One of the advantages of living in Los Angeles, as compared to, say, Lost Springs, Wyoming (pop. 1), is in meeting some of the interesting visitors passing through.
During a recent week, for instance, I met up with Lech Walesa, the legendary leader of the Solidarity movement, which broke Poland’s communist regime in the 1980s.
The current occasion at the Museum of Tolerance was a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the founding of Solidarity, hosted by the Polish Film Institute.
It featured the role of rock ‘n roll bands as the weapon of youthful rebels against the heavy-handed regimes of the Soviet bloc, and, in a new incarnation, against the current Cuban leadership.
The Cuban dissidents were represented by Gorki Aguila, leader of the punk rock band Porno Para Ricardo, who spoke only Spanish. The other guests, Jacek Borcuch, director of the Polish Oscar entry “All That I Love,” as well as Walesa, spoke only Polish.
The translators tried valiantly to keep up, but occasionally the messages got a bit confusing..
In any case, the real show was the 67-year old Walesa, voluble, humorous, and impossible to interrupt.
Recounting the electoral triumph of Solidarity and then the fall of the Berlin Wall, Walesa ruminated, “The victory came as a surprise to all of us. It was a victory not of power, but of the spirit and values within us.”
A second visitor was Prof. Hana Wirth-Nesher of Tel Aviv University, who is a kind of intellectual liaison, or translator, between the Jewish lifestyles in Israel and in America, and, on a second level, between Yiddish and English-language literature.
More formally, the vivacious academician teaches in TAU’s English and American Studies department, and holds the chair on the Study of the Jewish Experience in the United States.
Hosted in a private Beverly Hills home by the West Coast regional chapter of American Friends of Tel Aviv University, and introduced by executive director Rosalie Lurie, the visitor traced the influence of the Yiddish “voice” in Jewish-American literature over three generations.
The immigrant generation arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, prominently among them Abraham Cahan, the renowned editor of the Yiddish “Forward.”
In his book, “The Rise of David Levinsky,” the title character observed that “English is the language of people afflicted with defective organs of speech.”
The second generation, born in America but raised in Yiddish-speaking homes, produced the likes of Henry Roth, Grace Paley, Saul Bellow and Cynthia Ozick.
Finally, the contemporary third generation, writing in English but perpetuating Yiddish inflections and idioms, include such luminaries as Art Spiegelman, Daniel Mendelsohn, Philip Roth and Michael Chabon.
To round out the week, I ran into former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who came to the Peninsula Hotel to back his old pal Steve Soboroff in boosting the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel.
Soboroff, who worked with Peter Ueberroth on the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, sees no reason why the Maccabiah can’t emulate the LA Olympics as a financial and media success, in addition to presenting a different face of Israel than found in the usual headlines.
For last year’s Maccabiah, Soboroff founded the Committee of 18, consisting of affluent donors, who raised a total of $1.8 million to enable teams from smaller and poorer Jewish communities to participate.
One of the boosters was Riordan, who underwrote the chess competition. (Where but in the “Jewish Olympics” could you win a gold medal by checkmating your opponent.)
Soboroff has now expanded his support team to the Committee of 36, plus an active youth group, and expects to do even better in supporting the next Maccabiah.