Rem Koolhaas Firm Reveals Design for Los Angeles Temple Expansion


A rendering of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s campus with the 1929 temple, left, and the design for the Audrey Irmas Pavilion. Credit OMA/Luxigon

Rem Koolhaas and Shohei Shigematsu of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) unveiled on Friday the initial design for the Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s community event space, the Audrey Irmas Pavilion.

Named after the cultural center’s lead donor, whose $30 million dollar pledge in 2015 began the capital campaign, the inclined five-story building will slope away from the 1929 historic Byzantine-revival synagogue, symbolizing deference to Los Angeles’s oldest Jewish congregation.

The pavilion will house a ground-level banquet hall, meeting and conference rooms and a rooftop garden, while myriad angled windows will filter light throughout the space and offer vantage points from each room.

“In a city so large and so diverse, we need community, and we need inspiring, welcoming places,” Rabbi Steve Leder said in a statement. “Los Angeles deserves a modern masterpiece that brings people together in the heart of the city’s most diverse neighborhood.”

A committee selected Mr. Koolhaas and his firm OMA in an architectural competition to design the 55,000-square-foot building, which will host events for the congregation as well as Koreatown’s greater community.

The Audrey Irmas Pavilion is OMA’s first commission from a religious institution, and its first cultural project in California. The building will break ground later this year and is to open in 2020. More than 70 percent of the estimated budget of $75 million has been raised.

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Nonfiction: How to Be a Jew in the Age of Trump?


Credit Tyler Comrie

Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump
By Jonathan Weisman
238 pp. St. Martin’s Press. $25.99.

Come November’s midterm elections, the Republican candidate for the Third Congressional District of Illinois will be a Nazi. There is nothing neo about Arthur Jones. Not just a white supremacist, not merely a foot soldier of the alt-right, Jones is the sort of full-on, unreconstructed, Holocaust-denying (“the blackest lie in history”), Hitler-worshiping, blood-and-soil warrior for whom the Jews are the root of all evil. Don’t panic. He will lose the election in an overwhelmingly Democratic district, but it is precisely that assumed outcome which seemed to have persuaded local Republicans not to bother opposing him in the March 20 primary. Waking up to the result of their indifference they belatedly repudiated Jones. But it might have occurred to them that the mere fact of his appearance on the ballot as the Republican candidate is itself a shocking affront not just to Jews but to all the norms of American political decency. Then again, those norms right now are shifting sand.

The sick joke of Jones’s candidacy doesn’t feature in Jonathan Weisman’s “(((Semitism))),” but every other kind of monstrously reawakened zombie-Nazi madness does, especially those swarming and multiplying in the digital dung heap. His book is largely a report from consternation nation, and its longest chapter chronicles the rise of white supremacist aggression, on and off the web. He has been on the sharp end of trolling storms and knows what it feels like (as do I) to have yourself photoshopped with concentration camp stripes or with your head in an oven. But in the end Weisman is unsure how much of an actual and immediate danger this online abuse represents. For all of the website bile and the tiki-torch marches, “the threat of violence against Jews,” he writes, “has not materialized into actual violence,” especially in comparison with hate crimes committed against African-Americans and Muslims. He quotes the Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt saying that “the number of Americans that hold anti-Semitic beliefs has decreased dramatically.”

But of course it is the advent of Trumpian politics — its nonstop carnival of paranoia; its scapegoating of Hispanics and African-Americans; its anti-immigrant phobia — that has rung Weisman’s alarm bells, which accounts for his subtitle: “Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump.” More sinister for him than the foaming lunacies of the neo-Nazis is the alt-right’s embrace of conspiracy theorists; the routine mutation of fantasy into fact; the appetite for seeing secret hands (George Soros for instance) at work in plots to undermine America — all of which have a whiff of late Weimar about them, not to mention the long history of populist anti-Semitism in the United States. Better, Weisman believes, to be fretfully vigilant than torpidly complacent. In one of the 1940s movie-poster homilies he favors (“the world is watching,” “the nation gasped”), he warns that while “unheard thunder” was rumbling, “the Jews slept.”


