Choose Your Path, Change the World



Bob, hope all is going well. Thanks as always for your work on the Half the Sky exhibit. Sheryl and I have a new book coming out this year, a bit of a follow-up to Half the Sky. Essentially it’s a book about how to make a difference, and how to donate, volunteer or advocate more effectively. It’s a look more broadly at what works and doesn’t work to expand opportunity in the US and abroad. I just thought I would mention it in the off chance that that might again work for an exhibit—a glimpse at the emerging science of making a difference in the world.

all the best, nick

This e-mail from Nicholas D. Kristof, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist, arrived some eighteen months ago, in February 2014. It was the moment the Skirball’s newest exhibition, A Path Appears: Actions for a Better World, was born.

The Skirball’s first collaboration with Kristof was the exhibition Women Hold Up Half the Sky in 2011, Continue reading

President’s Greeting: Nov/Dec 2015

This family enjoyed to quiet time at last year's Hanukkah Family Festival. coloring and reading a book about the Maccabees.

This family enjoyed some quiet time at last year’s Hanukkah Family Festival,
coloring and reading a book about the Maccabees.

This December, the Skirball presents its twentieth annual Hanukkah Family Festival, a joyous and inclusive occasion for Angelenos of all backgrounds. Over the years, the daylong event has welcomed tens of thousands of families to share in a communal experience—and to feel inspired by the ancient tale of a small band of Jews known as the Maccabees, who battled against tyranny in 165 BCE and prevailed against all odds.

In commemoration of this ancient victory, this year’s Hanukkah Family Festival places special emphasis on the values of courage and fortitude. Just as the greatly outnumbered Maccabees prevailed against their oppressors, so too, in our own day, are we called upon to defend the freedoms we cherish with determination and resolve. Continue reading

My Pilgrimage to Manzanar

­­­Over a year ago, I began conducting research for the exhibition Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams, which features photographs and other artifacts that depict the treatment of Japanese Americans at the incarceration camp in Manzanar, California, during World War II. Soon after I started, I realized that, in order to gain a true understanding of the material, I had to visit the camp itself.

Photo by Thomas Schirtz.

Photo by Thomas Schirtz.

Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten remote camps where approximately 120,000 Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were incarcerated following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in eastern California’s Owens Valley, about 220 miles northeast of Los Angeles, the town of Manzanar—the Spanish word for “apple orchard”—developed as an agricultural settlement beginning in 1910. Continue reading

You Say Sriracha, I Say Harissa

Local chili pepper mavens duke it out for savory sauce supremacy!

Local chili pepper mavens duke it out for savory sauce supremacy!

It’s been a very warm summer at the Skirball, and it’s heating up even more around here this fall. I’m not just talking about the kind of heat that makes me cranky for a very unpleasant six minutes while I walk from the air conditioned lobby to my car in the Skirball parking lot. I’m talking about the hot competition—between sriracha and harissa—for my go-to spicy condiment.

Chili pepper–based sauces are now a really big deal, thanks to many influences including Food Network shows, foodie blogs, and the incredible expansion of hometown fave Huy Fong Foods sriracha sauce. In fact, just weeks ago, my husband and I took a tour of the massive Huy Fong facility in the eastern San Gabriel Valley, Continue reading

Orly Olivier’s Pandora’s Box

SkirBlog_Petit Takett recipe box

Photo by Orly Olivier.

Years after her father’s passing, Orly Olivier, the artist behind Petit Takett, opened a small wooden box. This neat little box contained handwritten notes with small drawings by her father Sylvain Olivier, who had scribbled down some of his favorite recipes in a mix of English, French, and Arabic. Unlike published recipes, which carefully list all the ingredients and instructions for a dish’s preparation, these notes were cryptic, with only enough information to remind Sylvain of his favorite dishes. Finding these recipes brought back memories to Orly Olivier of large Shabbat dinners with her Sephardic father, Ashkenazi mother, and sister in Los Angeles. It reminded her of intricate smells, flavors, and colors, and joyful feelings of sharing delicious food and good company.

