By Michael Aushenker
The Yellow Brick Road will lead to a historic Santa Monica residence, where Playa del Rey-based Sholem Community and West Los Angeles’ Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, will co-host “Over the Rainbow: A Musical Evening” to help raise funds for both of these L.A.-based Jewish cultural and progressive educational institutions.
A celebratory evening of food and entertainment has been lined up Saturday, Oct. 5 to fete late lyricist Yip Harburg alongside several contemporary Angelenos known for their activism: Bruria and Judge David Finkel, and Jackie Goldberg.
The “Over the Rainbow” gala benefit is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. at the home of Jan Goodman and Jerry Manpearl at 939 San Vicente Blvd. in Santa Monica. Santa Monicans Goodman and Hillary Rollins, members of the Sholom Community, are chairing and organizing the event.
“Like Yip, both of this evening’s presenting organizations have a long history of supporting progressive causes,” said Sholem’s Regan Kibbee.
“The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring was founded in 1900 by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who sought to promote values of social and economic justice. The Sholem Community was founded in the 1950s, in part to offer a safe haven for the children of blacklisted Hollywood artists and others to explore their Jewish cultural heritage. More than 60 years later, Sholem’s secular Sunday school continues to teach Jewish history, culture, and ethics to the children of the growing population of non-religious Jews and intercultural families.”
Harburg, who was born Isodore Hochberg in 1896, and composer Jay Gorney – with whom he wrote the Great Depression-era smash hit “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” – landed a Paramount contract. Harburg began working with composers Vernon Duke, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Burton Lane and Jule Styne.
The lyricist created his most memorable work for “The Wizard of Oz,” the 1939 classic feature film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s novels. Harburg won the Academy Award for best music, original song for his composition “Over the Rainbow,” the Judy Garland-sung cornerstone on the soundtrack of “The Wizard of Oz.” According to Ernie Harburg, Harburg’s son and biographer, his father not only wrote the lyrics to the songs on “The Wizard of Oz” but he even wrote several uncredited parts of the movie.
In the 1940s, Harburg had written a series of musicals with social messages, among them the Civil War-set “Bloomer Girl” (1944), about Amelia Bloomer, an advocate of temperance and feminism; and “Finian’s Rainbow” (1947), the first musical on Broadway to boast a racially integrated chorus line. As a result of his “Democratic socialist” leanings, Harburg, who had written the words for more than 600 songs, was “blacklisted” from working in Hollywood’s entertainment industry by the House Un-American Activities Committee after he refused to testify before them.
Harburg retreated to his Broadway roots, where his success continued on the Great White Way. Other standards co-written by Harburg include “April in Paris,” “Last Night When We Were Young” (with Arlen) and “It’s Only a Paper Moon;” songs which Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Leadbelly, and James Taylor, among others, have interpreted. Harburg died in 1981 at the age of 84.
Retired from the bench of the Los Angeles Superior Court since 2002, Finkel has lived in Santa Monica for nearly five decades, the length of his marriage to Bruria Finkel. In November 2006, he was elected to Santa Monica College’s Board of Trustees. He subsequently served as vice chair in 2009 and chair in 2010 of SMC’s board. Finkel has also served on the Santa Monica City Council and as the council’s mayor pro tem. An accomplished artist and curator and community activist, Bruria Finkel, with David, is the parent of four children, all of whom attended Santa Monica public schools, and four grandchildren.
Goldberg has moved her way up through Los Angeles’ educational ranks, beginning as a teacher in the Compton Unified School District and later as president of the Los Angeles Unified School District board. She served as a member of the Los Angeles City Council before she was elected to the state Assembly in November 2000, representing California’s 45th district, and was re-elected for two more terms. Goldberg is a founding member of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus.
Based in Playa del Rey, Sholem, a non-profit, offers a secular, progressive Jewish curriculum. As a secular Jewish entity, Sholem, which borrows the Yiddish word for “peace,” stresses the historic, cultural and ethical aspects of Judaism over strict religious observance and the Hebrew text.
“We regard belief or disbelief in the supernatural to be a personal, private matter that need not affect the Jewish part of our identities,” the group says on its website.
The Sholem School meets most Sundays at leased facilities on the Westside Neighborhood School campus in Del Rey. Life-cycle observances include bat and bar mitzvahs, baby-naming ceremonies, secular Jewish wedding and commitment nuptials, funerals, memorials and unveilngs.
Organizers of “Over the Rainbow” say that the progressive, socially conscious and politically active community of Santa Monica is the perfect backdrop for their gala dinner event, and Goodman and Manpearl’s home is the ideal abode.
“The historic venue for the party was originally built as the garage and servants’ quarters for the Winnette Estate in the rustic style of the Limousine Valley of France,” said Kibbee. “When the garage was originally built, it was featured in ‘Architectural Digest.’ In 1947, the garage/servant quarters were purchased by Academy Award-winning art director George Davis (“Diary of Anne Frank”), who converted them into ‘party central’ in Santa Monica.”
“This is the first sort of fundraiser of this scale that we’re doing,” said Rollins, adding that honoring Harburg, who injected his sense of social justice into his work, seemed natural. “He’s part of the Great American Songbook. He wrote socially conscious lyrics on Broadway addressing feminism, racism and capitalism through American music and comedy. So we’re honoring his legacy.”
Tickets are $100 per person. For information and tickets, sholem.org.
‘Rainbow’ coalition ‘The Wizard of Oz’: lyricist Yip Harburg, Bruria and Judge David Finkel, and former Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg to be honored Oct. 5
By Michael Aushenker