But this reduction of “being Jewish” to a state of hair-tearing anxiety about the surge of anti-Semitism means Weisman never quite delivers on his subtitle’s promise. A richly researched and nuanced account of Jewish life in stressed-out, polarized America would be timely, but this isn’t it. Instead, Weisman takes a chapter to complain about what he considers the major distraction preventing American Jews from being fully alert to the perils of the time — but this, a little surprisingly, turns out to be “Israel, Israel, Israel.” It is not clear whether he thinks the AIPAC herd mentality, so elated at gestures like the embassy move to Jerusalem, blinkers Jews to the threat that Trump and Trumpism represent to the liberal culture he champions. Or whether he believes that increasingly abrasive debates dividing the Jewish community about the occupation of the West Bank and the expansion of settlements are the greater problem. Weisman reports with understandable pain his demonization by hard-liners as a self-hating Jewish traitor for daring to point out, in a Times infographic, which opponents of the Iranian nuclear deal were Jewish. But such bitter arguments have gone on for a while and it seems odd to suppose that engagement with the trials and tribulations of Israel somehow precludes engaging with diaspora anti-Semitism, as if Jews of all people have a finite capacity for attentiveness. Anti-Semitism and the existence of Israel are hardly historically disconnected.

The second malaise Weisman identifies as blunting Jewish alertness to the peril of the times is the hollowing out of a Jewish identity that is neither uncritically Zionist nor devoutly religious. “The Jews who are most interested in a liberal, internationalist future, who wish to live progressive, assimilated existences free of threat,” he warns, “are disappearing.” But his sense of the tradition he believes is being lost is romantically wishful. In a hasty drive through Jewish history he nominates Moses Maimonides and Moses Mendelssohn as embodying this outward-looking nontribal Judaism. But the two Moseses were intensely devout and at times darkly pessimistic about the prospects of a Jewish life in a non-Jewish world.

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Critic’s Notebook: The Jews Who Dreamed of Utopia

With the storming of the Winter Palace — evoked in this show through a video clip of Sergei Eisenstein’s film “October” — a strange tension arose: Soviet leaders condemned the anti-Semitism of the old czarist regime, but also advocated an assimilation that would wash away Jewishness. “Only the most ignorant and downtrodden people can believe the lies and slander that are spread about the Jews,” Lenin proclaimed in a 1919 address, which plays on an audio loop. In the same gallery, a photomontage depicts a bulldozer dropping a rabbi and a Russian Orthodox priest to the ground. “Through the development of socialism,” the poster reads, “we deal religion a deadly blow.”

In the early days of the Soviet Union, Jews not only held top political positions but also occupied central positions in the artistic avant-garde. The director Dziga Vertov, in films like “Man With a Movie Camera,” set about creating a cinematic language for a new world. El Lissitzky, who earlier printed folksy lithographs of Passover stories, now painted geometric collisions such as “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge” (1920).


El Lissitzky’s poster ”Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge” from 1920. Credit Ne Boltai!

It all went sour fast. Halfway through “Comrade. Jew,” we see a portrait by the Jewish painter Isaak Brodsky, a key figure of socialist realism: It’s Stalin, eyes bright, hand resting on a copy of Pravda, bristly mustache nearly covering his mouth. His Great Purge of the mid-1930s was not explicitly anti-Semitic, though Soviet Jews faced more danger than other minorities. (Heaven help those aligned with Trotsky — seen here in a monstrous cartoon, as a dog covered in swastikas.) Yet to Jews in Germany and Austria in the 1930s, communism offered hope as terror closed in. In 1934, the Austrian painter Friedl Dicker-Brandeis depicted a police interrogation of a left-wing agitator, rendered in sickly greens and yellows, scored with a palette knife. A decade later, she would be murdered in Auschwitz.

It was after World War II, and especially after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, that Stalin’s erratic stances toward Jews turned into full-bore anti-Semitism. This section is perhaps too shy about the gulag, evoking the black years through documents of crimes like the Night of the Murdered Poets in 1952, (in which Yiddish writers and others were executed in a Moscow prison), and a tangentially relevant clip from Costa-Gavras’s anti-Stalinist film “The Confession.”


A photograph from Birobidzhan, a town in the autonomous Jewish region of Russia, in 1937. Credit W. Girschowitsch/Museum St. Petersburg

The 1960s and 1970s saw substantial Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union to the United States and to Israel. Several of them became leading figures of Moscow Conceptualism, the most important art movement of the later years of the Soviet Union. Some Jewish artists, such as Ilya Kabakov and the pair of Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid produced parodies of Communist agitprop that is at once satirical and nostalgic. Other remain in the new Russia, including Erik Bulatov — who closes this show with “Sunrise or Sunset” (1989), a bitingly ironic painting from the days of perestroika, in which the state emblem of the Soviet Union sits ambiguously where the sea meets the sky.


