Photo courtesy of PJ Library

Your child’s Jewish identity can flourish in Los Angeles


Last month, my wife and I were blessed with our third child. When we welcomed our first child home from Cedars-Sinai four years ago, my wife and I looked at each other and asked, “Now what?”

I remember that apprehensive moment distinctly. We spoke about our hope of raising kind, well-adjusted children who felt the same connection to Judaism and the Jewish people that we did. But, there is no training manual for parenting in general, let alone for how to raise a Jewish child in ritzy, 21st century Los Angeles.

Fortunately, like many new parents, we received a great deal of solicited and unsolicited advice. The best advice introduced us to the numerous opportunities for young parents in Los Angeles to weave our new child (and ourselves) into the fabric of our Jewish community.

PJ Library

This is a no-brainer and should be on every new parent’s to-do list. Each month, PJ Library sends free Jewish books to more than 500,000 families with children ages 6 months through 8 years old. There is no catch. The books celebrate Jewish values, culture and tradition. My daughters have adored each book, especially the ones about Jewish holidays. “Good Night Israel,” a variation on the classic “Goodnight Moon,” is my personal favorite. It is refreshing to see children eagerly greet the mail carrier in hopes of receiving a new book from PJ Library. Watching children choose a physical book over screen time is a modern miracle of Maccabean proportion. Nes gadol, indeed. pjlibrary.org

Zimmer Children’s Museum

Photo courtesy of Zimmer Children’s Museum

Fortunately for us, the best children’s museum in Los Angeles happens to be a Jewish museum, located in the same building as the offices of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The Zimmer not only provides a beautiful interactive space for quality learning and play, it does so through Jewish themes. An annual membership, starting at $109, includes free admission for two adults and all of their children and grandchildren, plus discounts for the Zimmer’s terrific camps and classes. The museum is also a popular place to host a birthday party for your child. zimmermuseum.org

Jewish education

These days, it seems, parents start thinking about their children’s schools — how to get accepted and how to pay for them — even before conception. In Los Angeles, only one-third of the estimated 60,000 school-age Jewish children attend Jewish day schools or religious schools. Yet, countless formal and informal Jewish educational opportunities and resources exist here. A decade ago, Builders of Jewish Education launched jKidLA, a website and concierge service that provides information and helps assess Jewish educational options based on a family’s specific needs and preferences — from Parent and Me classes to preschool and early education. After my wife and I made the commitment to send our kids to Jewish day school, jKidLA helped us navigate the multitude of options. jkidla.com

Finding a Jewish community

Becoming a parent for the first time is a major inflection point in one’s life. It often enhances the desire to be part of a larger community, especially one with other first-time parents and children. This transitional period is an ideal time to “shul shop” for the right congregation or synagogue where you can put down roots, and to explore a local Jewish Community Center, if you are lucky enough to live near one.

Membership rates are more forgiving at this stage in our lives, too. A synagogue, congregation or JCC will invariably offer Tot Shabbats for young children and special gatherings for young families. In addition, studies show that Jewish summer and family camps have a high impact on fostering a child’s Jewish identity. To that end, the Jewish Community Foundation recently awarded a significant Cutting Edge Grant to the Federation’s Family Camp Pilot to create more meaningful camping experiences for families with small children. My wife and I have also benefited from Jewish parenting classes, including a fun, informative series offered by GoSephardic, geared toward new parents. Finally, hands-down, the best resource to learn about Jewish life in Los Angeles is the Jewish Journal. The invaluable print and online publication contains everything Jewish that’s fit to print each week. jewishjournal.com

Shabbat as a ‘palace in time’

It is often said that “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” This was true for my family and for most Persian-Jewish families. Growing up, I always found Shabbat dinner special. Regardless of observance level and whatever else was going on in our lives, our extended family knew that a lively evening with three or four generations and great food awaited us every Friday night. Ask any Persian Jew and he or she will extol the virtues of a family Shabbat dinner. Spending Shabbats and Jewish holidays with family are memories that will endure for a lifetime and instill in your child a passion to continue the tradition. In these uber-wired, underconnected times, the Friday night dinner tradition is being adopted far and wide across cultures as a way to bring families closer. If not already a part of your practice, consider treating Friday night Shabbat dinner, in the words of the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, like a “palace in time.”

Lead by example

Finally, channeling Mark Twain, the reports of the communal demise of millennials and GenXers has been greatly exaggerated. Americans in their 20s, 30s and 40s — and certainly such Jews in Los Angeles — care about issues greater than themselves and are increasingly willing to put their time and money where their mouth is.

