Saturday, March 26
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels makes an effort at inclusiveness with its new exhibit, “Passion/Passover: Artists of Faith Interpret Their Holy Days.” On view through the month of April, the show features works by seven Jewish and seven Christian artists, including Barbara Drucker, Laurie Gross and the Rev. Michael Tang. Drucker’s contribution is a “Song of Songs”-inspired piece, while Gross’ incorporates the tallit into a work called, “Miriam and the Women.”
6:30 a.m.-6 p.m. (Mon.-Fri.), 9 a.m.-6 p.m. (Sat.), 7 a.m.-6 p.m. (Sun.). 555 W. Temple St., Los Angeles. (213) 680-5224. www.olacathedral.org.
Sunday, March 27
Anne Frank would have been 75 years old this year, had she lived. Celebrate her words and her memory through the play written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” on stage now through April 17 at the Chance Theater.
8 p.m. (Thurs.-Sat.), 2 p.m. (Sun.). $17-$20. 5552 E. Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. (714) 777-3033.
Monday, March 28
Newly released on DVD is the documentary, “Shanghai Ghetto.” Martin Landau narrates the film about the Jews of Shanghai, who escaped Nazi persecution in the Japanese-controlled city, one of the only places that would allow them to enter.
Tuesday, March 29
George Washington gets his mug on a dollar, but what did Martha ever get for her troubles? Cokie Roberts corrects the oversight in her book, “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation,” which becomes the topic of conversation when she visits the Skirball this evening. A book signing follows.
7:30 p.m. $5-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.
Wednesday, March 30
American icon photographer and icon in her own right, Annie Leibovitz, displays her stills of musicians at Fahey/Klein Gallery’s “American Music” exhibition. Images of Willie Nelson, Beck and Michael Stipe are just some you’ll see.
10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.). 148 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 934-2250.
Thursday, March 31
Catch the new Murray Mednick trifecta beginning tonight at Electric Lodge. The first two of his four-part series, “The Gary Plays,” premiere tonight, with the third premiering tomorrow. They follow Gary, a poor former actor dealing with his son’s murder. Stay tuned for news on part four….
8 p.m. (both premieres). $20 (one evening), $30 (both evenings). 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. (310) 823-0710.
Friday, April 1
The first Israeli feature to be screened at Sundance, “Nina’s Tragedies,” premiered in 2004 – then took another year to make it into L.A. and New York theaters. But the wait may well be worth it. The film about a 13-year-old boy’s crush on his beautiful and recently widowed Aunt Nina, and about the other quirky characters that surround him, opens today in Laemmle theaters.
Laemmle Sunset 5, Los Angeles; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena. www.laemmle.com.
A Photographer’s Love Letter to Israel
“So what were my dying words?” Hallie Lerman laughs as she recounts the dream in which she was on her deathbed, surrounded by her husband and two adult daughters. “Not ‘I love you, or take good care of my future grandchildren.’ No. I said, ‘Don’t abandon Israel!”
Lerman, a birdlike, intense writer and photographer, laughs once more at the over-the-top fervor of her dream.
But then again even while awake, she speaks of the Jewish State with the kind of passion one might discuss a lover. The ardor is evident in her simple yet striking new show, “Pictures at an Exhibition,” now at Sinai Temple, her photographic valentine to Israel.
On a recent afternoon at Sinai, Lerman, describes how she began the show during the Iraq War last year.
“The press was so anti-Israel,” she says, scrunching her delicate hands into fists. “The country I knew was not what I saw on TV.”
So Lerman — who says she’s influenced by legendary photojournalist W. Eugene Smith and documentary street photographer Diane Arbus — decided to counter the images with images of her own. She perused the thousands of black-and-white photos she’s taken during more than 30 trips to the Jewish State and selected 50 she felt best “showed the breadth and scope of Israeli life, society, land and people.” She paired each image with pertinent text: “I tried to communicate the beauty and the struggle, the fight and the will … of this extraordinary and unique and profoundly personal country,” she says.
The pictures in her “Exhibition” are haunting: A soldier weighed down with army gear becomes a metaphor for the psychological burden of living in a besieged country; a crevice in a settlement wall looks like the view from a medieval fortress; a sunset in a vast, black sky reflects Lerman’s view of Israel as “my light in a world of darkness.”
OK, she says, pausing during an interview, so perhaps she’s drifting into over-the-top territory again. But she believes her feelings make sense, considering that she grew up in a Bible-Belt town where she keenly felt the sting of living in the Diaspora and what Israel can mean to such Jews.
As a young child in Evansville, Ind., on the Kentucky border, Lerman believed the slur “Rich Jew” was one word.
Nevertheless, Lerman felt fiercely proud of her heritage, courtesy of her strongly Zionistic family. Theodore Herzl had selected her Russian-immigrant grandfather as a delegate to the Zionist conventions of the early 20th century; Lerman’s Brooklyn-bred father learned his own lessons about the importance of a Jewish state while studying medicine in Nazi Germany.