In Erik Bulatov’s “Sunrise or Sunset” (1989), the state emblem of the Soviet Union sits ambiguously where the sea meets the sky. Credit Ludwig Forum fur Internationale Kunst. Aachen, Peter und Irene Ludwig Sammlung/Carl Brunn

Mr. Bulatov’s painting ought to be the enigmatic last word. But downstairs, in the Jewish Museum’s permanent collection display, I saw something I have never before seen in a historical museum: a screenshot of a Facebook post, presented with the same care and regard as centuries’ worth of Judaica. The post features an image of a fat, sweaty banker, with a hooked nose and stars on his cuff links, gorging on delicacies while a starving fellow diner, labeled “the people,” has only a bone to eat. The man who posted it is Heinz-Christian Strache: the leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party and, since December, the country’s vice chancellor. A specter is haunting Europe today, and it is not the one these comrades foresaw.

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Julius Lester, Chronicler of Black America, Is Dead at 78

Reviewers often praised his work for its vibrant immediacy, political urgency and deep rootedness in both black oral tradition and historical documents, including the narratives of former slaves.

Mr. Lester’s best-known writing for adults includes the book “Look Out, Whitey! Black Power’s Gon’ Get Your Mama” (1968) and two volumes of memoir, “All Is Well” (1976) and “Lovesong: Becoming a Jew” (1988), about his conversion in 1982.

His children’s books include “To Be a Slave” (1968), a nonfiction chronicle that was a Newbery Honor Book, as the finalists for the Newbery Medal, considered the Pulitzer Prize of children’s literature, are known.


Among Mr. Lester’s most highly praised books for children is a retelling of the Victorian children’s book “The Story of Little Black Sambo.” Credit Puffin Books

Mr. Lester also collaborated on a series of children’s picture books with the distinguished African-American illustrator Jerry Pinkney. Among the most highly praised is “Sam and the Tigers” (1996), a retelling of the Victorian children’s book “The Story of Little Black Sambo” purged of its myriad racist elements.

From the time he entered public life in the 1960s, Mr. Lester was periodically a lightning rod for controversies centering on race and religion.

In the late ’60s, during a period of acute tension between blacks and Jews in New York City, he caused a furor after he countenanced the reading of an anti-Semitic poem on a show he hosted on the radio station WBAI.

In the late ’70s, an essay he wrote for The Voice, which condemned some African-American leaders as anti-Semitic, caused him to be labeled anti-black.

In the late ’80s, after Mr. Lester criticized the novelist James Baldwin for what he felt were anti-Semitic remarks, he was removed from the Afro-American studies department at the University of Massachusetts. The move engendered a national debate on censorship, political correctness and academic freedom.

Ultimately, Mr. Lester’s personal, political and religious transformations lent a Cubist quality to his vision, allowing him to perceive myriad facets of American oppression simultaneously.

In an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 1992, he spoke of knowing both “the pain of a Jew when confronted with black anti-Semitism and the pain of a black when confronted with Jewish racism.”

Over the years, as Mr. Lester’s writings reflect, he also experienced serial immersions in black nationalism, Maoism, Roman Catholicism, mysticism and atheism.

His odyssey had taken him a long way from his early life in the Jim Crow South — an upbringing in which, Mr. Lester wrote long afterward, “childhood was a luxury.”

A Jewish Ancestor

The son of Woodie Daniel Lester, a Methodist minister, and the former Julia Smith, Julius Bernard Lester was born in St. Louis on Jan. 27, 1939. When he was a child, the family moved to Kansas City, Kan., and later to Nashville.

“There were nothing but black kids in my class, the class across the hall, the school, the neighborhood,” Mr. Lester, writing in 1976, recalled telling his incredulous young son. “I was 20 before I lived among whites.”

Yet as a child, Mr. Lester learned that he had a Jewish ancestor on his mother’s side, Adolph Altschul, an immigrant from Germany who had settled in Arkansas.

“My great-grandfather was a Jew, I say to myself,” he later wrote, recalling that youthful epiphany. “I don’t know what that means, not if meaning is confined to words and concepts.”

But meaning, he continued, “is also feeling and sensation and wonder and questions.”

Mr. Lester’s father hoped he would follow him into the ministry, but the young Mr. Lester wanted only to become a folk singer. In the early 1960s, after earning a bachelor’s degree in English from Fisk University, a historically black institution in Nashville, he moved to New York to pursue that calling.

There, he performed on the coffeehouse circuit as a singer and guitarist. He released two albums for Vanguard Records that melded folk and blues with his socially conscious lyrics: “Julius Lester” (1965) and “Departures” (1967).

Mr. Lester’s first published book, which appeared in 1965, was an instructional manual, “The Folksinger’s Guide to the 12-String Guitar as Played by Leadbelly,”written with Pete Seeger.

In the 1960s, Mr. Lester was closely involved as a writer and photographer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, becoming the head of its photography department. In that capacity, he traveled to the South to document the civil rights movement and to North Vietnam to photograph the effects of American bombardment.

For much of this period he was an ardent separatist, arguing, as The Boston Globe reported in 1970, “that all effort should be turned to finding a way to establish a black nation within the territorial confines of the United States.”

In “Look Out, Whitey!,” his first book about race, Mr. Lester wrote: “The world of the black American is different from that of the white American. The difference comes not only from the segregation imposed on the black man, but from the very nature of blackness and its evolution under segregation.”

Reviewing “Look Out, Whitey!” in The Times Book Review in 1968, the novelist and historian Truman Nelson called it “a magnificent example of the new black revolutionary writing that could generate the tidal force to sweep aside all the tired and dead matter on our literary shores.”

In 1968, Mr. Lester became the host of a weekly show about political issues, broadcast on WBAI.

Late that year, Leslie R. Campbell, an African-American New York City schoolteacher, appeared as a guest on the show. The broadcast came on the heels of the racially charged controversy over local control of public schools in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville section of Brooklyn, a predominantly black neighborhood whose schools were staffed by a predominantly white cadre of teachers.

Amid the crisis, the United Federation of Teachers, many of whose members were Jewish, went on strike throughout the city, affecting hundreds of thousands of students and resulting in dozens of lost school days.

On Mr. Lester’s show, on Dec. 26, 1968, Mr. Campbell read a poem written by one of his black teenage students. Dedicated to Albert Shanker, the president of the teachers’ union, it began: “Hey, Jew boy, with that yarmulke on your head / You pale-faced Jew boy — I wish you were dead.”

The poem, and Mr. Lester’s on-air defense of it as an important evocation of a black student’s experience, provoked a storm of complaint. The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith called publicly for Mr. Lester’s dismissal from the station.

WBAI stood by Mr. Lester’s right to have made the broadcast, as did the Federal Communications Commission, which reviewed the case in 1969. His show remained on the station until the mid-’70s.

Friction With Blacks

In what was widely viewed as an ideological about-face, Mr. Lester engendered controversy again in 1979 with public comments in support of American Jewry. That year, in an essay in The Voice, he castigated some black leaders as anti-Semitic for comments they had made in the wake of Andrew Young’s resignation as the United States ambassador to the United Nations.

An African-American and a widely acknowledged hero of the civil rights movement, Mr. Young had resigned his post in August 1979 after meeting with a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization — a move that many American Jews saw as a profound betrayal. As a result, some black leaders publicly blamed Jews for his resignation.

After his essay was published, Mr. Lester later wrote, an academic colleague asked him, “Don’t you care what black people think of you?”


Police officers escorted Mr. Lester to the WBAI studios in January 1969 through demonstrators protesting the reading of an anti-Semitic poem on his radio show. Credit William E. Sauro/The New York Times

“I did,” he wrote, “but not to the extent that I would give them power over my soul.”

By then, Judaism, and the feeling and sensation and wonder and questions it occasioned, had begun to exert a pull on Mr. Lester. He had first felt that pull, he said, in the late 1970s, while preparing to teach a course on the intertwined history of blacks and Jews.

“I remembered books I’d read about Holocaust survivors,” he wrote in a 1989 essay. “I was not that kind of survivor. The omnipresent threat of death on a Mississippi highway in 1964 was not Auschwitz. And yet, to live in an atmosphere where the presence of death is as palpable as the smell of honeysuckle lacerated the soul in ways one dared not stop to know.”

In 1981, Mr. Lester said, he had a vision.

“In the vision, I was a Jew,” he told NPR in 1995. “There was a yarmulke on my head, and I was dancing, and I was filled with incredible joy.”

He converted the next year.

Although many critics praised “Lovesong,” the chronicle of his conversion, the book exacerbated tensions between Mr. Lester and the Afro-American studies department at UMass. (He had joined the university’s faculty in 1971.)