I find my own community work not only personally rewarding but a valuable opportunity to involve my children and weave the value of tikkun olam into their lives. I take my children to as many events and service opportunities as possible, such as packaging meals for needy Jews with Tomchei Shabbos, and hosting as many meetings and events at our home as feasible.

We cannot take for granted that our children will care about the Jewish community simply because we do. The next generation’s connection to Israel is no exception.

Studies show that children learn far more by watching what we do than by listening to what we say, especially when we try to teach empathy and gratitude. When it is not possible to include them, I explain to my toddlers: “Daddy won’t be home tonight to put you to bed because he is working on a mitzvah or tzedakah project.”

We cannot take for granted that our children will care about the Jewish community simply because we do. The next generation’s connection to Israel is no exception. I take my children to the annual Celebrate Israel Festival, join them at their school’s annual Independence Day activities, and read them books and share stories about the Jewish homeland.

If the issues you care most about extend beyond the Jewish community, consider engaging in that philanthropy or activism from a Jewish perspective. Whether you care passionately about criminal justice reform or climate change, cancer research or children with special needs, there is a Jewish organization in Los Angeles working effectively on it.


Sam Yebri is a board member of the Jewish Community Foundation, Builders of Jewish Education and 30 Years After.

Zimmer Museum adds second day camp in Westwood


A camp at the Zimmer Children’s Museum that has exposed more than 400 children each summer to art, music, science, nature and magic — not to mention Jewish values — is being expanded to a second location this year. 

Starting in June, Camp Zimmer, which has hosted children ages 3-8 for the last four years at its home on Wilshire Boulevard, will begin offering additional programming at Sinai Akiba Academy. The camp at the Westwood-based school will include classroom learning, time on the playground and weekly Shabbat services for families every Friday. 

While the Shabbat aspect is new this year (and available only at the Sinai Akiba location), Belinda Vong, associate director of play and learning at the Zimmer, said the camp doesn’t focus solely on Jewish things, it also emphasizes more universal values.

“We’ll highlight social responsibility, caring for people, animals and the environment, and helping the community,” Vong said. “We weave in those concepts through our activities.”

Kids learning about nature and the importance of caring for the planet.

The variety of classes that will be taught include “Rock, Pop & Roll,” which is about music history. Campers will hear about modern art and music, decorate their own guitars and make instruments. In “Lights, Camera … Create!” participants will learn about different genres of film and take on the various roles of production to make short animations. The kids will delve into optical illusions and perspective art and see a performance from a guest magician for the “iMAGICnation” program. 

At the Zimmer, which is housed at The Jewish Federation Goldsmith Center, campers also will have the chance for interactive playtime on the two levels of the museum. They will excavate fossils and pinpoint and classify early animals and plants during “The Dino Dig,” and hear about Los Angeles transit, waste, water and food in “Smart City: My L.A.” 

Camp at the museum runs from June 20 through Sept. 2; the cost is $325 a week for museum members and $350 a week for nonmembers. At Sinai Akiba, the camp goes from June 20 to Aug. 19, with a cost of $350 a week for members and $365 a week for nonmembers. (There is an early bird discount before April 15 for both locations.)

Families who want their children to attend but can’t afford it can apply for assistance. According to Vong, the camp awards scholarships to 10 percent of families, and half or full tuition is covered. 

The Zimmer also has a spring program in two sessions held from April 18-22 and April 25-28. They include arts and crafts, music and playtime. The cost is $325 per week for museum members and $350 per week for nonmembers.

Vong said what makes the camp itself unique is that it allows children younger than 4 to participate, goes until September, when Jewish day school is officially in session, and has a deeper message behind its teachings. 

“We focus on having fun but also on the importance of building community and working together. Those are the life skills that are extremely important as the campers grow older,” she said.

One parent, Valerie Weiss, has sent her 7- and 4-year-old daughters to the camp. She said the camp is “stimulating and innovative, and the kids come home learning amazing things about science, music and art. There are real high concepts that they learn in an experiential way.”

One year, her daughters made “artbots,” which were art-centric robots they built themselves. The creations, which could draw, were composed of motors and magic markers. 

The effect, she said, has been very positive for her children.

 “They connect ideas that they wouldn’t necessarily learn about at such a young age,” Weiss said. “The camp is fun and positive, and it really follows the philosophy my own family has about education.”

