A Special Place for Everyone: A Summer Intern’s Perspective

A simple biblical passage that transformed into an unforgettable lesson for me this summer.

A simple biblical passage that transformed into an unforgettable lesson for me this summer.

It was a Tuesday morning and a group of summer interns and new hires were gathered in the lobby. We were waiting to tour the Skirball’s permanent exhibition Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America guided by the extremely knowledgeable Museum Director, Dr. Robert Kirschner. As one of only two Multicultural Undergraduate Interns, funded by the Getty Foundation, lucky enough to work at the Skirball this summer, I had the pleasure of going on this exclusive walkthrough. The tour began with Dr. Kirschner’s passionate remarks about the Skirball’s beginnings, the Skirball’s President and CEO, Uri Herscher (with whom I’ve met on multiple occasions and who is absolutely wonderful!), and Dr. Kirschner’s personal dedication to the museum.

Most importantly, he spoke of the Skirball mission as a Jewish institution that welcomes both Jews and non-Jews. As I enter the final days of my Skirball internship, I am more and more convinced that everyone is welcome here regardless of a person’s culture, religion, or race.

Here is a photo of the beautiful handsewn “Proclaim Liberty” Torah mantle. It was made by Peachy Levy in Santa Monica in 1991. Wool, embroidered and appliquéd with cotton and metallic thread. HUCSM 60.138.

Here is a photo of the beautiful handsewn “Proclaim Liberty” Torah mantle. It was made by Peachy Levy in Santa Monica in 1991. Wool, embroidered and appliquéd with cotton and metallic thread. HUCSM 60.138.

When Dr. Kirschner guided us to the entrance of the exhibition, I stood face-to-face with a simple yet powerful statement: “Go forth…and be a blessing” [The writer of this LA Times article about the opening of the Skirball in 1996 took note of this detail as well.] He urged us to look beyond the biblical context of the passage (it’s from the Book of Genesis) and to view it as a philosophy about inclusivity and universality—a philosophy by which all of us should aspire to live, one that encourages people of all cultures to be a blessing in the world and to all humankind. What I loved most was that this message is physically and philosophically ingrained into the Skirball’s foundations.

We walked a few steps ahead and there I saw one of the Skirball’s most prized possessions. A beautifully sewn object displayed behind glass beckoned me to take a closer look. Dr. Kirschner explained that it was a Torah case. When I was close enough to read what’s embroidered in the fabric, I became even more fascinated. Similar to the passage engraved in stone at the entrance, this object carried a biblical passage (this time from Leviticus) with a universal message: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land.” These words, it turns out, are also written on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, a truly American treasure.

Recently I had the opportunity to learn more about this Torah case when I spoke with Adele Lander Burke, VP of Learning for Life, who oversees the Skirball docent program. She told me that in place of the object currently on view, there used to be a Torah scroll open to the exact same verse. But the Skirball decided that the Torah case, with its red, white, and blue motif and message about freedom, was more symbolic of the American values and ideals that are central to the Skirball mission. I also learned that the light tan color of the scroll image was meant to represent the lyrics “amber waves of grain” from “America the Beautiful.” All of these details underscored the Skirball’s deep interest in the American story, which brings me to my favorite part of the exhibition: the Liberty Gallery. Continue reading

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De Temps Antan Encore

De Temps Antan performs at Sunset Concerts next week, Thursday, August 16. Here’s a clip of them performing “La maison renfoncee.” What joie de vivre, what panache. I want a jacket with crossword puzzles printed on it!

While attending booking conferences, arts presenters are overwhelmed with options. From established to emerging, hundreds of artists a day vie for your attention. It’s easy to get a little jaded in your choices and easier still to overlook opportunities.

A few years ago, after one particularly tiring day at APAP in Manhattan (I had crisscrossed the island a few times for meetings and performances all over town), I was leaving my hotel to meet a college friend for dinner and a few more showcases. As I stepped into the hotel lobby, I suddenly heard terrific, foot-stomping music coming from the hotel bar. I stopped dead in my tracks, listened, and walked in.

I could barely squeeze into the packed lounge. To my surprise, the ruckus came from just three musicians having an awfully good time. Everyone, including the bar staff, was joining in on the bonhomie. The sound was upbeat and decidedly Celtic, but also very French. I had noticed on my way in that this was part of the “Annual Lobby Showcase” of “Quebec roots-trad-folk” put together by Folquébec. Not feeling the least bit jaded, I found myself entranced, clapping away until the end of the band’s set. Continue reading

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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

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A Night Out at Sunset Concerts

These two found a nice spot to dance behind the stage. Photo by Mitch Maher.

