Posted by Danielle Berrin
How does the L.A. Jewish experience distinguish itself from the Jewish communities of New York, Chicago and Cleveland? Why did Los Angeles attract one of the most diverse Jewish migrations in history and how did that ethnic blend contribute to the city we know today? The Autry National Center is searching for these answers, and enlisting the support of L.A.‘s Jewish community to find them.
Their first effort, “The Stuff of Memories” event (Sunday, June 17), invited the community to bring forth relics of their Jewish past. Museum scholars presume the history they seek exists within artifacts sitting in people’s homes, so they asked L.A.‘s Jews to share their family heirlooms, photographs, historical documents and Judaica. They also provided a team of independent appraisers to valuate objects and infer their provenance. To stimulate community dialogue, the event included an educational film screening and panel discussion. But despite the effort, Jewish bodies were scarce and only a scant 20 toted their memorabilia.
Did Father’s Day deter the crowd? Was it made clear that Jewish descendents could unlock their history hidden in homebound artifacts?
In partnership with UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies, the aim to unveil Los Angeles Jewish history will result in a museum exhibition slated to open in 2011. The goal of this research is to re-write the history of Los Angeles Jewry to include the impact of ethnic diversity on community development during the 19th and 20th centuries. Scholars are focusing their efforts on the distinction between the Persian Jewish experience and that of Ashkenazi groups from Eastern Europe.
Before arriving at the Autry, I imagined the stories that would surface through objects: the golden candlesticks from Russia that survived pogroms and emigrated to America where they are lit every Shabbos by great, great grandchildren; or the heirloom kiddush cup, made in Israel, sipped during the Six Day War and a powerful reminder of what the fight is for. But the conjured images inspired by the event were more revealing than the bits of ephemera, family photographs and legal documents that turned out.
The appraisers noted a few exceptions. They identified an urn-shaped brass samovar used to heat water that probably derives from Russia or the Slavic nations. A pair of miniature wood carvings depicting a religious couple were also presented. Crafted by a European artist who immigrated to the U.S., they were sold at the 1939 World’s Fair when someone’s grandparents bought them. A photograph taken in 1911 portrays a family standing in front of their West Adams wooden-frame house, and posing next to their cow - the implication is of a kosher household.
Another highlight of the program was when Ellie Kahn, oral historian and filmmaker, presented her documentary, “Meet Me at Brooklyn & Soto: Celebrating the Jewish Community of East Los Angeles.” This in-depth portrait of the Boyle Heights Jewish neighborhood is an invaluable account of a community that thrived for over a century. Thanks to the filmmakers, it is now a well documented history.
It is no secret that Los Angeles evolved into an epicenter of storytelling, and no coincidence that Jews are widely credited with creating Hollywood. So why are we not bursting to tell our own stories? This exhibit is not about the distant, biblical narratives of Abraham or Moses, but about the recent history of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents. Its creation is an opportunity to preserve Jewish heritage and ensure that our precious stories are not lost; our children will know where they come from.
I went to the Autry to discover the ancient secrets to a pair of candlesticks, but what I found in their absence was the urgency to re-discover a whole world.
To share your memories with The Autry National Center, please call (323) 667-2000 or the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies at (310) 825-5387.
8.18.08 at 2:26 pm | Hollywood producer/talent manager Joan Hyler. . .
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6.24.08 at 11:18 am | A clandestine love affair at a girls seminary. . .
June 19, 2007 | 3:32 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Gathering in a makeshift sanctuary inside the auditorium of the Westside JCC, IKAR’s holy place contains no bimah, no stage. Rather, the young community encircles a small wooden ark and envelops an empty space. Facing each other, they stretch their necks to look at their leaders: a petite and pedagogic rabbi, an assured rabbinic intern, an emotive cantor and accompanying vocalists and drummers. The congregants project their prayers into the open space, filling it with the electricity sparked by their sways. With emphasis on prayer, learning and healing, the IKAR community congregates with warmth and honesty.
On Friday, IKAR’s Shabbat b’Yahad drew 100 participants to a traditional worship service with davening. Led by Rabbi Sharon Brous, a former fellow at B’nai Jeshurun in New York, who emphasizes ethereal meditation and eschews mechanical prayer, IKAR intimately engages with the text through music, movement and reflection. The rabbi fosters this approach through gentle guidance and by example. She provides Talmudic anecdotes and quotes Jewish rabbis and scholars, elucidating context for each week’s service. In sharing personal tales or speaking about Israel, she links ancient texts with contemporary issues and encourages creative davening. If you can’t read Hebrew, a full transliteration booklet is provided; if you can’t say the prayers, dance to them.
