Milken Student’s Art Installation, The Guardians Celebrate LA Jewish Health

Notable people and events in the Jewish LA community.
May 30, 2024
Milken eight-grade student Julia Refoua (right) and her art teacher Mimi Klabon pose with her recently unveiled art installation, on display at Milken’s upper campus. Photo by Ryan Torok

Julia Refoua, an eighth-grade student at Milken Community School, has created an art installation inspired by the little-known story of Irena Sendler, a Polish nurse and social worker during World War II who saved 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto. 

Julia designed the art piece – featuring 2,500 jars, each painted a translucent red, orange and yellow, with a LED candle floating in water inside – as part of her coursework for her Milken art class and as her official submission to the Lowell Milken “Unsung Heroes” competition.

Milken eight-grade student Julia Refoua poses with her recently unveiled art installation, on display at Milken’s upper campus. Photo by Ryan Torok

The jars are arranged to form a large Star of David, which encircles the quote, “If you see someone drowning you must jump in to save them, whether you can swim or not.” These were works reportedly spoken to Sendler by her father when she was just seven years old.

Julia created the piece in collaboration with her art teacher, Mimi Klabon. It was on display at Milken, greeting visitors to the school as they descended the outdoor stairs at the upper campus’ front entrance, from May 22-28. Over the course of those days, Julia’s classmates were encouraged to take a jar, place a candle inside and add it to the ever-growing red, orange and yellow Magen David – which Julia said was purposely colored to resemble a sunrise. The sunrise, she said, symbolized the new beginning each rescued child was given thanks to Sendler’s courageous efforts during the war.

“This was a piece not just for me to get involved with but for everyone to get involved,” the 14-year-old Milken student told the Journal. 

During the process of making the piece, Klabon exposed Julia to iconic works including Israeli sculptor Menashe Kadishman’s “Fallen Leaves,” an installation featuring 10,000 faces with open mouths cut from heavy iron plates, and Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s “Obliteration Room,” an interactive experience that begins as a sparse, white space and is decorated over time by colorful stickers. Klabon also introduced Julia to artwork by Yoko Ono.

As Klabon anticipated, Julia absorbed these influences when creating her own installation.

“She’s a brilliant and smart kid,” Klabon said. “This is a massive undertaking.”

Julia also became familiar with Sendler’s amazing story. During the war, Sendler kept lists of the real names of the Jewish children she saved in jars that she then buried in a garden. Years after the war, in 1965, she was honored by Israel’s Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. She died in 2008 at age 98. 

From left: Guardians Co-Chairs Gideon Orion and Jeff Schlesinger, honorees Fred Leeds and Ben Leeds, Chair Tony Berns, Guardians President Anthony Behar and Co-Chair Brian Good. Courtesy of The Guardians of LA Jewish Health

On May 9, at the Fairmont Century Plaza, The Guardians—a support group of Los Angeles Jewish Health—honored Ben Leeds and Fred Leeds at their 2024 Real Estate Dinner. The nearly 700 guests in attendance had an unforgettable fun-filled night, while breaking The Guardians’ fundraising records.

 For more than 85 years, The Guardians have supported the thousands of seniors cared for by Los Angeles Jewish Health, formerly known as the Los Angeles Jewish Home, while simultaneously building personal and professional relationships through philanthropic endeavors. In addition to real estate dinners, Guardians events include annual golf and poker tournaments, comedy nights, networking speaker series and more. For further information, call (310) 479-2468 or email michael@laguardians.org.

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