As a child in school, I loved field trips. Is there a child who doesn’t? The chance to escape the confines of the classroom and meet the wide and wondrous world was always a thrill. In the State of Israel, where I grew up, field trips were unforgettable adventures. Not only were we exploring a glorious landscape, we were seeing the sites of history inscribed there. One of my favorite sites was the famous Roman amphitheater in Caesarea. It was built two thousand years ago, and it is miraculously well-preserved. I was so impressed by its design: grand and spacious yet circular and intimate, and not a bad seat in the house. Music, dance, and drama performances are held there to this day. You sit not only side by side but face to face. Even better, everyone in the audience can see each other.
Enjoying the Skirball’s amphitheater with one of my wonderful grandchildren.
The amphitheater is both a cultural space and a communal space. That is the ideal that inspires us at the Skirball—to be a place where both culture and community are celebrated.
Happy birthday, Skirball! Today you turn eighteen. If you were like other Angelenos your age, you might be spending these days preparing for prom… or waiting for college acceptance letters… or applying for that job you weren’t eligible for until now. Hopefully you’d live up to your mission and register to vote and not dodge jury duty. You’re not quite old enough for a cocktail, but we’ll toast you nonetheless.
It’s been a good year for you, Skirball. At last, your fifteen-acre campus was completed, and in grand style at that. The Jewish Journal took note of the special occasion in a cover story on your founder, Uri D. Herscher, and he and architect Moshe Safdie reflected upon the journey of your building on film. Of this particular birthday, Uri also reminds us, “Eighteen in Jewish life is special cause for celebration, for in Hebrew the number spells life—and the Skirball’s life is thriving like never before.”
Now, as an eighteen-year-old, you would certainly spend a ton of your time taking selfies and posting them online—if only you could. But since you can’t, a few of us on staff took some for you. Here are eighteen gorgeous—and some unexpected—views of you, all taken in the last week or so. Thanks for being home to us and to so many of our visitors. Happy eighteenth!
This past Sunday was my first time attending the Skirball’s annual Puppet Festival, and as soon as I reached the parking lot, it was obvious that everyone in attendance was filled with excitement and anticipation. Moms, dads, friends, and relatives were actively engaged in conversation while their children—many dressed in colorful costumes—were skipping with joy at the thought of seeing the myriad of puppets. Throughout the day, I observed many memorable moments; fortunately, talented photographer Peter Turman was there to capture some of them with his camera. The Puppet Festival was a full day of celebrating families, friends, and puppets! Click through the slideshow below to catch a glimpse of the day as seen through my favorite ten of Peter’s photographs.
1. My day at the Puppet Festival began in the craft room, where toilet paper and paper towel rolls were miraculously transformed into marionettes. The crafting materials afforded adults and children alike with a wide array of puppet possibilities, from a simple snake to a more complex elephant or giraffe. Most of the children designed their own imaginary creatures. The little girl in this photograph used buttons for eyes and an assortment of yarn for colorful hair. It is obvious from her mother’s expression that she is proud of her daughter’s original creation.
2. These puppets based on Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird were stunning. Their expressive, watercolored faces and colorful, billowing fabric bodies made their larger-than-life presence a true showstopper. I loved seeing the Firebird puppets interact with the children. Kids who were not intimidated by their giant stature would approach the puppets and then run away, giggling as if playing a game of tag.
3. Puppet Festival is for families! The event creates lifelong memories of spending time with little ones, listening to music, attending puppet shows, exploring Noah’s Ark, and catching up on the latest exhibitions at the Skirball. I particularly enjoyed watching the children munching on snacks as their faces lit up with awe. I haven’t seen so much kiddy food since grade school. Mini mac and cheese and granola bars for everyone!
4. The expressions on the faces of the children in this photograph are absolutely priceless! There is something about puppets that keeps little ones completely engaged.
5. The giant bird puppet created by Leslie K. Gray is always a real hit. Although it takes three people to guide the immense creature, the puppet appears to be almost weightless.
6. There’s something on your shoulder! At first I thought it was a parrot, but soon came to realize the object getting all the attention was a small puppet critter. The puppeteer laughed as visitors tried to interact with this strange yet absolutely adorable furry creation. All of the puppeteers at the event were enthusiastic about showing off their puppet friends.
7. This puppeteer on stilts, also known as Captain Tall Tale, navigated the Skirball grounds with ease. While his head seemed to reach the clouds, every now and then he would lean over to greet a much smaller visitor.
8. This drummer announced the entrance of the gigantic natural-elements puppets that gathered above the Taper Courtyard. Once they were in place, the puppets swayed to the beat of the drums as the audience joined in with the dance.
9. In between shows, Captain Tall Tale and his friends brought out a jump rope. They were immediately swarmed by children who wanted to join in on the fun. This photograph captures a boy who appears to be part kangaroo!
