CONTEMPORARY JEWISH MUSEUM – Free Admission, December 25th

Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Head to the Contemporary Jewish Museum on Sunday, December 25th to experience CJM Community Day, sponsored by Target, an admission-free fun-for-all extravaganza. In celebration of Houdini: Art and Magic, families can make their own optical illusion spinning tops and enjoy the Magic of Jade with three performances at 11:30 am, 1:00 pm, and 2:30 pm. Museum hours are 11:00 am – 4:00 pm.


The exotic allure of Jade’s magic stems from her Chinese heritage and her childhood on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Jade took the male-dominated world of magic by storm in 1990, when she won first place in the International Brotherhood of Magicians’ World Magic Competition. More importantly, a panel of celebrity judges honored her with the organization’s coveted Gold Medal of Magic, a prize awarded only a handful of times in the competition’s 20-year history. To date, she remains the sole woman to receive this honor. The renown from her win propelled Jade into appearances on foreign and national television. She has performed on the stages of variety theaters in Europe and Canada; luxury cruise lines like American Hawaii and Holland America; and casino revue shows in Atlantic City, Lake Tahoe, Biloxi, and Las Vegas. Her impressive list of corporate clients includes Hewlett Packard, Apple Computer, General Electric, and Sony. Click here for more information: JADE

All galleries at CJM will be open with these fabulous exhibitions on view:

Houdini: Art and Magic – includes more than 160 objects including magic apparatus, a recreation of the famous Water Torture Cell, historic photographs, dramatic art nouveau-era posters, theater ephemera, and archival and silent films that allow visitors to fully explore the career and legacy of the celebrated entertainer. Handcuffs, shackles, straitjackets, milk cans, packing trunks – nothing could hold Harry Houdini (1874-1926), the renowned magician and escape artist who became one of the 20th century’s most legendary performers. With a talent for self-promotion and provocation, this immigrant son of a poor Hungarian rabbi rocketed to international fame and grabbed front page headlines with his gripping theatrical presentations and heart-stopping outdoor spectacles – often dangling high above huge crowds or being lowered dramatically into an icy river locked inside a crate.

Der Weltberühmte (World Famous), Houdini. 1912

“Harry Houdini is extraordinary not just for his spectacular feats, but also for the obstacles he overcame to transform his life,” says Connie Wolf, the Museum’s director. “He was a cultural outsider who became an American icon – an inspiration to millions then and now. His legacy continues to fire the imagination of contemporary artists and countless others and we are thrilled to be sharing his story with Bay Area audiences.”

CALIFORNIA DREAMING: Jewish Life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present – From Levi’s blue jeans to the Sutro Baths, Gump’s to Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, the story of the Bay Area’s Jewish community is the story of the region itself. The first exhibition of its kind, California Dreaming explores Jewish life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the present and demonstrates how it is informed by the pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit of the many Jews who came out West in the booming decades that began with the Gold Rush.

With barrels of Sacramental Kosher wine during prohibition.
Photo, The Bancroft Library

The exhibition features a documentary video offering an array of contemporary stories of Jewish migration to the Bay Area created by award-winning independent filmmaker Pam Rorke Levy, as well as a commissioned series of photographs by local artist and cultural historian Rachel Schreiber that reveals the untold stories of the Jewish community from past to present. The exhibition is a dynamic narrative of events brought to life through hundreds of photographs, documents, ephemera, audio, and video that illuminates the development of the Bay Area Jewish community and illustrates how it has taken on its independent, inventive, and aspirational character over time. Visitors are invited to add their stories and submit photographs to an ever-evolving community photo wall that can be browsed online through the Museum’s website or in the gallery.

Black Sabbath: The Secret Musical History of Black-Jewish Relations – is a musical journey through a unique slice of recording history–the Black-Jewish musical encounter from the 1930s to the 1960s. In contrast to the oft-told story of how Jewish songwriters and publishers of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway transformed Black spirituals, blues, and jazz into the Great American Songbook, scant attention has been paid to the secret history of the many Black responses to Jewish music, life, and culture. From Johnny Mathis singing “Kol Nidre” to Aretha Franklin’s 1960s take on “Swanee,” visitors can learn how Black artists treated Jewish music as a resource for African-American identity, history, and politics.

Photo, Courtesy of The Johnny Mathis Archives

Within a nightclub setting that evokes the 1940s, these songs and more, including rare and unusual recordings, can be heard at the exhibition’s two iPad listening stations. Each station features a curated group of songs arranged around a particular theme. The “Heebie Jeebies” playlist focuses on jive. The “Go Down Moses” playlist features spirituals and soul music inspired by the Old Testament. Liner notes from the soon to be released compilation by the Idelsohn Society of Musical Preservation on which the exhibition is based can be accessed via a special Black Sabbath application on the Museum’s iPads. Visitors can view vintage videos of performances such as a 1966 TV appearance by Danny Kaye and Harry Belafonte singing “Hava Nagila” and Nina Simone singing the Israeli folk favorite “Eretz Zavat Chalav” in Hebrew. And, still images and album covers can be viewed as projections on the soaring wall of the Museum’s Yud Gallery.

Stanley Saitowitz: Judaica – Award-winning San Francisco-based Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma Architects are known for a practice that combines the principles of early modern architecture with the materials, techniques and sensibilities of the 21st century. Raised in a traditional Jewish family in South Africa, Saitowitz has designed private residences, institutions, public and commercial spaces, and religious architecture across the globe. Among the many commissions he has completed during his 30-year career are a number of significant Jewish spaces, including the Holocaust Memorial in Boston and the critically acclaimed Temple Beth Shalom in San Francisco’s Richmond District.

Stanley Saitowitz: Judaica is the result of that life-long thought process. For this project, Saitowitz has been especially interested in how the Jewish traditions of non-figuration mirror the modern movement’s insistence on abstraction. “The objects on view here are a synthesis of these influences,” he says. “The disinterest in ornament and the direct expression of function that modernism sought has always been inherent in Judaic traditions. The structuring of thought as theological and Talmudic, minimalist and dialectical, where ideas and concepts govern laws and actions, is fundamental to modernism. Rigors similar to those of kashrut, which regulate what can and cannot be eaten, and shatnez, prohibiting the unnatural mixtures of materials, are traditional counterparts to contemporary modernist thinking.”

StoryCorps StoryBooth – The Contemporary Jewish Museum, is the first museum in the country to host a StoryCorps StoryBooth. Founded and directed by award-winning radio documentary producer and MacArthur Fellow Dave Isay, StoryCorps is the largest oral history project of its kind. Since 2003, StoryCorps has brought together thousands of people from across generational, professional, socio-economic, and cultural divides to share their life stories, history, and hopes. Aired each Friday on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, StoryCorps’ award-winning broadcasts touch millions by illuminating our common humanity through personal experiences that reflect contemporary American culture.

Bay Area residents and visitors are able to interview important people in their lives in the StoryBooth recording studio, located in the Museum’s Sala Webb Education Center. After their recording session, participants receive a copy of their story, and with their permission, an additional copy is added to the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress for future generations to hear.


The Sentinel’s own editor Sean Martinfield is interviewed by David Perry on Comcast. Catch the Action!
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