The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. (Photo/Gary Sexton)
The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. (Photo/Gary Sexton)

‘Art can offer some comfort’: Local Jewish cultural orgs look to provide respite from Israel news

The Contemporary Jewish Museum in downtown San Francisco is offering free admission this weekend, as local Jewish cultural organizations look for ways to provide some respite for those still reeling after a week of shocking news out of Israel.

“In this dark moment, as we process the horrible trauma, we open our hearts and find connection through our shared humanity,” the museum said in an email to subscribers. “Art and community can offer some comfort during times of immense challenge and heartache.”

The CJM will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Current exhibitions include “RetroBlakesberg: The Music Never Stopped,” a collection of 200 photographs of rock musicians that Jay Blakesberg took between 1978 and 2008, and “Mika Rottenberg: Spaghetti Blockchain,” which includes surreal video installations and sculptures by the Argentine-Israeli artist.

The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life in Berkeley, where admission is always free, will remain open during its regular hours, including Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and by special request.

“The wellbeing of our local communities is of vital importance to us,” Hannah E. Weisman, the museum’s executive director, said in an email to subscribers. “We are here if you need a space to take a break, to reflect or meditate, or to be in community.”

An exhibit of Roman Vishniac photos that is currently on view — “Cities and Wars: Roman Vishniac in Berlin and Jerusalem 1947/1967” — includes images Vishniac shot in Israel a few weeks after the Six-Day War in 1967.

These never before seen pictures of Israel by legendary photographer Roman Vishniac have arrived at the Magnes and UC Berkeley as part of a large archive of his work.
These never before seen pictures of Israel in 1967 by legendary photographer Roman Vishniac are at the Magnes as part of a large archive of his work.

Meanwhile, the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival will open on Sunday as scheduled, with an in-person screening of the documentary “Remembering Gene Wilder” at Mountain View’s ShowPlace Icon Theatre & Kitchen. Twenty-six films will also be available to stream at home, including a number from Israel.

“The Festival is an occasion to appreciate the unequaled talent of directors, writers, actors, producers and others who have created the best in Jewish film,” Tzvia Shelef, SVJFF’s executive director, said in an email to subscribers. “This is also a unique opportunity to be grateful for Israeli cinema — movies that portray the realities of Israeli life and the beauty of its cultural diversity, exactly the qualities that the murderers of Hamas attempted to erase.”

Other cultural events taking place this weekend in San Francisco include a chamber music concert by the Bridge Players at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, and a talk by UC Berkeley professor Robert Alter on his new book, “Amos Oz: Writer, Activist, Icon,” at the Jewish Community Library.

A war between Israel and Hamas, the U.S. State Department-designated terrorist organization that controls Gaza, broke out after Hamas members infiltrated southern Israel on Saturday, murdered more than 1,200 people and took around 150 hostages back to Gaza.

The fear of violence against Jews around the world on Friday led to at least one local event cancellation. Value Culture, a Bay Area nonprofit that organizes many Jewish-themed events, canceled a party that was set to take place Friday night at a San Francisco bar following Congregation Emanu-El’s Late Shabbat service.

“We firmly believe in the culture of non-violence to solve conflicts, and the value of cultural and community experiences related to our mission to heal pain,” Adam Swig, Value Culture’s executive director, said in an email to subscribers. “We are not a political organization and we fully denounce the terror attacks in Israel this past Saturday.”

On a personal note, he added, “This week has been extremely hard on us, and thank you for checking in on your Jewish friends and Middle Eastern friends, sending love. The horror stories from my friends in Israel will never leave me.”

Next Sunday, Oct. 22, the Israeli Chamber Project was scheduled to open Music at Kohl Mansion’s 2023-24 chamber music season. On Wednesday, the organization said in a press release that several of the musicians are unable to leave Israel due to the war. Two members who are already in the U.S., Carmit Zori and Assaff Weisman, will present a modified program with guest clarinetist Charles Neidich at the Burlingame venue.

“The program we will offer celebrates folk music from across North America, Europe and the Middle East,” Weisman said in the press release. “Our hope is that it highlights the threads that bind us all together.”

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.