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Mimi Pollack

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Miriam [Mimi] Pollack was born in Chicago, but moved to Mexico City when she was five years old. She lived and worked in Mexico for over 20 years. She currently resides in San Diego and worked as an ESL instructor at Grossmont College and San Diego Community College Continuing Education until June 2018. She writes for various local publications.

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Artículos Publicados

Finding Jewish Stories on Interstate 8

If you go to the website of the publication, San Diego Jewish World, you will see the motto, “There Is a Jewish Story Everywhere!” Owner and publisher, Don Harrison, delights in traveling, meeting people, and sniffing out that Jewish story.

You can read about his latest adventures in his third book, “77 Miles of Jewish Stories”.  These stories take place on 77 miles of Interstate 8, in San Diego County, from Ocean Beach to the far ends of East County finishing at the boundary line with Imperial County. Harrison decided to see if he could find a Jewish story in the vicinity of every exit off the freeway/highway.

You would be surprised at the wide array of stories he found!  What is nice about this book is that you can go to the Table of Contents –there are 70 short chapters- and look for a story or area that interests you or when you have time to really savor, read the book from cover to cover and discover many fascinating people and facts along the way.

Some of my favorite chapters were chapter four on the Roseville section of Point Loma and Louis Rose [Harrison’s first book was on the life of Rose, one of the first Jews to settle in San Diego in 1850]. Roseville is named after Rose, a visionary entrepreneur who realized the potential of buying land between Old Town and the San Diego Bay near Point Loma. You can find a plaque honoring him near the water at Liberty Station. You can also see Rose’s influence in chapter nine. The visitor information center at the State Historic Park in Old Town is located in the Robinson/Rose house, named after Rose and attorney James W. Robinson. These are two chapters that will appeal to history buffs.

I also enjoyed the chapter on USD and Rabbi Wayne Dosick [The Rabbi and the Monsignor], and the idea of an “all-faith service”. In that spirit, I liked chapter eight on Mission San Diego.

I live in East County and some notable chapters from there were chapter 56 on the Eddy Pump and the Weinrib family in El Cajon, chapter 58 on the Dream Rider Equestrian Therapy and Catherine Hand in Alpine, chapter 64 on the Camp Lockett Buffalo Soldiers in Campo, chapter 61 on “Raising Alpacas” in Descanso, and finally, chapter 70 on the Desert View Tower in Jacumba Hot Springs. The chapters dedicated to East County offer fascinating tidbits about the history of the area and introduce us to some interesting residents.

There is a funny chapter on Lake Murray and how some of the nearby congregations go there during Rosh Hashanah. As an act of atonement, they cast bread into the water to atone for sins and ask for a fresh start. The funny part is the description of the bread that goes with the sin. For example, white bread is for ordinary sins; whereas, rye bread is for particularly dark sins.

My only complaint is that I found the typesetting to be very small, so you either need excellent vision or a good pair of reading glasses.  Otherwise, this is a book that many San Diegans-Jewish or not- can enjoy while learning about the area they live in.

Siberian Cupcakes in East County

There are five luscious Siberian cupcakes residing near Santa Ysabel on the way to Palomar Mountain. What is a Siberian cupcake? They are domesticated Russian foxes and this author was lucky enough to meet all five of them at the Judith A Bassett Canid Education and Conservation Center.. The co-founder of the Judith A Bassett Canid Education and Conservation Center, Amy Bassett, came up with the clever name. She and her husband, David Bassett, founded the non-profit center, and it is one of the first of its kind in the United States.

It all started about 60 years ago when Russian scientist, Dmitry Belyaev, became interested in finding out if certain wild animals could be successfully bred to get along with humans. The goal was to recreate something similar to the evolution of wolves into dogs, a transformation that began more than 15,000 years ago. He wanted to replay the process of domestication, a risky proposition in the USSR at that time, since the study of genetics had been essentially banned by Stalin.  However, after Stalin’s death in 1953, it became a bit easier in the late 1950’s, but he still had to be careful.

Belyaev chose foxes to work with as they were also canids and in the earlier days, he could work under the cover of breeding foxes to make better fur coats. He became the director of the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, Siberia. One of the people who worked with him was his intern, Lyudmila Trut, who took over after his death in 1985. She is in her 80’s today.

To begin the project, the research team traveled across the Soviet Union, visiting various fox farms, looking for the tamest and most docile foxes to purchase. They hoped that this might hasten the process of domestication.  They also wanted to prove that the domestication was genetic, so they also began breeding foxes that were much more aggressive and defensive.

By using a rigorous selection system, the team succeeded in creating a domesticated fox more quickly than they thought they would. By the 20th generation, 35% of the pups were what they considered to be “elite” and today, up to 75% percent of the foxes of the selected population that was bred is elite.  These elite foxes seek human companionship and contact.