Creativity for a cause


Esther Netter, CEO of the Zimmer Children’s Museum, speaks with infectious enthusiasm about her museum’s upcoming exhibition, “Show & Tell: The Art of Harmony,” which opens Sunday, May 6.

“Look at what artists can do!” she says in the museum’s storage room as she points to the wide array of objects, each based upon a musical instrument.

She is gearing up for the third “Show & Tell” exhibition, following previous ones in which artists produced sculpture, painting and mixed-media forms based upon a clock or a telephone of their choice. The shows have always been remarkable, not only for the personalities who provided their phones or clocks — including Ariel Sharon and Elizabeth Taylor — but also for the artwork’s deeper resonance related to the themes of time, communication and now music.

The musical connection seems a perfect one for artist Robert Rauschenberg, whose “White Paintings” — canvases with all-white surfaces — famously influenced composer John Cage to produce his so-called “silent” music.

In “Show & Tell,” Rauschenberg has provided a mixed-media work titled, “Fugue.” A pigment transfer on paper, “Fugue” suggests a polyphonic composition in that it features drawings of piano keys in black and white juxtaposed with metronomes, painted red and looking almost like miniature pyramids. With its layers of piano keys on top of one another headed toward infinity, “Fugue” induces the kind of hypnosis one might experience listening to certain fugues, which can transport the listener into a trance.

Rauschenberg, who signed his work with his initials and thumb print, his signature since his stroke some years ago, was brought into this project by his friend, Barbara Lazaroff, the restaurateur and architectural designer.

Lazaroff has contributed a work bearing the title, “If Music Be the Food of Love, Play On,” the opening line from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” As one might expect of a restaurateur who partnered with Wolfgang Puck, she includes a series of colorful dinner plates beneath this verse, each with its own mini-theme, such as love, betrayal, marriage and cowardice. In a statement about her work, Lazaroff writes, “Both music and cuisine are art forms that evoke our visceral and cerebral memories.”

Proceeds from the sale of the works will raise funds for youTHink, the Zimmer’s outreach program for students, and while the show includes some famous contributors, many of its works come from lesser-known figures.

Peter Schulberg, for instance, wittily comments on the architects of the Iraq War with a set of drums marked by the images of George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld beneath paintings of the American flag. The images are displayed on a curved side of a pair of drums, presenting museumgoers with the temptation to beat the faces of Rumsfeld and Bush.

Los Angeles-based artist Alison Saar comments on domestic concerns in a manner more dissonant than harmonious, depicting Yemaja, the Afro-Brazilian goddess of the sea, in a turquoise hue. The goddess’ eyes are obscured by the keys of a kalimba, an African thumb piano — we cannot see them, and they cannot see us.

Work such as that by Schulberg and Saar reflects the Zimmer’s mission over its roughly 15-year existence, which is to educate children of all backgrounds and instill in them progressive values. As Netter says, “We want to teach them how to be a mensch.”

“Show & Tell: The Art of Harmony” opens May 6 at the Zimmer Children’s Museum. For information, call (323) 761-8989 or visit

Fight the Minotaur in the Tax Labyrinth


This past September, the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles, the Zimmer Children’s Museum and representatives of more than 70 other organizations attended a seminar for nonprofits that I conducted at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Like many taxpayers, nonprofit organizations need guidance to comprehend the labyrinth of federal and state tax laws. With the exception of accountants and attorneys, few people absorb the millions of words that make up state and federal tax codes, including rules and regulations. In addition, many nonprofits cannot afford the expense of maintaining counsel to steer them through the thicket of tax laws.

To facilitate seminars that provide vital tax information to nonprofits, I enlist experienced speakers from various federal, state and local agencies to break down our complex tax system into easily understood component parts. At The Federation seminar, experts discussed provisions of the state and federal tax codes that apply to nonprofit organizations, as well as laws that specifically govern their activities.

A rabbi who attended the meeting was unaware that an exemption from sales tax exists for sales of meals and food products furnished or served by any religious organization at a social gathering it hosts. To his delight, the rabbi discovered that the synagogue was eligible for a refund of hundreds of dollars of sales tax reimbursement paid to several restaurants (Revenue & Taxation Code, Section 6363.5).

Marina Arevalo-Martinez, an accountant at the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic, took a particular interest in raffles. She heard one presenter say that under Penal Code Section 320.5 “no eligible organization can hold a raffle unless it has registered with the [state] attorney general’s office to hold raffles.” Arevalo-Martinez also learned that an eligible organization must use at least 90 percent of all gross receipts from raffle ticket sales for charitable or beneficial purposes.

The Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic constantly looks for ways to raise money, and Arevalo-Martinez said the information will enable the agency to sponsor raffles while adhering to the letter of the law.

Federation President John Fishel said, “The seminar provided the staff of The Jewish Federation and the staff of our affiliated agencies with vital information on reporting and compliance.”

But the reality is that in today’s fast-paced environment not every nonprofit organization or charitable contributor has the time to attend a seminar. With this in mind, here are some tax tips from the Board of Equalization and the Franchise Tax Board you might find useful.

Franchise and Income Tax Tips for Donors

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• Confirm that the recipient of your gift is a valid charity before you give. You can do so by looking up the charity on the IRS Web site (” target=”_blank”>www.boe.ca.gov, which features sales and tax rates by county, frequently asked questions, a list of publications, and an online tutorial for sales and use tax.

John Chiang is chair of the California State Board of Equalization and member of the Franchise Tax Board.

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7 Days In Arts


Head to Topanga Canyon tonight for an evening of theater under the stars. Lillian Hellman’s “Watch on the Rhine” opens tonight at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum outdoor amphitheater. When Hellman wrote it in the late 1930s, she intended it to serve as a warning against American isolationism in the face of growing fascism in Germany. Unfortunately, her call went unheeded, and it served instead as a harbinger. See if it holds up these many years later.8 p.m. $8-$25, or free (children 5 and under). 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. (310) 455-3723.

Sunday

Those wishing to support labor come together for an afternoon of Jewish activism and entertainment today. Progressive Jewish Alliance and The Jewish Coalition for Hotel Workers sponsor Justice in the Park, an event aimed at educating and mobilizing the community in support of hotel workers, while having some fun. Families are invited to picnic, enjoy the klezmer/jazz/funk fusion music of the Alef Project, debate the issues and participate in storytelling and art workshops. They are also asked to bring rice, beans, diapers, detergent and toothpaste in support of the workers.2:30-4:30 p.m. Roxbury Park Auditorium, 471 S. Roxbury Drive, Beverly Hills. (323) 761-8350.

Monday

Mythic-looking figures float in dramatic pose before elemental backdrops, watery or fiery or both at once, in the emotional paintings of Arina Sleutsker. Her images are fantastic, depicted in rich, swirling color suggesting movement. Titled “Flight of Fancy,” her current exhibition opens this week at Finegood Art Gallery.10 a.m.-9 p.m. (Mon.-Thurs.), 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Fri.-Sun.). 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 885-0430.

Tuesday

Dropping today is the new Lisa Loeb album, “The Way It Really Is.” At times poppy, at other times acoustic and folky, Loeb’s new CD offers catchy tracks, including “Would You Wander,” with pretty harmonies provided by The Indigo Girls’ Emily Saliers.$17.98. www.amazon.com.

Wednesday

Playwright Yehuda Hyman lends his talents to a free writing workshop for seniors continuing today. Music, movement and dramatic situations will all be utilized to help participants hone their creativity and use personal and Jewish cultural experience in their writing. Although the four-part series began Aug. 4, those interested can still enroll for the last three sessions.3-5 p.m. Free. Ages 65+. Temple Emanuel, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (213) 613-1700, ext. 36.

Thursday

Slime and bubbling potions distract the kids from the fact that they’re learning today at the Zimmer Children’s Museum. Head over with them this afternoon for some “Mad Science.” They’ll don their lab coats and meet the Mad Scientist, who, with the help of some test tubes and a little flare, introduces children to the amazing world of science.2 p.m. Free (members), $3 (nonmembers, in addition to admission fee). 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 100, Los Angeles. (323) 761-8998.

Friday

Tonight, begin with Ophelia and end with Neil Diamond. Ptero Dance Theatre presents “Candle in the Sun,” a five-piece dance suite that moves from darkness and struggle to light and enlightenment. They begin with “OmPaHdEnLeIsAs (Madness Within Ophelia),” then move to “Scrape,” “Where the Body Ends” and “A Woman in There Somewhere” and end with “Diamond Dances,” a celebration of life set to three songs by the sparkly shirted one.8 p.m. (Thurs.-Sat.), 7 p.m. (Sun.). Special youth concert on Aug.15, at 3 p.m. Through Aug. 22. $10-22. Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City. (310) 399-3132.

