Jews have been part of hip-hop since its beginning,” said Josh Noreck of the Hip Hop Hoodios, a Latino Jewish rap group based out of Los Angeles and New York. “Rick Rubin founded Def Jam records. Lyor Cohen started working for it right after. The Beastie Boys and 3rd Bass were huge old-school rappers. Way before Eminem, pretty much the only white rappers were Jewish. When I was growing up, I was conscious of that.”
And yet, hip-hop video producer Jeremy Goldscheider said, “Nobody realizes there is a Jewish hip-hop scene spread out in different parts of the world.” Eager to educate hip-hop fans about international Jewish rappers, Goldscheider recently joined forces with local Jewish singer, songwriter and music producer Craig Taubman, co-producing a new album, “Celebrate Hip Hop: Jewish Artists From Around the Globe” — the latest in Taubman’s “Celebrate” series.
From Israeli MC Sagol 59 to American MC Remedy, and from British group Antithesis to Russian group iSQUAD, the CD brings together mainstream and underground artists with diverse approaches to hip-hop. Canadian group Solomon & Socalled rap in Yiddish to a classic sthetl groove; Israeli artist Mook E raps in Jamaican-style dancehall; and American group Blood of Abraham raps in classic inner-city style.
Despite these marked differences, Goldscheider said, there are several factors uniting all the songs: “Every song on [the album] has a very strong point of view and a lot of heart, whether addressing political or personal topics. There were a number of artists I didn’t put on here because they had typical rap songs about women, partying, bling-bling. To me, they didn’t have anything unique to say about a Jewish experience. Every song on here has something Jewish about it, something positive, something that has some meaning.”
Goldscheider’s ultimate goal is to provide youth a new avenue for expressing Jewish identity: “I’m interested in how young people connect to Judaism. I don’t think there are a lot of interesting, unique, cool ways of doing it. I wanted to create a product that would help make young people proud of being Jewish…[This CD] is about being part of a larger hip-hop community, being proud of a Jewish voice in it. I felt this music would create new interest for a 15-year-old Jewish kid who doesn’t care about Judaism.”
“I think Jewish hip-hop is really important to Jewish identity today,” said Noreck, whose group is on the album singing “Ocho Kandelikas” — a rock/salsa/rap version of the traditional Ladino Chanukah song (see box). “Music like klezmer is for an older generation. You have to bring Jewish music up to date, and the most youth-driven genre today is hip-hop. To me, it makes perfect sense that someone does a compilation like this…. I think [it’s] long overdue.”
For some, however, hip-hop and Jewish music seem as far removed from each other as can be: Shortly after Goldscheider approached Taubman with the idea for this album, Taubman saw a “Jewish hip-hop” posting on the Jewish music listserv to which he subscribes. “One hundred people responded to the posting,” Taubman recalled, “saying that [Jewish hip-hop] is a joke, that if it does exist it shouldn’t.” That reaction made up Taubman’s mind to go ahead with the project. “I e-mailed back,” Taubman said. “I never e-mail in response to postings, but I was so incensed that I wrote and said I’m doing a compilation CD of Jewish hip-hop music.”
“The opposition is only within the Jewish community,” said L.A. rapper Etan G., whose song, “South Side of the Synagogue,” appears on the compilation. “With the exception of the Beastie Boys, there has never been a prominent Jewish hip-hop act that wasn’t about bagels and lox and dreidels and shmaltz and gelt and every other idiotic Yiddish word you can throw into a song…. Jews have no respect for Jewish hip-hop. They all listen to mainstream hip-hop, but when you come out as a Jewish rapper, they are not as into it, because it’s generally not as good. There is seemingly nothing authentic in Jewish rap; nothing that captures anything.”
“A lot of Jewish rap up to now has been about parody,” Noreck said. “I can’t stand it. If Jewish rap music wants a place of its own and wants to be taken seriously, it can’t be parody all the time.”
Goldscheider steered clear of such acts in this compilation CD. “First and foremost,” he said, “I tried to choose artists that were serious about their music…. I stayed away from Jewish hip-hop artists that do a shtick. I chose music that had something to say — musically or lyrically.”
Through songs like “Remember Ben” by Israeli rappers Sagol 59 and A7, the album does come through in addressing significant and timely topics: “I’ve seen many rappers come and go/I’ve seen many DJs with inflated egos/But I’ve never seen anyone quite like you/One hand on the turntables/One hand flipping through the Torah/You didn’t care if it was in a small club in front of three people/Or if in a huge festival in front of three thousand/You played Cube and Snoop, Common and Cyprus/I remember you always said, ‘I don’t spin on Shabbos’/But now you’re not here/You’ve fallen victim to the stupid war of small-minded people.”
“DJ Benny the B was an Orthodox Jewish guy from Pennsylvania,” said Sagol 59, who raps in Hebrew. “He came to study Torah in Jerusalem. He was a hip-hop DJ by night, with his kippah and tzitzit and four earrings in each ear, spinning Snoop Doggy Dog. The day before he was supposed to go back to America, he went to say goodbye to some friends at Hebrew University. He actually had the plane ticket in his pocket when he was blown up by a suicide bomber in the school cafeteria. He was one of nine people killed…. It was really difficult to record this song, and I still get choked up when I perform it.”
A7 freestyled his part of the song in English, taking his opening line from the words on a poster in the recording studio, “Eternal reflections: All things are destined to go back to the creator.” Growing up in the inner city of Baltimore, immersed in East Coast hip-hop, A7 began freestyling in first grade — going on to rap with Baltimore’s local group Triad and local crew Testament. At 21, however, he left his fellow musicians, family and friends, in pursuit of a new spiritual path — Judaism. “I started to read the Torah,” he said, “and it spoke to me…. I decided these are my beliefs, and I’m really serious about it. So there was only one place for me to be: here in Israel.”
Israeli hip-hop artists, A7 asserts, have something to teach hip-hop artists in America: “Because hip-hop is so international right now, rappers need to pay attention to the messages they are putting out there. As black rappers in America, we can get rich making albums about killing white people. For this reason, American rappers are not cognizant of the image we portray globally. But it’s more than our block now, more than our neighborhood, our side of town, our state, America. It goes around the world. So we have to be cognizant not to look like fools.
“One thing that the rest of the world has an understanding of, which American musicians don’t, is that what you say affects other people. In America, people can say anything they want, and whatever happens so be it. Here in Israel, you have to be cognizant of the words coming out of your mouth, because they can incite something negative. And you don’t want to do that in a place like this, where things are extremely sensitive and tense. As a Jew, I can’t make an album talking about killing Palestinians. If I’m a Palestinian, I can’t make an album talking about killing Jews. Only one message needs to come out in Israel — and that is peace.”