“He saw the Jewish State as a complete miracle, and the key to the survival of the Jewish people,” Lerman recalls.
Her own epiphany came during the Six-Day War, when Evansville’s non-Jews suddenly regarded Jews as heroes, rather than as outsiders.
While hitchhiking around the country at 17, she tagged along on a Christian group tour and marveled: “I’m the Jew, and they’re visiting my country. Having grown up the outsider, it was a feeling of finally coming home.”
Because Lerman eventually married an American, she did not make aliyah. However, because she was “utterly, madly in love with the country,” she frequently visited with her camera in tow — including one memorable trip a month before the Yom Kippur War. During those late summer weeks in 1973, she hung out with her American-born cousin, Jacob Rayman, a 19-year-old army medic, who obtained a 24-hour leave from his base to see her one more time before she returned home. It was the last time she ever saw him.
A month later, her mother phoned with devastating news: Rayman had been sent on a virtual suicide mission to rescue colleagues trapped in a bunker in the Golan Heights. He had died in the first battle of the Yom Kippur war at a tiny outpost called Tel Saki.
Unresolved questions about his death eventually led her to create her acclaimed 2000 book, “Crying for Imma: Battling for the Soul of the Golan Heights” (Night Vision Press, $25), which combines interviews and photos of the soldiers before, during and after the melee. The title came from a soldier who said he cried for his mother during the battle.
The title of her new exhibit, “Pictures,” is deliberately vague. “I didn’t want it to include the word, ‘Israel,’ because I want non-Jews and unaffiliated Jews to see the show,” she says. Her tacit message is, “Don’t abandon Israel.”
“I want people to come fall in love with the country,” she says.
For more information about the show running through June13, visit www.nightvisionpress.com .
Young and Old Recall Shoah Rites
The Haunting of the Weird
Diane Arbus, acknowledged as one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, thought photographs were the ultimate enigma.
“A photograph is a secret about a secret,” she said. “The more it tells you, the less you know.”
Arbus was a pampered Jewish princess turned chronicler of the weird. That she, of all photographers, would characterize photographs as secretive is somewhat paradoxical. Her most famous images have a startling directness about them. The photographs pull back the curtain on a surreptitious underbelly of people that are not “like us.” They expose the sideshow of society, compelling the viewer to confront things that he or she might be embarrassed of and would prefer to not see.
But the directness is deceptive. The images force us to look, but reveal nothing of what we are looking at. Why does the wife in “A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing, New York City” (1966) look like a drag queen impersonating Elizabeth Taylor? Why does the son in that same image look cross-eyed and deranged — is he mugging for the camera, or is his face always like that? And why does the father’s lack of pizzazz seem so horrifying in that context? An Arbus photograph might show, but it never tells.
On Feb. 29, the first major Arbus retrospective since 1972 will open at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “Diane Arbus, Revelations” consists of nearly 200 of the artist’s most significant photographs. The exhibition will also display her contact sheets, cameras, letters and notebooks, to give some indication of Arbus’ working methods and intellectual influences. The exhibition — and the accompanying book of the same name that her daughter, Doon, put together — are the most complete presentation of Arbus’ work and life ever assembled.
“She was really an extraordinary photographer,” said Robert Flick, a photographer who also teaches photography at USC. “What is extraordinary about her is that she seems to know where she can place herself to be at just the right distance from her subjects. [The distance and framing] is always one of intimacy, even when she is looking hard at something.”
Arbus was born Diane Nemerov in 1923 in Manhattan to wealthy Jewish parents who owned upscale clothing stores. Judaism was not the most central aspect of the Nemerovs life, but it was an important identifying feature for them. Part of the “gilded ghetto” — a clique of wealthy Jews who lived uptown, the Nemerovs sent their children to Sunday school, and they celebrated the holidays. When Diane’s sister, Renee, announced that she wanted to marry a non-Jew, her parents tried to buy him off.
Arbus called her JAPy upbringing “irrational” and “unreal,” and later, through her work, she tried to distance herself from it — to find the world that was the antithesis of the one she came from.
Arbus started out as a fashion photographer, working with her husband, Allan Arbus, shooting department store newspaper ads and fashion features for glossy magazines. Later in 1956, when her marriage broke up, Arbus started taking photographs on her own. She became a portrait photographer, and prowled the streets of New York and New Jersey hunting for the subjects that could evince the startling quality that typified so much of her work.
Jewishness was not endemic to Arbus’ work, but nor was it unfamiliar to it. Arbus photographed Jewish matrons in an attempt to study, as Patricia Bosworth puts it in “Diane Arbus, a Biography” (Norton, 1995), “The relationship between role-playing and cultural identity.”
