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2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049 - (310) 440-4500
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 13, 2012

Media Contact:
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Skirball Cultural Center presents

JEWISH HOMEGROWN HISTORY
Immigration, Identity, and Intermarriage

March 29–September 2, 2012

Heartwarming home movies provide alternate glimpses at California Jewish life

 



Bob Gregory dances with his sister Sandy at his Bar Mitzvah in 1960.
By then he was already teaching dancing professionally at Ted Raden’s Dance Studio. Courtesy of Bob Gregory.

 

LOS ANGELES—In its premiere installation, a new exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center invites viewers to watch vivid moments from the lives of ordinary families and discover how Jewish home movies enrich the story of California.

Debuting at the Skirball from March 29 through September 2, Jewish Homegrown History: Immigration, Identity, and Intermarriage centers on an array of “homegrown movies” that illustrate the personal experiences of California Jews. Conceived and created by USC art collective and research initiative The Labyrinth Project, the immersive gallery experience intertwines these amateur home movies with commentary from scholars and historians. The narratives they tell add dimension and emotive power to “official” textbook history, helping to enrich, complicate, or challenge what we thought we already knew. Exhibition visitors may also view documentaries on Jews in the West and use computer terminals to add their family stories to the Jewish Homegrown History online archive.

Using a touch-screen interface, exhibition visitors select one of ten five- to ten-minute narratives. These vibrant films are projected on three giant screens and envelop viewers in sound and light. Exploring the dynamic interplay between personal memory and collective history, the films document diverse immigration trajectories and the identity issues they raise, and help viewers consider the complex negotiation of rival allegiances to new locations and homelands left behind. The films also address the relationships Jews forged with other ethnic communities in California. Unlike many Jewish cultural histories, which begin in the East with Ellis Island, this exhibition focuses on the Jewish experience in the West. The exhibition’s key themes—immigration, identity, and intermarriage—are woven throughout the narratives.


Harold Mark worked for two years at North American Aviation in Downey, where he helped make history by building rockets that would go to the moon. He is on the far right, bottom row. Late 1960s/early 1970s. Courtesy of Harold Mark.

Among the viewing options are the stories of the Chaikins of Boyle Heights, whose children grew up alongside Latino and Japanese neighbors; Harvey and Arlene Feingold from Winnipeg and Boyle Heights, who met on a Zionist farm in New Jersey that trained them for life on a kibbutz; and Harriet and Fred Rochlin, a writer and an architect who met at Berkeley and collaborated on an illustrated history of pioneer Jews of the West. Visitors may also choose the story of Bob Gregory, whose career as a party planner seemed to fulfill the image of California life as an endless vacation; or that of the Sauls, whose marriage blended Ashkenazi and Sephardic/Berber traditions and through whom viewers experience the heart-wrenching plight of the Moroccan Jews. Alternately, visitors may choose to focus on “Murrieta Hot Springs,” which depicts how this distinctly Californian resort differed from better-known Catskills vacation resorts in the East.

Lilienthal family in the Redwoods, 1912. Provided by Judah L. Magnes Museum, under Creative Commons license.

“The Skirball welcomes the opportunity to try on new lenses with new insights on American Jewish life,” remarks Robert Kirschner, Skirball Museum Director. “It’s fascinating to see how these home movies capture the traditions, values, and aspirations of California Jews, and the mutually enriching encounters with their neighbors.”

He adds, “We applaud USC’s Labyrinth Project for collecting and bringing to light these family artifacts as a way of preserving Jewish heritage and history. Recordings of private moments, often unappreciated as historical witnesses, are in fact irreplaceable evidence of community life from generation to generation—who we are and how we lived.”

