Lines, color and war: Painting as a form of healing
In the summer of 2014, images of war filled our television and computer screens as Israel bombed the Gaza Strip and Hamas launched rockets into Israel. Palestinian casualties heavily outnumbered Israeli deaths (more than 2,100 Palestinians compared with fewer than 100 Israelis, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). As tempers flared and fingers were pointed, media reports of the war’s toll in Gaza were criticized as anti-Israel propaganda.
Los Angeles artist Jaime Scholnick watched the bloody images with horror and helplessness. Not knowing what else to do, she printed out copies of the photographs that filled her Facebook feed, and began drawing over them with a metallic pen and acrylic paint.
Fifty of those images are on display in an exhibition titled “Gaza: Mowing the Lawn,” at the CB1 Gallery in downtown L.A. through July 18. The exhibition’s name comes from a term the Israeli military uses to explain the occasional bombing of Palestinian residents. The number of images corresponds to the 50 days of Israel’s systematic bombardment of Gaza in July and August last year.
“I could have looked away,” Scholnick said in an interview at the gallery. “That’s my problem, I guess. I keep wondering, ‘Are you a masochist? Do you like feeling pain?’ I don’t know.”
The images are abstract, with lines of red, yellow, black, white and blue obscuring the details of the photographs. Yet the emotional impact is felt just as strongly. If anything, the comic-book-like illustrations heighten the drama of the suffering victims. Crying fathers holding their children’s bodies; a group of women in chadors huddled together; clouds of smoke and flame set amid a mosque’s minarets — these images are powerful, regardless of the viewer’s political views.
One work includes a boy holding a large stuffed animal, the big, yellow toy in sharp contrast with the gray rubble of a bombed-out neighborhood. Another is of a boy leaning in to kiss a baby’s corpse, adorned with flowers.
“It’s such a poignant picture. It’s like, these are just children. They’re looking at this little infant. He’s dead,” Scholnick said. “They’re so young to see death.”
Scholnick was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her family moved to Southern California when she was in third grade, and she grew up in Tustin. She studied art at CSU Sacramento and later at Claremont Graduate University. She decided to move to Japan after attending a 1990 show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art titled “A Primal Spirit: Ten Contemporary Japanese Sculptors.” She went to the show four times, calling it “life-changing.” She lived in Japan for five years, teaching English and studying papermaking. She said her painting style draws from Japanese design aesthetics.
“I’m really interested in material and paper,” she said. “I’m kind of into minimalism. I’m very conscious of color and line, and I think that’s a very Japanese thing.”
Scholnick is Jewish, though she’s not religious and bristles at the idea of Jews as God’s “chosen people.” She’s never been to Israel and has conflicted feelings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She said she has received some criticism for her subject matter, including from other artists, which left her feeling wounded.
“I’ve had more disapproving looks from artists who are Jewish,” she said. “I’ve had more comments, and I’m like, ‘You guys, as artists, it’s your job to be above all this.’ ”
Scholnick said she began these drawings because she didn’t know how to look at the images. Covering them up felt natural, because that’s what we do with things that make us uncomfortable. But while photographs can be easy to ignore, she said, art is harder to avoid.
The photographs invite empathy, and yet, seen through Scholnick’s colorful lines, they take on an emotional distance. Seeing the horrors of war behind the paint brings to mind our own screens of perception, which filter such images through a system of rationalization. While a photograph of war suggests an objective reality, a painting represents one person’s perspective. Scholnick’s work shows that we all approach photographs with our own biases.
“The photographed images of suffering … [do] not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them,” Susan Sontag wrote in her landmark collection of essays “On Photography.” “Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more — and more. Images transfix. Images anesthetize.”
The piece that has probably received the most negative attention in the exhibition is of a crowd of Israelis at an outdoor gathering, watching the bombings and devastation in Gaza. News outlets had reported the phenomenon: Israeli friends and families sitting on couches and chairs on hillsides, looking through binoculars and watching the bombs drop.
“They set up these lawn chairs and kegs and they go out and watch them blow up the settlements, and they cheer,” Scholnick said, her voice full of disgust and anger.
Despite receiving criticism for her paintings, Scholnick said she’s concerned with honoring the dead, not trying to push an agenda. She wants viewers to see a deeper story, and was inspired, she said, by Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” Francisco Goya’s “The Disasters of War,” Pieter Bruegel’s “The Triumph of Death” and Andy Warhol’s “Electric Chair.”
“It’s almost like they’re universal themes of life and death,” she said. “I don’t want it to be just about this conflict.”
NYT photographer: I’ve never faced pressure from Hamas on photos
For the second day in a row, The New York Times’ photography blog, Lens, asks one of its photographers in Gaza about covering the Hamas-Israel war.
Q. Have you had pressure from any of the parties involved in Gaza to take certain photos or not take certain photos?
A. Never. Not once in all my years.
The exchange on Lens with Times freelance photographer William Nassar comes on the heels of heavy scrutiny of the Times for its response to questioning from JTA last week about why the paper of record had failed to show photos of Hamas fighters during the conflict.
“Our photographer hasn’t even seen anyone carrying a gun,” Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told me.
The Q&A’s on Lens are interesting (Tuesday’s was with Tyler Hicks), but they don’t answer the central question of why the Times has failed to obtain or show images of Hamas shooting at Israelis — a crucial element of this war. Even after two TV stations aired footage this week of Hamas rocket crews operating in Gaza, the Times failed to run images of the footage in the paper.
Here’s what Nassar had to say about taking photographs in Gaza, where he lives:
Q. Have you seen and photographed any Hamas fighters or other militants?
A. There was only one time I saw militants and photographed them and that was on the first day of the humanitarian pause which the sides agreed to on July 20. I did not find any problem photographing them. I have not seen any other militants since then.
The images missing from the Gaza war
There’s no shortage of images from the Gaza conflict.
We’ve seen rubble, dead Palestinian children, Israelis cowering during rocket attacks, Israeli military maneuvers and IDF footage of Hamas militants emerging from tunnels to attack Israeli soldiers.
What we haven’t seen are practically any images of Hamas fighters inside Gaza.
We know they’re there: Someone’s got to be launching those rockets into Israel (more than 2,800) and firing at invading Israeli troops. But so far the only images we’ve seen (or even heard about) are the Israel Defense Forces’ videos of Hamas fighters using hospitals, ambulances, mosques and schools (and tunnels) to launch attacks against Israeli targets or ferry arms around Gaza.
Why haven’t we seen journalists’ photographs of Hamas fighters inside Gaza?
We know Hamas doesn’t want the world to see images of Palestinian fighters launching rockets or using civilian havens like hospitals as bases of operation. But if we’re able to see images from both sides of practically every other war — in Syria, in Ukraine, in Iraq — why is Gaza an exception?
If journalists are being threatened and intimidated when they try to document Hamas activity in Gaza, their news outlets should be out front saying so. They’re not.
On Tuesday, The New York Times published an account by photographer Sergey Ponomarev on what his days are like in Gaza. Here’s what Ponomarev said:
It was a war routine. You leave early in the morning to see the houses destroyed the night before. Then you go to funerals, then to the hospital because more injured people arrive, and in the evening you go back to see more destroyed houses.
It was the same thing every day, just switching between Rafah and Khan Younis.
Are there attempts to document Hamas activity?
If you’re wondering whether the Times has assigned another photographer to cover this aspect of the story, so am I: The Times hasn’t been running photos of Hamas fighters in Gaza — period. Looking through the Times’ most recent three slideshows on the conflict (here, here and here), encompassing 37 images, there’s not a single one of a Hamas fighter.
In an L.A. Times slideshow of more than 75 photographs from the conflict, there’s not a single image of a Hamas fighter either, according to the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.
For many viewers, the narrative of this war must appear quite straightforward: Powerful Israel is bombarding defenseless Palestinians. That’s understandable when there are hardly any photographs of Palestinian aggressors.
In a July 15 Washington Post story by William Booth, Hamas’ use of Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City as an operating base is mentioned — but only in half a sentence in the story’s eighth paragraph.
The minister was turned away before he reached the hospital, which has become a de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders, who can be seen in the hallways and offices.
As Tablet noted, that’s called burying the lede.
Likewise, a Palestinian(!) news agency reported this week that Hamas executed dozens of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel last week. JTA reported this, but it got no mention in mainstream media outlets.
Either reporters and editors are uninterested in telling the side of the story that shows what Hamas is doing in Gaza or they’re unable. Let’s consider that latter possibility.
Much has been made by Israel supporters of a decision by The Wall Street Journal’s Nick Casey to delete a tweet about how Hamas uses Shifa Hospital as a base of operations. Presumably, Casey deleted the tweet because of threats by Hamas either to his person or his ability to continue to cover the conflict.
A Times of Israel report earlier this week suggested as much:
Several Western journalists currently working in Gaza have been harassed and threatened by Hamas for documenting cases of the terrorist group’s involvement of civilians in warfare against Israel, Israeli officials said, expressing outrage that some in the international media apparently allow themselves to be intimidated and do not report on such incidents.
The Times of Israel confirmed several incidents in which journalists were questioned and threatened. These included cases involving photographers who had taken pictures of Hamas operatives in compromising circumstances — gunmen preparing to shoot rockets from within civilian structures, and/or fighting in civilian clothing — and who were then approached by Hamas men, bullied and had their equipment taken away. Another case involving a French reporter was initially reported by the journalist involved, but the account was subsequently removed from the Internet.
After leaving Gaza, freelance Italian journalist Gabriele Barbati, in a pair of tweets blaming Hamas for a recent civilian casualty incident, backed up the claims that Hamas threatens reporters:
Out of #Gaza far from #Hamas retaliation: misfired rocket killed children yday in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris (July 29)
Why are we reading about this intimidation only in Jewish or Israeli media — or on blogs — and not in Western mainstream media?
Attorney Scott Johnson takes news outlets to task for this on the blog Powerline:
Hamas threats don’t account for the relentless ignorance and stupidity of the coverage of the Gaza hostilities, but they account for some of it. Reporters and their media employers cooperate with Hamas not only in suppressing stories that do not serve Hamas’s purposes, but also by failing to report on the restrictive conditions under which they are working.
This is no small point. Public opinion is a crucial element to this conflict. It will play a role in determining when the fighting ends, what a cease-fire looks like and who bears primary responsibility for the deaths of innocents.
If media outlets are suppressing images of Hamas fighters using civilians as shields, and using schools and hospitals as bases of operation, then people watching around the world naturally will have trouble viewing the Israelis as anything but aggressors and the Palestinians as anything but victims.
But they’re only getting half the story. And where I come from, a half-truth is considered a lie.
Photographer documents life in Darfur
“When I first got to Iridimi and saw there was nothing, I asked myself: Is this really a place where a person can live?”
So confided one Darfuri refugee to photographer Barbara Grover, who visited the Iridimi refugee camp in Chad last year to document the lives of those displaced by the genocide in Darfur. The collection of images Grover brought back offers a tentative answer: Her portraits depict a people traumatized by war, yet able — through the aid of relief agencies and the sustaining human spirit — to maintain a measure of hope.
The 25 photographs that compose “Refuge(e): Moments with the Darfuri of Iridimi,” Grover’s exhibit now on display at the Sherry Frumkin Gallery in Santa Monica, offer fresh insight into an ongoing crisis to which many Americans no longer relate, the award-winning artist said.
“One of the problems with world conflicts of this scale is that people hear about the fighting and the killing, and at some point, they become immune to this situation that goes on and on,” said Grover of Silver Lake. “At some point, I believe people become almost combat fatigued. People need to reconnect to these issues on a human level. Until people understand the struggle that refugees go through every day, they won’t understand the severity of the situation.”
About 2.7 million people in Darfur have been driven from their homes by government-sanctioned Arab militias since 2003, according to the nonprofit Jewish World Watch (JWW), a coalition of Los Angeles-area synagogues that advocates against genocide globally. At least 400,000 non-Arab Muslims have been killed, and women are routinely beaten and raped. More than 17,000 refugees who have fled the violence in Darfur live at Iridimi, an arid desert camp just across the Chadian border from the strife-torn region of Sudan.
