October 17, 2019


This Israeli television commercial for HDTV has kippot spinning all over Ha’Aretz!

It is estimated that 4.2 million closed-circuit TV surveillance cameras are operating in Great Britain, one for every 15 residents of the country. Don’t worry, though, the United States is rushing to catch up. Baltimore, for example, already has 400 such cameras in place, and, as filmmaker Adam Rifkin notes, “Mayors Villaraigosa and Daley [of Chicago] and Bloomberg [of New York City] all want to put in more cameras.”

Rifkin knows a bit more about this subject than your average Hollywood director. His new film, “Look,” which opens Dec. 14, is filmed from the point of view of surveillance cameras, his contribution to a national dialogue on security and privacy that hasn’t been out of the headlines since Sept. 11, 2001.

“Look, we had plenty of security cameras before, but 9/11 really opened the door for this obsession,” Rifkin says. His boyish enthusiasm, buoyed by a certain goofy, self-conscious humor makes Rifkin seem much younger than his 41 years. He rocks back and forth in a swivel chair with a grin frequently playing across his lips. But he speaks with seriousness and an intensity.

“The vast majority of Americans are in favor of these cameras,” he says. “They would argue that it keeps the world safe, and that’s very true. But who should have access to the footage shot, what kind of safeguards are in place to protect individual privacy? It’s such a gray area. And I didn’t want to make a film that takes a stand for either side; I couldn’t tell you in a fiction film why it’s good or bad. I wanted to make a film that would have people saying, ‘Let’s talk about this.'”

“Look” is an intriguing variant on the now-common American indie trope of the multistory tapestry film that interweaves numerous characters, intermittently allowing their paths — and plots — to cross. Rifkin begins with a pair of sex-obsessed teenage girls in a department store changing room, quickly introduces one of their teachers and his very pregnant wife, a manager at the store who beds every female employee in one of the backrooms, a nerdy insurance guy who is tormented by bullies in his office, a couple of deranged spree killers and a pair of slackers at a convenience store.

What sets the film apart from the dozens of similarly variegated indies of this ilk is that almost every shot in the film comes from the perspective of one of those ubiquitous closed-circuit cameras, which made for some interesting challenges for Rifkin.

“It has been estimated that the average American citizen is now filmed or videotaped 200 times a day,” he says. “That’s a lot of coverage. Heck, that’s more than I’ve shot in all my feature films combined.” And he’s directed 14 feature films since his debut with “Never on Tuesday” in 1988.

“I thought it would be easy to shoot, but that didn’t turn out to be the case,” he says. “We wanted the camera angles to be absolutely authentic, so we brought in a security consultant who would tell us, ‘The camera would be placed here, and it would be directed over here, and the other one would be there at such-and-such angle,’ and so on.”

“Once the cameras were placed, it was both freeing and frustrating at the same time,” he continues. “I couldn’t do a close-up or a tracking shot, and that made me very nervous, because the film is a character drama.”

When he started looking at the dailies, though, Rifkin realized that he had something very unusual “because it was so objective,” he says. “Everything is from the camera’s point of view, not a character’s. And that creates a voyeuristic mood that forces the audience to be a participant, to say to themselves, ‘I’m a peeping Tom.’ It feels a little shameful, and that is very exciting to explore.”

Of course, Alfred Hitchcock could have told Rifkin that. In a sense, that’s exactly what happened.

“I’m a huge Hitchcock fan,” Rifkin says, leaning forward eagerly. “I looked at ‘Rear Window’ several times. I don’t pretend to be a student of Hitchcock, but I love his ability to create suspense, and I hope there are moments in this film that work that way.”

On one level, it’s a natural aspiration. Every young filmmaker — and despite his disproportionate degree of experience, Rifkin still seems like a young filmmaker in the best sense — wants to be the master of suspense.

But if you look at Rifkin’s filmography, it seems a lot longer on mirth than mayhem. This is, after all, the guy who made the bizarre/geeky comedy, “The Dark Backwards,” about the world’s worst stand-up comic, who grows a third arm from his back, and the dryly humorous “A Night at the Golden Eagle.” And his next film is the caveman comedy, “Homo Erectus,” in which he plays “a very Jewish caveman, very Woody Allen,” as Rifkin himself puts it.

That’s closer to the mark — well, to Rifkin.

“My whole life I’ve been exposed to Jewish culture, and the humor of the culture is what has always attracted me,” he says. “My parents are Jewish, my grandparents are all Jewish — my grandfather ran Zayde’s Deli in Chicago, that’s about as Jewish as it gets!”

His own sense of urban Jewish American identity, he readily acknowledges, owes a lot to Allen, but if the trailer for “Homo Erectus” is any indication, there’s a strong element of “The Three Stooges” in his comedy.

“Oh, you got that, that’s great,” he says with a huge grin. “I love the Three Stooges. I love slapstick.”

There is also a carefully hidden tribute to Bill Gaines, the creator of Mad Magazine, another post-World War II touchstone of Jewish humor that cast its spell on Rifkin early.

So with all those quirky, wacky role models, is it any wonder that Rifkin says, “If there’s a theme in my films, I guess it’s that they always center on a downtrodden sad sack character who is basically a decent guy. I think that guy is a representative of Jewish culture.”

“Look” opens Friday, Dec. 14 at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles.

For information, phone (310) 281-8223 or go to http://landmarktheatres.com/market/LosAngeles/NuartTheatre.htm

‘Look’ trailer

Judea and Ruth Pearl light a menorah belonging to the great-grandfather of their son, Daniel, the slain Wall Street Journal reporter, during White House Chanukah festivities on Dec. 10
President Bush lit a menorah that belonged to the great-grandfather of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Bush was joined Monday in the grand foyer of the White House by Jewish leaders and Pearl’s parents, Ruth and Judea Pearl, who lit the menorah and recited the blessings for the seventh night of Chanukah. That was followed by a performance by the Zamir Chorale of Boston.

“By honoring Daniel, we are given the opportunity to bring forth hope from the darkness of tragedy, and that is a miracle worth celebrating during the Festival of Lights,” the president said.

Bush also recognized Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and his family, who were in attendance during the speech.

“As we light the Chanukah candles this year, we pray for those who still live under the shadow of tyranny,” Bush said. “This afternoon, I met with a group of Jewish immigrants to mark International Human Rights Day. Many of these men and women fled from religious oppression in countries like Iran and Syria and the Soviet Union.

“They came to America because our nation is a beacon of freedom,” he continued. “And they see a day of hope on the horizon when people all across the world will worship in freedom. The forces of intolerance can suppress the menorah, but they can never extinguish its light.”

— Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Sen. Feingold Speaks at USC

Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin knows a few things about the Jewish role in American life. The son of immigrants from Russia and Galicia, with 25 years of service in Congress and the Wisconsin state house, Feingold is best known for his progressive politics — the campaign-finance reform law bearing his name and that of Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the sole dissenting vote in the Senate against the Patriot Act and introducing a resolution to censure President Bush last year in the wake of reports of illegal wiretapping.

“But,” said U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), introducing Feingold at USC Sunday, “he is a reminder of how great — not perfect — but really great America has been as a safe haven and incubator of its Jewish citizens.”

Feingold, who had been invited to deliver the ninth annual Carmen and Louis Warschaw Distinguished Lecture at the Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life, began by discussing his childhood in Janesville, where there were only a handful of Jewish families in the Wisconsin town, and how the Feingolds would drive into Madison for Hebrew school.

“At religious school, we would hear very well taught the litany of Jewish history: expulsions, inquisitions, pogroms and the Holocaust,” Feingold said. “But then we would return to Janesville, where I experienced essentially no anti-Semitic remarks throughout my entire upbringing. I did not feel the sting of anti-Semitism. At a personal level, I felt that we were honored as different but not strangers in any way.”

His feeling of acceptance as a Jew and his understanding of what Judaism teaches about how one should treat a stranger, Feingold said, motivated him to promote better treatment of groups that he said are at times strangers in the United States: African Americans, Latinos, Arab Americans, Muslim Americans and Southeast Asians.

“The Jewish community has a unique role to play in healing these riffs,” he said. “Every time we reach out to those who are made to feel like outsiders in our society, we strengthen support for our community here in the United States and for Jews around the world, as well.”

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

Asians, Jews Celebrate Chanukah Together

On the second night of Chanukah, members of Los Angeles’ Asian and Jewish communities gathered downtown to discuss their historical bonds and differences.

“Konnichi wa, Annyong ha Shimnikka, Shalom,” Israeli Deputy Consul General Yaron Gamburg, who was joined by the consuls general of Japan and Korea, said, saying hello in Japanese, Korean and Hebrew.

“Chanukah symbolizes victory of light over darkness,” Gamburg said. “I believe today’s event brings the light of friendship to our communities and to the city of Los Angeles.”

The Dec. 5 meeting at the Japanese American National Museum was the second organized by the Anti-Defamation League since its Asian Jewish Initiative began in June. Built on the model of the Latino Jewish Roundtable and working with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Korean American Coalition and Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics, the effort aims to mitigate stereotypes and build bridges between Asian and Jewish Angelenos.

Leading a Chanukah candlelighting service, Faith Cookler, the initiative’s chair, said the story of Jewish persecution and the Maccabee revolt is one that resonates with all minorities.

— BG

There’s a famous story in the Talmud about a smart aleck who asks the sages Hillel and Shammai to teach him all of Torah while he stands on one foot. Hillel’s response is well
known: “What is hateful to you, do not do unto others All the rest is commentary.”

Shammai, however, wasn’t nearly as solicitous. “Do you think I have time to waste on people who mock our holy Torah?” he asks, and swings a stick at him.

I wonder if any of the Republican candidates felt an urge like Shammai’s during last month’s CNN-YouTube debate, when Joseph Dearing from Dallas asked his question. “How you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you,” said Dearing, brandishing a Bible. “Do you believe every word of this book? And I mean specifically this book that I’m holding in my hand. Do you believe this book?”

It was kind of fun to watch the candidates squirm. You could guess they were struggling between the urge to pander to the evangelical base and their own intellectual honesty, or whatever is left of it after months on the campaign trail.

Romashka Live at Joe’s Pub

After two consecutive years of a mailbox clogged with new Chanukah music, this year seems to have produced a drought of latkes-candles-and-dreidel epics. No matter. There are plenty of terrific CDs around that will make good gifts for those who do the December festivities thing, or you could buy them for yourself (you selfish thing).

There is a phrase we use in my house to denote any music that makes you move your lower limbs almost involuntarily. We call this “wiggle music,” and the following selection features some very potent examples of the genre. If a winter dance is on your agenda, you could do a lot worse than to throw a couple of these in your CD player and hit shuffle. Or better yet: “wiggle.”

Metropolitan Klezmer, “Traveling Show” (Rhythm Media)

There used to be two complaints about live rock albums. Either the band played their greatest hits exactly as they had on record (Who needs a live recording that’s nothing but a reprise of the studio, only with the mistakes intact?) or they indulged their arty sides with long, dull solos. Old-line klezmer wasn’t as much of an improviser’s art as, say, jazz, but contemporary New Klez is much more so. And that means a live set like this new one from the Metros is welcome. The band swings hard, everyone has ample solo room and plenty to say. There’s even a track from Eve Sicular’s other band, Isle of Klezbos. In short, this is what a live set should be: great fun.


The Polina Shepherd Vocal Experience (featuring Quartet Ashkenazim), “Baym Taykh” (Oriente)

This dazzling new recording is a distinct change of pace from what I usually hear (I get to listen to a lot of new Yiddish music, which can be a positive or a negative depending on the recording). The songs are all originals, composed by Polina Shepherd and sung by Shepherd and a quartet that includes her and husband Merlin Shepherd (who also contributes memorably on reeds and guitar), Yana Ovrutskaya and Evgenya Slavina. This is elegant chamber music that dances nimbly from postmodern a cappella to jazz to art song without missing a beat. A beautiful, frequently moving CD. You can’t dance to it, but you can listen for hours without losing interest.


Blue Fringe, “The Whole World Lit Up”
(Craig ‘n’ Co.)

These guys have developed an ardent cult following, and it’s not hard to see why. With their hook-filled soft rock featuring inflections of The Beatles, The Eagles and The Byrds, Blue Fringe has found a plausible vehicle for their religious feelings, and their music is both thoughtful and danceable. Not my favorite genre, personally, but they do it well. I prefer the rockers, especially when the lead guitarists — to borrow a phase from boxing — let their hands go. Nevertheless, a satisfying set from a rising band.


Gail Javitt, “Like a Braided Candle, Songs for Havdalah” (self-distributed)

A nice idea for a record, compiling songs relating to Havdalah, and the result is a pleasant if unexceptional recording. Javitt has a sweet Debby Friedman-like voice; I wish she would use the lower part of her range more because it’s quite expressive, while the top is a bit thin. The material is a solid mix of the familiar (“A Gute Voch,” “Birhot Havdalah”) and the somewhat more unusual. I’m particularly fond of the Sephardic “Hamavdil” that opens the set.


