A Teacher Becomes Part of the Family

Getting to know the animals at Noah’s Ark at the Skirball, including this adolescent mountain gorilla. Photo by Kristin Welch Zurek.

Getting to know the animals at Noah’s Ark at the Skirball, including this adolescent mountain gorilla. Photo courtesy of Kristin Welch Zurek, pictured here.

I lived in Los Angeles for fourteen years before I discovered the Skirball Cultural Center. I don’t know what took me so long, but I’m so happy I finally found my way to this gem of a museum.

As an LAUSD kindergarten teacher, I am always searching for ways to integrate more art into my curriculum. Last summer I saw a listing for the teacher professional development program Teaching Through Storytelling at the Skirball and took a gamble. It has paid off in ways I never could’ve predicted.

The day began with a story, told by one of the Skirball educators, that illustrated many of the theatrical, musical, and physical techniques we would learn over the course of the next three days. Photo by Bebe Jacobs.

Storytime at the Skirball. Photo by Bebe Jacobs.

When I arrived at the Skirball last July, I felt like a new student as I waited on the amphitheater steps for the workshop to begin. The day began with a story, told by one of the Skirball educators, that illustrated many of the theatrical, musical, and physical techniques we would learn over the course of the next three days. How could I predict that I would find Noah’s Ark to be so exquisite, or that I would be thoroughly enchanted by the storytellers who work there? Wow. How could I predict how helpful this professional development program would be? In my eighteen years of teaching, this is in the top three learning experiences this student has had.

By lunch, I felt like a very welcome houseguest. I ate quickly so that I could visit the exhibition Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open. I went back to the exhibition three more times during my three-day visit, and each time I read more about Gary’s life and discovered new details in the art and objects on display.

Gary’s dining table in last summer's exhibition, Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open. Photo by Kristin Welch Zurek.

Gary’s dining table in last summer’s exhibition, Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open. Photo by Kristin Welch Zurek.

By the end of the first day I felt like family. I was immediately welcomed into this community, like a newfound relative you meet and bond with effortlessly. We were given passes to come back to Noah’s Ark with our real family, and I couldn’t wait to share this experience with my kids.

Over the course of the three-day workshop we explored many different modes of storytelling that used music, movement, Continue reading

Do It Yourself at diy days

diy days @ the Skirball is inspired by Moshe Safdie’s design strategies for the future of the global city. Here is one of his proposals for quality, affordable housing for the new millennia. The scale model is on view in the exhibition Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. Habitat of the Future, A-Frame Habitat. View of project and surrounding landscape. Image courtesy of Safdie Architects.

diy days @ the Skirball is inspired by Moshe Safdie’s design strategies for the future of the global city. Here is one of his proposals for quality, affordable housing for the new millennia. The scale model is on view in the exhibition Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. Habitat of the Future, A-Frame Habitat. View of project and surrounding landscape. Image courtesy of Safdie Architects.

I first met Moshe Safdie around 1990 when the Skirball Museum staff began to work in earnest on the planning of this cultural center. Over the years of our collaboration with him, he would mention in passing his work in Canada, Israel, and India, and I was always amazed at how he could juggle so many projects at once—no doubt due to the talented team he has assembled.

As I prepared for the opening of Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdiea recent Domus story describes the exhibition and Safdie’s architecture very well—I began to consider how to address topics at the heart of his design philosophy. [Moshe Safdie’s “first principles” include Humanizing the Megascale, Building Responsibly, and Responding to the Essence of Place.] I didn’t want to offer yet another lecture course on architectural history. Instead I wanted to engage our audiences Continue reading

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

Anne Frank Redux: From Concept to Course

I am a cultural consumer. I like to attend movies, concerts, plays, and museum exhibitions. I read multiple publications, both print and online, in order to know what is happening around town. All of this cultural consumption helps me as I plan for the courses offered through the Skirball’s Learning for Life program. These courses do not emerge from thin air—there is a lot of thinking, researching, discussing, and planning that goes into the offerings. So when I come up with something out of the box, such as our upcoming course Anne Frank Redux, I thought it might be interesting to share a little bit about how this course came to be.

First, I love the writing of Shalom Auslander. I have read all of his books and have listened to him on This American Life. Auslander is certainly an acquired taste. He can be caustic, angry, and hilarious at the same time. One of his common tropes is exploring how he, a formerly ultra-Orthodox Jew, navigates America’s freedoms without getting caught up in feelings of guilt for abandoning his faith. He worries about how to raise his children and seems to spend a lot of time dissecting his own neuroses. He raises questions about contemporary society with a unique voice that may at times sting, but always leaves me ruminating. Not for the faint of heart.

Hope: A Tragedy (2012) is Auslander’s first full-length novel. It presents the reader with the absurd notion that Anne Frank didn’t really die but is living in the attic of a New York farmhouse, trying to write a memoir that will outsell her famous The Diary of a Young Girl. Auslander’s book forces deep consideration of how contemporary American Jews and non-Jews think about the Holocaust and its aftermath. There is even a series of trailers for the book in which Auslander calls some of his fellow writers and asks if, in the event of another Holocaust, they would allow him to hide in their attic. Continue reading

Behind the Scenes

The Skirball’s Learning for Life program is always looking for new and fun ways to engage adult learners. When UCLA instructor Marc Milstein approached me about teaching a course explaining the science behind TV crime shows, I was hooked. I have always wondered about the accuracy of the crime-solving science on these shows. Entertaining Science: Simply Explained will explore forensics, DNA evidence, cloning, and much more. Hopefully, this interview with Marc Milstein will whet your appetite.

