Artist Daniel J. Martinez provokes religion, politics to incite insight

Daniel Joseph Martinez has a question, or, rather, he wants you to have one. Well-known as one of the art world’s favorite provocateurs, the Los Angeles native and resident has brought his unique brand of art-as-conversation-piece to Culver City’s Roberts & Tilton Gallery for his first L.A. gallery exhibition in a decade, “I Am a Verb.” But why is Martinez, a non-Jewish artist, getting coverage in the Jewish Journal?  Well that’s simple, really; one of the works he made for the show is a series of photos of a hunchbacked, masked man with the Shema tattooed on his chest, along with a Muslim prayer inscribed in Arabic on one arm and a Catholic prayer in Latin on the other.

“This show is … a constellation of gestures … that are both philosophical and poetic, but yet use very disparate languages to attempt to question the state of who we are as human beings, and to question the time that we live in,” said Martinez on a recent Friday morning, strolling through the installation of his work. “It’s sort of like a series of haiku.”

Martinez has been active in the art world for more than 30 years, but he first rose to prominence in the early 1990s after making a lapel pin, of the sort often used for museum visitors, which was distributed to all attendees of the 1993 Whitney Biennial in New York. A simple inscription on the pin read, “I can’t imagine ever wanting to be White,” and it was worn by visitors of all races and ethnicities — including white — while viewing the rest of the art in the exhibition. Martinez thereby made everyone participants in his questioning reality, and he used language that was specifically intended to provoke the status quo in a zeitgeist consumed by political correctness.

Since then, Martinez has continued to challenge his viewers, and he’s spoken often about how his upbringing in the tumultuous Los Angeles of the 1960s influenced his views on multiculturalism and the notion of who is the outsider. Born in 1957, Martinez has by now become a fixture in the international art scene, his work included in museum collections worldwide.

Upon entering Roberts & Tilton, you’re confronted first by a large, white room, where the sound of Muslim prayers echoes throughout. From one wall, an abstract, sculptural mirror juts out; on another, a crookedly hanging police shield displays a strange manifesto scrawled across it that references both butter and betrayal; and, finally, across the room, the display of four massive photographs of the strange, hunchbacked, masked male figure.

At first glance, this collection of objects couldn’t be more disparate — in their media, subject matter and style — but Martinez is quick to explain the reasoning behind their juxtaposition. “There’s some attempt here to put a series of different kinds of works that take iconic or institutional positions from the society and compress those together.”  

It’s easy to see how the police shield, the Arabic music and the religion-tattooed hunchback follow this line of thought, but the abstract mirror takes a little more explanation. A quick trip to the adjacent room reveals that what once looked like a pedestal with a mirror on it randomly jutting from a wall is actually a replica of the base of the Statue of Liberty, looking as if it had been forced through the wall and become stuck there. 

“A Little Liberty, 2012” 18-karat gold glazed ceramic.

“The same sculpture, which is the Statue of Liberty on one side, looks like completely abstract minimalist gesture,” Martinez said, explaining his trick. “The Statue of Liberty pierces the wall; it’s been toppled. You think of the monuments of Lenin, you think of the monuments of any empire that is in ruins or in decline, or [where] something has changed, those monuments get toppled.”

Liberty’s extinguished torch reaches out toward the neon lights of two signs on a wall opposite that blare “We Buy Gold” and “Facial Waxing,” the light and language of the streets. “I’m not sure what the Statue of Liberty represents today other than a tourist attraction,” Martinez said. “A lot of what we do, and a lot of what has meaning, gets turned into entertainment.”

Walking back around to the other side of the wall, Martinez pointed to the mirrored base of the statue. “When you look at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty, which is upside down, what do you see? You see light,” said Martinez, pointing to the reflection of the sunlight and ceiling lights in the upward facing mirror. “You see the light. It’s a reflection of light. It’s a reflection of purity, right, but yet it’s also pornographic, we’re looking up her dress,” he said, speaking of the statue as if it depicted a real human being and not just an iconic symbol. In the process of upending the sculpture, he has turned its meaning upside-down as well: “We’re looking at the bottom, we’re looking at something that was repressed, something that was buried, something that was compressed into the earth, that was never seen. We only see the iconic symbol of what it was supposed to represent.”

The most interesting portion of Martinez’s exhibition, and certainly the most Jewish part, is his hunchback photos. “These are all me,” Martinez explained of the large photos, which depict him in heavy prosthetics and makeup. “I used my own physical body as another form of landscape, because this is like a landscape.” 

There is something undeniably topographical about the hunch on Martinez’s back, which he says took hours of special-effects makeup to achieve. But it’s clearly the simple faux tattoos on the figure’s front that make the most provocative statement. Through the prayers from all three Abrahamic faiths, Martinez’s hunchback brings the three traditions together on one deformed body.

“The attempt is not to get into the theological or political or social debate that goes on between these three different groups of people,” Martinez said. “It’s not to suggest that any one of them is right or wrong; it’s actually to try and observe it from a different point of view.

“I mean, do we believe in God?” He asked. “What is our spiritual self? How do we nourish that? How do we exist today?”

Such questions excite Martinez. To him, the idea of in-your-face, statement art, with too didactic a message is a little boring these days. “I don’t know if people respond well to that anymore,” he said. 

Martinez wants people who come to see his work simply to be open to possibilities and to find their own interpretations. “I wish that people would come and look and just take a second to think about things that are going on right now, at this very minute, everywhere around them, and somehow reconsider; they don’t have to change their mind.”

But if Martinez seems passive about his work, that’s not so. “I don’t think the work is neutral … and I don’t think it’s passive either … because if it was passive, I’m really not sure why I would do it. And it’s not neutral because neutrality then suggests that I don’t have an opinion, and I think it’s fairly clear there’s an opinion in the room.

“Am I really here only to decorate or do I have another kind of responsibility to speak to the tenets of the time?” Martinez asked. In the context of his work, it is instantly clear that the question was meant to be rhetorical.

Daniel Joseph Martinez’s “I Am a Verb” will be on display through October 20th at Roberts & Tilton Gallery, 5801 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232.  For more information, visit or call (323) 549-0223.

The illusion of a solution

Of all the incendiary books that have been written about Israel over the last year or so, none is quite as fiery as “Israel: The Will to Prevail” by Danny Danon (Palgrave Macmillan: $26).

Danon is a young activist in the Likud Party and serves as deputy speaker of the Knesset. He agrees with the various critics and commentators on the left on only a single point: “We are now at a critical juncture in our brief but momentous history,” Danon writes, “and our very survival is once again at stake.” Unlike Peter Beinart or Jeremy Ben-Ami, however, Danon rejects the notion that the United States (or, by implication, American Jews) is entitled to tell Israel how to conduct its affairs.  

“Israel must take firm hold of its own destiny, with a ready willingness to act decisively on its own behalf,” he insists. “[H]istory shows that when we act on our own, according to our own best interests, the results are not only better for Israel but for world peace as a whole.”

Lest anyone mistake his political colors, however, Danon pointedly insists on using the words “Jewish communities” and “residents of these communities” in place of “settlers” and “settlements.” The West Bank, of course, is referred to as Judea and Samaria. “The Jewish people’s claim to Israel,” he writes, “is older and stronger than any other people’s in the history of the world.” Indeed, Danon presents his fierce little book as nothing less than “a road map for Jewish victory — achieved with or without backing from her allies.” 

Danon insists that it is in the strategic best interest of the United States to support Israel, by which he plainly means the hard-line policies of Likud. “It’s an unfortunate fact that Israel has grown more distant from the United States,” he writes, “and I believe this puts both our countries in peril.” And he cites President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as advocates of what he calls “the growing acceptance in the United States and abroad of a left-wing, so-called progressive position on Israel” and “a one-sided view of Palestinian aspirations.”

“Discomforting behavior continues to come from the White House, which makes Israelis wonder whether the United States is really on our side,” Danon writes, “and strengthens the case that we must be confident to take matters, when necessary, in our own hands despite world or U.S. opinion.”

Nowadays, of course, the demarcation between left and right is blurry. Who, after all, would disagree with Danon’s assertion that “Israel’s experience with Gaza demonstrates the folly of those who say that the only pathway to peace involves handing over our land to the Palestinians.” Yet Danon also insists on salting his prose with fighting words — “our land” is a phrase that simply ignores the fundamental question of where the boundary is to be drawn between Arabs and Jews. Even when he claims that he “actively welcome[s] a healthy debate on the subject of Israel and the United States,” it is hard to discern where “healthy debate” leaves off and “criticism that demonizes Israel” begins.

