their original Gen-X and Baby Boomer fans, the Israeli rockers still enthrall their original fans from the 1960s and 1970s, even as they have captured the hearts of later generations. (This is particularly true of the blue-eyed, dimpled Artzi, who still draws a bevy of screaming, belly-shirted young things rushing the stage at his concerts.)

Part of the pair’s cross-generational appeal is, of course, due to the fact that Israel is a small country, without much room for niche markets: Rock is rock. (Not like America, with its hundreds of Grammy categories). But it’s also because the two men, in a way, are Israeli rock. No, they are Israel: Chanoch was born in 1946, and Artzi was born in 1948.

Chanoch jumped to fame when he teamed up with that other great Israeli star, Arik Einstein, in 1967. In the 1970s Chanoch became a star in his own right, but for the next years continued to write songs performed by other Israeli artists.

Artzi got his start in the army band and in 1975 was chosen to represent Israel at Eurovision. He lost the competition, and soon after recorded “He Lost His Way,” which was meant as a last hurrah, but instead reignited his career.

Each of the artists’ songs have flooded the radio waves for nearly five decades, a soundtrack, of sorts, to Israel’s many wars, casualties, celebrations, assassinations, and shifting moods — from hopeful to cynical and hopeful again.

“There has not ever been another man/like that man,” Artzi sang on the tribute album made following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, a song that became a mantra for the mourning peace camp.

In 1985 Chanoch came out with his humorous “Mashiach Lo Bah” — which became a pop sensation and later entered the lexicon, with its typically Israeli cynical chorus: “The Messiah isn’t coming — and he isn’t phoning, either.”

Neither artist’s lyrics seem particularly religious: (Consider Artzi’s song, “Here and There”: “Here and there the Messiah’s plane flits about/when will it land near us on the shore? She says: He who believes in lies will be disappointed.”) But their ironic faith reflects the tone of much Israeli culture. Many of their songs are about love, about friendship, about wars, and always with a little politics thrown in.

Last summer, Artzi and Chanoch performed together in the amphitheater in Caesaria, in Northern Israel. There, Chanoch played one of Artzi’s most popular songs. “Suddenly when you didn’t come/I felt like this.” Artzi later said it was best performance ever of the song. In turn, Artzi sang one of Chanoch’s songs, and a joint performance was born. After 42 performances in Israel, the duo comes to America (New York’s Beacon Theater on March 5; Miami on March 8; and Los Angeles’ Kodak Theatre on March 11).

One problem with tribute albums, where artists sing another artist’s song, is that a fan has to be able to let go of the original version to appreciate strangers singing the familiar song. (Does one really want to hear Kate Bush singing “Rocket Man,” on the Elton John tribute album “Two Rooms”?)

It can be disconcerting to hear the two singing each other’s top hits on the album.

And yet, after five decades on the Israeli scene, their songs have become such a fabric of Israeli society, their fans overlapping, their voices sounding increasingly similar as age takes its toll (let’s not forget the smoking) that it seems somehow only fitting for Israel’s two great icons to merge their playlists.

And besides, in concert, they’re singing all the songs together.

Like this one, written by Chanoch, performed first by Einstein.

Kama Tov Shebata Habayta/Kama Tov Li’rot Otcha Shuv …

“How good it is that you’ve come home/How good it is to see you….”

The March 11 concert at the Kodak Theatre starts at 8:30 p.m. $47-$147. 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. For tickets, call (213) 480-3232.


Kosher Gospel — a Joyful Noise at Shul

Joshua Nelson is resting his voice. That’s a tall order for Nelson, the 29-year-old African American Jewish singer who has blended black style and Jewish prayers and folksongs into a new, foot-stomping, synagogue-shaking praise music he has dubbed “kosher gospel.”

Though he’s been spreading his unique gospel for years, lately it’s been catching on like wildfire; an appearance on “Oprah” last fall solidified it as a hot commodity in crossover music, and Nelson as its inventor and chief spokesman. So Nelson has been speaking — and singing — a lot lately, which is why he is doing his best to do as little as possible of both between dates of his current tour (he and his band arrive at University Synagogue in Irvine on Jan. 22).

But once he gets started, once a certain spirit moves him and a passion for the subject matter takes hold, it’s hard for him to stop.

One subject he never seems to tire talking about is how he was moved to create kosher gospel, which for all its appeal strikes many people (Jewish and non-Jewish) as a contradiction of terms. Nelson is African American in the truest sense of the word: his Orthodox mother (his father is also Jewish) is from West Africa, and he grew up in South Orange, N.J. He is a third-generation Jew who grew up around predominantly black synagogues in Harlem and in his hometown. But his original inspiration for kosher gospel came from a traditional rabbi in Jersey who cornered him when he was a teenager honing his singing style. Rabbi Sky saw not only potential in Nelson as a performer, but also in his performance style–the potential to attract new generations of Jews.

“Rabbi Sky was strict, and I thought he was going to scorn me and the way I sang,” recalls Nelson. “But he didn’t. He said, ‘You should put that sound to Jewish music. You can encourage young people to come to temple!'”

Nelson has done that, and then some. His widening audience includes not just reinvigorated Jews, but non-Jews drawn to the undeniable spirit of the music, especially African Americans who were raised on this music in churches and who have always been steeped in it culturally. The fact that Nelson sings Jewish liturgy and prayer — often in Hebrew and not about Jesus — matters not to folks like Oprah, who respond primarily to Nelson’s soaring voice, his infectious rhythms and his conviction, all of which look and sound awfully familiar.

And the fact that Jewish and Christian themes and theology overlap, especially in the black church — the story of Moses and the divinely aided deliverance of his people from slavery comes to mind — makes Nelson resonate that much more. All of which is fine by him.

“Blacks have always put soul into something, wherever they are in the world,” he says.

A scholar of gospel, he stresses that despite the synonymity of the music with church, gospel originated in the fields where black slaves toiled for centuries in the American South.

“When slaves were introduced to Christianity, their moans and groans were wedded to hymns — that was syncopation. That was how gospel really came to be,” explains Nelson, who in addition to being a singer is a Hebrew teacher at his longtime temple, Shari-Tefilo Israel in South Orange. “Gospel wasn’t really accepted by churches, which thought it was too bluesy. Ultimately, it was too black.”

Nelson says his idol, gospel great Mahalia Jackson (whom he closely resembles in voice), encountered the same kind of disapproval early in her career in her adopted hometown of Chicago, which was populated by middle-class blacks seeking to distance themselves from black folk traditions and all things Southern. The power of gospel won out, of course, and Jackson went on to become a superstar and a catalyst for the music’s popularity.

Nelson says there’s a parallel between that dynamic and one unfolding today in Christianity: “You have a euphoric element in all denominations now.”

As for Judaism, he believes that gospel at temple is an idea whose time has come.

“In Jewish tradition, there were songs that [blacks) always sung with soul,” he muses. “We always did at our temple. It wasn’t exactly gospel, but it was different. We brought our traditions to it, like Jews all over the world brought their own traditions to the faith.”

It’s irresistible to speculate that kosher gospel is just the sort of entertaining, listener-friendly thing needed to help bridge the divide between blacks and Jews that developed after the 1960s and that conscientious folks in both camps have wrung their hands about ever since. Though he has no problem with multiculturalism or with coalition-building — his own Reform temple is notably diverse — Nelson cautions against equating race with religion, or implying it, in any discussions of blacks and Jews, or of Jews and any other ethnic group.

“Jewishness is not a race,” he says emphatically. “We tend to think in this country that all Jews are European or Ashkenazi. That’s how the immigration went. But that’s not the case.” Ironically, Nelson says that he encounters skepticism most frequently not from Jews or whites, but from blacks. “They’ve just never met a black Jew before,” he says, particularly one singing gospel. He adds, with a laugh: “They get a little confused.”

Joshua Nelson and his Kosher Gospel Singers will be in concert Jan. 22, 6:45 p.m., at University Synagogue, 3400 Michelson Drive, Irvine. For tickets, call (949) 553-3535.

Erin Aubry Kaplan is a regular Op-Ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times.


Vienna Glories in Past and Present

Sixty years after the end of World War II, Vienna has reclaimed its roots as a city of culture. Not the culture of stoic monuments to faded glory or landmarks illuminated by historical plaques, but in a living, breathing, heart-still-pumping way. Grand-yet-graceful music, art and architecture are the lifeblood of this city and those fortunate enough to live here.

