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Friday, April 26, 1996 | return to: volunteers


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Lilith, angels, evil eye go on the road in Magnes show

by MATTHEW SURRENCE, Bulletin Correspondent

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Despite appearances to the contrary, Sinoi, Sansenoi and Samengelof is not the name of a Chassidic law firm. The sibilant trio are actually three Jewish angels who, according to talmudic lore, hover above a woman's childbirth bed to keep the evil sorceress Lilith away.

You can learn more about those angels and Lilith, plus many other aspects of supernatural Jewish folklore, by viewing "Against the Evil Eye: Magic and Folk Beliefs in Jewish Tradition," a traveling slide show created and presented by the Judah L. Magnes Museum's docent outreach program.

Begun in 1984, the Berkeley museum's volunteer-staffed docent outreach program -- dubbed "the museum that comes to you" -- currently offers 15 different narrated shows, all but one with slides; each lasts between 30 and 45 minutes.

Among the titles available: "When Hatred Reigns: A Chronicle in Art," featuring a history of depicted anti-Semitism; "Witnesses to Jewish History: Political and Social Posters," showing historical movements that have shaped Jewish history in Europe, the United States, and Israel; and "They Deserve a Medal," showcasing sculptured medals honoring the achievements of outstanding Jewish men and women, such as Emma Lazarus, Henrietta Szold, Louis Brandeis and Isaac Stern.

New shows are added every year, according to Rose Levine, a Castro Valley resident who is the program's voluntary chair. "Against the Evil Eye" is the program's newest. Along with the stories of Lilith and the angels, the narrated slide show describes the important role demons once played in the everyday lives of Jews, and explains such talmudic arcana as the special rulings on the wearing of amulets. For example: An amulet must not be worn in public on the Sabbath until it has warded off evil three times in a row.

The most popular slide show in the outreach program's catalog is "Gold Fever," an account of Jewish life during the Gold Rush. The outreach program volunteers -- who research the shows, write the text, assemble photographs, and make the 60 to 65 slides each show uses -- are close to completing "Gold Fever: the Sequel," which will cover the years after the Gold Rush era -- roughly 1870 to 1920 -- when the Jewish community took root in Northern California. Another show in the works is "The Righteous Among the Nations," which focuses on World War II rescuers and resisters.

Often a slide show is created in conjunction with an exhibit currently on display at the museum (which is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, except for national and Jewish holidays). Such an offering is "The Spiritual Connection: The Land of Israel Through Art," taken from an exhibit on view at the museum through July. One show, "The Distaff Side: Jewish Pioneer Women of the Bay Area," departs from the slide format for a dramatic narrative performed by the presenter with the aid of props and a series of Victorian-era hats.

Every August, outreach program volunteers mail brochures to Jewish groups listing the shows available. They present about 60 to 75 shows a year, mostly to adult education and senior groups and sisterhoods, but occasionally they will do a show for a large family gathering, history class or less typical audience. "A couple of years ago during the High Holy Days, we did our presentation 'Let's Celebrate: The Jewish Holiday Cycle' at a Unitarian church in Livermore, for a service highlighting the Jewish religion," Levine recalled.

The fee for a show is $50, which, Levine pointed out, hardly covers all the work that goes into creating it -- at least 150 hours of preparation. Up until a few years ago, the outreach program was limited to the areas near the museum and San Francisco, but lately the volunteers have traveled to such far-flung locations as Modesto in the Central Valley and Jackson in the Gold Country. "Last year, I brought our Passover Haggadah show to a temple in San Jose," Levine noted. "This year I did one on Jewish weddings for a congregation in Santa Rosa."

Of the museum's approximately 40 docents, six to eight of them participate in the outreach program; some are presenters, others are writers and researchers who help put the slide show together. While most of the docents are based in the East Bay, several non-docent volunteers in such areas as the South Bay present shows to groups in those areas.

Although Levine said the outreach program has enough volunteers and is not actively recruiting, she would be willing to take on volunteers who are willing to present shows in such areas as Marin County, where there are no outreach volunteers.

A qualified potential "outreach presenter" would need a strong knowledge of Judaica, with perhaps a specialty in art or history. After being interviewed by Levine, the prospective presenter would undergo about 10 hours of preparation to deliver a slide show.

Becoming a docent at the museum itself is more involved: It requires attending a three-month training program, with a weekly 3-1/2-hour class. The training program, running from January to April, is scheduled to be held again in 1997.

For information on the Judah L. Magnes Museum's docent outreach program or docent training, call the museum at (510) 549-6950 or write: Judah L. Magnes Museum, 2911 Russell St., Berkeley, CA 94705.


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