The conclusion he reaches is that Israel cannot afford to take the risk of a compromise with the Palestinians: “Over and over again,” he complains, “Israelis are exhorted to concede more and more, while the Arabs are only asked to stop incitement and killing.” And, crucially, he argues that “any manufactured claim to a Palestinian state” is trumped by the inevitability that “such an entity would be a serious and ongoing threat for Israel.”

Danon calls instead for “a three-state solution,” an antique approach to peace-making in the Middle East that would assign sovereignty over the Palestinians to Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Clearly, his plan is not likely to succeed, and I suspect that’s the real reason why he advocates it: “Before we can make the three-state solution a reality,” he warns, Israel must be afforded “real recognition” by the existing states, and “Israel must take on and defeat those who are against us — Hamas, Hezbollah, and others.” 

“Israel: The Will to Prevail” leaves me in   exactly the same place I found myself after reading books by his adversaries in the progressive wing of Zionism — it’s a locked room in which the doors and windows are only a trompe l’oeil on solid walls. How Israel and the Jewish people are to extricate themselves from our unhappy predicament remains unexplained.

Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. His next book is “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris,” which will be published in 2013 under the Horace Liveright imprint of W. W. Norton to coincide with the 75th anniversary year of Kristallnacht.

Stone’s ‘Persona’ Wears Out Welcome

In the violence-ridden month of March 2002, which saw the Passover massacre at a Netanya hotel and the siege of Yasser Arafat’s compound in Ramallah, filmmaker Oliver Stone traveled to Israel and the West Bank to shoot a documentary on the escalating conflict.

The result is "Persona Non Grata," airing on HBO on June 5, which is neither as pro-Palestinian as Stone’s critics had feared, nor as balanced as his admirers might have wished.

On the positive side, the director of "JFK," "Nixon" and "Wall Street" is careful to give equal time to both sides and he features some of Arafat’s more blood-curdling past speeches to his Arab followers, which are rarely reported in the general media.

The imbalance is in the kind of footage and spokesmen selected to represent the opposite sides. There are extensive scenes of killed and wounded Palestinians, houses demolished, hassles at roadblocks and the constant rumbling of Israeli tanks.

Granted, there are also bloody scenes in the aftermath of the Passover massacre, in which a terrorist killed 29 Israelis celebrating a seder. But the burden of the Israeli case is carried by a series of earnest but undramatic talking heads, mainly Shimon Peres, alternating with Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu and historian Meir Pail, who is highly critical of Israeli policy.

They are all quite eloquent, especially Peres and Netanyahu, but since each has his own take on the present and future situation, they tend to cancel each other out and likely to confuse the casual viewer.

A somewhat comical refrain is Stone’s increasingly futile and frustrating attempts to finalize an appointment with Arafat.

The most effective Palestinian spokesman turns out to be Abu Kassir, a pseudonym for the masked leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, who says he’s just fighting the occupation and simply wants a return to the pre-June 1967 boundaries.

There is a short interview with a spokesman for the political wing of Hamas, who maintains that he knows nothing about the terrorist operations of his organization, but otherwise, the crucial fundamentalist Muslim viewpoint, calling for the destruction of Israel, is omitted.

Stone, working with French and Spanish producers, makes it harder to follow the already complex thread of the story by constantly intercutting between different scenes and spokesmen.

The 75-minute "Persona Non Grata" premieres on HBO on June 5 at 7 p.m., and will be shown again June 8 at 11:15 a.m., June 13 at 6:30 a.m., and June 17 at 2 p.m. Playdates for HBO2 are June 10 at 10:15 p.m., June 21 at 8:15 a.m., and June 30 at 5 p.m.

Carlyle Discusses Dangers of ‘Hitler’

Robert Carlyle, of "The Full Monty" and "Angela’s Ashes" fame, gives a striking performance in the title role of the CBS miniseries "Hitler: The Rise of Evil." The film, which airs Sunday and Tuesday (May 18 and 20) at 9 p.m., focuses on Hitler’s life from Munich beer hall orator in 1920, through his political machinations within the Nazi party and against the Weimar Republic, ending in 1934 with the consolidation of all state power in his hands. Speaking with a pronounced Scottish burr (which he suppresses in the film) from his home in his native Glasgow, the 42-year-old actor discussed the challenges and rewards of his role with The Jewish Journal.

Jewish Journal: What were your thoughts when you decided to take the role of Hitler?

Robert Carlyle: At first I was frightened because I realized the potential dangers and pitfalls. But I decided I wouldn’t do a carbon copy of Hitler. I would do my own interpretation, that I could explore him like any other character. Then a window opened up and I wasn’t frightened any more.

JJ: One of your fellow cast members, Peter Stormare, said, "I can’t imagine being Bobby [Carlyle] and having to look at himself as Hitler every day because of all the images that flash before your eyes, all the time." What were your feelings?

RC: Once shooting began, in my quiet moments, I tried to empty myself of the character on a daily basis, rather than store it up for four months. Also, as Hitler, I didn’t look at all like myself. I had the mustache, a false nose, cheek pieces and more weight as Hitler got older.

JJ: What was your working day like when you were shooting the film in and around Prague?

RC: It took around one-and-a-half hours for the makeup and I worked 14-15 hours on an average day. As we went further along, the days got even longer.

JJ: I understand that you were offered the role of Hitler three times before you took this one.

RC:Yes, the first time was about three years ago but it didn’t come to anything. Another time was for the film "Max" [in which Hitler was played by Noah Taylor]. Five months before I started the CBS job, I worked for three months on a BBC television production which started with Hitler in the bunker and we flashed back to his earlier life. So I had already learned a good deal about the character.

JJ: I believe the BBC project was canceled, partly due to strong Jewish protests.

RC: I’m not sure. I heard that there were funding problems because the American studio partner backed out. I don’t know about Jewish protests, but if there were any I would understand that.

JJ: One of the concerns raised when CBS announced the project was that any good actor would try to find the human elements in Hitler and therefore make him more sympathetic.

RC: It wasn’t a question of searching for the human traits. I didn’t have to find that to get close to the character. I thought Hitler was very cunning and had a belief of you’re-either-for-me-or-against-me. I tried to focus on these things.

JJ: Were you aware of the objections raised by some Jewish spokesmen and organizations in the early stages of the CBS project?

RC: Not at all. I didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes. But I knew from the beginning that if I gave as honest a portrayal as I could, it would be all right. I didn’t want to upset anyone.

JJ: After you finished shooting, did you go through a decompression stage?

RC: Yes, I took off and spent a month in the country. A few weeks ago, I went back to London for some final dubbing and suddenly saw "my" Hitler on the monitor. And I said to myself, "Jesus, what a pompous little prick" and then, "You’ve done your job."

The Circuit

Deborah-utantes Come Out


The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) held its annual Deborah Awards, honoring women of achievement — an evening at the Regent Beverly Wilshire emceed by Arianna Huffington.

Important Local Call

Members of Hadassah’s Long Beach/Orange County branch donated more than 150 used cellular phones to Denise Brown for the Call to Protect Project at the Nicole Brown Foundation. The phones will be preprogrammed to 911 and will be given free to victims of domestic violence.

In Special Company

Some 35 Hadassah Southern California members participated in the Hadassah National Convention in Orlando, Fla., July 21-24. Rhoda Braverman, left, and Carolyn Green, right, at the National Hadassah Convention with Natan Sadaka, the Israeli border policeman who received Israel’s highest military honor after preventing the loss of many lives and personally taking in the impact of a bomb at full force.

The Weizmann Way

Ilene and Jeff Nathan hosted a reception at their home for Weizmann Institute President professor Ilan Chet.

With Friends Like These…

The 30th Annual Merchant of Tennis/Monty Hall/Cedars-Sinai Diabetes Tennis Tournament was held this year at the Playboy Mansion. Cal Gross and Jo Shaw chaired the weekend-long event, which raised $300,000 in support of Cedars-Sinai’s Anna and Max Webb Diabetes Outpatient Training and Education Center.

Market Research

Brooke Shields, with chairs Tom and Shari Creed, at the Cedars-Sinai IBD Grassroots support group “Morning in the Market” event, which raised $100,000 for inflammatory bowel disease research. Photo by Thomas Neerken

Aviva Los Zimans!

Aviva Family and Children’s Services’ annual Triumph of the Spirit Gala honored Daphna Edwards Ziman at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where the ubiquitous Monty Hall was master of ceremonies. The evening raised $285,000 toward Aviva’s Capital Campaign Building Fund, which will finance a new Aviva High School and renovate Aviva’s administrative building on Franklin and La Brea Boulevards.