Strolling along the wide pedestrian mall of the Kartnerstrasse, you cannot help but feel swept up in the art and culture of this elegant city. The impressive architecture rises up and surrounds you as the beauty of the city embraces you.

As the sun sets on the Kartnerstrasse, Viennese girls window shop Euro chain stores for platform shoes and designer scruff denim, shadowed by elegant palaces that line the cobbled street. A girl plays Strauss on a grand piano. Down the street, a man plays a symphony on crystal glasses of water, as students in black tie and spiked hair saunter past with cellos. The street comes to life with people who seem to not be in a hurry to go anywhere in particular.

Music is at the heart of Vienna, and since 2006 is being celebrated as the Mozart Year in Austria, the most rewarding Mozart experience is the city that inspired him. By all means, visit Mozart’s statue and the house he lived in, but to really experience Mozart’s Vienna, wander the cobbled lanes like the Blutgasse, where Mozart lived and worked. While away a morning by lingering over café and strudel in a plush coffee house (complete with charmingly polite tuxedoed waiters).

The best way to discover Mozart here might be a night at the Vienna Opera. I was lucky enough to attend a performance of “The Magic Flute” during my visit, which was sponsored by Austria Tourism. This was classical Mozart through and through in terms of the music, but the performance was strikingly modern.

A minimalist industrial set was the backdrop for bearded ladies painted blue and dressed in 18th-century industrial corsetry, while the priests of Sarastro were done up in white, minimalist hazmat suits. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I’ll concede, but that completely sums up a city that glories in its past but revels in its modernity.

Lets remember that Mozart was cutting-edge cool in his day. It’s fitting that this city still pushes the artistic envelope while embracing its artistic history. Vienna is a place where the elegant Hofburg Palace can stand alongside stunning Hundertwasser House.

Vienna’s influence as a cultural center also drew such Jewish composers as Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg and Alexander Zelimsky, in addition to numerous Jewish writers, actors, artists and doctors. And while the city’s Jewish history has been a tumultuous one — only 2,000 of the city’s pre-World War II population of 183,000 Jews survived the Shoah — Vienna today boasts a very active community of about 7,000 Jews.

The city features 15 synagogues (including a Sephardic congregation), a yeshiva, a Jewish museum and an office of Jewish Welcome Service. Most of Vienna’s Jews live in the city’s Second District, where you’ll find kosher supermarkets, butchers and restaurants.

The other must-see on any Austrian Mozart tour is the quaint city of his birth, Salzburg, where the Hohensalzberg fortress looms over the Salzach River, and the pastel shades of the shops in the Aldstadt are undeniably photogenic.

In Salzburg, you’ll have the opportunity to see the house where Mozart was born and visit the Mozart museum, which struggles to understand the composer’s genius. Both are worth a look, but the truly hot ticket in Salzburg is the Marionetten Theater, which regularly stages Mozart’s operas.

Appreciating the preservation of a centuries-old art is the key to enjoying Salzburg, a town that seems content to linger in its past. And provided that a look into a time capsule is all you expect, you may not be disappointed.

Jewishly speaking, Salzburg never fully recovered following the Holocaust. Only about 100 Jews inhabit the city, which features a single synagogue at Lasserstrasse 8. But despite its anti-Semitic reputation, the city was host to such Jewish luminaries as dramatists Max Reinhardt and Carl Zuckmayer, who were drawn to its Salzburg Festival and its cultural scene.

However, Mozart himself preferred the energy and vibrancy of cosmopolitan Vienna. Like a deep breath of fresh air, it’s a city that will make you sigh.


Spectator – A Poet’s Slam-Dunk

Jewish summer camp introduces young Jews to many things — sports, arts and crafts, drama classes; Eitan Kadosh, a 1999 National Slam Poetry champion, “learned that sex isn’t always like pizza.”

He also learned how to entertain people, playing one of the brothers in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

But he realized that he “much preferred reading my own material,” he said.

In college, he wandered into an open-mike night at a coffeehouse and got a good response from the audience. From there, he began writing poetry. Possessing an infectious love for language, the 30-year-old Kadosh created his own major at Cal-Berkeley, graduating with a degree in spoken-word poetry and performance.

For many years after college, he toured the country, often performing at Hillels at various universities, as well as at non-Jewish venues. In more recent years, he has remained in Los Angeles, working on his master’s of fine arts at Cal State Long Beach and performing locally at clubs.

With a gift for diction, Kadosh explores the cultural absurdities and political hypocrisies of America, dedicating one spoken-word poem to SUVs, and another to the cheese at the heart of America.

He said that he has been influenced by the Beat poets, particularly the “cadences and rhythms of Ginsberg, each stanza as long as a breath.” Lawrence Ferlinghetti, he said, “sounded so good when read aloud.”

Kadosh wanted to “take the energy” of these Beats and “combine it with more technical precision and craft.”

Many of his poems do not have a Jewish theme to them, but his act, titled “Too Neurotic,” is unmistakably Jewish, not so much in its subversive humor, a humor that may recall George Carlin as much as Jewish comedians, as in his frenetic delivery, which is evocative of Gene Wilder’s nebbish Leo Bloom in the original “The Producers.”

Not unlike Bloom, who keeps repeating, “I’m wet, and I’m hysterical,” Kadosh in his piece, “Waiting for Isaac,” melts polar ice caps, sleeps in the gutter on street-sweeping day, eats nothing but Denny’s, then repeats with exasperation, “But it wasn’t enough.”

His refrain sounds like the antithesis of the Passover song “Dayenu,” even if he is not dealing with plagues. But in “Waiting for Isaac,” he probes the origin of Jewish progeny. For that, we will wait.

Eitan Kadosh performs “Too Neurotic” on Jan. 17 and 18, 8 p.m., at the Fountain Theater, 5060 Fountain Ave., (323) 663-1525.


7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, December 3

Your momma remembers this drama. The Skirball has its last show of “12 Angry Men” this afternoon. The classic courtroom tale about a teenage boy accused of killing his father has been around a while, but gets refreshed by L.A. Theatre Works, with the help of performances by Hector Elizondo, Robert Foxworth, Dan Castellaneta, Armin Shimerman and Richard Kind. A Q-and-A session with noted scholar Rabbi Lee Bycel follows the Saturday performance.

Nov. 30-Dec. 4. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 827-0889.

Sunday, December 4

Today’s concert at the Simon Wiesenthal Center offers an homage in strings to the Romanian Jewish immigrants from 1890-1914, who trekked across Europe to reach ports where they could travel to the United States. Titled “Di Fusgeyers,” and commissioned by the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, the performance is inspired by Stuart Tower’s historical novel, “The Wayfarers” and was composed by Yale Strom.

7 p.m. $15. 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 772-2452.

Monday, December 5

Big-name actors also convene tonight to celebrate another literary classic. “This Is on Me: An Evening of Dorothy Parker” features Broadway veterans Angela Lansbury, Victor Garber, Frances Conroy and others in a staged-play reading of works by the sharp-witted Parker (née Rothschild).

7 p.m. $25-$500. Brentwood Theatre, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood. R.S.V.P., (213) 365-3500.

Tuesday, December 6

Attend the Skirball’s screening of 1958’s “Marjorie Morningstar” this afternoon, part of their twice-monthly “Classic Films” series. The story of a Jewish young woman, struggling between a traditional upbringing and a desire for a less-conventional life was probably never meant to be provocative. But Jewish feminists haven’t exactly approved of Miss Morningstar over the years. Now you can decide for yourself….

1:30 p.m. Free. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Wednesday, December 7

In the nimble hands of Lorel Cornman, Betty Green, Nancy Goodman Lawrence and Mary Beth Schwartzenberger, everything from maps and buttons to fabric and Venetian turpentine become art. The works of these four artists is on view in the University of Judaism’s “Mixed Media” exhibition starting this week.

Public opening is Dec. 4., 2-4 p.m. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1201.

Thursday, December 8

Old world mixes with new, as playwrights Ross Pavis and Howard Teichman premier their play, “Simcha.” The story about a Jewish beggar and storyteller imbued with magical powers might as well have been written by Sholom Aleichem. But, in fact, the stories in the play are all original, based on the “old country” superstitions the playwrights’ parents and grandparents believed.

Limited three-week run closes Dec. 18. $9-$18. Theatre 40, Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills High Campus. R.S.V.P., (310) 364-0535.