In his book, Mr. Lester criticized two widely venerated African-American figures: James Baldwin and, by extension, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.

Baldwin, who died in 1987 as Mr. Lester’s book was going to press, had given a lecture at UMass a few years before in which he criticized the news media for reporting remarks that Mr. Jackson made during the 1984 presidential campaign. In those remarks, Mr. Jackson characterized New York City as “Hymietown.”

Writing of Baldwin, Mr. Lester said, “I know he is not an anti-Semite, but his remarks in class were anti-Semitic, and he does not realize it.”

In response — a development that received national attention — the Afro-American studies department forced Mr. Lester off its faculty in 1988, condemning him as “an anti-Negro Negro.”

“It seems,” Mr. Lester told The Los Angeles Times that year, with what can safely be described as knowing understatement, “that I challenge people.”

Mr. Lester, who had won many awards for teaching during his time in the department, moved to the university’s department of Judaic and Near Eastern studies. He retired from UMass in late 2003.

Mr. Lester’s first two marriages ended in divorce. Besides his daughter Ms. Amaris, survivors include his wife, Milan Sabatini, whom he married in 1995; two sons, Malcolm and David; two other daughters, Jodie Lester and Elena Ritter; and eight grandchildren.

Among his other books for adults are “Revolutionary Notes” (1969), a collection of political and cultural essays, and the novel “The Autobiography of God” (2004), a mystical noir starring a young female rabbi.

His other children’s books include “Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue,” which won the American Library Association’s Coretta Scott King Award in 2006.

From 1991 to 2001, he served as the lay religious leader of the Beth El Synagogue in St. Johnsbury, Vt.

In the 1980s, alight with his newfound faith, Mr. Lester went to Arkansas in search of Adolph Altschul, his great-grandfather. As he learned, Altschul’s descendants, in an American odyssey of their own, had converted to Christianity.

When it came to that branch of the family, Mr. Lester discovered, he was its only surviving Jewish member.

Correction: January 20, 2018

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of a headline with this obituary misstated Mr. Lester’s age. As the obituary correctly notes, he was 78, not 79.

Correction: January 21, 2018

An earlier version of a picture caption with this obituary misstated the consequences of Mr. Lester’s public criticism of James Baldwin during his tenure at the University of Massachusetts. He was moved from the department of Afro-American studies to the department of Judaic and Near Eastern studies; he did not lose his professorship.

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Op-Ed Contributor: The Uncomfortable Truth About Swedish Anti-Semitism

Some are answering yes. One reason is the nature of the current threat.

Historically, anti-Semitism in Sweden could mainly be attributed to right-wing extremists. While this problem persists, a study from 2013 showed that 51 percent of anti-Semitic incidents in Sweden were attributed to Muslim extremists. Only 5 percent were carried out by right-wing extremists; 25 percent were perpetrated by left-wing extremists.

Swedish politicians have no problem condemning anti-Semitism carried out by right-wingers. When neo-Nazis planned a march that would go past the Goteborg synagogue on Yom Kippur this September, for example, it stirred up outrage across the political spectrum. A court ruled that the demonstrators had to change their route.

There is, however, tremendous hesitation to speak out against hate crimes committed by members of another minority group in a country that prides itself on welcoming minorities and immigrants. In 2015, Sweden was second only to Germany in the number of Syrian refugees it welcomed. Yet the three men arrested in the Molotov cocktail attack were newly arrived immigrants, two Syrians and a Palestinian.

The fear of being accused of intolerance has paralyzed Sweden’s leaders from properly addressing deep-seated intolerance.

Some of the country’s leaders have even used Israel as a convenient boogeyman to explain violence. After the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, explained radicalism among European Muslims with reference to Israel: “Here, once again, we are brought back to situations like the one in the Middle East, where not least, the Palestinians see that there isn’t a future. We must either accept a desperate situation or resort to violence.”

In an interview in June, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven was asked whether Sweden had been naïve about the link between immigration and anti-Semitism. His response was typical of the way in which leading politicians have avoided giving straight answers about the threat against the country’s Jews: “We have a problem in Sweden with anti-Semitism, and it doesn’t matter who expresses it, it’s still as darn wrong.”

But the problem has grown so dire that it finally forced Mr. Lofven to admit in an interview this month: “We will not ignore the fact that many people have come here from the Middle East, where anti-Semitism is a widespread idea, almost part of the ideology. We must become even clearer, dare to talk more about it.”

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