In May 2007, Grover obtained a grant from JWW and special permission from the United Nations to spend an unprecedented seven weeks in Iridimi. She wanted to explore the crisis beyond the genocidal atrocities exposed by other photographers and humanize the situation for a wider audience, she said.
“I felt that by spending an extended period of time in a refugee camp, I could bring back stories and images that you can’t possibly get when you’re just there for a couple of days,” Grover said. “After so many years, refugees have to find a way to continue each day. I wanted to show how they’re rebuilding their lives.”
During her time in Chad, Grover stayed at the U.N. compound or with the relief organization, CARE International, but spent each day in the sun-parched, 4-square-mile Iridimi camp, where temperatures often hovered at 115 degrees. The refugees eventually warmed to her presence and allowed Grover to point her lens at the most mundane details of their lives.
“They knew I was there because I wanted to give them a voice and tell their stories,” she said. “Day after day, they got used to me, and they were very taken that someone really wanted to get to know them that well and bring their struggle to the world.”
From the San Diego fires — a burning question
What would you do if you had 10 minutes to get out of your home, not knowing whether it will still be there tomorrow? What would you take? What would you leave? What is truly indispensable?
These are the questions that too many of my fellow San Diegans have faced in the last few days as fires ravage homes all over San Diego County. Members of our shul, families from our day school, my husband’s colleagues — many have been displaced, forced to grab their loved ones, pets and the few things they can’t bear to live without. This is not a case of the media making the situation sound worse than it is; it’s bad and it’s close to home.
We live in La Jolla, which means “The Jewel.” Our community is little more than a stone’s throw from one of the prettiest pieces of coastline in the entire county and boasts the best weather, too. We have a lovely shul with more than 280 families, a spa-like mikvah and an eruv on the way. This past Shabbat, as we do every week, we enjoyed our shul kiddush al fresco, socializing around the towering Torrey pine tree that defines our shul’s courtyard. We could not have predicted that such a short time later, our blue skies would turn toxic, the crisp ocean breezes replaced with menacing winds and our Torrey pine and its courtyard laden with ash.
Thankfully, our normally idyllic coastal enclave seems to be out the path of the fire — at least for now. But as the communities immediately to the north and to the east of us were steadily evacuated, my husband and I were increasingly concerned: What if we were next? What if a call comes in the middle of the night asking us — telling us — to leave? We had to take stock of our things. I was surprised that the closets of clothes did not seem that important, nor the plasma TV, and not the kitchen appliances that I use faithfully each week preparing for Shabbat. We packed one bag for our family of six, with pajamas and a change of clothes and basic toiletries. I put on the jewelry I cared about the most, not for their monetary value but because they were gifts from my husband and my late Papa, the grandfather who died in the spring.
Suddenly, I remembered the box in the attic that I call my “archives,” a collection of writings from childhood through college. That box holds treasures like rhyming Mother’s Day poems, the essay my tough high school English teacher blessed with the “much-coveted but rarely bestowed” A-plus and the clipping from my college Jewish newspaper that proudly wore my byline. For the first time ever, I needed to pull my ketubah out of its safe place. We would need the kids’ special blankets and a few toys. My husband began to upload all of our pictures, grateful that our children’s adventures are digitally preserved and easy to transport. Laptop, yes; book collection, no. Wedding album, yes. But what about yearbooks? Take the tefilin, the tallit. Hurry up and wait. We are lucky to have this be merely an exercise for now; not like the friend who spent the night with us after being evacuated. I cannot imagine doing all of this with fire in my backyard.
There are good things about going through this. You read the e-mail from the old high school classmate from St. Louis who remembered you lived in San Diego. You catch up with the friends who moved to Florida last year. You reassure your family in Canada, New York, Los Angeles. You hug your husband and children tighter and know that they really are what matters. You pray.
You see amazing things from your community. Our rabbi’s oldest daughter is getting married in two days. With 600 people expected for an outdoor chuppah, I started to panic for the rabbi’s family. But the rabbi and rebbetzin, and even the bride, are amazingly calm. They are filled with faith that the skies will clear, the guests will arrive, and everything will be OK, so I am filled with confidence that the simcha will be truly that — a joyful occasion.
With school cancelled and outdoor play outlawed, the parents of the community and educators are banding together to keep the children from going stir-crazy. On Monday, almost a dozen families spent the day at the shul, where we played musical chairs and learned about the parsha and fire safety. Today, the school’s gym teacher came to the shul to run indoor games. We will spend tomorrow doing activities at the day school, and on Thursday a local movie theater will open early so we can screen a DVD for the kids in a safe, air-conditioned place. There is a feeling of achdut, or togetherness, that sweetens the otherwise stifling air.
Donations from all over the county are pouring in to help our fellow San Diegans. So many Jewish families, from the observant to the secular, have opened their homes to displaced friends. Our shul, like so many others, has collected diapers, food and bedding to help. Like the story of Abraham’s tent in the Torah Portion Lech Lecha, so many have displayed lovingkindness, selflessness and a warmly welcoming attitude. To illustrate the point, one report speculated there were more volunteers than evacuees at Qualcomm Stadium, the largest of the evacuation centers for the more than 500,000 displaced San Diegans. That’s a lot of volunteers.
Watching the footage of uncontained fires blazing just 10 miles or so from our home, I was struck that the parsha details the destruction of Sodom, a city divinely destroyed because of its denizens’ petty cruelty and refusal to be welcoming to guests. Like Sodom, our beautiful city is facing a raging enemy that refuses to go without exacting a heavy toll.
But unlike Sodom, the extraordinary actions of hundreds of thousands of San Diegans who reached out to help have surely proved that this amazing city is worth saving. We pray that the winds will change — both literally and figuratively — and we look forward to dancing at the rabbi’s daughter’s wedding, our bags unpacked again.
Jessica Levine Kupferberg was born and raised in Los Angeles. A recovering lawyer, she resides in La Jolla with her husband and their four children.
Barry Frydlender: from camera obscurity to MOMA
Barry Frydlender greets a reporter at his apartment in southern Tel Aviv with gentility and reticence. In his spacious living room, a sofa set rests on old, cracked, Arab-style tiles that block a studio nook containing a computer set-up. A window overlooks the Tel Aviv beach promenade, where the 52-year-old Israeli photographer meets friends every morning. All around his living space are slices of Israeli life in the form of mural-sized photographs pinned up on the walls.
For his visitor, Frydlender hangs more of his photos on a wall, using old bits of masking tape, and looks at each for a few seconds before speaking.
It becomes clear only on close observation that these mural-sized works are digital assemblages, each created from dozens of photographs. Using the brush of Photoshop, a program he taught himself, Frydlender weaves together images of the same figures, shot in different positions and at different times of day, to create a narrative with layers of interaction, perspective, and communication within what appears to be a single scene.
In “Shirat HaYam,” 2005, he shows a view of the Disengagement — a repeating row of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers — at the beachside settlement of Shirat HaYam in Gush Katif. His technique allows him to develop, as he puts it, “a representation of all the elements involved in the event.” In the foreground, an orange-clad settler holding a baby implores the still soldiers. She reappears, walking away toward the background, where settlers sing on caravan roofs.
Frydlender points to the English on the military uniforms — a hint of the “show” to the foreign media. While he supported the Disengagement, he says, no political statement is evident in the work, and his elaborations are terse.
“I don’t interpret my work,” he says. “You can understand it like this. It’s not a poster.”
He admits his reluctance to elaborate on the works’ meanings,
“I focus on my work,” he says, when asked if his hesitancy reflects his feelings about being interviewed by the press. He adds that he hasn’t yet returned the calls of two Israeli reporters, who have good reason to chase him: “Barry Frydlender: Pictures 1994-2006” opens March 23 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and on May 17, Frydlender will be the first Israeli to be honored with a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He will be in Los Angeles this summer as part of “A Year of Israeli Art — A Decade of The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Partnership.”
“Shirat HaYam,” 2005, is one of Frydlender’s more politically charged pieces, but he also represents other aspects of Israeli society in his works. Within the image of a well-stocked Israel kiosk in “Pitzoziya,” 2002, a blonde Russian clerk works among the Israeli brands of drinks and snacks, while a dark Sephardic woman stands near the nut trays at the entrance — a picture of the diversity within Israeli society.
“The Flood,” 2003, which was acquired by MOMA, shows Israeli teenagers — future soldiers — playfully splashing in a sidewalk puddle and then walking into the entrance of an IDF museum. The assemblage appears to hint at the transition from the carefree life of teens to the rite of passage into Israeli adulthood, but for this work, too, Frydlender doesn’t elaborate much on the message of the work.
Perhaps his apparent indifference to publicity explains why he is not well-known among mainstream audiences. That, and the fact that his work is rarely seen in his native country.
Frydlender hasn’t had a solo show in Israel for more than two decades, to which his comment is, simply, “I don’t know, that’s how it happened.”
His work has also never been shown in private galleries in Israel. Which is not to say that he hasn’t had his fair share of honors. At 28, he mounted his first solo exhibit at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem — a photographic series on Café Kassit, which was the center of Israel’s bohemian culture in the 1980s. His works have appeared in museums and galleries in the United States and Europe, but he has remained, as Haaretz art critic Smadar Sheffi put it, “an artist’s artist.”
Andrea Meislin, who worked as an associate curator of photography at the Israel Museum from 2000 to 2002, was instrumental in bringing Frydlender’s works to light.
“I saw someone working at a great level,” Meislin said, speaking from her epynomous gallery in New York, “not only on a technological level, but there was great substance, and the visual was very impressive.”
Meislin invited Frydlender to participate in ARTIS 2004, an exhibition of Israeli photography sponsored by Sotheby’s, which garnered an enthusiastic response. When she launched her own New York gallery dedicated to Israeli photography, her first show was of Frydlender’s work. The exhibit attracted the notice of MOMA’s Peter Galassi, chief curator of photography at MOMA, who is responsible for bringing the artist’s work to the museum.
Regarding the significance of an Israeli exhibiting solo for the first time at the MOMA, Sheffi said, “People are very excited about it. He defeated a kind of glass ceiling.”
Frydlender grins, with a glimmer of pride and self-satisfaction, when asked if he ever imagined he’d reach the coveted venue: “I think I had a moment, about 10 years ago, when I thought I would, but I forgot about it.”
Frydlender will be artist-in-residence in Los Angeles this summer as part of “A Year of Israeli Art — A Decade of The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Partnership.”
Photo exhibit of Persian Jewry on exhibit at Huntington
Since arriving in Southern California more than 25 years ago, the Persian Jewish community has been tight-knit and has largely chosen to be closed off from the rest of the greater Jewish community and American society. Yet with an undying curiosity and persistence, local Jewish photojournalist Shelley Gazin has managed to capture the true essence of Persian Jewish life in a series of photographs.
After nearly two years of work on “Becoming Persian: A Photographic Narrative With Text Threads Illuminating the Persian Jewish Community,” a small portion of Gazin’s work will go on view for a one-day event at the Huntington Library in San Marino on Nov. 4.”I found Persian hospitality so encompassing that I was pulled in, almost as if by a magnet,” said Gazin, whose photographs have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Time, and Forbes magazine. “I’m surprised by how deeply I felt a part of it.”
The event will also feature presentations from more than 40 archives of the arts, economies, politics and cultures of various Los Angeles-area communities. Gazin said she was originally attracted to documenting life in the Iranian Jewish community after photographing the late Persian Jewish Chief Rabbi Hacham Yedidia Shofet for her 2001 exhibition, “Looking for a Rabbi,” at the Skirball Museum.
“It was interesting and impressive to realize that my own neighborhood [Los Angeles] had been transformed, and that this successful community has emerged who has made major contributions in science, medicine and business,” Gazin said. “I realized that this might be the greatest saga of 20th century immigration”.
Gazin’s photos include various facets of local Iranian Jewish life, from extravagant weddings, to images of local leaders, to close-ups of community organizations supporting new immigrants from Iran.