Friday, December 9

Playwright Tom Dudzick offers up an interfaith story for the holidays, complete with Christmas Eve miracle. The play is “Greetings,” and tells the tale of an atheist Jewish girl who accompanies her Catholic boyfriend home for Christmas, where she meets his cast of characters family, which includes his very devout parents and mentally challenged 30-year-old brother. Could hilarity not ensue?

$16. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (818) 700-4878.

Wiesenthal Larger Than Life on Screen

Simon Wiesenthal, whose dogged persistence led to the capture of approximately 1,100 accused Nazi war criminals, was the quintessential larger-than-life figure filmmakers crave. While there were some less-than-distinguished films made about him over the years, they were outweighed by fine documentaries, such as “The Art of Remembrance,” Oscar-nominated features such as “The Boys From Brazil” and several thoughtful telepics.

For Rick Trank, director of Moriah Films, the in-house documentary division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the first film about Simon Wiesenthal “that comes to mind” is “Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story,” a 1989 HBO picture starring Ben Kingsley as the Nazi hunter.

“It was unusual for HBO to have made the investment without a theatrical release,” said Trank, marveling at the production values and “the care that HBO put into it.” He pointed out that Kingsley “spent time getting to know Simon.”

While some admirers have envisioned Wiesenthal as a Jewish John Wayne or James Bond, the diminutive Kingsley, who has played numerous Jewish characters in his film career, including Meyer Lansky in “Bugsy” and Fagin in the current “Oliver Twist,” depicts him as a much more modest man, frail after the camps, dedicated to his work, not given to swagger or seduction.

Up all night in his dark office surrounded by voluminous files, he almost conjures Bartleby the scrivener. We often see high-angle shots of him, as if we are spying on him.

Told in flashback, the film begins with a closeup of sunflowers in a field on a sunny day, and then we see an image of Wiesenthal, wearing the pinstriped uniform of a prisoner. His back is positioned against the back of a bloodied, bandaged Nazi, and the two men, arms tied to each other, struggle to free themselves. The scene is Wiesenthal’s nightmare, so haunted is he by a memory of visiting a bloodied, bandaged Nazi on his deathbed.

Images of the hospital scene re-surface throughout the film, as Wiesenthal confronts whether he made the right decision in not forgiving a man who gunned down Jews trapped inside a building that had been set on fire. Wiesenthal can never satisfactorily answer the moral dilemma of whether or not he was right in walking away without pardoning a dying, tormented shell of a man.

In Wiesenthal’s troubled dream, the shining sunflowers appear almost grotesque, but they are a reminder that there can still be beauty even in the midst of the Holocaust.

Flowers also play a role in “Max and Helen,” a 1990 TNT production starring Martin Landau as Wiesenthal. Based on Wiesenthal’s memoir, it tells the true story of two young Jews, Max, played by Treat Williams, and Helen, played by Alice Krige, who find each other after 20 years of separation following the Holocaust. The first time we see Helen, she gathers a bouquet of lilies, once again yellow flowers, vibrant and alive, but soon she and Max are taken to the camps, where she remains with her frail sister while Max escapes.

According to Trank, who won an Oscar for “The Long Way Home,” a 1997 documentary about Jewish refugees journeying to Israel after the Holocaust, “Max and Helen” represents the one time that Wiesenthal, who dedicated his life to fighting anti-Semitism, chose not to prosecute a war criminal “because it would harm the living more than bring justice to the dead.”

As it turns out, Helen has been raped by the Nazi commandant and has had a child, who is a dead ringer for the father. The disquieting presence of this seeming Nazi doppelganger initially unnerves Max, when he first sees Helen again.

Ultimately, Max realizes the truth of something Wiesenthal has told him, that nations cannot be blamed collectively; each person must be assessed individually. At the end of the film, Max decides to reunite with Helen and embrace his new life with her and his Germanic stepchild, while Wiesenthal backs off from pursuing the former commandant.

Trank said of Landau, “Physically, he didn’t look like Simon,” pointing out that Landau was “6 feet 4 and skinny, while Wiesenthal was 5 feet 10 and portly, but he captured an essence of him.” He plays him as a kind of Dr. Freud, comforting Max as they engage in an all-night therapy session, in which Wiesenthal slowly extracts bits and pieces of the story, which plays out largely through flashbacks.

By contrast, in the 1978 picture, “The Boys From Brazil,” Sir Laurence Olivier, essaying Herr Lieberman, a character based on Wiesenthal, portrayed the Nazi hunter as a “sort of a bumbling guy. That wasn’t Simon. Simon was very focused, had a photographic memory.” Trank noted that Wiesenthal was “doing his work before people had computers. He had a teeny office, no money,” yet successfully traced all those Nazis.

Based on Ira Levin’s novel, “The Boys From Brazil” shows us Wiesenthal as Mr. Magoo, water dripping from the ceiling of his office, his rent unpaid, chaos all around him. Olivier speaks with an authentic German accent, yet it’s so high-pitched and world weary that he almost sounds like a German version of an older Truman Capote, burnt out after all his friends had abandoned him.

Despite his bumbling nature, Olivier’s character does indeed track down Dr. Mengele, played by Gregory Peck. In the fictional film, Mengele has masterminded a scheme, years in the making, to clone and breed a new Hitler. In order to replicate the environmental surroundings of the young Fuhrer, he must murder 94 Nordic men, all aged 65, who have blue-eyed, black-haired sons who are about to turn 14.

After the film’s suspenseful turns, Mengele is finally killed, and Olivier’s Lieberman refuses to give a young Jewish freedom fighter the information that will enable him to find and kill the boys. The Nazi hunter will not allow innocent people of German stock to be killed.

In reality, Mengele was never captured by Wiesenthal or any other Nazi hunter. His remains were found in South America, where he apparently drowned.

Though Wiesenthal was portrayed by Kingsley, Landau and Olivier — all Oscar winners — the performance that may come closest to the actual legend, who did indeed help the Mossad capture SS leader Adolph Eichmann, is that of lesser-known actor Shmuel Rodensky in the 1974 film, “The Odessa File.”

In that picture, Wiesenthal’s character has a small role, appearing in only two scenes, but Rodensky inhabits him in a way that his more famous colleagues did not. First of all, unlike Kingsley, Landau and Olivier, Rodensky physically resembled the bearish Wiesenthal. Both of them bore a girth that recalls Ariel Sharon, a fullness that suggested fortitude and a life well lived.

But more than the physical resemblance, there’s a poise and savvy, the way his smile conveys that he has seen it all, and that nothing will surprise him. This Wiesenthal understands that all men, even an idealist like Jon Voight’s freelance journalist, have motives and allegiances that may not match his own.

That is why he makes a photocopy of a picture of Roschmann, the film’s villain, rather than turning over his lone copy to Voight’s character. He’s too sophisticated to presume that this well-intentioned writer will finish the job.

Wiesenthal served as an adviser to that film, which is set in Germany in 1963, just after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a metaphor, perhaps a bit too heavy-handed, for the loss of innocence in the world. The plot is propelled into motion with the suicide that same night of a Holocaust survivor who leaves a diary.

That document prompts Voight’s young German writer to hunt down the one-time butcher of Riga, who murdered not only Jews but also Germans who disobeyed him. Along the way, Voight comes into contact with Mossad agents who train him. With their help, he infiltrates the Odessa, a secret society of former SS officers, who are developing a missile-tracking system for the Egyptians, who plan a nuclear attack against Israel.

Like Mengele, in real life, Roschmann was never extradited or killed. Responsible for murdering perhaps as many as 70,000 Jews, Roschmann reportedly died in Paraguay in 1977.

At the end of the film, Wiesenthal pores over the Odessa file provided to him by a German, which calls to mind a line from earlier in the film that “people are not evil; only individuals are evil.” In the film, the line is not spoken by Wiesenthal’s character, but it echoes the famous mantra of the real-life Holocaust survivor.

‘Call Waiting’ Rings Emotional Bell

There’s pain and then there’s the big pain.

Pain is what happens in a regular life — the predictable illnesses, disappointments and aggravations. The big pain is something like the Holocaust and the aftermath of surviving it.

The larger pain makes the regular mode of suffering seem unworthy, even whiny.

Coming to terms with someone else’s anguish is one subject of “Call Waiting,” a new film about the bedridden daughter of Holocaust survivors. The film stars Caroline Aaron, who recreates her successful turn from the stage version. Aaron can relate to the material, both because she is Jewish and because her family has its own significant pain.

“It’s odd how life morphs into art,” Aaron said.

