Painting by Anita Brenner.

Anita Brenner: A bridge to mexican art, culture

Anita Brenner might be the most noteworthy 20th-century cultural figure you’ve never heard of but that’s about to change. An exhibition about her, “Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico,” will introduce Skirball Cultural Center visitors to the life and times of a major personality in Mexican art of the last century.

The show opens on Sept. 14 and runs through Feb. 25.

Born in Aguascalientes, Mexico, in 1905 to Latvian-Jewish immigrants, Brenner was a key figure in the Mexican art world of the 1920s and 1930s. She was not a painter or sculptor, but she wrote extensively about Mexico’s art and artists — many of whom were close friends of hers — at a time when their art was not well-known. In fact, Brenner coined the phrase “Mexican renaissance” when referring to the innovative Mexican art currents of the 1920s.

Her adventurous life was painted in colors as bold as the art and artists she wrote about and loved. Her book “Idols Behind Altars,” published in 1929 when she was just 24, was instrumental in publicizing the work of artists in her social/political/cultural circle, including Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, Edward Weston and Jean Charlot.

Like her friends, she was a leftist bohemian who championed indigenous art and culture. The thrust of “Idols Behind Altars” is that if you (metaphorically) look behind Christian altars, you will find traces of the pre-Columbian period, and that the roots of subsequent Mexican art can be seen in the crafts and designs of native civilizations before the Spanish conquest.

Photo of Anita Brenner by Tina Modotti (1926).

Because she was raised in Texas as well as Mexico, Brenner was bilingual, and her interests and published writings — almost always in English — were stunningly wide-ranging. Among other topics, she wrote about what life was like for Jews in Mexico, emphasizing that Jewish immigration to Mexico was good for Jews and good for Mexico. The title of the show, “Another Promised Land,” is taken from a published article she wrote when she was 19.

As a young woman with no college degree, Brenner went to New York and impressed Franz Boas, a prominent anthropologist who had pioneered the idea of cultural relativism. Boas took her on as a student in anthropology at Columbia University, where she received a doctorate five years later.

In the 1930s, Brenner was a freelance foreign correspondent, covering the Spanish Civil War and sending more than 40 dispatches to several publications. In 1943, her book “The Wind that Swept Mexico,” illuminated the Mexican Revolution’s historical context in clear and accessible language. She also wrote children’s books based on Mexican folk tales — illustrated by Jean Charlot, a former beau who remained a lifelong friend and collaborator — and countless travel pieces, trying to promote U.S. tourism to Mexico.

And, by the way, Brenner did all this while raising children. At Columbia, studying with Boas, she met and later married David Glusker, a Jewish physician from Brooklyn, and they had a daughter and a son.

In late 1936, when Leon Trotsky was looking for refuge after his exile from the Soviet Union, Brenner wrote to her friend Diego Rivera, by then Mexico’s most famous artist, asking him to convince Mexico’s president, Lázaro Cárdenas, to grant Trotsky asylum. Exile in Mexico, of course, did not turn out well for Trotsky — he was assassinated in 1940 by a supporter of Joseph Stalin — but at least Brenner tried to help.

“Dance in Tehuantepec / Danza en Tehuantepec” by Diego Rivera (1935) is part of the Skirball exhibition.

“Another Promised Land” has five sections. The first, “A Jewish Girl of Mexico,” traces Brenner’s background and early years and how her parents came to settle in Aguascalientes before she was born.

Laura Mart, a Skirball curator who worked on the exhibition, said Brenner’s parents “didn’t really understand what it meant to be Jewish, so [Anita] had a tough time discovering her Jewish identity when the family was living in Mexico, but it was something she wanted to puzzle out: what it means to be Jewish.”

Because of the turmoil from the Mexican Revolution, the Brenner family moved to Texas when Anita was 11. “In Texas, she was the object of discrimination, first for being Jewish, but also for being Mexican,” Mart said. “That experience led her to want to promote good relations between people, not just between Jews and non-Jews, but also between Mexico and the United States.”

The show’s second section covers Brenner’s impact on art. “Idols Behind Altars” is illustrated with Mexican art — photos of the artwork were taken by renowned photographers Weston and Tina Modotti. The book’s text and illustrations also influenced famed Russian director Sergei Eisenstein’s unfinished film, “Que Viva Mexico!” Still shots from the film are in the exhibition.

Other sections of the exhibition deal with Brenner’s political and travel writing and her return to the Aguascalientes ranch of her childhood, where, in the late 1960s, she became an environmental activist and turned the ranch into a kibbutz-like farm.

“The vision of Anita Brenner and the cultural environment in which she was formed in the early 20th century in Mexico was based on the idea that art is transformative in personal, political and cultural terms,” said the exhibition’s guest curator Karen Cordero, a professor of Latin-American art, based in Mexico City.

Brenner firmly believed art should be admired for its beauty, but that it could also affect people deeply and change their views of the world. “That’s always an important thing to keep in mind,” Cordero said. “She was interested in the symbolic, emotional, even mystical qualities of art.”

Mart said a theme that runs through all of Brenner’s writings is “bridge-building.”

Detail of the mural “The Massacre in the Main Temple, Mexico City” by Jean Charlot (1922-23), which
is part of the exhibition “Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico” at the Skirball Cultural Center.

“The reason we decided to do this exhibition about Anita Brenner is that we see her as someone who spent her life building bridges,” Mart said. “And there are a lot of different ways you can do that. She chose art and culture as ways of promoting understanding and respect of Mexico.”

“Through all her work,” Mart added, “Brenner was saying: [Mexico] is a place of rich culture, rich heritage. And at the time she did this, there wasn’t a lot of information about Mexico in the U.S., so she helped change the conversation. … She was speaking to an American public who didn’t have a lot of contact with people from Mexico, and she was really the bridge between Mexico and the U.S., promoting goodwill and neighborly responsibility between the countries.”

“Take from that what you will,” Mart added, “given the current political context.”

Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico” will be at the Skirball Cultural Center from Sept. 14 through Feb. 25, part of the community-wide initiative Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, an exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Southern California, organized and funded by the Getty Foundation. 

Paul Simon 1987. By Luise Gubb, Courtesy Paul Simon Archive

Here’s to you, Paul Simon: Skirball showcases his ‘Words & Music’

In 1964, a Jewish music executive, Goddard Lieberson, then the president of Columbia Records, told his newest act, a harmonizing duo inspired by the Everly Brothers, to use their “ethnic” names.

Goodbye, Tom and Jerry. Hello, Simon and Garfunkel.

“[Paul] Simon didn’t think people were going to buy folk songs sung by two middle-class Jewish men, but he embraced it,” said Erin Clancey, curator of “Paul Simon: Words & Music,” the Skirball Cultural Center’s latest exhibition.

“Words & Music,” which runs through Sept. 3, presents this curious piece of music industry trivia and much more, in a retrospective of his creativity that spans more than 16 albums — from Simon’s early work with Art Garfunkel to his 2016 solo album, “Stranger to Stranger.”

The exhibit is on loan from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. Its chronological sections display more than 150 items  — scratchpad notes, awards, the first jacket he wore on “American Bandstand” and his first acoustic guitar, a 13th birthday gift from his father, Louis, a professional bass player.

Additional items from the early years include correspondence between Simon and Garfunkel when Simon was away at summer camp that shows the two were friends before they were collaborators. “Send my love to Marilyn and any other nice lookin’ girls up there,” Simon wrote in one letter. It also features the duo’s first recording contract with Columbia, from 1957.

One section of the exhibit, “Simon and Garfunkel,” features nearly 35 photographs, sheet music and handwritten lyrics encapsulating the duo’s brief, impactful six years together when they recorded such baby boomer hits as “Mrs. Robinson,” “Homeward Bound” and “America.”

Clancey recalled a Skirball staffer looking at a photo of Simon and saying, “Hmm, that looks like my dad.”


Paul Simon backstage at Lincoln Center in New York in 1967. Photo by Don Hunstein, courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment.

“That’s kind of who we’re pitching this to — dads,” she said. “I guess that could be described as the core audience for this, people for whom this music is the soundtrack to their youth, the soundtrack to their young adulthood.”

The treasures include a photo of Simon and Garfunkel seated on the floor of a CBS studio while recording tracks for their debut album, “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.,” which sold poorly and prompted the duo to disband. Simon moved to England and immersed himself in the folk music scene. Included in the exhibition is a diary of his performances in the U.K.

Without either of them knowing it at the time, Tom Wilson, a music producer who had worked with Tom and Jerry, provided their big breakthrough. Responding to the growing popularity of folk-rock, Wilson overdubbed electric instruments onto “The Sound of Silence,” which Simon had written in response to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The record topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Notified of his hit record, Simon returned to the United States. From 1966 to 1970, he and Garfunkel recorded blockbuster albums, including “Sounds of Silence,” “Bookends” and their last together, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

simon6Included are handwritten lyrics of “The Boxer,” from “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” that Simon scribbled onto an inflight airline magazine.

The examination of Simon’s versatile solo career shows how he has stayed relevant even as popular music has evolved. “Mother and Child Reunion” helped introduce Western audiences to reggae music; “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” showcased his love of language; and “Still Crazy After All These Years” is Simon the songwriter at what he has called his peak.

Still, creative frustration hit him in the mid-1980s before a trip to Johannesburg, South Africa, in pursuit of township sounds he’d heard on a cassette tape, led to a career rejuvenating fusion of South African and American music on his 1986 landmark record, “Graceland.”

Handwritten lyrics from the title track and from “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” the Album of the Year Grammy Award for “Graceland,” and annotated sheet music highlight the exhibition’s section on “Graceland.” On May 12, Skirball is screening “Under African Skies,” a 2012 documentary examining Simon’s bold decision to record music in South Africa in the 1980s, when the country was still under apartheid rule. In the documentary, Simon “talks about how perhaps he didn’t understand the fullness of the situation, the crisis of South Africa,” Clancey said.

One section of the exhibition, “Paul Simon in Popular Culture,” is unique to the Skirball. Included is a movie poster from “The Graduate,” which featured the song, “Mrs. Robinson,” originally “Mrs. Roosevelt” until Simon changed the lyric to match a character in the film at director Mike Nichols’ request.

“We’ve included sections that deal specifically with Paul’s popularity, his icon status, his place in our cultural consciousness, which I think was not so much the focus of the rock hall’s exhibition,” Clancey said. “They’re focused on music, of course, and the various instruments and songs, lyrics, etc. We’re interested in Paul as a cultural figure, first, and as a musician, second.”

Further distinguishing the Skirball exhibition is an interactive music lab Skirball developed in partnership with Roland Corp., an electronic music equipment manufacturer and distributor. It enables people to sing and jam with Simon.

“They have a drum circle where you can listen to songs that have a very distinctive drumbeat like, ‘50 Ways [to Leave Your Lover].’ You can harmonize along with Simon and Garfunkel to ‘Mrs. Robinson.’ I expect that to be a very, very popular attraction,” Clancey said.

Skirball and Roland previously partnered in 2008 for the Skirball exhibition “Bob Dylan’s American Journey, 1956-1966.”

Meanwhile, listening stations provide an opportunity to hear nearly 30 songs.

Simon, 75, was born in Newark, N.J., on Oct. 13, 1941. His parents were Hungarian Jews who immigrated to the U.S. at the beginning of World War II. Simon grew up in Queens, N.Y., which is where he met Garfunkel. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist and with Simon and Garfunkel. Twice previously married, including to the actress Carrie Fisher, he currently is married to folk singer Edie Brickell.

The rock hall displayed the Simon exhibition in 2015. Simon did not see it but nevertheless provided two of the museum’s officials, Karen Herman and Craig Inciardi, with an “oral history, of his life story,” Herman said. “We had a guitar next to him and said, ‘If you feel like it, go ahead and play,’ which he did a few times. We wanted to get at what makes Paul Simon Paul Simon.

“He was gracious with his story. He was gracious with his archives.”

The exhibition at the Skirball also suggests a musician’s concern for social justice is key to relevancy.

“Beyond just the fact of his Jewish identity and his pop cultural icon status, he’s also a person who fits very well with our mission, which is a sort of a dual mission of celebrating influential cultural figures but also people who have something to say with regard to social justice,” Clancey said. “His work, his lyrics, have often reflected the frustrations of the people. They have been very pointed at times with regard to social justice. We felt that was a good match.”

“Paul Simon: Words & Music” runs through Sept. 3 at the Skirball Cultural Center. For more information, go to 

Calendar: February 3-9



In honor of American Heart Month, the “Bless Your Heart” Shabbat service welcomes you to “Say Shalom, Save a Life.” There will be a five-minute hands-on CPR lesson to kick off the evening. 7 p.m.; 7:30 p.m. Shabbat service. Free. Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-6891.


Pray, learn and sing with the community during this service. A young woman on the autism spectrum will read her college entrance essay. 7:30 p.m. $10; $5 for children. Congregation Or Ami, 26115 Mureau Road, Suite B, Calabasas. (818) 497-1281.


Rising playwright Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, creator of The New York Times best-seller “My Little Red Book,” has written “The Bumps,” featuring a cast of three expectant mothers. “The Bumpscombines narrative that follows how the understanding of motherhood has evolved. Directed by Deena Selenow, with an all-female team of designers and cast. A conversation with the creative team of “The Bumps” will follow the performance. 8 p.m. Also 2 p.m. Feb. 4. Child care and art activities offered for a limited number of children (ages 3 and older) at the Saturday performance. $10; $8 members; $5 for students. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.



Enjoy a hike, picnic, activities and the beautiful outdoors in celebration of Tu B’Shevat. Bring your own food and drinks. Organized by MATI, the Israeli American Council, Tzofim Shevet Harel and Sinai Temple. 9:30 a.m. Free, but RSVP requested. Griffith Park, 4730 Crystal Spring Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 351-7021.



cal-no-crownDirector Tomer Heymann’s autobiographical documentary “The Queen Has No Crown” is a poignant meditation on belonging, loss and sexuality.