GLAPAC Gathering

Greater Los Angeles Political Action Committee (GLAPAC), which promotes U.S.-Israel relations, hosted an evening, which included the attendance of, from left, GLAPAC boardmember Jack Nourafshan; Sen. Mary Landreieu of Louisiana; boardmembers Stanley Treitel and Laura Stein; and Sandra Stein. Photo by Michael Dorf

Shalom, Salaam!

NA’AMAT USA Western Area Coordinator Alice Howard of Encino recently took part in a fact-finding mission. One of Howard’s stops: NA’AMAT Care Peace Center in Jaffa, where Jewish, Arab and Christian children go to learn about each other’s cultures.

“When I saw the sign on the door, I could tell that this was no ordinary early childhood center,” Howard said.

Yom Kapor!

National Jewish Medical and Research Center honored local attorney Jeffrey Kapor, a shareholder at Buchalter, Nemer, Fields & Younger, on July 30.

FAM-tastic Honor

Marcia Volpert and Loeb & Loeb LLP were honored for their community leadership and contributions at the ninth annual FAMMY Awards Dinner, sponsored by Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFSLA) at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey. The evening raised $330,000 for JFSLA-related causes.

Palette’s Palate

Art of the Palate 2002, a fundraiser benefiting the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, held its kick-off party at the Peninsula Beverly Hills. The hotel, along with the Art of the Palate Committee, co-sponsored the smorgasbord, which featured sushi, finger foods, and martinis galore.

Among the attendees: Lynda and Stewart Resnick

Dahlia and Art Bilger, Toni and Bruce Corwin, Judi and Gordon Davidson, Tom and Judy Beckmen, Lynne and Irwin Deutch,

Brindell and Milton Gottleib, Nancy and Jack Mishkin, Audrey and Arthur Greenberg, Alice and Nahum Lainer, Jane and Marc Nathanson, Sandy and Barry Pressman, Vicki Reynolds and Murray Pepper, Rikki and Frederic Rosen, Judi and Howard Sadowsky,and Judy and Don Simon.

Georgina Rothenberg co-chaired the 2002 event with Judy Henning.

The Art of the Palate fundraising dinners will occur all over Los Angeles on Sept. 26 -28 and over five nights in October. This year’s dinners will focus will be on architecture.

Among the featured homes: The Bilgers, Joyce and Saul Brandman, Linda and Maynard Brittan with special guest Frank Ghery, The Corwins, The Davidsons, The Beckmens, The Greenbergs, Michael Bay, Annie Kelly and Tim Streetporter with Diane Keaton, The Lainers, Mark Selwyn with special guest Leonard Nimoy and The Simons.

“We have a lot of architectural gems that we’re featuring and a lot of wonderful beautiful art collections,” Rothenberg said. “What’s special about this year it the gathering at people’s homes. The kick-off was really fabulous. It’s going to be a real intelligent evening.”

For information and reservations, call (323) 857-6182.

That’s Rabbi Richard…

Local resident Richard Brody received his master of arts in Hebrew Letters degree and the title of rabbi at the June 9 graduation of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pa.

Big Shot Producers

The L.A. stage production of “The Producers,” based on Mel Brooks’ Oscar-winning classic comedy feature, grossed $2 million in single ticket sales in its first week of box office business. The musical, which will star Martin Short and Jason Alexander, is coming to the Pantages Theatre in May.

Your Letters

From Russia With Love

The Jewish Federation applauds the efforts of the Russian Jewish community to support victims of terror in Israel (“From Russia With Love,” June 21). We also applaud the Russian-speaking Jewish community, and its leaders, for their efforts to raise funds for The Federation’s Jews in Crisis Campaign.

Since Operation Exodus, The Federation has assisted in bringing to Israel almost 1 million Russian olim and continues to provide significant funds for programs that support the Russian Jewish community in Israel, in the former Soviet Union and in Los Angeles. The Federation’s Jews in Crisis Campaign is raising money for myriad programs that aid victims of terror in Israel, including a number that specifically target the Russian immigrant community there. We are aware that a disproportionate number of new immigrants from the former Soviet Union have been victims of recent terrorist attacks. Significant funds are being designated for The Israel Crisis Management Center, a leading provider of short and long-term assistance for new immigrants who are victims of terror; the Tel Aviv Center for Trauma and Disaster Intervention, a provider of post-trauma training for staff working with immigrants; and programming for students of the Shevach Moffet High School, who are predominantly Russian and were most of the victims of last summer’s Dolphinarium bombing.

We welcome the participation of the local Russian Jewish community in our community-wide campaign to support victims of terror in Israel.

John Fishel, President The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Mishkon Tephilo

As president of Mishkon Tephilo in Venice, I want to thank The Jewish Journal for featuring our synagogue in last week’s issue (“Makeover for Mishkon,” June 28). We are a small congregation, but as one of the oldest on Los Angeles’ Westside, we serve an important segment of the Jewish community since our founding more than 80 years ago in what was then Ocean Park. Your article accurately reflects our excitement about Mishkon’s future. Our preschool is the only remaining Jewish preschool in our neighborhood, and Mishkon Tephilo’s board and membership proudly support one of the finest programs in Los Angeles. Your article’s contrary indication that the preschool would close next year is incorrect. Quite the opposite, our enrollment is up for this fall. Moreover, we are eager to fill our growing preschool and religious school to capacity. As other Jewish organizations close their schools, we are looking for new ways to continue and expand our commitment to Jewish education.

Richard Rosen , President Mishkon Tephilo

Where Are You?

Kudos to Amy Klein who so eloquently demands that we visit Israel now (“Where Are You?” June 21). That our letters, op-ed pieces and checks are not quite enough. Israelis need us in Israel.

This is exactly how I felt when I led Shalhevet High sophomores to Israel last March. This is exactly why Shalhevet families are sending their children to Israel this summer and in the coming school year.

Paul Nisenbaum , Assistant Principal Shalhevet High School

A Yahrtzeit With Some Hope

Aryeh Cohen’s selective reading of political events in the Middle East is colored by his palpable antipathy for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (“A Yahrtzeit With Some Hope,” June 21). When he states, “The solution is already written. It was almost signed in Taba — before Yasser Arafat and Sharon decided to engage in this latest dance of death,” he is incorrect. Doesn’t he remember that Arafat walked out on the Bill Clinton/Ehud Barak offer before Sharon took office? The “dance of death” was started by Arafat!

Jack Salem, Los Angeles

The Way It Is

Nothing more clearly shows the intractable nature of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians than Yaakov Hayman’s article (“The Way It Is, Bob,” June 21). This true believer has already in his mind incorporated the West Bank into the State of Israel since it is an integral part of the biblical land of Israel given by God to the Jews. His views are now ascendent in Israel, and the nuanced and skeptical views of Aryeh Cohen are in disrepute. Anyone with half a brain can see the logical end of Hayman’s views: There is nothing to discuss with the Palestinians. They have no legitimate claim to any portion of the land. Expulsion of the Arab population from the West Bank and Israel will be the only way to deal with them. Hayman has no concerns about the humanitarian or political consequences since any action to enforce Israeli sovereignty will be divinely sanctioned.

David M. Marcus, Los Angeles


Bay Cities JCC

With mixed emotions I read about the closing of the Bay Cities Jewish Community Center (JCC) (“Bay Cities Exits With Class,” June 28). And in a previous issue of The Jewish Journal, I saw the emotion-packed photograph of a young man looking forlornly at the Westside JCC pool about to be closed. I thought about the paraplegic in our community who had relied on the Westside JCC pool as the only pool in Los Angeles that he could use. And I thought of the hundreds of little boys who no longer can expend their energies and learn teamwork on the basketball court and in the pools at the Westside JCC. I thought of the young men being rehabilitated by Chabad who no longer will be able to exercise in the Westside JCC gym.

Many of us believe that our community was betrayed by The Jewish Federation; and, as a consequence, we cannot, in all due conscience, respond to its appeals for financial support. How sad that we feel this way.

George Epstein, Los Angeles

Autry Museum

The June 21 issue of The Journal was a beautiful acknowledgment to the newest exhibit at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage. The exhibit is a wonderful tribute to our Jewish heritage. I saw it personally on Wednesday evening and was quite impressed with the research and time that went into this project.

However, a major oversight in all the articles that were published was that there was only a courtesy mention of the hardworking research staff and exhibit designers, and the project historian, Dr. Ava Kahn was not singled out for her major contribution to this project.