In the film based on Dori Fram’s play, the fictional Judy Baxter (played by Aaron) is paralyzed not only by her excruciating bladder disease, but also by her inability to write her parents’ Holocaust story. There’s also a wartime secret that threatens Baxter’s relationship with her sister.

“So she represses her feelings, which makes her ill,” said playwright Fram, who also wrote the movie.

Aaron performed the hilarious, poignant play to rave reviews in 1994 and 2001. And she could personally identify with her character’s belief that as the daughter of Holocaust survivors, her own suffering doesn’t count.

Aaron’s late mother was a survivor of another sort. A Virginia civil rights activist, she had to endure cross-burnings on her front lawn and, more tragically, the loss of her husband and both parents at the age of 38.

“You don’t feel entitled to your pain when you come from the big pain,” Aaron said.

Aaron also related to the movie character’s sibling rivalry, because she, too, had a difficult relationship with a strong-willed older sister, Josie Abady — a prominent director. Abady resisted employing her sister because they were related.

“I wanted nepotism to be on my side, but it was not,” Aaron said.

Her resentments melted away when Abady was diagnosed with terminal cancer some years ago.

“I realized I didn’t have time for sibling rivalry, because the luxury of growing old together was off the table,” she said.

The Los Angeles-based actress often flew to New York to spend time with her sister, attending every medical procedure and caring for Abady in the months before her death in May 2003.

She’d already been cast for the film version of the play, but had second thoughts after her sister died, because the material hit so close to home. Aaron was uncertain about whether she wanted to proceed when she met with director Jodi Binstock (“Boy Meets World”) and producers Dan Bucatinsky (“All Over the Guy”) and Don Roos (“The Opposite of Sex”).

“I thought the film would either give me a safe, constructive place to express my sorrow, or it would expand it into a gaping wound,” she said.

In the end, Aaron decided to use her anguish. She believed her performance would be more convincing, because she connected to the material in a new way: “For the first time, I understood what it meant for Judy to challenge her sister and risk losing her forever,” she said. “I knew the stakes, and it heightened and intensified my work.”

The 48-year-old Aaron (“Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Bounce”) recently discussed the movie — which has won awards on the festival circuit — in her homey Hancock Park living room, surrounded by photographs of Abady and other family members. She exudes the same manic Jewish humor and melodramatic flair as her character, and like her character, also seems addicted to the phone, cocking her head each time the answering machine picked up (which it did four times in a half hour).

Dressed in black sweats and heavy silver jewelry, she recalled how she was startled when the producers said they wanted to shoot “Call Waiting” as a one-person movie. She had assumed that they would hire other actors to portray the characters on the other side of her character’s phone conversations. After all, one-person films are rare (one example is Robert Altman’s acclaimed “Secret Honor” (1984) starring Philip Baker Hall as Richard Nixon).

The producers believed such a movie would work, because “Caroline’s conversations in the play are so vivid, it feels more like a show with a dozen characters,” producer Roos said. Even so, the producers planned to make the monologue more cinematic by adding several scenes with one new character, who also is played by Aaron.

The new character is “desperately afraid to admit she’s needed by others, while Aaron’s character is scared to death to acknowledge that she needs her sister,” producer Bucatinsky said.

For Aaron — who often talks about how much she misses Abady — the film did not provide any kind of emotional catharsis.

“I don’t feel like I’ll ever completely work through the loss of my sister,” she said. “But at least the movie gave me a safe place in which to express those feelings.”

“Call Waiting” screens Oct. 5 at the Arpa International Film Festival. Other Arpa Jewish films include the documentaries “Between Two Worlds,” about a Jewish World War II pilot, and “American Holocaust,” which draws parallels between the Nazi and Native American genocides. For information, go to www.affma.org

“Call Waiting” will also screen Oct. 7 at the Majestic Crest Theater in Westwood: www.westwoodfilmfestival.com.


Kingsley’s ‘Twist’ on a Dickens Thief

Time-honored Jewish stereotypes and caricatures have fallen on hard times in recent movies.

Al Pacino’s complex and heart-wrenching portrayal of Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” put a human face on the vengeful moneylender. And in the German film “The Ninth Day,” Judas is exalted for enabling Jesus to fulfill his divine mission.

Now comes Ben Kingsley in a new movie version of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” where he endows Fagin, the trainer of young thieves, with some notably redeeming features.

For one thing, in contrast to stage and screen predecessors, the film’s Fagin is not identified or depicted as a Jew, a far cry from the “very old, shriveled Jew, whose villainous-looking and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted hair,” created by Dickens nearly 170 years ago.

Director Roman Polanski, last triumphant in the Oscar-winning “The Pianist,” follows the original story, while managing to reshape Fagin through some judicious editing.

Orphan boy Oliver Twist, brought up in a hellish workhouse for the poor, escapes his indentured service with an undertaker and is recruited by the Artful Dodger into a ring of juvenile thieves, exploited and mothered by the said Fagin.

The film has much going for it. On a huge backlot in Prague, Polanski recreated an early-19th-century London that is breathtaking in its crowded alleys, color and misery, and it unfolds like a succession of paintings on canvas by master cinematographer Pawel Edelman.

The milieu is as much the legendary Calcutta of ill repute as the London of old, with its jostling humanity, filth and vice — a place where residents throw their slop out of windows on streets and passersby.

As Fagin, Kingsley’s nose is elongated and his posture stooped, but he has shucked the preposterous proboscis sported by Alec Guinness in David Lean’s 1948 film, as well as Ron Moody’s nasal inflection in the 1968 musical production of “Oliver.”

Instead, Kingsley, or Sir Ben as he is properly addressed, said in a phone interview that he had adopted an east to southeast London dialect, “not exactly cockney.”

At times that dialect defies understanding, but not enough to mar an impressive performance. And he’s never better than in softer moments, as when he nurses the wounded Oliver back to health.

Eleven-year-old Barney Clark in the title role, one of a number of pleasant discoveries in the predominantly British cast, does his character proud. The famous scene in which the starving workhouse boy dares to ask for more food remains a classic.

But the carefully cast minor roles also stick in the mind, such as the undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry, and his shrewish wife (Michael Heath and Gillian Hanna); the pompous beadle, Mr. Bumble (Jeremy Swift), and the judicial terror, Magistrate Fang (Alun Armstrong).

As for Fagin, could it be that having a Jewish director (Polanski) and a Jewish screenwriter (Ronald Harwood, who also wrote “The Pianist”) tilted the film, perhaps subconsciously, toward a more humanized Fagin? Kingsley himself has a Jewish grandparent on his mother’s side.

Kingsley wouldn’t go that way, although Harwood suggested that Polanski, who survived the Holocaust in the Krakow ghetto and in hiding, identifies with the lost childhood of Oliver, through whose eyes the story unfolds.

Polanski, rather than Steven Spielberg, was first considered as the director of “Schindler’s List,” but declined because the subject was still cut too close to his own childhood experiences, Kingsley related.

Kingsley, for has part, has committed a substantial portion of his career to reminding the world of that great evil.

“I have played Simon Wiesenthal, Anne Frank’s father and Itzhak Stern in ‘Schindler’s List,’ Kingsley said. “These films are part of my consciousness and I am passionately committed to.”

As for his Fagin, Kingsley said he did not set out to counter previous stereotypes of unmitigated Jewish villainy, but rather used two thespian devices to get into the role. One was to evoke the figure of a junk dealer Kingsley knew as a 9-year-old in Manchester, who “had teeth like a horse, green hands from handling metal, a stooped walk, high-pitched voice, and was always wearing at least three layers of overcoats.”

The actor also created his own “backstory” for Fagin’s character, in which the young Fagin was orphaned early in life and raised by his immigrant Russian Jewish grandparents, who spoke no English.

“My Fagin had to fend for himself, lived on the streets and decided to become the most adept street kid he could,” said the Academy Award-winning actor.

From a historical perspective, the Fagin created by Polanski and Kingsley can perhaps be best understood by considering the evolution of Jewish portrayals in films over the past 100 years. In the early silent movie era, the Jew, along with the Irish and blacks, was generally pictured as a buffoon, although he sometimes appears as a nasty moneylender.

In those days, as now, the movies reflected the racial attitudes of American society. We must remember that America evolved into a truly pluralistic society only recently,” said cultural critic Neal Gabler, author of “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood” (Random House, 1990)

The 1920s featured love and conflict among America’s quaint ethnic minorities, led by “Abie’s Irish Rose” and including such forgotten epics as “Frisco Sally Levy” and “Kosher Kitty Kelly.”