Although the goal of the experiment was to reproduce the process of historical domestication, the researchers found that their understanding of the evolutionary process also changed. One striking thing that they discovered was how the foxes changed physically as they became more domesticated. They had floppier ears which can be found in other domesticated animals and their coats began to change color and some coats became spotted. The domesticated foxes also changed in their reproduction. They became sexually mature earlier and many litters had one more cub.

The goal was to create a genetically distinct population and many of these foxes that responded so well to humans lived in cages and had minimal contact. They were not trained to be tame.

Despite the remarkable work being done, it has also come with a price.  In the earlier days, many of the foxes that did not pass muster were sold for their pelts to raise money. Today, they sell the foxes as house pets to bring money in to continue the research. Although the Russians have come a long way in domesticating these elite foxes, most experts still agree that it is not a good idea to have a fox as a pet.

Closer to home, it is illegal in most states [including California] to own a fox.  However, there is a company in Florida that imports them. The cost is also prohibitive as each fox costs almost $9,000 to import. It is an extensive process to bring a domesticated fox from Siberia.

That is why it is such a special experience to meet a fox at the Canid Conservation and Education Center. The foxes there are not only gorgeous and friendly, they are interesting to observe as each one has a unique personality. First, there are the females. Sophia is the “diva” who rules the roost. She is the most vocal and loves to eat apples. Maksa is very sweet and loves to cuddle. Then, there are the males. According to Amy Bassett, “Boris is the friendliest. He is the least reactive, most confident, and loves having his armpits scratched!” Amy continues, “Mikhail is quiet and very sincere. He loves toys and is the most playful. Viktor is super confident and very cheeky! He is likely to find trouble the quickest! We are training Viktor in tracking!”

Finally, there is shy Ishy, an American bred fox with a lovely raccoon like face. As Amy Bassett says, “Ishy is considered a US ranch raised or tame fox. She is not domesticated for friendliness towards humans.”  The center is currently collaborating with a few experts to better understand the behavioral differences. They have noble and ambitious plans.

According to their mission statement, “the JABCECC is an interactive facility focused on education, research, conservation and animal assisted therapy programs.  This amazing not for profit facility is focused on partnering with special interest groups, academic institutions, animal physiologists, anthropologists, and experts in domestication and canine cognition to offer research opportunities, seminars and conferences, and a chance to meet the RDFs and other unique canids.  The facility partners with the film and photography industry to bring these amazing domesticated foxes to the world in a way no other facility in the world.  And of course, we would love to offer our Ambassador animals and the facility for private parties and events, so everyone can have the chance to meet one of these phenomenal animals.” 

Although this center is in its early stages, one can see the time and care they devote to their animals and the inspirational goals they have. With their expertise and devotion, ,along with various volunteers and donations, this center should grow and thrive.

Chef Forging a New Path

Executive chef, Giselle Wellman, is set to move in a new direction in the cooking world, and some lucky students will benefit from this. In July 2017, she became the new executive chef at San Diego Jewish Academy. She has always loved working with kids and wanted to do something to give back. Her work at the academy will include not only cooking for the students, but also teaching them about where their food comes from. This is definitely a new milestone in a successful career.

Wellman has done a lot in the world of cooking in her 33 years. She was born in San Diego and grew up in a Mexican Jewish family where food took center stage. Wellman fondly recalls cooking Shabbat dinners for her family from a young age. Her mother didn’t cook much, but her aunt did, and she was influential in Giselle’s life. “She was the first person I knew who chose cooking as a career”.

Although she grew up in an academic environment, she followed a different path. After graduating from high school, she did a year of community college and realized her passion was cooking. She then enrolled in a culinary school in Mexico City [Le Cordon Bleu Academie D’Art Culinaire] and studied for one year. She lived with her grandmother.

Returning to San Diego, she entered the professional cooking world. She started with an entry level position at Anthony’s Star of the Sea restaurant at the age of 19 where she was mentored by Jesse Paul [Paul is now owner of the Wooden Spoon in Escondido]. She worked her way up in restaurants in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Diego, including Jack’s in La Jolla [now closed] until she became an executive chef.  She also participated on Bravo’s Top Chef cooking show in 2015.

While at her last job as executive chef at Pacific Standard Coastal Kitchen in Little Italy, she realized that she wanted to move in a new direction in her life, so she parted ways with them amicably, and took a short break to reflect on life. “My goal to be an executive chef had been achieved, but I did not feel completely fulfilled”.

She had always loved working with kids and wanted to do something to give back. This all came together when she became the new executive chef at San Diego Jewish Academy.

San Diego Jewish Academy is on a large piece of land in a remote area of Carmel Valley. The school has an extensive garden where Wellman plans to have the students participate and learn by planting and harvesting crops for their hot lunch program and composting their waste.

By seeing where their food comes from, she hopes they will be inspired to eat more fruits and vegetables, in addition to becoming more environmentally conscious. There are compost gardens, including one with worms. For her, it is about showing the children a cleaner more sustainable lifestyle.

