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
The burning bush is one of the vinyl graphics used to help visitors reenact the story of the Exodus in Exodus Steps, a story performed by you, our visitors.
During this season of Passover, the Skirball Cultural Center presents the commissioned work Exodus Steps. It welcomes families of all beliefs and heritages to take part in dramatizing the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.
Passover has assumed the symbolic meaning of human freedom in general and of the universal hope for the end of all oppression. The act of recalling and retelling a people’s journey from enslavement to freedom is meaningful. When we retrace the steps (and even the missteps) of those who struggled for justice and equality before us, we are reminded that we, too, were once slaves. We come to experience liberation as if we ourselves were breaking from oppression.
When we walk in the path of our forebears who sought a promised land—whether in ancient history or modern-day America—we understand that we remain ever in pursuit of freedom.
Beginning in January, we present a new music series entitled “Journeys and Encounters,” featuring an eclectic line-up of global talents. Though they hail from diverse ethnic backgrounds and artistic traditions, their music-making demonstrates the beauty that emerges from openhearted cross-cultural exchange.
My son Gideon and I in Rwamagana, Rwanda.
In 2012, I journeyed to Rwamagana, in rural Rwanda, and enjoyed firsthand the joy of connecting across cultures. I was visiting Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (the Kinyarwanda-Hebrew name, agahozo–shalom, translates roughly to “a place of peace where tears are dried”). Co-founded by my son Gideon Herscher, it is a residential community for orphans emotionally scarred by the genocide in Rwanda. One evening, Gideon brought his guitar to a gathering and sang a traditional Hebrew lullaby. The young teens listened attentively. Gideon invited them to sing a Rwandan lullaby, which they did at the top of their lungs. Continue reading