Weaving archival and original footage, the film follows the lives of the five Heymann brothers and their mother. The film examines the difficult decisions the family had to make amid turbulent social and political events. No MPAA rating. In English and Hebrew with English subtitles.

Q-and-A with the director follows the screening. 7:30 p.m. $10 general; $6 full-time students; free to members. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.


In the first of a series of three programs, widely published Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino will speak on the subjects of marriage and family, and will examine how Jewish values help strengthen relationships. 6:30 p.m. Free. RSVP to (310) 474-1518, ext. 3340 or Sinai Temple Men’s Club, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518.


Former World Debate Champion Yoni Cohen-Idov will discuss the tools you need to win any argument during this informative lecture. For Jewish young professionals, ages 21-39. RSVP must be under your name. 7:30 p.m. Free. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518.

UNITY 3000

Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Ashkenazi and secular Jews and people of other faiths will unite through faith in one God at Unity 3000, presented by Junity. Rabbi and best-selling writer Shalom Arush, author of “The Garden of Emuna” and “The Garden of Peace,” will lead the gathering. 8 p.m. Free. Register online to secure a ticket and seat. (At the door, seats are first come, first served for unregistered guests.) Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Also 8 p.m. Wednesday, Eretz Center, 6170 Wilbur Ave., Tarzana. 



Westwood Village Synagogue presents a discussion on how to navigate the relationship between LGBTQ and Modern Orthodoxy.  Rabbi Ari Segal, head of Shalhevet; Micha Thau, a student at Shalhevet; and actor and comedian Elon Gold will participate in the discussion. Part of the Betty Matoff Lecture Series. 7 p.m. Free. Westwood Village Synagogue, 1148 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 824-9987.



cal-ameliaAmelia Saltsman, award-winning author of “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen,” and Andy Lipkis, founder and president of the nonprofit TreePeople, will discuss Jewish tradition, culinary delights, climate change and how Tu B’Shevat encourages eco-conscious living. Moderated by Evan Kleiman of KCRW’s “Good Food.” Q-and-A, book signing and tasting of seasonal dishes will follow the program. 7:30 p.m. $12; $10 for members and students. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.


C_Barkan_Berlin_9780226010663_jkt_IFTWhat is it like for a Jew to travel to Berlin today? What happens when an American Jew raised by a secular family falls in love with Berlin? Leonard Barkan’s “Berlin for Jews” is a personal love letter to the city that explores these questions and many more. Discussion with Barkan with a reception to follow the presentation. 7 p.m. Free. Seating is limited. Goethe-Institut Los Angeles, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 100, Los Angeles. (323) 525-3388.

New Skirball exhibition channels the power of you

As we enter the holiday season of giving, many of us think about how we can donate our time and money in a meaningful way. A new exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center aims to introduce visitors to people and organizations attempting to tackle issues of human rights and poverty around the world. And when people leave the galleries, they will be encouraged to turn their inspiration into action. 

“A Path Appears,” which runs Nov. 19 through Feb. 21, 2016, draws attention to grass-roots campaigns in the fields of health, education, jobs and empowerment (meaning civil and human rights). Each issue gets its own section of the exhibition — the curators call them “pavilions.”  

The show includes objects used in developing countries to overcome pressing problems. For example, a plastic drum used to transport water; a high-quality, low-cost prosthetic knee; a teddy bear handed out to comfort child refugees; and a center where young women and girls can go to feel comfortable talking about contraceptives in the setting of a beauty salon.

The exhibition draws from the stories in “A Path Appears: Actions for a Better World,” co-authored by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists — and husband-wife team — Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Their book celebrates creative solutions to everyday problems around the world. This project is the second collaboration between the authors and the Skirball. Their previous book, the 2009 best-seller “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” which focused on threats women face around the world, including sex trafficking, prostitution, maternal mortality, violence and discrimination, became a Skirball exhibition in 2012. That show displayed photos and other multimedia materials about the plight of women and girls, most of them from Africa and Asia, and told stories of their brave fights to overcome those obstacles.

For “Half the Sky,” the Skirball approached Kristof and WuDunn about creating an exhibition that would turn the book into an interactive, immersive experience. This time around, the authors came to museum director Robert Kirschner to see if the Skirball would be interested in launching another exhibition around their work.

“We understand ourselves as a Jewish institution, and we spell that identification and commitment in terms of ideals that we understand to be intrinsically Jewish,” Kirschner said. 

Such values as freedom, equality, justice and human dignity are universal values, he said, but have been aligned with Jewish principles since biblical times. 

“When we did ‘Half the Sky,’ for instance, we cited the verse that applies to this project as well, from the Book of Leviticus, that you shall not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds,” Kirschner said.

Students attend class at the Kibera School for Girls in Nairobi, Kenya, founded by Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). SHOFCO combats gender inequality and extreme poverty in urban slums by linking tuition-free schools for girls to holistic social services for all.

The show was designed in partnership with wHY Architecture, based in Culver City, and C&G Partners, based in New York. The two award-winning firms worked alongside exhibition fabrication firm Cinnabar to create what they describe as “a low-tech, high-charm approach” to the show. Each of the four pavilions uses a different genre of materials, including discarded automobile tires, compact discs, bubble wrap and newspapers. The materials relate to the content of each pavilion. 

Visitors can use a smartphone app and Web platform to help them take concrete actions connected to specific issues, such as early childhood education or forced child marriages. Each object or story is connected to an “action step” to be taken on the spot or afterward. 

The app is part of the social action tool ActionLab, a project of the Global Media Center for Social Impact at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health. Neal Baer, the guest curator of “A Path Appears,” is a pediatrician and Emmy-nominated writer and producer (“ER,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Under the Dome”) who founded ActionLab as a way of bridging storytelling and social change. For example, one episode of “Law & Order: SVU” featured Jennifer Love Hewitt as a rape survivor whose rape kit had never been tested. The episode was accompanied by a campaign to pressure law enforcement officials to clear their backlog of rape kits. ActionLab currently is working with author Marion Nestle on her book “Soda Politics” to help people reduce sugary drinks in their homes, schools and communities.

“I was doing all these shows that have either social justice issues or public health issues, and people would often say to me, ‘I really liked that episode, and I wish I knew how to do something about that topic,’ ” Baer said. “It seemed natural to give people the action steps that they could take. I was finding that people were often inspired by a documentary or a TV show that I’d done, and yet they didn’t know what to do. And so we’re giving them the concrete actions that they can take to make a difference.”

In the “empowerment” pavilion of “A Path Appears,” visitors can watch a trailer for a documentary Baer produced called “If You Build It,” about high school students who built a farmers market in a low-income North Carolina town. Inspired visitors can use ActionLab to connect with a Los Angeles group that assigns architects and designers to contribute their time pro bono to projects in their own community, such as helping to design a recreation center.

The exhibition fits the Skirball’s track record of presenting exhibitions with a social justice component, including 2006’s “Rwanda/After, Darfur/Now,” 2009’s “Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement” and the current exhibition “Manzanar,” featuring photographs taken by Ansel Adams of the Japanese-American incarceration camp in Manzanar, Calif., during World War II, museum curator Erin Clancey said.

“I think ‘Half the Sky’ and ‘A Path Appears’ fit into that category of exhibition that speaks to our mission as a Jewish institution in terms of our values,” Clancey said.

Kirschner cited the Hebrew aphorism, “Lo ha’midrash hu ha’ikar, ela ha’ma’ase,” meaning, “It’s not what one says, but rather what one does.”

“A Path Appears” is at the Skirball Cultural Center from Nov. 19 through Feb. 21, 2016. Sheryl WuDunn will discuss the exhibition with Neal Baer on Nov. 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12. For more information, visit

Calendar November 16-22

SAT | NOV 16


Learn, do and share — be a part of sustainable Los Angeles. Come hear about projects that are having local and global impacts from passionate speakers. Presenters include Elizabeth Stewart, founder and CEO of Hub Los Angeles; Nirvan Mullick, co-creator of the Imagination Foundation; Mick Ebeling, founder of Not Impossible Labs and creator of the EyeWriter; and Tara Tiger Brown, founder of Los Angeles Makerspace. If you get sick of learning, you can start doing. With workshops that focus on collaborative design and creation, attendees will start to make a difference  themselves. Sat. 10 a.m. Free (advance registration required). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. ” target=”_blank”>

SUN | NOV 17


Maybe he’s been your Jean Valjean; maybe he’s been your cantor. With a concert history that travels throughout the globe and audiences that have included royal families and popes (well, just one), Fisher knows how to headline a performance. His Tel Aviv Academy of Music training and his position as chief cantor of New York Synagogue guarantee an evening of not just music, but earned leadership. Hosted by Cantor Arik Wollheim. Sun. 7 p.m. $36-$125. Beth Jacob Congregation, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-1911. TUE | NOV 19


People always talk about off-Broadway and on-Broadway — but what about before-Broadway? Cantor Marcus Feldman and David Asher Brown teach and perform from operas that serve as the “before” to the Broadway music we know and love now. Performances will include pieces from “Shulamis”  (Avram Goldfadn), “Yidl Mitn Fidl” (Abe Ellstein), “Bar Kochba” (Goldfadn) and “Fishl der Gerotener” (Joseph Rumshinsky). Tue. 7:30 p.m. $18 (general), $10 (Sinai Temple members). Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3243. ” target=”_blank”>

WED | NOV 20


Sometimes life is good to you and you’re allowed to wear pajamas in public. Join Doda Mollie as she rings in Chanukah with an afternoon of songs, stories, dancing and — that’s right — your jammies. Performing tunes off her best-selling CD “Chanukah Pajamikah!” and with professional credits as educator and cantorial soloist, it will be a concert of prestige and PJs. Wed. 4 p.m. Free. Children’s Book World, 10580 1/2 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 559-2665. THU | NOV 21


He is a human rights activist, lawyer and a leading member of the African National Congress. He was appointed by Nelson Mandela and has made landmark rulings, including recognizing gay marriage. Sachs shares his remarkable journey as one of the most important pioneers in equality in South Africa. Renee Montagne, co-host of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” interviews. Thur. 7:15 p.m. Free. Los Angeles Central Library’s Mark Taper Auditorium, 630 W. Fifth St., downtown. (213) 228-7025. ” target=”_blank”>

Calendar Picks and Clicks: April 20–26, 2013



The 18th annual Festival of Books features more than 100 panels, stage presentations, music and children’s programs. Authors include Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket), singer Lisa Loeb, chef Susan Feniger and Journal contributors Jonathan Kirsch and Bill Boyarsky. Historian Jon Wiener moderates a discussion on “Holocaust Lives” with panelists Kirsch, Joe Bialowitz, Lillian Faderman and Marione Ingram. Sat. Through April 21. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Saturday), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Sunday). Free (indoor Conversations and Book Prizes require tickets). University of Southern California campus, Los Angeles.


Singers and actors perform music from “Fargo,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “The Big Lebowski.” Songs include “Man of Constant Sorrow,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” “Hotel California,” “Somebody to Love” and more. All ages welcome. Sat. Through May 5 (Thursdays-Sundays). 8 p.m. $20 (partial-view seating), $30 (regular seating), $40 (premier seating). Rockwell: Table & Stage, 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 661-6163.



Explore the connections between faith, health and wellness as Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Kalsman Institute and Cedars-Sinai present a week of interdisciplinary learning. A panel discussion, “From Darkness to Light: Judaism on Hope and Health,” opens the event, featuring Rabbis Ed Feinstein (Valley Beth Shalom), Laura Geller (Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills), Naomi Levy (Nashuva) and Abner Weiss (Westwood Village Synagogue), with Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman moderating. More than 60 events this week include “A Spiritual Guide to Autism,” “Defying Aging, Maintaining Memory,” “Drumming for the Jewish Soul” and “Drink, Eat and Have Sex! Can Jews Practice Moderation?” “Debbie Friedman Remembered” closes the event with an evening of tribute and song celebrating the musical legacy of the beloved composer and teacher. Sun. Through April 27. Various times, locations. Free. For a complete list of events, visit


Donate blood to help patients being treated at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Sun. 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Free. Nessah Synagogue, 142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills.


American Jewish University hosts the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film and the Arts, the only film school in the world committed to exploring the Jewish experience through the medium of film. Producer Tom Barad (“Open Window,” “Crazy People,”) moderates a discussion with David Shore, creator of the Fox medical drama “House”; Neta Ariel, director of the Ma’aleh School; and Asi Tzobel, director of “Stand Up,” one of three short films to be screened. Sun. 7 p.m. $20. American Jewish University, Gindi Auditorium, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 476-9777.


Composer Daniel Asia leads an interactive presentation that delves into the mysteries and interrelationships of Judaism and classic music, and performs original music inspired by Jewish texts. Presented by the Jewish Music Commission of Los Angeles and Valley Beth Shalom. Sun. 7:30 p.m. $10 (advance), $15 (door). Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000.



The legendary actor-writer-director shares stories from his memoir, “I Remember Me,” a collection of colorful tales about love and laughter, highs and lows and mistakes and triumphs. Wed. 7 p.m. Free (wristbanded event). Barnes & Noble, 189 The Grove Drive, Suite K 30, Los Angeles. (323) 525-0270.


Letty Cottin Pogrebin discusses her new book, “How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick,” with actor-director-photographer Leonard Nimoy. Pogebrin takes on the challenging question of how to provide comfort to people close to us and avoid botching the effort. Book sale and signing to follow. Wed. 7:30 p.m. Free. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3243.



