Getting Comfortable with “Productive Discomfort”

Allison Lee, American Jewish World Service (AJWS)'s Los Angeles Regional Director, explains how AJWS helps make change possible.

Allison Lee, American Jewish World Service (AJWS)'s Los Angeles Regional Director, explains how AJWS helps make change possible.

For me, one of the most intriguing and valuable aspects of Women Hold Up Half the Sky has been the Expert Insights program on the weekends. From an inspiring Afternoon with Edna Adan to Jane Roberts Seeking 34 Million Friends, these in-gallery discussions have added dimension to the exhibition and to Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky movement.

This afternoon, the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) will be sharing their expert insights on the work they do each and every day around the world. I was fortunate to be in the audience for one of their previous gallery visits and I learned a lot, not just about what they do but how they do it.

AJWS was founded about twenty-six years ago. The organization is inspired by Judaism’s imperative to pursue justice and to help secure it for even the most marginalized communities in the developing world. AJWS has been an important partner in presenting the exhibition for many reasons: because of the work they do on the frontlines with women in the developing world, because of the Jewish lens with which they approach their work, and because of their longstanding relationship with Nick Kristof.

These were all things that I already knew, but that afternoon listening to Allison Lee, AJWS’ Los Angeles Regional Director, I learned what it all really means. Continue reading

Sistuhs Are Doin’ It For Themselves

Equality and justice are issues that drive singer, songwriter, dancer, and women’s rights activist Sayon Bamba.

When I first saw Sayon Bamba live in concert, I was immediately struck by her charisma and power. She has a bold voice and a stunning stage presence. I was taken not only by her mastery of different styles, from Afropop to singer/songwriter, but also to her unwavering commitment to human rights and women’s causes. While I never had the opportunity to see Bamba perform as onetime frontwoman for the iconic Les Amazones de Guinée, I am thrilled that this under-known artist will be making her US debut at the Skirball next Friday night as part of Women Hold Up Half the Sky related programming.

As we planned for the concert, it made me realize just how captivated I am by strong female artistic voices. Below is a short list, in no particular order, of some of my favorites, all of whom I have been fortunate enough to meet.

Patti Smith—From the earliest days of her career, Patti Smith captured my attention. There has never been anyone quite like her. Although she honors all the “strong female influences” on her art—check out this recent BBC Radio interview in which Smith acknowledges Janis Joplin and Grace Slick—she is a true trailblazer, with a unique voice and a singular ear for the English language. Her music and poetry have led me to a greater understanding and appreciation of literature and spirituality. It’s hard to pick just one, but as far as I’m concerned, her debut release, Horses, is the must-have Patti Smith album. And where did I meet her? I presented her in concert back when I was vice chair of the University of Pennsylvania concert committee. I won’t soon forget hanging out with Patti in a backstage bathroom of all places.

Doris Lessing—One of my favorite writers, the 2007 Nobel Laureate in Literature started her career writing about the injustices she witnessed in her native Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and has never waivered from trying to imagine a better world. Her attachment to the inequities of Harare and the apartheid system led her to political activism, both personally and through her writing. Lessing’s interest in all that is possible motivated her to create science fiction, which were really explorations of her utopian ideals. My favorite Lessing work? The Making of the Representative for Planet 8. It didn’t make a recent Huffington Post “Lessing Top 5” list (compiled in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of The Golden Notebook), but I stand by my choice.

Phranc—In the midst of citywide Olympic sponsorship fever, Phranc unofficially declared herself the “Official Jewish Lesbian Folksinger of the 1984 Summer Olympics.” Even if that seems like a narrow field in which to distinguish oneself, the singer, visual artist, and athlete—Phranc is a competitive swimmer and a skilled surfer—possesses a gold medal–caliber voice and a winning sense of humor, and is a torchbearer for social justice (is that too many Olympics references? Sorry…). Her cultural identity as a Jew has played a central role in her life’s work. Phranc has performed at the Skirball on three occasions and remains a favorite of mine after twenty-eight years. Continue reading

Home Movies: Then, Now, Forever?

Jewish Homegrown History

Skirball visitors watch some of the many home movies screened in Jewish Homegrown History, organized by USC’s Labyrinth Project. Bring your own home movies to Home Movie Day at the Skirball this Sunday, April 22, and find out how best to preserve them for the future. Photo by Daniel Bydlowski.

With the exhibition Jewish Homegrown History now on view, there’s something I’ve been wondering about: When you hear the term “home movie,” what comes to mind? I dare say that the image will vary considerably based on when you grew up.

