Jewish Heritage Celebration toasts art, music, community

Recognizing that art, music and wine would help bridge cultural gaps separating local Russian, Israeli and American-born Jews, Olga Rybak is launching a celebration of all three cultures in a Potrero Hill art and design gallery.

Olga Rybak

“I wanted to bring together different parts of the community that I feel don’t mix enough,” said Rybak, a San Franciscan born in Ukraine. “We will have Israeli wine and Jewish-themed food, but the real purpose is to celebrate Jewish heritage, and also to make Israel a central piece of it.”

The Jewish Heritage Celebration is set for 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 28 at Arttitud, owned by Tatiana Takaeva, who is co-planning the event. Rybak anticipates the evening will draw a multigenerational crowd attracted to the music, art, wine, a small art auction and Jewish food.

“This is the type of event that should be appealing and interesting for all ages,” said the 30-something product manager. “We are telling people to bring the kids.”

Arttitud, she said, is “not your typical gallery space.” The design studio features postmodern furniture and work from various artists. “You look at art on the wall and hang out on armchairs — it almost feels like a lounge.”

“Jacob” by Alexander Gurevich

Rybak calls the evening “an event with a good cause.” Proceeds will be donated to the nonprofit Jewish LearningWorks, where Rybak is a board member.

She is also a longtime participant and organizer in Mishmash, a program of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s Israel Center for Russian young adults.

The Jewish Heritage Celebration required about six months of planning. “Even small events take a lot of work,” she said, including finding Jewish artists, wine distributors and music as well as doing marketing. “I’ve been trying to pull everyone from the Jewish world together.”

Seven Israeli and American Jewish artisans will show works in various media — photography, abstract paintings, sculpture and decorative art.

Artists from the former Soviet Union are also well represented, including Elena Lokshina, a local painter. Lokshina, a graduate of the Leningrad Academy of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg, started painting at 22 after having her first child.

She immigrated to the United States in 1987, lives in San Francisco and works as an apartment manager — which provides fodder for her images. “My work is typically inspired by the scenes and characters which pepper my everyday life in the gritty Tenderloin neighborhood,” she said. Drawing from her own experiences as a Jewish immigrant from Russia, Lokshina depicts the lives of immigrants and others whom she says sit “on the fringes of society.”

“Tango in Café” by Elena Lokshina

Another Russian-born artist, Alexander Gurevich, will also show his paintings. His work has been exhibited internationally and purchased by museums around the world, including the Magnes museum in Berkeley. Gurevich immigrated to Israel in 1993 and resides in Jerusalem.

His paintings, which are reminiscent of Rembrandt and Chagall in color and technique, place biblical figures in modern stories.

Representing another genre of art is third-generation French-born photographer Ursula Bensimon, who lives in San Diego. Originally from Paris, Bensimon was handed her first camera when she was 6 and said she hasn’t put it down since.

“When Olga contacted me about the event, I was in Israel,” Bensimon said in a recent phone interview. She decided to use Jerusalem as a backdrop for her photo installation, which is made up of about a dozen photographs of her 6-year-old son and 16-year-old cousin at the Western Wall. The photos juxtapose the observant Orthodox older child with her own son, who she said was raised “traditional.”

In addition to artwork, music will be provided by the local klezmer ensemble Hot Kugel playing jazz and blues. And local DJ and auctioneer Richard Habib will premiere what he calls “Yiddish house,” a mixture of house music with Jewish beats.

Ursula Bensimon photo

Kosher wine importer Harken Spirits will offer tastings, which will accompany kosher-style hors d’oeuvres.

Besides serving the local Jewish community, the Jewish Heritage Celebration also marks Jewish American Heritage Month, Rybak noted. Signed into law in 2006 by President George W. Bush, Jewish American Heritage Month recognizes the contributions of Jewish Americans to the United States.

With support from the Russian Jewish Community program of the S.F.-based federation, Rybak said she hopes to make the celebration an annual affair.

“Right now I’m calling the event an experiment — we’ll see what the turnout will be,” she said.

Jewish Heritage Celebration, 6-9 p.m. Wednesday, May 28, Arttitud, 111 Potrero Ave., S.F. $20.