It's an ambitious undertaking for the Judah L. Magnes Museum, incorporating 250 objects from its permanent collection displayed on a rotating basis, among them 18th-century amulets from the Middle East and North Africa, a ceremonial Torah ark from an Indian synagogue, and a charred Israeli flag rescued from last year's arson attack on a Sacramento synagogue. The show takes a more contemporary stance with local funny girl Sara Felder's irreverent June Bride, a video about planning her Jewish lesbian wedding, and the documentary Jews and Buddhism: Belief Amended, Faith Revealed, an in-depth look at the striking similarities between the two religions. Through rare footage of the Dalai Lama and interviews with local religious leaders (such as Rabbi Alan Lew, Sylvia Boorstein, and Jack Kornfeld), the doc reveals that a large group of American Jews, most famously Allen Ginsberg, incorporated Buddhist philosophies into their spiritual practices. Too bad its narrator is shiksa extraordinaire Sharon Stone (well, she's married to a Jew).
The going misconception about the exhibit (and the museum, for that matter) is that only Jews can relate. But Sheila Braufman, its coordinator, is quick to point out the show's concentration on the ways various cultures transmit their rituals and rites of passage from generation to generation, citing the wall panels that celebrate the Chinese New Year, Kwanzaa, and the Mexican Day of Dead as examples. When looking at "birth as a life cycle, we had someone from the Chinese community [provide] another perspective so that audiences could see how other cultures also deal with traditions," she explains. The same is true of the museum's "Tuesday Talks" reading series. Initially it may be hard to see what a Jamaican poet has in common with a Jewish author, but the "Poetry Through Time II" reading highlights the similarities in their human experience. The event showcases (among others) Bay Area poets such as Opal Palmer Adisa, a Jamaican-born writer whose work offers a more realistic look at Caribbean life than what you'll see on those "Come to Jamaica" commercials, and Phyllis Koestenbaum, a prolific writer whose collection of prose poems, Doris Day and Kitschy Melodies, is soon to hit the shelves. Mazel tov.