Esther Netter: A One-Woman Dynamo


Time is running out for Esther Netter. On June 6, the Zimmer Children’s Museum will unveil its most ambitious art exhibit in its 14-year history to an expected sellout crowd of 300. As if that wasn’t enough, the Zimmer’s executive director must simultaneously ready her organization for independence from the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), an outfit that for years has provided important services to Zimmer at heavily discounted rates.

Seated in a conference room with two Zimmer executives, Netter gave a progress report on the last-minute preparations for "Show & Tel: Art of Connection," which will feature 179 telephones transformed into artworks by the likes of musician Alicia Keys, actress Elizabeth Taylor and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The funky phones, up for auction, will benefit youTHink, an art-based social issues program for third- to-12th-graders (see sidebar below).

Turning her attention to Zimmer’s impending independence, Netter whipped out a to-do list with 50 items on it. By July 1, she said, her staff of 12 full-time and 10 part-time employees must apply for a business license, set up a bank account and hire a chief financial officer, among other tasks.

During the meeting, Netter’s cellphone rang over and over and over. Whenever it sounded, she flipped it open and glanced at the caller ID to decide whether to answer.

She occasionally seemed lost in her own thoughts, peering off into the distance. Adding to the chaos, a frantic Zimmer employee barged in and asked Netter for money to pay for some fixtures for the phone exhibition. Netter handed her a blank check — literally.

"The classic Esther is to be in a meeting, and she has her phone ringing, her cell ringing and the call-waiting going," said Shifra Teitelbaum, youTHink’s director. "She always has 40 things going. Undivided attention is not in her vocabulary."

Passionate and driven, the 45-year-old Netter has managed to channel her nervous energy into tangible accomplishments for the betterment of the local Jewish community. Working closely with founding board member Jean Friedman, Netter has overseen Zimmer’s growth from a tiny 600-square-foot museum with a $40,000 budget to one of the city’s premiere Jewish institutions with a $1.5 million budget.

The museum now sits in a 10,000-square-foot space inside The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’s headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd. Netter set up the initial meetings with Nathan Krems and Zimmer family members that led to a $2 million grant that made the recent expansion possible.

Last year, Los Angeles Magazine selected Zimmer for a "Best of L.A." award for best little-known museum.

Netter is quick to give credit to others and to forge alliances to get things done. She said she prefers sharing the limelight with 10 other people than to have it shine brightly on her alone.

Known as much for her ability to spin out creative ideas as for her short attention span, Netter co-founded youTHink six years ago with her friend, Bernie Massey, executive director of the Center for American Studies and Culture. Concerned that students were increasingly interested in education as a means for making money rather than as a tool for social change, the pair came up with the concept of using art to stimulate critical thinking.

Going into classrooms with reproductions of provocative artworks, youTHink instructors draw students out into discussions about such contemporary subjects as affirmative action, homelessness and the value of education. Some students have become so inspired that they have gone on to volunteer for community service after the program, she said.

YouTHink, which serves about 20,000 California students annually, hopes to expand nationally. The program recently received a grant of nearly $100,000 for that purpose. All the while, Netter has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from public and private sources to fund her pet project.

Her willingness to take Zimmer in a new direction, despite some board concern that youTHink might detract from the museum’s mission to serve the Jewish community, reflected Netter’s courage and vision, Massey said.

"She wanted to knock the walls down on what the limitations of the museum were at the time and broaden the institution," he said. "She recognized the importance of being connected to the broader community."

Netter wasn’t always so worldly. For much of her life, she lived, loved and played mainly among Jews. She even married a religious leader, Rabbi Perry Netter, with whom she had three children — Eli, 19; Mosher, 17; and Shira, 13. The couple eventually divorced.

Growing up in a Conservative Jewish family in the San Fernando Valley, Netter’s happiest childhood memories took place at Camp Ramah. There, she learned about her heritage by pretending to be a Soviet Jew trying to emigrate or play-acting the creation of Israel.

At UCLA, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Jewish studies. She went on to graduate with a master’s from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. In 1981, Netter landed a job at JCCGLA working in teen outreach at public schools. She has worked in the community ever since.

Over the years, Netter’s work increasingly exposed her to people of different backgrounds, especially through youTHink. Now, she sees the world in all its colors and flavors.

"I want play a role in strengthening the Jewish community and in connecting our communities around us individually, institutionally and communally," she said.

One of the ways she now bridges those two worlds is through "Show & Tel," which is the Zimmer’s first adult show. The exhibition will feature art from both Jews and non-Jews and raise money for the youTHink program, which serves mostly non-Jewish students.