Despite her limited knowledge of the Persian culture and inability to speak Persian, Gazin’s desire to give an accurate portrayal of Persian Jewish life in Los Angeles has earned her the respect of the community’s leaders, who have welcomed her with open arms.
“For a lot of people who don’t know us or who have seen us only from a distance, what she [Gazin] has done will give them a better idea of who we really are and put a face to our community,” said Dr. Morgan Hakimi, president of the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills.
Gazin’s presence at local Persian Jewish events and gatherings has forced many Persian Jews to re-examine their lack of openness with other Jewish groups, Hakimi said.
“Sometimes we’re out of touch with the Jewish community and the greater community since we’re all within our own inner circles,” she said. “So it’s natural for us to learn about ourselves from a project like this”.
Other local Jewish leaders said Gazin’s work was significant for research purposes, because no one had previously documented with photos the lives of Persian Jews in Southern California.
“The Persian Jewish community is vitally important to the Los Angeles Jewish community, therefore it is essential that there are records of their history,” said UCLA Hillel Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, who has collaborated with Gazin on past projects.
Seidler-Feller said Gazin’s photographs ultimately would help bridge the cultural gap between older Persian Jews and the younger generation of Persian Jews that have been Americanized after living here all their lives.
After receiving the initial funding for her project from the California Council for the Humanities, the Righteous Persons Foundation, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, and the Durfee Foundation, Gazin is still seeking sponsorship from new donors in order to complete this extensive project. When she is done, she hopes to have exhibitions of the completed work, though probably not for another two to three years. The Laura & David Merage Foundation have provided funding for Gazin’s presentation at the Huntington Library.
For more information on attending the Huntington Library’s Inaugural Los Angeles Archives Bazaar on Nov. 4 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., or contact (626) 405-2100.
“The Passing Of Hacham Yedidia Shofet.” Photo ©2005 Shelley Gazin
The Grit Behind the Glamour of L.A. Life
Despite having a population of far more than 3 million and a cultural and economic diversity rivaled by very few places, Los Angeles is not quite viewed as a real city by much of the outside world. Ever since large-scale irrigation and the movie business put the city on the map in the first decades of the 20th century, Los Angeles has been romanticized — and reviled — for its iconic lifestyle: sun, surf and the casual debauchery of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. It is a city that has always lived much more vividly in the imagination than on the ground, even to its natives, and the best-known pictures of it tend to reflect that eternal tension between aspiration and reality, dreams and dreck, shiny self-invention and tawdry self-destruction. That tension created the noir that Los Angeles is also known for, yet that element, too, quickly became as mythologized as the sun and surf, a comic-book approximation of Los Angeles’ darker side that was immortalized in stylish movies (of course) like “Blade Runner” and “L.A. Confidential.” Entertaining as those movies were, Los Angeles the city has pretty much gotten lost in so many translations. I gave up looking for a good one long ago.
Joe Schwartz’s photographs, on view at the Skirball Cultural Center, restored some of my faith that Los Angeles can be clearly seen. Schwartz is a self-described folk photographer who pointedly calls his exhibit “L.A. Unstaged” — that is, it looks at L.A. beyond the overly familiar, irony and Hollywood-ized images, and into the streets where people actually live. This retrospective spans 30 years, from the 1950s through the 70s, and through it Schwartz also gives a sense of local history that we almost never see. Interestingly, many of the 53 photos on display are set on the Westside — Venice, Santa Monica — but a wholly ordinary, blue-collar Westside well before it was established as a bastion of political elitism and beachside chic. That documentation alone is worth the price of admission (which, by the way, is nil — the exhibition is displayed on the walls outside the Skirball café, before you even get to the admissions desk. Nice touch.).
As you might suspect, Schwartz is a photographer with a bent for social justice; he was once a member of a photography collective that included luminaries such as Dorothea Lange and Weegee. But revealing the social and economic injustices of Los Angeles is a more nuanced matter than revealing those of the Dust Bowl Midwest or New York, where they were stark and longstanding. Los Angeles is relatively new, and its lines of fortune blurrier, especially 40 years ago. Schwartz wisely acknowledges this. He doesn’t try to create false divisions or over-sentimentalize the poor, ethnic and working class. He simply chooses his subjects and shoots them with care, allowing the larger context of Los Angles’ myths and contradictions to fall where they may.
Sometimes context and reality align, and the results — far from being noir — are buoyant, if only for a moment in time. In “Acting Out,” a shot from the 1960s, three young Latina girls in East Los Angeles strike a playful pose that can only be called movie star. “Synanon Rehabilitated Residents” is a generically titled shot, also from the 1960s, depicting a black man on the Santa Monica boardwalk cradling his infant child (Schwartz has several photos related to Synanon — it is this exhibition’s favorite motif of transformation).
Yet it’s the specifics, including the L.A. context, that make for contrasts and elevate a competent photo into an eloquent commentary: a black man battling drug addiction sitting at the white-sand beach with a few carefree sunbathers and the endless Pacific in the background. This photo reads as less tragic than hopeful: The man is nattily dressed, he is sitting upright, and it is a brilliantly sunny day, not foggy as Santa Monica is inclined to be; the ocean is close to him, not eternally beyond his reach. “Angeles Child” echoes that optimism with a portrait of a young black girl on a Watts schoolyard in the ’60s. The girl’s smile is as wide and inviting as any child’s — or movie star’s — and we get something very different from, and oddly complementary to, the racial isolation and urban grit that became almost synonymous with Watts even before the riots of ’65 put it on the map of L.A. imagination.
Schwartz is after inequality, but also humanity, and he captures both in most of the work here. He has the no-nonsense eye of a journalist and the inclinations of a poet, and in the end both things prove necessary to render L.A. fully, to show the glittering ounces of truth in the clichés and the pounds of truth everywhere else.
Schwartz also has a sense of humor, something no serious chronicler of this city should be without. “Only in L.A.: Stocking Factory” is an irresistible shot of a giant stocking atop a building, a little-seen example of the architectural kitsch that once existed all over town, not merely in the exclusive environs of the Brown Derby. Nor does Schwartz resist L.A. celebrity-ism, though he does it with a common touch: “Henry Miller and Friend” has the famous writer chatting with a young woman in a nondescript place in the 1970s; he looks tired and she looks half-bored, half-amused — noncommittal in an L.A. kind of way.
“Perfume Model” from the 1950s depicts a woman of no celebrity at all, a department-store working stiff who nonetheless projects an aura of glamour and possibility that is uniquely and stubbornly L.A. Ultimately, Schwartz finds our glamour useful, even in the smallest moments where his subjects are doing nothing more than hunting for their glasses, clambering atop street signs or moving their belongings on a makeshift dolly. “Thirty Years of Folk Photography” is a testament to the transcendent powers of dreams and of spirit that still make Los Angeles a destination for so many, a place to come to rather than simply be from. We have not lived up to that promise, Schwartz cautions, but the promise is here.
“L.A. Unstaged: Three Decades of Folk Photography by Joe Schwartz,” is at the Skirball through April 2: noon-5 p.m (Tuesdays-Saturdays); noon-9 p.m. (Thursdays); 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Sundays); closed Monday. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-4500.
Erin Aubry Kaplan is a regular Op-Ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
7 Days in The Arts
Saturday, February 11
An old elevator shaft sided on three sides with brick and topped by a skylight becomes the backdrop and running theme through photographer Mark Seliger’s latest book of Platinum Photographs, “In My Stairwell.” Welcomed into the stairwell are noted personalities of varied walks, from singer Willie Nelson to skateboarder Tony Hawke to actress Susan Sarandon. Selections from the book are on display at Fahey/Klein Gallery.
Through March 4. 148 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 934-2250.
Sunday, February 12
A week without klezmer? Not in this town. Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust jumps on the accordion bandwagon with a concert today by “Miamon Miller’s Bucovina Klezmer.” A reception follows.
2 p.m. $20. 6435 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 651-3704.
Monday, February 13
You’ve read the arguments; you’ve seen the movie. Today delve into “The Meaning of ‘Munich'” with a panel of speakers representing pro and con, brought together by the Republican Jewish Coalition and Pepperdine University. The group includes University of Judaism professor Michael Berenbaum, Pepperdine professor Robert Kaufman, Emmy Award-winner and UCLA instructor Kathleen Wright and Allan Mayer, political and media adviser to Steven Spielberg.
7 p.m. Free. Drescher Auditorium, Pepperdine University, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. R.S.V.P., (310) 506-6643.
Tuesday, February 14
Dateless Valentines find their go-to event in tonight’s “Go Where the Love Is” courtesy of Uncabaret. Comedy queens Beth Lapides, Julia Sweeney, Hyla Matthews and Laura Kightlinger keep the funny coming, while you sit back and just deal with the drinks.
8 p.m. $15 (plus drinks). M-Bar, 1253 N. Vine, Los Angeles. (323) 993-3305.
Wednesday, February 15
You might know him as Larry David’s dad, but Shelley Berman’s also been called the Father of the Modern Monologue. He delivers his lesson in “Comedy and Its Reflections in History” this evening at 24th Street Theatre, with a Q and A to follow.
8 p.m. $25. 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles. (213) 745-6516.
Thursday, February 16
Joel Stein has something to say tonight. The sometimes-controversial L.A. Times columnist, Time magazine writer and on-camera commentator for VH-1’s “I Love the 80s” offers up his signature brand of satirical social commentary in an event very originally titled, “A Conversation With Joel Stein,” sponsored by the folks at The Jewish Federation’s Young Leadership Division.
7:15 p.m. $18-$25. Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (323) 761-8372.
Friday, February 17
Canada’s folk/roots/world music ensemble Beyond the Pale goes beyond pure klezmer by uniquely blending it with Balkan, Gypsy, Romanian, bluegrass, jazz, reggae and funk inspirations. They make their Los Angeles stop on their California/Southwest Tour tonight at Genghis Cohen.
10:30 p.m. $10. 740 N. Fairfax, West Hollywood. (310) 578-5591.
Art Exhibit Links Trojans, Bruins
Divided between the USC and UCLA campuses, the latest art exhibition by the Jewish Artist Initiative (JAI), titled, “Makor/Source,” taps into the wellspring of Jewish life.
How fitting that Ruth Weisberg, USC dean of fine arts, would include her water-themed, mixed-media drawing, “Bound for Nowhere.” As a succession of hunched-over immigrant Jews board a boat headed back to Europe, the vessel, with its portholes and cables strewn like seaweed, appears to be a submarine. It is as if these passengers, who carry their belongings, ascend a gangway into an underwater graveyard.
Alternately, Weisberg, whose drawing features a muted brown or ocher color scheme, suggests that the immigrants may be “undergoing a sea change,” a salutary transmutation as they board the ship. She notes that the Jews in the drawing, though denied a visa to Palestine, ultimately may have been admitted to Israel after the country’s founding, the makor or source of a whole new chapter in the history of the Jewish people.
Barbara Drucker, UCLA art department chair, also contributed a work to the show, “Breadbox Stack No. 1,” in which seven bread boxes are tiered into a ramshackle, yet sturdy, tower. Is it a Tower of Babel surging at peril toward the heavens? Or is it, as Drucker proposes, an image both of life, as symbolized by the bread, and death, since modern-day Greeks use such boxes to store bones?
Drucker works from instinct. She did not set out to create something with a Jewish theme, but the bread boxes date from the 1920s and ’30s and recall the heyday of immigrant and first-generation Jews living in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights and the Lower East Side, yet another seminal moment in Jewish history.
JAI, which Weisberg calls the “brainchild” of the Jewish Community Foundation and USC’s Casden Institute, was formed, she said, to “act as a galvanizing force” for bringing Jewish culture to the community.
“Makor/Source” marks the first time that the Hillels of the two universities have collaborated on an exhibition. Roughly 20 local artists submitted works to the show, including collages, paintings and photographs.
Because the exhibition is based on a study of Jewish text, one of the most salient pieces is Joyce Dallal’s “Promises Made in a Language I Don’t Understand,” an ink-jet print of pieces of paper bunched into a ball. The image of crumpled paper might or might not refer to the Hebrew Bible. It’s hard to say, so indecipherable are the runes, yet the scraps, involuted as they are, do resemble a Torah being unscrolled.