Wellman is excited to use her creativity and come up with recipes that “sneak” more nutrition into the food, like making macaroni and cheese with white bean sauce or nuggets with quinoa. Her goal is to make meals the children will enjoy, but also provide protein, fiber, and nutrients. For her, it would be a mitzvah if the program she envisions becomes an example to other schools.

Another goal is also to give back to the local food community. Many times farmers get stuck with produce they cannot sell, produce that is still edible, but imperfect. To that end, she is going to purchase “ugly foods” from marketplace, Save Good Food. She is also planning on working with Coastal Roots Farm, a non-profit Jewish community farm and education center, who will help in the educational programs for the students.

Finally, this change is personal, too. The restaurant business can be volatile with restaurants opening and closing. Wellman hopes to be working at the school for many years to come. It will also allow her to have more of a personal life as the life of a restaurant executive chef can be all consuming and some work up to 80 hours a week. At the school, she can work normal hours while providing meals and food for thought to the students, a winning situation on both sides.

Reprinted with Permission of L’Chaim Magazine

Chef emprende un nuevo camino

Giselle Wellman ha recorrido un largo camino en el mundo de la cocina a sus 33 años de edad. Ella ahora emprende una nueva dirección al pasar de ser una chef ejecutiva en un restaurante a ser la chef ejecutiva de la Academia Judía de San Diego, una escuela en el área de Carmel Valley.

Wellman nació en San Diego y creció en una familia judía mexicana en donde la comida fue central en la convivencia. Ella recuerda con cariño el preparar las cenas familiares desde muy temprana edad. Su madre no cocinaba mayormente, pero su tía sí, y fue su tía la que la encausó al mundo culinario. Como dice Wellman “ella fue la primera persona que conocí que eligió la cocina como profesión”.

Después de graduarse de la preparatoria, Wellman comenzó la universidad en San Diego y al término del primer año se dio cuenta de que la cocina era su verdadera pasión. Por lo anterior, se mudó a la ciudad de México con su abuela y se matriculó en la escuela de cocina Le Cordon Bleu, en la que permaneció un año.

Al regresar a San Diego, Wellman comenzó su carrera culinaria a los 19 años con un empleo de nivel básico en el restaurante Anthony’s Star of the Sea.
Gradualmente comenzó a subir los escalafones culinarios laborando en diversos restaurantes en Nueva York, Los Ángeles y San Diego hasta llegar a ocupar el puesto de chef ejecutivo. Incluso participó en el programa de televisión de la cadena Bravo “Top Chef” en el 2015.

Durante su labor como chef ejecutivo en el restaurante Pacific Standard Coastal Kitchen en el área de Little Italy, en el centro de San Diego, se dio cuenta de que quería emprender un camino distinto, por lo que se retiró amigablemente de dicho empleo y se tomó un tiempo para reflexionar sobre su vida y la dirección quisiera emprender.

Durante este periodo, Wellman recordó su gusto por trabajar con niños, así como su inclinación de ayudar a los demás realizado algún proyecto para poder dar algo a su comunidad. Afortunadamente, ambos anhelos se realizaron al ser contratada por la Academia Judía de San Diego en julio del 2017.

La Academia Judía de San Diego cuenta con un terreno muy grande y un jardín extenso en donde se cultivan vegetales y árboles frutales. Wellman planea comenzar las clases en agosto motivando a los estudiantes a participar en plantar y cosechar cultivos para utilizarlos en el programa de comidas calientes de la academia, así como en la separación y utilización de la composta restante.

Wellman considera que al trabajar en las cosechas, los alumnos aprenderían a ser personas con una mayor conciencia ecológica, educándolos e incitándolos a comer de forma más saludable incrementando el uso de frutas y verduras en su dieta diaria. El campus de la academia tiene varios jardines de composta, dependiendo de la materia prima utilizada, incluyendo uno con gusanos.

Adicionalmente, espera poder enseñar a los alumnos a llevar una forma de vida más limpia y sustentable, sirviendo dicho proyecto de programa piloto para poder implementarlo en otras escuelas.

Wellman se encuentra emocionada de poder utilizar su creatividad e ingenio en la cocina escolar, creando y cambiando recetas para hacerlas más saludables y nutritivas, como por ejemplo el preparar macarrones con queso adicionando frijoles blancos en la salsa o el preparar los nuggets con quinua. Su meta es el poder realizar comidas nutritivas que gusten a los niños.

Como meta adicional, Wellman quiere colaborar con la cadena alimenticia local. Ella explica, por ejemplo, que los agricultores terminan generalmente quedándose con producto que no pueden vender por ser imperfecto, sin embargo comestible. Por lo anterior, va a comprar el “producto feo” del mercado de productores Save Good Foods y lo utilizará en sus platillos. También planea colaborar con Coastal Roots Farm, una granja comunitaria judía sin fines de lucro que cuenta además con un centro educativo, ayudando en los programas educacionales.