In 1963, Arbus shot “A Jewish couple dancing, N.Y.C” — the middle-aged duo garishly beaming for the camera, insulated from the world in their bourgeois happiness. One of Arbus’ canonical images is of a Jew. “A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y” is the photograph of Eddie Carmel, who was 8 feet tall and weighed 495 pounds. Carmel was Arbus’ photographic subject for 10 years, but this photograph alone manages to encapsulate the horror of Carmel’s difference. In it, Carmel’s parents look up at him as if they are distant from their progeny and afraid and bewildered of his size. With his cane, his hunch, the sheepish hand in the pocket, Carmel, too, seems unsure of how he got that way and what the purpose of his size really is.
Arbus’ fascination with the oddities of society fulfilled her artistic drive, but it did little to quell her inner emotional turmoil. Toward the end of her life, Arbus became very depressed. In 1971, at the age of 48, she slit her wrists. She left behind a plethora of images that, even 30 years after her death, still maintain that elusive quality that she infused them with.
“Diane Arbus, Revelations” opens on Feb. 29 at the Los
Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. To purchase
tickets, call (877) 522-6255 or visit www.lacma.org .
Once Upon a Mime
Meant to Be
Earlier this year, two remarkable authors came to town and changed the way I thought about being Jewish.
Frederic Brenner, the French photographer, came to speak about his new book, "Diaspora: Exiles at Home" (HarperCollins). The product of 25 years of work, the book contains photographs of Jews living very different kinds of lives in 45 different countries. The images are powerful, as are the accompanying analyses by some of the great thinkers and writers of our time.
There are photos of the Orthodox celebrating Hoshana Rabah in Mea Shearim, "recreating a Polish shtetl," Brenner saidat a reception in his honor, "a reverse journey." And there was a striking photo of a group of Jewish barbers in the former Soviet Union, taken years after Brenner first photographed them in their native land, now posed together in the Dead Sea, in their new home — reinventing an old life in a new land.
The theme, echoing God’s commandment to Abraham, is a powerful one for Brenner: "Get out of your house where everything is fixed and go into the house of wandering," he said. "Whether we’ve wanted to or not, we’ve been recreating this for 4,000 years."
The photographs manage to capture the obvious physical aspects of this journey, but in doing so, they point to the spiritual aspects, too. The result is that although we’ve wandered as a people, from Cochin to Kiryat Arba to the Conejo Valley, each of us has also embarked on a personal Jewish journey, and the sum total of these is the constant re-imagination of what it means to be Jewish, of Judaism itself.
"Jewish identity belongs to the Jew," Brenner said. "It’s not disappearing, it’s reconfigurating. Each fragment of the puzzle needs the other to exist."
I thought of Brenner when a week later, I sat down to speak with Walter Anderson. On the surface, here are two men with little in common. Anderson is CEO of Parade Publications, publisher of Parade Magazine, the largest circulation weekly in America. He is by appearances a card-carrying member of the Eastern Establishment: good name, major corporate title and those lovely patrician manners.
Imagine my surprise to discover that he’s actually Jewish.
No. Imagine his surprise.
Anderson was a 20-year-old Marine serving in Vietnam, when he returned for his father’s funeral. His father, William Anderson, was a cruel, violent man who beat Anderson mercilessly. After the funeral, Anderson turned to his mother and asked, "The man we just buried … was he my father?"
His mother’s answer — that Anderson’s real father was a Jewish man with whom she had spent a single night of adulterous passion — sent him on a journey of spiritual discovery. In his recent memoir, "Meant to Be" (HarperCollins), Anderson reconstructs the mystery of his past. He is blessed that his guide into this Brave Jew World is his close friend from the world of publishing, Elie Wiesel, who acts as rabbi, muse and sounding board.
The Jewish identity Anderson assembles, the Jewish life he now lives, may lack the memory of grandparents and familiar foods and family holidays, but it is rich in an adult appreciation for the wisdom of his tradition.
"I believe in three things," Anderson told me. "I believe there is one God who is indivisible. I believe we are judged in this life by our behavior. And I believe that though we cannot always choose what happens to us in life, but we can always choose our response."
The impact of his mother’s revelation grew slowly, until he found himself on a work-related trip standing before the memorial to the Jews massacred at Babi Yar. "That moment hit me like a slap," he said. "It forced me to recognize who I am. I’m not different from these people. I am of these people."
I found Anderson’s book — and Anderson himself — very moving. His is not only a great story well told, it is in a sense the story of every Jew I know. As much as his Jewishness was revealed to him, Anderson also had to choose how and why to be a Jew.
Making that choice, making it consciously, wisely, with knowledge and passion, is a task each of us faces. It is a personal task with communal consequences.
When I asked Anderson how he responds to those who won’t accept him as Jewish according to some interpretations of Jewish law, he waved it off. "You don’t hold the keys to the club I’m joining," he said. "I know who I am."
Last week, a Hillel Foundation study revealed that today’s college-age Jews are almost evenly divided between those with two Jewish parents and those with only one. The study "underscores what we’ve been saying all along," Paul Golin, spokesman for the Jewish Outreach Institute, told a reporter. These students are on a journey toward forming their identity, and the Jewish community should reach out, constantly and creatively, to help them along. Quite simply, the next generation of Jewish identity is up for grabs.
