Photos capture numbers and words of Nazis’ Final Solution


Every now and then, a momentous life chapter can be triggered by a seemingly insignificant occurrence. That’s what happened to Dr. Richard Ehrlich on a plane a few years ago. The monotony of the flight was broken by skimming an issue of the International Herald Tribune. A small item mentioned the Holocaust archives at the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany.

For most of the past decade, Ehrlich, a urological surgeon, has enjoyed an avocation as an art photographer. He’s been widely shown and published, preferring nature and travel subjects.

A selection of 52 color digital images from Ehrlich’s documentation of Nazi bureaucracy from Hitler’s Final Solution will be on display in “The Holocaust Archive Revealed” at the Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica beginning Tuesday.

Relaxing in a UCLA examining room, Ehrlich — dressed in green scrubs — took time recently to speak about his portfolio of enlarged photographs documenting the assembled archive.

“My interest was piqued,” he confessed. “The idea that all of the data concerning the Holocaust was stored in one place stirred something compelling in me.”

A “60 Minutes” segment on the International Tracing Service (ITS) further inspired Ehrlich to access the archive. He set about petitioning the ITS, but even with the help of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., Ehrlich was blocked. He’s quite circumspect about how he gained access, offering obliquely that a friend in the State Department was involved.

A meeting was arranged between Ehrlich and the director of the archive. He filled out the requisite forms and was granted two extended sessions to take pictures. Although the materials he photographed amounted to little more than printed words and numbers, the staggering volume — six buildings (including a former SS barracks) and 16 miles of records — impressed upon Ehrlich the huge effort that went into eradicating European Jewry and other “undesirable” minorities under the Nazi master plan.

Ehrlich came to photography through an evolutionary process. He has a background in painting, and the works of Paul Cézanne were his first important sources. Cézanne, the 19th century post-impressionist painter, took everyday elements and scenes — people, landscapes, objects — and subtly reordered them. Hard edges found their way into figures, fruits and face planes. Multiplicity of viewpoint, a defining element of 20th century modernism in all the arts, first surfaced in Cézanne.

The California abstract expressionists Elmer Bischoff and Richard Diebenkorn were Ehrlich’s next great influence, and their input can be discerned in his photographs. Through positioning and scale, Bischoff’s figurative work looked abstract, and his abstract paintings looked figurative. Diebenkorn could reorder the space of a picture — thereby abstracting it — simply by the way an open pair of scissors or the head and legs of a figure diagonally touched the plane’s edges.

While his painting satisfied a personal need to make art, Ehrlich first turned to photography as a byproduct of his professional work. Documentation of his surgeries was a practical application of picture taking. At some point, the two merged. Ehrlich’s love of travel fit nicely with his interpretive photographs of far-flung locales. Thus was born Richard Ehrlich, serious photographer.

Longtime observers of Ehrlich’s work know him as a colorist. His landscapes are often imbued with brilliant hues, some of the most intense found in nature. His studies of the Namibian outdoors contain breathtaking vistas and swaths of color. A series of Malibu sky and horizon studies are turned into a homage to the stark format that painter Mark Rothko settled on in his final phase through clever cropping. Graffitied walls in Belmont Park are riots of color and kinetic energy, although they’re held still and silent by Ehrlich’s exposures.

His focus is always sharp, and Ehrlich stays clear of lens trickery. The viewer need never wonder what is being depicted. Angles may be skewed (the legacy of Bischoff and Diebekorn at work) but never to the point of fool-the-eye dynamics. It also seems to be a point of pride that Ehrlich’s light is natural and never manipulated. He clearly has the eye and the patience to mentally frame the photo and to wait for just the right moment.

At the same time, the human element is mostly recessed. People are not out of the question in his picture planes, but most often it’s their handiwork that stands in for the human form. The starkness of handmade houses in Namibia, their floors deep in sand, suggest past lives and actions — ghosts if you will. The same applies to the tagged Belmont walls. History is implied as much as it is notated.

As artist Tony Berlant has said of the photographs: “In Ehrlich’s work, what you see is who you are.”

Those longtime Ehrlich observers may be thrown by his Holocaust archive prints. The manmade spaces are constricted and viewed head-on. Overhead fluorescent lighting gives the materials — shelves, boxes, stacks of files and rows of ledgers — an appropriately institutional pallor. Gray greens, metallic blues, muddy taupes all denote a place far removed from nature’s extravagance.

As he flipped open a large, black box on an examining table, Ehrlich explained some of his prints. He began by saying, “I went to Wannsee, a beautiful little town outside of Berlin. There’s a nice old hotel there, where they held the Wannsee Conference in 1941. That’s where they planned the Holocaust. Here’s a shot of the minutes of the meeting, including a break for lunch. In the middle of the planning of the systematic murder of millions, they had lunch.”

Moving through images of ledgers, official papers that dispassionately note the minutiae of the Final Solution — including Anne Frank’s transfer papers to Bergen-Belsen and the actual Schindler’s List — Ehrlich’s calm demeanor developed an incredulous edge.

“You see this much detail,” he noted with suppressed pique, “and you have to understand that this massive effort wasn’t just carried out by a small group of people. It required an enormous amount of work by tens of thousands, if not millions.”

At the time of the Nazi takeover, Germany had the most educated population in all of Europe. “It’s a chilling thought, and it makes you wonder how that level of evil could flourish in such a place,” Ehrlich said.

Asked what it was that sparked him to the extraordinary effort that produced his Holocaust images, Ehrlich was hesitant.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, I’m not particularly religious, and I didn’t lose any relatives. I went to Auschwitz when I was a student at Columbia in 1959, and I was moved, but the Holocaust is not something that I’ve been obsessed with all these years.”

“Look,” Ehrlich said, sitting forward in his chair. “People read about what’s going on in Darfur, and they often can’t relate to it. And at the same time, we’re hearing the voices of Holocaust denial again. This is a concrete record of something that the world is in danger of forgetting about.”

“The Holocaust Archive Revealed: Bad Arolsen Through the Lens of Richard Ehrlich” will run Aug. 26-30 at ” target=”_blank”>Richard Ehrlich Photography

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Schindler’s List

Books: Witness to horrors


At first glance, “Testimony” (Aperture, $40) looks like an innocent-enough coffee table book of Israel-themed photographs. Thumb through the first few pages and you’ll see examples of photographer Gillian Laub’s excellent portraiture. Each color image is accompanied by a simple enough quote from the subject, an Arab or Jew sharing the same bit of the Holy Land.

But the drama builds.

Soon, the simpler images give way to unimaginably more difficult ones: of former Israeli beauties mutilated by the effects of a suicide bomber; of Palestinian children missing limbs as a result of an Israeli settler’s attack.