Klezamir, “Warm Your Hands” (self-distributed)

Fourth album from this excellent Massachusetts-based quintet sees them proceeding without vocalist Rhoda Bernard. The result is a more instrumental-oriented set, but like their previous CDs this opens with a butt-shaking number, “Undzer Nigundl,” powered by a strong rock beat from drummer Keith Levreault. After that it settles into a more traditional groove, but the results are very satisfying.


Romashka, “Romashka” (self-distributed)

A wildly swinging set from this excellent Gypsy-cum-klezmer-cum-Balkan-brass-band aggregation. I saw Romashka live in a superheated little bar about a year ago and I was curious whether any recording could capture their insane level of intensity. From the rocketing opening of “Mariana,” the first cut on their new set, through some smoldering, smoky vocals by Inna Barmash to a pounding “Moldovan Batuta,” this is as full of energy and thrills as any studio set can be. Particular kudos to Ron Caswell, whose tuba provides a bouncing dance floor for both this CD and the Slavic Soul Party set reviewed elsewhere in this column.


Chana Rothman, “We Can Rise” (Oyhoo)

Here’s a promising debut from Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Chana Rothman. She offers a heady mix of liturgically based hard folk-rock and reggae-inflected and hip-hop informed rockers, all originals. She reminds me of a young Basya Schechter without the Middle Eastern influences, and her best writing (“Ana,” “Gates of Justice”) is quite good. Her rapping isn’t quite there yet — too many eccentric rhythmic choices that disrupt her flow — but I’m definitely looking forward to watching her evolve.


Slavic Soul Party, “Teknochek Collision” (Barbes Records)

This is a wildly swinging amalgam of Balkan brass band, Gypsy and klezmer elements, with as many swerves and twists as a mountain road. The fusion of disparate elements is seamless, not a surprise if you consider how much these various traditions share. As the band’s name suggests, this is great party music, so grab a bottle of Slivovitz and a friend and dance.


The trailer
“Any time you have a community that is erased, it’s a tragedy not only for the community but for humanity.”

The opening line from the documentary “The Last Jews of Libya” begins a nostalgic visit to an ill-fated community of 25,000 people living between the Mediterranean Sea and North African desert at the dawn of World War II.

It’s a story we know too well — pious, successful and family-oriented Jews living in coexistence with their neighbors suddenly become targets of racial hatred and are ultimately expelled or destroyed. Once in the United States, the immigrants struggle to find their place within an American Jewish life rooted firmly in Eastern European culture.

Told through the experiences of the Roumani family, the film, which airs Dec. 3 on the Sundance Channel, was inspired by a providential accident.

Following the death of their mother, Elise Tammam Roumani, director Vivienne Roumani-Denn and her brother discovered her memoirs, handwritten on legal paper, stuffed under her bed.

“It was really indescribable. Her presence became alive again but with a gift of all her life — our lives, as if she were anticipating her first grandchild’s question years later,” Roumani-Denn said.

Isabella Rossellini narrates the story as Roumani, recounting her youth in the coastal town of Benghazi.

A port city long controlled by the Ottoman Turks before an Italian conquest, its Jewish inhabitants studied Torah and Talmud daily. Life revolved around the Sabbath, and modes of dress indicated levels of observance. The relationship between Arabs and Jews was characterized as peaceful coexistence, textured by business and personal relationships and a communal appreciation of Arab culture.

“When people said to me, ‘Oh you must hate Arabs,’ it was shocking to me. Jews lived in Arab countries for millennia and felt a great affinity with the Arabs. I grew up listening to Arabic music, watching Arab films. We enjoyed the language and the poetry … we even enjoyed listening to the Quran when muazen would go up on minarets or chant on the radio,” Roumani-Denn said.

But escalating tensions between Jews and Arabs, resulting from Italian fascism, Nazi occupation and later, the creation of Israel, catalyzed violent pogroms forcing Libya’s Jewish community to flee. The Roumanis spent a year at an internment camp in Tunisia before returning to Benghazi.

“The pogroms broke the trust completely between Jews and Arabs. Pan-Arabism with Nasser was the final breaking point. It was very anti-Jewish and anti-Western,” Roumani-Denn said.

With two sons studying in the United States, Yosef Roumani, the family patriarch, decided to immigrate to America. When the family resettled in the United States, they felt isolated and out of place.

“There was a break in the continuity of culture, traditions, liturgies. The way we prayed was different; the way we sang was different. Among the middle class, who were scattered everywhere, [the United States] was not a place where we found a like immigrant community, so that makes you feel uneasy, uprooted. People would ask, ‘You don’t speak Yiddish? How could you be Jews?'”

With the departure of the last Jews of Libya, an entire Jewish tradition ceased. “Religion was an intrinsic part of our life. It was the way we lived, thought, did business, the way we interacted. It wasn’t an effort; it was a joy, and we did not have the divisions of Conservative, Orthodox, Reform. You’re a Jew. There’s no division.”

Today, there are no known Jewish families living in Libya and the close-knit religious community that worked and worshipped alongside Arabs is gone.

When the film screened at festivals, Roumani-Denn realized the impact of her family’s story resonated with larger audiences. “Making this film was a wonderful way to clarify some of the clichés about ‘Who is a Jew’ and preconceived ideas about the relationship between Arabs and Jews. It was intended to be a film to pass on the story of my family but very quickly it became obvious that this was a story beyond the family,” she said.

Now scattered throughout the world, the Roumani family continues to draw on the traditions preserved in the film. Roumani-Denn hopes it will connect her family’s future generations to the Jewish foundation of their past.

“In a human journey, one may go through various iterations [of observance],” she said, “but the community and your synagogue was always there waiting for you.”

“The Last Jews of Libya” airs Dec. 3, 10 p.m. on the Sundance Channel. For more information, visit http://lastjewsoflibya.com/ or



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The trailer
For independent filmmakers Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus, making “Yiddish Theater: A Love Story” was the easy part; booking the documentary into a commercial venue where people could see it was the real struggle.

After two years of rebuffs, the director and producer of “Yiddish Theater” can now pop open the champagne. The feel-good, feel-sad film is opening this month in Tel Aviv, New York and Los Angeles, thanks to persistence and the Internet.

Katzir, a non-Yiddish speaker and former Israeli paratroop officer, fell in love with New York’s Folksbiene when its ensemble was trying desperately to keep the longest-running Yiddish theater in America open with a production of “Grine Felder” (“Green Fields”).

For eight days during the brutal New York winter of 2000, Katzir followed the venerable producer-star Zypora Spaisman and her cast during rehearsals, performances and the cliffhanging maneuvers to save the place from foreclosure.