Rosemarie Litoff Mandel, Thousand Oaks

Community Briefs

A Quiet Fiesta

They ran out of churros, but the bands played on. It was strange to encounter the shortage of the popular pastry, what with the lighter-than-expected turnout at Fiesta Shalom, the Jewish Latino festival held Sunday at Woodley Park in Encino. Organizers estimated about 5,000 visitors to the event over the course of the day, less than one-fifth the number who turned out for the Israeli Festival held on the same spot just two months ago.

However, festival staff pointed out this is only the second such event in as many years and that, with time and a better advertising campaign, attendance would improve.

“This is something that over the years will grow into a community event respected by both cultures, and will serve, years from now, as one of the premiere events of the Valley,” predicted Steve Koff, regional director of B’nai B’rith who helped organize both this year’s festival and the one in 2000.

Despite some public debate on Valley secession by participants at the welcoming ceremony, most festival-goers came to enjoy the music, the food and the blending of two cultures that rarely get such an opportunity. Children worked on art projects with volunteers from both Latino and Jewish community groups. On stage, performers included Jewish Latina vocalist Vanessa Paloma, as well as the charming Mariachi Juvenil Cobras de Jalisca, a youth mariachi band.

City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who is of both Mexican and Jewish descent, said he was pleased to see the efforts of festival-goers to explore and understand each other’s culture but would like to see it go further.

“It’s not so much just learning about each other’s cultures that brings us together, it’s finding common projects [like] immigration policy or working on civil liberties or even on improving our parks,” he said. “It’s nice to get to know each other but to become long-term friends we need to find those projects that can bring us together and keep us together.” — Wendy Madnick, Contributing Writer

Saban’s New Center

Local billionaire Haim Saban has added another feather to his cap with the recent opening of the Saban Center, a new Washington-based think tank on the Middle East, affiliated with the Brookings Institute.

Saban, a former sergeant major in the Israeli army, who became a children’s entertainment magnate and open-handed political donor, gave $3 million to launch the center, citing his “abiding interest in promoting Arab-Israeli peace and preserving American interests in the Middle East.”

Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, has been named director of the Saban Center. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor.

Hip Hop for Israel

While many Jewish entertainers have stayed idle on the ideological and charitable front during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Hip Hop Hoodios have not. The Los Angeles-based Latino Jewish collective will donate all of the profits from sales of their recent “Raza Hoodia” CD to Magen David Adom and the Asociación Tepeyac (a New York-based organization helping out Latino victims of the Sept. 11 attacks). They are also speaking out at their concerts about the reality of the situation in Israel to their non-Jewish audience.

“All of us in the band consider ourselves fairly liberal, yet we were appalled at many mainstream liberals’ rationalization of the Palestinian homicide bombings as a justifiable response to the Israeli military actions,” says Hoodios member Josh Norek. “It’s easy for people to see images on TV, and automatically assume that just because Palestinian kids are throwing rocks against tanks, they’re automatically innocent victims. We wanted to put a very difficult situation into a balanced context that a lot of people aren’t exposed to.”

Though decidedly not a political band, the group still feels the responsibility to speak up about it. “While each band member has a different stance on Israel’s actions, we all have a regard for the sanctity of human life,” Norek says. “It shouldn’t take being Jewish to respect that.”

To order the “Raza Hoodia” CD, visit . — Gustavo Arellano, Contributing Writer

The Left Comes to Town

More than 70 people attended “Pluralism in Time of Conflict,” a program sponsored by the Progressive Jewish Alliance, the New Israel Fund, Congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim and Congregation Kol Ami. Held on Tuesday, June 18, at Kol Ami in West Hollywood, the evening featured a conversation with David Ehrlich, a founder of the Israel AIDS task force, a published author, a reserve officer in the Israel Defense Forces and the owner of the bookstore-cafe Tmol Shilshom. Ehrlich discussed the current situation in Israel from his unique perspective as an artist, gay rights activist, soldier and member of the Israeli peace camp.

Last Monday night, Gidi Grinstein, a member of the Israeli negotiating team at Camp David, also spoke to some 60 “industry” people in Beverly Hills at an event sponsored by the New Israel Fund and moderated by Leonard Fine. Grinstein, a Wexner-Israel Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government Mid-Career Masters of Public Administration Program, spoke about the challenges facing Israel and the peace camp. “I see it as a conflict between moderates and radicals,” explained Grinstein, noting that there were moderates on both sides willing to negotiate. Grinstein served as the secretary and coordinator of the Israeli delegation for permanent status negotiations in the office of the prime minister between November 1999 and January 2001.

To learn about upcoming Progressive Jewish Alliance programs, visit or call (323) 761-8350. For more information on the New Israel fund, visit or call (310) 282-0300. — Amy Klein, Managing Editor

Your Letters

Republican Jews

We were very disturbed to read Joel Kotkin’s article (“The Christian Right, Conservatism and the Jews,” June 7) and the accompanying article about Jews turning to the GOP (“Israel Bolsters Local GOP Support,” June 7).

Many of the so-called leftists are in no way anti-Israel, but simply question the current policies of the Israeli government. As for the Jewish swing to the Republicans, there are many issues of vital importance to the world, to Israel and to America, which should be considered when one votes.

The Jews allied with Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson? Strange bedfellows indeed!

Richard and Ann Edelman, Los Angeles

I would never reject the political and financial support for Israel that comes from religious conservatives. Joel Kotkin makes the point that “today’s fundamentalists and evangelicals are, on average, better educated and more affluent than the average American.” But Joel ignores the fact that many of these Christians help finance the $250 million-per-year evangelical Christian Crusade that targets Jews for conversion. Our struggle for Israel’s survival is urgent and we need all the allies we can get. However, evangelical Christians must understand that their support of missionary groups like Jews for Jesus destroys Jewish families, threatens Jewish continuity and is an insult to our heritage. I would suggest and welcome that more Christians denounce deceptive efforts to convert Jews. This, in addition to their support of Israel, would be a true demonstration of unconditional friendship.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, Founder Jews for Judaism International

A Stand in Sacramento

I want to take this opportunity to thank The Jewish Journal and commend Tom Tugend on his coverage of the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC) mission to Sacramento from May 7-8 (“A Stand in Sacramento,” May 24).

Now it is as important a time as ever, given our state’s budget deficit, to strengthen our relationship not only between our legislators and their constituents, but between our educational institutions and social service agencies that provide so many invaluable services to not only our own Jewish community, but to the greater statewide community as well.

I invite those who were unable to participate this year to get active in their local community’s JCRC or other communal agencies and together join JPAC in Sacramento in May 2003.

Barbara Yaroslavsky, Chair JPAC

Watching Elie

I read the article by Mojdeh Sionit on (“Watching Elie,” May 31) and was very impressed. I have lived in Los Angeles for over 20 years and have met many Iranian Jews that have migrated to the United States and read their articles. I have never seen anyone who has such powerful English writing skills. I am also thankful to The Jewish Journal for accepting and printing this article from Sionit. I hope we will see more articles from her.

I am sure when Sionit is settled in the United States, with better orientation and guidance to the American society, the role of Jews and Iranian Jews in this society, she can be a top contributor to The Journal and other magazines she chooses to write for.

Farshaad Rafie, Los Angeles

Dirty Facts

Phil Shuman claims there are certain “dirty facts” about Israel (“Dirty Facts,” May 31). “Things like Israeli’s bulldozing homes with people inside … sharp-shooting soldiers taking out old women … [and] denying, food, water and medical care to [the] injured and dying.”

The problem is, the crimes of which he has accused the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are not facts. They are rumors, and sometimes, outright lies that have been trumpeted long and loud enough to gain a currency they do not deserve.

Example: the only people to whom food, water and medical care were denied were those still engaged in combat against the IDF in Ramallah and Bethlehem. I can testify that combat was ongoing in Bethlehem at the time that I was there. Palestinian gunmen in the Church of the Nativity were firing from snipers nests throughout the compound. To suggest that Israel was obliged to provide aid to combatants still firing upon them is utterly and completely absurd.

The “dirty truth” is that sometimes the press gets played for chumps, and well-meaning people, like Shuman, quote the lies as “dirty facts.”

Dan Gordon, Thousand Oaks

The Curse of Certainty

As parents of a Shalhevet Middle School student taught by Alexander Maksik (“The Curse of Certainty,” May 24), we think it important to convey our impression that he is an imaginative, effective teacher. We are sorry that he will not be returning to Shalhevet next year.