The pace soon becomes relentless: Arab and Jew, wounded, suffering, trying to regain life and hope after enduring brutalizing, life-scarring violence. And in each case, Laub lets her subjects have the last word.

“Many times I try to imagine what happened was a dream,” said a Palestinian father of his son Mohammed, who at age 9 was rendered mute and paralyzed for life by a stray Israeli army bullet. “In war, everyone pays a price.”

Michal, whom Laub photographs lying on her bed, missing both legs as a result of a suicide bomber in a pizza restaurant, is one of many young Israelis in the book.

“Maybe a day will come where I will arrive where I want to be,” she writes. “And that is to go back to a normal life.”

And so on. By the book’s end, I was in tears. No kidding.

Laub composed the book to struggle with her fascination regarding Israel. The 20-something New York-based photographer began traveling to and around Israel in 2002, set on exploring her own Jewish questions.

“I was trying to focus on identity issues,” she said in a telephone interview, “then there was a bombing and I couldn’t be photographing in Israel and not address what was going on.”

She used assignments from clients like Time magazine (for whom she photographed then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the Man of the Year cover) and The New York Times to get her to Israel. One person led to another, one story to the next. The theme of the book emerged when she came face to face with Kinneret. A friend described her as “one of the prettiest girls in Tel Aviv,” before a suicide bombing attack left her with burns covering 70 percent of her body. Laub’s photo of Kinneret shows the shocking wounds as well as a defiant, strong young woman’s face.

“She was really hard to look at,” Laub said. “When I first saw her she was oozing out of her eyes. But she was so sweet and had this huge smile. What do you say to somebody like that? I was amazed she had this energy. She was given a 3 percent chance to live. What makes people like her go on and why? I saw pictures of her and her boyfriend before the bombing and she was gorgeous. If this person can smile after her life was turned upside down, there’s something to be said for that. I knew from then I was totally changed.”

For a document on political violence, “Testimony” is strangely apolitical. Laub knew that approach had its dangers.

“There’s no moral equivalence to a bomber,” she said. “But I just wanted to show the suffering of innocent people.”

No doubt that will offend some people’s sense of political correctness — a Palestinian photographer pulled out of a joint exhibit with Laub, attacking her pictures as too sympathetic to Israeli Jews.

But “Testimony” ultimately bears witness to the strengths that average Jews and Arabs demonstrate as humans, and to the human cost of the conflict in which they are locked.

Public Reactions Are Strong to A Personal Journey


Los Angeles photographer Naomi Solomon capped off her informal summer presentation series “Settlers: A Photographic Journey of the Life and Disengagement of the Jews Living in Gaza” at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills last week, drawing more than 150 people.

Her evocative slide-show was a culmination of her personal explorations of life in Judea, Samaria and Gaza that began with her initial visit in 2002 to the mixed secular-religious Judean outpost, Ma’aleh Rechavam, and continued through the Gaza disengagement of August 2005.

After months of post-production since her return to Los Angeles, Solomon created a show of 100 select photos, which she has presented largely to Orthodox synagogues in the L.A. area. However, she says her mission to portray the diversity, humanity and culture of settlers and settlement life through her photographs is far from complete.

“My focus now is to branch out of local synagogues,” Solomon told the Jewish Journal in a telephone interview.

Predicting a particularly strong anti-Zionist sentiment on campuses this year, she plans to secure speaking engagements at universities, as well as at Reform and Conservative synagogues. Synagogues of all streams, however, have sometimes been reluctant to host her, as they fear that her presentation is too “political,” a fear that Solomon attributes, in part, to her provocative title.

While in her presentation Solomon makes clear her stance against unilateral withdrawals, she asserts that her aim is to “share her experience” rather than her political opinions.

“My goal is to unravel a human story within a political tornado,” she said.
Her photographs range from romantic scenes of settlers building homes, tilling land, playing guitar and surfing on the Gaza coast, to the more emotion-packed scenes of settlers protesting and soldiers evacuating settlers and demolishing their homes.

Solomon cannot say with any certainty that the recent war in Lebanon has drawn more interest in her work, although she believes her presentation is already changing perceptions. At the end of the recent show at Nessah, which climaxed with the image of the gates of Gaza closing, many congregants were tearful and the hall was silent. She related that on several occasions audience members came up to her afterward and retracted their support for the disengagement.

Avoid an Oops in Shooting Your Video


Little Rachel takes her first steps — but your camcorder battery dies before you get the shot.

Your family reunion includes Grandma Shirley, whom you haven’t seen in 15 years and, frankly, may never see again. You interview her on video, but when you sit down later to watch it, the sound is so bad you can’t understand a single word.

At my brother’s bar mitzvah, a family member showed up late with the video equipment, set up the camera and forgot to push record.

Whether you’re trying to capture a wedding, b’nai mitzvah or 50th anniversary celebration, the day will come and go whether you’re ready for it or not. Unless you’re prepared, the opportunity to capture family history can easily slip through your fingers.

Losing such precious moments can be depressing. But with a little advance planning, attention to detail and some practice, you can shoot home videos your family will kvell about for years to come. Here are some tips:

1. Don’t forget to push record. Once you push “record,” confirm that you are recording. Every video camera features a recording indicator, typically located in the viewfinder or the view screen. As you get ready to focus on your subject, the first thing you should do is look in the viewfinder or on the screen and note whether the recording indicator is on.

2. Charge your batteries. This is one of the most common mistakes. The battery that came with your video camera will not last longer than one hour. In addition, after a few years, rechargeable batteries don’t hold their charge well. Even buy an extra battery pack or two, charge them and have them on hand in case your primary battery loses its charge.

3. Focus on sound. Bad sound is often the biggest killer of home videos. Are you only using the standard built-in microphone? Be conscious of its limited range. If you’re recording someone nearby, try to get as close to the person as possible. If you’re at a gala event and someone is using a microphone, try to get close to the electronic amplification speaker.

4. Stabilize your shot. All modern video camcorders have a stabilization option. Turning this option on will improve your shots tremendously. I require my professional videographers, who shoot everything from wedding videos to commercials, to turn this option on.

5. Use both hands. Shaky camera work can give friends and family headaches. Do not hold the camera in one hand, stretching your arm out in front of you. Instead, hold the camcorder with both hands, and hold the camera against your body. For even greater stabilization, lean your back against a wall.

6. Forget the zoom. Don’t use the zoom. Instead of constantly zooming in for closeups and then zooming out for wider shots, try holding the camera against your body, framing your shot like a still photograph. To get closer to the image, simply walk closer, using your body as a large stabilization weight. To get a wider shot, simply walk backward — but be careful.