At the Zimmer’s November annual fundraising dinner, an audience member paid $12,000 for the right to first dibs on one of the phones; another ponied up $10,000 for the second choice.

Netter said she is happy and fulfilled with her work, family and contribution to both the Jewish and larger L.A. community.

"My life is incredibly full," she said. "I’m lucky to have a great job, great kids and what looks like an exciting future."

‘Show & Tel’ Dials the Right Artwork


"Show & Tel: Art of Connection," the Zimmer Children’s Museum’s exhibition of 179 telephones decorated and deconstructed by painters, sculptors, politicians, athletes and others, features an array of artworks ranging from the whimsical to the confrontational.

Grouped by such themes as sports and color schemes, the often funky and always surprising phones fill several rooms at the Zimmer. Taken together, they show that a little imagination can go a long way toward transforming a prosaic object into something compelling and original.

All the phones are up for sale. Proceeds will go to youTHink, a Zimmer program for students that uses art to discuss important social issues.

Curator Kate Stern, a former talent coordinator for "Rock the Vote" and ex-casting director, leveraged her contacts to land some big-name celebrities for the show.

Screen legend Elizabeth Taylor submitted a purple flower pot sprouting a pink phone covered with violets. Basketball star Jason Kidd’s phone has a large 5, his number, plastered across his phone’s keypad and his last name spelled out in big letters across the receiver. Venice artist Aaron Kramer’s "It’s Fore You" features a phone encased in metal that is supported by four wood drivers. A wood barbell hangs from the base of the phone.

But it’s the lesser-known creators who, in many instances, have produced the most affecting pieces. Beth Livingston, an artist and U.S. Paralympics Ski Team member, created a massive piece titled, "Follow Your Heart," which features a 5-foot-long mermaid holding a phone receiver in her left hand. A colorful mosaic of jewels, plastic flowers, antique buttons and bottle caps decorate her belly.

New York firefighter Hugh Giffords’ "Never Give Up" has a backdrop of the charred remains of World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks. In the foreground, a red phone peeks through the rubble of smashed cinder blocks.

Giffords, who plans to attend the Zimmer’s June 6 preview opening, lost 14 of the 16 members of his fire company in the terrorist attack.

"The greatest virtues that mankind possesses, marched straight into those buildings, [and] they did it for love," he wrote in text accompanying his work.

Curator Stern said she was happy with the diverse talent she assembled for the exhibit. Some participants responded quickly. R&B musician Alicia Keys turned in her phone only two days after receiving it in the mail. Others needed a little more prodding.

Artist Charles Arnoldi reluctantly agreed to participate but kept putting Stern off. Undeterred, she dropped by his studio when he was out and left one pound of homemade toffee, along with Post-It notes with messages such as "Chuck for president" and "You’re the man." Arnoldi sent in his painted phone soon thereafter.

Stern said she wasn’t able to get everybody she wanted. David Hockney said he was too busy. Madonna, a practitioner of Kaballah, a branch of Jewish mysticism, never responded. Poet Maya Angelou initially said she would participate and then vanished on a three-month book tour, ("I literally begged her," Stern lamented).

Esther Netter, the Zimmer’s executive director, borrowed the idea for the phone exhibit from a similar show that ran in Haifa two and a half years ago. She took more than a good idea — 29 of the Zimmer’s phone artworks come from the original Israeli exhibit.

"This is the biggest exhibit in Zimmer’s history," Netter said. "We’re preparing for a big party, so we’re putting our best, most shiny face first."

The "Show & Tel" preview will take place June 6 at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $100. The show opens to the public June 8 and runs until Sept. 10. For more information, call Carrie Jacoves at (323) 761-8992.–MB

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

“The Nanny’s” Fran Drescher whines her way into heartsonce again, as she hosts the Jewish Television Network’s one-hour,all-the-stops-pulled-out”A Chanukah Celebration.” Today on PBS, Fran shares herown Chanukah memories, then introduces each of the segments that follow: anexplanation of “The Eight Lights of Chanukah” by Rabbi Irwin Kula; homedecorating tips with The Journal’s own Teresa Strasser; music by Craig Taubmanand Theodore Bikel; and “Aleph … Bet … Blast-off!” puppet show. 9 p.m. KCET.www.kcet.org .