The first major museum exhibition of the artist, illustrator, animator and toy designer’s life and work explores the influences of Baseman’s Jewish family heritage and American popular culture on his art. Born in Los Angeles in 1960 to Polish-born Holocaust survivors, Baseman began his career as a successful illustrator in the 1980s, then transitioned into fine art in 1999, gaining wide recognition for his whimsical work. This exhibition includes an array of his illustrations for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the New Yorker and Rolling Stone; original paintings and sketches; and his artwork for the board game Cranium. What’s more, the works are presented in a setting that recalls his family home in the Fairfax district. Thu. Through Aug. 18. Noon-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Friday), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Saturday-Sunday). $10 (general), $7 (seniors, full-time students), $5 (children, 2-12). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.



This ensemble of classically trained Israeli and American musicians grew out of pianist Eliran Avni’s desire for simulating the shuffle mode on an iPod player on stage. This later transformed into the concept of letting the audience decide what pieces are performed, and the result is a daring septet of pieces that range from baroque, classical and romantic to jazz, pop and Broadway. Participating musicians include Jessica Pearlman (oboe), Ariadne Greif (soprano), Francisco Fullana (violin), Linor Katz (cello), Moran Katz (clarinet) and Avni (piano). Fri. 8 p.m. $25. Ruth Todd Memorial Concert Hall, G-122, Long Beach City College campus, Long Beach.

American history at Skirball: ‘We the People …’

As the citizens of the United States enter the home stretch of the quadrennial presidential elections, the Skirball Cultural Center is presenting four simultaneous exhibitions to show how the experiment in American democracy was born and how it is faring some 236 years later.

The shows, running in tandem for four months, from Oct. 11, 2012, to Feb. 17, 2013, will consist of “Creating the United States, “Decades of Dissent,” “Free to Be U.S.” and “Visions and Values.”

The undisputed stars of the of the “Creating the United States” exhibition are the three founding documents of the republic, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Each of the documents will have its own section, delving deeper into its historic and intellectual evolution.

Most of the rare and closely guarded material is on loan from the Library of Congress and will be seen here for the first time outside the nation’s capital.

During its four-year run at the Library of Congress, 2 million visitors viewed “Creating the United States.”

“A historical exhibit of this scope and depth has never been shown in Los Angeles before, and for most of us it will be the only chance to see it in our lifetime,” Skirball director Robert Kirschner said.

“Decades of Dissent: Democracy in Action, 1960-1980” pays tribute to the great American tradition of protest through 25 graphic posters, including such well-remembered exhortations as “Make Love, Not War” and “Black Is Beautiful.”

 “Free to Be U.S.: A First Amendment Experience” chronicles the struggles to establish, and then preserve, freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.

Today’s relevance to these long-ago struggles were emphasized as recently as President Barack Obama’s Sept. 25 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, when he sought to explain why the American government could not and would not ban an anti-Muslim video that triggered riots in the Arab world.

“Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with,” Obama said. “We do not do so because we support hate speech, but because our Founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities.”

Enlivening the exhibition are interactive computer touch screens, inviting visitors to take on the role of a Supreme Court justice in ruling on First Amendment cases involving gun rights, gay marriage or obscenity confrontations.

Rounding out the presentations is the permanent Skirball exhibition “Visions and Values: Jewish Life From Antiquity to America,” which will be augmented by a “Lincoln Spotlight,” featuring objects on loan from the Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Ill.

Included is a rare manuscript copy, in Lincoln’s own hand, of his second inaugural address, the final paragraph of which opens with the famous words, “With malice toward none, with charity for all …”

Just before that sentence, Lincoln drew from the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Psalms to declare, “As was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’ ”

Indicating some of the complexity in pulling together the many facets of the Skirball exhibitions, Kirschner said that getting the Lincoln inaugural address manuscript on loan required the special permission of the Illinois state legislature.

The overall theme of the exhibitions is “Democracy Matters at the Skirball,” and, Kirschner noted, “Here at the Skirball, we seek to live and practice American democratic ideals. We view this as an expression of our purpose as a Jewish institution. Our hope is that, by illuminating the lasting legacy of the founding documents, especially in shaping the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, “Creating the United States” will inspire visitors to participate in the democratic process today.”

He added, “The Constitution is not fixed in stone. It is a living organism, a living instrument for a people’s self-government.”

Many of the 170 objects on display at the Skirball were loaned by the National Museum of American History, Mount Vernon Estate, Huntington Library and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, as well as several private collections.

Accompanying the exhibits will be an impressive array of public programs, among them lectures, a “Soapbox Series,” a live concert, dramatic readings, school tours, a family sleepover and a “Student Takeover Day.”

In addition, there will be family workshops, gallery tours and discussions, a film series, a concert by a jazz quartet, a Chanukah family festival, panel discussions and adult education courses, among them “American Genesis: Triumphs and Failings of the Founders,” taught by Kirschner.

As a curtain raiser, Time magazine executive editor Nancy Gibbs will discuss her new book (co-authored with Michael Duffy), “The Presidents Club,” on Oct. 4.

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Jewish-Japanese seder honors Boyle Heights history

Tess Friedman passes Ethel Kamiyama a bowl of charoset, and Kamiyama spreads a spoonful of the fruit and nut paste onto her shard of matzah. Kamiyama leans over her plate as the small sandwich crumbles at her bite, and nods at Friedman, signaling that she finds this foray into Jewish culture quite tasty.

Friedman and Kamiyama, along with around 70 other senior citizens, enjoyed a seder together at Keiro Senior HealthCare in Boyle Heights on April 2.

Keiro, a residential facility for the elderly of the Japanese-American community, occupies the site that was the original home of The Jewish Home, and the seniors were together to mark The Jewish Home’s 100th anniversary.

In fact, the home was founded when the Boyle Heights community hosted a seder for five elderly men around 1911.

During Monday’s seder, Rabbi Anthony Elman, the Skirball Director of Spiritual Life at the Jewish Home, introduced the Keiro residents to the Exodus story and the symbols on the seder plate, and led the group in singing “Mah Nishtanah” and “Dayenu.”

Elman pointed out similarities between the two cultures — respect for the elderly, close-knit families, the importance of passing traditions from generation to generation, and a history of suffering.

“Today we are celebrating the season of our freedom,” Elman said. “In your community, you too have known the ugliness of bondage and internment, and of course the blessings of freedom.”

Hideyuki Watanabe, sitting at a table with two women from the Jewish Home, lived in three internment camps as an adolescent.

“But the persecution the Jews had was a lot worse,” he said, explaining that as a child he didn’t grasp the sense of betrayal his parents felt.  “We could sneak out. We didn’t get shot at if we left.”

Shawn Miyake, president and CEO of Keiro, said the Jewish Home and Keiro both grew out of a need to create institutions at a time when minorities were being excluded from the mainstream. Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, who grew up and still lives in Boyle Heights, attended the seder. He said inclusion is a point of pride in the neighborhood.

“One thing I know is we always welcomed everyone, no matter what part of the world you came from,” said Huizar, noting that Boyle Heights never had any restrictive covenants limiting who could reside in the area.

Miyake said Keiro owes its existence to the Jewish Home.

Keiro purchased the site from the Jewish Home in 1974, but while Keiro was able to raise $400,000 for the down payment, it was left with nothing for operations, Miyake said. The Jewish Home board, which had already agreed to very favorable terms, voted to loan back $150,000 to Keiro and also left much of its equipment.

“We have such deep feelings for the Jewish Home. If not for the Jewish Home and all the things they did for us 50 years ago, we would not be here today,” Miyake said.

The Jewish Home grew out of the Hebrew Sheltering Society, which in 1911 began helping the community’s downtrodden — the homeless, the indigent and the elderly. It purchased a small house in Boyle Heights in 1912, and soon acquired more property. The home opened a larger branch in Reseda in 1962, but kept the Boyle Heights site open until it moved the rest of its residents in the early 1970s. By that time most Jews had left Boyle Heights, which had been the center of Jewish life in Los Angeles from the 1920s to the 1950s. Only a handful of Jews remain in the area today.

Miyake said most of the Japanese community has also moved out of the area to places like Gardena, Monterey Park and Orange County.

Keiro and the Jewish Home have hosted Japanese and Jewish New Year celebrations for each other in the past. Molly Forrest, director of the Jewish Home, says she and Miyake have a close working relationship, sharing best practices and discussing common challenges.

The Jewish legacy is still visible at Keiro.

A large Japanese koi pond graces the front of the Emil Brown Auditorium, an old brick building with Brown’s name, flanked by two Stars of David, engraved into a large stone ribbon above the arched façade.

Brown was the uncle of philanthropist Annette Shapiro, a board member at the Jewish Home, and she told the crowd that she remembers her grandfather, David Familian, celebrating his 60th birthday in the very room the seniors sat in for their seder.

A five-story building, The Mary Pickford Building, was named after actress Pickford made a donation to atone for an insensitive comment about Jews that she had made to Carmel Myers, a silent-screen actress and daughter of Sinai Temple’s Rabbi Isadore Myers, according to Stephen Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California. Pickford hosted teas for the Jewish Home at her Pickfair Estate long after she became a recluse, and her foundation continues to support the home, Sass said.

The synagogue on the site was used for many years by a Japanese church, but was red-tagged after the 1987 Whittier Narrows Earthquake.

The Home was the last functioning Jewish institution in the area, though the nearby Breed Street Shul is now undergoing a revival as a multi-use facility for the Jewish community and the neighborhood. 

Joe Pavin, a Jewish Home resident who was at the seder, remembers High Holy Days at the Breed Street Shul. He grew up in Boyle Heights, and he said he had friends of Japanese-, Mexican-, Russian- and African-American descent, in addition to his Jewish friends.

Jewish Home resident Grace Friedman, 87, lived in a small duplex on Sheridan Street in Boyle Heights with her extended family until they moved west to the Fairfax area.

Today, she is back in Boyle Heights, and after the saltwater, matzah and wine are cleared away, caddies with soy sauce and chopsticks come out. The Keiro chef — who had once worked at a kosher restaurant — has prepared a celebratory bento box lunch and was careful not to include any shellfish or other ingredients that might clash with Jewish culture. Residents enjoy sushi, edamame, baked fish and rice out of black lacquered boxes.

Over lunch, the residents get to know one another. Several tables share stories of nieces, nephews or grandchildren who are in Jewish-Japanese marriages.

Watanabe, who came dressed for seder in a jacket and tie, his white hair combed into a perfect flat-top, says he hopes to be invited to the Jewish Home for a meal on Japanese New Year, something his flirtatious tablemates promise to make happen.

Kamiyama has taken some notes — how to spell seder and matzah, and contact information for her tablemates. She frets about the grape juice that has dripped onto her pad of paper, but is assured that wine stains are part of the Pesach tradition. And as she finishes up her bento box lunch, she keeps her hand on a few strips of matzah carefully wrapped in a napkin to take home for later.

Spinoza’s Crucible: Faith, Reason Spar in ‘Jerusalem’

Some theater patrons prefer to switch off their brain cells and watch a light-hearted play, while others opt for strenuous mental exercise.

The latter can be guaranteed a vigorous workout in “New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation, Amsterdam, July 27, 1656,” in a staged reading July 13-15 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

The play, by David Ives, is presented by L.A. Theatre Works, a low-key but important Los Angeles institution, which drafts high-profile actors to read scripts, without costumes, lighting and other traditional stage effects. The performances are recorded for later radio broadcast.

Such performances may not be to the taste of action aficionados, but as Susan Albert Loewenberg, the group’s producing director, pointed out, “When you sit a few feet away from the stage, without any distractions, you hear the words in a way you’ve never experienced before. It’s a compelling encounter.”

Such a promise, and approach, seems especially suitable in a drama of powerful ideas, such as “New Jerusalem.” Although leavened with humor, the play deals primarily with Spinoza’s arguments for replacing religious tradition with rational, scientific reasoning.

If such an idea appears heretical in the “enlightened” 21st century — imagine any current politician in his right mind espousing such views — to the pious Dutch burghers of 17th century Amsterdam the concept shook the very foundations of their society, however tolerant they were compared to the rest of Europe.

As the subtitle of “New Jerusalem” indicates, the focus of the play is on the historical interrogation of Spinoza by rabbinical and civic authorities, which led to the philosopher’s excommunication from the synagogue and the provision that he be “cut off from the Nation of Israel.”

Spinoza, a descendant of Portuguese Jews fleeing their homeland’s Inquisition, dabbled in painting and was a younger contemporary and admirer of Rembrandt, who lived in the same neighborhood.

This allows playwright Ives to coin one of the great throwaway lines in all literature. In the opening scene, as Spinoza hoists one in a pub, he turns to a friend and casually suggests, “Let’s drop in on Rembrandt.”

The chief intellectual sparring partner and interrogator of the then-24-year-old Spinoza is his revered Sephardic rabbi and mentor, Saul Levi Mortera. Although Mortera is fond of his brilliant and rebellious ex-pupil, and is even half-convinced by some of Spinoza’s reasoning, the rabbi sees no option but to excommunicate Spinoza.

What is at stake, the rabbi feels, is not only the basic foundation of his faith, but the good will of the Dutch authorities, whose religion is as much threatened by the heretic’s views as is the Jewish community.

The key role of Rabbi Mortera is taken by veteran actor Richard Easton, who essayed the same part in the full-scale off-Broadway production of “New Jerusalem,” backed by Yiddish theater star Fyvush Finkel as a synagogue lay leader.

The Montreal-born Easton, 77, has performed in 71 Shakespeare productions, and his classical diction comes across even in a phone interview.

His repertoire also includes contemporary drama, and in 2001 he won a best actor Tony Award for his role in Tom Stoppard’s “The Invention of Love.” He played the title role of Benjamin Franklin in the Emmy-winning PBS series.

Easton said he was initially worried, as a non-Jew, about playing the part of a famous rabbi, but overcame the concern with the help of Jewish friends.

In any case, Easton said, “Spinoza believed that he was sent by God to break the rules. That is not only a Jewish message, but a universal one.”