Even if Hebrew, like all Indo-European tongues, comes from an original source, the endless permutations can create language barriers that are palpable, if less severe to the artist than humanity’s failings or God’s.
“Makor/Source” is at USC Hillel, 3300 S. Hoover St., (213) 747-9135, ext. 14. Opening reception is Sunday, Jan. 22, 3-5 p.m. “Makor/Source” is also at UCLA Hillel, 574 Hilgard Ave., (310) 208-3081. Both exhibits run through March 3.
7 Days in The Arts
Qumran Offers Look at Legacy of Scrolls
Descending eastward from the rolling hills on the outskirts of Jerusalem, the sapphire-colored Dead Sea appears like a jewel set in the dusty brown Judean Desert. As you breathe in the thundering stillness, it’s easy to imagine why the ancient Essenes chose this place for their spiritual refuge.
When they lived here some 2,000 years ago, the Essenes led a highly ritualized life along the sea’s northern shores, 40 miles east of Jerusalem.
You can learn more about them and the fascinating legacy they created — the Dead Sea Scrolls — at Qumran National Park. This well-kept archaeological site preserves the center of Essene activity.
An introductory audiovisual program describes the Essenes’ way of life, which the Romans destroyed in the year 68 C.E., during the great Jewish revolt. These Jews were mostly male ascetics, dedicated to spirituality, who fled Jerusalem.
They created a largely self-reliant, communal settlement amid picturesque limestone hillside cliffs. Their structures included stone assembly halls, a main dining room for ceremonial meals, a kitchen, laundry room, watchtower, stable and pottery workshop.
Archaeologists believe the Essenes were highly concerned with maintaining their ritual purity and bathed at least twice a day. An aqueduct system caught water from the hills above and channeled it into an elaborate series of mikvahs, or ritual baths.
In the 200 years they lived at Qumran, Essene scribes also dedicated themselves to copying biblical texts in a scriptorium, or writing room, with desks and inkstands.
The biblical texts were discovered by a young Bedouin shepherd in 1947. When an errant goat disappeared into a cave, the boy tossed a rock inside, and was surprised to hear the rock hit something. As he continued searching, he discovered clay pots that had protected seven ancient scrolls for centuries.
When the film concludes, the screen lifts and you are directed toward a darkened hallway, where replicas of the implements of the Essenes’ daily routine are displayed. From there, it’s a short walk to the ruins, where you can see remnants of the mikvahs, as well as the aqueduct and other finds, in addition to a view of the historic cave.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest biblical documents ever found, often are described as the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century. They date to a time that spawned Christianity and laid the foundations for modern Judaism.
The scrolls include books from the Torah, the Apocrypha and the sect’s own works. Some of these are on permanent exhibit at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
They are stored in the iconic white domed Shrine of the Book, which resembles the lid of the type of clay jar in which the scrolls were found. As you walk into the exhibit, you enter a dark hallway that resembles a cave.
The parched climate of the Dead Sea helped preserve the scrolls and items rarely found by archaeologists: wooden combs, leather sandals, linen fabric and ropes made from palm leaves and rushes.
Most of the scrolls discovered at Qumran were made of a lightly tanned animal skin. A small percentage were written on papyrus. To prevent their further deterioration, the exhibit was specifically designed with low lighting and controlled humidity and temperature.
The scrolls are stored in darkened cases that are illuminated with the press of a button. The beautifully penned texts reflect portions from every book of the Bible, except the scroll of Esther, as well as the entire book of Isaiah. And some reveal the beliefs and customs of the Jews at Qumran, such as monogamy and prohibitions against divorce and celibacy.
The scrolls and thousands of fragments later discovered in the same area have been mired in controversy since 1954, when four scrolls were advertised for sale in The Wall Street Journal. They were subsequently purchased for Israel, but only a select group of European and American scholars were chosen to reconstruct and publish the texts. The 1984 publication of an article about one scroll discovered years earlier ignited a lengthy battle over long delays in publication and freedom of access for other scholars.
In 1991, independent scholars broke protocol and released computer-generated reconstructions of some fragments. The Huntington Library in San Marino later allowed access to its photographic copies. The Biblical Archaeological Review printed complete photographs of the unpublished fragments without disclosing the source.
You can view the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum (phone: 02 670-8811) and the ruins of the Essene settlement at Qumran National Park (02 994-2235). Call for updated hours and admission charges. For more information, contact the Dead Sea Information Center at
Groups, Shuls Fundraise for Tsunami Aid
Spectator – Lessing’s Shots of Liberty
Erich Lessing received his first camera when he exited the synagogue from his bar mitzvah in Vienna in 1936.
“There was no idea of taking up photography as a profession,” said Lessing, 82, from his house in Austria. “In a good Jewish family in Vienna you would only be a lawyer or a doctor.”
But the camera stayed with Lessing when he left Austria for Israel in 1939 to escape the Nazis. There he took photographs for the British army. When he returned to Austria in 1947, he started working as a photojournalist. His interest was the newly communist Eastern Europe, and the photographs he took in Austria and in Hungary during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 have become Cold War icons.
For one week, starting Sept. 25, a selection of Lessing’s photographs of Austria will go on display at the Beverly Hills Country Club in conjunction with Austrian American Day. The exhibition, titled “From Liberation to Liberty” includes images famously emblematic of the period, such as “Four in a Jeep” — a photograph of four military policeman, one each from the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union, a symbol of the post-war occupation in Austria.
Lessing did not stay with this reportage: “After the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, all the photographers who had been there saw that it was not our documents that were changing political decisions. I do not want to downgrade the influence of photography — the photography at the end of the Vietnam War was very influential. But it took another 50 years for the end of communism in Europe.”
In 1960, Lessing started taking photographic “evocations” of the lives of great poets, musicians and scientists, often taking still photographs of their work in museums. The result was more than 30,000 photographs of art, history and archeology that have filled 40 books. But his seminal work remains the photographs of the 1940s and ’50s.
“I found it a very strange title, being dubbed the photographer of the Cold War,” he said. “But I think it is true.”
“From Liberation to Liberty,” will be on display at the Beverly Hills Country Club, 3084 Motor Ave., as part of the Austrian-American Day Celebration. For more information, call (310) 444-9310.
The Curious Little Monkey’s Tale
Barbed Wire Fails to Separate Hearts
Almost every war has one photographic image that emerges and that remains ingrained in the public’s mind — and the media — as the defining picture of that war.
Out of the Holocaust came the image of the little boy in a cap with his hands raised over his head. Out of Vietnam, it is the village child running naked, terror on her face. In Israel, the Six-Day War gave us the young paratroopers looking up at the Kotel after its liberation; and the Yom Kippur War’s image was Hillel Unsdorfer carrying the sefer Torah across the Suez Canal.
The war that Ariel Sharon has waged against the people of Gush Katif and the northern Shomron has also given us an image — the minyan of young men in Kfar Maimon praying, separated by barbed wire.
On the left side are demonstrators; on the right, soldiers. As I pointed out to one of the many friends who forwarded the photograph to me, there were more than 10 demonstrators but less than 10 soldiers, which means that the soldiers needed the demonstrators to have a minyan, not vice versa.
So there is a subtext here, and it is this: The demonstrators must have been asked by the soldiers to move their minyan far away from the center of the Kfar Maimon event, over to the barbed wire, in order to enable them to pray in a minyan. And the demonstrators, obviously, agreed. Because their horror at what the soldiers had been commanded to do was not as great as their desire to help another Jew do a mitzvah.
What is the difference between all these photographs?
The little boy in the Holocaust photo was holding up his arms at the command of German soldiers. The Vietnamese child was fleeing in terror from napalm. The paratroopers had captured the Kotel from the Jordanian army. Hillel, carrying the sefer Torah, was going into Egyptian captivity. All of these photographs express people reacting to a situation created by a foreign enemy.
But the barbed wire separating the young men at prayer was erected at the command of their own Prime Minister Sharon.
The State of Israel has survived 58 years of a fragile relationship between the religious and secular, the right and the left (and they are not necessarily parallel), a relationship that has been sometimes stronger, sometimes splintered, but never totally shattered. And there has always been one type of situation that pulled the country together, differences set aside, even if only momentarily.
These have been times of war.
There are stories from the Six-Day War about how haredim, who avoided the draft, volunteered at first-aid centers. During the Yom Kippur War, soldiers arrived at their units in tennis shoes, straight from the synagogue. At every military funeral there are people from every segment of Israeli society represented — friends or family of the fallen, united in grief.
My own memories include being in a supermarket during the first Gulf War in January 1991, when a siren went off. Everyone was sent down to the bomb shelter, our gas masks in tow.
It was a Thursday night, and people had been doing their Shabbat shopping. During the 20-minute wait, I looked around at the crowd. Down there in the bomb shelter there were no frictions. We just wanted to hear the all-clear sound and get home.
More than 30 years ago, I had a rude awakening to the human rifts in Israel. I had become involved in Gesher, an organization created by Danny Tropper, a new immigrant from New York. Gesher, bridge in Hebrew, tried to work on weaving together the burnt threads of Israeli society.
As a college student, I was stunned at the time by the level of ignorance of young secular Israelis to basic Jewish practices and values, and by the ignorance of young religious Israelis to the workings and values of the secular world.
But I was also enchanted by their openness, their willingness to reach out to each other, to try to heal the rifts. It is perhaps no coincidence that out of those early years came some of today’s intellectual and religious luminaries in Israeli life, people like Rabbi Moti Eilon and professor Benny Ish-Shalom. Because, in addition to discussions about religion, we talked about human rights, social goals and issues like justice and democracy.
Regretfully, in retrospect, no great politicians came out of those or other similar initiatives. This is where our “bridging” efforts failed. We were snobs; politics was something dirty in our eyes.
Hence, we live today in a society in which politicians feel no qualms about supporting a prime minister who was voted into office by an unprecedented percentage of Israeli citizens on the basis of one election platform, and who is today implementing, instead, the platform of his badly trounced opponent. But Sharon has performed a sin far greater than reneging on his pre-election promises.
One of the great unifying factors of Israeli society has always been the army. Contrary to a common media canard, there have always been haredim in the army, and more so now that there is a special Nahal Haredi division.
In fact, if there is one legislative error that has kept Israeli Arab citizens from being more fully integrated into society, it is that the Knesset has never passed a law obligating Arab citizens to do some form of national service, which could be volunteering in hospitals or youth programs, not just military service.
Every soldier and former soldier (and in Israel, due to reserve duty, one is older than 40 by the time he is really a “former soldier”) has memories of his army comrades who came from different spectrums of society than he.
My husband did army duty with men who today are high-level Israel TV employees, who used to catch and grill rabbits (which are treif), which their religious comrades didn’t partake of, though they joined them around the campfire singing old Israeli ballads. And he once spent reserve duty with Avigdor Lieberman, head of today’s National Union Party, who back then organized an entire Likud convention from his cellphone at an outpost in the Jordan Valley.
Some form of acknowledgment of Shabbat and the army — these are among the threads of the collective Israeli consciousness that have woven the delicate tapestry that has kept us warm, shielded us from a sometimes cruel world and preserved us as a viable people.
Even some on the political left who support the disengagement have begun to say — unfortunately, too little and too late — that they are appalled by the crushing of human rights that Sharon has adopted in order to carry out his decree. For even worse than the destruction of vibrant, productive communities, the expulsion and demonization of “salt-of-the-earth” citizens and the rewarding and empowering of terrorists is what Sharon has done to our fragile national fabric.
The photograph of the barbed wire separating young men at prayer is so symbolic, because Sharon has done what no war, no haredi Shabbat demonstration and no opening of treif butcher shops or paving of roads over ancient Jewish graves has succeeded in doing: He has erected a barbed-wire fence between the Jewish people.