An exciting aspect of Jewish Homegrown History is the opportunity for visitors to add their own family stories to the ever-growing, interactive online archive of Jewish cultural history maintained by The Labyrinth Project. As they enter information at computer stations, visitors begin to see how their histories connect to scholarship, other peoples’ backgrounds, historical documents, vintage photographs, and more. With the user-friendly interface, visitors are able to upload images from home to http://jewishhomegrownhistory.com

“In many ways, home movies are the history of our times,” says Marsha Kinder, Director of The Labyrinth Project. “Integrating the personal stories of ordinary people with the public record only deepens our understanding of the history of American Jewry. When gallery visitors enter information about their origins into the online archive and upload their images, they become part of that history-making process. They emerge as co-authors. We welcome Angelenos to participate and become a part of history.”

Marsha Miller and her brother grew up in the 1950s in a City Terrace neighborhood where their mother claimed they were the "poorest" Jews she knew. Courtesy of Marsha Miller.

Related Programs—Additional programs may be announced.
 

  • HOME MOVIE DAY: On Sunday, April 22, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the Skirball presents Home Movie Day. Visitors are invited to bring their treasured home movies to the Skirball, where facilitators will project selections from visitors’ films on the big screen and help make them part of the Jewish Homegrown History project. Experts will also be on hand to advise on best preservation practices. Advance appointments recommended: (310) 440-4651.
  • FILM SCREENINGS: As part of its ongoing Classic Films series of free matinees, the Skirball will show the celebrated works of Jewish women screenwriters, including Interrupted Melody (Tuesday, May 1, 1:30 p.m.), The Band Wagon (Tuesday, May 8, 1:30 p.m.), Singin’ in the Rain (Tuesday, June 5, 1:30 p.m.), and Humoresque (Tuesday, June 12, 1:30 p.m.). In July and August, the series will focus on the films of screenwriters Phoebe and Henry Ephron (film selections and exact dates TBA).
  • EXCURSION: On Sunday, June 3, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., a daylong tour of Jewish Los Angeles will be offered. Participants will visit historic sites, old and new neighborhoods, and surprising venues that tell the story of the settlement and growth of the city’s Jewish community over three centuries. Destinations include Original Canter’s Restaurant, Hollenbeck Park, Libros Schmibros Lending Library/Bookstore, andPersian businesses and religious institutions in Beverly Hills.

 

About The Labyrinth Project

Led by professor and noted film scholar Marsha Kinder, The Labyrinth Project was founded at the University of Southern California in 1997 and has been producing innovative models of archival cultural history and digital humanities scholarship ever since. Presented as museum installations, websites, and DVD-ROMs, Labyrinth’s award-winning “database documentaries” use the immersive language of cinema and the interactive potential of digital media to bring archival materials to life. Jewish Homegrown History was conceived and created by Marsha Kinder and media artists Rosemary Comella, and Scott Mahoy, with the assistance of Victor Bautista, Daniel Bydlowski, Marius Constantin, Pearle Goh, Kristy Kang, and Daniel Rabins.

 

About the Skirball

The Skirball Cultural Center is dedicated to exploring the connections between 4,000 years of Jewish heritage and the vitality of American democratic ideals. It welcomes and seeks to inspire people of every ethnic and cultural identity. Guided by our respective memories and experiences, together we aspire to build a society in which all of us can feel at home. The Skirball Cultural Center achieves its mission through educational programs that explore literary, visual, and performing arts from around the world; through the display and interpretation of its permanent collections and changing exhibitions; through an interactive family destination inspired by the Noah’s Ark story; and through outreach to the community.

 

Visiting the Skirball

The Skirball Cultural Center is located at 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90049. Free on-site parking is available; street parking is strictly prohibited. The Skirball is also accessible by Metro Rapid Bus 761. Museum hours: Tuesday–Friday 12:00–5:00 p.m.; Saturday–Sunday 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.; closed Mondays and holidays. Museum admission: $10 General; $7 Seniors, Full-Time Students, and Children over 12; $5 Children 2–12. Exhibitions are always free to Skirball Members and Children under 2. Exhibitions are free to all visitors on Thursdays. For general information, the public may call (310) 440-4500 or visit www.skirball.org. The Skirball is also home to Zeidler’s Café, which serves innovative California cuisine in an elegant setting, and Audrey’s Museum Store, which sells books, contemporary art, music, jewelry, and more.

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