Producer Loewenberg, who has guided L.A. Theatre Works since its founding in 1974, now disposes of a digital database of more than 300 plays, which are disseminated widely through public radio stations (locally KPCC-FM) and educational institutions.

She collaborates frequently with Britain’s BBC, and many of her productions have enjoyed successful runs at performing arts venues in the United Kingdom.

After more than a decade at the Skirball, L.A. Theatre Works will move this fall to UCLA’s James Bridges Theater. The change of venue will open up Saturday evening performances, not available at the Skirball, Loewenberg said.

“New Jerusalem,” directed by Rosaline Ayres, will open with an evening performance on July 13, followed by both matinee and evening shows July 14 and 15. (The play lasts 90 minutes, which means the Friday evening performance will be over ahead of the announced 10 p.m. closure of the 405 Freeway). For tickets and general Theatre Works information, call (310) 827-0889, or visit

Jewish masters of magic materialize at Skirball

Prestidigitation as a Jewish vocation? Could there be such a thing as Yiddeshe legerdemain? Pulling an answer out of its hat, the Skirball Cultural Center is set to open two shows: a traveling exhibition that originated at the Jewish Museum in New York, “Houdini: Art and Magic,” and a new show organized by the Skirball, “Masters of Illusion: Jewish Magicians of the Golden Age.”

The shows, which will run concurrently from April 28 through Sept. 4, 2011, conjure up a world of mystery and mastery, a little-known world of Jewish magicians.

We find that Harry Houdini, the son of a rabbi, born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary, in 1874, though a great escape artist, did not try to escape his Jewish identity.

“Coming to America, Houdini’s family faced a lot of the same issues that other Jewish immigrants faced, including anti-Semitism,” said Brooke Kamin Rapaport, guest curator of the Houdini show.

Houdini in chains, 1903, photograph. Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections.

“I never was ashamed to acknowledge that I was a Jew, and never will be,” Houdini is quoted as writing to a friend in the show’s sepia-toned and well-documented catalog.

According to the exhibition wall text written by Rapaport, Houdini’s escapes “had particular resonance for those who sought liberation from political, ethnic or religious persecution.”

Houdini, who Rapaport considers “the most famous magician who ever lived,” died Oct. 31, 1926, of peritonitis that resulted from a ruptured appendix.

“He really was involved with the new media of this time. He was a savvy marketer,” Rapaport said. With more than 160 objects, the show includes advertising posters and broadsides that Houdini used to promote his shows.

Houdini’s Straitjacket, c. 1915, canvas, leather, and copper. Collection of Arthur Moses, Fort Worth, Texas. Photo by Robert LaPrelle

Also on display will be magic apparatus Houdini made famous: handcuffs, shackles, a straitjacket, his Metamorphosis Trunk and a milk can that Houdini squeezed himself into. Contemporary works by artists influenced by Houdini will be on view as well.

New to the show is a finely crafted reproduction of Houdini’s famous Water Torture Cell created by illusion designer John Gaughan; the cell will be on view only at the Skirball stop of the show’s tour.

In addition, with a deftly shuffling sleight of hand, the “Masters of Illusion” show puts on display an entire deck of Jewish magicians — kings, jacks and jokers.

The show skillfully reveals the careers of several influential Jewish magicians, including the Great Leon, who created the Death Ray Gun, as well as several generations of two magical dynasties: the French Herrmanns and the Dutch Bambergs.

According to Richard Hatch, an expert on magic who consulted with the Skirball on the show, the Herrmanns — Carl “Compars” (1816-1887) and brother Alexander (1844-1896) — helped to popularize the “Mephistophelian appearance,” the devilish pointed beard and mustache, as well as the stage wit and charm that influenced generations of magicians.

Jewish life around the world illuminated in Skirball photo exhibition

A novel approach to photography is exemplified in “Illuminated Reflections,” the current exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center Ruby Gallery, which features some 20 images based on Jewish themes from Israel, New York, Los Angeles and Mississippi — among them, a woman praying at the Wall in Jerusalem, the window of the Pike Street Synagogue on New York’s Lower East Side with a Star of David in the center, and a cotton field in Mississippi that was part of a series about Jewish life in the American South.

The photos, shot by Bill Aron, who has garnered an international reputation during a career that spans more than 40 years, have been embellished with gold and metal leafing by Victor Raphael, noted around the world for his work in a variety of media, including photography, painting, video and digital art.

One of the images leafed by Raphael is “Tallit Steps,” a picture, shot from above, of outdoor stairs in Jerusalem, with stone walls on both sides. Two little boys sit on the steps, and the interplay of light and shadow creates the appearance of recurring stripes reminiscent of a tallit, or prayer shawl.

“That’s what it has always felt like,” Aron said, “this prayer shawl with the black and white stripes. Because of the walls and the curve of the steps, it has sort of an enveloping feel to it. What Victor did was metal-leaf the shadows, all along the steps, horizontally. You know, modern prayer shawls are no longer black and white, they’re very colorful, so he transformed that image, for me, from a traditional prayer shawl into a modern prayer shawl.”

Perfecting the application of gold and metal leafing to photographs, which is an intricate and delicate undertaking, has occupied Raphael for some 30 years. He said that, in creating the hybrid works on display at the Skirball, he and Aron have revised and updated an old tradition.

“Everyone knows that gold leafing has been around for millennia,” Raphael said. “I mean, it’s been around going back to Egyptian times and certainly in illuminated manuscripts. And, when you look at Persian miniatures, gold is often an accented element that’s included and often highlights significant things or things that have spiritual connotations to them. So, from that point of view, that’s the historical context.”

Raphael is famous for combining traditional art forms with today’s technology. He is credited with groundbreaking achievements in the use of Polaroid photography. His “Space Field Series” contains Polaroids he took of images from space as they appeared on his television screen during a broadcast by NASA. He then enhanced the pictures with gold and metal leafing. His work was included in the 1996 traveling presentation “Polaroid 50: Art and Technology,” which displayed the 50 best examples of Polaroid photography.

Aron’s photographs are panoramic, which he achieves by standing in a fixed spot and shooting a series of overlapping views while slowly turning in a circle. He then stitches together the individual pictures to create the desired result. In “Panorama of the Western Wall Plaza,” the viewer is looking down on tiny figures in the distance praying at the wall, while others mill about on the plaza, with the city of Jerusalem in the background. The entire sky has been gold leafed by Raphael.

The two collaborators have been friends for years. Each has had exhibitions in major museums and galleries around the world, and each has works in prominent collections. Both are founding members of the Jewish Artists Initiative (JAI), a community of Jewish artists in Los Angeles.

A Jewish thread runs through almost all of Aron’s personal projects.  His first book, “From the Corners of the Earth: Contemporary Photographs of the Jewish World,” with an introduction by Chaim Potok, focused on images from Jewish communities of the former Soviet Union, Russia, Cuba, New York, Los Angeles and Jerusalem. More than a decade later, he produced a second book, “Shalom Y’all: Images of Jewish Life in the American South,” with text by Vicki Reikes Fox and a foreword by Alfred Uhry. Aron has been working on two additional books over the past few years: For “Cancer’s Silver Lining: Portraits of Hope,” his one non-Jewish effort, he shot photos of 100 cancer survivors whose diagnosis turned out to be a positive influence in their lives; for his other project, he photographed 100 Holocaust survivors in Southern California, emphasizing the full, rich lives they have lived in spite of the horrors they experienced. 

Aron expanded on his propensity for Jewish themes. “I did not grow up all that observant, but I’ve always seen Judaism as a thing of beauty to look at while I was participating. At a certain point in my life, I was changing careers from sociology into photography, and I was also trying to figure out what kind of a Jew I wanted to be. And so, as I began to explore being a photographer, I was also exploring being Jewish. The camera helped me do that. The Judaism helped me, too. Each helped the other.”

Aron added that he and his wife belong to a minyan and have a wonderful Jewish life.

In contrast, Raphael is a secular Jew, though very much aware of his roots.

“I have a Sephardic background, so I always feel that that informs my interest on one level with leafing. You know, it’s connected to Spain and the Golden Age of Spain as well as the Byzantine world that all the Jews who got expelled from Spain found for themselves when they got into the Ottoman Empire. And I’ve been back to all those places, so I have a lot of history with being in Spain, being in Istanbul, where my [paternal grandmother] was born, and the island of Rhodes, where my other grandparents were born. It’s something to which I’m very deeply connected, in spite of the fact that I’m not observant.”

One of the pieces from the Skirball exhibition to which Raphael feels particularly connected is “Early Morning Light.” The shot captures a market area in Jerusalem before the day has started. 

“The sunlight that’s coming in is basically providing a light in the center of the photograph. Everything else goes dark because the shopkeepers haven’t opened up their stores yet.  Jerusalem has this mythological identification as the City of Gold in terms of the quality of the light and all of the legends and mythology that’s around the city, so for me, when I decided to use that center area as the area I was going to leaf, the area almost became like a river of gold, if you will, flowing right down the middle of that marketplace. I wanted something that was metaphorical, evocative and yet somewhat mysterious as well.

“One of the things that I hope to bring to the artwork that I create,” Raphael said, “is really a sense of wonder and a sense of amazement at being alive, of getting tuned in to the details of life. And I hope this particular body of work with Bill, where I’ve selected certain elements to leaf and to have transform the photograph, fascinates people and elicits a response from those who view it.”

For Aron, it’s important that people who come to the exhibition feel they’re looking at something new. “Secondly, I’d like them to see that art doesn’t have any boundaries. Gold leafing doesn’t have to be only a certain kind of gold leafing. Photography doesn’t have to be only photography.

“There’s no message in the conventional sense. I try and have my photographs reflect a certain feeling that I’m having when I’m photographing. And I would like viewers to be able to know that feeling.”

“Illuminated Reflections” continues at the Skirball through May 8, then will travel to the Jewish Museum in Portland, Ore., and, in 2012, to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.

Illuminated Reflections: On view through May 8, 2011, at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd.,  Los Angeles, CA 90049; (310) 440-4500.

Reform movement’s L.A. campus gets Skirball name

In April 2009, the Los Angeles wing of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) looked like it might shut down. The leading school for training Reform rabbis, cantors, Jewish educators and others had been badly hurt by the financial crisis, and its leaders were entertaining the possibility of closing two of its four campuses in order to eliminate a $3 million budget shortfall.

Today, thanks to a rapid outpouring of community support and concern, all four HUC-JIR campuses remain in full operation, and on Feb. 6, the Los Angeles branch, located next to the University of Southern California, will be named to honor the memory of Jack H. Skirball. The decision follows a $10 million gift from the Skirball Foundation to HUC-JIR’s endowment, but the naming is intended to recognize Skirball’s role in building up the Reform movement’s West Coast home over the course of his life — and,  indeed, even decades after his death in 1985.

Skirball was ordained at HUC-JIR’s Cincinnati branch and served as a Reform congregational rabbi in the Midwest for nearly a decade before going on to become a successful film producer and real estate developer. He never forgot his alma mater, and he was the primary advocate for the establishment of HUC-JIR’s Los Angeles campus in the 1950s.

“He really was, I would say, the lone voice [on the HUC-JIR board of governors] that let the board know that, actually, there was Jewish life west of the Mississippi,” said Rabbi Uri D. Herscher, founding president and CEO of the Skirball Cultural Center, as well as a trustee of the Skirball Foundation.

HUC-JIR President Rabbi David Ellenson said that while the $10 million gift from the Skirball Foundation “triggered” the decision to name the campus in Skirball’s memory, “he was the prime benefactor of the Los Angeles campus,” Ellenson said. “With this additional donation that the Skirball Foundation made — on top of many other donations made by the Skirball Foundation over the years — it was felt that it was appropriate to recognize the role that Jack Skirball played in the creation of the Los Angeles campus.”

In addition to large contributions to HUC-JIR, Skirball also made smaller gifts to the institution. “I received the Audrey and Jack Skirball Best Sermon Award,” Herscher said. Herscher first met the Skirballs in 1964 as a rabbinic student at HUC-JIR, and he still remembers the amount of the award: $18. “I think I was able to buy three dinners,” Herscher said.

More important, the award came with an invitation to have dinner with the Skirballs at their home. “Jack always celebrated the future, and the future meant training new rabbis and other Jewish educators,” said Herscher, who went on to become a longtime executive vice president and dean of the four-campus HUC-JIR, with his office on the Los Angeles campus. “He was more than 45 years my senior and took me under his wing as a mentor, because Jack Skirball may have been nearly 90 years of age when he died, but he was among the youngest people I ever met.”

Today, Skirball is probably best known in Los Angeles as the namesake of the Skirball Cultural Center in the Sepulveda Pass. The center opened in 1996 and receives about 500,000 visitors a year. It got its start on the Los Angeles HUC-JIR campus as the much smaller Skirball Museum, founded in 1971. There are also museums named for Skirball on the HUC-JIR campuses in Cincinnati and Jerusalem.

Ellenson and Herscher will both speak at the Feb. 6 Los Angeles campus dedication ceremony. “Jack would’ve been very proud that the campus that he helped to found will now bear his name,” Herscher said. l

Summers at Skirball

On a recent afternoon at the Skirball Cultural Center in the Sepulveda Pass, a little girl with a big red bow in her hair sat in a photo booth at the end of the “Monsters and Miracles” exhibit, printing out a souvenir bookmark.

“She heard we were coming to the museum and wanted to dress fancy,” her mother said.

The museum, it turns out, is a destination for kids this summer.

“Monsters and Miracles: A Journey Through Jewish Picture Books” offers a look at Jewish culture through the lens of the storybook. Headphones with celebrity recorded readings, shelves of books and interactive activities keep the kids enthralled while adults enjoy the original artwork of Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, Uri Shulevitz, and Margret and H.A. Rey.

