A rare photograph of the extended Herscher family, San Jose, CA, 1958.
Memory is meaning. It is how we understand existence. It is how we locate ourselves in time. It is what we learn and how we learn. Amnesia is a tragedy, for in severing us from the past, it severs us from ourselves. Who are we without that frame of reference? How can we know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been?
The debut of the Skirball’s new exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 prompts these reflections.
Torah Orah. It is a memorable phrase, even if you don’t know Hebrew. Torah means the Five Books of Moses, and in a larger sense, all Jewish learning. Orah means light. The words rhyme, and their meanings rhyme, too. Jewish tradition equates the Torah with light. Both give life; both shed light; both enlighten. Like the rays of the sun, the Torah warms and sustains us; like the glow of a candle, it guides our way even in darkness. So the ancient rabbis have taught, and so generations of Jews have believed. Torah Orah, the Torah is light.
Here at the Skirball Cultural Center, enlightenment is our motivating force. Our doors are open wide to learning, knowledge, and culture. We celebrate the ideas and the ideals that civilize society. Civilization begins with education, and education begins with conversation. Every day at the Skirball is just that: a conversation between teacher and student, parent and child, volunteer and visitor, old friend and new friend. Our halls and galleries and gardens overflow with conversation, encounter, engagement. That is our purpose and our passion.
When illustrator and author Maira Kalman spoke at the Skirball to a sold-out crowd, the program concluded like most Skirball lectures do: with a Q&A. This young fan was thrilled to engage directly with the artist.
Photo by Bonnie Perkinson.
Dendé And Band on stage for Sunset Concerts at the Skirball 2013.
Music moves us like few other forms of human expression. It speaks a universal language. Gladness, sorrow, yearning, hope, love—each of us feels these emotions as unique, yet music has a way of connecting them, and us, in all our shared humanity.
Music, like every language, is more than sound. It comes from somewhere—not only from a voice or an instrument, but from a composer, a performer, and a context. The Skirball Cultural Center is all about context—the communities we inhabit, the cultures we celebrate, the memories we cherish. When concerts are performed at the Skirball, they are appreciated not only as music but as vessels of community, culture, and memory. They enrich our knowledge of the world and of each other, even as they unite our hearts in song and dance.
This summer, Continue reading
As a child in school, I loved field trips. Is there a child who doesn’t? The chance to escape the confines of the classroom and meet the wide and wondrous world was always a thrill. In the State of Israel, where I grew up, field trips were unforgettable adventures. Not only were we exploring a glorious landscape, we were seeing the sites of history inscribed there. One of my favorite sites was the famous Roman amphitheater in Caesarea. It was built two thousand years ago, and it is miraculously well-preserved. I was so impressed by its design: grand and spacious yet circular and intimate, and not a bad seat in the house. Music, dance, and drama performances are held there to this day. You sit not only side by side but face to face. Even better, everyone in the audience can see each other.
Enjoying the Skirball’s amphitheater with one of my wonderful grandchildren.
The amphitheater is both a cultural space and a communal space. That is the ideal that inspires us at the Skirball—to be a place where both culture and community are celebrated.
As the school year comes to a close Continue reading
Building a snowman in Tel Aviv. February 5, 1950. Photo by David Eldan. Courtesy of Government Press Office of Israel.
I was eight years old the first time I saw snow. It was in Tel Aviv, where I grew up and where it never snows. But one day, in February 1950, it did. A layer of white blanketed the city. Everyone came outside to witness the extraordinary event. My friends and I built snowmen in the streets. The grown-ups did, too. And all within view of the Mediterranean Sea. The sight of white snow on white sand—it was so rare and marvelous! Since immigrating to the United States, I have witnessed many other snowfalls, but I will never forget the first one.
In the 1960s, Ezra Jack Keats, the son of immigrants to these shores, wrote and illustrated The Snowy Day, a book celebrating the childhood wonder of snow. His setting was New York City. Snow is not a rare event there. But the book was a rare event, because Keats made the groundbreaking choice of an African American as its main character—the first time a black child was the focus of a popular children’s picture book. Keats did not see himself as a pioneer of civil rights. But it was important to him to depict his beloved neighborhood as it was, and to show that the joys of childhood are universal. Continue reading
Standing with my friend and architect Moshe Safdie in front of a wall-sized reproduction of a photograph of our location on the Sepulveda Pass, before we started construction on the Skirball. Photo by Bebe Jacobs.
The year 2014 is like no other year in the history of the Skirball Cultural Center: for the first time since our birth, we are no longer under construction. Our campus, Moshe Safdie’s first architectural project in the United States, is now complete. Our buildings and courtyards are built; our gardens and arroyos are planted. Our current exhibition, Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie, celebrates our architect and his magnificent achievements. It is glorious to behold.
And yet, in the most important sense, our building is not finished. It can never be finished. For what we are seeking to build is a community where no one is a stranger, a society both just and compassionate, a world where all can live in freedom, dignity, and safety. That is the mission of the Skirball Cultural Center. It is a construction project that has only just begun, and has very far to go. And if it is ever to be achieved, in any measure, it will take each of us, and all of us, to build it. Continue reading
This November 28, we mark a once-in-a-lifetime coincidence in Jewish and American life: Hanukkah begins on the same day as Thanksgiving. Actually, that’s once in many thousands of lifetimes. It won’t happen again for 80,000 years!
This year’s calendar can help us appreciate the meanings of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving. Both holidays are occasions of gratitude, and both are celebrations of freedom.
In the original proclamation of George Washington, dating to 1789, Thanksgiving Day is set aside to appreciate “the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.” In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving for “continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”
Hanukkah is the Jewish echo of American ideals: the courage to resist tyranny, the struggle for religious liberty, the dedication (which is the meaning of the word “Hanukkah”) Continue reading
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 a trailer during the early years of construction.
Upon first meeting Moshe in the mid-1970s Continue reading
The 2013 Sunset Concerts at the Skirball begin with a performance by folk-rock stars and Los Angeles natives The Belle Brigade. The brother-and-sister act hails from a family of great musicians, including their grandfather, the famed film composer John Williams. The duo honors the legacy of their lineage while innovating upon the sixties and seventies pop and classic Americana they grew up admiring.
As our Sunset Concerts demonstrate, music is a mighty force for preserving and shaping culture. Each summer, when my wife, Myna, and I bring our entire family together—children and grandchildren—for a reunion vacation, we sing as a family. It has become a tradition for us. Often we revisit the folk tunes that filled the airwaves when I was a young man. Although our sons came of age decades later, those timeless compositions are among their favorites to play on guitar and lead us in song. Our grandchildren are just beginning to learn the lyrics and the melodies. The music is woven into our collective, heartfelt memories.
My wife, Myna, and I dance to the irresistible rhythms of De Temps Antan at last year’s Sunset Concerts. Photo by Bonnie Perkinson.
This July and August enjoy music at our Sunset Concerts, Family Amphitheater Performances, and Into the Night series. I look forward to coming together as a community and celebrating music that crosses time and place.
Reproduced on the cover of the May/Jun 2013 issue of At the Skirball and the April 25–May 2, 2013 issue of the L.A. Weekly (pictured at left) is the new painting The Door Is Always Open, by celebrated artist Gary Baseman.
The title of this work—like that of our major new exhibition on the artist’s life and career—borrows a phrase from Gary Baseman’s own father. Ben Baseman used to tell his son, “Gary, the door is always open.” It was a reminder that the Fairfax District four-plex that he called home would always provide protection and loving kindness. Continue reading