El cambio que realiza Wellman es finalmente personal. La industria restaurantera es muy volátil, con la constante apertura y clausura de negocios, por lo que ella quisiera poder llevar un estilo de vida más estable al laborar durante muchos años en el ámbito escolar. Esta decisión le permitirá contar con más tiempo ya que la vida de un chef ejecutivo es estresante y se llega a laborar hasta 80 horas a la semana.

En cambio, en el colegio puede trabajar durante las horas laborables normales proveyendo de comida sana y nutritiva a los alumnos, enseñándoles de dónde viene la comida, e iniciándolos en un camino de vida alimenticia sana.

Isaac Artenstein: Historias Judias de la Frontera

Al cinematógrafo Isaac Arteinstein le gusta contar buenas historias, especialmente historias desconocidas, y si dichas historias informan y entretienen, aun mejor. El siente que los judíos del sudoeste tienen una historia aun no contada ya que el discurso ha sido mayoritariamente acerca de la expansión anglo americana hacia el oeste; sin embargo, otros inmigrantes también han sido parte de la historia; y Artenstein quisiera mostrar una de las partes perdidas del rompecabezas. Con ese propósito, trabaja en una serie de cuatro documentales, Frontier Jews (Judíos de la Frontera), que cubre a los judíos del sudoeste, incluyendo Nuevo México, San Diego, Arizona (Tucson), y El Paso. El documental sobre Nuevo México, Challah Rising in the Desert (Challah Elevándose en el Desierto), fue completado recientemente y el documental sobre San Diego, “To the Ends of the Earth” (Hacia los Confines de la Tierra) se encuentra casi terminado.

Artenstein nació en San Diego y creció como un niño fronterizo. Iba a la escuela en Tijuana y el bachillerato lo curso en Chula Vista. Fluido en ingles y en español, se mueva cómodamente en ambos mundos.

Aun joven, Artenstein contaba sus historias a través de la pintura. “Recuerdo como dibujaba y pintaba desde muy pequeño”.  El amor al arte lo guio a la fotografía y posteriormente a la cinematografía. Estudio pintura y fotografía en UCLA (Universidad de California en Los Angeles) y cinematografía en el Instituto de las Artes de California de donde se graduó. Utiliza su ojo artístico al realizar sus películas.

Después de anos de que la gente le preguntada de donde era y sin entender que Artenstein podría ser Mexicano, decidió realizar un documental acerca de los judíos de Tijuana. Comenzó por entrevistar a su propia familia y de ahí continuo entrevistando a otras familias o individuos que formaban parte de la historia de Tijuana. El documental “Judíos de Tijuana” salió en el 2005 y fue bien recibido y mostrado en muchos festivales de películas judías. En el festival de películas de Tucson le regalaron un libro “Judíos Pioneros” escrito por Harriet y Fred Rochlin, quienes contribuyeron a incrementar su interés por aprender más acerca del tema. Así que paso los próximos diez años buscando fondos para poder realizar su meta. “Mientras viajaba y entrevistaba a la gente en Tucson, El Paso y Nuevo México, me di cuenta que las historias eran muy similares a los de los judíos pioneros de San Diego cuyas vidas se centraban en Old Town. Al mismo tiempo, cada lugar tenía algo único y distintivo.

Artenstein también tiene un lado metódico que acompaña a su lado artístico. Al preparar cada documental, le gusta entrevistar a una amplia gama de personas para así poder encontrar una estructura dramática y un tema en específico. A pesar de estar produciendo un documental, el siente que aun se encuentra contando historias. Artenstein sabe que la parte visual, la iluminación, así como el humor y la música son importantes para cada documental, por lo que se rodea de gente talentosa. Su director de fotografía es Sergio Ulloa. Como dice Artenstein, “para Challah Rising in the Desert, Sergio y yo nos dimos cuenta que el paisaje de Nuevo México era una personalidad adicional de nuestro documental al ser tan diverso y hermoso”. Sus socios compositores en los documentales son Jaime Valle y Allan Phillips, quienes compusieron música distinta para cada documental.

El primer documental de la serie, Challah Rising in the Desert, explora la historia de los judíos en Nuevo México. La trenza especial del pan de challah representa las cinco hebras u ondas de asentamientos que han llegado, incluyendo a los judíos “conversos”, esto es, los judíos que escaparon la inquisición española hace 400 anos, los pioneros judío alemanes del sendero de Santa Fe en los 1800, los científicos quienes llegaron en los 1940 a Los Alamos, la contracultura juvenil de los 1960 y los judíos de hoy en día. También describe la influencia especial de que ha tenido Nuevo México sobre la comunidad judía; ya que solo ahí encuentras panaderos que mezclan chiles verdes en la masa del challah, produciendo un pan hibrido delicioso.