These two found a nice spot to dance behind the stage. Photo by Mitch Maher.

Look at these happy people. Smiling, dancing, grooving… enjoying music under the stars. That could be you. Bring a date, or meet someone here—either way, Sunset Concerts at the Skirball is a great night out. The 2012 season kicks off this Thursday night, when Samba Mapangala & Orchestra Virunga take the stage.

And have we mentioned that the concerts are free? And that our galleries (except Noah’s Ark at the Skirball) are also free and open until 10:00 p.m.?

If you like to plan ahead, here are tips on how to attend Sunset Concerts like a pro and how to do it on your budget, from cheapest options to best ways to splurge. Feel free to mix and match!

Find a nice grassy patch to picnic with friends. Photo by John Elder.

Picnic with friends. Photo by John Elder.

THE SUPER SAVER NIGHT WITH FRIENDS
Round up your buddies and get on the bus!
Transportation: Plan your trip with metro.net and go to and from the Skirball for $1.50 each way. Plus no parking fees. Metro Rapic 761 drops off right in front of our main entrance. Just remember to bring your Metro passes. You’ll have to show them to get your tickets into the venue.
Food: Bring a delicious dinner with you from home! You may bring in food, but outside alcoholic beverages are not permitted. For some good ideas on how to jazz up your menu, this oldie but goodie from Mark Bittman is our go-to guide. There is a grassy area on the balcony above the stage that is perfect for picnicking.
Drinks: Cash bar available on site, or bring nonalcoholic drinks from home.
Concert tickets: Admission to the concert is free! Continue reading

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A Little (Late) Night Music… Into the Night Is Back, Featuring Sea Wolf and Geographer!

See Alex Brown Church of Sea Wolf at Into the Night: Playtime—on Friday the 13th, no less!

See Alex Brown Church of Sea Wolf at Into the Night: Playtime—on Friday the 13th, no less! Photo by Mia Kirby.

Music, especially discovering new music, is one of my greatest passions. My husband and I are music fiends. We have extremely eclectic tastes and appreciate all kinds of musical genres and styles from all over the world. His 160 gigabyte iPod Classic is full. Our iTunes library contains 72 days, 10 hours, and 32 minutes’ worth of music. That’s 25,108 songs.

As much as we enjoy collecting music and listening to recordings, there’s nothing like being at a live show, whether it’s an intimate club gathering, a stadium show, or one of the myriad venue options in between. Aside from the Skirball, some of my favorite small venues are the Bootleg Bar/Theater and the Troubadour. For medium-sized to larger venues, I like the Wiltern, Gibson Amphitheatre, and Greek Theatre.

When I’m at a concert, I get swept up, allowing the emotion and power of the music and lyrics to envelop me. I love feeling the energy between the performers and the audience. My May 22 Facebook status update—which I posted during the Lianne LaHavas show at the Bootleg—said it all: “If there’s something better than music please enlighten me!”

I haven’t tallied up the live shows we’ve attended in the first half of 2012 yet, but we’re off to a pretty good start with acts like Lianne LaHavas, Bahamas, Quantic + Alice Russell, and Robert Glasper Experiment. My better half is especially adept at scouting new sounds for us to check out and will frequently insist that we go out to see a show even after a long workday. He’s got a great track record, and has led me to discover some of my favorite bands. In 2011, we attended more than 100 performances, ranging from solo singer/songwriters in bars and clubs to major productions like the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. (The 2012 PBJF took place just a few weeks ago and Sheila E. totally stole the show with her electrifying performance and beautiful samba dancers!) One weekend last November, we saw Noel Gallagher of Oasis fame at Royce Hall and powerful Pakistani singer Riffat Sultana at the Skirball. We loved both experiences, delighting in the contrast.

With all of the amazing live shows we enjoyed last year, one of the best nights of 2011 was the Skirball’s Into the Night: Music and Magic late-night party. (It was also the night that got me back on coffee!)

Around 1,000 people showed up for a great evening of music, magic, art, and film. The roaming magicians and signature cocktails were big hits, too! For more pictures of last year’s event, scroll down…

Around 1,000 people showed up for a great evening of music, magic, art, and film. The roaming magicians and signature cocktails were big hits, too! For more pictures of last year’s event, scroll down…Photo by Jared Steven.