The ultimate poetic justice, of course, is that Sharon, who, according to the well-researched expose book, “Boomerang,” may have been convinced by his Svengali-like adviser, Dov Weisglass, to put his personal and family welfare before that of the country, will not go down in history, after all, as a prime minister who advanced the cause of peace.
There is not a single military expert in Israel today who claims that the disengagement will bring a decline in terror. On the contrary, Sharon’s legacy in real — not European — history is assured, and it won’t be rosy.
There is, however, hope. Because even Sharon’s barbed wire did not break up the minyan.
Twenty years ago, an American TV film, “The Day After,” depicted the day after a nuclear attack. Several years ago, another horror flick, “The Day After Tomorrow,” depicted the consequences of giant glaciers destroying part of America and other countries. It is no coincidence that Israelis have adopted the expression, “the day after,” for what will follow disengagement. For, like a nuclear attack, like a melting glacier, like a tsunami, the disengagement will bring disaster in its wake.
That is a hard statement to read and even harder to write, but we are not the people who created Mary Poppins. We are the people who brought forth Jeremiah.
If there is a time to pray, it is now. And the prayer should not be only that we somehow miraculously be spared the ugly sword of terror. The prayer should also be that the barbed wire erected by Sharon should not separate our hearts.
Temple Beth Torah
Unspeakable Acts, Incredible Pictures
A large, striped blue-and-white flag bearing the phrase, “Liberation!” greets visitors at the Museum of Tolerance exhibit, “Liberation! Revealing the Unspeakable,” about the Allied soldiers and the starved, dying and dead Jews they discovered while liberating concentration camps.
In a hallway there is a row of photographs of soldiers who became the saviors of survivors. Then, down a set of stairs to the main exhibit area, one gallery wall features a 1945 poem written by an unnamed survivor upon learning of Hitler’s death:
I have outlived the fiend
Such a bitter jubilation captures much of the exhibit’s poignancy; the photos show the relief of being rescued by American and British soldiers, and the agony of the just-ended genocide. There are photos of Japanese American soldiers helping camp survivors through the German snow, and of African American troops proudly standing near the artillery used to gain ground to, unknowingly, liberate camps. There is also a photo of four smiling U.S. rabbis at the bimah of a bombed-out German synagogue.
The exhibit includes a review from the late Susan Sontag’s 1977 book, “On Photography,” in which she wrote that “some limit had been reached, something went dead” in the Bergen-Belsen camp photos.
“The text is kept to a minimum; the photos speak for themselves,” said museum director Liebe Geft.
She said the museum’s many high school visitors learn more from photos than long text.
Most of the black-and-white photos are from military archives but some are soldiers’ snapshots: one group of shots has a photo of the Alps near Ebensee, Austria, followed next by shots of the Ebensee concentration camp.
The Museum of Tolerance is home to more than 50,000 artifacts, though less then 10 percent ever are on public display. The “Liberation!” exhibit opened May 8, V-E Day, and closes in late September.
“There are very few liberators and survivors that are amongst us,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Museum of Tolerance and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “When we celebrate the next anniversary, let’s say the 70th anniversary 10 years from now, there were will be very, very few.”
Hier said the “Liberation” exhibit speaks to the ongoing war on terror because, like totalitarian fascists of decades before, today’s terrorists “prefer death over life. How do you reason with such evil men? You waste your time trying to talk to Al Qaeda out of its evil. There are tough choices that generations have to make. The choice is either to confront them or to give up civilization as we know it, and yet in a world of terrorism today there are some who have a sort of na?ve notion that you can sort of talk down the bad guys.”
Los Angeles has hosted other recent Holocaust and Shoah-related exhibits. In the third- floor hallway of the UCLA Hillel, there is a long row of photos of Danish Jews and their rescuers. The black-and-white shots show weathered faces of elderly Danish clergy, journalists, clergy resistance members and, above all, fishermen who during two weeks in September 1943 ferried virtually all of Denmark’s 8,000-member Jewish community to neutral Sweden. The exhibit, “Humanity in Action; Resistance and Rescue in Denmark,” are portraits taken mostly in the 1990s by photographer Judy Ellis Glickman.
At the University of Judaism’s Platt/Borstein Gallery, the white walls have been hosting the stark photo series, “Polish Jewry Before WWII: Warsaw, Cracow and New York.” The five-week exhibit closes July 17; the photos by Roman Vishniac, Jacob Riis and Arnold Eagle are unforgiving in their scenes of pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe’s Jewish poverty, such as peasants in the Ukraine or a tiny basement Polish apartment. But amid this shetl misery there are also smiles; a grinning yeshiva teacher in 1938 Russia and men chatting outside a synagogue court in 1938 Lithuania. In the gallery’s comment book, a Valley Village woman wrote, “Beautiful + sad.”
At the Museum of Tolerance, a security guard recounted how he recently escorted an elderly Jewish couple through the “Liberation!” photos. So distraught did the couple become that the guard quietly helped them leave the exhibit, and in doing this he found himself choked up, too.
Spectator – Sephardia Secrets
Yard Signs Card
These are made from yard sign sticks, which you can buy at a garden store. Create and place these signs on the lawn so your dad can read them as he drives up to the house.
What You Need
* Lawn care signs/sticks
* Poster board
* Hole punch
* Pencil or pen
* Other decorative items such as ribbons, feathers, beads, etc.
* Tacky glue
How to Make It
1. Remove the original signs off the sticks.
2. Trace around the sign onto the poster board. Be sure to also trace the hole. Repeat for as many signs as you wish to make.
3. Cut out the signs.
4. Hole punch on the marked area.
5. Decorate the signs with markers or other decorative items.
6. Use tape or tacky glue to adhere the poster board to the lawn care signs for extra durability.
7. Arrange the signs on the lawn so your dad, grandpa or uncle will see them when he comes home from work.
Here is a moving collection of heartfelt stories and stirring photographs celebrating and honoring the lives of contemporary American Jewish fathers:
“Jewish Fathers: A Legacy of Love” with photographs by Lloyd Wolf, interviews by Paula Wolfson and a foreword by Rabbi Harold Kushner (Jewish Lights, 2004)
So, DAD is a palindrome (reads the same backward and forward). Solve these clues to find these others:
A female sheep __ __ __
A kind of canoe __ __ __ __ __
Jewish bread __ __ __ __ __ __
The first woman __ __ __
A Hebrew girl’s name, meaning “springtime” __ __ __ __ __
Spectator – ‘Time’: a Truthful Family Portrait
For Los Angeles artist Shelley Adler, the epiphany came after her second diagnosis of breast cancer and near-death from diverticulitis in 2001. Following her lumpectomy and two weeks in the hospital, she returned home and glimpsed cartons of family photographs she had collected since her parents and other relatives had died.
“The black-and-white snapshots revealed little worlds and scenes I wanted to bring alive in color,” said Adler, whose “Shades of Time: The Extended Family of Shelley Adler” runs through July 1 at the Workmen’s Circle. “I wanted to paint them the way the 16th-century Dutch genre painters had done — small portraits of ordinary people in their homes, offering glimpses into their lives.” Yet, she had put off the project until that day in 2001: “I suddenly recognized I might die, and if I was to do the series, it had to be now,” the artist said.
Adler, 69, had not painted in oils for decades; she had grown up Jewish in what she describes as a repressive small town, Minot, N.D., which she escaped to attend art school. But by 1960 she had married, had children and become a librarian in an effort to “conform, to be ‘normal.'” Fifteen years later she was so miserable that she divorced, returned to art school and became a professional illustrator.
After her 2001 epiphany, she left her job as The Jewish Journal’s art director and, between radiation and chemotherapy treatments, spent hours intensely staring at the snapshots.
“Eventually, the body language of the individuals told me things I wanted to communicate,” said Adler, who left The Journal in 2002.
Her realistic paintings include a 1944 winter portrait of her stoic, taciturn uncle Ben, who stands very still in front of his Minot jewelry store, his eyes veiled behind shadowed spectacles. In a painting of Adler’s domineering father and grandmother, his hand clutches her shoulder as if he is controlling her every move. A summer 1930s portrait of Adler’s scowling mother and aunt reveals “two women who are in conflict, yet they’re in a family,” she said.
Sherry Frumkin of the Santa Monica Art Studios, which previously displayed some of the paintings, described them as “intimate little gems, which make you feel transported to another era.”
If the portraits aren’t always positive, Adler said, “I’m a truth teller. I don’t color things with niceties…. [Rather], I hope viewers will feel they’re looking through a window, as if these people will step right out of the frame.”
For information, call (310) 552-2007.
‘Jubana’ Memoir Rescues Its Author
7 Days in the Arts
Chinese restaurants and movie theaters notwithstanding, lonely Jews on Christmas have a new place at which to convene. The Skirball Cultural Center is open and mostly free to the public today. See the “Time/Space, Gravity and Light,” “Celestial Nights,” and “Visions and Values…” exhibitions, watch a screening of “Back to the Future” at and take part in a drop-in art workshops free of charge. The “Einstein” exhibit is not free.
Noon-5 p.m. Movie screening at 1:30 p.m. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.
It’s a family kind of weekend. Spend today at the Getty’s “Close to Home: An American Album” exhibit, which celebrates the family photograph. Some 200 black-and-white and color images taken from 1930 through the mid-1960s, by amateur photographers, as well as by professionals like Thomas Eakins and Alfred Steiglitz, are included in the show. From birthday parties to family vacations to pictures of people with their prized possessions, these pictures strike a familiar chord as we consider our own family portraits.
Another klezmer CD? Why not, especially when it’s as good as “Actions Speak Louder Than Words”? The instrumental CD by Klezmer Juice offers new takes on traditional melodies like “Zemer Atik” and “Donna Donna.” The group also recently caught the attention of New Line Cinema, which cast them as on-camera performers in the upcoming film “The Wedding Crashers,” starring Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Christopher Walken. Their version of “Hava Nagila” will be featured on the soundtrack.
Film director Pierre Sauvage comes to the New JCC at Milken this evening for a discussion following the screening of his 1989 film, “Weapons of the Spirit.” The last in the JCC’s “Between Worlds” series featuring Holocaust-related films, this movie tells the story of an entire French village of Righteous Gentiles who saved the lives of some 5,000 Jews.
7-9 p.m. Free. 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3300.
Put idle hands to work today with producer Ellen R. Margulies’ new DVD, “The Art of Knitting.” According to the producers, this is the first DVD of its kind, despite the huge knitting trend that has swept the country. You’ll learn everything from knitting and purling to color theory and how to start your own knitting circle in this first of four volumes.
Fahey/Klein Gallery offers the public the rare opportunity to see privately owned works by renowned artists like Diane Arbus, David Hockney, Man Ray and Robert Mapplethorpe in its latest exhibition, aptly titled, “Photographs From Private Collections.” Catch them before they retreat behind closed doors again on Jan. 29.
148 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 934-2250.
Say “Sholom” to 2004 with the Santa Monica Playhouse’s one-night, two-show reprise of “Author! Author! An Evening With Sholom Aleichem.” Backstage West has hailed the musical comedy, based on the Yiddish author’s letters and stories. Included in the price of admission to both shows this evening are buffet supper, champagne, favors, hats, New Year’s surprises and an after-party with the cast.
$35 (6 p.m.), $45 (9:30 p.m.). 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 394-9779, ext. 1.
Chabon Crusades for Fun Literature
Israelis Question Army Morality
After more than four years of the Palestinian intifada, a debate is raging in Israel over whether the rigors of combat against terrorists who exploit and hide among the Palestinian civilian population is eroding the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) moral standards.
The debate follows publication of a number of incidents in which Israeli soldiers are suspected of violating moral norms. But after years in which Israelis lauded their army as the most moral fighting force possible in such difficult conditions, the reports raise a key issue: Are the suspected violations aberrations or do they reflect widespread brutality?
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says the IDF remains the most moral army he knows, but critics suggest that the relentless terrorist war has brutalized young soldiers who frequently vent their frustrations on Palestinian civilians.
While insisting that the incidents are aberrations, the IDF is taking the criticism very seriously, and has launched a campaign to root out such conduct.
