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
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.
- Annieglass Platinum Seder Plate—Elegant and décor-neutral, this seder plate makes a wonderful heirloom to hand down for generations.
- Michael Aram Matzah Plate—With so many items to squeeze onto the Passover table setting, I really like the small footprint and clever design of this matzah plate.
- Mary Jurek Symphony Silver and Cobalt Blue Kiddush Cup—New this year! The cobalt enamel accent band adds the perfect splash of color.
- Tamara Baskin Twelve Tribes Matchbox—I think that this colorful glass matchbox makes an ideal hostess gift and can be used year round.
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
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 Markoe, Cindy 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
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
As the holidays approach, people start to ask me more and more about making something delicious and inventive for their vegetarian dinner guests. Nowadays, vegan and gluten-free guests are also becoming common! I’m always up for the challenge of diet-restricted guests. This is just one of the many items I have had fun creating for the Skirball’s unique catering menu. I work hard to make every dish look as good as it tastes, and this very elegant-looking (if I don’t say so myself) vegetable tower is a creative and hearty alternative to the simple salad and is easy to make. Even the non-vegetarians will enjoy it!
Tower of Butternut Squash, Beets, and Arugula
1 butternut squash (select one with long stem neck)
1 large red beet
1 large Hass avocado, cut into cubes
Cherry balsamic vinaigrette (Alternative: regular balsamic vinegar that has been reduced to syrup)
Salt and pepper
1 bunch basil
1 bunch Italian parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper Continue reading
Next to Passover, Sukkot is my favorite holiday. I think it always was, but it became even more so when, sixteen years ago, I invited a gentleman named Burt to join me and my family for dinner in my sukkah. I don’t think it was the brisket or homemade round challah, but later that year we were married and Burt has joyfully been building that sukkah ever since. A win-win.
My tradition of building a sukkah began forty years ago when my youngest daughter, a student in a local day school, said she would like to invite her classmates to enjoy some juice and cookies in our sukkah. Didn’t I think that was a great idea, she asked? I agreed, but surely she must have noticed that we didn’t actually have a sukkah. Not a problem. She quickly and enthusiastically suggested that it would be great fun to build one. She was right, and so began a wonderful and very meaningful tradition.
We designed it, according to Jewish law, in the shape of one of the Hebrew letters found in “Sukkot.” We selected the “hey,” a square letter that is wide open on one side. Oh, the symbolism! A trip to the hardware store to buy the decorative wooden lattice sides, a talk with the gardener to request some palm fronds, and a call to my synagogue to order a lulav (closed palm frond) and an etrog (citrus fruit), Continue reading
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.
Upon first meeting Moshe in the mid-1970s Continue reading
The Jewish holiday of Passover is not celebrated in temple, it is celebrated at home. On the first (and often the second) night of Passover, families and friends gather for a ritualized meal or “seder” during which they drink wine, sing songs, and tell the Exodus story—with the goal of reminding everyone at the table that freedom is a gift to be cherished.
Every family’s seder is different, from the Haggadah they choose to read from to the seder plate on which they present the holiday’s symbolic foods. To celebrate this uniqueness, a few members of the Skirball staff share the story behind their seder plates, starting with mine!
I have always liked the bright and cheery design of my mother’s seder plate, and assumed for all these years that she had gotten it as a newlywed when she and my father were married. I discovered this year that she actually purchased it herself when we moved from New York to California when I was a child.
Until we moved, my mother never needed her own seder plate. In New York she attended first her grandmother’s, then her aunt’s seder—large family affairs conducted mostly in Hebrew that continue to this day. When we moved to California, in search of warm weather and business opportunities, we were forced to leave that family tradition behind. I know the move was bittersweet for my mother, as she was very close to her family, but I think this plate represents her hopefulness about starting a new tradition with her children. I have to say, she has done an excellent job, because Passover at my mother’s house is something we look forward to every year.
“Our seder plate has great personal meaning since it was made by friends, Leslie Gattmann and Eugene Frank, who operated a ceramic Judaica business for many years. Each piece was lovingly handmade and hand-painted. We use it every year at our family seder, which includes many great traditions from beating each other with green onions during the “dayenu” song (a Persian custom that we simply had to adopt) to raucous searches for the afikomen (dessert matzoh) by the youngest guests, who are now grown men.
There’s a bit of a lull after the flurry of celebrations and activities of the holiday season, until suddenly, thoughts of Valentine’s Day begin to come into mind (or loom ahead, as the case may be).
At the Skirball we’re excited to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a special edition of our popular Say the Word comedic reading series entitled Bleeding Hearts, a little twist on the typical hearts-and-flowers motif. Whether you love Valentine’s Day or dread it, there’s something for you in this show. Say the Word: Bleeding Hearts is February 8—about a week before Valentine’s Day—so you have time to find a date!
I asked our Say the Word host, resident comedy maven, and goddess of love, Beth Lapides, to share some of her insights into the holiday and the Bleeding Hearts program.
Valentine’s Day: fake holiday or important day dedicated to expressing love?
Totally fake. But also, a very important day for expressing love! So, both. And that’s what keeps us interested in Valentine’s Day or any of the other Hallmark holidays—the contradiction of the authentic urge and the repulsive fake commerciality. The trick is to find ways to satisfy the one part while making fun of the other. And Say the Word is all about combining the heartfelt and the ironic twist. So, speaking of Cupid, it’s a match made in heaven!
I have one theory about Valentine’s Day. It’s actually a manifestation of our desperate longing for red in the midst of winter bleakness. Continue reading
Come rain, come shine, the Skirball’s annual Hanukkah family festival always draws a crowd of diverse generations, backgrounds, and smiles. Photographer and first-time festival attendee BeBe Jacobs was impressed with this year’s Hanukkah festival, Americana Hanukkah, which took inspiration from our campus-wide “Democracy Matters” initiative to celebrate the Jewish holiday. “No matter what activity [people] were doing,” she told me, as we looked over the images she shot that day, “the fact that families were spending time together made all the difference.”
For both of us, the Hanukkah festival not only brought families together but also brought out creativity that visitors did not realize they had. There was plenty to do all day, like watch Marcus Shelby and his quintet perform beautiful freedom songs… or hear Story Pirates act out original Hanukkah tales on stage… or join a tour focusing on the Skirball’s collection of Hanukkah lamps (the last couple of these Lights of Hanukkah Family Tours take place today and tomorrow, so be sure to swing by this weekend). But it was at the hands-on art workshops where people got a chance to create something themselves.
Here, BeBe shares ten of her favorite photos from that fun-filled day with reflections on the people and moments that made them so special.