Barry H. Steiner and JoAnn Victor, Los Angeles

Combatting Hunger

I just read with interest your informative article about the wonderful work being done by SOVA, MAZON and Project Chicken Soup (“Combatting Hunger,” June 7). I then turned back to Page 7 and reread with disgust the piece about the hot dog-eating contest (“Dog Days of Summer,” June 7). What motivates this conspicuous consumption? How can otherwise intelligent, caring people find pleasure in stuffing themselves when there are hungry families in our own community? Who pays for these gobbled hot dogs? Wouldn’t it be better to donate them to the hungry children in our midst?

Lee J. Soskin, Studio City

A Matter of Crime

Thank you for the piece written by Teresa Strasser, (“A Matter of Crime,” May 31). It truly indicated a positive change in her column. You based the piece on research, and it concerned an important topic — safety (as opposed to, say, the angst associated with a laser peel).

Liz Parr, Laguna Hills


The correct spelling for the director of Jewish Family Service’s SOVA Kosher Food Pantry Program (“Combatting Hunger,” June 7) is Leslie Friedman. For anyone who wishes to contact the SOVA program, the phone number is (818) 789-7633.

Community Briefs

L.A. Student Killed in N.Y.

Avner Abensour, the 26-year-old nephew of Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, founder of Jews for Judaism, was found stabbed to death Monday night in front of a Brooklyn grocery store. Abensour, a Pico-Robertson native with a wife and 1-year-old son, had been in New York for the last five years studying at a Brooklyn kollel. He was last seen at 8:30 p.m. staggering in a Midwood neighborhood street before collapsing in front of 1500 Coney Island Ave. in Brooklyn around 8:40 p.m. Abensour was stabbed twice in the back, and a knife was found a half-block away. Police have no motive for the killing, but said it could have been a botched robbery attempt after finding his wallet still on him. They are also investigating the possibility that the killing was a hate crime.

“He was such a sweet boy, very gentle,” said Kravitz, who notified the family of Abensour’s death. “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.”

Abensour was taken to Maimonides Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead on arrival, a police spokesman said. At the yeshiva where Abensour studied, Heshy Mandel, 23, a friend of the victim, told a New York Times reporter that Abensour was “a real sweet guy. He’s not the type of guy to pick a fight. There’s not a chance in the world he would’ve done anything to provoke anybody.”

Mandel told The Times that Abensour wanted to be a rabbi and was a very dedicated talmudic scholar. “He was very into his religious studies,” Mandel said. “He was always there to help somebody with anything.”

Abensour’s family will accompany his body for burial in Israel and will return to sit shiva in New York, Kravitz told The Journal. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

NCSY Building Graffitied

The National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) building on Pico Boulevard was graffitied last Friday with the words “Free Palestine.” The words were written next to a poster depicting pictures of victims of terror in Israel. The graffiti was removed later that same day.

“We were offended by the insinuation that the taking of innocent lives could be connected to the Palestinian people’s goal of an independent state,” said Rabbi Steven Burg, the West Coast director of NCSY. “At NCSY we teach our students to respect all mankind and to believe in freedom and peace. It is unfortunate that select others cannot respect us in the same manner.” — Staff Report

ADL’s Foxman Visits West Coast

After months of conflict, West Coast lay leaders and staff of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) finally had their opportunity to face-off with National Director Abraham Foxman at meetings held the week of March 11-17. Foxman and his group (Caryl Stern, COO; Peter Willner, director of development; Ann Tourk, director of field operations; Glen Tobias, national chairman; and Mel Salberg, past chairman) held several meetings spread out over four days, including a meeting with the Santa Barbara staff and lay leaders, a breakfast meeting with the Salvin Young Leadership group and a meeting with the regional board and lay leaders on Wednesday night, March 13. It was the first time Foxman had visited Los Angeles following the controversial dismissal of West Coast Regional Director David Lehrer last December. Foxman declined to comment for this article. More than 100 ADL members, including the regional board, attended the March 13 meeting, which several attendees characterized as contentious at best.

“The only apology [Foxman] gave, was to apologize if anybody’s feelings were hurt,” said one member, who asked to remain anonymous. The source said that while some people bought into the program that was presented, many people remained angry. “I know a lot of people who are already withholding donations but it is very hard to walk away when you’ve devoted time and money to this organization,” the source said.

Alissa Duel of the Salvin group said she hoped the plan presented by the New York office — which included participation from lay leaders in choosing Lehrer’s replacement and way to improve East Coast-West Coast communication — may finally put ADL devotees’ fears to rest.

“If those two things get done and lay leaders are confident they will have a voice in future decisions, that would assure me that they heard what we’ve been trying to say,” Duel said. “Abe brought up a good point, that there is much work that needs to be done. But there is also the bigger picture [of the organization]. The means cannot justify the ends; the process cannot be overlooked.” — Wendy Madnick, Contributing Writer

Mideast Panel Angers Wiesenthal

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has criticized the Association of American Geographers (AAG) for scheduling a panel on the Middle East with “an overt and odious political agenda” at its annual meeting. Wiesenthal Center officials objected to three papers, whose abstracts indicate they are “designed not for serious discourse but to debase the State of Israel and Zionism.” The AAG, which is based in Washington and has 6,500 members, is holding its annual meeting at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel through Saturday, March 23.

In a letter of protest, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean, and Aaron Breitbart, senior researcher of the Wiesenthal Center, urged the AAG “to stick to its mandate of advancement of geography and cancel the Israel bashing.”

In response to the controversy, AAG Executive Director Ronald F. Abler told The Chronicle of Higher Education that his organization does not screen or reject papers submitted by any of its members. “Our view is that higher purposes were best served by an open market place of ideas, and that means we suffer occasional fools, and we have geniuses, too,” he said. Abler added that he expected some protests at the AAG meeting. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Temple Akiba Hosts Debate

Culver City’s Temple Akiba hosted more than 100 people on March 10 for “Is an Israeli-Palestinian Peace Treaty Possible?” A spirited debate took place between David Pine, western regional director of Americans for Peace Now, and Jerry Blume, spokesperson for Americans for a Safe Israel.

The audience at the Reform temple, most over the age of 50, expressed anger over suicide bombings, and disappointment with both Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon. While both advocates strongly support Israel, they presented different solutions to the current crisis.

“Jews argue,” concluded Rabbi Allen S. Maller, moderator of the moderated the debate. “That’s what we do best.” — Eric H. Roth, Contributing Writer n

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean, and Aaron Breitbart, senior researcher of the Wiesenthal Center, cited three presentations, presentation by Mohameden Ould-Mey of Indiana State University on “Zionism is Back to Square One: From the Jewish Question in Europe to the Israeli Problem in the Arab World,” in a letter to AAG President Janice J. Monk.

Cooper noted that, “The term ‘Jewish Question” is deplorable in itself. It was the ugly term used by the Nazis to describe the mere existence of Jews in Europe. Its current usage vis-à-vis the Middle East and Israel is frightening, with Ould-Mey calling for the ‘de-Zionization of the state of Israel” and pondering the beginning of the end of the state of Israel as we know it.”

In response to the controversy, Ronald F. Abler, AAG executive director told The Chronicle of Higher Education that because of earlier complaints about the Middle East session, he had reviewed the abstract of Ould-Mey’s paper.

“I decided that here were things in the abstract that I could see that some people would find inflammatory or offensive, but I did not see sufficient cause or even a strong case for departing from our position that we provide the forum, and what people say is their business,” Abler said.

The Wiesenthal Center also took exception to a paper on “Blaming the Victim: Representation of the Palestinian Intifada in Selected Daily Newspapers in North America” by Ghazi Falah of the University of Akron, which “is clearly political, with little, if any, connection to geography,” Cooper said.

A third paper, by Jonathan Lu of the University of Northern Iowa, titled “Arab-Israeli Conflicts: A Biblical Solution,” proposed that the stated solution would depend, in part, “on the willingness of the Israelis to obey the commands of their God.”

In their letter of protest, Cooper and Breitbart questioned “what expertise allows Mr. Lu to offer such a presumptuous opinion on Jewish law or its observance by Israelis.”

Literary Comfort

Sept. 11 marked a resurgence in America’s love affair with the news media. Desperate to make sense of the tragedy, we made CNN and MSNBC staples of our TV diet.

But according to prolific Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua, television was not the only place we turned to for solace.

“People are reading novels again,” he told The Journal from his Haifa home. “In this time when people are turning more and more inward, when they are avoiding public places, they are reading. They read to understand the world, not in terms of the quick and easy media, but through literature.”