Four cases have been highlighted over the past few weeks: the deliberate killing of a 13-year-old schoolgirl near an Israeli strongpoint in Gaza, a Palestinian man filmed playing his violin at a checkpoint near Nablus, photographs of Orthodox soldiers posing next to body parts of a Palestinian suicide bomber and naval commandos shooting dead a wounded Islamic Jihad operative.
The girl, Iman al-Hamas, was shot by Israeli soldiers as she strayed from her regular route to school. The commander of the outpost then approached her and fired several rounds into her body at close range to make sure she was dead.
Soldiers said they thought the girl might be a decoy for a terrorist attack or wearing an explosive belt. The commanding officer, an Israeli Druse, is now standing trial.
The Palestinian violinist, Wissam Tayim, says he was ordered to play a “sad tune” at the checkpoint. The incident conjured up images here of Jewish violinists being forced to play for the Nazis.
The soldiers, however, deny that they forced Tayim to play. They say they merely ordered him to open his violin case for inspection — Palestinians previously have transported bombs in music cases — and that he started playing of his own accord and was quickly told to stop.
There is a lack of clarity over the body parts incident, too. An army probe suggests that the religious soldiers did not touch the parts, and that photographs showing them doing so had been doctored. The parts had been touched by police carrying out normal identification procedures.
The fourth incident involves a elite naval commando unit known as 13. Palestinians say the commandos shot dead Mahmoud Qamail, an Islamic Jihad leader, after he had been wounded, and after Palestinian neighbors had dragged him closer to the Israeli force and handed over his gun and cellphone.
The soldiers say Qamail ran out of a house they had surrounded wearing a heavy coat. Though he had been shot and wounded, they had no way of knowing whether he was wearing an explosive belt or concealing another weapon. The unit already had lost six men in close encounters over the past year, including two in incidents where consideration shown to suspects proved fatal.
Sharon rejects any notion of moral decline in the army.
“We should not forget who our soldiers are fighting against — the most depraved killers, who are trying to hit at us without respite,” he told journalists in the Knesset last week. On Sunday he raised the issue in the weekly Cabinet meeting, accusing the media of a “sick drive to publish things even if they aren’t true.”
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and the IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, both pointed out to the Cabinet that army orders at all levels are transparent, and that every complaint is thoroughly investigated.
However, in an earlier interview with Ze’ev Schiff, military analyst for Ha’aretz newspaper, Ya’alon was less complacent. He questioned his own position, asked whether top officials were sending mixed messages to soldiers in the field, and spoke of the “scars of war” — of how seeing dead and wounded, manning roadblocks or breaking into homes of terrorist suspects inevitably hardens young hearts.
But, Ya’alon said, the army should not allow that to undermine its moral basis. If there is an erosion of values it is the army’s job to stop it by clearly defining what is and is not permissible, he said.
Opposition legislators expressed concern. Commenting on the naval commando incident, Labor’s Ofir Pines-Paz declared that “this is another shocking case in a string of similar cases, which show that the chief of staff has lost control of the brakes on the army. We are talking about total loss of control in the IDF.” Demobilized soldiers also suggest that the humiliation of Palestinian civilians is far more prevalent than the army admits. A group calling itself “‘Soldiers Breaking Silence” has been holding an exhibition in Tel Aviv showing photographic and other evidence of soldiers harassing Palestinian civilians.
On the whole though, it seems that the extent and nature of the Israeli aberrations pale beside those of other armies in similar situations. There have been no massacres or torture on the scale of the U.S. military in Iraq and Vietnam or the French in Algeria — and many commentators believe that long after the headlines of problematic incidents subside, military strategists around the world will emulate the IDF’s tactics in urban combat and against terrorist organizations.
According to the IDF, since the beginning of 2004, 29 Palestinian civilians were killed in crossfire or accidents. Of the 267 Palestinians killed this year, 119 were terrorists and 119 were civilians involved in attacks on soldiers.
Nevertheless, the IDF is doing all it can to make sure the message now is clear. Mofaz says he has issued orders to senior officers to severely punish any soldier who violates the norms, and Ya’alon is going from unit to unit to clarify the IDF’s rules of engagement and its moral code.
7 Days In Arts
Aaron Samson wrote and stars in “Not Dead Yet,” a piece inspired by his grandfather’s memoirs of his Russian past: working for Leon Trotsky, the consequent threat of execution by Russia’s communist regime and his quick escape to the United States where he began a new life. The one-man show follows the journey of a grandson, Jacob Samson, back to Russia to find his roots and the missing pieces of the story his grandfather Leo wrote down. It plays today at the Elephant Lab.Runs Saturdays, through Sept. 18. 8 p.m. $10. 1078 Lillian Way, Los Angeles. (323) 878-2377.
Might wanna throw some buttered popcorn into the picnic basket tonight for the Hollywood Bowl’s movie night program, “The Big Picture.” John Mauceri conducts the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in selections from MGM/UA movie scores, as scenes from the films are projected on the Bowl’s giant screen. The James Bond series, “Rocky,” “The Pink Panther” and “West Side Story” are some of the featured films.7:30 p.m. $3-$88. 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (213) 480-3232 (for tickets).
Horn in on High Holiday fun with shofar-making activities this week. The Hebrew Discovery Center holds a Shofar Factory Party on Sunday for kids ages 5 and up, while Calabasas Shul holds a shofar-making workshop at the local Albertsons today.HDC: Sept. 5, Noon. $7 (per child, include slice of pizza and refreshments). (818) 348-4432. Calabasas Shul: Sept. 6, 5-6:30 p.m. $5 (per shofar). (818) 591-7485.
The Mexican Jewish community isn’t one that gets much ofa spotlight, but for filmmaker Guita Shyfter, it made sense to focus on her ownroots and community. “Like a Bride” (“Novia Que Te Vea”) is the result. Thefilm’s uncommon subject matter is made more unique by its treatment: the storyof two women friends coming of age in 1960s Mexico City is told primarilythrough dialogue in Ladino and Spanish, with some Hebrew and Yiddish, as well.It is newly released on DVD. $17.96.
Klezmer goes upbeat in the latest CD by Yiddishe Cup,”Meshugeneh Mambo.” Six parody tracks pay tribute to klezmer comedian MickeyKatz, with the rest offering up original or reworked “neo-Borscht Belt klezmercomedy” tunes, and the titles say it all: “K’nock Around the Clock,” “I Am A Manof Constant Blessings” and “Second Avenue Square Dance.” $15.
Sports nuts despair not. With the close of this summer’s Olympic Games also comes the opening of “Game Face: What Does a Female Athlete Look Like?” at USC Fisher Gallery. The exhibition features photographs of women from the 1890s to today participating in sports from hunting to ping-pong to soccer. Creator Jane Gottesman has compiled images from myriad sources, including the Associated Press and various renown photographers including Ansel Adams, Robert Mapplethorpe, April Saul and Annie Leibowitz.Runs through Oct. 30. Noon-5 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.). Harris Hall, 823 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 740-4561.
The Nuart goes behind the music tonight, presenting the L.A. premiere of “End of the Century,” a documentary about the seminal punk rock band, The Ramones. From their interpersonal disputes to their struggles for fame, the doc takes a hard look at the hard-living band that arguably failed to achieve the recognition they deserved until long after they’d split.11272 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 281-8223.
Short Films, Big Messages
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
Once Upon a Mime
Although we had never met, I knew I would have no trouble recognizing Brenda the second she walked into the Melrose Avenue bar where I sat waiting for her. After all, it was her photograph — the leonine curve of her green eyes and coquettish cap of blond curls — that compelled me to contact her on an online dating site where I happened upon her profile. We conversed via e-mail and agreed to meet in person.
But when a woman who bore little resemblance came through the door and waved in my direction, I assumed she was motioning to someone behind me. When she introduced herself as Brenda, I was dumbstruck. It wasn’t only the deep-set streaks of facial acne scars that didn’t register in my memory of her picture; I also didn’t recall her mentioning traveling to the moon — the only place a scale would have informed her of the 110 pounds she claimed to weigh in her profile.
Brenda began gabbing away the second she sat down across from me, but I’ll be damned if I heard a single word. I smiled blankly as my brain studied the differences between the online and actual Brendas. It was as if Charlize Theron miraculously agreed to date me, but without informing me she would show up in her “Monster” makeup.
So bewildered was I that after two minutes I excused myself to go to the bathroom. Near panic, I spotted a fire exit in the back and froze in front of it. I silently debated the merits of making a break for my car outside.
Maybe you haven’t been in the position of contemplating escaping from a bad date. But chances are you have been affected by this pernicious trend common to both genders online: the often glaring discrepancies between the photo or listed physical dimensions on a profile and their flesh-and-blood appearance. My encounter with Brenda got me thinking about how to manage expectations in the dating world.
The horror stories are many. Many female acquaintances have encountered so many men who lied about their height that they simply deduct two inches from whatever they see listed. And then there was my friend Abby, who agreed to a date with a gentleman whose photo depicted a curly mane she was dying to run her fingers through. The guy turned out to have more hair on his chest than on his head.
If only these inconsistencies were confined to men. Nearly every male I consulted complained that many women misidentify their body type, such as those who characterize themselves as “proportional” when they in fact measure a longer distance horizontally than they do vertically.
In all seriousness, these incongruities must be treated sensitively; I suspect we all exaggerate our attributes to varying extents mostly out of self-delusion, not deceit. But you are crossing into the latter territory if you hire a professional photographer to deliver the kind of headshot an actor might seek. If the resulting image is something your own mother wouldn’t recognize, maybe it doesn’t belong on a dating Web site.
And to those of you who willingly enhance their images through the magic of Photoshop, for shame, I say. At least doctor your photos in moderation: I recently encountered a picture of a woman whose face was so illuminated by some sort of halogen light that I thought I recognized her from the final scene of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
I’ve been tempted plenty myself to do a little post-production work on my own face. I seem to add a new chin with each passing year, and the bags under my eyes are capable of growing to Hefty Cinch-Sak proportions. But is it dishonest of me to not post the worst possible photo of myself? As long as the image bears a resemblance to my actual face, my conscience is clear.
Exaggerating would probably get my foot in the door with more women I find appealing, and maybe my sparkling personality could even distract them from the fact I’ve distorted the truth. But even if that worked, it would bother me that I had to hide who I really am just to curry favor with someone I barely know.
As for Brenda, luckily enough I had downed a Corona before she arrived. That wasn’t quite enough to give me the dreaded “beer goggles” that have transformed many beasts into beauties, but it did embolden me enough to return to the table and look her in the eye.
“I’m gonna go,” I found myself saying, to which she responded with a quizzical look. Much as I wanted to angrily explain myself, I complained of a sudden headache. She may have deceived me to seem more attractive, but the truth would have been just as ugly.
A Leg Up
Go for a Holy Dip
Picture a woman floating submersed in a warm bath, the water enveloping her like the womb and bringing her to a renewed state of spiritual purity. That is the experience of the mikvah, the ritual bath of natural water where for centuries Jewish women have immersed themselves after their menstrual cycles and after childbirth.
This month the Fine Arts Council of the University of Judaism (UJ) is exhibiting a collection of ethereal mikvah photographs that examines all facets of the mikvah experience. Titled “The Mikvah Project,” the exhibit combines the work of photographer Janice Rubin and writer Leah Lax.
Rubin and Lax, who both live in Houston, interviewed women in five different U.S. cities and asked them for their personal stories of mikvah use. The stories, all told anonymously, range from tales of using icy mikvahs in the former Soviet Union with the threat of gulag looming over every dip to using the mikvah to feel renewed after a divorce or an abusive relationship.
“We didn’t know that we were going to tap into this sort of grass-roots rebirth of mikvah outside of the Orthodox community,” Lax said. “Ultimately, half of our subjects use mikvah according to Jewish law, and the other people have utilized mikvah into all kinds of personal and creative rituals.”
With their aquatic grace, the photographs in “The Mikvah Project” manage to illustrate the mystical secrecy of this ancient mitzvah, and the uniqueness of the mikvah experience. Each subject in the exhibition put her own personal imprint on these bodies of pure water, and so in many ways, it seems, the ritual becomes a form of prayer — an opportunity to connect to God using one’s whole body.