“Monsters and Miracles” closes Aug. 1, but the Noah’s Ark permanent installation remains a strong draw for kids with its menagerie of animals made of repurposed materials, climbing structures, and dozens of cranks, handles and pumps for kids to activate.

The Drop-In Art Studio, open during museum hours through Sept. 5, has baskets full of yarn, fabric and colorful fasteners that kids can use to create burlap books or fanciful creatures.

Saturday and Sunday afternoons through Labor Day weekend, the Skirball hosts family-oriented performances at its amphitheater, including Aaron Nigel Smith from PBS’ “Between the Lions”; circus arts performers Kinetic Theory; family dance and drum circles; and the music and dance of Africa, China, Japan and Micronesia.

For information, visit

‘Accidental Mexican’ Ilan Stavans probes cultural identity in first play

As an “accidental Mexican” born to an Eastern European family, author and essayist Ilan Stavans has hurdled critics to become one of the nation’s foremost commentators on Latino culture. As a Mexican American, he has written widely on immigration, the clash and fusion of languages and the quest for acceptance.

As a Jewish Mexican American, he has made himself a wrecking ball aimed at the walls — literal and imagined — that make virtual strangers of his varied ethnic roots.

“I’m very interested in borders or the absence thereof,” said Stavans, the Lewis-Sebring Professor of Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. “We live in a world where every country is perfectly delineated with lines, where we can have fences or where we can have helicopters and dogs and patrols. To what degree are those borders replicated in our minds? How do we cross a border that is fictional or imaginary, or do we carry them with us forever?”

Cultural identity and the roles people play for the sake of assimilation are themes Stavans probed in his 2005 short story, “The Disappearance,” which follows a Jewish Belgian actor who seemingly fakes his own kidnapping by a neo-Nazi group. Stavans last year partnered with Massachusetts theater group, Double Edge Theatre, to adapt the story into a play, which will premiere at the Skirball Cultural Center Oct. 16-17.

The production marks the first time Stavans has helped adapt one of his works for performance — an endeavor inspired, in part, by the performer he’s known longest.

“It all comes from having seen my father at the theater. He was very influential for me,” said Stavans, who, as a child, watched his father become a popular stage and soap opera star in Mexico City. “I don’t feel that I have cut loose from my past — I feel that my past is still with me. I have spent my entire life as a writer trying to return to it.”

Stavans’ grandparents immigrated to Mexico from Poland and Ukraine, escaping pogroms and anti-Semitism. They wanted to settle in the United States, but strict immigration quotas pushed them south. Stavans grew up in Copilco, a multiethnic, middle-class enclave in the southern part of Mexico City, and attended a Yiddish-language school.

Being one of a handful of Jewish people in his neighborhood was sometimes difficult.

“On the one hand, it made me feel special and unique, but it also made me feel vulnerable,” Stavans said. “I grew up with a sense of being a minority — that just by accident, I was Mexican. We were Jewish because our ancestors were Jewish, but we were Mexican because someone had put his or her finger on the map and said, ‘We need to escape; let’s go here.'”

Stavans dabbled in filmmaking and theater and began writing novels. He dropped out of college and traveled in Europe and Israel but never felt comfortable calling either place home. Back in Mexico, he got his bachelor’s degree from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in 1984. At age 25, he moved to New York City to pursue the life of an intellectual. But the transition wasn’t easy.

“When I came to this country, I became an altogether different person,” Stavans said. “I was never a Mexican in Mexico; I was a Jew. Upon arriving to the U.S., and particularly to New York City, I somewhat magically ceased to be Jewish. All of a sudden, I became Mexican.”

Amid shifting ethnic labels, Stavans also grappled with the newest piece of his cultural puzzle: being an American. He dove into academics, earning graduate degrees at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University. An Amherst professor since 1993, he has, over the years, built a reputation as a prolific writer, lexicographer, translator and cultural analyst.

Throughout his career, Stavans said he has been criticized “a million times” by both Latinos and Jews, who claim he isn’t an authentic enough face for either culture to act as its spokesperson.

“I’m an appetizing target because I’m not your standard Latino or your stereotypical Jew,” he admitted. “But criticism is a source of energy. As long as you present work that is grounded, responsibly structured and aesthetically refined, criticism simply means that the work matters.”

Stavans’ numerous books include “The Hispanic Condition: The Power of a People” (1995), the autobiography “On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language” (2001), “Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language” (2003) and the newly released “Resurrecting Hebrew” (2008), which chronicles the revival of the language in the late 1800s by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. Stavans also edited “The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories” (1998), “The Poetry of Pablo Neruda” (2003) and the three-volume “Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories” (2005), among others.

His short story, “Morirse Está en Hebreo,” was recently adapted as the 2007 feature film, “My Mexican Shivah,” in which his father, Abraham Stavans, had a role.

Not bad for an exile who didn’t even pick up English until his mid-20s.

“I feel very close to the Jewish diasporic tradition that traverses borders, both with countries and languages,” Stavans said. “There is something within Jews that defies established borders — or maybe that is inspired by them — to break them, to go beyond them. Diaspora is in our blood; it’s the source of our intellectual and spiritual sustenance. We can carry in our books the DNA that will keep that Jewishness alive through the next diaspora.”

The question for Stavans is how that Jewishness might be expressed.

Fictional actor Maarten Soëtendrop glides from stage to stage at the peak of his success in Stavans’ “The Disappearance.”

The Belgian population goes into an uproar when the Jewish actor is kidnapped by a band of neo-Nazis, reappearing 18 days later in an alley, bloody and beaten. But when Soëtendrop — a Holocaust survivor — confesses to plotting the whole scheme, suspicions swirl over his intentions, his past and whether, in a larger sense, Jews can ever find stable footing as perpetual outsiders in foreign cultures.

“I wanted to address the ghosts that Jews carry within themselves when living in a country where we are a minority,” Stavans said. “I wanted to explore the changing nature of Jewish identity — how do we react to the environment? Are we hypocrites because we keep one truth for ourselves and present another truth to society at large?”

The work is based on the true story of a prominent Belgian actor, Jules Croiset, whose self-staged kidnapping Stavans read about in The New York Times in 1988.

The story’s themes of secrecy and betrayal appealed to Stacy Klein, founder and artistic director of Double Edge Theatre, who wanted to collaborate with Stavans after reading some of his material.

Klein invited Stavans to see the Ashfield, Mass., group’s interpretation of “Don Quixote” in 2006. At the beginning of the piece, Stavans recalled, the performers staged a bonfire in which they were burning books.

“They knew I was going to come to that particular performance, and they put on top of that pile of books three or four of my own books,” he said. “I was shocked to see that my books were being burnt right in front of my eyes. It was a very provocative statement. I thought what they were doing was quite interesting and a relationship started.”

Stavans attended several Double Edge rehearsals, sometimes taking part in their improvisations.

“The shaping of the play was very untraditional,” he said. “Rather than the writer sitting in his office and deciding where to start, I gathered everyone in the troupe, read my story and each of the actors began improvising different aspects of the story.”

Not only is Double Edge’s production of “The Disappearance” Stavans’ first theatrical adaptation, but it will also serve as the author’s acting debut — Stavans said he plans to join the cast onstage during select dates in roles he won’t reveal beforehand. “It’s going to be a surprise for the audience,” he said.

After an engagement at the Skirball Cultural Center the show will travel to Legnica, Poland, and New York City.

On Oct. 15, also at the Skirball, Stavans will give a lecture titled, “Who Stole the Statue of Liberty? Immigration in America Today,” in which he will discuss the modern immigration experience.

For tickets or more information, call (877) 722-4849.

Skirball photo exhibit shows Pope John Paul II’s lifetime of outreach to Jews

A large photo in the exhibition “A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People” shows a smiling Elio Toaff, the chief rabbi of Rome, warmly welcoming the pontiff to Rome’s Great Synagogue in 1986.

Today, when interfaith meetings and celebrations are routine, it is difficult to imagine the impact of the first papal visit to the synagogue after 2,000 years of Catholic antagonism and persecution of Jews.

John Paul II, who once worked in a stone quarry, seemed destined by history and background to smash a large opening in the wall that had separated the two faiths for centuries.

As richly illustrated through text panels, documents, photos and videos in the Skirball Cultural Center exhibition, which continues through Jan. 4, the pope’s 84-year lifespan is divided into four chronological segments.

The first section introduces the young boy, born Karol Wojtyla in Wadowice, about midway between Krakow and Oswiecim (Auschwitz).

In contrast to most Polish towns, Catholics and Jews mingled freely in Wadowice. The Wojtyla family lived in a predominantly Jewish apartment building, many of Karol’s classmates were Jewish, and he played goalie on a Jewish soccer team.

Next comes Karol’s young adulthood, when the Nazi invasion and occupation closed the Krakow seminary attended by the future pope. He and 800 other students organized underground classes and continued their clandestine studies.

In the third section, with the war over, Wojtyla rises from priest to bishop, cardinal and archbishop of Krakow. He participates as a junior member in the Second Vatican Council, which opens a new chapter in the church’s attitude toward other faiths. At the same time, he renews ties with the surviving Jewish community of Poland.

The final and climactic section, both in the exhibit and in Wojtyla’s life, is his papacy, from his election in 1978 to his death in 2005.

This period included his visits to Auschwitz and to the Rome synagogue, and his formal repentance for his church’s past antagonism toward the Jewish people. Earlier, in 1993, John Paul II commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in words imprinted in the exhibit’s title:

“As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing to the world. This is the common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to first be a blessing to one another.”

In 2000, the pope undertook a pilgrimage to and formally recognized the State of Israel, inserting a note between the stones of the Western Wall.

In commemoration of this visit, a replica of part of the Western Wall stands near the exhibit’s exit. There visitors can write their own notes and prayers, which will be transferred to the actual Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Across from the simulated wall is a bronze casting of the pope’s hand as “a symbolic expression of the power of John Paul II’s personal touch in reaching out to people across the globe,” said Skirball senior curator Grace Cohen Grossman.

The Skirball center is making a special effort to attract Catholic visitors and members of the Polish community in Los Angeles to the exhibit, said museum director Robert Kirschner.

A large number of parochial schools have signed up for tours and the regular Skirball docents will be supplemented by guides drawn from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Given the large number of non-Jewish visitors, who may not be too familiar with the Holocaust, the exhibit also includes information on the extermination of Poland’s and Europe’s Jewry.

Two areas not covered in the show are the generally conservative doctrine and theology of John Paul II, and the attitudes and transgressions by past popes toward Jews.

“Our focus is on the remarkable outreach toward Jews and other peoples by John Paul II, his charisma and personal connections with people, and how the experiences of his early years led to his later accomplishments,” Kirschner said.

The exhibition was created and produced by Xavier University, a Jesuit institution, and the Hillel Jewish Student Center, both in Cincinnati, together with the Shtetl Foundation. The local showing is supported by the Polish consulate in Los Angeles and private donors.

Several related public programs will complement the exhibition during its nearly four-month run. Included are concerts, films, classes, lectures, family workshops and gallery tours. For more information, call or phone (310) 440-4500 or visit

The Best of (Jewish) Los Angeles 2008

We like to think of our Annual Guide to the Best of (Jewish) Los Angeles as kvetch-proof. Our writers and editors provide personal favorites that are so idiosyncratic and eclectic that it’s hard to argue. (“No, that’s not the best place to buy a $50 set of used Talmud, this is!”)Our contributors are out there — in the community, in the neighborhoods, off the beaten track — and their choices not only reflect the varied tastes of our staff, but the great diversity of L.A. Jewish life. Year after year, by the way, Los Angeles is still our “Best Jewish City.”

Best Places to See Jewish Opera: Los Angeles and Long Beach

Thanks to maestro James Conlon and his “Recovered Voices” project, Los Angeles Opera has become the go-to destination in this country to see fully staged productions of works suppressed by the Nazis. This year’s fare included the one-act “The Broken Jug” by Viktor Ullmann, who composed the piece just before he was interned at Terezin (he died in Auschwitz in 1944). Conlon aims to stage one such opera per year to help “right musical wrongs” — Walter Braunfel’s rarely performed “The Birds” is planned for 2009. Meanwhile, the iconoclastic Long Beach Opera had such a successful run with its re-staging of Grigori Frid’s “The Diary of Anne Frank” (performed in a parking garage to evoke the claustrophobia of Anne’s attic) that a second production was added this month.Los Angeles Opera, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles.(213) 972-8001.Long Beach Opera, 507 Pacific Ave., Long Beach. (562) 432-5934. .

— Naomi Pfefferman

Best Really Jewish-Themed Plays Now Around Town (or, At Least, Some of the Many)

If you’re in the mood for a long weekend of Jewish theater (you’d have to start on a Thursday), check out Jennifer Maisel’s “The Last Seder,” in which the family patriarch has Alzheimer’s, the pregnant lesbian daughter brings her life partner and another daughter shows up with a guy she met at the train station, among other intrigues (at the Greenway Court Theatre through July 27). Then there’s Naomi Newman, of San Francisco’s acclaimed Traveling Jewish Theatre, who’ll play a Holocaust survivor recounting her long life (traversing the 20th century) in Martin Sherman’s solo show, “Rose” (among Rose’s adventures: visits to a hippie commune and to a West Bank settlement), at the Odyssey Theatre (July 5-Aug 31). “The Accomplices,” by former New York Times political reporter Bernard Weinraub, spotlights what the United States government and American Jews did — and didn’t do — to help Jews fleeing the Nazis, at the Fountain Theatre (July 12-Aug. 24). The satiric “Adam Baum and the Jew Movie,” directed by Paul Mazursky, is at the Hayworth Theatre through July 20. Watch these pages for more shows as they hit town. Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 655-7679. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 663-1525. Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 389-9860.

