In Los Angeles, 15 million inhabitants live within 88 incorporated cities and countless independent neighborhoods, including Hollywood, a place name that frequently substitutes for everything “showbiz.” About one percent of LA residents identify as Jewish; that accounts for the second largest Jewish population in the United States and the fourth worldwide after Tel Aviv, New York, and Haifa.
Jewish LA residents past and present have had substantial influence on contemporary culture. Movie titan, director, producer, writer and philanthropist Steven Spielberg tops Forbes 2014 list as the “most influential celebrity.” With profits from Schindler’s List, he created the Righteous Persons Foundation to fund projects for Jewish youth and established the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, which collects historical testimonies from Holocaust survivors and makes the visual history archive available worldwide.
A sampling of notables includes Samuel Goldwyn, Billy Wilder, and Larry King, Barbra Streisand, Natalie Portman, and Debra Messing. There are CEOs, Corporate Presidents, Chairmen, executives, agents, and philanthropists. A Who’s Who of “Hollywood” moguls attended a gala March 19, 2014, benefiting the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance: producer Harvey Weinstein, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, Vice President of NBCUniversal, Ron Meyer, and media giant, philanthropist and staunch Israel supporter Haim Saban.
The Museum of Tolerance, an architecturally stunning edifice named for the famed Nazi hunter has a curatorial focus that supports human rights, opposes bigotry, and recalls the Holocaust. Its popular new Anne Frank exhibit attracts throngs. The museum is located on Pico Boulevard’s “Kosher Restaurant Row,” near Factor’s, the popular kosher-style deli and just a short drive to Nate’n Al’s— on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills where I used to see Larry King at breakfast. (Go to www. mykosherla.com for kosher restaurants in LA.)
Just a few blocks west on Pico from MOT, turn right on Beverwill at Mr. C. Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive is just ahead, on the left. The iconic two-mile long drive cuts through Beverly Hills; it leads to the Regent Beverly Wilshire, on Wilshire, reaches the swank designer shops until Little Santa Monica, passes affluent residential homes between Santa Monica and Sunset and arrives facing the Beverly Hills Hotel. Parallel streets — Beverly, Canon, Camden and Crescent — are lined with boutiques, fine dining restaurants and casual eateries. In Beverly Hills, media buffs watch television classics at the Paley Center for Media Los Angeles (Museum of Radio and Television, on North Beverly Drive), films at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science Samuel Goldwyn Theater (on Wilshire) and current flicks at Century City shopping center (off Avenue of the Stars).
Westwood Boulevard is two miles west of the MOT. Lenny’s Deli (formerly Juniors) is just north of Pico (ask for Michelle) and the Armand Hammer Collection, with its wonderful impressionist paintings, is on Wilshire. The major Westwood attraction is the beautifully restored Geffen Playhouse between Wilshire and the UCLA campus. Named for its benefactor, the record executive, film producer and philanthropist David Geffen, the playhouse features top performers in new and commissioned plays by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning playwrights.
Continuing west to “The 405,” the San Diego Freeway north leads to The Getty Center, an imposing, modernist, world-class art destination which houses the best examples of Greek and Roman antiquities; European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture, decorative arts, and photographs. Mural, by Jackson Pollock is on view until June 1st.
Architect Richard Meier’s designed the striking cluster of six Italian travertine buildings atop a 110-acre hilltop site in the Santa Monica Mountains. Each individual gallery frames fantastic views, which extend west over the Pacific and east all the way to Downtown. Meier, who comes from a German Jewish family that emigrated in the 1890s, inherited two menoras, one of which is at the Israel Museum, in Jerusalem, and the other in the Skirball Museum.
The Skirball Cultural Center, designed by architect and global citizen Moshe Safdie, is just four miles north of The Getty Center, off the 405. Jack Skirball, a 19th century reform rabbi, pioneer in audiovisual education, film producer and real estate entrepreneur initially funded the project. He believed that visual objects could engage an audience and supported a destination where Judaica artifacts could function as “storytellers” which is what the core exhibit, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, does. Talks, readings, courses, films, poetry, dance and the ever-popular Noah’s Ark Story attract 600,000 visitors annually including 80,000 students and teachers; a new in 2013 wedding venue features a built-in chuppah.
The reputation that Los Angeles enjoys as a contemporary art capital can be considered in large part the legacy of Eli Broad. The 80-year-old Jewish entrepreneur established two Fortune 500 companies before devoting his innovative energy to The Broad Art Foundations, which directly benefits artists and museums, in particular The Museum of Contemporary Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and, going forward, The Broad, a new museum under construction on Grand Avenue. It will open in 2015 and display 2000 works from the couple’s collection including pieces by Jeff Koons, Joseph Beuys, Roy Lichtenstein, Cindy Sherman and Ed Ruscha.
Broad’s impact on Grand Avenue with the Walt Disney Concert Hall, MOCA, High School of Visual and Performing Arts and Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels helped launch a Downtown Renaissance, which attracts architectural and cultural tourism.
The Grand Avenue Cultural Corridor also connects magnificent historic buildings, Union Station, City Hall and the Los Angeles Central Library. The library, which heralded modern architecture when it opened in 1926, displays twelve murals that symbolize California’s history in the rotunda under its second floor dome. And, Union Station, a beautiful Mission Revival railroad terminal, is opposite the fun and fanciful Olvera Street, a block long Mexican marketplace that’s part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument. Of the 27 buildings, one dates from 1818, which is ancient history for a city incorporated in 1850, the year California became a state. According to that same LA timeline, only four years later, in 1854, “The first Jewish services in history of Los Angeles are held.”
In addition to the major cultural institutions, most tourists visit Universal Studios, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and Sunset Strip. And what is special about LA is that there is vibrant uniquely-Jewish culture alongside the mainstream culture, with the very fine Zimriyah Chorale, Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble, and the LA Jewish Symphony.
Irvina Lew, a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and Society of American Travel Writers writes about what she loves, including France, art, and history. www.irvinalew.com