It is his faith in art as spiritual guidepost that has made Yehoshua — whose novels, plays, political essays and short stories have been translated into numerous languages — one of Israel’s most inspiring and haunting voices. As he prepares for his visit to Los Angeles, where he will join writer-composer Liz Swados for a literary dialogue with the Writer’s Bloc, Yehoshua meditates on the role of literature in an age of terrorism.

“Novels keep human feeling alive,” he says. “We have to be very careful not to get caught in sentiments of anger, hostility and revenge; to maintain humanism until today’s wave of anger passes. This is the role of art, and this is why novels will not die.”

Such philosophical gems illuminate Yehoshua’s oeuvre, a mélange of various genres, forms and influences: Kafka-esque psychological realism, Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness, existential absurdity à la Beckett, the epic style of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky.

Yehoshua has been rereading these classic writers of late because he “takes comfort” in them — and because he finally has a moment to rest on his laurels. His self-described “voluminous” novel, “The Liberating Bride,” was published recently, and will soon be translated into English. His last novel, “A Journey to the End of the Millennium,” the story of a North African Jewish trader and his Arab partner’s voyage through medieval Europe, received critical acclaim in Israel and abroad and has just been sold for possible movie production.

Yehoshua, who has been professor of comparative literature at Haifa University for the past 20 years, seems amused that this “very, very Jewish and very medieval” novel may make it to the silver screen.

With his career at a climax, Yehoshua can now trace his path of development with ease. Born in 1936 Jerusalem to a fifth-generation Israeli father and a North African mother, Yehoshua took his degree in philosophy and Hebrew literature at Hebrew University. His first pieces of writing came, as he puts it, “from the comic side.” They were sketches and humoristic stories about contemporary events.

After military service — he was a paratrooper during the Sinai Campaign — Yehoshua turned his attention to short story writing.

He wrote short stories and three plays in this vein — but never a novel. “Unlike young people nowadays, I didn’t jump right into novels,” he explains. “I was writing very slowly and working carefully with language. This was good for me as a writer, because when I did come to the novel, I was more mature and more acquainted with the craft of prose, thanks to all the short stories I had written.”

He published his first novel, “The Lover,” at age 40, and his change in form coincided with a change in literary theme. It was the politically volatile ’70s, a time when Yehoshua says “the question of history, which I was trying to avoid, was imposing itself on me. I realized that in order to understand Israeli humanity, I had to move backward through history, back to the traumas of Jewish identity.”

In looking for something that would help him “integrate the national malaise and national trauma” into his writing, he discovered William Faulkner, whose stream-of-consciousness style schooled him in the use of multifarious fictional voices — a feature that remains critical to his novels. In “Mr. Mani,” for instance, each chapter consists of a two-way conversation in which we read the words of only one participant.

The voices in Yehoshua’s fiction are varied, indeed; he is mouthpiece to Ashkenazim and Sephardim alike, as well as Arabs and Jews, Westerners and Easterners, men and women, right- and left-wingers.

There is no easy ethnic category of “Jew” in his work, and there is also no Jew in stasis. His novels are peripatetic, taking us to Jewish worlds in Israel, in Morocco, in Paris and India. “This is a Jewish way to understand the world. We are a people who are always moving,” he says.

Yet these travel narratives work hand-in-hand with the psychological narratives of his work, which he gleans from talks with his wife, a psychoanalyst. And in an age of terrorism, such insights have particular resonance.

“I have seen many wars, but I have never sensed such a difficult time as today. There’s a feeling of despair in the air,” he muses. “And through understanding of human motivation, we can put a stop to hostility and revenge and live peaceably, side by side. We have no other choice.”

Writers Bloc and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion present A.B. Yehoshua in conversation with writer-composer Elizabeth Swados on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 7:30 p.m. at Temple Emanuel, 300 N. Clark Drive, Beverly Hills. $15. For tickets, call (323) 655-TKTS or purchase at the door. Also, on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 8 p.m., Yehoshua will be at the University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel-Air. $10. For more information, call (310) 440-1246.

Naming ‘Names’

Two of the great names in the American theater — Strasberg and Davidson — are joining talents to present a play about artistic loyalty and betrayal during the McCarthy era of the 1950s.

The new partnership might be subtitled “The Sons Also Rise” (sorry about that).

Producer David Lee Strasberg is the son of the late, legendary Lee Strasberg, “acting guru of ‘The Method,’ which shaped a generation of American actors from Brando to De Niro.” Adam Davidson is the son of Gordon Davidson, artistic director of the Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre, who “defied the perception that there was no theater in Los Angeles.”

Both descriptive quotations are from Variety, which listed the two men among the 12 greatest producers and impresarios of the 20th century.

Both young men of the second generation — Strasberg is 30, Davidson is 37 — seemed aware but unawed by their paternal legacies during an interview, in which they discussed their upcoming play “Names,” previewed the centennial celebration of Lee Strasberg’s birth, and touched on their Jewish heritage.

The play by Mark Kemble, running Nov. 23 through Dec. 23, eavesdrops on a meeting of seven luminaries of the famed Group Theatre at New York’s Algonquin Hotel on April 9, 1952.

The meeting is fictional, but the appearance the following day of famed director Elia Kazan before the Communist-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee on Un-American Activities is factual.

Appearing as a “friendly” witness, Kazan identified eight theatrical colleagues of the 1930s as Communists, an action whose divisiveness split Hollywood again in 1999, when Kazan received an Oscar for lifetime achievement.

Participating in the meeting are Lee Strasberg and Harold Clurman, two of the three co-founders of the Group Theatre in 1931 (Strasberg later led the equally famous Actors Studio); actor John Garfield; playwright Clifford Odets; actor Luther Adler and his sister, acting teacher Stella Adler; and Kazan, who had already directed such films as “Gentleman’s Agreement” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Except for Kazan, born in Istanbul to Greek parents, all the participants were Jewish.

“Names” is set during the McCarthy era, but the play primarily examines what the theater and acting are about and the search for truth — emotional, political and artistic truth, Davidson observes.

Strasberg says that after the Sept. 11 attacks, there was a real question whether it was appropriate to continue and stage “Names.” In the end, he and the company decided to go ahead, because they saw a real parallel between the early ’50s, with its deep fears of the Communist threat, and the fear of terrorism gripping much of the country now.

Although both young men grew up surrounded by passionate people of the theater, neither followed immediately in his respective father’s footsteps.

David Strasberg worked for eight years on economic issues for the government, serving first in the Clinton administration, then under Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.

Two years ago, he re-entered the family business, carried on by his mother, Anna Strasberg, and is now executive director of the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institutes in Los Angeles and Manhattan.

Adam Davidson says the theater got “unconsciously into my system” through a father “whose work is his life” and a mother who heads her own theatrical publicity agency.

However, he was more excited by film than the stage, while also dabbling in painting and sculpture. His career was launched with an explosive bang when his graduate student project “The Lunch Date” won a 1991 Oscar for best short film and a slew of other honors.

He has since worked as director and actor in feature films and television episodes, and in off-off-Broadway plays.

Both men were raised as self-aware Jews, and both invest their theatrical fellowships with a semireligious aura.

“Our Jewishness was expressed through how we dealt with our companions in the theater,” Strasberg says. “They became our extended family, our congregation.”

Davidson enlarges on the metaphor. “I think the Group Theatre was like a synagogue, with Lee Strasberg and Harold Clurman as the rabbis.”

Nov. 17, 2001, marked the 100th birthday of Lee Strasberg and his son has organized a series of plays and movies to celebrate the centennial year.

These include “Names” and two additional plays, plus two workshop productions; and First Person Cinema Screenings, including Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s monumental Three Colors Trilogy, represented by “Red,” “White” and “Blue,” during January.

A tribute to Lee Strasberg will be held Dec. 5 at the Egyptian Theatre, including a screening of “The Godfather: Part II,” in which he played the Oscar-nominated part of mobster Hyman Roth.

All other events will be held at the Marilyn Monroe Theatre at the Lee Strasberg Creative Center, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood. For information on all events, call (323) 650-7777.

Orange County Calendar

Alpert JCC: Sun., Sept. 30, 2 p.m.-4 p.m. Opening reception for Austrian artist Armand Vallee’s exhibit. Exhibit on display through Oct. 12. 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. For more information, call (562) 426-7601.

Alpert JCC: Sun., Sept. 30. 7 p.m. Ensemble music performance featuring pianist Michelle Alpert, violinist Dimitri Olevsky, vocalist Elisa Kaufman and clarinetist Joshua Waltzman. $15 (adults);

$8 (children and students).