Peace is the message on Remedy’s track with RZA and Cliva Ringz, “Muslim and a Jew” — which encourages Jews and Arabs to remember that we come from the same blood line; and it also is the message in Antithesis’s track, “Just Peace,” chronicling the struggles of Israel since 1948. Goldscheider hopes these and other songs will get Jews talking — even more than usual: “There is discussion to be had from the songs, whether formally or informally, backstage among artists, or among listeners in classrooms and camps,” he said. “There are opportunities for discussion about Israel and about being Jewish and about working or playing in the secular world and also being very proud of your Jewishness.”
Among other topics, Goldscheider hopes this album will spur conversations about Jewish diversity: “Another intention of the record, from an educational point of view, is to make people understand there are Jews in Mexico, that there are Jewish rappers who sing in Russian. That’s an important thing to know about Jewish music and the scene: It’s global.”
Featuring rappers who are white and people of color, from Ashkenazi and Sephardi backgrounds, the album definitely takes a step towards representing the global Jewish experience. Nonetheless, with no female rappers, and none of the prominent hip-hop artists from Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jewish communities, the album falls short of offering a complete Jewish hip-hop experience.
The artists who are on this album nonetheless make a strong case for Jewish hip-hop, and open the door for additional exploration of the scene’s thriving diversity. Whether the album’s message will make into the mainstream market, however, remains to be seen. A few factors are in favor of this possibility: As part of the popular Wu Tang clan, MC Remedy already has enjoyed mainstream success, with his single, “Never Again,” — about his family’s experience in the Holocaust — selling 250,000 copies since its release two years ago. In addition, the Hip Hop Hoodios have a strong cross-over appeal in the Latino market — as evidenced by the appearance of their videos on MTV Espanol.
As album sales get under way, Taubman is actively targeting the mainstream market, promoting it at Walgreens, Costco, and Ralphs, as well as at Jewish organizations — an endeavor made possible by the fact that there is very little cursing on the album. “It’s a very clean record, a family record,” Goldscheider said. Despite opening up numerous markets, there were some drawbacks in making the CD family friendly: “That caused limitations — some artists couldn’t get on, because the intention was to make it something palatable to schools and camps,” Goldscheider said. But the trade-off, he concludes, was ultimately worth it: “I want it to get into those places. I want it used by Jewish organizations, youth organizations, Hillels on college campuses…. It’s just edgy enough but clean enough. The intention was to find that balance.”
Taubman reports that Jewish high schools already have begun ordering copies of the CD, and that a curriculum program will be available to schools in early January. Meanwhile, Goldscheider is hoping to embark on an additional complementary project — creating a college campus tour and music documentary that follows artists on the album as they tour around the world. “What I hope the record does is create more interest in the music,” Goldscheider said, “and I want to document this interest.”
“Celebrate Hip Hop” is available at (800) 627-2448 or ” target=”_blank”>amazon.com or Ameoba Records in Hollywood.
“Celebrate Chanukah,” featuring the release party for “Celebrate Hip Hop” and MC Hyim, Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m. at the Knitting Factory, 7021 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 463-0204. www.knittingfactory.com. $10.
Loolwa Khazzoom is a freelance writer, editor of “The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage” and author of “Consequence: Beyond Resisting Rape.” Visit her on the Web site at
“Eight Little Candles”
Singing Klezmer Isn’t Hard to Do
Music for hope
Tziona Maman came into Ohr Meir and Bracha Center in Jerusalem crying and very depressed. Her husband Tzion had both his legs badly injured in the Machane Yehuda bombing in 1997, and became addicted to pain killers. Before the bombing he had been a sculptor and was able to support his family through his art, but after the bombing he spent most of his time in a drug-induced stupor.
Ohr Meir and Bracha enrolled Tzion in a drug rehab program that successfully enabled him to be drug-free, and now he has started making sculptures again. His family is on surer footing financially, and Tziona is much happier.
On Sunday, Nov. 14, Ohr Meir and Bracha will be holding a fundraising concert to raise money for terror victims in Israel. In addition to providing counseling and referral services for the victims, Ohr Meir and Bracha, which translates to the light of Meir and Bracha, also gives weekly food baskets to victims in precarious financial situations. They also sponsor a summer retreat for terror victims.
The concert will feature the Moshav Band and will take place at 7:30 p.m. at Congregation Magen David, 9717 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. $15 minimum donation. For more information, call Sam Saidian at (310) 922-3010.
Jocelyn Tetel, the vice president of advancement at the Skirball Cultural Center, was awarded a commendation from the City of Culver City on Oct. 25 for her contributions to the disabled community.
For more than 12 years, Tetel has served on the board of directors of the Kayne Eras Center, an organization that serves children with various disabilities and operates two group homes for adults with developmental disabilities.
She also introduced art by L.A. GOAL to the general community by installing two exhibits at Skirball’s Ruby Gallery. L.A. GOAL is an organization that empowers adults with disabilities to become independent and productive members of society by helping them to provide “passive education” (i.e., art works) to the community that will enable the community to relate to them and see not just their disabilities, but their abilities.
UJ’s Ugandan Connection
The University of Judaism (UJ) had a special visitor in October – Dr. Gilbert Balikaseka Bukenya, the vice president of Uganda. Bukenya spoke to the students about Uganda’s desire to emerge from the third world, an effort that is hampered by Uganda’s lack of infrastructure. Bukenya also spoke about Uganda’s relationship with Israel, and how Uganda is exploring the use of the kibbutz as a model for collective living and pooling resources for Ugandan farmers.
While at the UJ, Bukenya met with Gershom Sizomu, a rabbinic student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and a native of Uganda. Sizomu is the spiritual leader of the Abuyadaya – the Ugandan Jews. Sizomu plans on returning to Uganda as that country’s first ordained rabbi. Bukenya and Sizomu spoke about Sizomu’s community and its need for fresh water.
At the end of the meeting, Bukenya raised the possibility of student exchange programs between the UJ and Uganda, and the possibility of training Ugandans in the UJ’s Graduate Programs in Nonprofit Management.
Gindlin Sings at Sinai
Cantor Mariana Gindlin was recently appointed to lead the religious service at Temple Sinai of Glendale. Gindlin was raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and her father sang in a professional synagogue choir for more than 30 years. Although she grew up singing, it was unthinkable in Argentina at the time for a woman to be a member of the clergy, so Gindlin decided to study psychology while taking voice lessons privately. Times eventually changed and Gindlin enrolled in the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, where she studied to be a cantor.
“The first time I stepped into Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, I realized I was at home,” she said.
In the upcoming year, Gindlin plans to add a junior choir and build an orchestra to enhance services and other events. She also wants to spread her passion for Jewish music and create a stronger sense of community and a greater joy in congregational worship.