Sunday

From yesterday’s “Celebration” to today’s “Chanukah Extravaganza.” Day Two of the Fest O’ Lights brings the Friendship Circle’s kick-off event. The program for special-needs kids presents an introduction to their organization for parents, children and potential teen volunteers, while avoiding the typical lecture-and-refreshments open house scenario. Today’s activities include a latke-making workshop, arts and crafts, sports and games and a bubble show.1-3:30 p.m. Chabad Persian Youth Center, 9022 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 653-1086.

Monday

One little girl thinks her school friends’ names don’tsuit them at all. Shira — whose name means song — doesn’t like to sing, and Avi — whose name means father — isn’t anyone’s dad. So begins the premise of “ShemotMuzarim,” (“Strange Names”). The newly released Hebrew kids’ book, written byShari Dash Greenspan and illustrated by Avi Katz, explores the meanings behindHebrew names from a child’s perspective. $12. www.urimpublications.com

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Tuesday

Perfect for gathering ’round the chanukiah, DebbieFriedman’s “Light These Lights” is her latest collection of Chanukah songs, outjust in time for the holiday. The CD features Friedman classics like “Not ByMight,” traditional songs like “Y’Mei HaChanukah,” as well as her interpretationof Peter Yarrow’s “Light One Candle.” $15.95. www.soundswrite.com

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Wednesday

Intercultural holiday warm fuzzies come in the form of afree six-hour music and dance show at the Music Center, sponsored by the LosAngeles County Board of Supervisors today. Included in the list of more than 38acts are performances as diverse as Persian santur-playing by ManoochehrSadeghi, a Haitian carol sung by the Compton High School Choir and Chanukahsongs by Valley Beth Shalom Congregational Choir, with live music by the LosAngeles Jewish Symphony and klezmer variations by the Oy!Stars. Other actsacknowledging the MOT’s are Louisville High School’s Christian-oriented choirand the San Fernando Valley Youth Choir. 3-9 p.m. Free. Dorothy ChandlerPavilion, downtown Los Angeles. (213) 972-3099. The show will also be broadcastlive on KCET. www.kcet.org

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Thursday

Your gift this Christmas morning? Jewishy fun at The Zimmer Children’s Museum. Just roll out of bed to be ready for their Pajama Party, featuring games, storytelling, exhibits, hat-making and snacks.Free (members),$3 (nonmembers) plus $5 (per family, suggested donation). 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8998.

Friday

Missed the nipple controversy the first time? Copro/Nason Gallery now offers you a second opportunity. Leonard Nimoy’s black-and-white photographic exploration of Jewish mysticism, spirituality and sexuality, “Shekhina,” is on display through Jan. 31.1-6 p.m. (Wednesday-Saturday). 11265 Washington Blvd., Culver City. (310) 398-2643.

Kids Page


What’s a HTROA?

A MINOTAUR at the Zimmer Children’s Museum? No, not really. Unscramble the words in this paragraph to find out what their newest exhibit is:

In order to read this HTROA, you will need a

GMNIFYNGAI glass. And it is there, right at the end of the DAY, the pointer. This is a NITUEMARI that was written in LNPOAD almost a hundred years ago. It was brought over to ERJSMEALU around 1935.

 

Big Questions Get Big Answers

If you go to the Zimmer Children’s Museum, you will be able to answer some big questions. And then you might get it published in on this page. Here’s an example:

Q: If you could give the world a present what would it be?

“I would give the world a really big tzedakah can that is full of money.” — Yitzi, age 6

Q: If you could invite anyone to your home, who would it be and why?

“I would invite the world to my house and teach it how to share.” — Yojar, age 7

Books, Puppets, Food and Fun

Don’t forget about the Children’s Bookfest on Sunday, Nov. 16, at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park.

Entertainers: Puppeteer Len Levitt, Parachute Express, L.A. Children’s Museum Theatre Project

Activities: Bookbinding, Puppet Making, Bookmark Making

Food: Hamburgers, Hot Dogs,

Sodas, French Fries

Child’s Play


Walk down Main Street and you’ll find an international corner market teeming with ethnic delights. Ring the doorbell on the house next door and you’ll find yourself invited into a cozy Jewish home — family pictures and menorah on the shelves; Shabbat candles and a tzedakah box atop the dresser. Further down the block is Bubbe’s Bookstore, filled with children’s books and a puppet theater. For spiritual nourishment, there’s the synagogue down the block. And if you’re hungry for nourishment of a more literal kind, across the street stands the Blue Bagel Cafe, where you can chow down some lunch — falafel, pizza, even some sushi. Or, hey, take it to go and picnic underneath the giant oak tree down the street.