3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. For more information,

call (562) 426-7601 ext. 1024.

Temple Ner Tamid of Downey: Mon., Oct. 1, 6 p.m. Dairy potluck dinner and Sukkot service. Also: Tues., Oct. 2, 9:45 a.m. Ezra Center features political speakers; and Tues., Oct. 16, 9:45 a.m. "The Islamic Faith," lecture examining the major rules of the faith. 10629 Lakewood Blvd. For more information, call (562) 861-9276.

Congregation B’nai Tzedek Sisterhood: Thurs., Oct. 4, 7 p.m.-8 p.m. "Introduction to Fitness" class begins, with lectures and workouts. $20 (four sessions). 9669 Talbert Ave., Fountain Valley. For registration or more information, call (714) 374-1950.

Chapman’s Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education: Thurs., Oct. 4, 7 p.m. "Memories of a Righteous Rescuer," lecture by Dr. Justus Rosenberg, the youngest member of the Varian Fry Rescue Team. For more information, call (714) 628-7377.

Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay: Fri., Oct. 5, 7:15 p.m. Dinner and presentation, "From Israel’s Point of View." $18. 5721 Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes. For more information, call (310) 377-6986.

The Bowers Museum of Cultural Art: Oct. 6-Jan. 9, "The Holy Land: David Roberts, Dead Sea Scrolls, House of David Inscription." (See page 19)

Jewish Federation of Orange County: Sun., Oct. 7, 7 p.m. Sukkot celebration with refreshments. 250 E. Baker St., Costa Mesa. For more information, call (714) 755-5555.

University Synagogue: Wed., Oct. 10, Noon-1:30 p.m. "Jewish Ethics from the Talmudic and Hasidic Traditions," lecture as part of the Lunch and Learn program. 4915 Alton Parkway, Irvine. For reservations or more information, call (949) 553-3535.

Orange County Performing Arts Center: Sun., Oct. 7, Noon-3 p.m. Annual Broadway Season Seat Sale, a chance for the public to purchase seats for the Bank of America Broadway Series featuring eight musicals. "Swing!" performs from Nov. 27-Dec. 2. 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. For reservations or more information, call

(714) 556-8984.

Alpert JCC: Wed., Oct. 10, 7:30 p.m. "Are Jews Becoming More Like Americans or Are They Still Distinctive?" lecture by Professor Bruce Phillips. 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. For more information, call (562) 985-4423.

Jewish National Fund: Sun., Oct. 14, 5 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Private docent tour of the exhibit "The Holy Land: David Roberts, Dead Sea Scrolls, House of David Inscription," with a cocktail reception at the Bowers Museum. $72 (patrons); $108 (sponsors); $144 (benefactors). All proceeds go towards water projects in Israel. For reservations or more information, call (714) 957-4540.

Temple Beth Ohr: Sun., Oct. 21, 4 p.m. "What is Modern Orthodox Judaism?" Lecture and discussion led by Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea Congregation in Los Angeles. 15721 Rosecrans Ave., La Mirada. For more information, call (714) 374-1950.

Jewish Federation of Orange County: Sun, Oct. 28, 3 p.m.-5 p.m. Meeting to honor Rabbi Joel and Aviva Schwab at a private home. For more information, call (310) 540-2631.

The Conversation

We were too late for the early bird special at the Swiss Chalet restaurant in Delray Beach, Fla., but there was a line anyway for the roast chicken that is widely acclaimed as being almost as good as my mother’s.

In Delray Beach last week, as in the rest of south Florida, people were still talking about the presidential election. On movie lines or waiting for yogurt they were yet shaking their heads about chads, recounts and dimpled ballots, even though George W. Bush was already layering in the conservatives in his cabinet.

Mom, Dad and I read the menu and discussed our various options, both political and culinary.

As soon as we’d ordered, Dad slapped his hands on the table, like he always did to signal a change in the subject.

“Marlene, your mother and I want to talk about our arrangements,” he said.

“Now?!” my mother said, crumpling her napkin.

“We bought our cemetery plots,” he continued. “We’ll be right near Murray and Roberta.”

“You argued with them while they were alive,” I said of my uncle and aunt. Then I fell quiet. The chicken came, and I was glad we’d ordered fried onion loaf. It would crackle and pop if I couldn’t.

My parents have always thought ahead. When we were children, my mother had a freezer plan by which she ordered exactly three months’ worth of meat and chicken and boxes of carrots and peas. By the 12th week, we were down to eating chicken fricassee made of neck bones.

The key was planning. Each week’s menu was completely preordained and without variation: Monday and Thursday were fish; Wednesday, lamb chops; Friday, chicken or beef; Saturday, cold cuts; Sunday, Chinese eating out. My mother was an accountant of the mealtime portion.

Turns out that this penchant, which created in me a feeling of suffocation and rebellion, allowed them to breathe. My parents are adept at seeing a road long before it begins to curve.

First they took to snow birding, joining Jerry Seinfeld’s parents half the year in Florida. Then, three years before retirement age, my mother and father arranged to sell the business. Five years before climbing stairs would become an issue, they sold the Long Island house and moved to a city condo. From their foresight I’ve learned that the best definition of a surprise is something you planned for that came out well anyway.
Bless them for this. I picked up one of the two hefty chicken legs and bit into the flesh. Here they are, teaching me again.

Mom and Dad had done more than buy adjoining plots. They had their act together, providing me with a simple list of everyone I might need, in a single handwritten sheet of paper entitled “Just in Case.” My parents, who had started talking to me about college when I was in seventh grade and who taught me to drive by scoping out places to parallel-park hours in advance of my driving lesson, were way ahead of the game once again. And when I asked for even more detailed information, my mother and father did not flinch.

We in the baby boomer generation these days have aging parents, if we’re lucky. Yes, we talk politics, the stock market and careers, movies and the arts, and the pursuits of our children. Nevertheless, these days our parents lie heavy on our minds and in our hearts. About this topic, which the mortuaries horrifyingly call “pre-need,” we say nothing.

The polite ones among us don’t want to ask. The arrogant ones pretend we’ll never have to know. Others have parents who want us to make up their minds.

Silence is no shield, ignorance no sword.

The hot political issue these days may be Death with Dignity, about providing a death that avoids endless agony.

But an equally potent topic, one more spiritual than legal, is Life with Dignity. That’s the responsibility of the aging and their loved ones: to recognize what’s what and what must be done. Life with Dignity means getting the damned conversation over with, so normal living can resume.

My husband, who had been so brave in some regards, couldn’t do it. We’d talked about everything, I guess, over many years, about love and ethics and forging a fair society. But we’d never had a conversation like this. Though he had been ill for a while, he resolutely refused any talk about anything but today, or, at best, tomorrow.

“You think I’m going to die,” he accused me when I brought up the inevitable.

So it came to me to bury him myself. If I can spare you the experience of making sudden arrangements, let me try.

The funny thing was, my mother had just reupholstered her kitchen chairs. The seats are bright red floral on a dusty beige background. The kitchen walls are newly wallpapered in a pleasing print to match. My parents are filled with plans: to buy a new car, to take college courses, to visit me. And plants: the house is filled with new and reflowering orchids. And I’d just bought them a new toaster oven!

The chicken and the onion loaf were still on my plate. OK, we’ve had the conversation. Now let’s eat!


Israeli Kayaker Captures Bronze

Israel won its only medal of the 2000 Olympic Games when kayaker Michael Kolganov earned a bronze medal in the men’s K1 500-meter sprint.

The medal won Sunday by Kolganov, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union and a member of Kibbutz Degania Bet, partially erased a disappointing Olympics by Israeli athletes.

Justice Thou Shalt Pursue

An Israeli court recently sent a severe message to taxi drivers who think they can take unsuspecting passengers for a ride. The court fined a taxi driver $1,750 for over-charging a passenger and refusing to turn the meter on.

The driver was fined after he charged a female passenger $4 for a ride that should have cost $2.60.

Wiesel Endorses Hillary

Elie Wiesel endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton in her bid for the U.S. Senate seat from New York.Clinton has “always been on the side of those who fight hatred and fanaticism,” Wiesel said last week, noting that it was his first political endorsement.

Groups Back RU-486 Decision

Some Jewish groups applauded the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision to approve the “abortion pill” RU-486 for use in the United States.

“Jewish values affirm the rights of women as moral decision makers, capable of making responsible choices about every aspect of their own lives,” the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism said in a statement.