“We didn’t have a single interview without tears,” Lax said. “At the end of every interview, I would say, ‘Come with me now. Close your eyes, we are standing at the railing of the mikvah. Tell me what you are thinking.”‘
And the women would say, “It’s just me and God,” she said.
The Mikvah Project exhibition opens Oct. 26 at the
Lessening Reality’s Bite
Leaders of the world have called him irrelevant, and indeed he has been largely replaced in world affairs. But in an exhibit at Tel Aviv’s Dvir Gallery, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is as relevant as ever as the foil for a young art curator’s homage to Israeli culture.
Consisting of about 20 illustrations and photographs, "Guess Who Died" aspires to be a mirror of Israeli society and its relationship with the Palestinian leader who has served as the culture’s ultimate anti-icon for the last three decades.
In a digital photo montage titled, "Death Row," Arafat’s head has been crudely pasted onto the body of late rapper Tupac Shakur as he walks alongside Marion "Suge" Knight, founder of the hip-hop record label Death Row Records, surrounded by bodyguards. It’s the Palestinian Authority à la gangsta rappers.
The curator, 24-year-old writer and art critic Ory Dessau, calls the exhibition a post-traumatic shock reaction to the Palestinian uprising. Though in grappling with Israel’s view of personification of Palestinian nationalism, "Guess Who Died" includes pieces that date from the 1970s, when Arafat first burst into the national consciousness.
"My starting point is that Arafat is an Israeli cultural construct," he said. "I want to take the entire Israeli debate about Arafat, reproduce it and take ownership."
Dessau explained that the exhibit’s title refers to a "hierarchy" of death that’s part of the conflict. In both Israeli and Palestinian societies, the significance of a killing varies depending on whether the victim is a child civilian, a soldier, a settler or a potential suicide bomber.
"We’re in a situation where there’s no distinction between civil life and military life," he said. "This is our life, there’s no difference between the front line and the homefront."
A self-described Israeli leftist, Dessau supports a two-state solution. But he says that unlike other exhibitions in Israel that have been organized to criticize Israel’s military occupation or support for coexistence, his has no agenda. Instead he calls it "an objective reflection of the state of bloodbath" that comes with a sense of humor.
Adam Rabinovich, the Israeli artist who put Arafat’s head onto the body of the rapper, said the montage is meant as a humoristic parallel between the way Israelis look at Palestinians and racial tensions in the United States.
"To be Israeli and not deal with Arafat is impossible," Rabinovich said. "It just comes out."
Dr. Laura Loses Her Religion
7 Days In Arts
Betty Green’s paintings work on so many levels — seriously. Her latest collection of mixed-media works, titled “Worlds Within,” refers to the layers of paint and found objects that cover her canvas, as well as to the infinite nature of the visual space they inhabit. Orlando Gallery hosts an opening reception for the exhibition today.7-9:30 p.m. 18376 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. (818) 705-5368.
Socially conscious kicks are just what the doctor ordered this evening. Presented by Physicians for Social Responsibility, tonight’s engagement is titled “Rx” and features performances and art to benefit the organization of doctors and health professionals working toward a world “free from violence, weapons of mass destruction and environmental threats to human health.” Marcus Kuiland-Nazario and Nurit Siegel co-host the event, with acts by osseus labyrint, Paul Zaloom, Danielle Brazell and others.7 p.m. $20. The Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. (213) 386-4901, ext. 125.
Congrats to Wilshire Boulevard Temple for making thecut. New out this month is Samuel D. Gruber’s survey of the evolution of theAmerican Jewish house of worship over the past 100 years. With photographs byPaul Rocheleau, the book “American Synagogues: A Century of Architecture andJewish Community” features 36 of the country’s most beautiful or architecturallysignificant temples. Wilshire is the lone edifice representing our fine state,but other highlights include designs by Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson,Walter Gropius and Minoru Yamasaki. $40. Rizzoli International.
Pick up the carpool and head to Borders in Westwood this afternoon for Shalom Time. Kids and parents enjoy Jewish quality time with songs, stories and finger-puppet theater, sponsored by the Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel, better known simply as LINK.4 p.m. Borders Books and Music, 1360 Westwood Blvd., Westwood. (310) 470-5465
Aaron Sorkin’s repartee writing for television is known for being both prolific and distinctive. But is his live banter as good as his “West Wing” scripts? Find out this evening, as the Museum of Television and Radio invites you to participate in “A Conversation With Aaron Sorkin.” As the creator, writer and executive producer of the shows “The West Wing” and “Sports Night,” he’ll discuss how he constructs dialogue and how he moves an episode through production.7-8:30 p.m. $12-$15. 465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (310) 786-1091.
One of only three military rabbis in the theater of battle comes to Los Angeles this Sept. 11. Capt. Avrohom Horovitz of the U.S. Army 3rd Battalion, 27th Artillery Regiment, Ft. Bragg, N.C., will share observations from the Iraqi front lines and discuss the spiritual struggles in the war on terror.8 p.m. $5-$7. Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel, 10523 Santa Monica Blvd., Westwood. (310) 470-5465.
Don the goofy glasses for some retro fun tonight. The World 3-D Film Expo kicks off tonight, hosted by the Egyptian Theatre. Movie trailer archivist Jeff Joseph has organized the festival, which will feature more than 33 classic and rare feature length 1950s 3-D films and more than 20 short subjects. Tonight, see “House of Wax” and the short, “Motor Rhythm,” followed by “Stranger Wore a Gun.” Other festival highlights include screenings of “Kiss Me Kate” and “Creature From the Black Lagoon.”7 p.m. Runs through Sept. 21. $10 (per screening), $320 (festival pass, plus souvenir booklet). The Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (661) 538-9259.
7 Days In Arts
7 Days In Arts
“Art” for the people: Yasmina Reza’s play about the delicate nature of friendships opens today at The Laurel in Ventura. Translated from the French by Christopher Hampton, the words fly among three male friends when one of them pays a good sum of money for a supposedly avant-garde white-on-white painting. Actors Joseph Fuqua, Cliff DeYoung and Emmy Award-winner Bruce Weitz (“Hill Street Blues”) star in this latest Rubicon Theatre Company production playing through Sept. 28.8 p.m. (Thursday-Saturday), 7 p.m (Wednesday and Sunday), 2 p.m. (Thursday, Saturday and Sunday). $28-$43. 1006 E. Main St., Ventura. (805) 667-2900.
Wunderkind Daniel Schlosberg works his 24-year-old fingers over the piano keys in this evening’s installment of LACMA’s Sundays Live Series. Mozart and Schubert fans convene at the Bing Theater for a free fix of the composers’ “Sonata in F” and “Sonata in B Flat,” respectively.6 p.m. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6000.
Put the superstitions aside and head to Forest Lawn for their latest exhibition, “The Art of a People: Polish Expressions.” Works by Polish artists Danuta Rothschild, Jerzy Skolimowski and Jan Styka are displayed along with videos depicting their lives and their paintings.10 a.m.-5 p.m. (daily). 1712 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale. (800) 204-3131.
You don’t need a parking reservation to see the Getty’s collection anymore. Take a personal Tuesday and check out their “Photographs of Artists by Alexander Liberman” exhibition. During his 50-year career as art director of Vogue and editorial director of Condé Nast Publications, Liberman’s flashbulb dilated the eyes of prominent artists like Picasso, Matisse, Frankenthaler and Duchamp. You can see those images and others through Oct.19.10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tuesday-Thursday, Sunday), 10 a.m.-9 p.m. (Friday and Saturday). 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300.
While growing up, Baila Goldenthal’s nomadic family life took her all over the United States and to the Panama Canal. As an adult, her own wanderlust led to a two-year stay in Europe and later in Madras, India. Her thematic interest in the concepts of time and space were a natural outgrowth of all her traveling, which has translated into her art, most recently in a series of collages and sculptures fittingly titled “On and Off the Wall.” The pieces can be viewed starting today at the Artcore Brewery Annex.Runs Sept. 3-28. By appointment (Wednesday), noon-4 p.m. (Thursday-Sunday). 650A S. Avenue 21, Los Angeles. (323) 276-9320.
Three distinctly American musical musings make up tonight’s “Dvořák’s New World” concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Offered up are “Symphony No. 9” from the titular piece, along with excerpts from George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” and Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.”8 p.m. $1-$77. 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000.
You started the week with a play about art and friendship; end it with one about architecture and family. Richard Greenberg’s “Three Days of Rain” has reopened at the Flight Theater at the Complex in Hollywood through Oct. 15. The play about two siblings struggling to understand their architect father after his death and their subsequent disinheritance was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1998.8 p.m. (Thursday-Saturday). $15. 6472 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 761-6482.
7 Days In Arts
Diaspora Diversity Focus of ‘Portraits’
An Argentine gaucho lounges near his horse. A Bombay bride displays her upturned palms, filigreed entirely with henna. An Ethiopian boy lights candles with a classmate. A woman poses stiffly in her kitchen in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. What unites these disparate images is that the people depicted in them are Jews, all of them captured in black and white by Israeli-born photojournalist Zion Ozeri.
Ozeri has made a career out of documenting Jewish communal life both in Israel and in far-flung outposts of the Diaspora, like Peru, India, Tunisia and Uzbekistan. The images are compelling. Ozeri has a strong sense of composition, an outsider’s eye for the telling or humorous detail and an ability to play on our emotions with shadow, light and reflection.
At first glance, his photos seem like intimate glances into the lives of people who are vastly different from us. They are rich in atmospheric details — the steam of the marketplace, the rough texture of cobblestones, the ropy muscles of laborers, the weave of embroidery on traditional costumes. But if what draws us at first is the exotic, what makes these images linger in our minds is their universality. Ozeri captures not just the foreignness of these other lives, but their intense humanity. In the process, he illuminates the colorful, global variety of Jewish life. It makes the title of his latest exhibition at the Skirball, "Portraits of an Eternal People: A Jewish Family Album," particularly apt.
Ozeri wasn’t always this passionate about cross-cultural experiences. Raised during the 1950s as an Israeli-born son of Yemenite immigrants, Ozeri’s formative years were spent trying to distance himself from his own family’s cultural distinctiveness. Born in an Israeli transit camp, and later raised in the town of Ra’anana, Ozeri chafed at the ethnic divisions and social prejudices that marginalized Yemenite Israelis. It was a time when Ashkenazim reigned supreme in Israel.
"When I was growing up, I just wanted to fit in," he recalled in an interview with The Journal. "In those days, fitting in really meant distancing myself from my parents’ generation. People my age wanted to be modern, to get rid of the stigma associated with being Yemenite or Sephardic."
Ironically it was his own heritage that propelled him toward cultural photojournalism. An early attempt to study premed in the United States was aborted when the ’73 war broke out and Ozeri returned to Israel to fight. Shortly after his six-month military stint, Ozeri decided to pursue his interest in photography instead of medicine.
After studying in New York, he began freelancing for magazines and newspapers. During a vacation in Israel in the early 1980s, it occurred to him that his own community was a ripe subject for the camera.
"I saw, at this point, that my parents’ generation was disappearing and that, in fact, all the generations of Israel’s immigrants were disappearing and no one was paying attention," Ozeri said. "So I decided to spend a few days of my vacation photographing Yemenites in the community of Rosh Ayin. I took pictures at the local market, and elsewhere around town. I began to appreciate my specific heritage as a Yemenite Jew. I outgrew my embarrassment as a kid and learned to see the beauty in it."
Ozeri’s photographs of Yemenite Jews in Israel became an eight-page photo essay in Moment magazine and ultimately led to a book, "Yemenite Jews: A Photographic Essay" (Schocken, 1985).
His Skirball show, which opened July 1, includes images from more than a dozen countries. However, it’s always Jewish spirit and ritual that are the common threads — from a photo of a challah maker in Chile to a Jewish day school in Zimbabwe.