El documental sobre San Diego, To the Ends of the Earth surgió de una colaboración entre Artenstein y Bill Lawrence, quien es el Director Ejecutivo del Centro Histórico de San Diego, en donde se exhibe History and Heritage of San Diego’s Jewish Community (la Historia y Herencia de la Comunidad Judía de San Diego) hasta mayo 2018. Bill Lawrence comisiono a Artenstein a producir una serie de capsulas independientes para dicha exhibición. Para la realización de dichas capsulas Artenstein entrevisto a varias personas de la comunidad. A pesar de que los videos son independientes, dicha colaboración sirvió como catalizador para la realización del documental, por lo que Artenstein filmo las capsulas al mismo tiempo que el documental.

Mientras Artenstein investigaba, se encontró especialmente intrigado cuando descubrió y leyó un diario detallado de Victoria Jacobs. Victoria Jacobs fue una adolescente quien vivió en Old Town y quien escribió su vida cotidiana. Durante el tiempo descrito en el diario, los judíos formaban ya parte integral del tejido y la sociedad de San Diego. Incluso, había un callejón paralelo a la Avenida San Diego y la Calle de San Juan llamado ‘El Callejón de los Judíos” o ‘The Alley of the Jews”.

A pesar de lo anterior, después de que el ferrocarril fue construido, mas personas de origen anglo-sajón llegaron a San Diego y el sentimiento hacia los judíos comenzó a cambiar. Los de adentro se convirtieron en los de afuera. Para los 1940 y los 1950, se instituyeron acuerdos restrictivos en ciertas aéreas de la cuidad en donde los negros, mexicanos y judíos no podían comprar casas en estas zonas; la Jolla fue una de dichas aéreas.  A pesar de que los acuerdos mencionados eran ilegales, continuaron existiendo. La situación anterior cambio con la apertura de UCSD (la Universidad de California en San Diego) en los 1960. El director del Instituto Scripps de Oceanografía, Roger Revelle, fungió como líder del Consejo de Regentes de la Universidad de California. Revelle dejo en claro que si la UCSD iba a abrir sus puertas en La Jolla, los profesores independientemente de su origen pudieran vivir cerca de ella.

Challah Rising in the Desert será distribuida de forma general en septiembre. To the Ends of the Earth será completada para fines del verano y Artenstein planea presentarla ante el Festival Judío de Cinematografía de San Diego. Su meta es terminar los cuatro documentales de Frontier Jews para fines del 2018.

Con Permiso de L’Chaim Magazine

 

Isaac Artenstein: Telling Frontier Jewish Stories

Filmmaker Isaac Artenstein likes to tell good stories, especially unknown ones, and if those stories inform and entertain others, even better. He feels that the Jews of the Southwest have an untold story as the narrative has been mostly about the Anglo westward expansion; whereas, other immigrants are also part of the history. He wants to show one of the missing pieces of the puzzle. To that end, he is working on a four part series of documentaries, Frontier Jews, which covers Jews of the Southwest, including New Mexico, San Diego, Arizona [Tucson], and El Paso. The documentary on New Mexico, Challah Rising in the Desert has just been completed and the one on San Diego, To the Ends of the Earth is near completion.

Artenstein was born in San Diego and grew up as a child of the border. He went to school in Tijuana and high school in Chula Vista. Fluent in both English and Spanish, he moves comfortably between both worlds. In addition, with an Ashkenazi father and Sephardic mother, he was also exposed to the different aspects of Judaism, all of which served him well while making the documentaries.

Early in life, Artenstein told his stories by painting. “I can remember drawing and painting since I was very young”.  This love of art led to photography and later filmmaking. He studied painting and photography at UCLA and filmmaking at the California Institute of the Arts where he got his degree. He uses his artistic eye as a filmmaker.

After years of people asking him where he was from and not understanding that Artensteins could be Mexican, he decided to make a documentary on the Jews of Tijuana. He started by interviewing his own family and went on to interview other families and individuals who were all part of Tijuana’s history. The documentary “Tijuana Jews” came out in 2005 and was well received. It was shown at many Jewish film festivals.  At the Tucson film festival, he was given a book, “Pioneer Jews” by Harriet and Fred Rochlin, which piqued his interest in learning more. He spent the next ten years fundraising to accomplish his goal. “As I traveled and interviewed people in Tucson, El Paso, and New Mexico, I realized that the stories were very similar to those of the pioneer Jews in San Diego whose lives were centered in Old Town. At the same time, each place had something unique”.

Artenstein also has a methodical side to go along with his creative one.  In preparing for each documentary, he likes to interview a wide array of people to find a dramatic structure and a theme. Although he is making a documentary, he feels it is still storytelling. He knows that the visual, lighting, mood, and music are important for each documentary, so he surrounds himself with talented people. His director of photography is Sergio Ulloa. As Artenstein says, For Challah Rising in the Desert, Sergio and I realized that the New Mexico landscape was also a character in our film as it is so diverse and beautiful”. His co- composers are Jaime Valle and Alan Phillips. They composed very different music for each documentary.

