The Old and the New: Making Passover Your Own

Tiered Seder Plate, Franz Strobl (?),1814.

Tiered Seder Plate, Franz Strobl (?),1814.

Having been a docent since the Skirball opened in 1996, I have had numerous opportunities to talk about the many objects in the core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America. One of my personal favorites is the seder plate shown above, on display in the Holidays Gallery. Made in Vienna in 1814, this beautiful silver plate has three tiers for matzah and seven screw-on cast figures who hold the ceremonial Passover foods. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the figures are different sizes and are wearing clothing from different eras. The reason for this is unknown. Continue reading

President’s Greeting: Mar/Apr 2015

Each year at this season, Jews around the world celebrate two very different holidays, Purim and Passover. Both are occasions of joy—Purim the more playful, Passover the more purposeful. Yet there is perhaps an unsuspected connection between them: the gift of imagination.

In synagogues throughout the world, the reading of the Purim story is a communal event unlike any other, with children and adults alike dressing in costumes and assuming identities that, for at least a few hours, give free reign to fantasy. As a child in Tel Aviv, I remember that on one Purim I dressed as a traffic director, in my version of the uniform worn by the officer in the intersection, with white gloves to stop the cars or wave them through. This seemed to me a glamorous, even heroic role to play. Continue reading

Happy New Year, Skirball Trees!

Every morning when I come to work, I never take for granted how beautiful this campus is. The Skirball is home to hundreds of gorgeous trees, and I am proud to oversee a crew of expert landscapers from Four Seasons Landscape Services who keep them healthy. In honor of the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish “New Year” for trees, I’m happy to share a few little fun facts about our lovable family of Skirball trees.

Number of Trees on Campus: 270

Number of Species: 40—Just to name a few, the campus grows California pines, London sycamores, Italian cypresses, magnolia trees, Japanese maples, gingko bilobas, jacarandas, plum trees, and cherry trees.

Unofficial Skirball Mascot: Before we broke ground on constructing Herscher Hall and the Guerin Pavilion, construction crews identified the circular driveway outside the north garage as the best place to position a crane. But in order to install it, we had to remove one olive tree that was planted there. I knew I didn’t want any harm to come to this magnificent tree, so we had a crane lift it, box it, and carefully move it to higher ground. From its new hillside spot perched over the construction site, it became our mascot for the duration of the long and involved building process. The crew and I lovingly named him Charlie. Years later, when the new facility was nearing completion, we moved Charlie back to his original spot near the north entrance, where he is thriving. I have a soft spot for Charlie and always say hello to him!

On the left, the orange arrow points to Charlie in his special spot during construction.  On the right, Charlie is the center of a group of olive trees that greet our visitors  at the north entrance to the Skirball. Click on the image for an expanded view.

On the left, the orange arrow points to Charlie in his special spot during construction.
On the right, there’s Charlie in the center of a group of olive trees that greet our visitors
at the north entrance to the Skirball. Click on the image for an expanded view.

 

Most Exciting Tree Rescue: If you’ve ever been to one of our Sunset Concerts or just hung out in our central Taper Courtyard, then you know that it features eight tall jacaranda trees. Continue reading

When Bauhaus Meets Judaica: A Unique Hanukkah Lamp

Hanukkah lamp, Ludwig Y. Wolpert, ca. 1960. From the Skirball collection.

Hanukkah lamp, Ludwig Y. Wolpert, ca. 1960. From the Skirball collection.

Hanukkah lamps come in all styles and materials. Here at the Skirball, the permanent collection of lamps is as varied as the artists who crafted them, each piece a reflection of the generation and the community for which it was fashioned. For example, lamps from countries surrounding the Mediterranean were demonstrably influenced by Sephardic traditions and style. Others reveal inspiration from modernist innovations popular in early-twentieth-century Europe.

The lamp pictured above, currently on display in the Skirball’s core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, was designed by German sculptor Ludwig Yehuda Wolpert, the son of an Orthodox rabbi. Born in Hildesheim, Germany, Wolpert began his artistic studies at the School for Arts and Crafts in Franfkfurt. He then worked as a sculptor, specializing in metalwork. Artistically, Wolpert was inspired by the Bauhaus slogan “form follows function,” and also by Leo Horovitz, a silversmith and designer of Judaica. Under Horovitz’s guidance, Wolpert became involved in creating modern Jewish ceremonial art. One of his signature practices was to incorporate an abstract of a Hebrew letter in his pieces. The design of this lamp recalls the Hebrew letter shin.  Continue reading

Pasatono Orquesta Revives a Tradition, With a Twist

Come hear Pasatono Orquesta fill our Ahmanson Hall with Mexican folk tunes sure to get your whole family on their feet.