Excited that DJ Anthony Valadez will be back this year! Here he is last year in a moody haze of lights.

Excited that DJ Anthony Valadez will be back this year! Here he is last year in a moody haze of lights. Photo by Jared Steven.

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A Wild Rumpus, In Memoriam

My own beloved copy of In the Night Kitchen.

My own beloved copy of In the Night Kitchen.

By now we’ve all heard the news of the passing of Maurice Sendak, noted author and illustrator, and for some of us a permanent fixture on the bookshelf. Every major news outlet has covered the story and many have published heartfelt remembrances. In his May 9 appreciation, Los Angeles Times Book Critic David Ulin applauds how Sendak’s work reveals “the power of our minds to transform the world.” The day Sendak died, I listened with rapt attention as Wicked author and Sendak mentee Gregory Maguire talked about their friendship on NPR.

Here at the Skirball, Maurice Sendak’s artwork graced our galleries twice: first in the 2002 exhibition Where the Wild Things Are, which was my first experience ever at a Skirball exhibition; and then again as part of our 2010 exhibition Monsters and Miracles: A Journey through Jewish Picture Books. In the fall of 2009, as audiences geared up for Spike Jonze’s film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, the Skirball hosted a daylong family program inspired by the classic Sendak book, featuring themed art projects, storytelling, and even a wild rumpus jam.

When the interactive exhibition Where the Wild Things Are was on view here in 2002, children took turns sliding into a giant bowl of “Chicken Soup with Rice,” a gallery component inspired by the Sendak book of the same name. Photo by Vernon Williams.

When the interactive exhibition Where the Wild Things Are was on view here in 2002, children took turns sliding into a giant bowl of “Chicken Soup with Rice,” a gallery component inspired by the Sendak book of the same name. Photo by Vernon Williams.

For me, Sendak’s books weren’t ones that I ever outgrew. Even as a teenager, a college student, and now an adult (and certainly as a parent of a young child), I continue to go back to them. The eccentric drawings of monsters, cooks, and creatures captivate me still. Most of them outcasts or oddballs—from Max and the “Wild Things” to Rosie from Chicken Soup with Rice, from Mickey from In the Night Kitchen to the little dog Jenny from Higglety Pigglety Pop—Sendak’s characters are ones I can always relate to.

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Getting Comfortable with “Productive Discomfort”

Allison Lee, American Jewish World Service (AJWS)'s Los Angeles Regional Director, explains how AJWS helps make change possible.

Allison Lee, American Jewish World Service (AJWS)'s Los Angeles Regional Director, explains how AJWS helps make change possible.

For me, one of the most intriguing and valuable aspects of Women Hold Up Half the Sky has been the Expert Insights program on the weekends. From an inspiring Afternoon with Edna Adan to Jane Roberts Seeking 34 Million Friends, these in-gallery discussions have added dimension to the exhibition and to Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky movement.

This afternoon, the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) will be sharing their expert insights on the work they do each and every day around the world. I was fortunate to be in the audience for one of their previous gallery visits and I learned a lot, not just about what they do but how they do it.

AJWS was founded about twenty-six years ago. The organization is inspired by Judaism’s imperative to pursue justice and to help secure it for even the most marginalized communities in the developing world. AJWS has been an important partner in presenting the exhibition for many reasons: because of the work they do on the frontlines with women in the developing world, because of the Jewish lens with which they approach their work, and because of their longstanding relationship with Nick Kristof.

These were all things that I already knew, but that afternoon listening to Allison Lee, AJWS’ Los Angeles Regional Director, I learned what it all really means. Continue reading

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Sistuhs Are Doin’ It For Themselves

Equality and justice are issues that drive singer, songwriter, dancer, and women’s rights activist Sayon Bamba.

When I first saw Sayon Bamba live in concert, I was immediately struck by her charisma and power. She has a bold voice and a stunning stage presence. I was taken not only by her mastery of different styles, from Afropop to singer/songwriter, but also to her unwavering commitment to human rights and women’s causes. While I never had the opportunity to see Bamba perform as onetime frontwoman for the iconic Les Amazones de Guinée, I am thrilled that this under-known artist will be making her US debut at the Skirball next Friday night as part of Women Hold Up Half the Sky related programming.

As we planned for the concert, it made me realize just how captivated I am by strong female artistic voices. Below is a short list, in no particular order, of some of my favorites, all of whom I have been fortunate enough to meet.

