Jews in America

Celebrating 350 years of Jewish life in America, the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education is launching its annual “Feast of Jewish Learning” with a series of lectures, musical performances, sing-alongs, and activities for adults and children.

The feast, which kicked off Jan. 29 with a “Night of Jewish Unity” at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, features a full menu of events into June in San Francisco, the North Bay and the Peninsula.

The following events, all free, take place at the BJE Jewish Community Library, 1835 Ellis St., S.F.:

As is the tradition, the library will host an art exhibit on the feast’s theme. Titled “America and I: Community Artists Reflect on the Jewish American Experience,” the show includes artists who are immigrants and native-born, Jews-by-choice and by birth. It opens with a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 3, and continues through June 30.

Focusing on klezmer, musicians and teachers Stuart Brotman and Josh Horowitz will deliver a talk and demonstration titled “Is Everything Old New Again?” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 10. The two will discuss the rise, fall and revival of the musical genre in North America and in Europe. KlezCalifornia is a co-sponsor.

Brotman, a bassist, flutist and arranger with such groups as Brave Old World and Veretski Pass, has been a key figure in the klezmer revival and has taught at KlezKamp and Oxford University. Horowitz, who has also performed with those groups as well as the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, teaches at the University of Vienna as well as KlezKamp.

Moving on to books, Aaron Lansky, who heads the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass., will discuss his work in a talk titled “Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books,” at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 20.

In 1980, at the age of 23, Lansky set out to rescue the world’s remaining Yiddish books before it was too late. Scholars believed at the time that fewer than 70,000 Yiddish books still existed. Twenty-five years and 1.5 million books later, Lansky heads one of the largest and fastest-growing Jewish cultural institutions in the world.

While most San Francisco Jewish historians focus on the city’s German families who came over during the Gold Rush, Lehrhaus Judaica founder Fred Rosenbaum will examine the history of those who came later in “With a Yiddish Accent: San Francisco’s East European Jews, 1880-1950,” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 23.

Kitty Millet will talk about “The Other Americas: Jewish Literature of Canada and Latin America” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 20. Others addressing Jewish life in America include stamp collector Ron Eisenberg, at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 6, and historian Marc Dollinger, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 12.

Need inspiration for a Passover seder? Local food mavens Joyce Goldstein, Rebecca Ets-Hokin and Mike Rose will discuss Pesach possibilities at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 29. Goldstein has written numerous books on Jewish cuisine, while Ets-Hokin is the executive chef of Camp Tawonga and a cooking columnist for j. Rose has co-owned the East Bay’s Semifreddi’s bakery since 1987.

Putting a scholarly light on Passover, Robert Alter will discuss “Exodus: A New Rendering of Our Ancient Liberation Story,” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 31. The author and professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at U.C. Berkeley will read from the Exodus passages in “The Five Books,” his new translation of the Torah.

Sharing his wartime Passover experiences from his memoir “The Medic: Life and Death in the Last Days of WWII,” San Francisco author Leo Litwak will speak at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 14. Litwak, who taught English literature at San Francisco State for more than 30 years, will talk about a soldiers’ seder in Germany.

What’s up for the family? Geared for Purim, actor/playwright/clown Jeff Raz will do a program on “You and the Whole Megillah Abridged,” from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, March 20.

Moving to the Lower East Side of New York, the BJE will host “All-of-a-Kind Family Day,” inspired by the stories of Sydney Taylor. In the “All-of-a-Kind” series, Taylor, whose 100th birthday coincides with the 350th anniversary of Jews in America, writes about Jewish immigrants in turn-of-the-century New York. During the family program, from 1 to 3 p.m. April 10, participants are encouraged to dress up in costumes, bring photos of grandparents and great-grandparents, and take part in recreating the Jewish immigrant experience.

For the more extended family — past, present and future — representatives from the San Francisco Bay Area Genealogical Society will be on hand, providing personal assistance with one’s searches. Bring your materials along. Registration is requested, but not required. Call (415) 567-3327, ext. 704. Sessions are from noon to 2 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 6, March 6, April 3, May 15 and June 5.

A feast requires entertainment, and comedian Charlie Varon and Rabbi Pam Frydman Baugh have teamed up for a program at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 7. In conversation, Varon will explore Jewish thought and spiritual practice, while Frydman Baugh will look at conveying Jewish values through humor.

Movies are also on the menu, with three from Israel at 7 p.m. Tuesdays, Feb. 15, March 15 and April 19. Selections (in order) are “Hide and Seek,” about the Jewish underground in pre-state Israel; “Kedma,” Amos Gitai’s film that follows refugees from Europe in 1948; and “Under the Domim Tree,” a coming-of-age story adapted from the memoirs of Israeli actress Gila Almagor.

Yiddish anyone? Jillian Tallmer will lead sing-alongs from 1 to 3 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 27, March 13 and April 10. Topics (in order) are “The Immigrant Experience,” “Solidarity” and “Greatest Hits of the Yiddish Theater.”

For more information on feast events, phone (415) 751-6983, ext. 132, or e-mail [email protected].