January 22, 2019

‘Intersection’ at the Breed Street Shul

The heavily Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights might seem an odd place to hold an art show that appeals to Jews, but for many native Angelenos who are familiar with the neighborhood’s history, it makes perfect sense. 

Boyle Heights, the onetime home of most of the city’s Jewry, has a long Yiddishe history — continued today at the Breed Street Shul. A pair of buildings in the center of Boyle Heights, the shul has been partially restored and now serves as a cultural center helping to bridge the gap between Jews and Latinos. Through June 8, it is holding its first art exhibition, “Intersection,” which organizers hope will bring in Jews from across Los Angeles to the neighborhood.

“I’ve been really wanting to do something with art,” Breed Street Shul executive director Sherry Marks said by phone about the exhibition. “We’ve done film, we’ve done books, we hope to be doing theater at some point, we’ve done lectures. … One thing that we have not done is art.”

“Intersection” is open noon to 5 p.m. daily, or by appointment.

The idea for the exhibition came about when Jewish philanthropist Annette Shapiro came across an artist named Mike Saijo, who had donated a painting of the Breed Street Shul for an auction at an event Shapiro attended. She told the folks at Breed Street about Saijo, and he and Marks soon connected.  

Saijo offered to donate a painting for the shul’s annual fundraiser, and the work was auctioned off for several thousand dollars. Marks thought holding a show at Breed Street would make a wonderful event, and Saijo agreed. He brought together artists Siegfried Knop and Lori Shocket, a father-daughter team, and Fabian Debora to create an exhibition that would explore the artists’ reactions to the shul and surrounding communities.

“I realized pretty quickly that I’m not an art curator,” said Marks, who hired her friend Michael Chagnon, an art historian, to curate the exhibition, which contains works that touch on everything from the internment of Japanese Boyle Heights residents to actual depictions of the shul itself.

At the first meeting about the show, Marks was confronted with a surprise by one of the artists. Debora, who grew up in the area and now works in a gang-member rehabilitation program, stood up to make an announcement.  

“I feel like I should let you know that this is not the first time I’ve been in the shul,” she recalls the artist saying before he pointed to photos of a graffiti-covered pre-renovation Breed Street Shul. “You see those photographs over there? That was my first artwork in the shul.”

Marks was amazed by Debora’s revelation.  “I just got chills,” she said. “Here’s this man who was a gang member, used drugs and turned his life around, and is now a nationally recognized artist who is coming back to this place to create pieces reflecting on the shul and the community.”

When Breed Street Shul first reopened, according to Marks, “anytime we did an event, it was always kind of a Sunday afternoon because we wanted to encourage people to come to Boyle Heights.” But this time the show’s opening was May 31, a Saturday night.  

“There’s a lot of negative perception about Boyle Heights. … We didn’t want people not to come,” Marks said.

However, now that people have come to the neighborhood for other events, she’s hopeful they see the neighborhood as more inviting. She also thinks that, for many young Jews living in Echo Park and Silver Lake, the Eastside isn’t such a no-man’s land.  

“We’re anxious to have people come and enjoy the work,” Marks said. “Now that we have a building that’s usable and that we can actually do programming in … we’re very excited about bringing new things to the neighborhood and being a gathering place.

“Underneath all that is our desire to be promoting dialogue and relationship between Jews and Latinos.”

“Intersection” is open through June 8 at the Breed Street Shul, 247 North Breed St. The Shul will be open from noon-5 p.m. every day for showings, which also are available by appointment. For more information, call (323) 881-4850.