The first real talkie, “The Jazz Singer,” had as its subtext the conflict between being an American and a Jew, a struggle deeply felt but never admitted by the immigrant Jews who founded the movie industry.

The reflections raised in “The Jazz Singer” did not evolve into greater sensitivity, but rather the exclusion of ethnicity, especially Jewish characters, on the screens of the 1930s.

“For instance, the great Jewish actor Paul Muni could play Zola, Juarez, Pasteur and a Chinese farmer, but never a Jew,” said Gabler in a phone interview.

Jews reappeared tentatively in World War II features, when the melting pot bubbled with patriotism. In film after film, the grizzled sergeant yelled out, “All right, Williams, Johansson, Kowalski, Marconi, Goldberg and Sanchez — hit the beach.”

The first post-war film to confront American anti-Semitism at some depth was “Gentleman’s Agreement,” produced in 1948 by Darryl Zanuck, who was, not so incidentally, the only non-Jew among the major Hollywood moguls of the day.

The breakthrough for Jewish characters (and out-of-the-closet Jewish actors) came in the 1950s through ’70s, riding on three popular waves: the rise of the ‘in’ Jewish novelists — including the Mailer, Roth, Uris, Malamud and Simon — whose best-sellers drew on the author’s happy or miserable childhood; the creation of Israel, which gave Hollywood an updated frontiersman vs. Indians theme, and, most importantly, the rise of the black, Latino and Jewish identity movements, which made ethnic differences not only respectable but saleable.

Since then, the “Jewish” and Holocaust film has become a genre almost unto itself, confident (or, say the critics, self-hating) enough to portray its Jewish characters, warts and all.

By the 1990s, a Hollywood observer could say, tongue in cheek, that “In the old days, all Jews had to be Americans. Now all Americans have to be Jews.” To underline this thesis, Gabler cited the character of George Constanza of “Seinfeld” fame.

“George is supposed to be Greek, but he is obviously Jewish,” Gabler said.

“Now Jewish ethnicity is not only celebrated but is the standard,” he added, and barring a major upheaval, he sees little foreseeable change.

“The movies sometime precede, but generally reflect, society’s standards,” he said. “Such standards change at a geological pace and, despite the current upswing in conservatism and nativism, I don’t think there will be any turning back of the clock.”

“Oliver Twist” opens Sept. 23 in Los Angeles.


Young Jews Can Act Out — on Sundays

After landing the lead in several school plays at Sinai Akiba Academy in Los Angeles, Leora Weinstock, 13, decided she wanted to be a professional actress. Her mother, Judith Weinstock, combed the city in search of just the right acting teacher. It wasn’t long before she made a startling discovery.

“All of the acting classes for teens in Los Angeles seemed to be on Saturdays,” recalled Weinstock, a Los Angeles lawyer. “But we’re shomer Shabbos.”

Then Weinstock stumbled upon Jewish Children’s Theater, an acting program targeting children from observant Jewish families. Most classes are on Sundays at the Westside Jewish Community Center, which is located on Olympic Boulevard south of the Fairfax district.

A few years ago, writer-producer David Brandes (“The Quarrel”) and his wife, actress Deena Freeman Brandes, faced the same obstacle as Weinstock with their own daughters, who are also actresses. To solve their dilemma, the couple founded the Jewish Children’s Theater in early 2004.

“I wanted my daughters to be studying the craft while auditioning,” Freeman Brandes said. “Since they couldn’t go to classes on Shabbat, I thought, ‘What if I teach the classes?'”

Freeman Brandes, 49, played April Rush on TV’s “Too Close for Comfort,” guest-starred on shows like “The Golden Girls” and “Newhart” and has appeared regularly in commercials and video game voice-overs.

Now, Freeman Brandes says teaching is her “second calling,” a claim she backs up with boundless enthusiasm, an encouraging smile and an ability to listen to student input.

In a city where nearly everyone is an aspiring actor, writer or director, it is surprising perhaps that Jewish theater programs for serious child performers are few and far between. A few local organizations, including The Stacey Cane Youth Theatre, a musical theater workshop, and Kol Neshama, a summer arts program for Orthodox girls, pride themselves on providing serious training and putting on Jewish-themed plays.

In addition, several Jewish day schools have drama departments. Their focus, however, is typically on producing shows rather than the serious training of actors.

Jewish Children’s Theater emphasizes teaching acting technique. Through acting exercises and improvisation, Freeman Brandes’ students learn how to act, rather than how to memorize lines and build sets.

While sessions usually end with a low-key performance for parents, the focus is on acting techniques, improvisation, theater games and even a commercial workshop. Classes begin in the fall, and kids are welcome to join mid-session.

In a special summer class called “Fairy Tale Workshop,” Freeman Brandes repeatedly reminded her young students not to turn their backs on the audience during improvisations.

“Remember to open up!” she instructed a girl who was pantomiming the story of “The Three Bears.” The girl promptly adjusted her stance as she continued to improvise. In this particular workshop, children ages 5 through 14 created a new take on a fairy tale. During winter break, the program will offer a similarly structured workshop called “Superhero and Princesses Camp.”

While the Jewish Children’s Theater is billed as a class for the child professional “or kids who just want to have a fun theater experience,” the Brandes’ feel their classes offer much more. “It’s kind of a theater experience for life,” David Brandes said. “It gives kids confidence and they learn to think on their feet and express themselves.”

Since enrolling at the Jewish Children’s Theater last year, Leora Weinstock has gotten an agent, averages two auditions a month and recently completed her first professional gig, a part in a short film for Los Angeles-based Jewish Impact Films.

Weinstock attributes her success to her classroom experience.

“I think that because of Deena’s classes, I’ve gotten more confident during auditions,” said Weinstock, her blue eyes sparkling. “I feel like I’m a better actress.”

Classes begin Sept. 11. For more information on Jewish Children’s Theater, call (310) 556-8022 or e-mail deenabrandes@hotmail.com. For more information on the Stacey Cane Youth Theatre, call (818) 422-0966. For more information on Kol Neshama, call (310) 659-2342 or visit www.kolneshama.org.


7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, May 21

Ah, love. We get a heaping helping of it at the Getty’s “Love Story Weekend,” which continues today. Hear noted actors read short stories by noted writers — Regina King reads Charles Johnson, Alec Baldwin reads John Updike and William H. Macy reads Etgar Keret.

May 20-22. $15-$20. 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300.

Sunday, May 22

Klezmer fuses with Middle Eastern rhythms in Yuval Ron and Sha-Rone Kushnir’s new performance of original music and stories, “The Legend of Baal Shem.” Sponsored by the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity and a grant by the city of West Hollywood, the free concert honors West Hollywood’s large Russian Jewish immigrant community with a focus on the Ukranian-born founder of Chasidism, the Baal Shem Tov.

4 p.m. Free. West Hollywood Park and Recreation Auditorium, 647 San Vicente Blvd. (323) 658-5824.

Monday, May 23

Richard Nanes’ classical crossover music has been performed by the London Philharmonic and at Lincoln Center, with his “Symphony No. 3, The Holocaust” world premiering at the Kiev International Music Festival. You’ve heard his music on the Bravo Network, and possibly on EWTN (the Global Catholic Network). But for those who want to own his “Symphony No. 3, The Holocaust,” the opportunity has just now arrived. It’s available on video and CD through the Web.

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Tuesday, May 24

Gary Baseman’s illustrations have appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone and on the cover of the New Yorker. This month, however, you need look no further than our own fair city. “Gary Baseman: For the Love of Toby” opens this month at Billy Shire Fine Arts, featuring cartoonish depictions of the lovable cat Toby in different curious and sometimes naughty situations. Base man indeed!

Noon-6 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.). 5790 Washington Blvd., Culver City. (323) 297-0600.

Wednesday, May 25

Sunday marked the opening of UCLA Hillel’s Dortot Center for Creativity in the Arts’ new photography exhibit, “Resistance and Rescue in Denmark,” by Judy Ellis Glickman. But for those who missed it, the show continues through June 30. The images depict the history of the rescue of Danish Jewry during the Nazi occupation.

Free. 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081.

Thursday, May 26

Jewish music mixes with Latin beats in this evening’s Skirball concert featuring Septeto Roberto Rodriguez. Rodriguez and his band perform songs from his latest album, “Baila! Gitano Baila!” and the public gains free admission to the Skirball’s exhibits, including “Einstein,” before the show.