The first documentary in the series, Challah Rising in the Desert, explores the history of the Jews in New Mexico. The braided challah represents the five strands or waves of settlements that have come, including the “converso” Jews escaping the Spanish inquisition 400 hundred years ago, the German Jewish pioneers  of the Santa Fe trail in the 1800’s, the scientists who came in the 1940’s to Los Alamos, the counterculture youth of the 1960’s, and the Jews of today. It also shows the special influence New Mexico has had on its Jewish community. Only there will you find bakers who mix green chilis into the challah dough, producing a hybrid and delicious bread, or Rabbis who wear talliths with Navajo designs.

San Diego’s, To the Ends of the Earth came about from a collaboration between Artenstein and Bill Lawrence, the Executive Director of the San Diego History Center, for the History and Heritage of San Diego’s Jewish Community exhibit which is running until May 2018. Artenstein was commissioned to produce a series of standalone video capsules for the exhibit. He interviewed various people in the community. Although the videos are separate, this collaboration was the catalyst for the documentary. Artenstein shot the capsules concurrently while shooting for the documentary.

While doing research, he was particularly intrigued when he discovered and read a detailed diary by Victoria Jacobs. Victoria Jacobs was a teenager who lived in Old Town. She wrote of her daily life. At that time, Jews were well integrated in the fabric and society of San Diego. There was even an alley parallel with San Diego Ave. and Juan St. called “El Callejon de los Judios” or “The Alley of the Jews”. It provided easy access for all the Jewish merchants in Old Town.

However, after the railroad was built and more Anglos arrived in San Diego, the climate towards the Jews began to change. The insiders became the outsiders. By the 1940’s and 1950’s, there were restrictive covenants in certain areas of town where Blacks, Mexicans, and Jews were not allowed to live. La Jolla was one of them. Although these covenants were illegal, they still existed.  This changed with the opening of UCSD in 1960. The head of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Roger Revelle, served as a point man for the UC Board of Regents.  He made it clear that if UCSD was going to open in La Jolla, he wanted all the professors to be able to live nearby.

The 1960’s and UCSD brought in brought a new renaissance of influential Jews to San Diego such as virologist Jonas Salk, electronic engineers Irwin Jacobs and Andrew Viterbi, and poet Jerome Rothenberg. This renaissance was scientific, entrepreneurial, and cultural. Jews had become insiders again.

Artenstein interviewed diverse people for the documentary, including Jewish historian Joellyn Zollman, San Diego Jewish World publisher Don Harrison, actor/writer Salomon Maya, Jonas Salk’s son Peter, and Congresswoman Susan Davis. He learned from Zollman that 20% of the Jewish community in San Diego is foreign born and there are Jews from Mexico, South Africa, Israel, and Russia. Thus, the Jewish community in San Diego is rich in diversity.

Challah Rising in the Desert will go to general distribution in September. To the Ends of the Earth will be completed by the end of the summer, and Artenstein plans to submit it to the next San Diego Jewish Film Festival. His goal is to complete all four documentaries or Frontier Jews by the end of 2018.

 

Reprinted with Permission of  L’Chaim Magazine

Herbert Siguenza: Melding Cultures

California has always been a state of both Latino and Anglo cultures. Herbert Siguenza, the Playwright in Residence, at the San Diego Repertory Theater has the gift of melding both cultures together and reaching a diverse audience as seen in the plays, A Weekend with Pablo Picasso, El Henry, Manifest Destinitis, and Steal Heaven. He is a performer who creates his art through writing, acting, and even painting.

Siguenza didn’t plan to be a performer when he was a young man. A first generation Salvadoran, he received his BFA from the California College of Arts in Oakland in the 1970’s. He lived in the Mission District in San Francisco and worked as a community visual artist. In those days, that area was the hub of social and artistic non-profits. It was here that he first discovered his voice as a writer and performer. After seeing Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit in 1978, he became inspired to do Chicano theater which eventually led him to Richard Montoya [son of legendary Chicano poet, Jose Montoya] and fellow Salvadoran, Ric Salinas, and together, they formed Culture Clash in 1984.

Culture Clash was a groundbreaking comedic troupe whose  biting social satire and commentary skewered everyone. They were irreverent and honest in presenting their view on society, be it Latino or Anglo, starting with their first play, The Mission. The Mission was a hilarious play about three out of work Latino actors who kidnap Julio Iglesias [Siguenza played Iglesias] and keep him hostage until they get a onetime shot on national TV.

In 1989, Salinas was shot at close range, a random act of violence. Their work then took on a deeper tone, and while Salinas was recuperating, they wrote a Bowl of Beings, short acts about life, death, and keeping with their humor, pizza.

The play was a huge success and well received. It was filmed for PBS’ Grand Performances and was aired nationally. This spotlight brought more attention and in 1993, they were commissioned to write a play about the city of Miami, and Radio Mambo was conceived. In 1996, they were invited to showcase scenes from Radio Mambo at TGC’s National Theater Conference in Princeton.

This showcase brought them to the attention of other Artistic Directors, and Sam Woodhouse, Founder and Artistic Director of the San Diego Repertory Theater asked them to write and perform a similar piece about the San Diego-Tijuana area which became, Bordertown, another success.