Come hear Pasatono Orquesta fill our Ahmanson Hall with Mexican folk tunes sure to get your whole family on their feet.

The Skirball’s annual Hanukkah Family Festival approaches, and this year the festivities take inspiration from Latin American culture. Along with Mexican tin art painting, mariachi and Capoeira performances, and Latin American–influenced Hanukkah treats, don’t miss out on seeing Oaxaca’s Pasatono Orquesta.

Pasatono Orquesta has made a name for itself over the last fifteen years by reinterpreting traditional Mexican folk music. The group’s latest album, Maroma, pays tribute to the traveling circuses that were once popular throughout rural Mexico. These maroma, as they were called, consisted of a single clown tasked with juggling, telling jokes, reciting poetry, and performing acrobatics, drawing inspiration from a mixture of pre-Hispanic indigenous traditions, European street performances, and modern circus elements. Continue reading

Top 10 Items in the Femme Fatale’s Arsenal

Group1With the exhibitions Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 and The Noir Effect in full swing, noir is in the air here at the Skirball. Inspired by the seductive femme fatales of film noir, I’ve selected ten alluring items from our Light & Noir Holiday Pop-Up Shop that are perfect for the mysterious woman on your gift list. There’s no need to go on a manhunt for a creative Hanukkah present or saucy stocking-stuffer this year. Skip the bedlam at the mall and slip into the boudoir at the pop-up shop for some of these sassy and clever gifts.

  1. The Perfect Red Lipstick
    As the chaotic holidays approach, I heed this advice from Elizabeth Taylor: “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.” Red lipstick (and perhaps a little gin!) really is the perfect pick-me-up. During WWII, cosmetics entrepreneur Elizabeth Arden encouraged women to wear red lips as a symbol of victory. (The beauty company even released a line of cosmetics for the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, which included the shade “Victory Red” to coordinate with their uniforms.) Personally, I look to locally-based Bésame Cosmetics for long-lasting, classically glamorous shades of red. One of my personal favorites is Red Velvet. Every Bésame product is re-created from popular vintage formulas and lovingly packaged in a retro style. Learn for yourself how to apply that perfect femme fatale look on Sunday, December 7, when Bésame Cosmetics founder Gabriela Hernandez gives a makeup talk and demo in conjunction with the exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950.
  2. An Alluring Perfume
    Perfumer Margot Elena created this irresistible “Femme Fatale” collection of fragrances, part of her TokyoMilk/DARK line. Each fragrance is stunningly packaged in matte-black bottles featuring charming lithograph illustrations for each scent. My favorite is “Everything & Nothing” No. 10, with its light hint of citrus. I’m also a fan of the coordinating hand creams.
  3. Compact Mirror
    A slim, stylish compact mirror is a must for every glamour girl to ensure her makeup is always in place. I myself designed the pattern featured on this cute compact from LucyLu as a nod to the iconic film noir motif of striped shadows. The compact is accompanied by a protective silver leatherette pouch with a magnetic closure, which helps keep the outside of the mirror shiny and scratch-free. Continue reading

Harvest and Hospitality

sukkot2_skirball

Stop by the Skirball’s sukkah October 8–16, except October 9 and 13, to enjoy some snacks from Zeidler’s Cart or to just spend a quiet moment.

The Jewish holiday of Sukkot begins this evening. Lasting seven days, Sukkot commemorates the fall harvest and the desert sojourn of the Israelites following their liberation from slavery in Egypt. Like many Jewish holidays, it also connects Jews to the cycles of nature. During Sukkot, Jews traditionally spend time enjoying meals with friends and family in temporary shelters called sukkot (sing. sukkah), the Hebrew word for “tabernacle” or “covering.” The sukkah is built of natural materials such as bamboo, wood, and tree branches. Its temporary, fragile nature reminds us that the bounty of summer is behind us and that the autumn season will soon bring the shedding of leaves and the dying of greenery. As summer turns to fall in Southern California, we can also take this opportunity to focus on what it means to live in a drought-stricken area—hoping that nature will bring much-needed rains to us soon. Sukkot is a time to acknowledge climate change—be it the annual cycle or the pressing issues facing the world’s population today. Continue reading

Tips for a Meaningful Passover Celebration, from Generation to Generation

At Passover this year, my wondrous granddaughter, Sloane, will be two-and-a-half. She is pictured here with me (in blue), her mom (with Sloane in her arms), her aunt, and her great-grandmother at last year’s Seder. I will feel blessed to have four generations seated at our Passover table. Right: Here the family is gathered at Passover many years ago at my mom and dad’s house. I can tell it’s a Seder by the red wine glasses and men wearing kippot.