Offers Help to Survivors

The New York Legal Assistance Group launched its Holocaust Compensation Assistance Project, providing free legal assistance and support to survivors and their families seeking restitution under pending German and Swiss settlement agreements.

The project, jointly sponsored by the Claims Conference and UJA-Federation of Greater New York, can be contacted at (212) 688-0710.

The Claims Conference is planning to set up similar projects in other areas with large survivor populations, including California and Florida.

Woman to Head R.I. Federation

The Jewish Federation of Rhode Island hired Janet Engelhart to be its executive vice president. Engelhart will be the only woman currently in the top position in one of North America’s 40 largest federations.Her appointment comes as a multimillion-dollar project – the first initiative emerging from the federation system’s Trust for Jewish Philanthropy – is in the works to bring more women into top professional positions in Jewish organizations (see story, p. 35).

Israel’s Population Density High

Israel’s population density is among the highest in the world, with an average of 278 people per square kilometer, according to the Statistical Yearbook just issued by the Israeli government.

The nation’s total population is 6.3 million, up 2.5 percent this year, with immigration accounting for 34 percent of the growth.

Jews account for approximately 82 percent of Israel’s population.

Violence Mars Berlin Wall Anniversary

A synagogue in Düsseldorf, Germany, was firebombed by vandals who threw as many as three Molotov cocktails against the shul’s main door. No one was injured and damage was minimal in Monday night’s incident. Michel Friedman, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said that on the 10th anniversary of the country’s reunification, “The Nazis and their violence in both East and West are also united.” Also Monday night, vandals painted swastikas on the bell tower at the site of the former Buchenwald concentration camp.

7 Days in Arts


o Gore Vidal’s play “The Best Man” is a political melodrama full of accusations and incriminations, conceit and deceit – a perfect warm-up for the Democratic convention coming to town in August. The New York Times said the production “comes close enough to the truth to be both comic and exciting.” Theatre 40 presents a staged reading of the play as one of many events in the Beverly Hills Summer Arts Festival. 4:30 p.m. Admission is free; donations appreciated. The Doheny Mansion at Greystone Park, 905 Loma Vista Dr., Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 396-2325.


The Brandeis-Bardin Institute (BBI) opens its “Concerts Under the Stars” series this weekend, and Simi Valley will be alive with music and dance. Featured artist Joanna Berman, an award-winning dancer of the San Francisco Ballet, will be joined by a small group of dancers and musicians in presenting a “Celebration of Dance” in tribute to George Gershwin. Additional performers include Israeli-American folk-dance company Keshet Chaim, and BBI’s own chamber and klezmer ensembles. Concertgoers are invited to picnic on the grounds prior to the concert. Gates open at 5:30 p.m., concert begins at 7:30 p.m. House of the Book, Brandeis-Bardin Institute, 1101 Peppertree Lane, Brandeis. For ticket information, please call (805) 582-4450.


For rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air, head to the Laguna Art Museum, where Sandow Birk has created a fictional, artistic documentary exhibit on the long-simmering war between Northern and Southern California. “In Smog and Thunder: Historical Works from the Great War of the Californias” uses elaborate “history” paintings, propaganda posters, maps, scale models and commentary to portray contemporary life in California through the prism of war. Battle-scarred movie extras wave flags of corporate sponsorship in a multimedia exhibit that balances satire and technical skill. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. General admission is $5; students and seniors $4; free for children under 12. Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach. (949) 494-8971.


As any 16-year-old can tell you, nothing represents independence like the automobile. So today might be a good day to drive out to Riverside for a photography exhibit titled “Rearview Mirror: Automobile Images and American Identities.” More than 100 photos by Ansel Adams, Margaret Bourke-White, Allen Ginsberg and others look at our car culture and roadside experiences, with a number of essays written especially for the exhibit accompanying the images. Also on display are popular film stills, vintage travel posters and ads that will have car lovers seeing fireworks. Through July 9, and July 23-August 13. Tues.-Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. UC Riverside/California Museum of Photography, 3824 Main St., Riverside. (909) 784-3686.


Life in Joy is a retrospective exhibition of the rich, vibrant work of Venice artist Glenda Joy Schwartzman. The exhibition was scheduled before the artist’s recent death, and is now presented in celebration of her life and work. Gallery 55 showcases these abstract paintings and other works, which reference the computer age while focusing attention on a profound desire for spiritual fulfillment which is timeless. The exhibition runs through July 21. Tues.-Sat., 12 p.m.-6 p.m. 55 North Venice Blvd., Venice. For more information, call (310) 306-6638.


Grown-ups of all ages can find some silly, intelligent fun in the Urban C.L.O.W.N. Project’s Postmodern Vaudeville Show. Two popular local performers put on a variety of acts that might be clowning, and might be performance art. Moira Quirk, co-host of Nickelodeon’s “Guts,” tells naughty comedic tales, all handled rather politely; Michael Rayner, who once spun a cheeseburger on an umbrella on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” brings more of his oddball acts for this weekly show at The Raven Playhouse. Thursdays through August 10. 8 p.m. $7. 5233 Lankersheim Blvd., North Hollywood. For reservations, call (818) 766-5412.


French director Marcel Ophuls’ 1971 documentary “The Sorrow and the Pity” comes to Los Angeles for the first time ever in the original French, with English subtitles. The widely influential film chronicles stories of resistance and collaboration among residents of a French city under Nazi occupation. This is the film Woody Allen was in line to see in the Marshall McLuhan scene from “Annie Hall.” Now Allen is presenting the one week re-release engagement, in association with Milestone Films and Laemmle Theatres. General admission $8.50; students, seniors and children, $5.50. The Regent Showcase, 614 North La Brea Ave., Hollywood. For showtimes and theater information, call (323) 934-2944.

Passover Events

A 1998 article about Chicago collector Stephen Durschslag’s haggadah collection set the number of different haggadot on his shelves at 4,500, increasing almost daily.

It’s probably impossible to know how many haggadot exist, but it’s obvious that for every Jew, there should be a haggadah that fits like a glove.

In Every Generation —

Escape and Survival

One of the few new haggadot this spring is a fascinating reminder of the parallels between our ancient and more recent past. A Survivor’s Haggadah (Jewish Publication Society, 2000) is a facsimile of a work written in 1945-46 by Lithuanian survivor/ teacher/ writer Yosef Dov Sheinson. Used during the first post-liberation Passover seder in Munich, in April 1946, the original booklet was found by editor Saul Touster of Brandeis among his father’s papers and serves as the source for this edition.

Professor Touster’s introduction and commentary are revealing and jarring, in keeping with the powerful words by Sheinson and the woodcuts by another survivor, Mikls Adler. To read of the DP camps and initial Allied political insensitivities is to be angered; to read Sheinson’s text indicting factionalism among the Jews within the camps (as among the Israelites in the desert) is to be bemused; to read of the roles played by Rabbi Abraham J. Klausner and other U.S. chaplains in “organizing” for the Saved Remnant is to be inspired; to trace through word and woodcut these dual stories of deliverance is to be moved beyond words.

Contemporary User-

Friendly Haggadot

A Different Night: The Family Participation Haggadah by Noam Zion and David Dishon (Shalom Hartman Institute, 1997) is especially designed to let you plan seder length to what your group can handle. Suggested thought questions, quotations from myriad sources, cartoons, and artwork from more formal sources are included, and the book is guaranteed to involve everyone.

Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, with rabbis Eugene Kohn and Ira Eisenstein, edited a breakthrough haggadah, The New Haggadah (Behrman House) for the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation in 1941. A 1999 Behrman House revision, prepared by an editorial committee of outstanding young rabbis and retitled The New American Haggadah, includes songs by Debbie Friedman and references to civil rights and other timely issues — and you’ll be able to read the typeface.

Among other fine and friendly table haggadot are the abridged Family Passover Haggadah by Elie M. Gindi (SPI Books), a real labor of love that incorporates illustrations from ancient illuminations to photographs to animation figures with ideas and questions scattered throughout.

Tents of Jacob and

Tongues of Exile

Haggadah from Four Corners of the Earth by Ben Cohen and Maya Keliner (1997) is recommended for families with multilingual guests, since it combines the Hebrew text with linear translations in English, Russian, Spanish and French. Nicely designed and certainly indicative of the diversity of Am Yisrael.

To obtain information on haggadot in Hebrew and other languages (e.g., Hebrew-Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Polish, Russian and Spanish), go online to http://www.books Questions can be directed to This company is based in Israel, so don’t count on quick delivery. Check local sources first.