10. As the event neared an end, I looked around the crowd and it was obvious that the joy I had observed throughout the day had not diminished. Parents were still chatting, puppeteers continued to entertain, and children were happily playing. Suddenly, this small Firebird puppet whizzed over the children’s heads after the completion of its final performance. The children chased the puppet, reaching for the sky as if nothing could hold them down. The third annual Skirball Puppet Festival was indeed a day filled with laughter, excitement, and love.
In celebration of the opening of The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats this week, Deborah Pope, head of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, shared the following essay by her father, Martin Pope, with us. Martin and Deborah’s heartfelt words help express the true joy the Skirball feels in presenting this wonderful exhibition.
Because my father and Ezra Jack Keats were best friends, I grew up thinking Ezra was my uncle. He had not yet written The Snowy Day when I was of an age to read picture books and so when he did, I couldn’t really grasp the magnitude of his accomplishment. Nor could I, as a child, understand the fact that my father, Martin Pope, was a world-renowned scientist. For me, these two men were present as playfellows, co-conspirators, and cheerleaders.
The essay below was written by my father for the opening of The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats at The Jewish Museum in New York City, now at the Skirball. I would like to add a few words to his. The experience of poverty and prejudice might have hardened my father’s and Ezra’s hearts; instead, it made each of them, in his own way, determined to work against the perpetuation of such injustice. Their deep affection for and belief in one another fed their resolve to escape from deprived childhoods and realize their dreams, one in science and one in art. Integral to their plans was marking their path—the path of books, friendship, and imagination—to help coming generations of children find their way to better lives. Even now, at the age of 95, I think you will hear in my father’s words the depth of his continuing dedication to their shared childhood dreams.
Ezra Jack Keats (left) and my father, Martin Pope (right). Different paths, same road.
My story with Ezra began eighty-one years ago, in the East New York section of Brooklyn, so often pictured in his books. We met in summer school; he was fourteen and I was twelve. Ezra had failed algebra because he wasn’t interested in math, I failed because I corrected my teacher. Our bond as friends was cemented that summer. Continue reading →
The third annual Puppet Festival is this Sunday, April 13. From hand to shadow, marionette to pageant-size, all your favorites will be there! The Skirball is especially happy to welcome back puppeteer, storyteller, and puppet maker René Zendejas. René returns to wow families with a special animal puppet revue and performance, showcasing some of his best handmade animal puppets. I sat down with René as he was preparing for his appearance to ask him about his long career in the world of puppetry.
How did you get started in puppetry?
I started when I was in junior high school. My mother took me to see as many puppet shows as possible that were playing in L.A.
Which puppeteer captured your imagination when you were young?
I had already started in show business when I was five years old, so this wasn’t something totally new for me. One of the puppeteering teams that caught my eye was Walton and O’Rourke—the most fantastic puppeteers that I have ever seen. From then on, I was smitten. They’re long gone by now. They had the most beautiful marionettes and their manipulation was unsurpassable—except by me, of course.
How do you make your puppets? First, the clay is sculpted using water-based or grease clay. Second, a plaster mold is made of the clay sculpture. Then you pour your final material into the mold, either plastic or latex. Then comes the finishing of the figure by sanding. Lastly, you animate it—if there is to be any animation in the eyes and the mouth—and paint it. Meanwhile, the body must be constructed and costumed. Continue reading →
A sneak preview of Tales from the Forgotten Kingdom, to be performed by the Guy Mendilow Ensemble at the Skirball on March 27:
Guy Mendilow is not only an incredible musician, he is also quite a scholar of Sephardic culture. He and his ensemble’s concerts not only present the music of Sephardic tradition in a contemporary style, they also share the stories and culture of the Jews of both pre- and post-diasporic Spain. Their concerts become not just an opportunity to enjoy, but also to learn. I invite you to share in my conversation with Guy and then join us at the Skirball for what is certain to be a great evening.
So what is Ladino? How is it an “endangered” language? First off, let’s quickly tackle the question of names. The term “Ladino” is arguable. Although it has become the most common name for the language, the spoken language itself is more correctly called Spaniolit, Yehuditze, Judeo, Judaismo, Hekatia (in Northern Africa), Saphardi, or, as was the case for older generations, simply Spanish. Today, the various dialects are often grouped under “Judeo-Spanish,” an umbrella term used mainly in academic study.
What the language is is a great story. The final expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497 marked the start of large-scale migrations in which the Jews eventually settled in communities spanning the vast Ottoman Empire, from Northern Africa and the Mediterranean to the Balkans, and beyond. In each adopted home, the language, food, customs, stories, songs, and musicality that the Jews brought with them mingled with local variants—and cultural and linguistic offshoots eventually evolved. To some extent, each Jewish community adopted words and expressions from the local languages, including Greek, Slavic languages, Arabic, Turkish, and Hebrew. The language of Ladino is a beautiful illustration of these broader patterns. Another reason that the language is fascinating is that it keeps alive some of the grammar, words, and even pronunciation from the 1500s. It’s like a time capsule.
Judeo-Spanish is still spoken by pockets of Jews, today primarily in Israel. But the culture has succumbed to many of the same forces of modernity and assimilation to which other cultures have also succumbed. Children stopped learning the language, focusing instead on the dominant languages of the new home, like Hebrew or English. When grandparents passed away, the language went with them.