Patti Smith—From the earliest days of her career, Patti Smith captured my attention. There has never been anyone quite like her. Although she honors all the “strong female influences” on her art—check out this recent BBC Radio interview in which Smith acknowledges Janis Joplin and Grace Slick—she is a true trailblazer, with a unique voice and a singular ear for the English language. Her music and poetry have led me to a greater understanding and appreciation of literature and spirituality. It’s hard to pick just one, but as far as I’m concerned, her debut release, Horses, is the must-have Patti Smith album. And where did I meet her? I presented her in concert back when I was vice chair of the University of Pennsylvania concert committee. I won’t soon forget hanging out with Patti in a backstage bathroom of all places.

Doris Lessing—One of my favorite writers, the 2007 Nobel Laureate in Literature started her career writing about the injustices she witnessed in her native Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and has never waivered from trying to imagine a better world. Her attachment to the inequities of Harare and the apartheid system led her to political activism, both personally and through her writing. Lessing’s interest in all that is possible motivated her to create science fiction, which were really explorations of her utopian ideals. My favorite Lessing work? The Making of the Representative for Planet 8. It didn’t make a recent Huffington Post “Lessing Top 5” list (compiled in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of The Golden Notebook), but I stand by my choice.

Phranc—In the midst of citywide Olympic sponsorship fever, Phranc unofficially declared herself the “Official Jewish Lesbian Folksinger of the 1984 Summer Olympics.” Even if that seems like a narrow field in which to distinguish oneself, the singer, visual artist, and athlete—Phranc is a competitive swimmer and a skilled surfer—possesses a gold medal–caliber voice and a winning sense of humor, and is a torchbearer for social justice (is that too many Olympics references? Sorry…). Her cultural identity as a Jew has played a central role in her life’s work. Phranc has performed at the Skirball on three occasions and remains a favorite of mine after twenty-eight years. Continue reading

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The Fifth Question: What Wine Will We Serve?

Tradition! Passover is my favorite Jewish holiday. I love setting the Seder table with my mother’s china, grandmother’s candlesticks, great grandfather’s kiddush cup, and my new Miriam cup, a cherished gift from the Skirball volunteers corps.

Each year at our Seder, my family re-tells the story of our ancestor’s liberation from slavery to freedom and its relevance in today’s world. In addition to the youngest grandchild chanting the four questions, one of my daughters, who has engagingly led our Seder for many years, composes a fifth question that is sent in advance to all those attending. Everyone is encouraged to prepare an answer in whatever style is comfortable—in song or poetry, humorously or seriously—which then becomes the occasion for lots and lots of animated conversation. It is satisfying to celebrate with family and friends. Together with children and grandchildren, we prepare from memory familiar Passover family recipes and look for creative new ones to grace our Seder table.

Manischewitz is a popular choice, but there are other fine kosher-for-Passover wine options as well.

Manischewitz is a popular choice, but there are other fine kosher-for-Passover wine options as well.

But first we conduct two searches: first, for chametz (leavened foods), which we always find and make sure to remove from the house for Passover; and second, for a really good, new, balanced, fruit-forward, satisfying, full-bodied or light, bright, kosher-for-Passover wine. And yes, there are really good kosher-for Passover-wines. My husband and I have been blind-tasting wines with a group of friends monthly for the past forty years, and we think we can make some educated recommendations.
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From X the Owl to Snow Leopards to Frog Belly Rat Bone

The Rogue Artists Ensemble will perform The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone this Sunday at the Skirball's Puppet Festival. Another step in my short but ongoing journey knowing puppets.

The Rogue Artists Ensemble will perform The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone this Sunday at the Skirball's Puppet Festival. Another step in my short but ongoing journey knowing puppets.

So the early history of me and puppets is probably not dissimilar from yours if you were born in the early seventies. It goes something like this:

When I was really little, King Friday and Queen Sara Saturday ruled a kingdom of hand puppets on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Cornflake S. Pecially manufactured rocking chairs, X the Owl admired Ben Franklin from inside an oak tree, and Lady Elaine Fairchilde lived in a Museum-Go-Round, a design concept that would either delight or nauseate (or both), but give architecture critics plenty to chew on.

Daniel Stripèd Tiger inhabited a grandmother clock in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

Daniel Stripèd Tiger inhabited a grandmother clock on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Courtesy of Photofest.

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