IKAR’s website declares, “Our community stands at the intersection of spirituality and social justice, a mandate that is integrated into everything we do.” Though their mission is bold, IKAR succeeds as an understated and open community, embracing its Hebrew name, meaning “essence,” “core” or “root.”
When prayer is silent, the empty space in the middle of the community is consistently filled with IKAR’s essence: giggling little girls play ring-around-the-rosy, men and women intertwine in a vibrant dance of the hora, a newborn baby receives her Hebrew name and a woman sings a song for Jerusalem with melancholy and tenderness. Soon, the community joins its voice in shared longing for the land. From one holy place to another, the text is a starting point for a prayer exemplified in physical and emotional expression.
Celebrate Shabbat with IKAR the 1st (6:45pm) and 3rd (6:15pm) Friday of each month and study Torah (9:15am) the 2nd and 4th Saturday mornings. All programs take place at the Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, except the 1st Friday of the month at Roxbury Park, 471 S. Roxbury Drive, Beverly Hills.
June 18, 2007 | 2:12 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
After publishing his ninth book, Kirk Douglas ascended the stage at Sinai Temple on Thursday, June 14 and kicked back for some casual conversation with Rabbbi David Wolpe, his spiritual mentor and friend. The most engaging aspect of this evening was Douglas’s charisma and humor, so we decided to reiterate the wisdom of a timeless movie star and an admirable man. Below are direct quotes from the discussion and following that, some poignant excerpts from his book, “Let’s Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving and Learning.”
“I like being old because when you make a mistake, people forgive you. They say ‘he’s 90 for goodness sake!’”
“It is so important for us as Americans to preserve the land of Israel, which is in dire need of our help. We must do everything we can to help Israel - in doing that, we demonstrate our priorities as Jews.”
On his stroke:
“For a guy who can’t talk, I talk a lot!”
“What I learned from my stroke is that we take so much for granted in life—speech—when you have something to say, you say it. You don’t think about your teeth, tongue and lips. I work out everyday, not to take my physical being for granted. My stroke taught me how to deal with despair. The only way to get through is to think about others. Suicide is selfish because you’re not thinking of what you’re leaving behind, you’re only thinking of yourself. My stroke was the most important thing that’s happened to me.”
On what he’d say to G-d:
“Thank you. You’ve been very good to me.”
An anecdote by Rabbi Wolpe:
“A while back you told me you felt guilty using your stroke to get people to pay attention to you, and I said, people use different things to get noticed - when you were younger, you used your looks, but you said, ‘I never thought I was good looking,’ and I said, ‘Well you used charm’ and you said, ‘Oh I always knew I was charming.’”
Excerpts from his book:
An actor lives many lives. I have been a cowboy, a sailor, a soldier, a policeman, and an artist. You just go from one life to another. As I grow older I have less desire to erase myself and create another character. I have done that for so many years and with so many characters. I don’t want to erase myself now. I want to delve within myself and see what I find.
...When my father was dying I went to visit him, stayed a short time, and told him I had to go. When he asked me to stay longer, I answered, “Pa, you had your kids and now I have mine. Michael and Joel are waiting for me in New York.” I started to leave, and these were the last words I heard my father mutter, “I will never see you again.”...I left. I was cruel. I was trying to hurt him because he never gave me a pat on the back. I mean, I wanted him to recognize me—to be proud of me. I wanted him to love me.
This book is for…my grandchildren. I want them to know more about Pappy. I want them to know how I see things at this point in my life—maybe it will help them avoid the mistakes I made. I love all of you very much. I won’t be around when most of you reach maturity, but I hope you will find a belief in a higher power that will lead you to be good citizens and help others.
How can we apologize for these awful crimes we inflicted [American slavery]? Our apology would best be expressed by trying to solve the problems that exist in Africa now—genocide, poverty, rape, starvation, and corruption…The apology should be a gigantic movement of money, food, personnel, and the military. It should be comparable to the Marshall plan at the end of World War II. At that time, the world looked approvingly upon our country because we showed concern for others.
Why have I gotten so many reprieves from my inevitable end? Why do so many good people die young and so many bad people live to a ripe old age? No one knows, but I feel that every brush I had with death changed me and made me a better person. I began to think less about myself and more about other people. If I survive a couple more near-death experiences, I might become a very good guy.
June 15, 2007 | 12:26 am
Posted by Dikla Kadosh
Laughter is the secret to a good marriage, goes the saying.
