Saturday, May 17, 2008

Around town: Field trip to the Far Side

La Cañada Valley Sun: La Cañada Flintridge, California
Field Trip to the Far Side - La Cañada Valley Sun: La Cañada Flintridge, CaliforniaAround Town:
Field Trip to the Far Side
By Anita Susan Brenner

It was a weeknight. My husband was at the Dodgers game. Jacqui's husband was at a meeting. Like the great pioneers before us — Annie Oakley, Belle Starr and Calamity Jane — we were headed on a great adventure. We were headed West.

The night was cloudy, but the freeway was clear. Strange for a weeknight in May. Usually it's the other way around. We talked the entire time. I can't remember what we said, but it was a wonderful conversation.

We were not in this for gold or glory. We had left the city limits to celebrate Shavuot, an old Jewish holiday, the precursor to the Christian Pentecost. There are a few differences between the two holidays, but some interesting parallels. Pentecost is celebrated

the 50th day after Easter Sunday. Shavuot begins on the 50th day after the start of Passover. Both holidays have their roots in ancient harvest festivals. But there is one big difference. Traditionally, Shavuot is a long night devoted to study. It is customary to study until the roosters crow.

We had planned this adventure for weeks. We knew that all over Los Angeles, synagogues open their doors for late-night Shavuot classes. Free food. Great teachers. Schnaps. advertisement

There were dozens of programs to choose from.

"Learn all night, sleep all day," said one flyer. Another advertised workshops, beginning at 8 p.m. and ending at 5:15 a.m., with a faculty of 18 rabbis, mostly professors, focusing on the War in Iraq.

We started by looking closer to home. Pasadena had yoga, music and meditation, but the refreshments were not specified. Another brochure offered the opportunity to "pray, chant, study and drum in the Mojave Desert." Jacqui liked that one. "Too far," I said.

Near Studio City there was a program on the Ten Commandments with "fast-paced break-out workshops." The speakers looked interesting, but the refreshments consisted of cheesecake. "Too fattening," said Jacqui.

We finally decided on a program called "The Voices of our Mothers," which would concentrate on the Biblical matriarchs. All of the speakers were women. The topics ranged from the Garden of Eden to the death of Sisera.

"Let's go to that one," I told Jacqui. "It's a really cool story. Sisera was killed by Yael, the wife of Heber, who stabbed him with a tent pin."

We read the brochure carefully. The lectures would be interspersed with musical presentations by members of a symphony orchestra, two choirs, a soprano, a mezzo-soprano and a tenor. The program included Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Naomi and Ruth.

Plus, they were serving blintzes at midnight. We were hooked.

The blintz is thin pancake, sort of a crepe, filled with sweet cheese, lightly sauteed, and topped with fruit. Some people sprinkle caviar over the top, but I prefer a strawberry compote. It's a lot of work to make them and they are not exactly on the Zone diet, but blintzes are traditional on Shavuot. Never mess with tradition.

We arrived a few minutes before 8 p.m. There were two seats left in the front row, right by the violins. The first speaker was an elegant and thoughtful lady named Malkah Schulweiss, a therapist. She talked about the Eve, her own grandmother, about memory and the persistence of myth. I no longer remember everything she said, only that she was fascinating and lovely.

There was more music. And more talks, interspersed with more music. At midnight, they brought out the blintzes — lightly fried, a rich cheese filling, topped with fruit.

All the way home, Jacqui and I talked. The traffic was light and the night was cloudy.

We discussed Adam and Eve and Malkah and our grandmothers. We talked about our children and our hopes for them.

We talked about Sisera and the blintzes. I can't remember everything we said, but it was wonderful to drive toward home, on an empty freeway under a cloudy sky.

Home to La Cañada.

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