Despite a glowing review in the New York Times and appeals to six Manhattan millionaires to come up with the needed $75,000, the play and the theater closed down on New Year’s Eve.

It seemed that the same curse afflicted the completed film. Although “Yiddish Theater” won plaudits and awards at Jewish film festivals, professional distributors, who could book the film into commercial theaters, wouldn’t even look at the picture.

“As soon as a distributor heard the word ‘Yiddish,’ he hung up the phone,” Katzir said.

PBS, which loves films on ancient Chinese and Etruscan cultures, was equally uninterested.

Almost broke, Katzir and Markus hit on an idea. They put the film’s trailer and some information, for free, on MySpace.com, then on YouTube.com, and inquiries started coming in.

One was from the program director for the Pioneer Theater in New York, an art house usually featuring edgy movies attracting mostly younger audiences.

With New York booked, Tel Aviv and Los Angeles followed in short order.

Katzir draws two conclusions from his experience.”

The Internet has changed the landscape dramatically for independent and foreign movies, which are no longer at the mercy of distributors,” said Katzir, speaking from Israel where he is putting Hebrew subtitles on the film for its Tel Aviv premiere.

“Secondly, Yiddish has jumped two generations,” the 37-year old director observed. “When I talk to people in their 50s and 60s, I get rejections, but we’re drawing in younger audiences.”

“Yiddish Theater: A Love Story” opens Nov. 30 at Laemmle’s Grand 4-Plex in downtown Los Angeles. American Friends of Tel Aviv University will sponsor a reception for the filmmakers and audience on Dec. 2 after the 1 p.m. show at the theater.

Rags To Righteousness
Jay Firestone, JewishJournal.com video and fashion maven, covers the sweat-shop free fashion show
An assortment of sweatshop-free clothing made its way down the runway Sunday night, Nov. 4, at the Writers Boot Camp in Santa Monica. Sponsored by IKAR and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), in cooperation with the Garment Workers Center, “Rags to Righteousness” strutted its awareness for sweatshop-free clothing through a hip and stylish fashion show.

With more than 200 people in attendance, clothing vendors set up shop, as community members modeled the clothing for the evening’s guests.

Kippot, scarves, T-shirts, hats, shorts and jewelry were all on display by the various vendors.

PJA program associate Zachary Lazarus described the event as “creating space for the people to buy sweatshop-free clothes, so we can raise concern and act justly as a community in the world.”

While all the items were “kosher,” they were also surprisingly fashionable.

Participating vendors included Justice Clothing, No Sweat Apparel, Mayaworks, Global Goods Partners, Ethix Ventures, Nueva Vida Sewing Coop, Chiapas Project and Union Jeans and Apparel.

For video and more information, visit For more information, please visit





— Jay Firestone, Contributing writer

From The Blog

Laughter is not only the best medicine, it’s also the best fundraiser.

Comedians + Hollywood venue + food + worthy cause + young Jewish professionals = a really successful benefit.

The Jewish Federation’s Entertainment Division put this tried-but-true formula to work for Laugh Out Loud 2 on Thursday, Nov. 1, at the Laugh Factory, and the result was predictably fabulous. It raised nearly $50,000 to send inner-city kids to Camp Max Straus, which is operated by Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters.

More than 250 professionals employed in the entertainment industry, from CBS, NBC, Creative Artists Agency, United Talent Agency and 3 Arts Entertainment shelled out $150 a ticket for a night of shmoozing, noshing and chuckling.

The Federation managed to line up an impressive group of entertainers — Jeff Garlin, Chelsea Handler, Bill Bellamy and David Spade. Chris Kattan filled in for Jerry O’Connell as the night’s host.

Elan Gold rocked the house. The up-and-coming cutie bounded onto the stage with his energetic, edgy Jewish humor.

To top off the night with a little insanity, bad boy Dov Davidoff’s hyper routine had the crowd doubled over with laughter.

In addition to the evening’s fun, 1,000 underprivileged kids are going to have next summer at a camp geared specifically to their needs.

— Dikla Kadosh, Contributing Writer

Bill Bellamy, Chris Kattan, Michael Rotenberg
Bill Bellamy, Chris Kattan and Federation Entertainment Division Chair Michael Rotenberg.

Charlie Rose brought his roundtable discussion to Los Angeles, but not a single member of the press was invited to listen. Only serious bigwigs in media and technology attended an exclusive event at Pacific Design Center to launch a $350 million endowment campaign to expand biomedical research at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, William Gates Sr. and Vera Guerin joined the incomparable television host for an intimate and candid conversation before the medical center’s “most generous donors” as a gesture of gratitude on behalf of Cedars-Sinai.

rosalie wise sharp
Rosalie Wise Sharp wondered how it came to pass that she’d be traveling in private jets as the wife of Four Seasons hotelier Isadore Sharp, when both husband and wife were raised in families that emigrated from Polish shtetls with no indoor plumbing. She revisits her childhood and family history in a new book, “Rifke: An Improbable Life,” and recently appeared in Los Angeles at the Four Seasons for a luncheon to discuss her memoir.

When I was asked by The Jewish Journal whether I’d like to write something funny about the WGA strike, I thought — hey, there’s nothing funny about this:
corporate bullies refusing to pay writers for their work. This is serious.

But as my friend Rob Lotterstein, creator and executive producer of Fox’s “The War at Home” says, “Just because we’re not writing doesn’t mean we’ve lost our sense of humor.”

I see Rob at Friday’s rally in Fox Plaza, and he says: “This is like Yom Kippur for writers. We run into many of the people we would prefer not to see; I thought we hated each other but on a day like today … all is forgiven. We smile a too-broad smile, ask how they’re doing and wish them well.”

I can’t help but notice that we’re standing next to a table piled high with bagel halves spread with cream cheese schmears. It’s no secret that the Writer’s Guild has a greater-than-the-general-population proportion of Jews in its membership. Did the grocery store workers or the janitors union have bagels when they went out on strike?

I bet they had doughnuts. We have doughnuts, too — Krispy Kreme — and gourmet churros — but they’re being passed out by assistants, not rank and file. We know they’re assistants because they’re wearing baseball caps with agency names embroidered on them. They’re here to lend support, sent by the people who really stand to lose money in this strike: the agents. The cute 20-somethings from United Talent Agency proffer jumbo-size plastic trash bags filled with Power Bars. On the picket line two days ago at Sony, I watched a frail young man balance a cardboard tray of Starbucks cups offering, in a distinctive lilt: “Mocha? Anyone want a mocha? I’ve got one mocha left.” This is Hollywood; the privileges don’t die easy.