Temple Sinai is located at 1212 N. Pacific Avenue in Glendale. For more information, call (818) 246-8101.
Peter’s New Place
In other UJ news, Peter Lowy was officially named chair of the University of Judaism’s board of directors on Oct. 11 at a ceremony held at the university’s Colen Conference Hall. Lowy is the CEO of Westfield Group, a global real estate investment trust with interest in 124 shopping centers around the world. The Westfield Group was the original sponsor of the UJ’s Department of Continuing Education’s Public Lecture Series.
Lowy, who until recently served as board treasurer, succeeds Dena Schechter, who led the board for five years.
“Building on the work done by my predecessor, Dena Schechter, and others, I want to see the UJ reach its fullest potential,” Lowy said. “The UJ must always strive to provide the highest quality education and to positively influence Jewish life in our community.”
New in Northridge
Two Northridge communities got new leadership over the summer. The Sephardic Congregation of Northridge recently hired Rabbi Moshe Abady to be its new spiritual leader. In 2001, Abady and his wife, Leora, moved to Los Angeles from Israel, where he directed the Sephardic Halacha Program at Yeshiva Darchei Noam Shappell’s, to accept a teaching position at Maimonides Academy. Abady also directed the Youth Minyan at Congregation Torah Ohr and offers bar mitzvah lessons.
Rabbi Eli Rivkin and his wife Tzippi, and their three small children moved to Northridge from Brooklyn, New York to head up Chabad at Northridge. The Rivkins will not only focus on building up the already existing Northridge community, but they are also going to be doing outreach to the 7,000 Jewish students at CSUN.
For more information visit www.chabadnorthridge.com.
A Cop for a Cop
The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) held a special lunch on Oct. 20 at the Luxe Summit Hotel to honor Jona Goldrich, who sponsored JINSA’s Law Enforcement Exchange Program (LEEP) Conference in California.
The LEEP conferences, which also took place in Minnesota and Florida, were the largest counterterrorism cooperative training enterprises between the U.S. and Israel. The California conference took place Oct. 18-19 in Garden Grove, where policeman heard from six counterterrorism professionals from the Israeli National Police, the General Security Service, the Mossad and the Israel Defense Forces. The speakers discussed the best counterterrorism practice procedures with an emphasis on preventing and responding to suicide bombings.
The lunch honoring Goldrich was chaired by Lawrence Field and David Justman, and guests heard presentations from Gideon Avrahami, the director of Jerusalem Mall; Yoram Hessel, a retired senior officer of the Mossad; Gen. Shaike Horowitz, a commander of the bomb squad unit of the Israeli National Police; Brig. Gen. Amichai Shai, the commander of the crime investigation unit; Maj. Gen. Mickey Levy, the former commander of the Jerusalem Police Department; Brig. Gen. Shimon Perry, police and law enforcement attachÃ(c) of the Embassy of Israel; Steven Pomerantz, former assistant director of the FBI; and Cmdr. Shmuel Zoltak of Israel National Police’s crisis negotiation unit.
For more information on LEEP and JINSA, visit www.jinsa.org.
This Bud’s For You
Anheuser Busch, the company behind Budweiser beer, donated $100,000 to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles in October. The donation will go to support a wide variety of education, social welfare and human services provided by The Federation. This is the 12th year that Anheuser-Busch has provided funds to benefit the Los Angeles-area community; they have donated more than $1 million to the Federation since 1994.
Stand with students
About 85 students from 32 universities spent most of Halloween weekend attending Israel in Focus at Ojai’s Camp Ramah, where they developed skills to speak for the Jewish state when encountering college campus hostilities.
“There are a lot of students in the same boat as my school,” said Tal Zavlodaver, 21, president of USC’s Hillel-based group SC Students for Israel.
The event, co-sponsored by StandWithUs and the Israel Consulate, included lectures from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Israeli consulate staffers plus pollster Frank Luntz; Gary Ratner, executive director of the American Jewish Congress; Maya Zutler of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Los Angeles office; and Aryeh Greene, an adviser to Israel’s Diaspora Minister Natan Sharansky. A Saturday night concert featured hip-hop’s Remedy.
The students, most involved with campus Hillel groups, came from Cal State branches in Northridge, Long Beach and Fullerton plus UC campuses in San Diego, Irvine, Davis and Santa Barbara. Other students came from Ohio, Arizona, New York, Canada and Australia.
While USC has more from campus indifference than antagonism towards Israel, 19-year-old Aaren Alpert said that on her UCSB campus, “Students are mainly apathetic; however the faculty tends to be more of a problem.”
“There is a fight on campus and these are the leaders who go back to their campuses and promote Israel,” said public affairs consul Yariv Ovadia of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.
“I certainly wish that I had been a student at this conference,” said Ovadia’s colleague, Justin Levi, the consulate’s academic affairs director and a UCLA class of 2003 alumnus. – David Finnigan, Contributing Writer
Mizrahi Music Travels West
Eitan Salman is at the far end of his store, leaning against a shelf lined with the new CD by Sarit Hadad, one of Israel’s more popular Mizrahi, or Eastern, singers.
Business at Salman’s music store has fallen 80 percent over the last decade, but it’s not altogether a bad thing: Mizrahi music has grown so popular in Israel that it no longer is the exclusive domain of mom-and-pop shops like Salman’s but is sold even at Israel’s Tower Records outlets.
"Mizrahi music is now available across the country, in all the stores," laments Salman, whose shop is located across the street from where Tel Aviv’s old central bus station used to stand.
Indeed, with the superstar status of singers like Hadad, Zahava Ben and Moshik Afia, Mizrahi music now tops the charts in Israel and its popularity crosses ethnic lines.
Salman and neighboring store owners remember the "cassette music" heyday, a time when Mizrahi music was the exclusive domain of Mizrahi-run stores like Salman’s, near bus stations and in souks.
"In the 1980s, Mizrahi music was not sold in record stores," explained Barak Itzkovitz, musical editor of Galgalatz, Israel’s popular army music radio station. "Today, there is a lot of consciousness about this music, and it’s one of the most popular musical genres."
The roots of Mizrahi music in Israel date back to the 1950s and the mass influx of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East. Every community arrived with its distinct religious music, commonly known as piyutim, as well as its favorite Arabic music.
As Iraqis, Moroccans, Egyptians and Persians mixed, they exchanged musical sounds as well.
"They found out they had commonalities in their music," said Shoshana Gabay, co-creator of "Yam Shel Dmaot," or "Sea of Tears," a 1998 documentary on the development of Mizrahi music in Israel.
Children born in Israel in the 1950s grew up with other influences as well: American rock music, Indian movie music, French and Italian pop music and Russian-inspired Israeli music. The result was fusion music far ahead of its time.
