Sephardic art at the Magnes


Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Well, maybe the Sephardim -- Iberian Jews who'd been living for centuries in artistic and philosophical harmony with their Muslim and Christian neighbors -- saw something coming. Ultimately expelled from Spain (in Hebrew, Sepharad) and Portugal in 1492 after a few hundred years of deteriorating conditions, Sephardic Jews had already begun a diaspora that reached throughout the Ottoman Empire, to Italy and the Netherlands, and eventually arrived in the New World in the 17th century. In fact, the first Jews in what would become the United States were Sephardic Jews from Brazil who landed in New Amsterdam exactly 350 years ago. Nu, a Jew's a Jew, right? It's all about oy gevalt and matzo ball soup, isn't it? Not exactly. The language of the Sephardim is called Ladino -- mostly a mix of Hebrew and Spanish -- and, like Yiddish, is considered endangered, with an estimated 160,000 to 300,000 speakers worldwide; Sephardim, who comprised at least half of the world Jewish population in 1700, today make up less than a quarter. Most Jews in the United States -- and the world -- are of Ashkenazic descent, coming to this country most recently from Eastern and Central Europe. Sephardic customs and cuisine have a lot in common with Ashkenazic traditions, but there are also many divergences, the most important of which are different sources for the interpretation of Jewish law.

In a new yearlong exhibit entitled Sephardic Horizons, Berkeley's Judah L. Magnes Museum celebrates the tradition of convivencia (or coexistence) and the heterogeneity of Sephardic culture. Objects on display span the temporal gamut from the 14th century to the present day, from ritual objects to handicraft to contemporary photography. And they come from all over the world: Turkey, Egypt, Surinam, and wherever Sephardim settled. A series of graduate student presentations over the year will conclude with a colloquium on Sephardic research in May.

The exhibit runs through July 15, 2005. For more information, visit Magnes.org or call 510-549-6950. The museum is at 2911 Russell Street. -- Nora Sohnen

Sat 8/28

Jesse's Bid

Did you hear John Kerry once played in a rock band? If that sort of thing impresses you, well -- you need to get out more. May we suggest the Jesse Townley for Council Campaign Benefit concert at the Ivy Room? Townley is neck-deep in both the punk and political scenes of Berkeley, where he's running for a District 5 seat. He's a KALX DJ (as Jesse Luscious) and producer of its long-running public affairs show Soapbox Derby, has been secretary of the board at 924 Gilman Street since 1991, and has played in numerous punk bands. And those are just his underground music credentials. Learn more as you check out Cat Five, Space Vacuum (from Outer Space), the Weegs, Militant Children's Hour, and DJ Kitty. 9 p.m., 21-and-up, $7-$10 (sliding scale). Info: TownleyforCouncil.org -- Stefanie Kalem

Sun 8/29

Son of Funkenstein

With the not-entirely-unexpected demise of Rick James earlier this month, funk fans may feel a little lost at sea, adrift in a world without Jheri Curls and wah-wah pedals. But don't worry. Everything's gonna be fonk-ay Sunday at the Chronicle Pavilion -- the third annual Old School Funk Fest Reunion is back in town. Thrill to the retrospectively fully-funktional-ness of the Gap Band (The bigger the headache, the bigger the pill), rap-style R&B outfit Whodini ("Magic's Wand," pictured at right), Lakeside ("Fantastic Voyage"), the "Rapper's Delight" of the Sugarhill Gang, and more. Go ahead and break-dance. Music starts around noon. Info: BGP.com -- Kelly Vance

Thu 8/26

Band overboard

Don't expect Tyler to show up at a Tippy Canoe show, although these days, a trio of strong Paddlemen backs up the ukulele-strumming songbird, namely Pat Johnson, Bart Davenport, and Chris "T.G." Green. Canoe, aka Kirby Grips drummer and singer Michele Kappel, mines and pines for styles gone by -- doo-wop, classic country, and Prohibition-era jazz. And yes, President Harrison, her teeny-tiny ukulele drives the entire affair. She'll play Speisekammer (2424 Lincoln Ave., Alameda) for free Thursday night, with Sandycoates, the solo project of dulcet-voiced local hero Greg Moore. 9 p.m. Info: 510-522-1300, Speisekammer.com -- Stefanie Kalem


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