"What I love is to compare and contrast, to see the beauty in other places, other communities," Ozeri said. "Sometimes, it’s amazing, there are only a few Jews in a given community, and yet, they are still keeping up all the traditions. In that way we are really a global community. I can go to a synagogue anywhere and I open the siddur and it’s a comfortable thing."
Some of the communities Ozeri documents are on the verge of extinction. He cites the 1,000-year-old Uzbekistan Jewish community as a case in point.
"There’s definitely more drama in photographing a community that is disappearing," he said. "You can feel the tension in the air. There is tension between family members. Some are headed for Israel, others to America. Some stay behind. It’s a unique experience."
For future projects, Ozeri is contemplating travel to Western Europe and Cuba. He has begun to see his work in ways that move beyond journalism and art photography into the realm of education.
"The more I am invited to lecture and speak about what I do, the more I begin to see the educational element in my work," he said. "People look at the exhibits and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know there were Jews here or there, or that they did this or that.’ My feeling now is that if you want to teach about diversity, the Jewish people are a dramatic example."
"Portrait of an Eternal People" is on display at the Skirball Cultural Center’s Ruby Gallery through Aug. 31. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Free. Noon-5 p.m. (Tuesdays-Saturdays); 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Sundays). For more information, call (310) 440-4500.
O.C. Finds Itself in a State of ‘Jewtopia’
7 Days In Arts
Workmen celebrate women today (and tomorrow), as The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring presents “Rosa: A Play About Rosa Luxemburg.” In honor of Women’s History Month, the Open Arms Community Players present a staged reading about the woman who “single-handed … almost prevented World War I.”7 p.m. (Saturday), 2:30 p.m. (Sunday). $8-$12. 1525 S. Roberston Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.
Rita and Rami sitting in a tree, S-I-N-G-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, now (finally) comes an American tour featuring both Israeli singers on one stage. The two lovebirds perform their music in concert, tonight.8 p.m. 4357 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 273-2824. www.teev.com.Put down the castanets and leave it to a professional. Israeli flamenco dancer Or Nili Azulay performs Spanish dance set to classical music tonight, as part of the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival. Rounding out the show, “Pulsations,” are solo pieces by dancers Shondrella, Vanessa Hidary and Roxane Butterfly.2 p.m. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles. (213) 473-0640.
Just ’cause your personal budget crisis forced you toforgo the Cancun spring break festivities is no reason to miss out on a “Tanglein Tijuana.” Lilla and Nora Zuckerman rush to your aid, ladies, with theirall-grown-up version of the choose-your-own-adventure novel: the “MissAdventure. “Just think, “Tangle” (“Miss Adventure” No. 1) ensures you can atleast have some virtual south-of-the-border fun — without having to worry aboutdrinking the water. $9.95.
Those who forego today’s documentary screening of “The Black Panthers (in Israel) Speak” are the real April fools. The film deals with the rise of the Panther movement in Israel in the ’70s and the resulting rise of Mizrahi cultural consciousness. Key leaders of the movement discuss the struggles facing them then and now. Sponsored by the Levantine Cultural Center, the screening will be followed by a discussion with one of the filmmakers, Sami Shalom Chetrit.5-7 p.m. 314 Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood. R.S.V.P., (323) 650-7010.
Alexandra Zapruder has gone beyond Anne Frank, sharing the voices of other young people during the Holocaust. Her book, “Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust,” is a collection of excerpts from the diaries they kept as refugees, or while in hiding or in ghettos. Zapruder reads from and discusses her National Jewish Book Award-winning book this evening at the Skirball Cultural Center.7:30 p.m. Free (members), $5 (general). 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 655-8587.
Didier Ben Loulou captures Jerusalem up close in his latest series of photographs. Not about place so much as it’s about perspective, Ben Loulou’s “Jerusalem” shows the innocence and intimacy of the city from a child’s gaze. The works are now on display at The Stephen Cohen Gallery.11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Saturday). Runs through May 17. 7358 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 937-5525.
It’s Queer Jews Week at Congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim. The synagogue has three events planned in celebration of the publication of “Queer Jews,” a new anthology with essays by people like “out” Orthodox Rabbi Steven Greenberg and documentary filmmaker Sandi Simcha Dubowski (“Trembling Before G-d”). Sunday’s bagel brunch and book discussion kicked things off. Tonight, a dinner with the book’s editors David Shneer and Caryn Aviv preceeds Shabbat services featuring Shneer and Aviv as guest speakers.6:30 p.m. (dinner), 8 p.m. (services). 6000 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 931-7023.
7 Days in Arts
7 Days In Arts
Somehow, USC Hillel and the Casden Institute have tracked down a few Jews in Hollywood. This weekend, the machers gather with Jewish student filmmakers from Los Angeles and New York for USC’s fourth annual Jewish Student Film Festival. Today’s itinerary: An afternoon “Pitch-Off” and “An Evening with Jonathan Kesselman.” From 4-6 p.m., students get to pitch their story ideas to William Morris agent Mark Itkin; creator and writer of “Freaks and Geeks,” Gabe Sachs; and Howard Rodman, chair of the writing department of the USC School of Cinema-Television. At 7:30 p.m., USC alum and writer-director Kesselman (“The Hebrew Hammer”) participates in a Q and A.Feb. 28-March 2. USC, Los Angeles. (213) 747-9135. www.uschillel.org.
To coincide with the release of his novel for young readers, “Summerland,” wonder boy Michael Chabon speaks about “childhood, imagination and creativity” at UCLA today. Chabon is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” (Picador, 2001). A 20-minute Q and A with the audience and book signing will follow the one-hour talk.8 p.m. $15-$35. UCLA Royce Hall, Westwood. (310) 825-2101.
Those who missed its one-week coming out party this pastOctober can catch “The Trials of Henry Kissinger” on cable this month. TheSundance Channel airs it today (with eight more March screenings) to launch”DOCday” Mondays, a series which will premiere new documentaries every Monday at9 p.m. Finally, the lowliest of weekdays gets some respect. 9 p.m. SundanceChannel. www.sundancechannel.com .
“Fashion and Transgression” is the titillating theme of the USC Fisher Gallery’s current exhibition. American and European women’s fashions from 1900-1950 are examined, exploring “tensions between personal and social identity, as well as the tensions between the liberation and regulation of the body.” Materials on display include photos by Alfred Steiglitz, Man Ray and Edward Steichen, a rare book by Jean Saudé and prints and drawings by Salvador Dali and Otto Dix, taken from various Los Angeles collections.Noon-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Saturday). Runs through April 12. Free. USC Fisher Gallery, Los Angeles. (213) 740-4561.
Lee Miller defied convention as a fashion model-cum-combat photographer. Far from the typical muse, she inspired the likes of Roland Penrose and Man Ray with her beauty, as well as her artistic talent, evident in her paintings, drawings and photographs. Her art, as well as the art inspired by her, is on display in the Getty’s “Surrealist Muse: Lee Miller, Roland Penrose and Man Ray, 1925-1945.” Included are Holocaust images she captured as a photojournalist during World War II.10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tuesdays-Thursdays, Sundays), 10 a.m.-9 p.m. (Fridays and Saturdays). Runs though June 15. Free. The Getty Museum, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300.
Barbara Cook is only giving us a few days to catch the act that earned her a 2002 Tony nomination for Special Theatrical Event on Broadway. She stars in “Mostly Sondheim” at the Ahmanson with Wally Harper on piano and Jon Burr on bass. As you might have gathered, they’ll be doing songs by Sondheim, as well as others, like Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg and Irving Berlin.8 p.m. (Thursday, Friday and Saturday), 2 p.m. (Sunday). Runs through March 9. $20-$55. The Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 628-2772.
Titian meets tango in Ruth Weisberg’s latest exhibition, “Ruth Weisberg: Love, Sacred and Profane.” Her work is often inspired by fine art images, like Titian’s “Amor, Sacro e Profano” and William Blake’s engravings for Dante’s “Inferno.” In this exhibition, she uses both of these works as foundations for depicting the confluence of art history and personal history, as in her Titian-inspired piece, where lovers slow dance in the forefront of the painting.10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tuesdays-Fridays), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Saturdays). Runs through April 30. Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, 357 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 938-5222.
A Man Without Fear
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
The Spirituality of Separation
7 Days In Arts
Got some time between services and your next Rosh Hashana meal? Unwinding with a book may sound nice, but perhaps that Jackie Collins paperback isn’t quite appropriate to the day. Try “Seven Heavens: Inspirational Stories to Elevate Your Soul,” instead. Based on his work experiences, the book by Rabbi Levi Meier, Jewish chaplain of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, presents his thoughts on death and dying. He discusses subjects like dying with dignity and mystical concepts like the soul and angels.
Pitspopany Press, $24.95. Available in bookstores andonline. For more information, visit
Day two of the Jewish New Year festivities. By now you’ve OD’d on mom’s famous brisket and small-talk topics – from the AMBER Alerts to Iraq – have deteriorated into dust bunnies behind Grandma’s plastic-covered sofa. What to do now that it has ended? Make a break for Café des Artists, where goyishe food and literary salvation await. Strong-jawed beauty Minnie Driver and doe-eyed ex-brat packer Andrew McCarthy take part in “Literary Stages,” reading from works by Oscar Wilde and Jewish author Tod Goldberg. Goldberg will also be on hand to sign copies of his novels.
6 p.m. (buffet dinner), 7:30 p.m. (reading). $25 (in advance), $30 (at the door). 1534 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. For reservations call (323) 465-1010.
No neurotic Jew, she. Siona Benjamin, a Sephardic artist raised in Bombay could’ve had one heck of an identity crisis. But instead, she’s embraced the influences of the many religions and cultures that have surrounded her while growing up. The result is “Finding Home: A Series of Gouache-on-Paper Works by Siona Benjamin.” Her vibrant works mix Hindu and Jewish images, as in one self-portrait in which Benjamin, as multiarmed Hindu goddess, becomes a menorah. The exhibition is on display at the USC Hillel Jewish Center, and you can hear Benjamin speak during Hillel’s Yom Kippur evening services.
Runs through Oct. 25. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Monday-Friday). Free. 3300 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles. For more information, call (213) 747-9135.
Those of you long-time West Coast transplants yearning for bygone days of Coney Island hot dogs and stickball may find comfort at the Beverly Hills Public Library today. Currently on display is a series of images by street photographer Martin Elkort. The photographs depict scenes from New York’s Lower East Side and Coney Island, five years after the end of World War II. Elkort captures the period’s general optimism and innocence through these documentary-style pictures. Kind of like a “Time Warp” minus Tim Curry in drag.
444 N. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 288-2220.
It’s hard to believe one year has passed since Sept. 11, 2001. And while we’ll each find our own ways to personally commemorate the day, there are also public memorials and television specials planned. For those of you planning to stay home with your families, you may want to consider Showtime’s “Reflections from Ground Zero.” Spike Lee hosts this showcase of nine short student films. They range from Serguei Bassine’s animated piece about a woman trapped in the World Trade Center to Rachel Zabar’s documentary “One Life,” about David Harlow Rice, a man who died in the attacks.
5:45 p.m. Showtime. Also airs Sept. 9 at 8 p.m. For moreinformation, visit www.sho.com
You’ve heard all the “Fuhrer Furor” in the pages of this paper. Along the same vein is a panel discussion at the Getty Center about “Biography on Film.” Academy Award-winning documentarian Mark Jonathan Harris and artist Péter Forgacs discuss their approaches to documenting the Holocaust. Special guests from various academic institutions are scheduled to attend as well.
7 p.m. Free. Museum Lecture Hall, J. Paul Getty Museum, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-7330.
It’s low-brow night at the Alex Theatre as the Alex Film Society presents “Vaudeville Returns.” World Hula-Hoop champion Mat Pendl astounds and amazes; “Top Banana” Bruce Block yucks it up; and for the main event, the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup” is also on the, ahem, bill. So don the Groucho glasses proudly. After all, what’s Friday the 13th without a touch of the bizarre?
8 p.m. $15 (adults), $12 (children). 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. For more information, call (818) 243-2539.
7 Days in the Arts
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