— NP

Best New Literary Salon:Town Hall’s Writers Bloc

A decade ago, Andrea Grossman started Writers Bloc in her Beverly Hills kitchen; over the years, the salon has hosted pop-culture-meets-literati conversations between the likes of Norman Mailer, Elmore Leonard and Erica Jong. This past year, the venerated series merged with Los Angeles’ 70-year-old Town Hall Los Angeles program to form (what else?) Town Hall’s Writers Bloc series, which has made a splash with authors from Salmon Rushdie to angry Jewish comic Lewis Black. Stay tuned for best-selling author Paul Auster (“Brooklyn Follies”) who will talk about his war-themed new book, “Man in the Dark,” later this summer.Town Hall Los Angeles, 515 Flower St., Los Angeles.

— NP

Best (Sinfully Rich) Persian-Infused French Bakery: Mignon

When I see a bakery with a French name in the Valley, it’s a good bet it’s Persian. One example is Mignon Bakery (mignon means cute in French). The aroma of fresh pastries baking and the owner’s warm smile make Mignon a delightful stop on a shopping trip to Valley Produce, a favorite market among Israelis. Although there are French items, so far I’ve focused on the Persian pastries, and all that I’ve tried have been fresh and of good quality, from saffron-glazed turnovers with almond-cardamom filling to tasty cinnamon-walnut baklava to exotic sweets like cardamom-flavored chickpea balls. There are a variety of Persian cakes and pastries, like delicate Yazdi cupcakes, syrupy fried pastries and gata, a rich round breakfast bread. This is the only place I know to get fresh barbary bread, the long, oval ridged Persian bread. Like baguette, it has a pleasing crust that’s most delicious when just baked. If you want some, come early — they disappear quickly. Try not to eat the whole loaf before you get home! Mignon Bakery, Valley Produce Plaza, 18353 Vanowen St. Suite G, Reseda. (818) 774-9920.

— Faye Levy

Best Place to Learn Persian and Hebrew While Drinking Blended Coffee: The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf


The L.A.-based Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, whose stores are certified kosher throughout Nevada and Southern California, draws a wide range of customers who enjoy drinking a blended beverage and maybe picking up a new language. At many of the stores, from Pico-Robertson to the Westside to Ventura Boulevard, you can hear Persian-language speakers and Hebrew speakers mingle over mochas. Just plop in a corner and see if you can follow along. As an added bonus, the purple straws and yummy pastries have been joined by challahs, available for order and pickup right at the store. For locations, visit

— Shoshana Lewin

Best Way to Visit the World of Krusty the (Jewish) Clown: The Simpsons Rideat Universal Studios Hollywood


Homer, Marge, Bart and the rest of the family have recently moved from Springfield to Universal City. The six-minute simulator attraction took the site once occupied by the “Back to the Future” ride — and completely changed the look of the theme park’s upper lot. The ride takes you into the crazy world of Krusty (a.k.a. Herschel Shmoikel Pinkus Yerucham Krustofsky) through a visit to the very low-budget Krustyland. But there’s a hitch: Sideshow Bob has escaped from prison and can’t wait to get revenge on Krusty and the Simpsons. After riding Krusty’s “

Rivers, refuseniks and traitors come together at L.A. Jewish Film Festival

The Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival will appropriately mark Israel’s 60th anniversary with an opening film on the country’s transition from British mandate to independent state.

“The Little Traitor,” kicking off the weeklong festival on Thursday, May 8, harkens back to 1947, when “Palestinians” referred to the Jewish inhabitants and the hated enemies were British soldiers wearing red berets.

Throughout the week, until May 15, the festival will present some 30 features, documentaries, short subjects and panel discussions at eight venues on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley, announced executive director Hilary Helstein.

Theodore Bikel, who has a small role in the film, will appear live at the opening night screening, along with director-writer Lynn Roth. Israeli Consul General Yaakov Dayan will also address the audience.

In other highlights, Joan Rivers will receive the Marlene Adler Marks Woman of Inspiration Award, named in honor of the late Jewish Journal editor and columnist. The May 13 event at the Skirball Cultural Center will include the premiere of “Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women.”

“Refusenik,” the story of the international campaign to free Soviet Jews, will have its local premiere on May 14, with Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, one of the movement’s pioneer activists, and director Laura Bialis in attendance.

‘Sixty-Six’ trailer

A sneak preview of the comedy, “Sixty-Six,” dealing with the conflict between a British boy’s bar mitzvah plans and the World Cup soccer series, closes the festival on May 15.

“Little Traitor,” based on the semibiographical novel, “Panther in the Basement” by Israeli author Amos Oz, combines the coming of age story of a young patriot with historical insights on the struggle for a Jewish state.

Proffy (short for “professor”) is an 11-year-old Jerusalem boy, who hates the British soldiers who occupy his land, impose strict curfews, and conduct midnight house raids.

With two like-minded playmates, he forms the “underground cell” FOD (“Freedom or Death”), which sprays “British Go Home” graffiti on walls and tries to disable a British convey by scattering nails on the road.

On most evenings, Proffy sneaks up to the rooftop to scan the roads for the British enemy through binoculars. Not infrequently, his attention strays to a lovely young woman in a neighboring apartment in various stages of undress.

One evening, Proffy, played with remarkable authenticity by Ido Port, is caught after curfew hours by British Sgt. Dunlop, played by a sympathetic, if slightly corpulent, Alfred Molina.

An unlikely but warm friendship develops between Proffy and the Bible-reading soldier during mutual language lessons, in which Dunlop explains the meaning of “snooker” and Proffy introduces his friend to the subtleties of “meshugge.”

After a short time, Proffy’s fellow young freedom fighters discover the relationship and denounce him as a traitor. Proffy is hauled before a Jewish Agency “court” and sternly examined by Bikel as an interrogator.

In one of its most emotional scenes, the film recreates the almost unbearable tension of the November 1947 vote by the United Nations, which will determine the partition of Palestine between Arabs and Jews. Families huddle around the radio, keeping score of each country’s vote, and then burst into the street in wild jubilation after the final count.

Lynn Roth, who directed “Little Traitor” and wrote the screenplay, is a veteran Hollywood writer and producer who has won numerous awards, especially as showrunner (executive producer) of the long-running 1980s television series “The Paper Chase.”

She has also been a longtime teacher in The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership Program and said that she had dreamt for decades about making a film in Israel.

After extensive preparations, she began filming “Little Traitor” in the old Musrara quarter of Jerusalem in the summer of 2006, and three days into the project the Lebanon War broke out.

“It struck me as ironic that I was making a film about fighting in Palestine in 1947, and now, almost 60 years later, the bullets were flying again,” she said.

Despite such distractions, including the army call-up of some of her crewmembers, Roth “miraculously” completed shooting the film in 28 days.

Roth, a New York native, said she is bound to Israel by many ties, not least the graves of all four grandparents in the Jewish state.

For detailed listing of films, dates and locations, call the Westside Jewish Community Center, festival sponsor, at (323) 938-2531.

Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad; ‘West Bank Story’ screening

Saturday the 3rd

Naughty Jewish girls need love, too. Show it to ’em this weekend. “Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad” returns to Los Angeles for three nights at Tangiers. The variety show features comedy, music, spoken word and burlesque, with a healthy helping of kitsch. Klezmer Juice also performs.

March 2-4, 8 p.m. $15. Tangiers Restaurant, 2138 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 666-8666.

Sunday the 4th

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Wondering where to see those short films you’d never heard of before your Oscar pool? The Very Short Movies Festival presents a perfect opportunity. March 8-11, the festival takes over the Egyptian Theater, where it will screen comedy, drama, documentary, animated and experimental shorts, including “The Tribe,” and Oscar-winner “West Bank Story.”

$8-$10 (tickets), $12-$15 (festival packages). 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (866) 376-9047. Oscar 2007: A good year for the Jews!

7 Days in the Arts

Saturday the 7th

Take a stroll for a good cause at today’s 14th annual Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk. More than 100 teams are scheduled for the 5K recreational walk around Hollywood Park racetrack, and those wishing to register today are also welcome. Also ambling are celebrities Peter Gallagher, David Hyde Pierce, Leeza Gibbons and Lea Thompson.

7 a.m. (registration), 8:30 a.m. (opening ceremonies), 8:45 a.m. (warm up). 9 a.m. (walk). 10:15 a.m.-noon (health expo, live entertainment, celebrity autographs and prizes). 1050 S. Prairie Ave., Inglewood. (323) 930-6228.

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Monday the 9th

Sneak behind the curtain into the life of Pulitzer and Tony award-winning playwright Tony Kushner in the new documentary, “Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner.” Following the writer from just after Sept. 11, 2001 to the 2004 presidential election, cameras captured Kushner’s work on the Broadway musical, “Caroline, or Change.” and the children’s Holocaust opera, “Brundibar,” as well as his “humor, ambition, vision and dazzling braininess,” according to Newsweek.

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Jewish Renewal leader Rabbi Shefa Gold debuts her first book, “Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land,” this month. Described as an approach for using the Torah as a path for spiritual growth, the text has been praised by Renewal leaders like Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Gold visits Los Angeles this week, offering workshops in conjunction with the release. Tonight, she is at B’nai Horin/Children of Freedom.

Oct. 10: (310) 441-4434 or e-mail

For other workshop dates, visit ” TARGET=”_blank”>

Thursday the 12th

Storytelling for grownups comes courtesy of UCLA Live this week. “The Moth,” a New York storytelling organization, comes west for a night at Royce Hall titled, “Out on a Limb: Stories From the Edge.” The show of real-life narratives will include host Andy Borowitz (creator of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”), Jonathan Ames (author, “Wake Up Sir!”), comedian Margaret Cho, Cindy Chupak (writer and executive producer, “Sex and the City”), RUN DMC’s Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Steve Osborne (retired NYPD lieutenant).

8 p.m. $25-$35. Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 825-2101. ” target = “_blank”>Loudon Wainwright III (photo below), read theirs tonight.

7:30 p.m. $8-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

British theater group Stan’s Cafe uses piles of rice to bring statistics to life

It’s nearly impossible to comprehend very large numbers. Take the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust. How does one go about understanding the magnitude of 6 million?

One way would be to visit the Skirball Cultural Center, where the British theater company, Stan’s Cafe (pronounced “kaff”), will perform its latest piece, “Of All the People in All the World,” from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1.

Upon entering the museum, visitors will receive a grain of rice, representing themselves. Then, they will walk into a room filled with 300 million grains of rice – one for every person in the United States. The rice will be divided into piles, each one illustrating a statistic, such as the number of people who have walked on the moon or the millions of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island. One grain of rice will stand for one person.

And there it will be, among all the piles: a large mound with 6 million pieces, representing each individual Jewish life lost in the Holocaust.

The performance piece will take place during the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a time of reflection known as the Days of Awe.

“We specifically chose to do it in the Days of Awe,” said Jordan Peimer, director of programs at the Skirball. “What better way to understand your place in the world, your role in life, than to begin to understand the fabric of life on earth?”

The piece will open with 150 labeled piles of rice, illustrating serious statistics, such as the millions of people with HIV in Africa, as well as pop culture trivia, such as the number of people who watched the last episode of “Cheers.”

Over the course of the show, five actors, dressed as factory workers, will manipulate the piles to illustrate various truths, including the number of passengers on the Mayflower and the number of people per police officer in Los Angeles.

Visitors will be encouraged to interact with the actors, to share their own stories and discuss the demographics to which they belong. Occasionally, the performers will measure statistics suggested by visitors on the spot.

Peimer said he had been following the innovative Stan’s Cafe troupe for a while, waiting for the right time and the perfect piece to bring to the Skirball. When he saw the rice performance at a festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, last year, he knew he had to bring the show to Los Angeles.

The performance will be the second stop, after Portland, on the troupe’s first U.S. tour. Since premiering in Coventry, England, in 2003, the show has toured throughout the United Kingdom. It has also traveled to Ireland, Canada, Italy, Spain and Germany, whose daily newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, praised the show, saying “The knowledge gained is astonishing.”

The actors tailor each performance to the country, city and building in which they perform. They decided the Holocaust representation would be just right for the Skirball.

“To hear the statistic of the number of people who died in the Holocaust is one thing,” Peimer said. “To see all of those people represented and to have you [represented as a single grain of rice] in relation to them is a very potent thing.”

The troupe will also lead workshops for students from Brawerman Elementary School, Robert Frost Middle School, La Ballona School and Thomas Starr King Middle School. The children will research statistics and build mounds of rice to illustrate their findings.

James Yarker, artistic director of Stan’s Cafe, who co-founded the group 15 years ago, said he came up with the idea for the piece when he was on tour with another performance in 2002.

“Each time we touched down, we found another city full of people bustling about their business, for whom it would be no appreciable loss if the U.K. and its 59 million inhabitants, including Stan’s Cafe, didn’t exist,” Yarker wrote in an essay on the group’s Web site.

“This parochial small island boy was beginning to get a sense that the world was far, far bigger than he had ever imagined it to be,” Yarker continued, speaking about himself in the third person, “and he was starting to wonder if he would ever be able to understand how many people he shared the planet with.”

After considering sand, sugar, salt, pebbles, peppercorns, spices and more as a way to represent large numbers of people, Yarker settled on rice. “We needed grains that were small, cheap, robust and which wouldn’t roll around,” he said on the Web site. Rice “also has powerful resonance, being a staple food for much of the world and looking vaguely humanoid in close up.”

For piles with fewer than 200 grains, the group typically counts each grain. For larger piles, it weighs the rice. The Skirball will provide not only the scales for weighing the five and one-half tons of rice that will be used during the performance but also the rice, which it bought for less than $2,000 from local wholesalers. The grains will be recycled for animal feed when the exhibit concludes.

“We’ve never done anything like it,” said the Skirball’s Peimer. “I hope it makes people think about their place in the world, and I hope it makes people pause to remember the grain of rice that they are.”