Why do you think preserving Ladino through song is important? Songs—and other arts—can tell us much about a culture. They are a glimpse into a constellation of values and perspectives, occasions, life cycles, and celebrations. Songs are also an opportunity to hear the language, especially when there are fewer and fewer opportunities to do so, for most of us at any rate. Continue reading →
Chis Kim A., shown here with his poster alongside Liora Avrahami from EL AL Airlines, designer Arnold Schwartzman, and Skirball curator Doris Berger. Photos by Shoshana Maimon.
We have a winner! When we opened the exhibition To the Point: Posters by Dan Reisinger last month, not only were we excited to have the unique and inspired designs of Dan Reisinger on view in our Ruby Gallery, but thanks to his many years of collaboration with EL AL Israel Airlines and the support of the Consulate General of Israel, we were able to offer the opportunity for anyone to share their designs with us and enter a contest to win airfare to Israel via EL AL! We are happy to announce that Chris Kim A. (click here to read how he got the “A” from Andy Warhol!) has won the contest, and excited to share the winning poster as well as the designs of seven other finalists below. Continue reading →
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.
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 →
Building a snowman in Tel Aviv. February 5, 1950. Photo by David Eldan. Courtesy of Government Press Office of Israel.
I was eight years old the first time I saw snow. It was in Tel Aviv, where I grew up and where it never snows. But one day, in February 1950, it did. A layer of white blanketed the city. Everyone came outside to witness the extraordinary event. My friends and I built snowmen in the streets. The grown-ups did, too. And all within view of the Mediterranean Sea. The sight of white snow on white sand—it was so rare and marvelous! Since immigrating to the United States, I have witnessed many other snowfalls, but I will never forget the first one.
In the 1960s, Ezra Jack Keats, the son of immigrants to these shores, wrote and illustrated The Snowy Day, a book celebrating the childhood wonder of snow. His setting was New York City. Snow is not a rare event there. But the book was a rare event, because Keats made the groundbreaking choice of an African American as its main character—the first time a black child was the focus of a popular children’s picture book. Keats did not see himself as a pioneer of civil rights. But it was important to him to depict his beloved neighborhood as it was, and to show that the joys of childhood are universal. Continue reading →
When the rain is coming down during winter in L.A. (like it is today, finally!), the Skirball takes on my favorite look: wet. Much has been made of Moshe Safdie’s signature materials—glass, steel, and water—and how they reflect the sun, sky, and mountains. [To learn more about Safdie’s design aesthetic, visit Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie.] Those of us who live/work in one of his environments know the special secrets of how the concrete walls look wet, the patterns of raindrops on the pond, the sound of a storm against the glass, and the occasional leaf floating in a puddle.
It is with these moments in mind that I decided to create a spotify playlist—a soundtrack, if you will, for those stormy days, when the archaeology dig is closed and the buildings’ exteriors take on a mellowed hue. I invite you to pick up an umbrella and admire the Skirball in the rain with your headphones tuned to this playlist.
The Taper Courtyard.
“Hljómalind” by Sigur Rós from Hvarf/Heim The organ at the beginning always reminds me of a church organ, but the song is anything but a hymn. It’s written in Hopelandic, the imaginary Icelandic-like language the band has invented to focus their listeners on sounds rather than words, I frequently think that Jónsi is singing “you saw the light” and “you shine on us.” At the same time, for me the nonsense syllables call to mind the interplay of wet flagstone and sky in the Taper Courtyard. The final moments of the song remind me of a toy piano. Follow along with the Hopelandic lyrics, here.
“Eple” by Röyksopp from Melody A.M. (but I most prefer the Black Strobe remix off their Eple 12″ EP)
In Beaux Art architecture, in order to create a successful fountain, one needed to ensure that anyone strolling by would hear the sound of water on water, water on stone, and water on metal. Certainly on a rainy day one can hear that all of that at the Skirball. “Eple” seems to reflect the romance of falling water in at least all three of those states, plus the drama of grey skies. I think here at the base of the mountains and Mulholland Drive we benefit from a very special climate. If you’ve ever watched the clouds roll into the mountains here and become fog, you know what I am talking about. See the Röyksopp music video, here.
“Tinseltown in the Rain” by The Blue Nile
The classic but defunct indie band The Blue Nile knew a thing or two about rain: their home base was Glasgow, Scotland, a city that receives nearly fifty inches annually. While their song is not about Los Angeles but the impermanence of love, I love comparing the idea of the wet Victorian buildings (ubiquitous in Glasgow) to the Skirball’s rain-streaked modern architecture. Plus the song showcases Paul Buchanan’s plaintive voice to brilliant effect. I often sing the song to myself while I walk out the Skirball’s front door towards a rainy Sepulveda Blvd. The repetition of lyrics is a nice accompaniment to watching windshield wipers of cars stopped at the traffic light. Watch it performed live, here. Continue reading →