My Sukkot Traditions

My sukkah, set for a potluck lunch with friends—old and new.

My sukkah, set for a potluck lunch with friends—old and new.

Next to Passover, Sukkot is my favorite holiday. I think it always was, but it became even more so when, sixteen years ago, I invited a gentleman named Burt to join me and my family for dinner in my sukkah. I don’t think it was the brisket or homemade round challah, but later that year we were married and Burt has joyfully been building that sukkah ever since. A win-win.

My tradition of building a sukkah began forty years ago when my youngest daughter, a student in a local day school, said she would like to invite her classmates to enjoy some juice and cookies in our sukkah. Didn’t I think that was a great idea, she asked? I agreed, but surely she must have noticed that we didn’t actually have a sukkah. Not a problem. She quickly and enthusiastically suggested that it would be great fun to build one. She was right, and so began a wonderful and very meaningful tradition.

We designed it, according to Jewish law, in the shape of one of the Hebrew letters found in “Sukkot.” We selected the “hey,” a square letter that is wide open on one side. Oh, the symbolism! A trip to the hardware store to buy the decorative wooden lattice sides, a talk with the gardener to request some palm fronds, and a call to my synagogue to order a lulav (closed palm frond) and an etrog (citrus fruit), Continue reading

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Reading the The New Guard: Twenty-First-Century American Jewish Fiction

I met Taly Ravid when I enrolled in her course “Anne Frank Redux,” offered earlier this year through the Skirball’s Learning for Life program. In that course, Taly led fascinating sessions that combined engaging lectures and discussions about Anne Frank’s original diary as well as other literary treatments of the book. Taly, who is completing a PhD in English at UCLA specializing in contemporary American literature, created a stimulating environment that produced dynamic, meaningful conversations no one wanted to end. In fact, due to the students’ enthusiastic response to the course, an additional session was added!

The line-up for Taly Ravid's upcoming course at the Skirball.

The line-up for Taly Ravid’s upcoming course at the Skirball.

I have no doubt that Taly’s new course, “The New Guard: Twenty-First-Century American Jewish Fiction”—beginning next Wednesday, September 25—will offer an equally enriching experience. Read Taly’s interview below to learn more about what inspired her to create this course and to get a sense of her innovative thinking and breadth of knowledge, which are matched only by her contagious passion for American literature. There is still time to sign up! You can register here…

What inspired you to develop this course?
A few years ago, the New Yorker published its “20 under 40” list—a much-buzzed-about group of promising, notable writers under the age of 40 who are at the top of the American literary scene. About a third of the writers on the list are Jewish, yet David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, insisted (in a New York Times interview) that the writers have nothing much in common, and the press paid little, if any, attention to these writers’ affiliation with Judaism. That struck me as a big cultural shift. Just a few short generations ago, the literary world bound writers like Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth to their Taly Ravid's bookshelfJewishness. Those writers were presented to readers not as American writers, but as American Jewish writers. This latest New Yorker list seemed to be doing the opposite. Continue reading

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Family Photo Comes to Life

Ever had a picture come to life before your eyes? Recently, while sitting at the admissions desk, I had the opportunity to speak with a mother and daughter visiting from New Jersey. After several questions about our Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America exhibition and the docent tour, I came to understand that these ladies had journeyed a long way to see a particular photograph on display. It was precious to them because they are the descendants of the family captured in the image.

Karen (left) and Ann (right) join in their family photo.

Karen (left) and Ann (right) join in their family photo.

If you’ve ever visited the Liberty Gallery in Visions and Values, you’ve probably seen this photo reproduction near the Statue of Liberty torch. And, like most of us, you’ve probably wondered about this family. I asked Karen Humphreys and Ann Riley, great-great-granddaughter and great-granddaughter of matriarch and patriarch Sylvia and William Mirkin (seated in front of the bride and groom), to pose in front of the photo and it really brought it to life! Ann’s grandparents, Jacob and Sarah Schneper, or “Bubbie and Pop,” stand to the bride’s right-hand side. Karen’s strong family resemblance to her great-grandmother Sarah and great-aunt Bertha (peeking her head through between the bride and groom) is almost magical.

Pulling in our docent coordinator Noga Sherman to capture as much of the family story as possible, we learned that six of the Mirkin children are included in the wedding picture of son Jacob (Jack) and his bride, Anna (née Danzig), taken June 13, 1911. All had recently arrived from Russia (a seventh child stayed behind), and they were celebrating this marriage in the new land in high style. Note William’s traditional skullcap and the younger men’s top hats, accessorizing the family’s already grand fashions.

Skirball_FirstWedding_painting

The 1911 wedding photo and this related painting, First Wedding in the New Land by Marlene Zimmerman (also on view in the gallery), were donated to the Skirball by Harry and Ida Mirkin’s grandchildren—Howdy Kabrins, Ron Kabrins, and Sandy Bayley—in 1996.

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President’s Greeting: Sep/Oct 2013

Main Lobby_Skirball_

Skirball Main Lobby. Photo by Timothy Hursley.

Upon entering the Skirball’s main lobby, visitors step into a light-filled greeting area. Its skylights afford views of the expansive sky. The architecture of this entryway is reminiscent of ancient sukkot (plural of sukkah), the temporary booths inhabited by our ancestors on their journey to the Promised Land. The holiday of Sukkot—the Jewish harvest and thanksgiving festival that takes place during this time of year— reminds us that those who came before us lived in the most simple of dwellings where the spirit of welcome was ever-present. Across our campus are many such warm and hospitable gathering spaces.

This fall, we pay tribute to our architect, Moshe Safdie, whose design for the Skirball gave form to our mission to engage and embrace all who visit. The first exhibition to be mounted in all of our changing galleries, Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie is an insightful retrospective spanning more than four decades of Moshe’s distinguished career.

Moshe Safdie and I surveying the Skirball site from the construction trailer.

Moshe Safdie and I surveying the Skirball site from a trailer during the early years of construction.

Upon first meeting Moshe in the mid-1970s Continue reading

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