I might start by sending Anderson around to college campuses. He can tell them that despite his book’s title, the truth is that we are not meant to be anything other than what we choose.
Painting Through the Pain
Adding Soul to the Syllabus
One by one, a class of sixth-graders read aloud a passage and title that each has selected to go with one of Zion Ozeri’s striking black-and-white portraits.
Seated with the young critics at Morasha Jewish Day School, the New York photographer seems pleased when students accurately discern the context of his untitled images, which the students have filtered through their study of Jewish values.
Neither does he hesitate to crib from one who summoned a particularly apt metaphor for a photo of candle lighting. “What was that title?” he asked, scrambling for pen and paper during a morning-long session last month.
Ozeri is the third visual artist invited in two years to the 110-student school, the county’s smallest day school, located in Rancho Santa Margarita. The school’s progressive director, Eve Fein, is convinced that art can be an educator’s most powerful resource for giving dimension to abstract concepts from books.
“These are Jewish artists interested in making Judaism relevant by making traditions meaningful,” Fein said about Ozeri and other artists who have visited — a muralist and a ritual object maker.
The photographer’s muse is his Yemeni parents’ first home in Israel, a tented camp near Tel Aviv where a half-dozen languages and cultures mixed. His images capture disappearing traditions of his parents’ generation and evolved to focus on contrasts between generations.
The catalyst behind Fein’s creative approach to education is a high-minded, three-year research initiative whose outcome will defy objective measure. The aim is to add soul to the school syllabus.
Along the way, the surprising result at Morasha and other sites is a change of campus culture that redirects parents and staff every bit as much as students. The outcome is getting attention from national authorities in Jewish education, such as the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education.
Morasha is one of eight schools selected nationwide to participate in the research, known as Jewish Day Schools for the 21st Century (JDS-21). It is underwritten by New York’s Avi Chai Foundation and directed by Michael Zeldin, a professor of Jewish education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s school of education.
While last century’s Jewish immigrants learned American values in day schools, Zeldin contends most teachers are poorly prepared to make the intercurricular connections expected of contemporary instructors. His premise is that day school students, removed from their immersion in American culture, should be absorbing more than secular subjects and Judaica. Parents, staff and the school environment all should support seizing Jewish moments in the academic day.
Zeldin’s proposed solution is deceptively simple. He asks administrators to use Jewish texts to start a campus conversation about identifying the school’s values; to find an imaginative way to express them; and to develop ways to integrate them into the school.
“Other schools have values like honesty and integrity, but they are not Jewish values tied to text,” said Zeldin, noting that a contemporary rabbi suggested a Jewish path exists to universal values. “This helps schools set a Jewish path,” Zeldin said.
It took two years for Morasha to distill its top 10 values: repairing the world, greater Jewry, faith, being a good person, Israel, prayer, education, customs and rituals, respect and community.
Kathleen A. Canter of Aliso Viejo, a parent who chaired Morasha’s CDS-21 task force, discovered that it was an enriching experience to study Jews from antiquity who grapple over values. Values take on deeper meaning when they come from your own history, she said.
Just articulating the values, Fein said, “helps sharpen or deepen their presence in our school.”
She also made the intellectual leap to see values depicted in images by Ozeri, who hopes to use Morasha’s project as a model elsewhere.
The entire sixth-grade class cherry-picked images from Ozeri’s portfolio that captured each of the school’s values. Before the photographer’s visit, students looked for texts to support their assumptions about the photos. The final piece was to give students a disposable camera to capture on film an image showing a Jewish value. Ozeri offered expert advice on composition. “You don’t have to go to India, like I did,” he said. “Use what you have.”
“This is nothing new,” said Lili B. Landman of Aliso Viejo, a mother with two girls at the school, who videotaped Ozeri’s presentation. “This school encourages [students] to go out and explore. It’s a different way of learning, with a camera. But they’ve done it in other ways, too.”
Zeldin applauds Fein for finding an innovative method to evoke the school’s values. “It’s the perfect point of entry because it speaks the language of children,” he said, who are visually oriented.
“Art touches the soul in a way spoken language rarely does,” Zeldin said.
Other schools involved also focused their agenda around Jewish values. Parents at the Rashi School of Newton, Mass., for example, were determined that the value of respect, recognized for teachers and students, also extend to them. Text study at the Pardes School in Arizona deepened surface relationships and provided a common language between parents and educators, who often spew jargon.
Some schools, which Zeldin declined to identify, lose patience with the process. “This process is meant to transform the ways schools do business,” Zeldin said. “To get there takes time. The detractors say, ‘Can’t we come up with a program for Jewish learning without the text?'”
Those engaged in the JDS-21 project are changed by it, he said, describing one task force that for a mutual friend decided to jointly purchase a gift. Their Shabbat-basket wedding gift included candlesticks, candles, wine and Jewish texts on love. “It was so meaningful for them to gather the text,” Zeldin said.