7:30 p.m. $15-$25. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Friday, May 27

Chuck Goldstone has mused on everything from PC vs. Mac users to the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, and now has a new book of humorous writings out titled, “This Book Is Not a Toy!: Friendly Advice on How to Avoid Death and Other Inconveniences.” If you missed him yesterday at Dutton’s in Brentwood, he reads some of his silliness in person today at Vroman’s Pasadena.

7 p.m. Vroman’s, 695 E. Colorado Blvd. Pasadena. (626) 449-5320.


The Jewish Journal is no longer accepting mailed or

faxed event listing information. Please e-mail event listings at least three

weeks in advance to:

By Keren Engelberg




Friends of Valley Cities JCC and Westside JCC: 7:30 p.m. Celebrity staged play reading of “Driving Miss Daisy”with Charlotte Rae, Charlie Robinson and Alan Blumenfeld. $12-$16. Valley Cities JCC, Sherman Oaks. Also, April 10, 2 p.m. at Westside JCC, Los Angeles. (818) 786-6310.

Yiddishkayt Los Angeles: 8 p.m. “The Kvetching Continues” starring Jackie Hoffman. $25. Renberg Theatre, The Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood.
(323) 860-7300.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple: 8 p.m. “Hope: A Musical Celebration of the Soul” with local cantors and guest singers. $36-$100. 1161 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 591-2706.

April 10 /SUNDAY


Workmen’s Circle: 11 a.m. West Hollywood Senior Citizens’ Center Chorus performs songs in Yiddish, English, Russian and Hebrew. $5-$8. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles.
(310) 552-2007.

StandWithUs: 8 p.m. “LaughWithUs.” Proceeds go to Israeli charities. $75 (includes two drinks). The Improv, 8162 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 836-6140.


American Israel Public Affairs Committee: Annual OC AIPAC Dinner: A Community United for Israel. Hyatt Newporter,
1107 Jamboree Road, Newport Beach.
(323) 937-1184.

Jewish Outdoor Adventures: 10 a.m. Easy to intermediate hike to Dawn Mine from Millard Canyon. Carpools available. www.jewishoutdooradventures.com

Jewish National Fund: 10:30 a.m. (registration), 12:30 (3K and 5K walk begins). “Walk for Water” benefits the Hatzeva Reservoir in the Arava Valley, Negev Desert. Community performances, children’s activities, hands-on exhibits and kosher food vendors. $25, $50 (family). Paramount Ranch, 2813 Cornell Road, Agoura Hills.
(818) 704-5454.

Jewish Federation Real Estate and Construction Division: 5:30 p.m. 65th anniversary and annual tribute dinner honoring Steve Sobroff. $150-$225. Beverly Hilton Hotel, 9876 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 761-8226.

April 11/MONDAY


University of Judaism: 7:30 p.m. Public Lecture Series 2005 featuring Tim Russert, Paul Bremer, Andrea Mitchell, George Tenet and Bob Woodward. Universal Amphitheatre, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1246.


Congregation Kol Ami: 8 p.m. “Torch Song Trilogy” screening. 1200 N. LaBrea Ave., West Hollywood. (323) 606-0996.

Israeli Folk Dancing: 8 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Classes by Israel Yakove meet Mondays and Thursdays. $7. 2244 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 839-2550.

National Council of Jewish Women:
9:30 a.m. (refreshments), 10 a.m. (meeting). Allan Gruenberg’s one man show, “The Life and Times of Mae West.” Free. Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana.
(818) 758-3800.


The Jewish Learning Exchange: 6:30-7:30 p.m. (international buffet), 7:30 p.m. (program). “An Evening of Music and Song” with speakers Rabbi Michel and Rebbetzin Feige Twerski, musical performance by Shalsheles and the JLE choir. $250. El Rey Theatre,
5515 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-0923.

April 12 /TUESDAY


Valley Beth Shalom: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Annual Spring Boutique with more than 60 vendors supports the nursery school. 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino.
(818) 788-0567.


California Institute of the Arts:
8:30 p.m. “What Makes a Great Magazine?” panel with Gil Maurer, Eric Nakamura, Steve Wasserman and Martin Wong. $8. 24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia. (213) 237-2800.

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Hadassah Southern California: 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Youth Services Luncheon and boutique with guest speaker and special performance. Beverly Hilton Hotel, 9876 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 276-0036.



Temple Kol Tikvah: 8:30-10 a.m. Town hall meeting with mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa. 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.

Temple Beth Am: 7 p.m. Professor Reuven Firestone and attorney Josef Avesar discuss “Israeli-Palestinian: The Road to Peace.” 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7353.


Santa Barbara Hillel/The Forest Foundation/Los Angeles Hillel Council/The Jewish Journal/ Jewstar.com/Platinum Events (18-25):
10 p.m.-2 a.m. Southern California Jewish College Night. Element, 1642 Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood. www.theforestfoundation.net.


Valley Yiddish Culture Club: Commemoration of the Six Million with documentary screening of Spielberg’s “Survivors of the Holocaust” followed by candlelighting and Kaddish. Free. Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.

Congregation Or Ami, Jewish Family Service: 7:30-9 p.m. Madraygot 12-Step group. Recovery from addiction in a Jewish setting. Free. 26115 Mureau Road, Calabasas. R.S.V.P., (818) 880-4880.

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Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center: 7:30 p.m. “More Bad Jewish Chicks: Lynne Bronstein and Julia Stein.” 681 Venice Blvd., Venice.
(310) 822-3006.


Temple Adat Elohim Religious School: Sun., April 17, 9-11:30 a.m. “Exodus Experience” workshops for adults and families. Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-0361.

Temple Beth Am: Sun., April 17, 9 a.m.-noon. “Kashering for Pesach.” Kosher all Passover utensils at the temple. Also, April 22 Erev Pesach Shabbat Dinner and April 24 Seder. Los Angeles.
(310) 652-7354, ext. 555.

B’nai Tikvah Religious School: Sun., April 17, 10 a.m.-noon. Open House and Exodus Simulation. Westchester. (310) 645-6414.

Skirball Cultural Center: Sun., April 17, 11 a.m. “Reggae Passover: Songs of Freedom” with Alan Elder and friends. Ages 5+ with an adult. $9. Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 440-4636.

Hadassah, Kochava Group: Sun., April 17, 4 p.m. Women’s Seder. $25. Seventh-day Adventist Church, Santa Clarita. R.S.V.P., (661) 297-2960.

Anti-Defamation League: Mon., April 18, 5:30 p.m. Jewish-Latino Seder. Temple Beth Sholom, Santa Ana. (714) 979-4733.

Temple Kol Tikvah: Wed., April 20, 7 p.m. Women’s Seder. Special songs and dancing. $15-$20. Woodland Hills. R.S.V.P., (818) 348-0670.

Congregation Beth Israel: Fri, April 22,
7 a.m. “Siyum.” Breaking of the fast of the first-born sons. Also, May 1, Yizkor Memorial Service. Los Angeles.
(323) 651-4022.

Merage JCC: Fri., April 22, noon-1:30 p.m. “A Taste of Passover” luncheon seder. Irvine. (949) 435-3400.

The Bistro Garden at Coldwater: Sat., April 23. Passover dinner. Studio City. R.S.V.P., (818) 501-0202.

The Chai Center: Sat., April 23, 6:30 p.m. (singles “Schmooze and Cruise” happy hour), 8 p.m. (seder), 9 p.m. (dinner). Seder also April 24. $39. Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., www.chaicenter.org.

Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging, Eisenberg Village Campus: Sun, April 24, 5 p.m. Seder. $15-$30. Reseda. R.S.V.P., (818) 774-3386.

Jewish Single Parent Network of Jewish Family Service: Sun., April 24, 5:30 p.m. Non-dairy potluck seder. Van Nuys. R.S.V.P., (323) 761-8800, ext. 1251.

Temple Adat Elohim Sisterhood: Sun., April 24, 6 p.m. Community Seder. (818) 375-1164. Also, Thurs., April 28, Women’s Seder. Thousand Oaks. (818) 706-2213.

Jewish Singles, Meet! (30s and 40s): Sun., April 24, 7:30 p.m. Passover dinner at Froman’s Deli. $18.95 (plus tax and tip). Encino. R.S.V.P., (818) 750-0095.

Nexus (20s and 30s): Thurs., April 28, 6:30 p.m. Sixth-night Passover Singles Seder in Long Beach. www.jewishnexus.org.