If I take this course, will I be able to identify the killer on TV crime shows?
Great question! We could do an experiment and see if detective skills improve after taking the course. I’ll get back to you on the results of that one. You will definitely have a greater understanding and appreciation of what your favorite TV characters are talking about when they discuss the latest DNA-based and fingerprinting technology. You will also be able to catch when your favorite TV characters are talking about using a technology that doesn’t quite work in the way they are discussing it!

Can we do anything to improve short-term memory?
Absolutely! In just the last few years there has been a lot of extremely exciting research on how our memories are made and formed. We are going to discuss that, as well as the most effective methods researchers have found to increase one’s memory. One tip is to learn new things and challenge your brain in areas you might not feel completely comfortable with. Whether it be learning a new language or learning about science, that type of brain workout seems to be the most beneficial. We are also going to talk about some fascinating studies of people who have lost their ability to make any new memories. These are people who completely live in the present moment, much like the main character in the film Memento. There is one famous case about a man who couldn’t form any new memories, yet he could still remember how to play the piano. Continue reading

The Wheels on the Bus: From Boyle Heights to Beverlywood

The ark at the Breed Street Shul, one of several stops during our recent Jewish Homegrown History Bus Tour.

The ark at the Breed Street Shul, one stop during our recent Jewish Homegrown History Bus Tour.

I grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and like many Angelenos, I came here as an adult. At this point in my life, I have lived in L.A. much longer than my first eighteen years in Chattanooga. I have come to love the story of Los Angeles—my husband is a big hometown booster—and I have visited and learned to appreciate all that Los Angeles has to offer, from San Pedro to San Fernando to San Gabriel to Santa Monica.

A fascinating piece of the L.A. story is the history of the Jews who have settled and thrived here. From its earliest days, Jews have helped to build L.A. as we know it—whether as bankers, merchants, performers, teachers, builders, or Hollywood producers—and they continue to contribute to the fabric of the city through the arts, civic life, industry, and education. This ongoing story was brought vividly to life on a warm Sunday in June when fifty curious souls boarded a touring coach at the steps of the Skirball to spend a day exploring Jewish Los Angeles.

The catalyst for this day trip was Jewish Homegrown History: Immigration, Identity, and Intermarriage, on view at the Skirball for just one more month. The exhibition presents personal stories of growing up in Los Angeles and California through the use of cleverly edited home movies and wonderful added audio commentary. Visitors quickly learn of the challenges of moving to California in the 1930s and 1940s, adapting to a new environment, and encountering the various cultural groups that were also settling here.

The bus tour was ably conducted by Dr. Bruce Phillips, a professor of sociology at Hebrew Union College and Senior Research Fellow at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. Bruce is a demographer: he studies patterns of settlement, affiliation, intermarriage, and immigration. He gathers the raw data and then attempts to deduce from it the stories of our lives. The ways he finds information are amazing. For example, by browsing the 1930 Los Angeles telephone directory, he was able to learn where Jews lived by pinpointing the houses of worship.

To prepare for the daylong bus tour, Bruce and I took the telephone directory records and headed out to find the long lost synagogues. We ended up as far south as 42nd St. and Grand Ave., where today we find the Greater Faith Temple, which was once called Congregation B’nai Amuna. Many of these old synagogues are now churches, but they all retain the original cornerstones with Hebrew dedications, as well as distinctively Jewish ornamental decorations on their facades. We were excited to bring our bus tour to these landmarks of Jewish homegrown history.

Our first stop was Greater New Vision Missionary Baptist Church on Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd, where Pastor Lucious Pope welcomed us. This building was the former home of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, which now sits proudly in Westwood on Wilshire Blvd. The church has retained the original designs in the sanctuary as well as the name in Hebrew on the front. As we peeked inside on a Sunday morning before regular services, the Greater New Vision congregants were warm and welcoming. Our visit to their church also gave us insight into the changing demographics of our city: the African American church now shares its space with a Spanish-speaking evangelical congregation. Continue reading

Making Sure the Kids Are Alright

The Skirball is full of parents. I see them pushing strollers, picking up sippy cups, and chaperoning elementary school groups. But I have a hunch that another set of parents is lurking in the shadows. They are the mothers and fathers of teenagers. They probably try not to go anywhere with their kids who are between the ages of twelve and eighteen.

Primetime hit Modern Family illustrates the highs and lows of raising kids. When Haley brings home her boyfriend, parents Phil and Claire straddle the fine line between playing cool and protecting their daughter. Moms and dads are welcome to bring real-life scenarios like this one to our upcoming seminar on parenting teens.

Our society focuses on teens in many funny and entertaining ways. Even though I am well beyond parenting a teenager, one of my favorite comic strips is Zits, which follows the adolescent adventures of a high school freshman and would-be musician named Jeremy. Creators Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman totally get the joys and challenges of being a teen and parenting a teen. Teens are also the focus of many popular TV shows, including Modern Family, Parenthood, and Gossip Girl. We have seen children grow up on television—the best example being The Wonder Years, in my opinion—while Lisa and Bart Simpson remain perpetual pre-teens.

On a more serious note, the October cover story of National Geographic was entitled The New Science of the Teenage Brain, which offered great insight on the “impulsive, moody, maddening” behavior of a typical teen. Meanwhile, in its January 26 “The Saturday Essay,” The Wall Street Journal published What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind?. This much-commented-upon (and highly tweeted) article noted that “children today reach puberty earlier and adulthood later. The result: A lot of teenage weirdness.” Oh my! Continue reading