“Every time I hear those stories, I’m astounded,” he said. “The byproduct is more powerful than the product.”
Crafts Revitalize Israeli Spirit
Censoring Mr. Spock
Naked women covered in … tallitot and tefillin? The black-and-white photographs in "Shekhina" (Umbrage Editions, $39.95) a new book by Leonard Nimoy — a.k.a. "Star Trek’s" Mr. Spock — have ignited a debate in the Jewish community over art and censorship.
The storm over "Shekhina" — a kabbalistic term for the feminine aspect of the divine spirit — erupted after Nimoy embarked on a 26-city promotional tour that included a lecture at the Skirball Cultural Center last September.
Nimoy backed out of an Oct. 23 Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle fundraising dinner after a dispute began over his desire to show slides and discuss his monograph.
Barry Goren, executive director of the Seattle federation, said the group was not trying to act as some kind of "Ayatollah Khomeini," but felt it wasn’t a good idea to have Nimoy show potentially controversial slides at the dinner.
Nimoy’s works exploring Judaism and kabbalah blend light and shadow, figures and abstraction. Most of the book’s 54 photos are of nude women, many wearing prayer shawls and tefillin.
Nimoy, for his part, is not entirely upset by his 15 minutes of infamy.
"Let’s face it: I did the book in order to shine a light on an idea," he said, and the Seattle’s Jewish federation "shined a light on my book." — Joe Berkofsky, Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Tribemembers With Halos
Magnolias and Menorahs
“Shalom Y’all: Images of Jewish Life in the American South” photography by Bill Aron, text by Vicki Reikes Fox (Algonquin Books, $24.95).
While the idea of Southern Jews may be as improbable for some as snacking on matzah while drinking a mint julep, in fact, the American South has had a thriving Jewish community since the early 1700s.
In their new book, “Shalom Y’all: Images of Jewish Life in the American South” photographer Bill Aron and writer Vicki Reikes Fox have complied a series of joyful black-and-white photographs and text celebrating this dual community: Southerners as defined by their location and lifestyle, Jews by virtue of their religion and their heritage.
Although the Jewish South has gained increased prominence in the popular imagination over the last few years — with books such as “The Ladies Auxiliary” about Memphis Jews by Tova Mirvis (Ballantine Books, 2000) and “My Father’s People” (Louisiana State University Press, 2002), a memoir of growing up Jewish in the South by Louis Decimus Rubin — “Shalom Y’all” is the first book to document modern Southern Jews with photography.
While the original Jewish settlers in the South during the 1700s were Sephardic, Ashkenazic Jewish peddlers were instrumental in helping to settle the South throughout much of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Traveling from town to town to sell their wares, they eventually established stores and raised families. They participated in civic life, built synagogues and established cemeteries.
“Southern and Jewish are two words not often associated with each other,” said Aron, whose poetic images of Jews in America and abroad are featured prominently in collections from the Museum of Modern Art to the Skirball Cultural Center. Aron said that “Shalom Y’all” attempts to link them in a comprehensive look at the Southern Jewish experience. “The book presents a multidimensional portrait of contemporary Jewish life in the deep South as it has evolved from the early 1700s.”
That evolution has taken Jews from being peddlers to politicians. Aron tried to preserve the unique traditions of the Southern Jews he encountered. He captured sukkot decorated with recently harvested cotton in Mississippi; Joe’s Dreyfus Store Restaurant, opened in the late 1800s by Theodore Dreyfus in Lavonia, La., and a Jewish shrimper in New Orleans.
Over the last 12 years, the writer and photographer traveled throughout the deep South to Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama, photographing and collecting stories about the Southern Jewish life. “We tried to tell the unique story of the Southern Jewish experience through three distinct voices: Photographs, a narrative woven into descriptive captions of the photographs and stories told by Southern Jews about being Jewish in the South,” Aron explained.
Joe Erber, one of Aron’s subjects who lives in Greenwood, Miss., spoke of the dual identity he faced as a Southern Jew, “When I started school at Peter Rabbit kindergarten, I learned ‘Shema Yisrael’ was for home and synagogue, and ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ was for kindergarten.”
Most of their subjects handled their hyphenated identity with an ease and grace that surprised Aron, who for his entire life has lived in cities with large Jewish populations — Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.
“As a Jew who lives surrounded by Jews, you take a sense of normalcy in being Jewish for granted. The real difference between Southern Jews and big-city Jews is that when you’re in the big city you happen to be Jewish; when you are in the South your Judaism brands you.”
Aron and Fox were linked to their subjects by the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, just outside Jackson, Miss., of which Fox is a founding project director. While at the museum, Fox had the idea of going around to photograph the disappearing small-town Jewish communities and the vibrant large-city communities in the South, which the museum was documenting, and brought Aron to the project. An exhibit of the photographs has been organized by the Skirball Cultural Center and will debut there Dec. 12. It will then travel across the country.