The exhibit will be open during regular museum hours (12 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 12 to 9 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday). Admission will be free on Thursday and Sunday. Other days, general admission will be $8, $6 for seniors and free for members, students and children under 12. For advance tickets call (866) 468-3399.

The ‘revenge of the fired’ could fill a book — and does

Because I’ve been fired from nearly every job I’ve ever held, I always thought nobody in the world understands what I’ve been through. Boo-hoo, right?
But along comes Annabelle Gurwitch and her book, “Fired!: Tales of the Canned, Canceled, Downsized, and Dismissed,” which includes the pink-slipped memories of folks like Robert Reich, Felicity Huffman and Bill Maher. So when Gurwitch hosted an event for the book not long ago — in a lovely, long, willowy slip-of-a-thing of her own — I immediately quit what I was doing (pretending to work) and attended.
Gurwitch first planned her literary revenge after being fired off a film set by Woody Allen.

“You look retarded,” he told her.

Now, she seems to have found fortune in the awful feelings that follow getting shown the door. Along with her anthology, there’s a CD and DVD. And she’s been taking her show on the road, including the performance I attended at the Skirball Cultural Center, which also included 10 funny fellow “firees.” She’ll lead a panel at this weekend’s West Hollywood Book Fair, with guests Jeff Garlin, Jeff Kahn, Glenn Rosenbloom and Cathryn Michon (for more information, see page 43).

“Have you ever been fired?” I ask the woman sitting next to me at the Skirball.
“No,” she says. “Unless you count my kids washing their hands of me.”

Not really. One time, I tell her, I was selling ice cream to kids and got fired right in the middle of my Good Humor route because they attacked my truck.
Skirball gal shushes me as the show starts.

The adorable Gurwitch recounts some of the aftermath of losing a job:

  • You deserve it.
  • It can lead to something so much better than you ever dreamed of in your entire life.
  • It was crappy, but you get a good story.

For example, while most of his high school friends in Evanston, Ill., worked at the Banana Republic, actor Matt Price spent one summer as a knife company salesman.

“Top-level cutlery?” he says. “That was a sign of becoming a man.” His clientele: “Forty-five-year-old Jewish women and 70-year-old Jewish women.”
Poor Price could cut a penny with the company’s scissors, but by July he had to “hang up the knit tie” when he discoveredthe company was a pyramid scheme.

Gurwitch hears stories from people who are canned for “not trimming the nose hairs of the boss” and for “not nesting” correctly. Like Jessica Van Der Valk, who found herself having to confront her boss one day with: “You’re firing me for not having any knickknacks in my cubicle?”

“Yep,” said the boss.

Actor Kahn, Gurwitch’s husband, calls his contribution to the book, “The World’s Worst Waiter.” At D.B. Kaplan’s Deli in Chicago, they require waiters to memorize the contents of hundreds of sandwiches. But Kahn says he really only knew three: “The Ditka,” “The Oprah” and “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow.”

Unable to total up checks correctly, Kahn had to take another job just to support the deli gig. Finally losing it after scorching his hand on a pile of hot cheese, he pulled a knife on an unsympathetic cook and … see ya!

Back at Skirball, Jonathan Goff described the dynamic between “the firer and the firee.” One of his first jobs was in Rhode Island announcing morning traffic reports from a Chevette. Just before being let go, he realized he was “driving a tiny car in the wee hours in a miniscule state with no traffic.”

Still, no matter what job you lose, “you feel small,” Groff said. “And they are tall.”

Speaking of self-worth, Gurwitch saved the strong and sensitive for last: Jane Edith Wilson, a striking redheaded comedian. Sure, she said, who isn’t happy to be “released from an astounding, soul-sucking job.” However, she added, any firing doesn’t feel good. “There’s something heavy in the air … once you have that stink on you.”

“You charm people,” one boss told her. “It’s disgusting.” Waitressing at the Greenwich Village V&G café, Wilson became known for her hilarious antics, like the dance she did with the plastic honey bears. (I remember; I used to enjoy her!)

She always exacted “a look of murder” at a customer, she says. “I wanted him to know I was deeply aware of my own self-worth.”

Wilson gave people lip, was “often hung-over” and always late. But after 12 years at V&G, “to this day,” says Wilson, “whenever I hear ‘Crazy for You’ by Madonna, I have an urge to put a plate of fries in front of a drunk person.”
In the moment of being fired, Wilson says she “felt an odd resignation.”

And I think I know what she means. I felt awful being fired from my job at a Westside car wash last summer. But I was resigned. They had to can me. I accidentally smashed a cherry Chevy Tahoe into a pole driving it to the drying area.

And when I got fired as deejay on “The Voice of Peace” pirate radio ship in Israel, peace ship owner Abie Natan sent an Arab dinghy out from Jaffa to yank me off the air. Now that was an interesting way to get thrown over.


Hank Rosenfeld has been fired from every radio announcing and car-washing job he’s ever had. “Fired!” books, CDs, and DVDs are available at

7 Days in the Arts

Saturday the 2nd

This weekend represents a final opportunity to view two Skirball Center multimedia exhibitions. “Jewish Identity Project: New American Photography” presents photos, video and multimedia pieces by emerging and mid-career artists, exploring the theme of Jewish identity. “L.A. River Reborn” focuses in closer to home, on the Los Angeles River and the relationship between society and the environment.

Through Sept. 3. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. ” border = 0 align = left vspace = 6 hspace = 6 alt = “”>

Monday the 4th

This Labor Day the Workmen’s Circle hosts an opening reception for “Peter Whittenberg: Prints,” an exhibition of politically minded graphic art. The decidedly adult-only show features Whittenberger’s recurring character, Robert P. Vonruenhousen IV, who has male sex organs for a head, and represents what the artist feels is wrong with America today.

5-7 p.m. Free. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007. ” TARGET=”_blank”>

Wednesday the 6th

Community spirit can be found at the Robertson Branch Library tonight. Families and kids of all ages are invited for “Neighbors Celebrating Neighbors: An Evening of Music and Stories.” The event features Uncle Ruthie Buell of KPFK, children’s book author Barney Saltzberg ,singer and recording artist Tiana Marquez and singer Tonyia Jor’dan.

6:30 p.m. Free. 1719 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 840-2147.

Thursday the 7th

The Academy does it short and sweet, this week. The Los Angeles International Short Film Festival, accredited by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is the largest fest of its kind. Included among this year’s films are “George Lucas in Love,” directed by Joe Nussbaum (“American Pie 5: The Naked Mile”) and “In God We Trust,” by Jason Reitman, director of “Thank You For Smoking” and son of director Ivan.

Sept. 5-14. ArcLight Cinemas, 6360 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. ” align = right vspace = 6 hspace = 6 border = 0 alt = “”>
Homage is paid to the brothers Gershwin in the 1983 Tony-winner “My One and Only.” Head to UCLA’s Freud Playhouse to see Reprise’s production of this “Funny Face” adaptation, that also includes Gershwin music from other sources.

Sept. 5-17. $60-$75 (single tickets), $165-$195 (season tickets). Macgowan Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 825-2101.

Sex at the Skirball

When sexy authors like Erica Jong and Jerry Stahl get together onstage, you expect fireworks. But when I drag my friend Kay up to Skirball for the Writers Bloc conversation, the room is too bright, and Kay tells me Jong’s blue-framed eyeglasses and gold necklace make her come off more Carol Channing than “sex goddess.”

“Sex goddess” is how Writers Bloc founder Andrea Grossman introduces Jong, known for her 1973 literary sensation, “Fear of Flying.” Now 64, Jong has a new memoir, “Seducing the Demon,” which seduced most of the middle-aged women into coming tonight.

“Of course that’s why I’m here,” says a woman in a Princess Cruises pumpkin-colored pantsuit. “Her book had such a big effect.”

“I wanted to see what she’s up to now,” adds the female half of a baby boomer couple sitting near us.

Two hipsters in berets and leather (Stahl fans?) complete the scene in the Skirball’s Haas room.

Stahl wrote his own 1999 sexual memoir, “Perv — A Love Story,” and his first book, 1995’s “Permanent Midnight,” a memoir about his time as a drug-addicted TV writer, became a Ben Stiller movie. Kay finds heroin a tired literary cliché. But at the first mention of “sex” she perks up as a bent smile lifts one side of Stahl’s mouth.

And we’re off!

But instead of gland-to-gland combat, what we’re witnessing is an intimate exchange — sex talk in the salon. Jong, called by Grossman “a lightning rod for the last 30 years,” comes off strong in front of a crowd. Stahl plays it self-deprecatory. The one-time creator of Penthouse Letters mixes the right combination of dirty talk and fawning to coax Jong into going for the water bottle. In her newest confessional, Jong writes about sleeping with Martha Stewart’s husband. Stahl quips that he did the same with Stewart’s husband.

“Martha’s a sister,” Kay whispers. “Erica shouldn’t go around bad-mouthing her.”

But she digs the quick, black-clad Stahl. He generously lets Jong bang her political gong to make points against fundamentalist anti-Semites and fixed elections. And when she mentions Justice Sandra Day O’Connor “worried about a drift toward fascism,” Stahl says he slept with her, too.

“How was she?” Jong asks.

“Brittle,” Stahl replies. “But rightward leaning.”

He teases Jong into enticing us with a tale from “Seducing the Demon,” about a British poet (her demon muse) whom she resisted with a sudden revelation: “I can’t [sleep with] this guy … he’s an anti-Semite!”(Didn’t Larry David do something similar on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”?)

Then, in keeping with a Skirball tradition, someone in the audience shouts out: “Can’t hear you!”

“Sorry,” Stahl says. “We’re all getting old. Some go deaf. I just speak quietly.”

This segues into what we came for: Jong taking on taboos.

Her next book? A study of her father’s death. She says death and aging are taboo because we’re in denial. But being 64 offers a unique perspective.

“Death starts taking everyone around you,” Jong says. And at the same time, “your kids in their 20s become very needy. So here you are in between these two generations.”

Sounds like a whole new area for her “to blow open,” Stahl prods.

“We all end up a heap of chemicals and a black spot on the ground,” Jong says. “Within a year there’s nothing there except the words you left behind.”

Aging and death. How the baby boomers have turned! Luckily, these two discuss elderly sex.

People with Alzheimer’s make love, Stahl says, “like there’s no tomorrow.”

Jong describes nursing homes where bed hopping has become de rigueur.

“I’m thinking about investing in designer diapers,” says Stahl, drawing laughs. “Seriously.”

Wham bam, pass the Depends? By the time the gal in the orange pantsuit asks about Jackie Collins, Kay has heard enough.

“How about an interview with the Skirball landscape artist?” she says. “That’s impressive work.”

Hank Rosenfeld just helped Irv Brecher compete his memoir on aging and sex and Groucho Marx, called “Go for the Jocular!”


Wake Up and Smell the Fish

For UCLA geography professor Jared Diamond, the fall of a great civilization can come down to fish.

“Fish prices have tripled; fish form a significant part of our diet,” Diamond told The Journal. “At the rate we’re going, most of the world’s major fisheries will be gone within a decade.”

He doesn’t expect Los Angelenos to obsess about it. “Fish don’t focus the attention the way a single earthquake does,” he said.

But Diamond knows what he’s talking about. He’s the author of the best-selling nonfiction book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” (Viking, 2004). His book is the inspiration for a special exhibit at the L.A. County Natural History Museum. Diamond will talk about his book and his ideas on Jan. 10 at a Writers Bloc Presents lecture at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Diamond, who received a 1985 MacArthur Foundation genius grant, won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction with his earlier book, “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies” (W. W. Norton & Company). The scope of Diamond’s research spans not only geography, but also ornithology, physiology and environmental history.

In the earlier book, Diamond examined how and why Western civilizations developed the technologies and immunities that allowed them to dominate much of the world. “Collapse” looks at the flip side: What caused some of the great civilizations to collapse into ruin and what can people today learn from their fates?

Some of what happens could come down to fish, Diamond said, or to other somewhat overlooked factors. Diamond expects a future massive fish decline to be a global version of the New Orleans levees breaking during Hurricane Katrina. A world without fish, he said, will result in “countries collapsing…. A substantial fraction of the world’s people rely on fish for protein.”

The Cambridge-educated Diamond, who is Jewish, said he has not found evidence that Jews, Judaism or any other major religion played a dominant role in why a civilization ended.

“I have not noticed that one particular religion is more prone or less prone to collapse,” he said.

Nor does he list the modern scourge of terrorism among crucial factors — at least it doesn’t rank nearly in importance with the supply of fish. “People don’t get excited about the gradual disappearance of fish,” he said, “until 2 billion people start sending out terrorists because they’re starving.”

Jared Diamond will discuss “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” at Writers Bloc Presents on Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 7:30 p.m. at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 855-0005.

7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, December 3

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

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

Sunday, December 4

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

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

Monday, December 5

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

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

Tuesday, December 6

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

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

Wednesday, December 7

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

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

Thursday, December 8

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

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

Friday, December 9

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

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

‘350’ Exhibit Spends Winter at the Skirball

In 1927, a popular duo called The Happiness Boys had a hit song called, “Since Henry Ford Apologized to Me,” which lampooned the car magnet’s supposed contrition for the anti-Semitic content of his newspaper, The Dearborn Independent.

Its catchy lyrics proclaimed:

“I was sad and I was blue,

But now I’m just as good as you,

Since Henry Ford apologized to me!”

A recording of that song is among the finds that will be on display in “From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jewish Life in America,” which opens Nov. 10 at the Skirball Cultural Center. The exhibit traces American Jewish history — from the 1654 arrival of 23 Sephardic refugees in New York through the 19th century’s waves of Jewish immigration to a typed Phillip Roth manuscript and Mel Brooks and Adam Sandler.

The 250 photographs, documents and artifacts showcase Jewish life in a country that has been free of pogroms and still values religious plurality. The Skirball exhibit caps a year of “350” commemorations across the United States.