Olivier needed to open this box, not only for memory’s sake but also for the sake of her artistic practice: it was the spark that launched her project Petit Takett (“little Takett,” named in honor of her grandmother’s restaurant, Takett’s, in Tunisia).

The artist explains, Continue reading

Floored at the Skirball: The Severan Synagogue Mosaic Replica



As her Communications and Marketing internship comes to a close, Jenna Lomeli reflects on a defining moment during her time at the Skirball.

I don’t recall exactly what I was expecting when I went on a staff tour of the Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America exhibition earlier this summer. I’m sure I went into it hoping to learn some things about Jewish history (and given my rather sparse knowledge about the subject, there was a lot to learn). I may have even expected to connect with the latter sixteenth of the 4,000 years that the Skirball’s core exhibition covers. I definitely did not foresee being emotionally invested in a replica of an approximately 1,600-year-old mosaic on the floor of the Severan Synagogue in Hamat Tiberias, Israel. But then, who does?

The door leading to the mosaic replica at the Skirball looks like the sort of door visitors aren’t supposed to go through. I didn’t realize it led to another section of the exhibition until Museum Director Dr. Robert Kirschner opened it and led our tour group outside. After exiting the gallery, I found myself looking at a very large tile mosaic set into the ground, with mock ruins above it. A handful of times in my life I have had the happy experience of seeing a painting or sculpture and being completely swept up by it. This was not one of those times. My initial reaction was about as blasé as anyone would expect, considering I was looking at the floor. But then Dr. Kirschner, who has been with the Skirball Cultural Center since its beginning and who led the development of Visions and Values, began to explain the mosaic and its greater significance to the exhibition. Continue reading

Rosh Hashanah Recipes from Petit Takett Creator Orly Olivier

Rosh Hashanah at my relatives’ house in Israel, 2005

Rosh Hashanah at my relatives’ house in Israel, 2005

Just in time for Rosh Hashanah, Orly Olivier of Petit Takett: Love, Legacy, and Recipes from the Maghreb  muses upon the holiday she learned to love in Israel.

Growing up at home with my parents in Los Angeles, the High Holidays meant going to synagogue in the evening, and again the next morning, followed by a big dinner. I mostly remember the services never quite grabbing my attention the way the Tic Tacs and gum my mother provided to keep me quiet did. But I do remember those services being very important to her. It wasn’t until, at the age of sixteen, I moved to Israel that I began to fully understand the High Holidays and what kind of wonderful experience they could be.

I gained an understanding of Jewish culture by living in the land upon which it was created. My experience wasn’t particularly religious; I attended services once during the three years I lived there. But I discovered a profound personal connection to the rich traditions of the Jewish people that changed me forever.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are my favorite examples of this connection. During Rosh Hashanah, Israel’s cities are decorated with signs and banners wishing people a “sweet and happy New Year!” Decorative photos and pictures of apples, honey, and pomegranates are everywhere. People send cards and gifts, and it’s actually a much bigger deal than Hanukkah. Dinners are bountiful, with fruits and flowers everywhere. It’s a truly joyous occasion.

I have three Israeli aunties, each of whom has had three or more children. Those children now have children of their own, which means the High Holiday family dinners are often twenty or more at the table! The cooking is divided amongst my aunties, and each year they take turns hosting from house to house. The men also have their roles as sous chefs, dishwashers, and expert grocery shoppers. There’s a lot of coordination involved, Continue reading

President’s Greeting: Sep/Oct 2015

We must be certain that, as the rights of the individual are the most sacred elements of our society, we will not allow passion, vengeance, or hatred to cloud the principles of universal justice and mercy. 

These words were written in 1944 by the renowned photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams in Born Free and Equal, his volume of photographs of the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans in Manzanar, California. This lamentable episode, for which the United States Congress officially apologized in 1988, has much to teach us about the essential value of civil rights, then and now.

On October 8, the Skirball opens an exhibition of Adams’s striking images, which call us to recommit ourselves to this nation’s highest democratic ideals.