We have welcome support from SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild). The actors’ contracts come up in June, and they will have the same issue on the table: payment for work sold to new media. We know who they are, because they look so much better than we do. Writers tend to be dough-y and out of shape — all that compulsive eating to stem the anxiety of the blank page — we generally wear ill-fitting, faded T-shirts and “relaxed fit” jeans. Actors have to maintain a better body image. It’s their job. They work out and dress in clothes that show off their toned muscles. Anyway, we’re glad they’re here. More bodies — especially beautiful ones — on the line are a good thing.

The actors also draw the media. Here in Fox Plaza there are 4,000 writers, and yet all the cameras are trained on the two actors from “Reno 911” who’ve shown up in their sheriff’s costumes. Have you watched the show? They wear official-looking shirts and hats, but micro-mini shorts — at least the guys do. Well, I have to say, he does have great legs and an adorable butt. I can only imagine that casting call. Then there’s a gorgeous young actress, dressed in a diaphanous black cocktail dress appropriate only for an awards show. She’s floating through the crowd carrying a large sign, trimmed in ostrich feathers, that reads “DAY 5.”

The rally does what it’s supposed to: Make a lot of noise, buoy spirits, solidify determination and get us more coverage in the press and on the Web. Tom Morello and Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine sing us a couple of “fight songs” — OK, not exactly Pete Seeger singing to coal miners, but I take a picture with my cell phone and call my daughter Molly at college to tell her. She gets off to call her boyfriend because apparently he’s a major R.A.T.M. fan. Later that night she sends me an e-mail of support telling me the O Bar in West Hollywood is offering Strike Specials. Solidarity!

The R.A.T.M. guys finish and Jesse Jackson speaks. I call my son, whose name is also Jesse, to tell him. “What’s Jesse Jackson doing there?” my Jesse asks, with his natural-born instinct to cut to the chase. The only answer I come up with is, “It’s win/win. Everybody gets a picture in the paper.”

Then the speeches from our leadership — our Executive Director David Young recalls how the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has made the identical disingenuous claims, over and over, every time there is a new development in entertainment: videocassettes, DVDs, cable and reality TV. They whine, “We don’t have a business model yet…. We aren’t making any money.” The crowd spontaneously erupts in a chant of, “Bulls–t! Bulls–t!”

Our chief negotiator, John Bowman shouts, “Come back to the table, baby! We can work it out.”

Seth McFarlane (creator, executive producer of “Family Guy” and the voice of Stewie) speaks with humor but decided strength when he tells us that on the third day of the strike all “Family Guy” assistants were fired by Fox. “Instead of negotiating, they lashed out at the little guy. What a classy move.”

Then he urges all show runners (executive producers like himself) to personally continue to pay their assistants while we’re out on strike. A truly classy move.

The best speaker is, no surprise, an actor! Alan Rosenberg, president of SAG (and Jewish, if you’re keeping score) pulls in cheers with lines like: “They worry about profit margins and we worry about paying our bills!”

I wonder, is the White House in his future? Or at least the California governor’s mansion? You may remember, Ronald Reagan started out as president of SAG. Of course, Reagan sold out the actors on residuals, while Rosenberg is fighting for them. A nice Jewish boy. Last, we hear from the much-venerated Norman Lear who buttons up the speeches with a laugh when he says, “I was here when we struck against the Pharaoh.” So I guess there is a Jewish influence on this strike line.

That’s my personal report from the ground. If you’d like a simple explanation of the real issues this strike is about, I recommend this YouTube video:

The Writers Strike is a Jewish issue.

How do I know that? Because everyone is saying it’s not. The writers who are demanding a larger share of DVD rights and residuals for their work and the producers who refuse to give it to them both say, repeatedly, that despite the fact that so many of them happen to be Jewish, the strike is not — as Jewish writers and producers told our senior reporter Brad Greenberg last week — a Jewish issue.

To paraphrase a Clinton-era favorite, you can be sure that when everyone is saying it’s not about being Jewish, it’s about being Jewish.

Strip away the brand-name products and gossipy inside Hollywood milieu of this strike, and what you have is a question of fair compensation and just treatment of labor.

It is a question our sages wrestled with, beginning with a law laid down in Leviticus 25:14: “And when you sell something to your fellow, or buy from the hand of your fellow, don’t oppress each other.”

How shallow has our Jewish life become and how silent have our pulpits fallen when we blithely accept the idea that a 4,000-year-old ethical tradition has nothing to say about how we do business?

In my fantasy Jewish community, the writers strike would spur synagogues and other Jewish institutions to swing wide their doors and invite in Hollywood writers and producers to meet with rabbis and Jewish ethicists to discuss and debate their roles as ethical beings in society. The discussions wouldn’t be binding –just illuminating, thought-provoking and, perhaps, mind-changing.

“Business ethics is the arena where the ethereal transcendent teachings of holiness and spirituality confront the often grubby business of making money and being engaged in the rat race that often comprises the marketplace,” writes Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz, a professor at the University of Maryland Law School. “It is the acid test of whether religion is truly relevant or religion is simply relegated to an isolated sphere of human activity. It is business ethics, one could posit, above all, that shows God co-exists in the world rather than God and godliness being separate and apart.”

In other words, rabbis aren’t there just to marry and bury us, and shuls don’t exist just to provide a backdrop for the bar mitzvah video.

The producers who kvell when their little girl or boy comes home from Hebrew school and recites the blessing over the challah might benefit from learning a little about the Hamotzi as well: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, you bring forth bread from the earth,” we recite.

But what is the Hamotzi but an affirmation that, as the sages said, “A blessing does not exist except through human hands.”

God makes wheat; humans, His partners in creation, make bread. The recognition that labor is intrinsic to realizing God’s gifts is foundational to Judaism: How we honor and reward it, how we show gratitude for what Rabbi Steven Z. Leder calls “the manna of work,” is worth discussion and debate — but I don’t see those kind of talks taking place amid the talks of this strike.

In some ways, it is like any other strike. I drive past Fox Studios on the way to work and see the writers walking their oval, wearing V-neck sweaters over solid T-shirts, holding their signs, cell phones and Starbucks. There are hardship committees and stories of guys this close to going into production on their very first show who suddenly find their career on the sidewalk. There are millions of dollars in lost revenues for the production support industries, from the people who make snacks on the set to the people who make the set.

In other ways, a Hollywood writers strike is — sorry — strikingly different. The 12,000 member Writers Guild is perhaps one-third Jewish. We’re not talking a line of longshoremen — the early morning sun, does not exactly, as Marx once wrote of French socialist workers, “shine upon us from their work-hardened bodies.”