7. Look in two places at once. This is a more advanced move. Learn to keep one eye watching your camcorder’s viewfinder or screen and the other eye looking outside the field of the screen to see what person or object may soon be coming into your frame. This allows you to anticipate and prepare your camera move.

8. Learn from your mistakes. Take some time out a few days before an event and shoot some practice footage. Spend a few minutes reviewing a short piece of it, and note how you could improve.

Also, don’t save the camera for special events. Keep practicing your video skills by recording everyday family moments. After all, you don’t want to be scrambling for footage 10 years from now, when you want to create a video montage of your child to show during a bar or bat mitzvah.

David Notowitz is owner of Notowitz Productions, a video production company that specializes in corporate videos, weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. His Web site is

The Faces of War From Israel to Africa


If Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” has shown that even Israeli commandos, some of the most battle-hardened warriors on the planet, ruminate over their roles, photographer Rachel Papo, a former member of the Israel Defense Forces, demonstrates in a new exhibition of her photographs that such pensiveness is not limited to male soldiers. Papo’s show, “Serial No. 3817131,” opens at the Paul Kopeikin Gallery on March 18 and focuses on young Israeli women in uniform.

These are women of all ethnic backgrounds — light-skinned Ashkenazis, as well as Sephardics hailing from Arab countries and East Africa. Some wear spectacles, others retain youthful red splotches on their faces, yet they all don the green attire of the military in their caps, shirts, sweaters and jackets. Even their jerrycans, or canteens, are green. But the women are not.

True, there is one freckle-faced, blue-eyed redhead, her body curled toward the camera, her hands cupped in the manner of a cat relaxing its paws. With an innocent yet seductive smile on her feline features, she almost seems to purr. Yet, like all the other women, she has an M-16 slung over her shoulder.

Another young soldier named Dana, her name painted on a door, smokes a cigarette, dangling it in a pose reminiscent of James Dean. Her curly russet locks, almost as long as Rapunzel’s, come down close to her waist in the illuminated portion of the photo on the right side of the frame. On the left, there is an arbor, completely dark except for a light in the distance, while in front of Dana the cigarette ashes merge indecipherably with wood scraps on the ground. A tall, spindly wooden pole frames the left side of the picture at an angle, while the green door to the right is also askew. Only Dana, in the middle, seems balanced.

Papo, in a phone call from Brooklyn, says that the point of her exhibition is “to show a side about the Israeli military that is less obvious and not about politics, but about the human condition.”

When Papo was in the military back in the late 1980s and early 1990s she was depressed.

“You’re 18 years old, and you have dreams and friends and boyfriends, and that is totally cut off and restricted,” she says, adding that in the military, “You sleep where you don’t want to sleep and eat what you don’t want to eat.”

The response she has gotten to her photos has been quite emotional, particularly from women. Many Americans, male and female, have told Papo that they were not aware that military service is mandatory for women in Israel.

If they had any doubt, there is a photo of two soldiers, standing almost at attention several yards apart, as if on guard duty. Their faces obscured by the brim of their caps, they bow slightly so they can read the Torah. We are reminded that this is a Jewish state, and that, with rare exception, even the religious must serve in the military.

“Serial No. 3817131” opens Saturday, March 18, at the Paul Kopeikin Gallery. Reception from 6-8 p.m. on March 18. The exhibition runs through April 15. 6150 Wilshire Blvd., just west of Fairfax Avenue, (323) 937-0765.

The women of Darfur do almost everything except serve as soldiers. According to Ron Haviv, a war photographer who first made his name in 1989 when he photographed a Noriega rival being tortured in the streets of Panama, the African women in the Sudan farm, gather food, collect firewood and take care of the children. In venturing out for firewood, a journey often lasting several days, they risk being raped. If the men go out, they will be murdered.

Haviv’s exhibition, “The Children of Darfur,” opening at UCLA Hillel on March 12, was commissioned by UNICEF to document the plight of children in a part of the world plagued not only by drought, malnutrition and infectious disease, but also genocide. Arab militias, known as janjaweed, have killed thousands and displaced more than a million Darfurians, roughly half of them children under 18, Haviv says.

One photo reveals only the right eye of a young girl who is telling Haviv that she has been raped; the rest of her body and face is occluded by a striped scarf and the cropping of the photo. This shattered image reflects how much she has lost.

In an interview in a Hancock Park office, the photographer explains that the girl is 12 years old. He utters these words softly, with a great deal of restraint.

His garb is eclectic — a faded Chicago Cubs baseball cap, an old black vest and a green scarf so discolored and battered it looks as if it has been riddled with bullets; the image is fitting, since Haviv says he has been shot at more times than he can remember. He says that he has been jailed on several occasions, beaten by captors, and even put on a death list by a Bosnian Serb warlord.

Yet despite the harshness of his life, he uses a warm, red filter in many of his images of these young African women and boys living in internal displaced persons (IDP) camps. One striking girl holds the cap to a bottle in her hand. Statuesque and beautiful, with a pink abaya (scarf) wrapped around her body and head, she has just gotten water at an IDP camp. Her huge, black eyes stand out amidst the blurry background.

Haviv, 40, is part of a group of war photographers known as Seven, based on the original membership of seven photojournalists who formed the unit within days of Sept. 11. He says he learned from his work in Panama in the late 1980s that photography can play a role in “the process.” He bemoans the clichés of politicians who proclaimed, “Never Again,” after the Rwanda genocide 12 years ago. He hopes that students in high school and college come to see his exhibition. “As they move into positions of power, they can help and confront and influence policy whether in government or business.”

Photography, he says, “remains as a piece of evidence, a document, a historical record” for holding people accountable. “No one can say that they didn’t know.”

“The Children of Darfur” will be exhibited at UCLA Hillel from March 12 to April 23. Reception March 12, 4-6 p.m. 574 Hilgard Ave., (310) 208-3081.

Haviv and four of his colleagues from Seven also traveled with members of Doctors Without Borders to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), another African republic at war. The result is a group show opening March 16 at the Stephen Cohen Gallery titled, “Democratic Republic of Congo: Forgotten War,” featuring photos from the five photojournalists of the victims of the largely invisible and unknown war taking place in the DRC, known formerly as Zaire. Haviv, who conceived the project, notes that “more people are dying in the DRC than at any time since World War II. Almost 4 million people have died in seven years.” He says that translates presently into about 38,000 deaths per month from hunger, AIDS and other diseases, as well as bullets — despite what he calls “the largest U.N. peacekeeping effort” in the world.

