The month of Elul is all about reflection. It's an opportunity to look back and discover more about ourselves, a chance to recognize how we were transformed by moments and people. Elul is like a spiritual film review, where the elements of our life story are analyzed and our behavior within the frame is pondered and critiqued.
Reflecting on this past summer, I realize I wrote a whole load of critiques. Memorable for being the summer that spawned The Calendar Girls' blog on The Journal's Web site, my first full season in Los Angeles also entailed a bed-rattling earthquake, a summer without central air and 32 cultural events that were pondered, pontificated on and penned. Fifty-five blog posts later, you can assume two things: my collaborator, Dikla Kadosh, and I did not go on vacation, and it's time to cut the criticism and celebrate the cream of the crop.
In the spirit of the New Year (and Madonna's current frolic through Israel), I'm calling for a holiday -- a celebration -- Calendar Girls' style. Here are excerpts from our best-of-summer picks -- and if you happen to disagree, get thee to the blog and tell us!
Israeli Folk Dancing
David Dassa's innovative approach to a traditional art mixes hip, modern melodies with a side-stepping folk funk. It's fresh, fun and a full-body workout that rivals yoga:
"The thing about Israeli dance is, you have to know the steps.... It looks easy, flowing and simple, but it sounds like this: TO-THE-MU-SIC, sway to-your-right, shuffle-step, pivot turn, and walk 2-3-4, now spin-to-the-outskirts and clap, clap, clap, switch-your-dance-partner. Spin to your neighbor! ... Now, cha-cha! Cha-cha!"
The sexy, Israeli singing sensation rocked the roof off American Jewish University's Gindi Auditorium. In an intimate setting of loyal, learned fans Rita's rendition of "Jerusalem of Gold" was hauntingly personal:
"The audience ... knew every word to every song she sang. They not only sang along, they danced in the aisles, called out requests, reached out to touch her as she strolled through the auditorium, and stood clapping and roaring for several minutes, begging for more even after Rita and her 8-piece ensemble concluded their encore. The adoration was palpable."
Los Angeles International Film Festival
This is where Hollywood industry meets international artistry and indie eccentricity. With a remarkable array of film genres, styles and scene-stealing parties, this fest is worth the wad of cash that gets you an all-access fastpass. 2007 faves:
"The Champagne Spy" about "an Israeli Mossad agent ... living a lavish double life as a wealthy ex-Nazi horse breeder," and "Constantine's Sword," in which "former Catholic priest James Carroll traces the confluence of religion, politics and violence from Jesus' crucifixion to the present day."
Rabbi Naomi Levy's inclusive and intimate community makes for a soulful monthly Shabbat service that is musical, meditative and spiritually magical:
"Set inside the barn-like atmosphere of Westwood Hills Church ... a 12-part band is flanked by an understated but engaging leader and a spiritually hungry crowd packs the wooden pews. Rabbi Naomi and her band invite the community 'to return' ... to nourish their souls in release, to stand and sing away the chaos of life and welcome the blessing of Shabbat."
A provocative play layered with the complexities of the human experience, this dramatic work astounded, despite a sparse audience of seven:
"Full of emotion and wit and thought-provoking content. It was full of intensity and complexity. It was full of dialogue. And subject matter: modern art, love, identity, Judaism, wealth, marriage."
The captivating Emma Forrest read a vivid tale of the heartbreak that drove her into the arms of a seductive and consoling tattoo artist. Her first book as editor contains essays written by women reflecting on the intimate relationships they have with their beauticians:
"Emma Forrest read her pretty prose to a small crowd surrounded by books; her cadence flushed with a crisp English accent, her voice so soft it alluded to the vulnerability of a woman with a secret."
Friday Night Live
A group of foreign scholars visiting Los Angeles to study religious pluralism in America imbued one musical Shabbat service with a spiritual solemnity that unified multiple nationalities, ethnicities and religions:
"Until Friday, I had never recited the Shema next to a man wearing a kufi atop his head.... All eyes were on the visitors and I wondered how they were feeling as they experienced this lively, musical romp through the Sabbath. I couldn't help but think: If this is the first or last time they ever set foot in a synagogue ... what will they think about how we pray?"
Deenna Goodman and Dov Rosenblatt
These uber-talented musicians are reinvigorating rock and roll. With dreams to return modern music performance to the spirited collaborative of road-life and festival gigs, and if their talent is any indication, they'll achieve this once-real fantasy:
"Sporting workman's pants and a camel-colored beret ... [Dov] sang sweet songs with his honey voice, pure and delicate, while his bandmate 'C' Lanzbom ripped out aching riffs on the electric.... Deena unleashed the full force of her vocal coloratura -- and this gal makes Aretha Franklin sound timid. Her voice is this explosive, sultry sensation and her Joplin-styled performance is the perfect complement."