E-mail notices about picketing locations include information on where to get parking validated. At stake for the consumer is not airline safety or garbage collection or medical care, but whether we can get our daily fix of “The Daily Show.”

So the writers, if they can’t rely on threats to public health or safety or outrage, have only two arrows in their quiver: the economic argument and the moral one.

As to the first, good luck. The Hollywood producers have a history of holding out and pleading poverty. During the Great Depression, the studios decided to peremptorily cut the salaries of actors and writers by 50 percent, Neal Gabler relates in “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood.” “Weary and moist-eyed,” Louis B. Mayer explained the grave situation of his studio’s financial health to his MGM “family.” Most of them offered their whole-hearted support, stepping up to help poor Mr. Mayer out by accepting the cut. When it was over, Mayer, on the way back to his office, turned to his associate Ben Thau and asked, “How did I do?”

A few weeks after that meeting, Hollywood writers formed the Screen Writers Guild to represent them.

“Louis B. Mayer,” quipped screenwriter Alfred Hackett, “created more communists than Karl Marx.”

But of course it is not commies on the picket lines I see; it is card-carrying, Prius-driving, private-school-tuition-paying capitalists. All they want is a somewhat larger share of the fortune that new technologies like DVDs and the Internet are bringing into studios.

For some reason lost on simple outsiders like me, the sides can’t split the difference. Perhaps writers think this time will be different. Perhaps studios think the Internet and reality TV has made pesky creative types superfluous. At a restaurant last week, our Senior Editor Adam Wills overheard a producer at the next table boast that he could do a reality TV version of “The Office” just by putting a camera in … an office.

So if the economics are at an impasse, even more reason to engage the sides over the respective morality of their positions. It is here rabbis and ethicists can at least be reaching out — God knows the writers have time to attend some lunch-and-learn sessions, and their fellow congregants, the producers, would make the time, if the rabbi dared ask.

Oren Kaplan, the director of ‘Miram and Shoshana’ and writer (and Journal contributor) Seth Menachem are the brains and brains behind this new video ‘WGA Strike Gets Violent’. They add this note:Studios: Please do what’s fair before things get too bloody on the streets of Los Angeles.

Starring Seth Menachem & Avi Rothman
Written by a striking writer (before the strike, actually)
Directed by Oren Kaplan


Danielle Berrin shows off the rainbow
Longtime collaborators architect Moshe Safdie and artist Ned Kahn were busy designing the new headquarters for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Washington D.C. when Safdie invited Kahn to “think about rainbows.” Standing in a courtyard, staring into a design he describes as a reflecting pool, Kahn’s first thoughts were of water. Then came the flood — ice melting, rising sea levels, global warming; then artwork bridging man and nature; and the image of someone standing on a cliff becoming engulfed by a wave.

All he had to do was figure out how to break water into the perfect-sized droplets to create a rainbow. And then he did.

Just beyond the new Noah’s Ark installation at the Skirball Cultural Center, where Asian elephants and Boringo giraffes tower, a lushly landscaped courtyard has been designed as a rainbow arbor.

Rising from a base of rocks, Kahn’s rainbow is a curved metal form that wraps around a walkway, spraying droplets of mist that coalesce to form a rainbow. It is the marriage of a museum exhibit and a symbolic natural oasis, recalling both the benevolent and destructive elements of nature and symbolizing God’s promise to Noah not to flood the earth again.

To prepare for the arbor’s construction, Kahn studied many versions of the Noah story: “I remember being struck by how many different cultures had references to a flood, the way flood stories seem like part of the collective memory of humankind.”

Having studied environmental science, Kahn often blends natural and man-made elements to create contemplative sanctuaries that connect people to the forces of nature.

“I think you could say that most of my work is located in urban environments, where people are disconnected from natural forces and phenomena, so a lot of what I’ve created is part of this realization that everything is a man-nature hybrid.”

The rainbow arbor relies on the unpredictability of each day’s elements: “I stuck a bunch of pieces of metal together, put novels [apparatuses that break the water] into it and ran water. But when you turn it on, it’s the wind and sunlight that animates it … it’s not entirely my creation.”

The central image came to him in a dream: “I was with my father, and we were on a hillside watching a wave crash, and it was really gentle, and when it hit us, we were washed away by it. But it was this sweet, nice dream … probably the opposite of what most people think of floods.”

Indeed, the sculpture’s abstract shape resembles an undulating wave, but as in Kahn’s dream, it is a delicate form — with perforated metal that appears transparent and a mist that sprinkles your skin, the way it would if you were behind a waterfall.

Conceived as a climax to the whimsical and wild experience of the Noah’s Ark exhibit, the rainbow arbor provides a contrast in its soothing, sensory experience.

In a world where man is increasingly alienated from untainted nature and global warming threatens the planet, Kahn’s mist sculpture embodies the hope of a promising future — or, as he puts it: “The rainbow was the symbol that they had made it.”

The rainbow can be found at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. Skirball hours: Tues.-Fri., noon-5p.m; Thurs., noon-9 p.m.; Sat., Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.skirballcenter.org


“They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust” by Mayer Kirshenblatt and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (University of California Press, $39.95).

Mayer Kirshenblatt was born in 1916 in the Polish town of Apt. In 1934, when he was 17, Mayer, his mother and his three siblings immigrated to Toronto to join his father, who had made the trip six years prior. The family ran a paint and wallpaper store. In 1990, after a lifetime of selling paints, Kirshenblatt, retired and at loose ends, decided to pick up a paintbrush himself, and from its tip the world of his youth poured forth.

Kirshenblatt’s canvasses, together with a stunningly vivid text — the product of four decades’ worth of interviews with his daughter, noted New York University folklorist Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett — have now been reproduced in a handsome volume by the University of California Press, and the result is a marvel: With his scrupulously recalled images, Kirshenblatt has managed to do no less than create a new visual language for describing pre-war Eastern European life. In stark contrast to the black-and-white record that has made up our vision heretofore, Kirshenblatt’s paintings are untainted by the horrors to come. They offer a picture not of Polish Jewish life as it was before tragedy struck, but simply as it was. If Chagall was the shtetl’s mythmaker, then Kirshenblatt is his antithesis: a shtetl anthropologist.

The book — the product at once of scholarly rigor and a boy’s sense of wonder, respect for the dead and an even greater respect for the living, ethnographic exactitude and artistic style, a yearning born of loss and a synthesis born of collaboration — is a book like no other.