Workmen’s Circle: Sun., May 1, 1 p.m. May Day Seder celebration of freedom, community and Jewish tradition. $16-$39. Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 552-2007.

Gay and Lesbian Jews of the Desert/JCC of the Desert WOW/Temple Isaiah/Temple Sinai of Palm Springs/Temple Kol Ami/Beth Chayim Chadashim/JPride San Diego: Sun., May 1, 3 p.m. Third annual Gay and Lesbian Seder. $35. Temple Isaiah, Palm Springs. R.S.V.P., (760) 328-1003.

Many synagogues and Chabads also host community seders. Please contact your local synagogues or visit www.chabad.org.
A synagogue directory can be found at ” width=”1″ height=”30″ alt=””>



Hillel: 9-9:30 a.m. Producer David Sacks leads an ongoing weekend class on “Fundamentals of Judaism.” Free. R.S.V.P. for address, (310) 285-7777.

Nexus: 7 p.m. International dinner night: Brazilian barbecue. Costa Mesa area. www.JewishNexus.org.

Super-Singles (35+): 8 p.m.-midnight. Dance for singles and couples at the Elks Lodge in Canoga Park. $12. 20925 Osborne St., Canoga Park.
(800) 672-6122.

Singles Helping Others: 6-10 p.m. Sell tickets and refreshments and help clean up at “Hope: A Musical Celebration of the Soul.” Wilshire Boulevard Temple, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 343-4722.

Jewish Singles, Meet! (30s and 40s): 7:30 p.m. The comedy, “A Flea in Her Ear,” at the West Valley Playhouse. 7242 Owensmouth Ave., Canoga Park. R.S.V.P. (818) 750-0095.


Wilshire Boulevard Temple: 10 a.m.-noon. “Lox, Lattes and Learning” at the home of Rabbi Dennis Eisner. Fourth meeting in a series of five. $50-$65. Mid-Wilshire area. R.S.V.P. to Rabbidennis@aol.com.

Social Circle (40s-60s): 10:30 a.m. Meet in the parking lot of Will Rogers State Park for a walk and no-host brunch at Mort’s Deli, 1035 Swarthmore Ave., Pacific Palisades. $7 (parking). (310) 204-1240.

Harbor Jewish Singles (55+): 2:30 p.m. “The Lion King” at the Orange County Performing Arts Center followed by dinner at the Claim Jumper. $28. 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
(714) 842-7876.

AISH L.A.(22-33): 6:30 p.m. “Astrology and the Jews” with Chinese buffet. $14, Aries get in free. Aish Center, 9100 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 278-8672, ext. 401.

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Coffee Talk (30s and 40s): 8 p.m. Weekly discussion group. $7. 9760 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-4595, ext. 27.


Westwood Jewish Singles (45+): 7:30 p.m. “Saying ‘No’ and Not Feeling Guilty.” $10. West Los Angeles.
(310) 444-8986.

Elite Jewish Theatre Singles: 8 p.m. “The King and I” starring Stefanie Powers. $39 (prepaid only). 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 203-1312.


Wilshire Boulevard Temple:
7:30 p.m.-midnight. David Dassa’s weekly Israeli dance lessons. Beginners at 7:30 p.m., regular class at 8 p.m. and open dancing from
9:15 p.m. $7. 2112 S. Barrington Ave., Los Angeles. ddassa@att.net.


L.A.’s Fabulous Best Connections: Dinner and cocktails at Morels Bistro at the Grove. 189 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P.,
(323) 782-0435.

Conversations at Leon’s: 7 p.m. “Three Steps to Turn Trauma Into Triumph.” $15-$17. 639 26th St., Santa Monica.
(310) 393-4616.


Ethiopian American Jewish Art Center: 9:30 p.m. Weekly klezmer band performance. $5. 5819 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6661.



Barbara’s Bungalow by the Beach (45+): 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Singles Sunday Champagne Brunch. $15. Venice residence. R.S.V.P. by April 13,
(310) 823-9917.

L.A. East Coast Connections (25-40): 11:30 a.m. Bagel brunch and Einstein exhibit at the Skirball at 1 p.m.
2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 358-9930.

Feldshuh Enjoys View From ‘Balcony’


“There are three female historical figures that I have wanted to play: Golda Meir, Indira Ghandi and Margaret Thatcher. And the last two haven’t been offered to me.”

Thus speaks Tovah Feldshuh, currently performing her award-winning, one-woman show “Golda’s Balcony” — about Golda Meir — to sell-out audiences on Broadway. She will be bringing the show to Los Angeles for 24 performances only, and is delighted to be coming here, saying, “Los Angeles is the second artistic home for any performer.”

Feldshuh is speaking from her home in New York. Passionate, erudite and eloquent, as our interview progresses, it becomes clear that many of the character traits that Feldshuh embodies are in sync with those of the late Israeli prime minister.

“I’ve played many Jewish mothers,” Feldshuh says, “but I’d never played the mother of a State. [Golda] was the women’s movement without the women’s movement.” Feldshuh attributes part of the phenomenal success of the show to the fact that, “people in America love Golda Meir. She was not conflicted, she didn’t shed our blood.”

She elaborates, explaining how she was cornered by an Israeli about performing the show.

The woman screamed at her: “Didn’t you tell them she murdered 2,500 boys?”

In response, Feldshuh simply said, “No,” explaining to the woman, “I’m just an actor playing the prime minister, but I empathize with your agony.”

You’d expect no less of an answer from Feldshuh, a woman who has played a plethora of “real life” figures in her career, including Katherine Hepburn, Sarah Bernhardt and Tallulah Bankhead. So when asked about undertaking the huge responsibility of portraying a historical figure, Feldshuh simply says, “The real figures are easier. They’re a finite entity you can study. And it’s a question of what journey you want to take. Your life force and the way you meet challenges are through transformation.”

And that, she says, is her own personal tikkun.

Ultimately though, she says, “My job is to evoke the essence [of my characters] through my research, my willingness to become accurate and do whatever it takes.”

To play Golda, that “whatever it takes” included two trips to Milwaukee (“to nail that accent”), a 12-day research trip to Israel and logging in endless hours at the Museum of Television and Broadcasting in New York, where she pored over archival footage and recordings of the late, great Israeli premier.

“At this age, I just take great roles,” she says philosophically. “My biggest breakthroughs have been in the Jewish arena,” she adds, citing her performance on Broadway in “Yentl” in her 20s, and Judy Stein — the mother of the title character — in the 2001 sleeper hit “Kissing Jessica Stein” for which she won a Golden Satellite Award. Her resume alone lists a slew of awards that hark back to her “Yentl” days and beyond, including three Best Actress Tony Award nominations, four Drama Desk Awards, four Outer Critics Circle Awards, the Obie, the Theatre World and the Lucille Lortel Awards. And then, of course, there was her Emmy Award nomination for her searing role as Helena, the Czech freedom fighter in the riveting miniseries, “Holocaust.”

And she loves playing Golda.

“This play is such a clear example of what it is to be loyal, to be connected to authentic roots,” she explains. “And it’s the greatest role of my career so far, not just because of [Golda’s] contribution as a wife and mother, but also as a commander in chief. As a prime minister!”

Critics have concurred that “Golda’s Balcony” is indeed the role of Feldshuh’s career. They concede that it’s her riveting performance that has carried this play to unforeseeable heights — taking it from obscurity off-Broadway and landing a sell-out Broadway run and now a West Coast premiere. Feldshuh is also set to take the show to London’s West End toward the end of this year.

However, the play itself has been heavily criticized; for William Gibson’s script, deemed flawed from the outset in attempting to have Meir recall her actions towards the end of her life. In doing so, the piece really becomes Gibson’s way of taking dramatic license in deciding what he believes Meir thought and felt of many events, including that most crucial period in Israel’s history — the 1973 Yom Kippur War in which she agonized over whether to use nuclear weapons. It’s also been criticized for its direction (by Scott Schwartz), described at times as “simplistic, crude and overly-theatrical” as well as for historical inaccuracies, which many Jews who have seen the show argue went beyond Gibson’s right to artistic license.

Yet whether Meir would have had pangs of consciousness toward the end of her life (she died in 1978), and revealed everything from affairs, to regrets over her actions as Gibson’s script implies, there is no mistaking that America’s war on Iraq has played no small part in seeing “Golda’s Balcony” tap into a major collective nerve.