If you were a Depression-era kid, born in the 1930s and 1940s, most home movies were an elaborate affair shot in 16mm film and screened using a large projector much like the ones used in school classrooms back in the day. It was an expensive undertaking that only a few could afford and was reserved for special occasions.

Baby Boomers remember small 8mm handheld cameras, which could shoot about eight minutes of footage and whose images had no accompanying sound. In order to shoot indoors, the camera operator had to mount a gigantic light bulb, which, in addition to providing the necessary lighting, could also blind and burn its subjects! Dangers aside, we would gladly dance in front of the camera—run around like wild animals, leap off furniture, dive into swimming pools. Continue reading

My Haimishe Menschen (In Other Words, My Warm, Caring People)

the Shriers

Joan and Joel Schrier

It’s National Volunteer Week, an annual celebration established in 1974 “to inspire, recognize, and encourage people to engage in their communities.” Year after year, it earns no less than a Presidential Proclamation.

The Skirball has more than 300 active volunteers and docents, who together contribute in excess of 30,000 hours a year. I get to work most directly with the volunteers who staff the lobby, welcoming guests, selling Skirball Memberships, and offering information. I’ve gotten to know many of them personally. They regularly ask about the status of my love life (don’t ask!), how my apartment search is going, which race I’m running next, and the latest on my bagpiping lessons. I’m even learning some Yiddish phrases, which are great fun to weave into conversations. My fave is “aroys gevorfen de gelt,” which loosely translates to “throwing the money out the window.” I also like “it vet gornisht helfen,” which means “it won’t help one bit!” Continue reading

People, Let Me Tell You ‘Bout My Best Friends

A little storytelling and impromptu drumming with Noah’s Ark fans Griffin and Zoe.

A little storytelling and impromptu drumming with Noah’s Ark fans Griffin and Zoe.

I have the best job. Ever. My job title is something like Retail Sales Associate at Audrey’s Museum Store, which means I sell toys and books to people visiting Noah’s Ark at the Skirball. But really I like to call myself the Toddler Whisperer because I spend my days interacting with very young children. My measure of a good day isn’t how many sales I’ve had, but rather, how many of my “regulars” have come to visit. I have a whole pocketful of friends:

Jasper, my animal expert, knows everything there is to know about the wild kingdom. At four years old, he can identify a Xenops or a vole as readily as a pig and a cow (the latter two being alike because, as Jasper informed me recently, “they are both farm animals”). On one of his visits, he brought his most special animal book to share with me. I was expecting a small board book or a thin paperback. Out of his backpack came a heavy animal encyclopedia that must have taken quite a bit of effort for him to lug around. I was so happy that he wanted to share it with me. Together we sat and looked through it.

You can always tell when Aidan and his younger brother Connor are approaching the store. You hear the calls of “Shaaarrrooonnn! It’s my friend!” as Aidan enters the store and gives me a hug. Aidan likes to sit at our little “touch table,” where kids can feel free to play with select store goodies, and try out the toys. He often comes up with creative names for them. Continue reading

The Fifth Question: What Wine Will We Serve?

Tradition! Passover is my favorite Jewish holiday. I love setting the Seder table with my mother’s china, grandmother’s candlesticks, great grandfather’s kiddush cup, and my new Miriam cup, a cherished gift from the Skirball volunteers corps.

Each year at our Seder, my family re-tells the story of our ancestor’s liberation from slavery to freedom and its relevance in today’s world. In addition to the youngest grandchild chanting the four questions, one of my daughters, who has engagingly led our Seder for many years, composes a fifth question that is sent in advance to all those attending. Everyone is encouraged to prepare an answer in whatever style is comfortable—in song or poetry, humorously or seriously—which then becomes the occasion for lots and lots of animated conversation. It is satisfying to celebrate with family and friends. Together with children and grandchildren, we prepare from memory familiar Passover family recipes and look for creative new ones to grace our Seder table.

Manischewitz is a popular choice, but there are other fine kosher-for-Passover wine options as well.

Manischewitz is a popular choice, but there are other fine kosher-for-Passover wine options as well.

But first we conduct two searches: first, for chametz (leavened foods), which we always find and make sure to remove from the house for Passover; and second, for a really good, new, balanced, fruit-forward, satisfying, full-bodied or light, bright, kosher-for-Passover wine. And yes, there are really good kosher-for Passover-wines. My husband and I have been blind-tasting wines with a group of friends monthly for the past forty years, and we think we can make some educated recommendations.
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