What’s incredible about this Jewish-themed boulevard is that it is not located in the Fairfax District or the Pico-Robertson area, but indoors at the Zimmer Children’s Museum of Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles. And it’s all pretend, built to scale for your kids.



The detail is meticulous. For example, inside the Blue Bagel, a restaurant atmosphere is simulated down to the autographed pictures lining the white wall (in this case, children’s entertainers Craig Taubman, the Alef Bet puppets, etc.).

Since the museum (formerly My Jewish Discovery Place Children’s Museum) opened nearly a decade ago, both museum executive director Esther Netter and director Sherri Kadovitz have been instrumental in shaping its vision. Over time, it has switched venues and steadily expanded to suit community demand, from 600 square feet to 2,300 square feet to its current two-tiered 10,000-square-foot area inside The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ 6505 Wilshire headquarters. The museum’s latest and greatest incarnation was made possible by a $2 million grant from the Max and Pauline Zimmer Family Foundation, as well as support from other donors.

Child-friendly environments aside, the museum has also housed wonderful memories over the years. Kadovitz literally cried on the phone as she recalled, “I’ve had a wonderful opportunity in the [past] 10 years to meet a lot of people and to be exposed to new people, and that has totally filled my life. That’s really special to me. It’s really changed in scope. Apart from the size, I’ve been given such a creative license to bring exhibits to life, to make people aware of Ethiopian culture, Yiddish culture.”

As Netter showed a visitor around the museum, she was excited about the new facilities. At the Mann Theater, with a variety of costumes and backdrops, a child can play superhero or pretend to be an immigrant passing through Ellis Island or a cruise passenger aboard Noah’s Ark. And then there is the Giant Tzedakah Pinball. It took four people to build this behemoth — a Pachinko-style contraption, adorned with colorful zig-zags of neon, that is so large it scales both floors. The three puck-like discs that trickle down the pinball machine’s obstacle course bear the face of a coin, a timepiece and a mirrored surface — symbolizing the three ways one can give back to the community: contributing money, time and yourself. Discs fall into categories slugged “clothing the homeless” and “saving the environment.”

The idea, Netter said, is to underscore that “being part of a community comes with the responsibility of taking care of each other.”

The Journal recently reported on the museum’s YouTHink program, co-sponsored by the Center for American Studies and Culture. Netter is very proud of this program, and at the student art space — which changes quarterly — artwork examines some themes YouTHink tackles: drug abuse, divorce, racial tolerance.

Netter said she views the museum as “a magical way to teach children and families Jewish values. The way it’s grown has been perfect. We started out small and mastered that level. Now we’re ready to grow.”

That growth means that there is no time for Netter and the museum’s board of directors to rest on their laurels. They are currently working on fundraising strategies to maintain the museum and keep its components fresh and innovative. Part of the plan is to keep the museum organic and improve the exhibits based on community feedback. One upcoming exhibit that has The Jewish Journal giddy is a section of Main Street, due in April, that will recreate our offices and allow children to simulate putting out a community newspaper. Computers will allow children to print up their own front-page headlines and contribute ideas to The Journal.

Jean Friedman, a founding chairperson, believes the museum will benefit people outside the community as much as those within it.

“We are an outreach to the non-Jewish community to demystify what a Jew is,” said Friedman, who found it important to make the museum accessible and relevant on different levels.

“I was very interested in connecting every exhibit that we had with a value and a meaning, not just entertaining but educational, with content of lasting value,” Friedman said.

As for Kadovitz, she is looking forward to watching the museum flourish. “Just to see the joy on the kids’ faces when they come through — that to me is one of the most special parts of this museum,” she said.

The new Zimmer Children’s Museum is already off to a great start. School-group visits have been booked through the summer, and birthday parties are already scheduled for next year. On Sun., Feb. 4, the museum will throw a community-wide opening free to the public, and in the weeks to come will host a diversity of Jewish-themed, family-oriented programs and workshops. Sure, the opening will show off the brand-new facilities, but for Netter and staff, there’s another dimension to the festivities — a feeling that the museum, after several venue changes, has finally arrived.

“We’re home,” Netter said softly. “We’re finally home.”

The Zimmer Children’s Museum of Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles will hold its grand opening on Sun., Feb. 4, from 12-5 p.m. For more information on the opening, contact Sherri Kadovitz at (323) 761-8991; for general information such as directions and museum hours, call (323) 761-8989.

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