Haviv believes that where Darfur’s problems could be ameliorated by economic sanctions against the Sudanese, who would be forced to stop aiding the janjaweed, the Congo’s situation is much more complicated. For one, militias from all over the region have entered the Congo to fight for gold and other minerals. Secondly, AIDS, not a major factor in Darfur, has decimated the Congolese. A black-and-white picture by Antonin Kratochil shows the emptiness in the wide pupils of a woman living with the disease. Her dark eyes blend in with her skin and form an abyss of despair.

A number of photos that are both starker and bleaker than the Darfur images show the scourge of AIDS and of the sex trade. Many are shot in black and white, without the warm, red filters used for Haviv’s other project, though there is one color photo by Joachim Ladefoged, a Seven photographer, that recalls Haviv’s image of the raped Darfurian girl — this one shows only the right side of a 25-year-old sex worker’s face, visible through a gauzy, green curtain behind which she services men. It, like the other photos, reveals the hidden and hopeless nature of this war.

Still, as Beverly Feldman, who along with Haviv organized the exhibition for the gallery, says, “The body of work is not a group of horrific photos. It’s not full of decapitated bodies. It’s disease and neglect, other kinds of man’s inhumanity” that is on display in these photos.

Feldman was particularly drawn to this project because “not a lot of attention has been paid” to the Congo and its “particular blight on the face of Africa.”

“It’s such an unknown, forgotten place, that its [lack of attention] is very insidious.”

“Democratic Republic of Congo: Forgotten War” opens at the Stephen Cohen Gallery on March 16. Reception on April 6 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. with a talk by photographer Ron Haviv and Doctors Without Borders at 7 p.m. Exhibition runs through May 6. 7358 Beverly Blvd. (323) 937-5525.

 

Actor’s Missing Dad Takes Center Stage


In his raw, autobiographical monologue, “Who Is Floyd Stearn?” actor Michael Raynor struts onstage with a swagger reminiscent of James Caan. Raynor, playing himself, jabs a finger at a faded photograph.

The photo was taken on 185th Street in Queens, on his grandmother’s lawn. In the photo, an athletic, brawny man embraces a 3-year-old. The man is Raynor’s father, Floyd Stearn. The smiling boy is young Michael, who clutches a toy banjo, his blond bangs peeking out from a cowboy hat.

Raynor tells the audience that, even at 40, he cannot discuss the photo; should anyone pressure him, he angrily departs.

“Every time I see the picture I cry,” he adds quietly. “That’s why I can’t look at it. I see the happiness in my face, and it scares me. I’m hoping it won’t go away.”

His father’s sudden departure at age 7 cost him much happiness for years, and this macho-yet-tender one-man show is Raynor’s attempt to re-connect with his father and to understand the man who abandoned him.

The 2004 off-Broadway success is among a slate of recent plays to explore dysfunctional Jewish families in crisis, notably Tony Kushner’s Broadway musical, “Caroline, or Change,” which had a run in Los Angeles late last year. Raynor’s piece is a “Rashomon”-style mystery, with the actor portraying himself at various ages, as well as his mother and grandparents, who offer conflicting theories about his late father.

Was Stearn a nice Jewish boy who loved his children, but was kowtowed by a hostile ex-wife and a domineering second spouse? Or was he a heartless deadbeat who sent Michael birthday cards with no return address signed by himself, his new wife and children?

Because his relatives were tight-lipped, all Raynor knew until five years ago was that Stearn had been a burly jock.

Of his penchant for Caan, he says: “I looked for my dad in tough Jew father figures in films, like Caan, Kirk Douglas and John Garfield. I emulated the qualities I imagined my father might have had.”

In fact, the actor arrives at an interview on the Westside with that Caan-esque saunter and the tough-but-senitive guy persona he projects onstage.

At 18, he said, he adopted his stepfather’s surname, because he had been more a father to Raynor than Stearn. But Stearn’s absence continued to wreak havoc in his life. In relationships, he says, he was “programmed to disconnect,” cutting off friends and girlfriends “to create perceived emotional safety.”

Because arguments over child support, in part, had kept his father from him, financial concerns haunted Raynor. Though he had played the leads in his Jewish summer camp plays, he did not initially pursue theater, because he worried that actors lived hand-to-mouth. Instead, he worked in the financial field, on the floor of the commodities market, until he finally accepted a role in an off-off Broadway play in his late 20s.

Also in his 20s, Raynor received a notice of disinheritance, stating that his father had died of bone cancer at 42.

“I went shopping and stocked up on food, because I knew I wasn’t going to be leaving the house for a while,” he recalls in the play. “I cried and fell asleep and cried and fell asleep for two days straight. And the worst part is, I thought I had finally forgotten him.”

The actor’s anguish apparently hits a nerve for some viewers. After seeing the show in 2002, radio’s Howard Stern wrote Raynor: “Not many men could openly confess before an audience the intense father hunger they had…. It’s very easy as a man to show anger, but a lot more difficult to tap into the longing and desire for a caring, loving father.”

Despite his father hunger, Raynor built a busy career, playing leads in independent films such as “The Waiting Game” and the HBO miniseries, “From the Earth to the Moon.” He continued to know almost nothing about Stearn — until he chanced to pick up his own cousin at a party eight years ago (he hadn’t seen her since she was a girl). Once recognition set in, she told him Stearn’s mother was alive and living in Florida.

On the “Moon” set in Orlando, Fla., six months later, Raynor finally mustered the courage to call his grandmother, whom he had not seen in a quarter century.

“I showed up on her doorstep on what happened to be her 87th birthday,” he recalls. “I felt like I was walking into a psychedelic flashback.”

The emotional visit turned out to be “more healing than 1,000 years of therapy,” he says. “I learned what I had previously kept from myself because it was too confusing: That my father had loved me, even though he left.”

Raynor discovered more by tracking down his half-siblings and convincing sometimes-reluctant relatives to conduct more than 50 hours of taped interviews. He decided to turn the material into a play, though the writing process was so painful it kept him up at night.

Yet performing the piece — and saying “Kaddish” for Stearn onstage — proved cathartic for Raynor, who is considering parenthood for the first time in his life.

“I was severed from my father, so what I do in the play is to resurrect him and reconnect with him, if only in spirit.”

“Stearn,” runs through Sept. 27 at the Pilot Light Theatre. (323) 960-4418.

 

Israelis Sue Over Sept. 11 Arrests


Paul Kurzberg, an Israeli from Pardess Hanna, was in the office of his New Jersey moving company on Sept. 11, 2001, when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

Like many Israeli movers in the New York area, Kurzberg, who was in his late 20s, was not legally authorized to work in the United States. But on Sept. 11, that thought was distant from his mind as he and his friends piled into a company van after the second plane hit the World Trade Center to find a better vantage point to photograph the historic terrorist attack.

