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Artful Picks: Hanukkah Edition

We've rounded up our best Hanukkah gifts from The CJM Storewith picks from Executive Director Lori Starr, Chief Curator Renny Pritikin, and Store Director Kevin Grenon! From boldly colored toys to the "notoriously awaited" RGB book, there's something for everyone—so give from the heART this year.

Lori Starr, Executive Director
"With chapters like, 'Been In This Game For Years' and 'Your Words Just Hypnotize Me,' this charming and informative book would be a wonderful gift for any bright young woman interested in Jewish jurisprudence and the impact of RBG on our collective psyche. I recommend the 'How to Be Like RBG' appendix!"

Lori Starr, Executive Director

"I remember the magic of first playing a harmonica. It was so fun, and a little addictive. This one is beautifully designed, and so bright it will be easy to find in the yard after a day of music and games outside with friends."

Renny Pritikin, Chief Curator

"This is the first book CJM Executive Director Lori Starr gave me, and it was influential in my coming to the museum. It explores how the evolution of the Yiddish language shapes Jewish identity and vice versa. No matter how good things are, people will still kvetch! Anyone interested in linguistics and Jewish history will love this funny, fascinating book."

Kevin Grenon, Museum Store Director

“Kids will love the feeling of this animal-themed, smooth silicone placemat, which comes with four no-toxic dry-erase markers. I especially like the drawing of the whale and that sneaky-looking raccoon. I wish I were still allowed to draw at holiday dinners!”

Kevin Grenon, Museum Store Director

“We have many beautiful dreidels, but this one has always been my favorite. It’s special not just because it’s handcrafted gold, but also because oak and acorn, both significant in the Torah, are gracefully incorporated into its lovely design.”



The Contemporary Jewish Museum Store, the Bay Area’s destination for modern Judaica, offers a range of unique products that enhance the visitor experience and support The Museum’s mission. Discover our selection of exhibition-inspired merchandise, art books, contemporary jewelry, hand-crafted accessories, innovative design objects, and educational kids’ toys and books. All proceeds support The Museum’s programs and exhibitions. 

The Fountain: A Low-Tech Epic

Image courtesy of the writer.
As a prompt for an entry on The CJM's blog, your writer was asked to consider what makes a good movie. My usual short answer to this question is that a good, nay, a GREAT movie, allows multiple ways in. If a movie's creative team is firing on all cylinders, if the movie delivers on story, performances, design, mood, music, then you've got a classic on your hands. But even a movie that falters in one of these departments can be elevated by its other elements.

Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain (screening Thursday at The CJM as part of the CLEAT: Cinematic Lo-fi Experiments in Art and Technology) was intended to be Aronofsky's grandest, most ambitious work yet, telling the story of lovers whose relationship spans three time periods. But the movie wound up compromised by a halved budget (from $70 million to $35) that demanded radical changes to the scope and the story. With months to make a movie that had been years in the making, the resulting movie lost many viewers, who found the story rushed and difficult to follow.

Image courtesy of the writer.
And yet to get lost in the movie and discard it for this reason is to deliberately ignore so much of what makes the movie of interest, even in this compromised form. If we cast our attention to other aspects of the movie we find an abundance of rewards. The compelling and fully believable performances of Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz as a couple whose love transcends death and time. The non-digital macro photography used to create the vivid outer space settings of the movie's future storyline. The achingly gorgeous score by longtime Aronofsky associate Clint Mansell, working with Scots post-rock combo Mogwai and San Francisco's Kronos Quartet to deliver moods both intimate and awe-inspiring.

And it isn't hard to suss out a fourth plotline amid The Fountain's three-front narrative: that of a dedicated film artist, battling like hell to realize a unique and insane vision against crippling odds. Perhaps it's that blunt passion that turned off viewers in 2006; I'd argue that it's the same reason the movie has endured as a cult favorite. And if you feel that Aronofsky's ambition exceeded his budget, that his single-minded passion roughens and overrides his story, then I gotta ask you: how often do you see that happen in a Hollywood movie these days? For all of the things that The Fountain has going for it, it's the passion of its maker, for his story, for his characters, for a love outside time, that makes the movie truly great.