“They Called Me Mayer July” unfolds not in a grand narrative arc, but in small, bite-size anecdotes, often no longer than a paragraph or two. It is a style, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett writes in the book’s afterward, “more picaresque than bildungsroman.” Like his images, Kirshenblatt’s episodes can stand alone, but they offer more punch when taken together.

While the classic Chagall figure is ever floating skyward, its Kirshenblatt corollary is nothing if not earthbound. The only whitewashing that happens here is literal, as when one of the town’s rabbis repainted the study hall’s walls after a less devout soul had stenciled them with flowers and butterflies. Kirshenblatt’s town, which he often calls by its Polish name, Opatów, is a world of prostitutes and chamber pots, outhouses and broken wind. It’s a world of colorful nicknames: Simkhe the Scab, Avrum the Lump, Yosl the Little Square Noodle and Shmiel the Dog. Sometimes, Kirshenblatt writes, the nicknames sprang from no apparent reality, but in other cases the reason was all too clear. Kirshenblatt tells the story of his poor cousin Malkele, who one day fell into a latrine. Her nickname? Malkele drek.

The book’s title is based on the author’s own nickname, or at least a translation of it.

“Everybody in town had a nickname,” Kirshenblatt writes. “Mine was Mayer tamez, Mayer July, because July was the hottest month of the year. Mayer tamez means Crazy Mayer. People get excited when it is hot, and I was an excitable kid.”

Excitable indeed. Kirshenblatt was someone with his finger in every pie — boundlessly curious, mischievous to the core, a teacher’s nightmare.

“I failed one grade of public school because I played hooky,” he writes. “I was too busy watching everything that was going on in town. I would spend hours observing the blacksmith and the tinsmith, the ropemaker and the cooper, the mills and the carp ponds, and the town square on market day, when all the peasants came to town.”

Given the fact that he’s a painter without formal training, it’s temping to call Kirshenblatt’s work “Outsider Art,” but the label, with its intimations of a life lived on society’s periphery (or maybe even in the loony bin), doesn’t really fit. If anything, he comes across as the consummate “insider.” “He has often said of himself that he is a doer, not a watcher,” his daughter writes, “he likes to be a participant and active observer, not a voyeur.” It is a quality that he took with him across the Atlantic. In his adult life, Kirshenblatt became an enthusiastic camper and sailor, a collector of antique clocks and a restorer of furniture.

This spirit of “active observation” is apparent throughout Kirshenblatt’s book. He explains not only what his townspeople did, but how they did it. Indeed, so keen is his understanding of the inner workings of things that the book at points reads like a “how to” manual. He offers illustrated sections on how to make a dreidel, a whistle, a shoe, a brush, even a shofar from a willow branch.

Which is not to say that Kirshenblatt lacks a storyteller’s gifts. Like all good raconteurs, he is drawn to the bizarre and unusual: those in town who specialized in disabling people so they wouldn’t be drafted (one good at giving hernias; another, a specialist in lopping off trigger fingers) or the wealthy Winona Ryder antecedent who stuffs a live fish down her fancy blouse. But alongside this, Kirshenblatt also displays an understanding of the rhythm and texture of everyday town life: its trades, its politics, its religious diversity, its sounds and its smells.

“They Called Me Mayer July” is a memoir, but this too is a label that fits imperfectly. Kirshenblatt’s telling cannot really be termed a “confession.” As his daughter again helpfully points out, Kirshenblatt’s narrative mode, “because it is more concerned with the palpable world than with interiority,” can best be understood as “extrospective.”

Kirshenblatt will often end his stories with a nice little kicker. Sometimes, these are mournful. Of his uncle Yankl — a handsome ladies’ man who lived in Warsaw — Kirshenblatt writes, he “disappeared like the others.” But more often than not, these little codas are more wry and whimsical than they are elegiac. Never one for organized study, Kirshenblatt suffered in a JCC painting class; the model, he said, moved too quickly from pose to pose.

“My daughter told me to forget about the classes and paint from memory,” he writes. “The teacher also encouraged me to work on my own.”

This article originally appeared in the ” border =0 alt=”Mayer Kirshenblatt painting”>

Cash in on Your Embarrassing B’nai Mitzvah Moment

JewishTVNetwork.com, which has launched its own user-generated channel, wants to celebrate by holding a contest to find the funniest, most embarrassing bar/bat mitzvah moments. Think “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” but with kippot.

Online users as well as comedians will judge the video clips submitted to jewishtvnetwork.com, and the winners will be announced on April 1.

Judges will select a grand-prize winner, who will receive $10,000, while two more (most viewed and most votes, selected by users) will each nab a $1,000 prize.

In order to submit videos, users need only fill out a form and upload the content, which can be in almost any format. JewishTVNetwork.com will then review and post the video on the site. Once posted, all visitors can view, vote and comment on the video.

— Staff Report

’30 Rock’ Fans Howling at ‘Werewolf Bar Mitzvah’

The Oct. 11 episode of the NBC sitcom “30 Rock” featured Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) doing a six-second Jewish-themed bit spoofing of the 1983 Michael Jackson horror-themed video for “Thriller.” Titled “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah,” Morgan, backed by several dancers dressed up as werewolves, sings lines like, “Boys becoming men. Men becoming wolves.”

Sounding more like a tongue-in-cheek ode to Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s 1962 novelty song “Monster Mash,” the sketch became a viral Internet darling in the run-up to Halloween.

However, NBC ordered the video removed from YouTube since the network is starting its own video-sharing service, Hulu.com.

In an effort to make nice with online fans, NBC has posted a full-length version of the song and is asking people to create their own “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” video. The main catch: You must sign up for myNBC to upload the video to the “My Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” group. The video will be removed if posted to any other video-sharing site.

To learn more and to download the song for your video, along with the required ’30 Rock’ bumper for the end, visit


— Staff Report

Bat Mitzvah Collects iPods for Troops

Oak Park student Kelsey Paule is collecting new and used Apple iPods in working condition and iTunes cards to send to American soldiers serving overseas. The 13-year-old started “Operation: Bring Music to a Soldier’s Ears” as a mitzvah project in advance of her bat mitzvah this month, according to The Acorn.

The portable media players will be sent soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as wounded soldiers recovering in stateside hospitals, through Pasadena-based nonprofit Soldiers’ Angels. Paule, who will record a message to each recipient, is hoping to collect 100 iPods by the end of the year.

To donate, call (818) 355-2570 or e-mail {encode=”ctlca24@gmail.com” title=”ctlca24@gmail.com”}. For more information about Soldiers’ Angels, visit http://soldiersangels.org.