Feldshuh says: “Our president took us to war in Iraq. And ‘Golda’s Balcony’ also deals with an impossible war — a mother lioness screaming for peace in the belly of war. We will not soon get over this war, ” she intones solemnly. And then she reveals that she has a copy of every obituary of every American soldier who has been killed in the war in Iraq.

“I have them posted stage left in the theater,” she says, where she can see them before she goes onstage each night.

Feldshuh says this resonates with all audiences, and in a world gone mad and a world at war, “This play,” she concludes, “is a steadfast, upright shofar — that mystical clarion call of ‘Hear O Israel, here we are.'”

“Golda’s Balcony” plays Feb. 1-25 at the Wadsworth Theatre, 11301 Wilshire Blvd No. 226, Brentwood. For tickets, visit Ticketmaster.com or call (213) 365-3500. For group sales, call (310) 479-3636.



The Jewish Journal is no longer accepting mailed or faxed event listing information. Please e-mail event listings at least three
weeks in advance to: calendar@jewishjournal.com.

By Keren Engelberg


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Temple Beth Torah: 9:30 a.m. Shabbos at the Shul pancake breakfast. 7620 Foothill Road, Ventura. R.S.V.P., (805) 647-4181.


Aish L.A.: 8 p.m. Rabbi Noach Orlowek on “God: The Real Deal.” Motzei Shabbos and dessert. $10. Boxenbaum Family Aish Outreach Center, 9100 W. Pico Blvd.,
Los Angeles. (310) 278-8672, ext. 303.

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AhmansonTheatre: 7:30 p.m.

Final performance of “Caroline, or Change.” $35-$90. 601 W. Temple St., Los Angeles. (213) 628-2772.

City of Hope Singers: 1:30 p.m.

“Music of the Magi” at the Richard Nixon Library. 18001 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda. (714) 993-3393.

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OASIS: 1:30-3 p.m. Weekly Yiddish conversation group for seniors. 8838 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 446-8053.

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Brandeis-Bardin Institute: Dec. 21-Dec. 26. Camp Alonim winter experience for kids in grades 2-11. (805) 582-4450.


Los Angeles Master Chorale: 7 p.m. Latin holiday music celebration featuring jazz and vocal artists. $10-$79. Walt Disney Concert Hall,
111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles.
(800) 787-5262.

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Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring:

Workmen’s Circle: 6:30 p.m. “Jewish Vegetarianism” vegetarian potluck and talk with Gene Gordon. Bring a dish or beverage to serve eight to 10 people. Free. R.S.V.P., (310) 552-2007.


Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring:

Shalhevet Middle School: 10 a.m. Open house for grades 5-8.
910 S. Farifax Ave., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 930-9333, ext. 230.

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Jewish Family Service and Friendship Circle: 7:30-9 p.m. Support group for parents of children with special needs. Meets on first and third Thursdays of each month.
The New JCC at Milken,
22622 Vanowen St., West Hills.
(818) 464-3333.

Orthodox Union: Dec. 23-Dec. 26. West Coast Torah Convention. For more information, see article on page 19.

Sunshine Seniors Club: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Weekly meeting at new location. Valley Cities JCC, 13164 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 764-4532.

Jewish Family Service and Friendship Circle: 7:30-9 p.m. Support group for parents of children with special needs. Meets on first and third Thursdays of each month. The New JCC at Milken, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3333.

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Jewish Outdoor Adventures: 10:30 a.m. Christmas Day Hike to Eagle Rock with the Sierra Club. Topanga State Park, 20825 Entrada Road, Los Angeles. hikergirl50@yahoo.com.

Jewish Singles, Meet! (30s-40s): “What’s a nice Jewish guy or gal doing on Dec. 25?” party. $10. Sylmar residence. R.S.V.P., (818) 750-0095.

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Harbor Jewish Singles (55+): 1 p.m. Lunch and a movie at Metro Point. (714) 633-8878.

Chai Center: 2-5 p.m. “Not a Christmas Party” for all ages at private outdoor location. $10. Hancock Park. R.S.V.P., (310) 391-7995.

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Israeli Folk Dancing: 8 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Classes by Israel Yakove meet Mondays and Thursdays. $7. 2244 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 839-2550.

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West Valley JCC: 8-11 p.m. Israeli folk dancing with James Zimmer. $5-$6. Salsa, swing and tango lessons for an additional $3 (7-8 p.m.). (310) 284-3638.day

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Nexus (20s-40s): 6 p.m. Volleyball and
no-host dinner at a local restaurant. End of Culver Boulevard, near court 15,
Playa del Rey. www.jewishnexus.org.

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Conversations at Leon’s: 7 p.m. “First Dates, What They Say About You.” $15-$17.
639 26th St., Santa Monica. (310) 393-4616.

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New Age Singles (55+): New Year’s Eve party with bus to Glendale, dinner and the play, “Come Blow Your Horn.” $60-$62. R.S.V.P., (818) 347-8355.

Symphony to Debut Fiery ‘Soul’ Music


Wayne Hinton is a Methodist, and he understands what Jewish audiences will feel when they hear a performance by the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony.

“It’s like when you hear a Frenchman conducting French music,” said Hinton, the symphony’s executive director. “It’s akin to their soul.”

The soul, or more specifically the soul aflame, will anchor the symphony’s Dec. 19 performance at Temple Israel of Hollywood, where the shul’s Nimoy Concert Series will host the West Coast premiere of “Souls on Fire,” an oratorio based on Elie Wiesel’s book on centuries of Chasidic leaders.

The concert series’ namesake, actor and philanthropist Leonard Nimoy, will narrate the piece. He will be joined on stage by almost 100 performers, including four soloists, actress Laraine Newman and the 45-member choir of Valley Beth Shalom, plus the 45-member Jewish Symphony and its artistic director, Noreen Green. Before the “Souls” piece begins, violinist Lindsay Deutsch will open the concert by performing Ernst Block’s “Baal Shem” suite.

The concert will be a classic merging of Jewish sensibilities and irony: a Reform shul hosting a Conservative choir singing a piece about Chasidim that no Chasidic man would see, because the choir includes women.

“Unfortunately, that’s absolutely right,” Nimoy said. “There’s a loss in there somewhere.”

Nimoy said that when he first narrated the “Souls” musical piece a few years ago in a studio isolation booth, “I had a sense even then it was a very powerful and inspiring piece of work. It humanizes the major leaders of the Chasidic movement, and it takes some of the mystery out of some of them. Some were great mystics, others were great organizers.”

While the concert will be the piece’s West Coast premiere, Nimoy has narrated “Souls” in Detroit, Philadelphia, New York’s Lincoln Center and Boston.

“That’s my hometown, and there was a homecoming feeling,” Nimoy told The Journal. “The theater where we played in Boston was within walking distance to what had been my home.”

Nimoy’s 3-year-old Temple Israel concert series (the shul’s Rabbi John Rosove is the cousin of Nimoy’s wife) has twice as many subscribers now as a year ago.

“This concert will by far be the largest,” he said, adding that the series in February will host Michigan’s Envision orchestra of young musicians, then an Arab-Israel orchestra in June, plus Chicago’s Sephardic cantor Alberto Mizrahi next fall.

Green, the Jewish Symphony conductor and artistic director, as well as Valley Beth Shalom’s choral director, said the post-Chanukah, Dec. 19 date gave event organizers some unusual freedom for a Jewish event in December.

“This really has nothing to do with Chanukah; it’s around Chanukah time,” Green said. “If you do the concert during the eight days of Chanukah, you’re kind of locked into doing a Chanukah program, but Leonard has been championing this particular piece of music. How do you say no to Leonard Nimoy?”

The 70-minute “Souls on Fire” stands out because it is based on a book by a writer so heavily identified with his Nobel Prize-winning Holocaust writings. But here, Green said, “I don’t relate this work to him as a survivor.”

“When you use music to highlight text, it brings another dimension to the word,” she said, “Music gives it an emotional impact that you wouldn’t have without the music.”

Green also believes the 12-year-old L.A. Jewish Symphony has earned Jewish communal respect and also the respect of its classical music peers.

“People now trust my selection of music,” the conductor said. “I try to make it fun; I’m entertaining up there. We started this off not really knowing where it was going to lead or what we wanted to perform.”

The “Soul on Fire” concert will be Sunday, Dec. 19, at 3 p.m. at Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd. For tickets, contact the Nimoy Concert Series , (213) 805-4261 or e-mail nimoyconcertseries@earthlink.net.