Uri Herscher_SkirBlog_Ansel_Adams5_crop

Many years ago I had the privilege of meeting Ansel Adams (captured in the photo above). Jack Skirball, namesake of the Skirball Cultural Center, had introduced us. I found Ansel to be a thoughtful and humble person. Accustomed to capturing mountains and rivers with his lens, he said that portraying the human condition at Manzanar was a challenge for him, Continue reading

Looking Back at D.A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop (1968)

The Skirball’s Friday Night Rock Docs series continues this summer with Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz (1978) on July 31 and Hal Ashby’s Let’s Spend the Night Together (1982) on August 21. In order to get ready for these screenings of landmark rock docs, I decided to delve a little into the history of the genre—with particular focus on D.A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop (1968), which kicked off the Skirball series on Friday, June 19.

A barrage of liquid light show images choreographed to the shrill screams and pulsating rhythms of Big Brother and the Holding Company’s “Combination of the Two” opens Monterey Pop. In this somewhat disorienting opening sequence, Pennebaker immediately sets the documentary—depicting events at the Monterey Pop Festival, which occurred Friday, June 16–Sunday, June 18, 1967—apart from its generic predecessors. This film is not just about the counterculture; Pennebaker employs a style that represents the counterculture’s subversive values both visually and aurally.

Watch Big Brother and the Holding Company, featuring Janis Joplin, perform “Combination of the Two” live at the Monterey Pop Festival. A recording of the song plays over the opening credit sequence of D.A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop.

Prior to the release of Monterey Pop and his 1967 Bob Dylan documentary, Don’t Look Back, Pennebaker was perhaps best known for his affiliation with the Drew Associates, a group of filmmakers including Robert Drew, Richard Leacock, and David and Albert Maysles. Together, these filmmakers furthered a documentary style known as Direct Cinema, largely the product of the new lightweight camera and sound equipment developed in the 1950s. Unlike many conventional documentarians before them, champions of this new style did not use staged reenactments, voiceover narration, or extensive onscreen text to explain their subjects. Instead, they strove for objectivity and immediacy in their films, capturing events as they happened and allowing people to tell their own stories.

In many ways, Monterey Pop assumes the stylistic goals of Direct Cinema. Continue reading

What’s Your Story: Fifth Graders Share Their Family Histories

When you enter this classroom you are:
unique, explorers, authors, musicians, readers, successful, inventors, respected.

These words welcome visitors to teacher Debbie Elkayam’s fifth grade classroom at Haskell Elementary School, an LAUSD school in the San Fernando Valley. And they are a perfect representation of the teacher and her students.

Several years ago, I met Ms. Elkayam during her class field trip to the Skirball for the extremely popular Grade 5 School Tour of Americans and Their Family Stories. I was one of the educators leading the interactive tour in which students explore the commonalities and differences among immigrant stories from around the world. At one point in the tour, Ms. Elkayam mentioned that she uses this tour—along with the Skirball’s teacher guide and creative activities she designed herself—to make the topic of immigration and heritage more personal for her students. Curious about how she did so, my next question was: When can I visit your classroom?

Soon, I was happily on my way to Haskell Elementary for the first of two planned visits. On my first trip in February, I learned how Ms. Elkayam prepares students for the program at the Skirball by connecting the theme of immigration to their lives.

A warm greeting in Polish, my native language, welcomes me to Ms. Elkayam’s classroom. Dzień dobry (d͡ʑɛɲ ˈdɔbrɨ) means “hello,” or “good day,” in Polish.

A warm greeting in Polish, my native language, welcomes me to Ms. Elkayam’s classroom.
Dzień dobry (d͡ʑɛɲ ˈdɔbrɨ) means “hello,” or “good day,” in Polish.

Looking around the classroom, I saw projects displaying illustrated family stories, art making, and explorations of the diverse heritage of her students. Clearly, the Americans and Their Family Stories tour worked extremely well within Ms. Elkayam’s curriculum. Continue reading