“From Haven to Home” starts the American Jewish story in September 1654, when 23 Jews fled Brazil and landed in New Amsterdam harbor (now New York City), with those Jews granted trade and travel rights the following year. The exhibit’s march of time continues with an 1818 letter from Thomas Jefferson to influential Jewish American Mordecai Noah and also a copy of a copy of George Washington’s famed 1790, “to bigotry no sanction” letter, sent to the Jews of Newport, R.I.

Among the Civil War Judaica is: A Confederate two-dollar bill bearing the face of Judah Benjamin — a U.S. senator who defected to become one of Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ Cabinet members — and Abraham Lincoln’s note rescinding Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Union Army order expelling Jews from Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi. The exhibit also shows an 1876 receipt for a $10 contribution to Washington, D.C.,’s first synagogue, which was made by Grant while he was president.

From 1889, the Skirball has a Torah binder from rural German Jewish settlers in the Rocky Mountains.

“It shows that not only did German Jews immigrate to the cities, but also settled throughout the land,” said Michael Grunberger, head of the Hebraic section at the Library of Congress, which hosted the original “From Haven to Home” exhibition last fall in Washington.

More established Jewish communities speak through the Skirball exhibit’s 1879 invitation to a Hebrew charity ball and an 1881 invitation to a Purim “fancy dress ball.” The immigrant experience includes such items as Harry Houdini’s 1913 passport application and Albert Einstein’s 1936 Declaration of Intention statement to U.S. immigration officials.

“From Haven to Home” also features a display of Jewish American posters. A 1917 color poster advertises English-language classes for Ohio’s Jewish immigrants, bearing the headline, “Cleveland — Many Peoples, One Language.”

A circa 1940s United Jewish Appeal lithograph seeks aid for Jewish refugees. Its Hebrew script reads: “Their fight is our fight.” Ben Shahn’s 1946 marching-in-the-streets poster encourages voter registration.

The exhibit’s view of modern American Jewish life includes a handwritten 1961 seder guest list; a Yiddish translation of the Dr. Seuss classic, “The Cat in the Hat” (“Di Kats der Payats”); the eye-catching 2000 presidential campaign button, “Gore/ Lieberman in 5761,” and the 20-something magazine, Heeb: The New Jew Review.

Along with most of the items found in the original Library of Congress exhibit, the Skirball exhibit will have 25 new items not displayed in Washington last fall, including a copy of Al Jolson’s sheet music for the tune, “California Here I Come.”

Since last September and for much of this year, Jewish organizations nationwide have celebrated the 350th anniversary. Versions of the “From Haven to Home” exhibit have made stops in Cincinnati and Boston.

“Our version of the exhibition is the closest to the Library of Congress,” said Skirball senior curator Grace Cohen Grossman. “This is the culminating exhibition.”

Three years in the making, “From Haven to Home” became the largest Library of Congress display presenting its American Jewish cultural artifacts, with the Skirball being the exhibit’s largest outside provider of items.

Both in its Skirball and Library of Congress incarnations, the exhibit has sought to capture the evolving quality of Jewish culture’s uniquely American experience. Fittingly, the last item in Skirball’s gallery space will be a 1968 TV clip showing Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts with composer Irving Berlin, all singing his classic, “God Bless America.”

“From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jewish Life in America,” will run Nov. 10 to Feb. 12, 2006, at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. The exhibition will be open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays 12-5 p.m.; Thursdays, 12-9 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission will be $8 general, $6 seniors and students, free on Thursdays. For more information call (310) 440-4500 or visit

7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, May 21

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

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

Sunday, May 22

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

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

Monday, May 23

Richard Nanes’ classical crossover music has been performed by the London Philharmonic and at Lincoln Center, with his “Symphony No. 3, The Holocaust” world premiering at the Kiev International Music Festival. You’ve heard his music on the Bravo Network, and possibly on EWTN (the Global Catholic Network). But for those who want to own his “Symphony No. 3, The Holocaust,” the opportunity has just now arrived. It’s available on video and CD through the Web., ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Tuesday, May 24

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

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

Wednesday, May 25

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

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

Thursday, May 26

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

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

Friday, May 27

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

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

7 Days in the Arts

Saturday, March 26

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels makes an effort at inclusiveness with its new exhibit, “Passion/Passover: Artists of Faith Interpret Their Holy Days.” On view through the month of April, the show features works by seven Jewish and seven Christian artists, including Barbara Drucker, Laurie Gross and the Rev. Michael Tang. Drucker’s contribution is a “Song of Songs”-inspired piece, while Gross’ incorporates the tallit into a work called, “Miriam and the Women.”

6:30 a.m.-6 p.m. (Mon.-Fri.), 9 a.m.-6 p.m. (Sat.), 7 a.m.-6 p.m. (Sun.). 555 W. Temple St., Los Angeles. (213) 680-5224.

Sunday, March 27

Anne Frank would have been 75 years old this year, had she lived. Celebrate her words and her memory through the play written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” on stage now through April 17 at the Chance Theater.

8 p.m. (Thurs.-Sat.), 2 p.m. (Sun.). $17-$20. 5552 E. Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. (714) 777-3033.

Monday, March 28

Newly released on DVD is the documentary, “Shanghai Ghetto.” Martin Landau narrates the film about the Jews of Shanghai, who escaped Nazi persecution in the Japanese-controlled city, one of the only places that would allow them to enter.


Tuesday, March 29

George Washington gets his mug on a dollar, but what did Martha ever get for her troubles? Cokie Roberts corrects the oversight in her book, “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation,” which becomes the topic of conversation when she visits the Skirball this evening. A book signing follows.

7:30 p.m. $5-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

Wednesday, March 30

American icon photographer and icon in her own right, Annie Leibovitz, displays her stills of musicians at Fahey/Klein Gallery’s “American Music” exhibition. Images of Willie Nelson, Beck and Michael Stipe are just some you’ll see.

10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.). 148 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 934-2250.

Thursday, March 31

Catch the new Murray Mednick trifecta beginning tonight at Electric Lodge. The first two of his four-part series, “The Gary Plays,” premiere tonight, with the third premiering tomorrow. They follow Gary, a poor former actor dealing with his son’s murder. Stay tuned for news on part four….

8 p.m. (both premieres). $20 (one evening), $30 (both evenings). 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. (310) 823-0710.

Friday, April 1

The first Israeli feature to be screened at Sundance, “Nina’s Tragedies,” premiered in 2004 – then took another year to make it into L.A. and New York theaters. But the wait may well be worth it. The film about a 13-year-old boy’s crush on his beautiful and recently widowed Aunt Nina, and about the other quirky characters that surround him, opens today in Laemmle theaters.

Laemmle Sunset 5, Los Angeles; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena.

Two Tickets to ‘Paradise’


There was a time in the 1930s and ’40s when Los Angeles, until then considered a barbarian desert outpost by effete Eastern snobs, became the European culture capital in exile.

An influx of the greatest Jewish artists from Berlin, Vienna and Budapest, fleeing Nazi persecution, settled in Brentwood and Santa Monica, attracted equally by employment in the movie industry and the balmy (smog-free) climate.

The journeys of 11 of the brightest names who left the Old for the New World are chronicled and visualized in the Skirball Cultural Center exhibit, “Driven Into Paradise.”

Represented are filmmakers Billy Wilder and Michael Curtiz; composers Arnold Schoenberg and Ernst Toch; writers Vicki Baum, Lion Feuchtwanger, Salka Viertel and Franz Werfel; and artists Otto and Gertrud Natzler and Emilie “Galka” Scheyer.

Through interactive graphic panels displaying musical scores, manuscripts, novels, letters, photographs and film and music clips, curator Tal Gozani encapsulates the cultural ferment of the decades and the émigrés’ contributions to the Golden Age of Hollywood.

It boggles the mind to recall that one ex-Hungarian, Michael Curtiz, directed such classics as “Casablanca,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “White Christmas,” while Austrian-born Billy (Samuel) Wilder created “The Lost Weekend,” “Double Indemnity,” “Stalag 17,” “The Apartment,” “Sunset Boulevard” and “Some Like It Hot.”

While the works of authors Baum (“Grand Hotel”) and Werfel (“The Song of Bernadette”) became hit movies, other artists were too avant-garde for their time and place.

“Driven Into Paradise,” an expression coined by Schoenberg, is being shown in tandem with the Skirball’s “Einstein” exhibit, a tribute to the most famous refugee of all and an occasional Southern Californian.

The émigré exhibit is complemented by special programs, including “Kaffee und Kultur” (March 20), “Memories of Jewish Refugee Women” (May 1), the “Paradise Found Film Series” (March 22-April 19) and the six-session course “I’m Not From Here: Creative Encounters for Newcomers to Los Angeles” (April 4-May 23).

“Driven Into Paradise” runs through May 8 in the Skirball’s Ruby Gallery. Admission is free. For information, call (310) 440-4500, or visit


Mom Was There

As I was ordering invitations for my eldest son’s bar mitzvah in May 2001, we discovered that my mom had end-stage cancer.

With severe and unrelenting pain, Mom became alarmingly feeble, her pain unremitting. Her doctor told us, "Take her home and make her comfortable. It’s a good time to get out the photo albums and gather the grandchildren around." His prognosis? A few weeks to a few months at best.

My sister and I felt as if we had been hit with an emotional stun gun. Cancer had already claimed our father, aunt and grandmother. Our only brother had been killed in a car accident more than 30 years before. We could not fathom losing our mother, who had always been so strong both physically and psychologically, and with whom we each enjoyed a close relationship.

My bond with Mom had become increasingly intimate over the years, enhanced in large part by our spending more time together, frequently over Shabbat. Nearly every week, Mom would come over and sit on the same spot on the living room couch as the kids piled around her to show her their school projects, tell her about their week or have her read them a story. And she greatly enjoyed meeting other guests at our table. As a docent at the Skirball Cultural Center, Mom’s knowledge of Jewish history often enlivened our conversations.

I began my campaign to get Mom to come over as often as possible two years earlier, when my mother-in-law, whom we have since lost, was critically ill.

"We only have your dad and my mom left," I told my husband then. "The rest of the week is too hectic for visits. We’ve got to get them over here for Shabbat."

I could never imagine how much more precious this time would become, having had no inkling that it would be so limited.

After Mom’s devastating diagnosis, my sister and I were thrust in a whirlwind of preparing for hospice care in Mom’s home. Given her prognosis, we also had to rush and get her business affairs in order. We tried each day to absorb the shock of it all, our expectations of a long future for Mom shattered. I felt I was living a surreal dream, as on any given day I could be calling the hospice nurse to inquire about morphine dosages, while also waiting for the bar mitzvah caterer or photographer to call back.

The day I picked up the invitations I headed out with heavy heart to visit Mom. Thinking of all those crisp, lovely invitations filling several boxes in the car, I began to cry. For much of the drive over the 405, I wondered how I could show them to Mom without breaking down completely. I even considered briefly not showing them to her at all. Yet how could I not show them? Could Mom, despite what the doctor said, survive to see the first of her grandsons step up as a bar mitzvah and read from the Torah? Or might I actually be sitting shiva during the week of this simcha?

During that drive, I decided not only to show Mom the invitations, but also to continue to share with her my plans as they progressed. My mom, always a realist, knew that she might not live to be at the event, but it gave her pleasure to know how the plans were coming along. I steeled myself during my daily drives to remain strong in her presence, and allowed myself to cry alone in the car on the way home. Most of the time, I was able to stick to this plan.

But Mom’s deterioration was rapid and inescapable. It seemed nearly impossible for her to make the bar mitzvah. While she didn’t tell me directly, she confided in her hospice nurse that she wished I could move the bar mitzvah up.

When the nurse told me how deeply Mom worried about this, I was crushed. Mom understood that there was no way to move it up. But something had to be done. My husband and I came up with another idea: If Mom couldn’t come to the bar mitzvah, we would bring a trial run of the event to her.

We invited the entire family to Mom’s house for the following Sunday for brunch and to hear our son, Avi, rehearse his chanting of his parsha. Our rabbi, Moshe Cohen of Aish HaTorah Los Angeles, also came, and wrapped Avi’s brand-new tefillin on his arm and head for the first time, explaining the significance not only of the tefillin, but also part of the meaning behind Avi’s parsha, V’etchanan. In this parsha, Moshe recounts his disappointment that despite his fervent pleas, God would not allow him to live to enter the land of Israel. Once again, the 3,000-year-old Torah resonated with our lives today in a way that was too deep for words.

It’s a good thing we rushed to put together this trial run. If we had waited even one more week, Mom would have been too weak to appreciate what was happening. We took our last photos with her and the family that day, but it is painful to look at them. I much prefer earlier photos that reflected her life spirit and beautiful glow.

Mom died two weeks before Avi’s bar mitzvah. My week of shiva coincided with the first nine days of Av, historically a time of tragedy for the Jewish people. When I got up from shiva, I rushed to finish the details of the bar mitzvah that there had been no time for: menu planning, seating arrangements, getting suits tailored.

Fittingly, Avi’s bar mitzvah fell on Shabbat Nachamu, the first Shabbat after Tisha B’Av, when the Haftarah reading from Isaiah promises comfort to the Jewish people for all the tragedies that have befallen us: "Comfort, comfort My people, says your God," Avi read. As he read, I felt the promise of comfort for my own loss, and for the ongoing heartaches of our people.

Many friends offered their solace to me before and after Mom died, assuring me that she would be at the bar mitzvah, no matter what. I know they were right. The day could not have been anything but bittersweet for us, but our pain was somehow balanced by the joy in our son’s rite of passage into Jewish manhood, and by the very distinct sensation of Mom’s spirit filling the room, emanating from her well-deserved seat in the world to come.

Judy Gruen is the award-winning author of
two humor books and a columnist for Religion News Service. Read more of her
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