Fox, a native of Hattiesburg, Miss., has kept her lilting accent despite having lived in Los Angeles for 17 years. “This project gave me the opportunity to tell the story of my heritage,” Fox told The Journal. “We were also able to tell the story of Southern Jews through an artistic eye. It is a little recognized story outside of the South — its history and complexities are unique from the mainstream Jewish American experience and all the richer for it.”
To learn more about Bill Aron’s work visit
www.billaron.com. To learn more about the Museum of the Southern Jewish
Experience, which is part of the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern
Jewish Life, visit www.msje.org .
The Spirituality of Separation
Photographer Bernard Mendoza encountered the blond, angelic-faced little boy one Saturday evening outside Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn on La Brea Avenue. “His eyes were wide and bright, his suit just one size too large — room to grow into,” the Venice photographer recalls.
The photo is one of several dozen pictures in Mendoza’s acclaimed photo-documentary, “From Generation to Generation,” which captures the lives of Chassidic Jews in modern America. Inspired by the pre-Holocaust photos of Roman Vishniac, the images depict the shtetl transplanted to Williamsburg and beyond: An elderly, stooped Satmar gazes at the camera with haunted eyes; a Chassid rushes to morning prayers past peeling, Yiddish-language storefronts; a man on a battered bicycle ignores the sexy magazine covers at a newsstand on Fairfax.
The series began when British-born commercial photographer Mendoza, 56, discovered he hated directing TV commercials and decided to embark upon a personal project, one prompted by his reexamination of his Anglicized Jewish roots. Over the next 14 years, he slowly, painstakingly gained access to communities from L.A. to Miami.
“The world of the [Chassidic] Jew is a world that is guarded tenaciously,” Mendoza explains. He blended into the scenery for days at a time at a shul or community center, holding his camera well below face level.Mendoza believes there is a powerful difference between his photographs and those published in Vishniac’s book, “A Vanished World.” “When you look deeply into the eyes of Vishniac’s subjects, there is a sense of fear,” he says. “But the American Chasidim project confidence. … [My] pictures hold testimony that Vishniac’s world did not totally vanish but continues strong and vibrant here in America.””From Generation to Generation” is at the University of Judaism, (310) 476-9777.
The Real King David
A ‘Life’ in Pictures
As a set photographer, Morris Kagan has shot some of the most recognizable stars in the world. His post-production work has covered the gamut — movies like "Titanic" and "Lost World: Jurassic Park."
"A Life of Photography," now exhibiting at the Consulate General of Germany, presents the other side of Kagan’s visual career where, as a photojournalist and artist, Kagan draws on his own experience as the son of Holocaust survivors (who met in an Estonian labor camp) and a past president of Second Generation.
"Wherever I go, my camera goes," Kagan told The Journal.
Indeed, Kagan’s worldly camera was there in 1989, on what would have been Adolph Hitler’s 100th birthday, in the very Braunau, Austria apartment complex where the Nazi dictator was born. And on the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht, that camera captured Helmut Kohl delivering a speech — the powerful image became a Jewish Journal cover.
"Clearly we grew up with signs of the Holocaust around our home," said Kagan, whose late father’s remembrance-themed artwork hangs in the houses of people such as Steven Spielberg. "But all of our lives we were told that the Germans were murderers, it’s in their nature. Something didn’t sit right with me. I needed to know that this next generation of Germans were not like their parents."
In fact, Kagan forged a friendship with Cornelius Schnauber, whose father was a Nazi, that has translated into nearly two decades of German-Jewish dialogues with other second-generation Jews and Germans.
If anything, Kagan hopes that the Holocaust-themed work in "A Life" will "convey the emotion, the faces of survivors and also those who may have been the other side, the perpetrators."
More than 30 images will comprise "A Life of Photography," which will feature Holocaust-related imagery, but also captures the 1992 L.A. riots and an L.A. gay/lesbian parade. Ultimately, the creative rewards for Kagan are "being able to observe something and reproduce it as faithfully as possible and as honestly as possible. I don’t want to romanticize things, yet I want to convey the emotion, the tone of the moment as much as possible and not misrepresent what we see."
Morris Kagan’s "A Life of Photography" has its opening reception on Thurs., Feb. 22, from 5 p.m.-7 p.m, at the Consulate General of Germany. The exhibit runs through April 5. For more information, call (323) 930-2703.
Thanks for the Memories
Imagine having a career where you killed time by palling around with Bob Hope, photographing Marilyn Monroe, enjoying a beverage at Marlon Brando’s Hollywood Hills home. Murray Garrett had that career.Until his retirement in 1972, Garrett specialized as a freelance Hollywood photographer, tackling assignments for Life and Look. Along the way, Garrett found himself privy to magical moments millions of America’s stargazers could only read about in magazines. Garrett, 74, has compiled 150 of his best black-and-whites for “Hollywood Candid, A Photographer Remembers” (Abrams).