"Years later there was this world music combination in other countries," Gabay said. "But in Israel it started very early, with the Asian Jews."
By the 1960s, Tel Aviv’s Yemenite quarter was home to a brand new sound.
"They had all these parties, and at those parties they took what they had learned in school — Russian-inspired Israeli songs, some Chasidic songs — and made them Oriental sounding," Gabay said. "They blended these songs with popular Arabic songs and traditional Yemenite songs and made a mix out of them. They were making an interpretation, their own interpretation."
Musicians blended not only musical styles but instruments: electric guitar and oud, synthesizer and kanoun — a classical string instrument from the Middle East and North Africa — drum kits and darbuka, a Middle Eastern and North African hand drum.
Despite the ingenuity of this new groove, Israeli fusion music stayed in Mizrahi neighborhoods until the invention of the cassette recorder, when recording suddenly became economically viable to a community with meager financial resources.
The first Mizrahi music became available on cassette in 1974, and the hit bands Lahakat Haoud and Lahakat Tslelei Hakerem couldn’t produce recordings fast enough. Tapes flew off the shelves and into the hands of Mizrahi Israelis hungry for more.
But mainstream Israeli radio stations played few Mizrahi songs.
"The people in radio were mostly from Europe," said Yoni Rohe, author of the newly published "Silsul Yisrael," which documents the development of Mizrahi music in Israel over the past 50 years. "They didn’t like the Mizrahi sound. It was not easy for them to relate to."
"The popularity of Mizrahi music was a process that happened over 15 years," Itzkovitz said. "Like hip-hop in the United States, it came from the hood, from the bottom up. It just couldn’t be stopped."
Following the success of the first recorded Mizrahi music bands, Mizrahi pop stars suddenly began to appear around the country: Avner Gadasi of Tel Aviv’s Hatikvah neighborhood, Shimmy Tavori from Rishon Le-Zion, Nissim Sarousi from Ramle.
Despite the dearth of Mizrahi music on mainstream radio stations, the Mizrahi music industry blossomed.
Zohar Argov, the poster boy for Mizrahi music, came onto the scene in 1978. Argov created Israeli country music, Ron Cahlili, film director of "Yam Shel Dmaot," told the Jerusalem Post in 1998.
"His subjects were the pain of love, betrayal, loss and sorrow," Cahlili said. "Argov was hard core, unafraid to sing about his reality and his life as he saw it."
At times compared to Elvis Presley, Argov lived on the edge: He died at 33 from a drug overdose. His albums continue to be best-sellers, however.
"Nancy Brandes did production for Zohar Argov," Rohe recounted. "Brandes came from Romania, and his connection with Zohar Argov made a new blend of music — a blend of big band and Mizrahi. This was a historical turning point. From there, in the 1980s, Mediterranean Israeli music went professional."
Meanwhile, other Mizrahi musicians developed new fusion sounds.
Ahouva Ozeri, a Yemenite-Ethiopian Israeli singer who became popular in the 1970s, mastered an Indian string instrument called bulbul tarang and gained a reputation as a world beat musician. She also helped pave the way for women in Mizrahi music.
Machismo was not the only obstacle to female Mizrahi musicians: In traditional Mizrahi households, a music career was equated with prostitution, and many families forbade their daughters from performing.
Hadad’s defiance of her parents is legendary in Israel. As a girl, she would climb out of her window at night to perform at local clubs. Her father, who died in 1997, refused to attend even a single concert of his superstar daughter.
Gabay and Rohe say the turning point for Mizrahi music was the development of commercial television and radio in the 1990s, which opened up new avenues for national broadcast of Mizrahi music, as well as other alternative sounds.
Today, Itzkovitz said, Hadad is hands-down the most popular Mizrahi musician in Israel. Afia and Itzik Kala are runners-up, and each puts out at least one platinum album per year.
"Mizrahi music is very, very popular on Israeli radio today," Itzkovitz said. "On major stations like Galgalatz, we pick only the songs that sell the best, the most popular ones that people love. Today, about 40 percent of what we play is straight-up Mizrahi music."
In addition, Itzkovitz noted, Mizrahi music has influenced musicians closely associated with the Ashkenazi kibbutznik movement. Among them is David Broza, who combines his style with the Mizrahi genre, and bands like Ethnix and Tea Packs, which combine rock and Mizrahi music.
Today’s hottest new sound is the fusion of Mizrahi music and hip-hop, Itzkovitz said. Indeed, Mizrahi musicians have blazed the trail for Israeli hip-hop, and children of immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Morocco and Yemen are at the cutting edge of Israeli music today.
Somehow, it seems, the music of the streets has became the music of choice.
"In the last years," Rohe said, "this mix of the new generations, the blend of music that came from Ashkenazi and Mizrahi homes, has brought a new sound to the ear that is as Israeli as you can get."
Article reprinted courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Loolwa Khazzoom (
Uniting Among the Rabbis of Tomorrow
Pigs and roosters, oxen and bulls, horses and dogs (and more dogs), a skunk and perhaps a possum — someone says a monkey — and children everywhere, and all the noises which thereunto pertain, plus a sun that is as glaring and hot as the Negev sun. This is Ciudad Romero in El Salvador.
Yes, El Salvador. Not exactly (or even approximately) a tourist mecca, but a mecca of sorts to delegations organized by American Jewish World Service (AJWS), a rapidly growing and growingly effective organization devoted to connecting Jews and Judaism to the developing world. Working in partnership with local nongovernmental organizations, AJWS engages in developing transitional education opportunities for former child laborers in India; family planning, nutrition and HIV/AIDS education in nine Ghanaian villages; development of sustainable agriculture in Honduras; microcredit and microenterprise projects in Zimbabwe, Nicaragua and Gaza that give rural women access to credit, enabling them to launch small businesses and become self-sufficient; other projects in Peru, sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere.
"Elsewhere" includes El Salvador, where I somewhat improbably found myself back in January in the company of 26 North American rabbinical students and two AJWS staff people. They have come here for a week of work, study and prayer, and I to do some teaching and to get a sense of who among tomorrow’s rabbis choose to come to this impoverished land and why, and also of how Conservative and Reform and Orthodox and Reconstructionist rabbinical students will get along and, more particularly, how they will (if they will) pray together.