It proved to be a critical mistake.

Caught in a traffic jam near the George Washington Bridge, which connects northern New Jersey to Manhattan, the Israelis hailed a police officer to ask directions to Brooklyn. Police pulled the five Israelis from the vehicle, drew their guns and ordered the men to lie on the ground, according to the Israelis’ account.

It was the beginning of a nearly two-month ordeal, the Israelis said, that landed them first in a local jail and then in solitary confinement in a Brooklyn prison, subjected them to physical and verbal abuse and ended in their deportation to Israel.

Now, four of the Israelis are suing, demanding justice and compensation in a lawsuit filed Monday against U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and a host of wardens, police officers and corrections officers involved in their arrest and imprisonment.

"The infamous arrest of these young Israelis on Sept. 11 has been used by anti-Semites worldwide as ‘proof’ of Israel’s involvement in the World Trade Center attack," said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the Israeli lawyer representing the four Israeli plaintiffs.

"Our clients are seeking compensation for the harm they suffered in the Metropolitan Detention Center by prison officials," she said. "In addition, the lawsuit will serve as an important public forum to debunk the lie that Israel or the Mossad was behind the Sept. 11 attacks."

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, alleges that the Israelis were arrested without probable cause, subjected to harsh and unreasonable conditions, penalized for trying to observe Jewish traditions, denied the opportunity to post bond, despite the fact that they posed no danger or threat of flight, and were held far longer than necessary.

Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment, saying, "Our response would be filed in court." A Bureau of Prisons spokesman also did not respond to a request for comment.

"I was in the hole for a month or so," Kurzberg, 30, said in an telephone interview from Israel. "To be in solitary for one month, you start thinking about lots of things, especially because you know you didn’t do nothing and why did they put you here."

Kurzberg’s comrades, including his brother, Silvan, Yaron Shmuel and Omer Gavriel Marmari, also are part of the suit.

The fifth Israeli imprisoned has expressed interest in the lawsuit but, as of its filing, hadn’t yet joined it, Darshan-Leitner said.

The group’s American lawyer, Robert Tolchin, a New York litigator, said the four waited to sue until now, shortly before the expiration of the three-year statute of limitations, because the political environment in the United States only recently began to support such lawsuits. Until now, he said, "the climate for litigation was not conducive."

The plaintiffs are not seeking a specific sum in damages.

Among their allegations, the Israelis claim they were denied use of prayer books for Yom Kippur, were harassed by guards who blamed them for the World Trade Center attack and were not given kosher food.

One says he had his eyeglasses taken away and could not see properly for two months. Another said he was thrown into a cell with an Algerian Muslim. The plaintiffs also spent more than a month in solitary confinement.

The way they were treated is not what America stands for," Tolchin said. "These people were arrested for things that people don’t generally get arrested for. Their only violation was that they were working with improper immigration status.

Tolchin said the case likely could take years to make its way through the courts. In a similar case filed in 2002 by a group of Muslims, a judge has yet to rule on a motion by the defense to dismiss the case. Only if the judge doesn’t throw out the suit can the Muslim plaintiffs begin to make their case.

Gerda Straus Mathan


Gerda Straus Mathan, a well-respected, Berkeley-based photographer of Jewish and other subjects who studied with Ansel Adams and lived for a time in Southern California, died Aug. 10 following a long illness. She was 83.

A photojournalist with degrees in biology, zoology and art, she brought an individual and humanistic perspective to her work, which was almost exclusively in black and white, with occasional hand-colored details.

Mathan traveled extensively in the United States, Mexico, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, as well to the homes and gatherings of her family, friends and community, always with camera in hand. She gave the same attention to detail, whether shooting ancient Torah scrolls in Cairo, a rabbi in Safed or the willow tree in her carefully tended backyard.

Mathan’s work has been exhibited in numerous galleries throughout the Bay Area, Southern California, New York and Washington, D.C. In the Southland, she had shows at the University of Judaism, Santa Monica College and in Pasadena, where she lived with her family for several years in the 1960s.

Mathan’s "Valentina’s Uncle: Portrait of an Old Man," a book that documents in pictures and text the final years of a Russian immigrant, Vadim Shepkin, was published by Macmillan Publishing Co.’s Collier Books division in 1981 and later excerpted by Reader’s Digest. Many of the photos show Shepkin flanked by young grandnieces and grandnephews, a striking portrait of youth and old age. 

Fascinated with natural light, Mathan experimented with infrared film when photographing ancient cities and synagogues in Spain, Turkey and Czechoslovakia, and created a remarkable series of photos using old Brownie cameras that rendered her subjects in a dreamy, diffuse light.

"My medium is black-and-white photography because in this way light seems to appear in its essence, and reality is abstracted to its more basic elements," Mathan said in a 1997 interview preceding her wide-ranging Santa Monica College exhibit. "For me, photography’s wonder lies in its ability to capture the fleeting light, the passing mood, the unplanned gesture and the unexpected encounter."

In addition to Adams, Mathan studied with Imogen Cunningham and Ruth Bernhard. She also taught photography, befriending and inspiring her students at Bay Area Jewish community centers, community colleges and senior centers.

A member of Yeldei HaShoah, a group of child survivors and refugees from the Holocaust, and of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, Mathan was born in Karlsruhe, Germany, on Jan. 31, 1921. She was the fourth of five children of a strongly Jewish family that traced its German roots back to the 16th century.

Friedrich, known as Fritz, was a partner in the well-known Karlsruhe bank, Straus & Company, which was sold when the family fled to the United States in 1938 to escape Hitler.

They settled in Berkeley, where Mathan raised three children. They survive her, along with three grandchildren, a sister, a brother and many nieces and nephews.

Ruth Stroud, a Manhattan Beach-based freelance writer, is Gerda Mathan’s niece.

Helnwein ‘Epiphany’ Afflicts Comfortable


In contemporary artist Gottfried Helnwein’s painting, “Epiphany I,” an Aryan Madonna-like figure sits holding a naked, uncircumcised new born boy, while some SS officers stand around her, critically sizing up mother and child. The painting is a reproduction of a Nazi propaganda photograph in which Hitler was the central figure; here in the painting, the mother is.

“Epiphany I: Adoration of the Magi,” one of five works by Helnwein currently on exhibit at the Schmeidler-Goetz gallery in West Hollywood, is not the first work of art to explore an uncomfortable subject like the Holocaust.

Depictions of tragedy and violence are often so powerful we may wish to avoid them entirely. Holocaust images and those of other persecutions tend to be rendered manageable by being circumscribed to memorials and museums, places that by their very design prepare us to receive them in hushed tones of historical concern. But confront these images in an unexpected context and one’s reaction may be less predictable, especially if the content is not the vaguely safe images of Nazi horror, but the very symbols and propaganda that fed the rallying call of Hitler’s death machine.

