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
My sukkah, set for a potluck lunch with friends—old and new.
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
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 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.
Champagne and roses may be synonymous with Valentine's Day, but this year, we recommend celebrating with Say the Word!
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.
BeBe was amazed at how each visitor could create beautiful art pieces out of plain materials. Here, a young visitor displays a menorah he made out of plastic tubes, colorful tape, and stickers.
This young girl patiently waited as her brother finished his art project. In a moment of silliness, Bebe placed a tiny menorah on the glue stick in front of the girl. Immediately she looked down and started to blow out the “candles”.
This young visitor was very proud of the Hanukkah pin she crafted. The glee that shines through in this photo makes it an easy favorite!
My mother, Janice, and I in her kitchen (not her usual hangout!)
I am a Thanksgiving stickler. I take Thanksgiving very seriously. This means for one glorious day of the year my family does not experiment with the menu, we don’t devour take-out, and we definitely do not skimp on full-fat ingredients.
Since change is a given in any family, I am comforted by our Thanksgiving consistency and sometimes brattily demand it. I insist that we have green beans with pearl onions and balsamic vinaigrette. I require the best homemade pumpkin pie made by my aunt and cousin, “award-winning” according to my grandpa. (Once he even made a trophy in appreciation.) I will squint with judgment while my dad carves the turkey with an electric knife and eats the fatty end while telling everyone else to go away while he “works.”
Despite my strange affinity for all things old-school and traditional at our holiday table, two of my absolute favorite Thanksgiving recipes are relatively new to the arsenal, which speaks to how tasty they are. Even more bizarre is that the recipes were tested and refined by my mother. Continue reading
Shofar and Case, Maker: Marcus Jonas. Oakland, California, ca. 1870s. Wood and ram’s horn. From the collection of the Skirball Cultural Center. Photograph by John Reed Forsman.
What’s a shofar? It’s a ram’s horn that is hollowed out (through a pretty messy process) and polished. In Jewish tradition, it is blown during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. Some interpret the shofar’s blast as a call to reflect, a call to repent, a call to listen to the voice of one’s own conscience, a call to do good deeds, or a call to express prayer with breath.
When I take high school students through the Holidays gallery of our core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, we make sure to stop at the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur case. Inside is this shofar and case (pictured above), which like many objects throughout the gallery tell a fascinating story. Continue reading
This is the first in what we hope will be a regular series of sketches by artist Cary Meshul, Skirball Art Director. This holiday week, his illustrated musings—or “Skribbles”—focus on Passover, his favorite holiday.