About the Writer

Photo by Michael Guillen.
Cinephile-at-large David Robson holds a degree in theatre from the University of Virginia. A long-time fixture on San Francisco's film scene, David has worked as the Artist-in-Residence Program Coordinator at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (where he worked extensively with CJM Chief Curator Renny Pritikin) and, more recently, as Editorial Director for movie recommendation site He has written on film aesthetics and history for a number of online sources—the best place to start would be his own irregularly-updated fantasy film blog The House of Sparrows or, if you're feeling weird, with those adorable simian cinephiles at the Tumblr site Monkeys Go To Movies.

A NEAT History

Installation view of NEAT: New Experiments in Art and Technology. Photo by Johnna Arnold.
Judaism, as it is practiced today, is not a strict biblical religion; it is a rabbinic one. That is because the Hebrew Bible is not considered a literal source to be taken on face value, but a starting point, from which flows centuries of debate among rabbis and other Jewish thinkers, leading to an evolution of understanding. Rather, it is a starting point, from which flows centuries of debate among rabbis and other Jewish thinkers that leads to the evolution of understanding. Science, too, is very much about process. Perhaps that's how science and religion can be reconciled—not as two realms that are in conflict …, but as things you do. Science is about creating hypotheses and testing data against these theories. Judaism is about how we act to improve this world, here and now. And these processes can easily go hand in hand.[1] In short, for Judaism there is no essential conflict between religion and scientific innovation. The Contemporary Jewish Museum has organized an original exhibition, New Experiments in Art and Technology (NEAT), which celebrates the Jewish commitment to new forms of knowledge.

This openness to innovation blossomed in the twentieth century when Jews came to dominate physics in particular.[2] In fact, Julius Edgar Lilienfeld, a Jewish scientist, first patented the transistor in 1930. While industry did not pick up on this breakthrough until after WWII, Lilienfeld’s work did eventually lead to the entire Silicon Valley phenomenon, and indirectly to the subject of this exhibition: art and digital programming. 

Installation view of NEAT: New Experiments in Art and Technology. Photo by Johnna Arnold.
NEAT is a reimagining of a seminal series of projects, originally titled E.A.T., Experiments in Art and Technology, from the late 1960s. E.A.T. was officially launched in 1967 by the engineers Billy Kl├╝ver and Fred Waldhauer and the artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman. These men had previously collaborated in 1966 when they organized 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, a series of performance art presentations that united artists and engineers. Ten New York artists worked with thirty engineers and scientists from the world-renowned Bell Telephone Laboratories to create groundbreaking performances that incorporated new technology.

Installation views of NEAT: New Experiments in Art and Technology. Photos by Johnna Arnold.
In the second decade of the twenty-first century, the role of artist and engineer has merged: the act of programming is understood as a new tool or technology for artists to create work, just like a paintbrush or a pencil, and with the understanding that interdisciplinary thinking is inherent to individual makers now. NEAT takes a look at the state of artist/engineering aesthetics from the same number of artists as the original E.A.T., but all the artists are from the Bay Area (rather than New York, as was the case in E.A.T. . The CJM is dedicated to fostering innovation at the intersection of contemporary art and Judaism; NEAT examines artists working at the crossroad of contemporary art and technology. The suggestion is that a coherent synthesis among all three traditions is conceivable. Artists who have resided in San Francisco over three generations—three each roughly in their sixties, their forties, and their twenties—demonstrate that digital forms now encompass visual art, media art, sound art and other forms by sole practitioners. The CJM argues that its home, the Bay Area, has been the international hub for this activity since the 1970s, adding another reason that the exhibition should take place here.

NEAT artists From left to right: Alan Rath, Mary Franck, Scott Snibbe, Paul DeMarinis,
Vishal K. Dar, Jim Campbell, Renny Pritikin, Gabriel Dunne, Paolo Salvagione, Micah Elizabeth Scott,
and Camille Utterback. Photo by Gary Sexton Photography.
NEAT artists are Jim Campbell, Paul DeMarinis, Gabriel Dunne and Vishal K. Dar, Mary Franck, Alan Rath, Paolo Salvagione, Micah Elizabeth Scott, Scott Snibbe, and Camille Utterback. All were commissioned to make new or updated work utilizing original digital and robotic sculpture.


[1] Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman, Huff Post Blog, "Why Judaism Embraces Science", June 20, 2011

[2] By one estimate, 15 of the 25 most important physicists of the twentieth twentieth century were Jewish, including Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr and Max Born.