Ciudad Romero is a very poor farming village in the southeast of El Salvador, an hour’s drive from the capital, San Salvador, and a two-day walk from Honduras, a measure of some importance since that was how the family with whom I take my meals made their way out of the country and then on to Panama, where they remained during the 12 terrible years of war, the very uncivil civil war that finally ended just 12 years ago. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated much of the country, and then in 2001, two major earthquakes added injury to injury. Many of the homes here are makeshift, cinder block and corrugated iron, a shed for the wood-burning stove in the rear. Basic needs — shelter, food (rice and beans are the staple and our typical meal here), clothing, education — are by and large adequately met, though not without the resources provided by the roughly one out of every four villagers now working in America. Women and children are everywhere here, and teenage boys and old men, too — but as throughout El Salvador, there’s a dearth of men in their prime working years. It’s estimated that 1 million of El Salvador’s 6 million or 7 million people have made their difficult way to the United States, where they live in a different kind of squalor, always fearful that they will be found out — they have come to the United States illegally — but managing somehow to send money to their families back home.
The putative rabbis, as might be expected, have come to their calling by very different paths, some meandering, some straightforward, some abrupt in their shifting directions. Here a former civil rights lawyer, there the survivor of a clinical depression, several the children of uneducated Jews, some raised in the religious tradition and some come late to it. Three are students at the remarkable new Orthodox seminary Yeshivat Hovevei Torah, founded just four years ago by Rabbis Avi Weiss, Dov Linzer and Saul Berman; four students at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Seminary in Philadelphia; eight from Reform’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; and 11 from the Jewish Theological Seminary or the University of Judaism, Conservative Judaism’s two rabbinical seminaries. The denominational diversity lead not only to a great deal of conversation, but also to considerable negotiation. How, most urgently, to accommodate the egalitarian orientation and commitment of both women and men while not excluding the Orthodox or otherwise offending them? The three Orthodox men made their own quiet adjustments, stood some steps away from the others during prayer or without fanfare absented themselves, joining whenever their theology permitted.
Prayer (tefilot) was the constant rhythm and most substantial melody of the group. It was distinguished by the competence the participants brought to it, by its assertiveness — surely because neither as individuals nor as representatives of their denominational movements does anyone want to be thought less devoted than the others — and, to my unpracticed liturgical ear, by new melodies and spontaneous harmonies that now and then transform the collection of individuals into a choir.
The music they so expertly sing is post-Carlebach; they know the melodies that were new for me 10 and 15 years ago and that I so much enjoy, but those are old and tired melodies to their ears. Their unfamiliar music is altogether lovely — and their praying to that music was very nearly interminable. We were awakened at 6 a.m., morning prayers began at 6:20 a.m. and did not end until an hour later, the liturgy interspersed with commentary is sometimes learned, sometimes heartfelt, and then there were the afternoon prayers and then the evening prayers, each again a musical experience, each also an opportunity for these rabbis-to-be to offer insight to the words of the prayer, to the purpose of the prayer, or to the immediate purpose that brought them here, to this dusty corner of this distant land.
The wealthy who own so much of this country live quite well. We drove one day through neighborhoods of San Salvador that are marked by homes that would not be at all out of place in parts of Beverly Hills. Their owners shop in Miami, vacation where they will, conduct their business affairs with skills learned in MBA programs in America’s best universities, all this less than an hour’s drive from the squalid — and graciously welcoming — place that was our host community for the week. There, oxen and cows lumber along the dusty roads — there are no paved streets — and somehow know to move aside when a car comes along.
There was work, physical labor to be done, and that was part of the program for our delegation. It was real work — clearing fields, digging furrows — the work of an agricultural community. There was some of that on three of our days in Ciudad Romero, and one day there was little else. The uncalloused hands worked with hoes under an unrelenting sun for four hours in the morning and then again after lunch, until it was time for mincha, the afternoon prayers. Some sat slumped in the field, exhausted; most joined in the prayers, leaving nothing out — but this time, racing through. At the conclusion the AJWS staffer announced that the yellow school bus that had brought them to this field had arrived to take them back. It was 4 p.m., there would be no shame at all in leaving now. But no, the furrows were not quite done, and with renewed energy and their bare hands, people knelt on the ground and only an hour later finished what they started. I thought of A.D. Gordon, the storied worker of a Jewish settlement in Palestine during the early years of the last century, whose way it was to insist that the ditches he dug be works of art — and I wondered, inevitably, how many of these imminent teachers and leaders of our community have heard Gordon’s name. And I thought, more generously, of the moving example of avodah, the word our language offers that means both labor and religious service.
The purpose of our visit to San Salvador was in part to visit the synagogue that serves the 75 Jewish families who live here. They are a tight-knit and proud community, prosperous and very much at home. We were greeted in the sanctuary — the entire large and rambling structure was once, incredibly, a private home — by the young rabbi, come here from the Seminario Rabinico in Buenos Aires, founded more than 30 years ago by the late and quite extraordinary Rabbi Marshall Meyer and for years now the principal institution for the training of South and Central American rabbis, and also by the elegant president of the synagogue’s sisterhood. As many Jews, she lived outside El Salvador during the time of the civil war, but she makes it very clear that her home is here and not in the Atlanta where she stayed for 10 years. Her El Salvadoran patriotism reminds me of Jews I met in Puerto Rico some years ago, Cuban expatriates who, in the 30 or so years their families had lived in Cuba, sank roots so deep that our evening together in San Juan concluded with their singing of the Cuban national anthem. Our parched people apparently sink roots wherever there’s a hint of water. Here, we’re told, almost in the same breath and with only a hint of awareness of the irony, that Jews are welcome everywhere, at any club on any board, and that they’ve learned to keep "a low profile." And we are reminded, with evident pride, that El Salvador is one of only two countries whose embassy in Israel is located in Jerusalem, not, as are all others, in Tel Aviv.
We’ve also come to San Salvador to pay our respects to the late Archbishop Oscar Romero, by all accounts a humble conservative who was murdered in 1980 while celebrating Mass in the chapel of the Divine Providence Hospital for terminally ill cancer patients. In what was to prove his final homily, Romero — by now radicalized in the face of the escalating repression in El Salvador — spoke these words: "In the name of God and in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise up to heaven more loudly every day, I ask you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!"
Those words and the courage of the man who uttered them are of particular significance to this group of rabbinic students, because the theme that unites them across denominational divides and that has brought them to this place is the theme of tikkun olam, of social justice. They are, all of them, seized of the more than intimate, of the organic relationship between the Jewish tradition — our texts, our history — and the pursuit of justice. And they are aware, with pain and shame, of the particular burden of responsibility the United States bears for the grim events that so recently took place here. The killing of Romero was plotted by Maj. Roberto D’Aubuisson, an especially savage ultraright leader of the kind that with American complicity and sometimes active partnership have with disturbing frequency played a central role in Central American history.