After more than 20 years of working together, the group worked on their last collective piece, Chavez Ravine, a darker and more sophisticated social satire, commissioned by the Center Theater Group in Los Angeles. Chavez Ravine was the story of how the Brooklyn Dodgers left the East Coast and came to Los Angeles; however, it turned into a more revealing story about public housing, over reaching of the press, political ambition, and immigrant families being displaced, not to mention baseball.  It was a huge hit and a top grossing show for CTG.

In 2001, Siguenza began to pursue a solo career and wrote a play about the Mexican comic actor, Mario “Cantiflas” Moreno, which he performed from 2001 to 2003. He wanted to do a play about his father’s comedic hero.

All of this led to him to approach Sam Woodhouse and Associate Artistic Director, Todd Salovey, about doing a one man show at the REP called, A Weekend with Pablo Picasso. Siguenza had been an admirer of Picasso since he was seven years old. At the age of 50, he felt he was ready to play him. After two years of workshops at the REP, the play was presented at the Alley Theater in Houston, Texas. It was directed by Salovey. The show was met with critical success and played at half a dozen regional theaters. It opened at the SD REP in the spring of 2010 and then again in the fall of 2013.

This play had a mass appeal to both Anglo and Latino audiences and what was unique about it was that the multi-talented Siguenza not only played Picasso, he also employed his artistic side, making drawings on the spot during the play. His artistic renderings were displayed on the walls of the Lyceum.

His next play with cross cultural appeal was El Henry, Siguenza’s futuristic barrio version of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part One. This high energy, visually stunning play was performed outside for the La Jolla Playhouse‘s Without Walls Festival in 2014. The play even included low rider classic cars. It won a Craig Noel award for best new play.

Siguenza then went on to write and act in Steal Heaven, a play about 1960’s activist, Abbie Hoffman in 2015.

In 2016, Siguenza began his three year residency at the REP and opened its 42nd season with Manifest Destinitis. Siguenza turned Moliere’s play, The Imaginary Invalid, into one about old California that at the same time, reflected a collective history and commentary on current times, especially in light of Trump’s campaign and subsequent election.

In the 2018 season, his melding of cultures will be represented in Beachtown, an adaption of an audience immersive play, Beertown. Beachtown will reflect a San Diego/Southern California setting and people debating what historic artifacts should go in a time capsule.  As Siguenza himself says, “I find this work exciting because there is no “fourth wall”, allowing audience members to participate and lend their voice in the proceedings instead of being passive spectators in the dark”.

Finally, acting and writing can also be cathartic. In his latest project, Birthday, Siguenza is working on his most personal and darkest piece which also happens to be a musical.  It is about people who come back from the dead for 24 hours on their birthday. Siguenza found out he had a son from a fling he had as a young man. The mother never told him. It wasn’t until the young man committed suicide that he found out.  His son left behind two boys who only recently met their paternal grandfather, but now see him on a regular basis. In his own personal life, Siguenza has found happiness with his second wife, Samantha, and their six year old daughter, Belen.

 

 

Reflections on the Jewish Arts Festival

The 24th Annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts festival, directed and produced by Todd Salovey, has been a multicultural learning experience for me.

First was the exhibit of Boris Malkin [1908-1972], a painter, graphic artist, and book illustrator from Belarus. His work is dark, compelling, and poignant, perhaps reflecting the attitude of the Soviet Union government toward its Jewish population, especially in that era of anti-Semitism. His work is that of a sensitive, but haunted soul. I also spoke with his granddaughter, Mariya, who is very proud and protective of her talented grandfather’s legacy. His work was shown at the Lyceum Lower Gallery.

Next was the 16th Annual Klezmer Summit with Yale Strom and Hot Pstromi. They presented, “Tower of Babel- A Klezmer, Roma, Balkan Brass Party. The band included many gifted musicians, including singer, Elizabeth Schwartz, Strom’s wife, Tripp Sprague on tenor sax, and Fred Benedetti on guitar. The music reflected how military brass music in the Ottoman Empire was influenced by the music of the Jews [klezmer] and Roma [taraf]. The last song, however, was a rousing rendition of Hava Nagila.

Hot Pstromi also had a guest band that played before them, the talented Euphoria Brass Band, a San Diego musical collective that plays New Orleans style music.

On a personal note, I have had a fascination with klezmer music for many years. Thus, the highlight of the festival for me was “The Wandering Feast”, based on Yale Strom’s year long journey in 1981 backpacking around Eastern Europe, and his search for old klezmer music and Jewish life left behind the Iron Curtain.

That journey turned into one of self-discovery into his own Yiddish heritage, and finding out about the strong connection between klezmer and Roma music. This was a touching presentation with the charismatic, Max Singer, reading as the young Yale while Strom played violin in the background.

Again on display was the anti-Semitism that the people behind the Iron Curtain endured, especially during and after World War II. I saw many in the audience dabbing tears from their eyes. They were clearly moved. I can’t wait for this to be turned into a full blown production with its insights and music!

