A week after Israel's birthday, attention shifted to itchy beards. The seven-week counting of the Omer, which marks the period from Pesach to Shavuot, represents the time between the promise of freedom (Exodus) and being given the means to live with dignity (Torah). Treated as a period of mourning, the Omer has its prohibitions -- no weddings, no live music, no haircuts, no partying (never mind that we all broke this one to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut) -- but on the 33rd day, Lag B'Omer, which celebrates the spiritual gifts of Rabbi Akiva and the mystical secrets espoused by his student, Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yohai, the prohibitions are lifted.
Tradition brought L.A. Jews to Dockweiler Beach for celebratory revelry. The customary bonfires blazed in the afterglow of the West Coast sunset, and Chasidic, hippie, queer and tree-hugging Jews gathered for buffet barbecues, impromptu drumming and fire-roasted marshmallows. Spread across the cold, damp sand Nashuva, JConnectLA, Aish HaTorah, Bais Bezalel, Jqueer and COEJL all demonstrated that freedom is not limited to putative Jews practicing their customs in the open, public air, but that real dignity is felt when different kinds of Jews can celebrate their freedom side by side.
Israeli Choreographers Shine at UCLA
Much of it was dark, even morose. Many dances were heavy with violence, bitterness, resentment and anger. The movements were sharp and jarring. And then the mood lightened, and the dancers frolicked across the stage with a brighter palette of steps.
The performances featured in "Bridge: Choreographic Dialogues" at UCLA's Glorya Kaufman Dance Theater on May 4 were choreographed by four of Israel's most creative and innovative dance minds -- Idan Cohen, Niv Sheinfeld, Ronit Ziv and Barak Marshall -- and reflected the complex Israeli culture that inspires their work.
Aside from Marshall, who lives in Los Angeles, the choreographers were invited for a two-week residency at the UCLA department of world arts and cultures, part of a performing arts exchange program that sent three UCLA choreographers to Tel Aviv last summer.
Working with the dancers at UCLA, the four choreographers put on a remarkable display of Israeli talent, exploring themes of infidelity, sexual harassment, loneliness, tradition, community and celebration with music that varied from the Balkan Beat Box to traditional Romanian to a piece by Frederic Chopin.
Marshall's lively works lifted the audience out of the pensive gloom inspired by the intensity of the earlier works. With his dark curls bouncing, Marshall led the dancers in merry ethnic dances, such as "Emma Goldman's Wedding" and "Aunt Leah," which featured dramatic monologues by the choreographer's mother, Margalit Oved, dressed in traditional Yemenite garb. Oved was a star in Israel's Inbal performance troupe and has taught dance at UCLA.
After the performance, the crowd spilled into the outdoor courtyard, where Israeli food and Israeli folk dancing by David Dassa awaited them. With the addition of fried eggplants, Prigat mango juice and a "Turkish Kiss" (a line dance Dassa taught), the afternoon was not just merely entertaining, it was chaval al ha'zman (Hebrew slang for awesome).
-- Dikla Kadosh, Contributing Writer
Scene and Heard
Andres Turner is part of a new generation that values practicing socially responsible medicine. The University of Pittsburgh medical student and alumni of Milken Community High School was one of only 12 students awarded a $5,000 mentoring scholarship from Kaiser Permanente. The program, which includes a four- to six-week clinical training session, is devoted to caring for Southern California's underserved communities, already a dedicated interest of Turner's, who served as a student coordinator for Pittsburgh's only Spanish-speaking free clinic.
University Receives Special-Needs Education Endowment
American Jewish University received a seminal endowment from Marilyn and Stan Ross to promote special-needs education and establish a scholarship fund to benefit special-needs students. Ross is chair of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate, where he and his wife have devoted themselves to the development of minority urban neighborhoods nationwide.
Judea Pearl in Company of Einstein, Edison, Hawking
UCLA professor Judea Pearl (and JewishJournal.com contributor) is the 2008 winner of Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computers and Cognitive Science, a special award of Philadelphia's Franklin Institute
UCLA computer science professor Judea Pearl was recently honored by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia with one of the oldest and most prestigious American scientific awards, the Benjamin Franklin Medal, for his path-breaking research in the cognitive sciences. According to the citation, Pearl, by laying the foundation for solving certain difficult problems in artificial intelligence, "has changed the face of computer science."
The Franklin Institute and medal were established in 1824, and past recipients have included Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.
Pearl is the author of three fundamental books on artificial intelligence, a frequent columnist for The Jewish Journal and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor