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Jewish Journal

Up Front

by Rob Eshman

May 15, 1997 | 8:00 pm

Go into any synagogue, in any part of this town, and you will find them -- people whose courageous stories of survival during the Holocaust could each be the subject of a compelling movie or book. The Holocaust Remembrance Project of North Hollywood's Temple Beth Hillel more than proved this point. Its new book, "Remembrance and Reflection," contains the stories of 20 survivors, all of whom have been affiliated with the temple.

The project, co-chaired by survivor Tina Jaffe, combined survivors' interviews and memoirs with poems, drawings, essays, photos and short stories by other temple members who have been touched by the survivors' stories.

And who wouldn't be? There's Jaffe herself, who survived temperatures of 20 below zero in Siberian work camps, and Ben Kamm, whose partisan group launched a fearless attack on German labor camps, and Phyllis Fields, who narrowly escaped death several times while wandering eastern Poland alone, disguised as a Catholic girl. It's a story as chilling as "The Painted Bird," and it's all true.

Every story in this volume begs to be told and retold. True, every temple has its stories, but these are thoughtfully, and powerfully, committed to paper. Call (818) 763-9148 for your copy. n


VBS Converts on the Bimah


Some 40 Valley Beth Shalom congregants who have converted to Judaism will participate in Friday-evening services, on May 23, at the Conservative congregation in Encino.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis (pictured at right) said that some of the Jews-by-choice will participate as vocalists, others as readers, and five or six will relate their "journeys to Judaism" -- including both positive and negative receptions by born Jews.

Schulweis recently received international attention with a proposal that Jews actively seek converts among interested and unchurched non-Jews.

During his sermon, which will take the biblical injunction "to love the stranger in your midst" as its theme, Schulweis will propose a mentor project "to befriend searchers" and a course to be taught by Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis.

The community is invited to the services. For information, call (818) 788-6000, ext. 655, or visit the synagogue's web site at www. VBS.org. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor


Sugihara: The Movie

His interest sparked by a story he heard on national public radio a few years back, paralegal and aspiring playwright Tim Toyama decided to write a one-act piece about the rescue efforts of World War II-era diplomat Chiune Sugihara (often described as the "Japanese Schindler"). Toyama's "Visas and Virtue" was received warmly by Los Angeles' Jewish and Japanese-American communities when it was given a series of modest stage productions last year. Soon after the play's debut, the playwright and his colleagues formed Cedar Grove Productions and began to raise money to translate the drama into a short film.

Since then, Up Front has followed the fortunes of Toyama and company. Unlike the pipe dreams of many aspiring filmmakers, theirs became a reality. The Sugihara cast and crew shot the movie on a bare-bones budget, using Los Feliz as a stand-in for the Kovno consulate post. Now, six months later, moviegoers will get a chance to see "Visas and Virtue." During the last two weekends in May, the 26-minute, 35mm short will play at Laemmle's Sunset 5 Theatres in West Hollywood.

Sugihara's story makes for compelling drama. From his post in Lithuania, after Hitler's 1939 invasion of Poland, the Japanese consul issued thousands of life-saving transit visas to desperate Jewish refugees. While his actions angered his Japanese superiors and cost him his diplomatic credentials, Sugihara remained a hero to those he saved. Ultimately, he was honored as a Righteous Among Nations by the State of Israel.

"Visas and Virtue" director and lead actor Chris Tashima said that Cedar Grove hopes to distribute the film to educational institutions with an accompanying study guide. In the meantime, it has begun making the rounds of film festivals, recently winning first place at the USA Film Festival in Dallas. Along with its two-weekend run at Laemmle's, "Visas" can also be seen during Los Angeles' Asian Pacific Film and Video Festival, which is now in progress.

For screening times at Laemmle's Sunset 5, call (213) 848-3500. For other information about the film, contact Cedar Grove Productions at (213) 668-1018 or by e-mail at tmt@tmsp.com. -- Diane Arieff Zaga, Arts Editor


Parent Pleasing

If you're a Jewish parent, get your hands on a copy of "It's Apparent." One day, it arrived in Up Front's mailbox, out of the blue. Never before published, and perhaps never again, the 15-page newsletter is stuffed with wise and thoughtful information on raising a Jewish child. The text is concise, the format clear, the pictures lots better than average. In short, this is the sort of Jewish-education publication that the community needs on a regular basis.

Betty Shavinsky Zeisl and the people at the Bureau of Jewish Education deserve the credit for "It's Apparent." Zeisl held on to the idea for 20 years before the opportunity to put out the paper presented itself. "We service Jewish schools," said Zeisl, "but we always wanted to give parents a product directly."

Curling up with our copy, Up Front found articles such as "Staging Your Child's Moral Development," "Second Language, Smarter Kids," "How Children Understand God," and "Visiting the Sick and Healthy Child Development." The last argues that visiting the sick is a healthy way to teach children the value of loving and caring relationships. We're sold.

"These are the kind of articles I don't find in Parent magazine or a temple newsletter," said Zeisl. She hopes that the publication, of which about 30,000 were printed to mark the 60th anniversary of the BJE, will become a quarterly. In Up Front's fantasy world, "It's Apparent" would be a monthly, folded into your very own copy of the paper you're reading. Until then, call the BJE at (213) 852-6576 for your copy.


Where You'll Find Up Front


Two upcoming concerts should shoot to the top of your "Must See" list. On Tuesday, May 27, at 8 p.m., the Jerusalem Jazz Band will perform in its only Southern California appearance, at the Veterans Wadsworth Theatre in West Los Angeles. The internationally acclaimed band, with its distinct Dixieland-Freilich sound, will perform in a benefit for the Camp Habonim Dror scholarship fund for needy youths. Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, an alumnus of Habonim Dror, chairs the event. Call (213) 655-6576 for information and tickets.

Rest two days, and then head back to the Wadsworth to hear David Broza perform in a special concert celebrating Israeli Independence Day. Presented by My Jewish Discovery Place and UCLA Hillel, the May 29, 7:30 p.m. concert will feature one of Israel's greatest singer/songwriters. Broza has also carved out a career in the United States with a strong repertoire of English-language songs. Having grown up in Spain, Israel and England, Broza now lives in New Jersey. Think of him as combining the best of flamenco, Israeli folk rock and Springsteen. (We're not sure what he gets from England. Then again, he is very polite in person.) This is the Israeli music concert of the year. See you there. Call (213) 857-0036, ext. 2242, for information.



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