Finally, on July 6th, the film, “Challah Rising in the Desert” The Jews of New Mexico will be shown. Directed by Isaac Artenstein [Tijuana Jews, A Day without a Mexican], this documentary is part of a four part series on the Jews of the Southwest, including San Diego. The braided challah bread represents the five waves of Jewish Settlers in New Mexico, starting with the “conversos” escaping the Spanish inquisition 400 years ago, the German pioneers of the Santa Fe trails, the scientists at Los Alamos in the 1940’s, the counterculture hippies of the 1960’s, and the Jews of today. Of particular interest to me are the “conversos” or the secret Jews of New Mexico and their descendants. Artenstein has the knack for keen observation, so this film and the three documentaries should be educational and insightful.

The 24th Annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival runs until July 9th.

Tickets: SDREP.org

A Night of Jewish Culture

Monday evening was a good example of Jewish culture from around the world at the 24th Annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts festival, directed and produced by Todd Salovey.

Fist was the exhibit of Boris Malkin [1908-1972], a painter, graphic artist, and book illustrator from Belarus. His work is dark, compelling, and poignant, perhaps reflecting the attitude of the Soviet Union government toward its Jewish population, especially in that era. The work reflects a sensitive, but haunted soul. I also spoke with his granddaughter, Mariya, who is very proud and protective of her talented grandfather’s legacy. His work can be seen at the Lyceum Lower Gallery.

Next, as I wandering around, I ran into the effervescent Hannah [Hanche] Galicot, who since the 1980’s, has been like the “Godmother” of the Mexican Jewish community, welcoming newly arrived immigrants, inviting people over for a meal, and on occasion, even matchmaking. She was there with her daughter, Denisse, and son in law, Jaime Brener.

The highlight of the evening was the 16th Annual Klezmer Summit with Yale Strom and Hot Pstromi. They presented, “Tower of Babel- A Klezmer, Roma, Balkan Brass Party. The band was multicultural and included many gifted musicians, including singer, Elizabeth Schwartz, Strom’s wife. The music reflected how military brass music in the Ottoman Empire was influenced by the music of the Jews [klezmer] and Roma [taraf]. The last song, however, was a rousing rendition of Hava Nagila.

Hot Pstromi also had a guest band that played before them, the talented Euphoria Brass Band, a San Diego musical collective that plays New Orleans style music.

Finally, on a personal note, I have had a fascination with klezmer music for many years. Thus, I am looking forward to attending Sunday’s free presentation of “The Wandering Feast”, an event directed by Todd Salovey. It is based on Yale Strom’s year long journey in 1981 behind the Iron Curtain and his search for old klezmer music and self discovery into his own Yiddish heritage. This event will be at the Encinitas Library on Sunday, June 18th at 2:00 PM.

The24th Annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival runs until July 9th.

SDREP.org

Deborah Szekely and Aging Gracefully

How does one live to be 95 and in good shape mentally and physically?  Common wisdom tells us to eat well, exercise, stay positive, be part of a community, etc.  Of course, it also helps to have good genes.

In the case of Deborah Szekely, who will be 95 on May 3rd, all of the above statements are true. Her whole life has been about healthy living and community. In 1940, at the age of 18, Deborah, and her late husband, Edmond Szekely , founded Rancho La Puerta across the border from San Diego in Tecate, Mexico. Deborah already had healthy eating habits in place as her mother had been the vice president of the Vegetarian Society in New York. After she married the professor, they continued following a healthy lifestyle, and opening Rancho la Puerta was their mutual dream of sharing that healthy lifestyle with others.

Today the ranch is a world renowned spa that is known for its delicious food, plethora of mind and body classes, and beautiful surroundings that inspire guests to walk everywhere. Although she no longer lives at the ranch, Szekely still goes there once a week and talks about her life and lifestyle, and why she has thrived for so long.

She understands the importance of eating well, following a fresh and simple diet, mostly plant based and organic. She walks and does daily yoga and Pilate classes. She has a young at heart philosophy and believes that life after 60 is the beginning of emancipation, freedom, opportunity and choice.

She also believes in giving back and is very philanthropic, donating to various charities, etc. She was one of the sponsors of “Into the Beautiful North”, a play at the San Diego Repertory Theater. She also founded “The New Americans Museum” in Liberty Station, a museum that celebrates immigrants and their contributions.

Finally, at one of her weekly lectures, a guest at Rancho La Puerta asked her, “What are the three most important things in life that you have learned?” She answered the following.

“There are five.”

“First: supportive friends and community.”

“Second: a pleasant, agreeable, and protected environment.”

“Third: organic, honest food, mostly plants.”

“Fourth: oxygen for the brain, body and spirit. This can be summed up in two words: KEEP MOVING!”

“And finally, none of the first four are valuable without faith and peace of mind.”

Indeed, wise words to heed from someone who has lived 95 incredible years, and is still going strong.

 


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