Today, there is peace of sorts here. In Ciudad Romero and the other 85 villages of the region, which together compose La Coorinadoro del Bajo Lempa, former members of the Salvadoran Armed Forces and former guerillas of the FMLN live near one another and seek, with modest success, to develop a sustainable and environmentally responsible economy. The founder and guiding spirit of the effort is a former priest, Jose "Chencho" Alas, who also manages the Foundation for Self Sufficiency in Central America. Chencho spends considerable time with our group; he is its principal teacher, and painstakingly presents his theories of development and community organization. As a longtime champion of liberation theology, of land reform and of the peasants in general, of a free and just and democratic El Salvador, as a man who was hunted and persecuted for those beliefs, and as the founder of La Coorinadoro, he is immensely and appropriately admired by the group, his teaching received with attention.
But the more or less formal teaching, Chencho’s and mine and even by the students themselves, each of whom has selected a brief text to share with the group, is almost incidental to the main themes of our week. The fact of El Salvador, of this place and of its people, provides the setting for the venture but is mainly its subtext. Vastly more central, even urgent, is the easy cross-denominational interaction and, again and again, tefilot, prayer. In off times, too — the breaks between lectures, the spare moments here and there — there’s singing, and the singing is almost invariably liturgical, Carlebach and post-Carlebach songs of devotion. For me, this is the sharpest evidence of generational change. In my younger days, when social justice advocates gathered, it was "Solidarity Forever" or "There Once Was a Union Maid" we’d sing, or songs of the Spanish Civil War, and then, for relaxation, the songs of Pete Seeger and the Weavers, later of Peter, Paul and Mary, and always, of course, the songs of the Second Aliyah and of Israel’s early years. Years ago, when it dawned on me that my own children would know very few of "my" songs, I feared for the future of the Jewish people. Then one day, fresh from summer camp or from the day school they attended, they began to teach me new songs, their music, and I relaxed: there was renewed hope for our future. Here in El Salvador, with mostly 20-somethings listening to the still-newer songs, confidence in our prospects borders on headiness, even as I remain bemused by the unrelenting liturgical content of the songs, wonder what, if anything, that says about the state of the Jewish people as distinguished from the state of Judaism.
One of the classic and enduring tensions in the history of the Jewish people is between the rabbinic tradition and the prophetic tradition. The rabbis taught that societal order is a prerequisite to social justice; the prophets taught that social justice is a prerequisite to societal order. Both were right, each a matter of emphasis rather than a single-minded insistence on the one at the expense of the other. In the course of time, however, the healthy tension between the two perspectives became a break, each claiming exclusive priority. Here, among these mostly young people, the break is healed, the tension relaxed. The best of them reflect, represent, defend and extend both traditions.
But that, too, is a footnote. Here, finally, is the text: On Friday evening, as we gather to welcome the Shabbat on the patio outside our dormitories, the children of Ciudad Romero drift in. Three or four, then 10, soon 20, the young ones, the ones in their single-digit years, and they know somehow to sit quietly and listen to the music of our prayers. When some members of the group break into dance, they encourage the children to join the circle. When the dancing’s done, three or four members choose to stay with the children, amusing them, involving them, a different way of affirming the Sabbath peace, a different boundary breached. These becoming rabbis, who know a great deal, whose citations from sacred text come trippingly off their tongues, know some other things, too. They know about embracing the stranger, and about hugging little children.
Leonard Fein is the author of “Against the Dying of the Light: A Father’s Story of Love, Loss and Hope” (Jewish Lights, 2001).
Clarinetist Finds His Klezmer Voice
"I came to klezmer quite by accident," said virtuoso clarinetist David Krakauer.
He was a noted classical musician around 1987 when a chance encounter on a Manhattan bus changed the direction of his career.
Seated nearby was the accordionist from a klezmer band that played in front of Zabar’s, across the street from Krakauer’s 10th-floor apartment on the Upper West Side.
"The music used to waft up through my windows," he said. "Suddenly, I realized it had made an impression."
The son of a psychiatrist and a violinist, Krakauer had known little about Jewish music or culture growing up in an assimilated home in Manhattan. Yiddish was the language his grandparents had used when they did not want younger relatives to understand their conversation. At Juilliard, Krakauer assumed he would embark on a career of playing Brahms and Mahler with perhaps some jazz on the side. He did so while making a name for himself as a member of the Aspen Wind Quintet, by performing with new music groups such as Continuum and teaching at Vassar and the Manhattan School.
But Jewish music crept up on Krakauer, 42, who’ll perform his unique brand of nouveau klezmer at the Skirball Cultural Center March 21. Around 1978, he said, he attended a concert by the then-elderly clarinetist, David Tarras, who had merged klezmer and swing in the 1920s.
"He didn’t play so well anymore … but there was just something about his sound that gave me the shivers," Krakauer said. "[It] was the rhythm, the cadence, the way the sounds went up and down. It reminded me of my Belorussian grandmother’s voice, when she said things like ‘David, so nu?’"
Krakauer’s own gravely voice crackled with excitement as he recalled meeting that klezmer accordionist on the 104 bus headed uptown in the late 1980s.
"She asked me to recommend a clarinetist who could play with her band, and I think she assumed I’d name a student," he said. "Instead, the words spontaneously flew out of my mouth: ‘I’ll do it.’ It was as if I instinctively realized, ‘I know nothing about being Jewish, but I want to connect.’ I felt like klezmer could be my connection, through sounds, notes and music."
So Krakauer began studying old recordings, learning the proper ornaments and the lilting or frenetic technique required to perform traditional dances such as the doina or freylach. He played weddings and bar mitzvahs, assuming the endeavor would become a musical hobby, not a career.
But then he was invited to play with The Klezmatics, an American band spurring the exuberant klezmer revival of the 1980s. When he traveled to Germany with that group around 1989, he performed in front of thousands of dancing, cheering non-Jews. The same thing happened throughout Eastern Europe and especially in Poland, where Krakauer returned more than seven times to teach and perform. While coaching a group of young musicians in a ramshackle barn off a dirt road in Sejny, he recalled, even a dour farmer paused to tap his feet in the adjacent field.
Of the continuing non-Jewish obsession with klezmer, Krakauer said, "I think enough time has passed, since the Holocaust, for Europeans to wonder, ‘What Jewish culture have we been missing?’ We klezmorim are viewed as representatives of that part of the Eastern European soul that was destroyed in the Shoah."
But Krakauer, like The Klezmatics, wasn’t content just to perform traditional pieces in a straightforward style. In the mid-1990s, he formed his own band, Klezmer Madness!, which weds classic Jewish music with contemporary forms such as jazz, rock and hip-hop. Today, he is part of a wave of musicians who are continuing to push the klezmer envelope, according to Yale Strom, author of 2003’s "The Book of Klezmer." Such bands include the world fusion-infused Flying Bulgars and Strom’s Afro-Cuban Klazzj.