What is in fact the capacity of these symbols to move people? Artists can seem to teeter on the line of propriety in exploring this question. Helnwein, in particular, has been exploring this throughout his career. In one of his early exhibitions, in Germany in 1971, audience reaction encompassed the gamut of emotional reactions, from adulation and Führer worship at the sight of an oversized portrait of Hitler to violent rejection in the form of vandalism to sympathetic watercolor images of deformed and crippled children.

Helnwein was born in Austria in 1948 in a post-WWII culture unwilling to confront its wartime past. Humanist themes pervade Helnwein’s work, but his approach is not one of pandering or niceties. From his earliest moments as an artist, Helnwein has sought to provoke and elicit “unexpected reactions that reveal the innermost held feelings and beliefs [of the viewer],” according to Alexander Borovsky, curator at the State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg.

Some of the most powerful images that deal with Nazism and Holocaust themes are by Anselm Kiefer and Helnwein, although, Kiefer’s work differs considerably from Helnwein’s in his concern with the effect of German aggression on the national psyche and the complexities of German cultural heritage. Kiefer is known for evocative and soulful images of barren German landscapes. But Kiefer’s and Helnwein’s works are both informed by the personal experience of growing up in postwar German-speaking countries.

For some artists, like Annette Lemieux, an artist and professor at Harvard University, historical images, even those of the Holocaust, provide a framework for more current concerns: “I would have to say, that I was not thinking about re-contextualizing past ‘found’ images. My ‘found’ images have always been visual substitutes for the present.”

One of Helnwein’s other works is “Selection: Ninth of November Night,” a Kristallnacht commemoration originally shown at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany, in 1988. For the large-scale exhibit set in a public plaza opposite the museum, Helnwein photographed contemporary children and whitewashed their faces to appear as Holocaust survivors. Simon Wiesenthal noted, “Helnwein’s most convincing idea [was] to present this … in such an unconventional manner. He made no use of photos of heaped corpses; children’s portraits force the observer to stop and consider this idea.”

Many of the images were slashed across the neck and one was stolen. Rachel Schmeidler, one of the founders of gallery, contacted Helnwein after hearing him speak about the exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance last year.

Since then, Helnwein has exhibited the works damaged, demonstrating the continued need to speak out against the horrors of the Holocaust and persecution everywhere. This commitment has been lauded by Wiesenthal: “….His images are a constant silent appeal against collective denial and repression.”

Some of Helnwein’s images have joined the pantheon of pop culture. Many would instantly recognize images from his “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” series: the painting, “Nighthawks,” his appropriation of Edward Hopper’s 1942 work of the same name, of lonely diner patrons, in which Helnwein substitutes James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and Humphrey Bogart as the patrons.

William Burroughs said that the American revolution begins in books and music, and political operatives implement the changes after the fact. To this maybe we can add art. And Helnwein’s art might have the capacity to instigate change by piercing the veil of political correctness to recapture the primitive gesture inherent in art.

The exhibit runs through July 24 at Schmeidler-Goetz/Los Angeles Rectangle Gallery, 9013 1/2 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. The gallery is open 6-9 p.m. (Friday), noon-5 p.m. (Sat. and Sun.) and by appointment. For more information, call (310) 273-0135. To see Helnwin’s art online visit

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

More More. Celebrity Staged Play Reading producer-director Alexandra More presents another installment in the series tonight and tomorrow. “The Floating Lightbulb” is a bittersweet coming-of-age comedy penned by Woody Allen that revolves around a Canarsie family in 1945. The title references the older son’s dream of becoming a magician as a way out of his depressed surroundings. Alan Blumenfeld, Richard Fancy and Katherine James star.$10-$14. Nov. 22, 7:30 p.m., Valley Cities JCC, 13164 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 786-6310.Nov. 23, 2 p.m., Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 938-2531, ext. 2225.

Sunday

The Skirball shows the accordion due respect this evening as they present Grammy Award-winning accordionist Flaco Jimenez in concert. Jimenez and his ensemble perform traditional South Texas conjunto and Tejano music as part of the cultural center’s ongoing American Dream Music Series, which coincides with its exhibit, “The Photograph and the American Dream.”7 p.m. $10-$18. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 655-8587.

Monday

Neile Adams — singer, horse breeder, trapeze aficionado and ex-wife of Steve McQueen — clearly wears many hats. Tonight, she tips hers to Broadway songwriters Jerry Herman, Rodgers and Hart, Lieber and Stoller and Mel Brooks, performing their songs in “Neile Adams: The Child in Me.” Her show at the Gardenia continues for two more Mondays through Dec. 8.9 p.m. $15 (cover). Tom Rolla’s Gardenia, 7066 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 467-7444.

Tuesday

In the aptly titled “Timekeeper” exhibition, Stephen Cohen Gallery displays a retrospective of photographs by Anthony Friedkin. His 30 years as a fine-art photographer, film unit still photographer and photojournalist (Newsweek and Rolling Stone) are all represented in the collection. There are images from projects including The Gay Essay, The “Le Mer” Series and The Beverly Hills Essay. Tony Friedkin’s art also hangs in LACMA, George Eastman House and the J. Paul Getty Museum, but Cohen Gallery features a considerable selection through Dec. 31.11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Saturday). 7358 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 937-5525.

Wednesday

Chanukah comes early this year for choral Yiddish musiclovers. Thank Mark Zuckerman and the Goldene Keyt Singers for this miracle. TheCD is titled “The Year in Yiddish Song,” because, Zuckerman writes, “thesequence of the songs reflects the calendar (more or less) of the EasternEuropean Jewish immigrants to America.” It includes old faves like “Ikh bin akleyner dreydl” (that’s “I am a Little Dreydl,”) and “Bay mir bistu sheyn.” $15.www.centaurrecords.com

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Thursday

You’ve been giving thanks all damn day. Take a timeoutwith this week’s Jewish Book Month suggestion: Sol Wachtler’s and David S.Gould’s legal thriller “Blood Brothers.” Legal wizzes Wachtler and Gould, whoserved as New York State chief judge and assistant United States attorney,respectively, put their knowledge to good use for this courtroom drama thatreunites childhood “blood brothers” who have taken different life paths. $24.95.www.amazon.com .

