ArtBeat: Arab Jewish refugee speaks

Mike Dunham

Yefet Ozery was a child when he and his family were flown from Yemen as part of one of the most interesting air rescue operations in the 20th century. Almost 50,000 Yemeni Jews were threatened with exile or death by the Arab government in 1949. An ad hoc carrier called Alaska Airlines, which had just moved out of Alaska and was flying an assortment of battered war surplus cargo planes, signed up to transport the refugees to safety in the new state of Israel, dodging belligerent airspace and often lying about their passengers or purposes.

Ozery is now the Executive Director for the American Society of the University of Haifa. He's coming to town -- we're guessing via one of Alaska Airlines' fancy, clean, modern jets -- to present a talk as part of the Alaska Jewish Museum Program Series, "The Jews of Yemen: Journey to Israel." Ozery will speak on the story of the Jews in Yemen, on the Arabian Peninsula, and his own experience as a refugee. The event will include music and light refreshments and is free. The museum is located at 1117 E. 35th Ave. More information is available at

Nathan Lane on the big screen

The live Lincoln Center production of Douglas Carter Beane's Tony Award-winning drama "The Nance," starring Nathan Lane, will be presented at Century 16 at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 24. The play is set in the burlesque circuit of the 1930s and integrates bits of that genre into the story of a gay man doing risque gay comedy routines with notable success, whose personal life is "messy," according to the blurb. The production is being screened nationally, but at press time Century was the only venue in Alaska announced as carrying it. More information is available at By the way, one of the play's Tonys -- for the Broadway production -- went to Lane.

Live theater in Wasilla

Anchorage theater companies are preparing for their next shows, but in the meantime the irrepressible Homeless Actors for Mat-Su (HAMS) are presenting the sci-fi farce "The Lightning Bug." Performances started this weekend and will continue with shows at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 27, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 28. This time the HAMS have found a home at the Alaska Club next to the Wasilla Police Station on the Parks Highway, "just before the Fred Meyer intersection." Tickets are $10 and $12 and can be purchased online at or by calling 907-376-4252 or 841-4119.

Young voices

The Young Men's Ensemble from the Los Angeles Children's Chorus is on tour in Alaska, performing at the Sitka Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. on Sunday. They'll join the Alaska Children's Choir at the UAA Fine Arts Building Recital Hall at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 25, and roll down to Soldotna for a performance at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 26, at Christ Lutheran Church. Admission is free, though donations are being taken for various purposes; donations at the Soldotna show, for example, will go to the local food bank.

Does art influence?

"What's the most influential song in history?" That thumb-sucker question posed in The Atlantic last month brought some thumb-sucking responses. Answers ranged from Monteverdi's proto-opera "Orfeo" to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." ("You won't find anyone who says they've never heard it," the respondent stipulated. Let me stipulate that, to the best of my knowledge, I have not.)

The only suggestion with a little credence was "We Shall Overcome," but I'd suspect that, like Verdi's anthem "Va pensiero" or "La Marseillaise," it's associated with influential events that the music itself did not create -- a vivid symbol of change, but not the cause.

I wound up sucking my own thumb to think of how I might answer the query and concluded that I couldn't.

"Influence" is a rather flexible word, strong or weak depending on context. But in the strongest sense, music has minimum influence on the non-musical world. Sure, doughboys marched to World War I singing "Over There" and baby boomers bopped to rock 'n' roll. But the war would have taken place with or without the song and the kids of the 1950s-'70s were likely to be a pretty rowdy, pampered lot even if they were listening to gavottes, as evidenced by the remarkable diversity of pop music that erupted in that era.

Music has a role in organizing the direction of groups, as with choir hymns, marches and protest anthems. But it's not indispensable to those groups and it's probably not what prompts individuals to make life's enormous decisions about religion, war or social action. Those decisions seem to be reached at some mysterious interstice between silent rumination and the roar of the crowd.

Art has power, to be sure, but it's an individual effect. It can soothe or cheer or rouse nostalgia, etc. It comforts, even as it abrades. It puts perspective on the unpredictability of things and supplies channels that help us understand the parts of reality that are impossible to measure.

What it doesn't do is alter people's opinions in a demonstrable way.

The great movements in the world are influenced by technology, social needs, shifting populations, the aspirations and fears of large numbers of people, the irrational actions of a tyrant or, once in a rare while, a saint.

I cannot attest that any work of art has changed minds or history. One might defend the proposition that the study of history and biography informed the foundation of our government, but (apologies to Clio) it is hard compare even well-written histories to visual art, theater, music or dance. No one I know is transported by history (or journalism) in the way that many are by drama, startling paintings, Tchaikovsky or certain popular ballads. We may mutter "wow," but we don't weep or laugh out loud, gasp or jump out of our skins while reading a clearly ordered biography any more than we do while reading an algebra text.

Which may be for the best. Jumping out of our collective skin can't be the most efficient way for society to evolve.

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.