Apparently, it’s the secret to a good fundraiser too. Hillel 818, a newly formed partnership between the Pierce and Valley Colleges Hillel and the CSUN Hillel, raised about $10,000 at Comedy Night on Tuesday at the Laugh Factory. Jamie Masada, the owner of the Sunset comedy club and a fellow Jew, donated the 8-10 p.m. time slot for the benefit. The waitresses were also generous enough to donate their time. Hillel organizers estimated that 150 people paid between $50-$150 to hear jokes about J-Date, obsessive mothers and therapy.
Wendy Liebman, a petite 40-something, was the only female comedian of the night. Her subtle style, in my opinion, was the most engaging. “I have separation anxiety,” she said. “So I can’t do laundry.” Everyone laughed except for a male college student sitting in the front row to the left of the stage. “You didn’t get it huh?” Liebman asked him. “I don’t do laundry,” he replied. “You have to separate the clothes,” she explained patiently. The audience laughed.
The Hillel 818 marriage is off to a good start.
Host Louis Katz indicated he’s not into marriage. In fact, he prefers dating all kinds of women. His refusal to limit himself to Jews only incurs the dismay of his parents, of course. “My parents give me grief about who I date. They say, ‘if you don’t marry a Jew and have Jewish children than the race will die out and Hitler will have won!’ But I say - Hitler’s dead! I’m alive and f(expletive)ing shiksas regularly - WHO won?!”
Marriage, children and ethnicity provided most of the material for the evening. Beneath the funniness, assumptions appear responsible for how differences are perceived: an Asian comic complained that most people associate his face with orange chicken; an African-American labeled the LAPD “racist” and said he’s seen white cops pull over on-duty black cops; another said he heard about the Hillel fundraiser and wondered, ‘The Jews need more money?!’; Katz called hippies “filthy and smelly,” Bay-area residents “ugly” and Los Angeles inhabitants “shallow and superficial.”
As sayings go, it’s a good thing we are what we eat, and not what we say.
June 13, 2007 | 5:44 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
There is a growing tradition of musical Shabbat services in the Los Angeles area, but the most popular precursor to them all is Sinai Temple‘s Friday Night Live. Combining Craig Taubman‘s infectious and emotive Jewish music with Rabbi David Wolpe‘s insightful commentary, the second Friday of every month at Sinai is the Shabbat celebration of choice for nearly 1,500 Los Angeles Jews.
This past week, the vocals of the Beit Teshuva choir added vibrato and solemnity to the evening, a delightful complement to the performative liveliness of Taubman’s band, and resonating with more devout members of the congregation. Some attendees find FNL overly-theatrical, evoking the atmosphere of a rock-concert and not a worship service. A soulful Taubman frequently orchestrates musical sequences as a conductor would, using impassioned gestures to manipulate the tone and tempo of each song, but to startling spiritual effect. The applause that erupts seems to me, a genuine expression of passionate piety and not commendation of an act. Often in musical forms of worship, the senses are overwhelmed; the eyes and ears must absorb, the voice and body must react and offer their outpour. What results is a kind of visceral transcendence. This is not for the conservative of soul - this is for those who want to act! To dance! To sing!
Halfway through the service, Rabbi Wolpe strolls into the aisles and envelops the crowd with his wisdom-of-the-week. The mayhem of Paris Hilton’s plight that day obligated him to address the storm that swept the city as Hilton was released and re-incarcerated. With razor-sharp intellect and a smile, he taught the congregation about depth: he said we spend so much time focusing on the way we appear to others; he suggested the necessity of cultivating “inner resources” beneath our glossy surfaces; he warned that life will deal us blows, but inner substance equals the fortitude we need to get through hard times. Those moments of real insight not only demonstrate Rabbi Wolpe’s intuitive gauge of the community’s needs but represent the religious grit of the Friday Night Live experience.
After the service concludes, ATID (Sinai’s 21-39 membership) hosts an exclusive afterparty/oneg replete with challah, dessert and beer. There, young professionals can mingle and unwind, indulging in the promised ârestâ beyond the rigorous workweek.
Friday Night Live symbolizes the full spectrum of what it means to be a modern Jew in Los Angeles, contributing to the cultural development of the next generation. Through ATIDâs social networking, Taubman’s music fostering joy and Rabbi Wolpe’s instruction on enlightenment, this service hits the spot: it’s hip, enlivening, community-engaging and spiritually relevant - the modern fabric of Shabbat unfurled.
Sing-a-long with Craig the 2nd Friday of every month at 7:30pm. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.