Garrett’s story starts out like that of many a Jew of his generation. He grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the son of Russian Jewish parents, and attended Tilden High. But his story took a sharp turn the day the young photog arrived in L.A. to oversee a photo studio. The rest, to paraphrase an old cliché, is visual history.
For decades, Garrett worked as Hope’s official photographer, gamely traveling the world. Said Garrett, “He knew from bad times. He knew he was blessed.”
Hope leads a roster of comedians filling the “Comics” section of “Hollywood Candid,” which features a shot of Lou Costello wearing a Mickey Mouse Club life preserver, being dragged into the Dunes Hotel pool by a showgirl. The picture is priceless yet poignant, considering how the comic lost his only son to a swimming pool accident.
Garrett’s book is loaded with starlets such as Natalie Wood, whom the photographer enviably captured at her Sinatra-thrown 21st birthday party. That assignment would prove bittersweet for Garrett, who remembers a banner teasing Wood for her prelegal partying; chilling in light of the alcohol-related circumstances surrounding her 1981 drowning death.
According to Garrett, Humphrey Bogart was gruff but likable, and Frank Sinatra and Yul Brynner were paradoxical personalities – alternately warm and cold. As for Brando, Garrett was warned about what a real S.O.B. the actor could be. When Garrett visited his Benedict Canyon home for Time magazine, Brando, in fact, was very hospitable and gave Garrett some of the best pix of his career. The lighthearted shots capture a post-“The Wild One” Brando in peak physical form, relaxing with his cat and listening to records on his record player (the latter a picture Tommy Tune wanted to buy).
Despite his Hollywood adventures, Garrett’s dream gig would have been as official White House photographer. Occasionally, he did sneak a sip of that ambrosia, snapping Truman, Kennedy and Nixon. But with pictures of Liz Taylor in London’s National Portrait Gallery, Garrett has done all right as a chronicler of Hollywood’s golden years. He held a mirror to a time when Bogey called the shots; when Brando was a fascinating enigma; when Wood’s preternatural beauty was still with us. Garrett was there with his Roloflex and a sharp eye. Thanks to him, we were there, too.
Murray Garrett’s work will show at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum through Nov. 25. For information, contact the Museum at (323) 465-7900.
7 Days in the Arts
Capturing Life’s Inner Journey On Film
“Those who say the body and soul are different have neither.” – Oscar Wilde
In the new book “The Soul Aflame” (Conari Press/Raincoast Books), Eric Lawton’s latest collection of photographs, with text by Phil Cousineau, the introduction evokes the age-old enigma of where the soul resides. While Aztecs and Mayans believe the vital spark was in the blood, Cousineau’s text explains, the Dayaks of Borneo and the ancient Celts regarded the soul as being in the head, while the ancient Egyptians thought the soul lay in the tongue, and the classical Greeks were convinced the soul hovered in the joints of the body. Still other cultures targeted the spinal marrow,seminal fluid, brain, hair and nails.
But judging from “The Soul Aflame,” Lawton believes it resides somewhere in the eye. Not in the cornea or the pupil, but in the iris of his camera.
A student of photography since his UCLA days, Lawton served on the 1984 Olympics Cultural and Fine Arts Advisory Commission for the Olympic Arts Festival. He has produced multimedia montages with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl and has collaborated with artists such as the Doors’John Densmore. Most recently, his work was exhibited at the Consulate General of Israel’s Israeli Independence celebration at Bergamot Station.
Back in the late 1970s, Lawton abandoned a burgeoning law career to travel the world and capture it on film. Lawton has collaborated with Cousineau – who had worked with Joseph Campbell on a documentary called “The Hero’s Journal” – since their days circulating in the writers’ and artists’ circles of San Francisco’s North Beach.
“We struck up a conversation that’s been going on for 15 years,” Lawton says.
Their first book, “The Soul of the World” (HarperCollins), came out in 1993 and visually addressed great traditional landscapes from around the globe. Their latest, “Soul Aflame,” takes the opposite tack.”It’s an inward journey,” says Lawton, who adds that both books hearken back to the medieval “illuminated manuscripts where there’s an inspirational painting on one side with a passage of text on the other.”And what strange bedfellows the authors quoted in “Soul Aflame” – words of wisdom, flanking the exotic photographs, include Martin Luther King Jr., Woody Allen, IngmarBergman, Aretha Franklin, and Percy Shelley.
The images are striking. Culled from Lawton’s many journeys to Asia and the Middle East, they literally are all over the map, presenting meditations of the soul: a Burmese woman kneeling with clasped hands, speaking to her god; a serene boat ride across a blue Chinese landscape; a portrait of a boy from Guanajuato in military garb, his eyes pensive; a time-worn visage of an old Asian man; a shot of a religious Jew against the vast, tie-dyed Judean Desert sky.Weaned on the images of Life photographer W. Eugene Smith and Alfred Stieglitz, Lawton is equally moved by the Campbellian notion of “going out into the world, finding some wisdom, and bringing back the experience. Part of going out in the world is bringing things back in.”