Krakauer’s latest forward-thinking CD is "Live in Krakow," which he recorded last year in the city that bears his name. The energetic album features samples and beatbox by DJ Socalled; it also includes Krakauer’s original composition, "Klezmer a la Bechet," based on an imaginary 1920s meeting between black New Orleans jazz clarinetist Sidney Bechet and the Ukrainian Jewish clarinetist Naftule Brandwein. Another track, "Love Song for Lemberg/Lvov," combines a waltzy melody with atonal sounds mimicking "screams of the Jewish dead," said Krakauer, who is still prominent in classical music circles.
But even as he stretches the genre, he still wants klezmer to sound like klezmer. It has to remind Krakauer of the music he heard wafting in through his windows back in 1987: "It has to suggest my grandmother’s voice," he said.
For information about the Skirball concert, call (310) 440-4500. For tickets, call (323) 655-8587.
Etan G — A Nice Jewish Homeboy
Pearl’s Life, Articles Inspire Jam Session
The idea for the Daniel Pearl Music Day began about six months after terrorists murdered the Jewish Wall Street Journal reporter in Pakistan last year.
When his decapitated body was discovered in a shallow grave in Karachi, his family was finally able to bury him at Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries in August 2002. But after the funeral, they faced another unpleasant milestone: commemorating what would have been Pearl’s 39th birthday on Oct. 10.
“We dreaded it,” said his father, Judea Pearl, a UCLA computer science professor. “We didn’t know how we would cope.”
Enter Pearl’s old Paris neighbor, conductor George Pehlivanian, who described how he had dedicated an Israel Philharmonic concert to the slain journalist. The family began considering a birthday concert for Daniel, who had been an avid violinist, fiddler and mandolin player.
“Danny’s sister, Michelle, asked, ‘What would Danny have liked for his birthday?” his father said. “And the answer came naturally; he would have liked a jam session with all his friends. And where were all his friends? They were all over the world. So we began making phone calls.”
The result was the first Daniel Pearl Music Day, an international series of concerts intended to promote world peace in his memory. Organized around his birthday, the festival reprises this year with more than 120 concerts in at least 20 countries, including Muslim states such as Pakistan. An honorary committee includes Barbra Streisand, Ravi Shankar, Zubin Mehta and Elton John, who appears in a TV spot promoting the event.
“The message of tolerance symbolizes Danny’s victory over his killers, and over the ideology of hatred that brought about his death,” Judea Pearl said.
In Southern California, approximately 10 programs will commemorate the late journalist; they include a performance by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, an American Youth Symphony concert and the premiere of Russell Steinberg’s “Stories From My Favorite Planet,” inspired by Pearl’s life.
The Daniel Pearl Foundation commissioned the 45-minute piece after a friend of Steinberg’s, on a hunch, suggested he telephone the journalist’s parents last spring.
“I think they were wary at first because they thought I was a reporter,” said the conductor-pianist-composer, founder of the Stephen S. Wise Music Academy.
They relaxed when they learned Harvard-educated Steinberg, 44, was in fact a musician; like Daniel Pearl, he attended Birmingham High and studied classical music as a child in Encino.
During a meeting at their home, Judea and Ruth Pearl regaled the composer with poignant and hilarious stories about their son, who was known for his quirky, insightful journalism. Steinberg especially liked the one about how Pearl secured a Los Angeles assignment about a Stradivarius violin that fell off a car (while based back East, he argued the piece should be his because he covered transportation).
His parents gave the composer a copy of Pearl’s “At Home in the World: Collected Stories From the Wall Street Journal,” which inspired Steinberg’s composition. “I was fascinated by how this Valley boy, through his curiosity and journalistic excellence, propelled himself into the nexus of world politics,” he said. “Because I wanted to write about Danny’s life, not his death, I realized his words were key.”
In his ensuing violin-and-piano piece, music accompanies excerpts from five articles evoking Pearl’s journey, enacted by a reader. A goofy tango sets up the outlandish Stradivarius story; a madcap tarantella precedes an eerily prophetic piece about Osama bin Laden’s gem smuggling trade, which describes the call to kill Americans. Immediately after that excerpt, the tango returns in a minor key, sounding ghostlike and haunting.
“It’s the only time the music becomes mournful, because I want people to come away knowing who Danny was, not just what happened to him,” Steinberg said.
Pearl’s parents, who have been too grief-stricken to erect his tombstone, appreciate the uplifting approach.
“The piece isn’t a eulogy,” Judea Pearl said. “It captures Daniel’s character, his humor, his quirkiness, his optimism and his humanity…. Through the music day, we’re hoping to use his unique spirit as an initiative for tikkun olam, repairing the world.”
“Stories From My Favorite Planet,” performed by pianist Russell Steinberg, Los Angeles Philharmonic violinist Mitchell Newman and reader Mark Totty, will debut Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Milken Community High School, followed by performances Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. at Brand Library in Glendale and Nov. 9, 7 p.m. at Pierson Playhouse in Pacific Palisades. For tickets and information, call (310) 440-3500, ext. 3344. The program will also include excerpts from Steinberg’s new CD of solo piano and classical guitar music, “Desert Stars.”
For more information about the Daniel Pearl Music Day,launched by the Daniel Pearl Foundation, visit www.danielpearl.org .
7 Days In Arts
For Love of the Dance
Or Nili Azulay often gazes at the faded photograph of her late grandmother, who was widowed in her 20s. “Her huge, expressive eyes are filled with strength and struggle,” the Israeli dancer-actress said. “She looks like Bizet’s ‘Carmen,’ although she is wearing nothing fancy, only a simple white dress and a white flower in her hand.”
Azulay, renown for her flamenco work, excels at portraying characters who are equally strong and passionate. In her spin on Edvard Greig’s “Peer Gynt Suite,” she plays a feisty Bedouin princess and other heroines from the plays of Henrik Ibsen. In her version of the Bizet opera, “Carmen,” she depicts the defiant gypsy as a feminist, not a prostitute.
Azulay will bring a similar range of emotions to Noam Sheriff’s “Israel Suite” and the world premiere of Yuval Ron’s “Canciones Sephardi” when she performs with the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony (LAJS) on Sunday.
“The kind of happiness I recall in my grandmother’s way of being is the same as in flamenco,” she said. “It’s never 100 percent happiness; it’s always tinged with melancholy.”
If it seems unlikely that a nice Jewish girl would become a flamenco dancer, consider her early role models. Azulay’s Syrian-born grandmother, Nona, defied her parents to wed the man she loved, then refused to remarry after he died several years later. Azulay’s mother, Chaya, became one of Israel’s first female barristers; her father died when she was a small child. “The sadness of not having a father was tempered by growing up with these strong, independent women,” she said.
