It's a Friday night and an overflow crowd is jammed into the penthouse of the former May Co. store on Wilshire Boulevard -- now Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) West -- to hear a conversation between French journalist and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy and The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik.
Presiding over this abundance of intelligence is Paul Holdengräber, the founder and director of LACMA's Institute for Art and Cultures (IAC). Holdengräber is erudite, worldly, self-deprecating and all the more charming for being so, equal parts Joel Grey in "Cabaret," and Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca."
The Oslo agreement was the first agreement ever signed between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), intended to put an end to the national struggle that is the heart of the larger Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Olso agreement was the natural continuation of the framework agreements signed at the 1978 Camp David summit between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, which also provided the basis for the 1991 Madrid Conference.
Khaled Abou El Fadl, a professor of Islamic law at UCLA, estimates that two years ago he received between 30 and 40 requests from around the country to participate in interfaith dialogues between Jews and Muslims.
Last year he received just one.
"They just vanished," he said during an interview. "Such invitations are a barometer of the level of dialogue, though my experience may not be representative because of my own idiosyncrasies."
"The Syringa Tree," which won the 2001 Obie Award for best play and premieres in Los Angeles this week, might be the first theatrical work to deal with the complicated and ambiguous relations between Jews and blacks in South Africa. A solo performance written and acted by Pamela Gien, it is a partly fictionalized -- though mostly factual -- account of a half-Jewish, half-English child in Johannesburg during apartheid. Created by Gien in a Santa Monica acting class in 1996, the play was inspired by the brutal murder of Gien's grandfather when she was a child.