These days, Lawton doesn’t travel as much. He divides his time between working at the Century City-based law firm Mahoney, Coppenrath & Jaffe, and enjoying life with his wife,Gail, and their young daughters, Rebecca and Alexandra.
And he is pleased that his children are picking up paintbrushes and starting to findtheir artistic voices. He calls this “transmission from the elders to the children” – a recurring theme in his life and his work, the “ultimate joy.”
Eric Lawton will sign “The Soul Aflame” at Barnes & Noble, 13400 Maxella, Marina del Rey, on Thurs.
Like many a success story, it all started as a joke.
Dave Golding, a major Hollywood publicist, asked neophyte photographer Phil Stern to document the filming of “Guys and Dolls.” As a favor to his father, who worked on The Forward, Golding asked Stern to photograph Marlon Brando reading a copy of the Yiddish-language paper.
What began as a lark became a three-decade obsession for Stern, who always kept a copy of the newspaper handy and ready for any opportunity to stage a shot of an unlikely celebrity reader. A batch from The Forward series is currently on display at the Workman’s Circle.
“That [group of photos] was a departure,” says Stern, 79, who started out as a combat photog in World War II. “My work gave me access to these people. They are all the most improbable pairings: Spencer Tracy…Alfred Hitchcock reading the Daily Forward. They are all…choreographed from an evil-minded photographer.”
Over the years, Jack Lemmon, Jimmy Stewart, Jean Simmons and James Garner all followed suit. Stern was often surprised at the willingness of many stars to pose with the paper.
“People like Sinatra, who normally would not do it…he was delighted; he jumped at the opportunity,” he said.
Hanging out on the sets of movies, Stern frequently befriended the stars he stalked with his 35mm. He playfully referred to Kirk Douglas as “Kirkala” and remembers a time, on the Yugoslav location for “The Light at the Edge of the World,” when he won over star Yul Brynner with a knapsack filled with mussels.
“I love mussels, and so did he,” says Stern. “I went to a market and brought back a knapsack [filled with] mussels, and [Brynner] had a big trailer with a kitchen in it…. He cooked up mussels with the wine sauce and the dip [etc.], all made from scratch. It was a gourmet tour de force.”
These days, Stern spends most of his time snapping pictures of his grandchildren. He finds today’s entertainment culture alien to his sensibilities, and although he recognizes and admires talents such as Jerry Seinfeld and Robert De Niro, he does not lament missing his chance to photograph them. Instead, says Stern, “I’m recycling my youth,” referring to the archives of his past photography he is in the process of cataloging. Since retreating from Hollywood’s front lines in 1983, Stern and his vintage material have been in hot demand, particularly images he took of Hollywood martyrs Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.
Says Stern, “I get queried almost every day.”
Proof positive (or, in his case, negative) appears in a recent New Yorker, which featured one of his Marilyns. The current Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair also boasts a Stern classic — Sammy Davis Jr. and Kim Novak.
Unlike Dean and Brando, Stern never got to know the former Norma Jean Baker, but is proud of his extensive professional relationship with the legendary sex symbol. “I don’t say that in the sense of arrogance in any way; I have a track record…magazine covers, posters.”
Phil Stern will appear at The Workmen’s Circle on Friday, April 23, at 7:30 p.m. Also at the event, the film, “The Jewish Daily Forward: From Immigrants to Americans,” will be screened. Call (310) 552-2007 — Michael Aushenker, Community Editor
Images of Israel
Robert Cumins was working on the staff of his junior high school paper in Fair Lawn, N.J., when he had his first scoop.
He sent a note to Pierre Salinger, then press secretary to President Kennedy, asking for an interview. Salinger invited Cumins to the White House, where the 14-year-old attended presidential press conferences and welcoming ceremonies with visiting dignitaries.
Cumins’ stories not only ran in his school paper, but the tale of the chutzpadik teen who wangled his way into the White House was also picked up by his hometown newspaper and The Associated Press. It was Cumins’ launch into the national — and, eventually, international — scene.
He became a professional photojournalist whose work has been featured on the covers of Time and Newsweek and in magazines and newspapers around the globe. Starting with the Camp David Accords, Cumins has photographed every major peace summit and signing involving Israel, including the famous four-second handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat in 1993.
Beginning with a trip to Israel in 1973, Cumins has visited the Jewish state more than 100 times.
Ten of Cumins’ pictures, along with the work by five other well-known photographers (such as Journal photographers Shlomit Levy, Bill Aron and Jill Lichtenstein) and 47 local photographers, are included in “Images of Israel: A Photographic Perspective of Israel at 50 Years,” an exhibition that opens this weekend at Christie’s Los Angeles. All photos are for sale, with 25 percent of the proceeds going to benefit the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ United Jewish Fund. The Federation is sponsoring the show.
“Images of Israel” will be on view from Dec. 13 to 17. Gallery hours are from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Christie’s is located at 360 N. Camden Drive in Beverly Hills. For information, or to arrange tours, call the Federation at (323) 761-8122.