No wonder Azulay was riveted by Bizet’s fiercely independent gypsy — and the art of flamenco — when she saw Carlos Saura’s film “Carmen” at age 14. The ballet student was so “stunned” by the dance numbers that she returned to see the movie a dozen times. “In ballet, the body is an instrument in service of the overall piece, while in flamenco, the protagonist is the dancer’s personality,” she said.
As Azulay began intense studies with famed teacher Sylvia Duran, she learned that “People who become huge in flamenco have huge personalities. They don’t have to do much to burn up the stage.”
The poised, five-foot-nine Azulay — who is also an award-winning poet — displayed similar charisma when she studied in Spain in 1995-96. She went on to establish a career emphasizing flamenco and classical Spanish dance performed with orchestras around the world. Azulay — who also appears in films such as 2003’s “The Brothel” — considers herself part of the flamenco revival spurred by Saura’s “Carmen.”
But her grandmother remains an important artistic inspiration. Azulay was drawn to the “Canciones Sephardi,” in part, because it reminds her of the tunes Nona used to sing in Ladino and Arabic. “That really struck a chord in Or Nili, and she brings that passion to the stage,” said Noreen Green, founder and artistic director of the LAJS.
The complex emotions of the “Israel Suite” also remind Azulay of her grandmother. In the dreamy first movement, she flies onstage with a white lace mantilla, reminiscent of a bridal veil. In a section based on a 15th century Ladino song, she uses constricted movements to suggest the pain of exile.
“The piece conveys the pathos of being an Israeli, of living in a state of half-dream, half-war,” she said.
The concert Sept. 14, 7 p.m. at the International Cultural Center (formerly Scottish Rite Auditorium), 4357 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, also features internationally renown musicians such as flamenco guitarist Adam Del Monte and music by David Eaton. For information, call (310) 478-9311, where you can buy tickets through 1 p.m. Friday; or purchase them at the door.
Mojdeh Sionit contributed to this story.
Orthodox Mother Opens New Opera
7 Days In Arts
It’s Memorial Day Weekend, perfect timing for Marc Maron and Roy Zimmerman. The comedians wax patriotic tonight with their show, “Homeland Security.” But flag-wavers be warned — these guys are not in the warm and fuzzy, “God Bless America” camp. Maron, with his biting, neurotic, New York Jewish stand-up, and Zimmerman, with his satirical songs, each honor one of the oldest and most American of traditions — social and political commentary (and criticism).7:30 p.m. (A late show might be added if the first show sells out.) $15. McCabe’s, 3101 W. Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 828-4497.
For a more meaningful Memorial Day, hold off firing up the grill till dinner time, and spend the morning at Home of Peace Memorial Park. They, along with Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel and the Jewish War Veterans, honor fallen soldiers in a special ceremony in front of the cemetery’s Jewish War Veterans Memorial. Speakers will include retired USMC Col. Joseph Smith, director of military and veterans affairs, Los Angeles County; Dr. Edward Feldman, vice-chair of the California Veterans Board of the Department of Veteran Affairs; and Darin Selnick, special assistant to secretary of Veteran Affairs, Washington, D.C.11 a.m. Garden of Maimonides, 4334 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 261-6135.
Take out a few hours to honor the day with “The Pianist,” now available on DVD. Holocaust survivor Roman Polanski’s film about an acclaimed Polish Jewish composer and pianist’s struggle to survive in the Warsaw Ghetto was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won three. And while Adrien Brody/Halle Berry smooch footage is, unfortunately, not included, DVD bonus features do include “A Story of Survival,” a 40-minute documentary about the production of the film and Polanski’s personal survival story.$19.98, www.amazon.com.
Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy’s decision to tackle big things after winning acclaim for her debut novel, “The God of Small Things,” becomes the centerpoint for Aradhana Seth’s documentary about the campaign against the Narmada dam project in Northern India. “DAM/AGE” follows the controversial fight that started out political, but became personal, as Roy was sentenced to a symbolic one-day prison term and fined 2,000 rupees ($42) for contempt of court. The documentary screens tonight at Royce Hall and a Q & A with Roy follows.7 p.m. Free (admission), $7 (parking). Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood. R.S.V.P., (310) 825-2101.
Argentine artist Gustavo López Armentia’s mixed-media works suggest a long history, gray-brown and worn around the edges. Using found objects and a muted palette, he explores the theme of migrants around the world. The world, in turn, has taken note. He has been chosen numerous times to represent Argentina as the country’s official entry in international forums. His art has now arrived in Los Angeles, at galerie yoramgil — a good number straight from the National Arts Museum of Buenos Aires’ recent López Armentia retrospective.10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tuesday-Saturday), 11 a.m.-4 p.m. (Sunday). Runs through June 12. 319 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 275-8130.
Albert Brooks playing a Jewish podiatrist? Not much of astretch, we realize. True, some of the Jewishy lines have been cut from theoriginal script for “The In-Laws,” in which Brooks plays Jerry Peyser. (Notably:Of Peyser’s invitation list for his daughter’s wedding, his daughter says, “Dad,I don’t know any of these people.” His response: “Sure you do, sweetheart.They’re the same people you didn’t know at your bat mitzvah.”) But we’re told ithasn’t been entirely whitewashed. For those in the mood for some oddcouple-style hijinks, the film (co-starring Michael Douglas as an internationalsmuggler, and Brooks’ foil) may still be a good bet. You can also catch Brooksas a neurotic fish named Marlin and Brad Garrett as temperamental puffer fishBloat in Disney/Pixar’s latest, “Finding Nemo.” Both this week in wide release.www.thein-laws.warnerbros.com;www.findingnemo.com
Woodland Hills welcomes an activist to the regular Shabbat service, as Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt lectures at Kol Tikvah tonight. With her new anthology and memoir, “Behind Every Choice is a Story,” Feldt has brought together first-person accounts by people from every walk of life. Mothers, fathers, daughters, doctors, clergy, politicians and Feldt tell their stories in a collection that promotes the belief in a woman’s fundamental human right to control her own body.7 p.m. 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.In what may be one of Santa Monica Playhouse’s last shows, Henrietta Komras performs her one-woman comedic piece, “Henrietta: Born Funny,” tonight only. Part of the “Save the Playhouse” campaign (under the auspices of their Jewish Heritage Program), Komras’ “coming of middle-age story” tells her autobiographical tale of growing up a child of Holocaust survivors and her midlife quest for fame in Hollywood. The Playhouse’s May 31 fundraising deadline to purchase its space gives patrons just enough time to catch Komras’ act and pitch in to help save the theater.8 p.m. $10 (in advance), $12 (at the door). 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. (310) 394-9779.
‘Shattered Dreams’ 10 Years After Oslo