Friday

For those predisposed to road rage or parking lot paroxysms, may we suggest avoiding the malls in favor of a second look at one of LACMA’s collections. “Revisiting the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection of Photographic Self-Portraits” runs through Jan. 11, and gives you the opportunity to do just as the title suggests. Divided into thematic sections, the exhibit illustrates the ways in which artists have explored ideas of “identity, culture and art-making itself.”Noon-9 p.m. (Friday), noon-8 p.m. (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday), 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (Saturday and Sunday). Free (children 17 and under), $5-$9 (general). 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6000.

Mom, Can We Keep Him?


If your kids are out of the house and you’re experiencing empty-nest syndrome, how about considering adoption? Don’t worry though, this adoptee will be pretty low-maintenance — all he needs is a caring family, food, water and, of course, plenty of fly-repellent gel.

The adoptees are donkeys that are a part of the Israel-based charity, Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land (SHADH). The U.K.-registered organization was founded to rescue and protect abused and abandoned donkeys and mules in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Apparently, the beasts of burden are so greatly burdened in the Middle East that they have captured the attention of SHADH, animal rights activists and concerned families around the globe. Sold for as little as 100 shekels (approximately $20) in Israel and the disputed territories, there is very little value attached to a donkey’s well-being. As a result, when donkeys are injured, sick or too old to work, they are often abandoned and left to starve; many suffer from abuse.

Founded by Lucy Fensom, a former

airline stewardess, SHADH is dedicated to the rescue of these oppressed animals and committed to improving their plight through community-wide education. Abandoned donkeys are taken to SHADH’s “Safe Haven,” located 40 minutes from Tel Aviv at Moshav Gan Yoshiya, where they can live in a safe and protected environment. There are currently 29 donkeys at Safe Haven and all are up for adoption for only $6 per month.

While the animals must stay at Safe Haven — they don’t make great house pets — families will receive a photograph of their donkey, an official certificate of adoption — and full visitation rights.

For more information on adopting a donkey, visit

Tragedy or Exploitation?


The photograph of the Palestinian father cradling his terrified son moments before the boy was killed in Gaza this fall was viewed live on television and reproduced on the front pages of newspapers around the globe. Like the photograph of the boy with hands raised standing in the Warsaw Ghetto, nobody who saw desperate Jamal Al-Durrah vainly trying to shield 12-year-old Mohammed can ever forget the terror in their eyes.

From the day that the French television photographer snapped the pictures, the image has mesmerized the world. For Arabs, Mohammed became an icon for all victims of the intifada; his image plastered on countess posters. In Egypt, even tissue boxes were manufactured bearing his likeness.

His father, himself wounded, was interviewed by the world’s leading journalists, appearing on prime-time television in the United States. There was a media pilgrimage to Amman to conduct interviews by Al-Durrah’s hospital bedside. Israeli journalists joined in; Al-Durrah appeared in the Israeli press, on radio and on television.

Israel was well aware of the extremely negative propaganda effect of this incident. Although shortly afterwards the Israel Defense Forces accepted responsibility for Mohammed’s death, some insiders felt this admission was rash and premature. Among them was Maj. Gen. Yom Tov Samia, the army’s southern commander. Samia conducted an investigation and an abortive campaign to reenact the shooting in an effort to prove that it was Palestinian shooters who had felled the boy. But the Israeli army had already demolished the wall against which the pair had leaned. Samia’s efforts came to naught. The picture had done its damage, or its work, depending on one’s point of view. Even if it could be scientifically proven that Israelis hadn’t fired the lethal shots, it didn’t really matter to the world any more.

Now, more than four months later, the photo is once again in the spotlight.

MSNBC is currently conducting a public poll on its Web site to choose the photograph of the year 2000. To date, 480,000 votes have been cast for 49 entries. The shot of Al-Durrah and his son, titled “A Death in Gaza,” has garnered more than 39,000 votes and is currently in sixth place. The five ahead of it are all sentimental images of animals.

A callous propaganda war is raging to exploit this personal tragedy. In recent days, Jews have received e-mails informing them of the poll and urging them to vote for other photos, trying to calculate which has the best chance of overtaking “A Death in Gaza.” “Obviously,” they write, “we have to try to stop it from winning.” Forward the message on to “everyone you know as well!” instructs the e-mail. Instead of taking the lesson of the picture to heart, people who ought most to be disturbed by its implications are implored to try to minimize it.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians are busy disseminating e-mails, too, instructing exactly where to click in order to vote for “A Death in Gaza.” They stress the importance of casting a ballot, since winning may get it renewed exposure, and caution that “once the opposition sees this they will also begin to vote heavily.” Apparently this tactic is not a new one, for the Palestinian e-mail continues: “In the past, we have generally managed to outvote them!”

As bloody as our days have become, it has been said that the real war is the war of the media. Unlike claims that horrific scenes are often staged by cameramen anxious for a scoop, no one dreams of impugning the integrity of the photograph of Al-Durrah and his late son. Yet there seems no limit to the lengths taken to hit home one’s point of view.

The wrong conclusion to reach after reading about the MSNBC poll is to race to one’s computer and to vote either for or against “A Death in Gaza.” An ideological vote either way compromises the voter’s integrity and demeans the dignity of the subjects.

If one picture is worth a thousand words, this one may well be worth a million. Its real lesson is to put all parents in the Middle East on notice. If the perverted hatred which fuels some on both sides overtakes us all, every parent — Arab or Jew — is in jeopardy. Even the parent who tries to keep his children safely inside, out of harm’s way, may some day find himself crouching in front of a stone wall trying to shield a son or daughter, both of them caught in the crossfire. And chances are, no one will be around to take their picture.

Tough Jews


As twilight descended upon the forest of Ponar, Rich Cohen gazed upon the green canyons where the Vilna Jews died in the Shoah. He took photographs of the treetops, thinking of a survivor who had stared at the same trees while feigning death in one of the mass graves. “I knew that the roots of everything growing were in ashes,” says Cohen, the 32-year-old author of the Jewish-gangster tome, “Tough Jews.”

Chicago-bred Cohen was researching a book on a very different kind of tough Jew: the partisans who blew up Nazi trains and poisoned thousands of former SS solders after the war. “The Avengers: A Jewish War Story” is the tale of the cell led by Abba Kovner, Kovner’s future wife, Vitka, and Cohen’s cousin, Ruzka, for whom Ponar was the call to arms. “Abba never visited Ponar, but he knew it was there,” says Cohen, who began his career in the mail room of The New Yorker. “For me, going there was like reaching the place the world ended.”