June 11, 2007 | 3:06 pm
Posted by Dikla Kadosh
The following conversation took place between 1:30 and 2:04 p.m. on Monday, June 11, 2007. This is a real dialogue, minimally edited to prevent lawsuits, hate mail, community protests and Brad’s divorce (aka The God Blogger).
danielle: dikla k?
dikla: that i have to stand up to see over
danielle: ...and easily gossip about intra-office affairs dikla: what intra-0ffice affairs?
danielle: nonsense that occurs within the office environment…for example, brad’s huge crush on me
dikla: oh, yeah, rebbe was all about us
danielle: even in the setting of a dark parking lot
she’s been listening to the same rebbesoul cd for 12 years and this was her first time seeing him live!
dikla: very true…one last hurrah for the rebbe: check out his website www.rebbesoul.com
and check out a clip of the show below…
danielle: at least i’m gourmet cheese - parmigiana reggianodikla: are you calling me cheddar?
danielle: bye dikla…time to edit this s%&t!
June 9, 2007 | 3:04 pm
Posted by Dikla Kadosh
Rita was spectacular. She was elegant and warm and spirited. Her powerful, rich voice almost burst through the walls of the Gindi Auditorium at the American Jewish University on Tuesday.
“I’m not used to doing such small shows,” said the Israeli superstar, who performed in front of 100, 000 people during a month-long concert series in Israel this past summer. “I feel like I’m in my living room.” The auditorium’s capacity is 500 and according to Gady Levy, the organizer of the event, 490 tickets were sold. As huge as Rita is and as loyal as her fans are, the show didn’t sell out probably because the tickets were $100-$150. The steep prices made the audience what it was: a slightly older, affluent core of true fans who 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.
This was my first Rita concert. I am familiar with some of her songs and I absolutely love her voice, but to be honest I almost felt like I didn’t deserve to be there. I sang along to only one song - I barely knew the rest. And I didn’t even know she was Persian. Sitting next to Shoshana Cohen (she works at the Jewish Journal and got us the tickets) who teared up when Rita sang “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” and in back of a man who threw his arms into the air in sheer excitement throughout the night, I felt too tame, too calm to be amongst such loyal and emotionally attached Ritaites.
I did join the crowd at the foot of the stage and I marveled at her beauty and radiant energy. She sang in Hebrew, English, Persian and Italian. She danced all over the stage. She told stories and even read a note someone from the audience handed her. At the VIP reception after the show, she hugged fans, posed for countless photos, spoke to people and seemed genuine about it all. I was impressed by her un-divaness. She wore jeans the first half of the show, with her hair pulled back in a ponytail and a touch of makeup. During the second half, the strap of the tight black evening gown she changed into snapped and she kept singing and dancing as if nothing happened.
Rita, calling “Mushi, mush-mush,” beckoned her 15-year-old daughter Meshi onto the stage to sing Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable” and for that moment turned into an ordinary mother - protective, supportive, proud.
But on stage, Rita is anything but ordinary.
Click below to hear Rita’s divine voice:
June 6, 2007 | 11:56 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
It is a rare occasion when one is invited to see the interior of a sprawling estate on Sunset Boulevard, but The Jewish Federation has friends in coveted places, and they certainly know how to induce the young folk into joining up: encourage a philanthropic couple, Beverly and Herb Gelfand, to host 150 or so young professionals at their mansion in Beverly Hills, stage a bar in the parlour and a bar by the pool, toss in some crudites with stuffed mushrooms and there you have it - the future Jewish leaders of America.
Indeed, the evening was socially splendid, and as the influx of guests ascended the entryway, it became obvious that it wasn’t merely young people who craved a peek inside. The evening proved that the Jewish network is in tact - I left with a whole stack of business cards that will probably find their way to the bottom of my undergarment drawer. Still, any sensible Angeleno wants to party like Paris Hilton, but what was really happening here? Boozing and schmoozing? Certainly. Conversations about American politics or the latest spat in the Knesset? Perhaps. Strategizing support for Darfur victims and planning visits to the infirm? I can’t say I heard much of that.
Sandwiched between a real-estate finance broker and a Hollywood producer, I learned that a Jew from England, a Jew from Miami and a Jew from Iran all shared an ancestral name-change for protection under persecution. Truth is, this was not the venue for rallying to the cause. Rather, it was a place for cultivating a sense of place; here are your contemporaries, these are the stories you share, this is who you can be someday…
It was branded a “summer bash” from the beginning - mixing and mingling in seductive surroundings are virtually compulsory. After all, between spawning successful careers and fostering good works in the community, we hip youngsters deserve a night to don designer drapery. The goal, it seems, is that a touch of glitz will beget a taste for giving, because bounty is most fun when it’s shared. And maybe it’s true, sipping cocktails beneath a Sargent painting will inspire the aspiring to become concerned and responsible civic leaders like the glamorous, generous Gelfands.