Left: At Passover this year, my wondrous granddaughter, Sloane, will be two-and-a-half. She is pictured here with me (in blue), her mom (with Sloane in her arms), her aunt, and her great-grandmother at last year’s Seder. I will feel blessed to have four generations seated at our Passover table. Right: Here the family is gathered at Passover many years ago at my mom and dad’s house. I can tell it’s a Seder by the red wine glasses and men wearing kippot.

Following in the tradition of my parents and grandparents, my husband and I have hosted our family Seder for the past twenty-seven years in our home. Some of our guests, numbering anywhere from twelve to twenty-four, do not come from a Jewish background. Our aim is make everyone feel welcome and to have a joyful, memorable experience. Over the years, we have developed some great ways to achieve this through interactive and thoughtful questions, storytelling, song, table setting, and food. Here are some helpful tips and good finds I’ve picked up over the years.

 

1) GOOD PLANNING MAKES FOR A GOOD HOLIDAY.

Shopping, cooking, setting the table, and preparing for the Seder service can be overwhelming and challenging. I keep recipes, grocery lists, and a timeline on file, and I start planning and prepping a few weeks in advance to spread out the workload. It’s never too early to make sure you have everything you need to set your table. The following ceremonial objects, available at Audrey’s Museum Store at the Skirball, make for an elegant presentation.

 

60_minute_seder_bookcover p32) THE HAGGADAH BRINGS THE HOLIDAY TO LIFE.

Read at the seder table, the Haggadah recounts the tale of the Exodus, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Each year, we are challenged to retell the sacred story in a way that keeps it fresh while preserving age-old traditions.

As the buyer for Audrey’s Museum Store at the Skirball, I am excited to recommend a new Haggadah that we have reviewed, Sixty-Minute Seder. It’s an easy-to-follow yet sophisticated guide to preparing for Passover and executing the service.

 

3) PASSOVER IS A CELEBRATION OF FREEDOM. SPARK CONVERSATIONS THAT CENTER AROUND THAT THEME.

Questions and answers are central to the Seder ritual, which is all about connecting with one another. Continue reading

Valentine’s Day Playlist

Beth Lapides on stage—one of her great loves.

Beth Lapides on stage—one of her great loves

Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is almost here—again! At the Skirball, we have a tradition of commemorating this special yet infamous (and totally made-up) holiday with a comedy storytelling event hosted by Beth Lapides from Uncabaret: Say the Word: Bleeding Hearts. This year’s show is on February 7 and features humorous and heartfelt stories from writers/comedians Merrill MarkoeCindy Chupack, Richard Kramer, Stirling Gardner, and Lauren Weedman.

So many of our memories of love and relationships are associated with songs that uncannily illustrate our experiences and thus become part of the soundtrack of our lives. I asked comedy maven and goddess of love Beth Lapides to share some tracks from her own life soundtrack by creating a Valentine’s Day playlist. It’s not your typical list of sappy love songs, which is just what we should expect from Beth.

1. Best song to listen to… if you are a senior in high school thinking about taking the next step with your new not really yet a boyfriend, parked outside his dad’s loft, where he is house sitting, while his dad, whose name is Ken, is out of town with his girlfriend named Barbie, and you are thinking about how you are totally not a Barbie, but how you really like this new boy a lot better than the last boy, who did sort of want you to be a Barbie. And you are feeling hopeful but a little melancholy because in the best-case scenario it goes amazingly and you end up falling in love and then having to leave each other at the end of the year. “Suzanne” by James Taylor

2. Best song to listen to… if you are lying in bed weeping from unbearable heartbreak and can’t imagine a time when you will ever feel differently and yet you know you will feel differently, but maybe you won’t, but you definitely will, but you might actually have to change and figure out a way to make yourself feel better, but you are admitting that feeling pain is at least feeling and you have been trying to numb yourself for the past decade. “Prayer of St. Francis” by Sarah McLachlan

3. Best song to listen to… if you are driving south on Laurel Canyon in the late afternoon light with the thrilling feeling of leaving a dead relationship and the excitement of starting over. “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield

Continue reading

President’s Greeting: Nov/Dec 2013

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