The story has preoccupied Cohen since he was 9, when he first encountered the Avengers after a dusty ride down a bumpy trail to a kibbutz. There he met Ruzka, his grandmother’s niece, the sole survivor of her Polish family; she was a slight, rugged-faced woman who immediately introduced him to a steely thin man who “looked like an Old World prophet,” Cohen writes. By his side, never out of whispering distance, was the lanky Vitka; as the day passed, their stories emerged of outlandish plots carried out against the Germans. Cohen stared at a black-and-white photograph of the trio wielding machine guns (it now graces the cover of “The Avengers”) and knew he would write about it one day. “The sky outside filled with stars. Constellations wheeled,” he recalls. “I suppose I was obsessed.”

For Cohen, the Avengers offered a version of history different from what he saw in the popular culture; the same media that depicted Jews as nebbishy white-collar types. A short, cocky kid who learned how to bully the bullies on the ice during hockey games, he was more riveted by the stories his grandparents told about the Murder, Inc. mobsters who had frequented their Brooklyn diner. They were guys like Tick-Tock Tannenbaum and Abe “Kid Twist” Reles. Reles chivalrously drove Cohen’s grandma to the hospital when she went into labor; later he was thrown out a window at the Half Moon Hotel. If the story of the gangsters is connected with the story of the Avengers, it’s that both act outside the Jewish stereotype, Cohen says.For decades, the story of the Avengers remained secret; Abba worried their actions could be used by Israel’s enemies to excuse terrorist attacks. But one evening on the kibbutz in the late 1990s, Vitka was ready to talk. She led Cohen to two graves on the edge of the cooperative’s cemetery: Abba and Ruzka, buried just a few feet apart, next to a third, empty plot – her own. She didn’t want the story to die with her. For several months in 1998, Cohen moved into a kibbutz guest cottage and interviewed Vitka and other Avengers on neighboring kibbutzim. If they refused to talk, Vitka had only to utter the magic words: “Rich is a cousin of Ruzka’s.”

While Vitka refused to accompany Cohen to Ponar, “The Avengers” helped her achieve another closure of sorts. All her life, she had hated Jacob Gens, the Jewish Vilna ghetto chief who had cooperated with the Nazis. “But she said the way I wrote the book enabled her to see Gens in a different way, as a good man living in the wrong time,” Cohen reports. “She said she didn’t hate him anymore.” – Naomi Pfefferman, Entertainment Editor

Etz Jacob: The Shul that Could


Etz Jacob Congregation (above); President Bernard Abend (left)and Rabbi Rubin Huttler (right).

 

Attention,anyone who was ever married or bar mitzvahed at Etz JacobCongregation at 7659 Beverly Blvd.: The shul wants testimonials,photographs and memorabilia for an exhibit honoring its 80thanniversary. The temple is the oldest in Beverly-Fairfax, and,according to Rabbi Rubin Huttler, it’s in large part responsible forcreating the Jewish enclave around Fairfax Avenue.

Today, it perseveres despite the changing demographics, as Jewsare moving to the Valley or the Westside. Huttler struggles to makeends meet with the help of his elderly president, Bernard Abend, “whohas taken us out of crisis after crisis.”

The Orthodox shul’s history begins at the turn of the century,with its founding rabbi, Jacob Bauman, a brilliant scholar fromRiseshitz, Poland. When his son fell ill, the rabbi sought a postoverseas so that he could pay the hospital bills; ultimately, he paid$60 for a steerage ticket to New York and packed kosher food for thefive-day train ride to Los Angeles.

To earn a living, Bauman worked as a shochet, a ritualslaughterer, and in 1918 he founded a congregation in a grandVictorian home at 947 Arapahoe St.

Prohibition brought a bit of drama to this precursor of Etz JacobCongregation. Shul leaders had a permit for the use of ritual wine,but one delivery was stolen when trucks burst into the winery andcrooks tied up the government inspector. The robbery made thenewspaper headlines, the Internal Revenue Service demanded exorbitanttaxes, and it was only after a landmark court case that the rabbi wasexonerated.

Bauman moved the congregation to the Fairfax area almost byaccident. In the early 1930s, he rented a house at 127 S. Martel Ave.to be closer to his grown daughters; he needed a home near thestreetcar line that could get him downtown early for his supervisionjob at the kosher slaughterhouse. Before long, the area’s scatteredJews, who had moved west from Boyle Heights, began to join him for aminyan in his home. The numbers grew so fast that a businessmanpurchased the shul’s current property, a foreclosure at BeverlyBoulevard near Stanley Avenue, for $5,000 in 1933.

A Talmud Torah (religious school) ensued, as did a variety ofJewish services. “I believe Beverly-Fairfax became Beverly-Fairfaxbecause Etz Jacob offered everything a Jew could need, from thecradle to the grave,” says Huttler, who arrived at the shul when itwas still in its heydey, in 1970.

There was a successful Sisterhood and crowded luncheons for whichthe balabustas cooked all day in the synagogue kitchen. Two thousandpeople frequented High Holiday services at three sites.

But by the 1980s, the neighborhood was changing, becoming lessJewish as yuppies moved west and observant Jews moved east to HancockPark and the conservative Orthodox shuls along La Brea. “As amiddle-of-the-road Orthodox synagogue, we’re too modern for a lot ofpeople, and that makes things more challenging for us,” saysHuttler’s wife, Miriam.

Then there was the matter of Etz Jacob’s day school, which Huttlerbegan in 1989 to offer affordable Jewish education to the Russians,Iranians and needy families moving into the area. The problem wasthat most of the children were on scholarship, and the school oftenran hand-to-mouth.

Nevertheless, Etz Jacob persisted, and today it is proving itselfThe Shul that Could. Young couples are enrolling their children inthe Talmud Torah, the only one left in the neighborhood, “which wedecided to keep open no matter what,” Huttler says. A benefactorhelped the day school, which moved from its shabby old premises toits new location on Beverly, six blocks west of the synagogue.

Huttler continues to perform circumcisions and bar mitzvahs forRussian youths, and a successful Iranian minyan endures at the shul,which has about 200 members, half elderly, half young families withchildren.

“We’re reaching out to whomever we can in the area, includingthose who can’t afford expensive synagogue dues,” Huttler says.”We’re challenged to help these people, who don’t seem to have aplace in any other area shul.”

Huttler does not want Etz Jacob to become “another Breed StreetShul, abandoned and boarded up.” Thus, he came up with the idea forthe 80th-anniversary celebration, which will start with a Chanukahdinner on Dec. 28, honoring Judge Bruce Einhorn, and continue with amuseum exhibit, a year’s worth of programming and, most importantly,an endowment fund drive. “We’ve been fighting hard, and we’re stillhere,” Huttler says. “Our goal is to preserve the shul, and we feelwe have an important role to play in keeping Fairfax a traditionalJewish area.”

If you have photos, memories or memorabilia for the shul’s 80thanniversary, call Rabbi Huttler at (213) 938-2619. He’s interested intaking down your oral history.