— Staff Report

Big Bat Mitzvah Spender Arrested

A business owner who famously spent more than $8 million on his daughter’s bat mitzvah was arrested. David Brooks, 53, of Old Westbury, N.Y., the former chief executive of DHB Industries, was arrested Oct. 25 on charges that he bilked his company of millions. His publicly traded firm sold body armor to the U.S. military. Brooks has not been with the firm, which changed its name to Point Blank Solutions, for more than a year.

Brooks allegedly made $185 million in illicit profits after selling company shares using fraudulent claims. He also had reportedly funneled money meant for charity to maintain his lavish lifestyle. He faces up to 25 years in prison on each of eight counts. Rock stars ranging from Tom Petty to the Eagles, Aerosmith, 50 Cent and Kenny G performed at the lavish 2005 bat mitzvah of Brooks’ daughter, Elizabeth.

Brooks’ defense lawyer, Paul Shechtman, told the Newsday newspaper that he believes his client may be allowed out on bail if he agrees to be monitored by guards in detention at his mansion in Old Westbury.

— Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Two Israeli cliques— cool kids and Yeshiva students—somehow manage to ‘just get along’ in this hiphop music video from rappers Gad Elbaz and Alon de Loco in ‘Ha layla ze haz’man’—‘Tonight’s the Night’

Jews need to be ‘perfected,’ says right-wing darling Ann Coulter.

Not so fast, sings Leah ‘Obama Girl’ Kauffman in ‘Perfected: The Ann Coulter Song’—a YouTube hit music video

You can feel the ruach in this Limmud UK video

At the Limmud conference in England three years ago, Angeleno Judy Aronson attended a session on the Jews and the Beatles, where she sat next to the former neighbor of Beatle’s manager Brian Epstein. She tried to keep up with Romanians teaching Israeli folk dance, she learned a new way to understand the “Shema” and she discussed Chasidic stories with secular Israelis. After participating in a session on Hebrew poetry, the retired Jewish educator was inspired enough to use her academic Hebrew to write a poem of her own — for the very first time.

Now, Aronson is one of more than 80 volunteers who have jumped at the chance to bring Limmud to Los Angeles this February, giving Southern Californians their first taste of the independent, non-denominational, volunteer-run Jewish learning experience that has swept the Jewish world.

“I never saw people so excited about learning anywhere in my life, and I think that was because everyone felt personally addressed by this conference,” said Aronson, who has chaired major Jewish conferences in the past and will run family and children’s programming for LimmudLA. “It was a very diverse group of attendees, and I felt this tremendous energy for learning and for playing together.”

Limmud was founded 25 years ago in England, where each December more than 2,000 people gather for a five-day conference. In the last six or seven years, the Limmud model has spread around the world, with conferences in Russia, France, Canada, Turkey, Israel, Germany, Australia and New York.

The goal of LimmudLA, slated for Febrary during President’s Day Weekend at the Costa Mesa Hilton, is to bring together the broad spectrum of Los Angeles Jewry to experience the richness of Judaism through intense days packed with the arts, shared meals and conversations, and a quirky and diverse offering of text studies, lectures and workshops. At Limmud, all the teachers are participants, and many of the participants are teachers, so everyone learns from each other.

“It has no objective — not to make you leaders, not to make you more religious, not to make you act politically, not to make you give — other than for you to grow and learn as a Jew,” Holocaust scholar and self-described Limmud addict Deborah Lipstadt told The Jewish Journal.

Organizers are hoping that the non-hierarchical, unifying model will leave a lasting imprint on a community that is geographically and ideologically diffuse.

“I think this is going to be an amazing thing for L.A.,” said LimmudLA co-chair Linda Fife, an educator turned full-time volunteer. “What excites me most is that I don’t think there is any place else where we are coming together in cross-communal conversation.”

The conference, including hotel and all meals, will cost $500 per person (lower for kids), a price tag that covers about two-thirds of the actual costs of hotel, food and programming. Scholarships are available, because organizers don’t want cost to deter people. Attendance is capped at 600, to keep things manageable in the inaugural year.

Organizers are hoping the energy of the conference will counteract the leave-in-the-eighth-inning culture that often plagues Los Angeles events.

Programming from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m., with about 10 sessions offered simultaneously, might include a jam session led by Jewish singing icon Debbie Friedman; a cholent cook-off; yoga; a class in theology with a Reform lay person and another in Jewish history with an Orthodox woman; nature walks; text studies of everything from Genesis to the Talmud to kabbalah; and workshops in bibliodrama, Jewish songwriting or Judaism and astrology. Babysitting, kids programming and teen programming will give parents freedom to attend the sessions, and family programming will offer time with the kids.

But much of the program won’t be set for a while, since most of the presenters, artists and teachers come from the ranks of the conference goers. Online registration, which opens this week at www.LimmudLA.org, will ask for attendees to present sessions in their area of expertise — and that will determine most of the programming.

Some more well-known presenters — many of them fans who attend Limmuds all over the world — have already signed on: Rabbi Danny Landes of the Pardes Institute in Israel; Bible and law teacher Arna Fisher; Chabad philosopher Rabbi Manis Friedman; Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt; David Solomon, who has made his name by teaching things like “The Whole of Jewish History in One Hour”; and Jewish World Watch founder Janice Kaminer-Reznick.

But even professionals on the Jewish scholar circuit will not get paid, and will in fact have to pay their own way for the conference. Only a select few — a list that remains secret and is never the same two years in a row — get their travel and conference fee comped.

Many point to this militant egalitarianism, along with souped-up volunteerism, as the key to the sense of ownership that gives Limmud its aura.

“It’s fluid in a very real way,” Fife said. “The definition of what we are about is developed by the people sitting around the table, and they represent a whole conglomeration of the different segments of the community.”

Everything, from fundraising to catering to programming, is handled by volunteers, about 20 of whom are putting in second-job type hours. Only one paid professional, executive director Ruth Rotenberg, pulls the pieces together.

Despite the challenges volunteerism brings — conflicting visions, flakiness, lack of time — organizers say the sense of ownership and diversity of input is what makes Limmud work.

“One of the most meaningful conversations we had was about Shabbat and what Shabbat would look like,” Fife said. “You’re sitting around a table with people for whom the definition of Shabbat is very different from your own. We tend to stay within our own silo communities and throw around vocabulary and terminology and we think everyone understands it the same way we do — and that’s not true. This is wonderful opportunity to really understand others.”

After hours of discussion, the steering committee decided traditional halacha, Jewish law, would be observed in conference-wide venues, such as the communal Friday night dinner, but that smaller venues would have more freedom. Sessions or services with activities that might offend some but are key elements of celebrating Shabbat for others — such as the use of musical instruments or microphones — will be clearly identified, so people could opt out of those.

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