Challah Hub seizes opportunities


Why have plain old challah on Shabbat when you could enjoy braided bread in a variety of fun flavors: mint chocolate chip, s’mores, pumpkin white chocolate chip, lavender chocolate or “challahpeno” cheese?

No reason at all, thanks to Challah Hub (challahhub.com), a one-stop resource for recipes, instructional challah-braiding videos and more. 

“It’s really not that hard to make challah, and we want to make it more accessible,” explained co-founder Sarah Klegman, 28.

The enterprise got its start about three years ago when Klegman — who has been baking ever since she was tall enough to reach the counter — met Elina Tilipman, 32, at a brunch and began showing off photographs of her challahs. Tilipman told Klegman she would buy her meal on the condition that she taught Tilipman how to bake. 

The partnership kicked off with nothing more than an Instagram account filled with photos of the pair’s crazy creations — Klegman calls it “challah porn.” More than 7,500 people now follow the account, and they’re treated to pictures ranging from rainbow-colored challah to vegan pretzel challah to challah shaped to resemble Bernie Sanders’ face.

Eventually, Challah Hub grew into a website offering recipes, tasting events and baking classes. There was even a one-day-only partnership with UberEATS during which Uber drivers delivered challahs to people’s doors.  

Challah Hub sells tote bags, challah covers and vanilla-scented Shabbat candles on its website, which also features how-to videos on making challah dough and braiding technique. One of the next steps, the founders hope, will be to launch a full-fledged baking and delivery service in which customers can sign up for a subscription and receive challahs at their homes before Shabbat begins every Friday. 

“We want to be able to deliver to everybody in Los Angeles and be able to deliver a very reliably tasty and enjoyable challah experience,” said Klegman of Valley Village.

Raised in northern Michigan, Klegman moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. She represented local talent, with a focus on comedians. Somewhere along the line, she tired of the industry and decided to devote more of her energy to her passion: baking. 

She credits her mother with teaching her the ways of the kitchen. While the tagline for the company is “Not Your Mama’s Challah,” Klegman admits that Challah Hub’s original recipe was her mother’s own. 

“I always say, ‘Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll tell people when I have the opportunity that it was my mama’s challah,’ ” Klegman said.

For Klegman, baking challah is a way of expressing her pride in Jewish culture. She grew up as one of the few Jews at her school in Michigan and she was picked on by other students until her mother, who always was an avid challah baker, came into the school and delivered presentations about World War II history, anti-Semitism and the civil rights movement.

“She’s given me a good amount of passion for challah and pride for my culture,” Klegman said.

The organized Jewish world has taken notice. This year, ROI Community, an initiative of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, provided Challah Hub with a $1,000 micro-grant to help redesign its website. In a blog post published six months ago on the ROI website, Tilipman, who lives in Toluca Lake, said the ROI grant was a crucial step in helping Challah Hub become a more serious venture. 

“The step from hobby to business is a big one, and this grant was the bridge we needed,” Tilipman said. 

Challah Hub does not have its own kitchen space and does not offer a way for people to purchase their challahs — yet. Instead, the founders have used friends’ kitchen spaces and their focus has been making themselves more visible in the community. 

In June, they participated in the Los Angeles Bread Festival at Grand Central Market, where they led a challah-braiding workshop. In collaboration with the gang member rehabilitation organization Homeboy Industries, which operates a bakery as a means of employing its clients, they also served up carob chip challah and sesame seed challah to the crowd until the bread was sold out.

And this past spring, after Passover, Challah Hub participated in “A Post-Passover Carb Party,” the NuRoots-organized event that also included Yeastie Boys Bagels, a food truck that promotes its bagels with hip-hop-inspired branding. 

While Klegman told the Journal she is more interested in launching a food delivery service than she is in operating a brick-and-mortar bakery, Tilipman wrote in the blog published on the ROI website that she dreams of opening a Challah Hub bakery one day. 

“A Challah Hub bakery, can you imagine?” said Tilipman, who is The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ assistant director for the NuRoots Community Fellowship on the East Side of L.A.

Regardless of how they decide to expand, one thing is for sure: The women behind Challah Hub are passionate about what they do.

“We love making challah and putting it in people’s faces,” Klegman said. “And we’ve been lucky that enough people still eat carbs for us to keep going.”

As London prices climb, Manchester beckons Jews from far and near


When Yitzchak Horwitz’s family opened one of the first Jewish businesses in this leafy suburb of Manchester — a bookstore that also sold Judaica items — it served a small Jewish community that had only recently moved there from the downtown area.

“The center was run-down after the war, living conditions deteriorated, we had to get out,” said Horwitz, a man in his 80s who runs and owns the Judaica World store that his family opened here in 1960. “A few Jewish families, a small synagogue and that was pretty much it.”

Nevertheless, Horwitz stuck it out. And half a century later, his business is among dozens of Jewish shops servicing thousands of people from the Jewish community of the Manchester area, some 200 miles north of London. Now this community is among the fastest growing in Western Europe, providing Horwitz income from selling Jewish and Hebrew holy books, textbooks and stationery.

At a time when many Jewish communities outside London are dwindling, the one in the Manchester area is growing almost beyond its own capacity due to the high birthrate of its haredi Orthodox nucleus and an influx of Jewish newcomers. The latter is drawn here by the excellent infrastructure for observant Jews and a cost of living that is roughly half that of pricey London.

“People in London seem to think they earn loads more money,” said Selena Myers, a Liverpool-born observant Jewish in her 20s who works at a local Jewish newspaper. Four years ago she moved from London to Manchester, where she lives with her husband. “In fact, the cost of living is maybe three times higher than in Manchester,” whereas the salaries are not. London, she said, “doesn’t make financial sense.”

London is the world’s most expensive city in which to live and work, according to a study published in March by the Savills international real-estate agency. Accommodation for the average Londoner – calculated as a total of housing and office rental costs – comes to $105,000 a year, putting London ahead of New York ($103,000) and Hong Kong ($96,800).

A view of Manchester’s Victoria train station. (Wikimedia Commons)

Not only is renting in Manchester half the cost of what it is in London, but the average price of a home in the greater Manchester area is $144,000 – a full fifth of the average price in London.

Cost of living is especially important for Orthodox families with many children, like that of Simon Rudich, a Rome-born property investor and lawyer who has raised eight children in Manchester with his British wife.

“If you want to live in England as an observant Jew, which I do, then you have two main options: London or Manchester,” said Rudich. “But you only have one sensible option, which is the one I took.”

The only downside to living in Manchester, he said, “is living without sunshine.” Manchester gets 256 rainy days annually and 34 inches of precipitation – respectively 30 and 21 percent more than London.

When the sun does shine, however, Prestwich is bustling with activity by Jews of all denominations. It has five kosher supermarkets near its center. One features a sushi bar where customers line up for freshly prepared glatt kosher rolls.

There are clothing shops catering to the modest standards of observant women, several kosher butchers, a vegetable shop with exotic produce like gooseberries and mangos from Israel, and a French-style kosher patisserie.

According to a 2011 census by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, greater Manchester in the previous decade saw a 15 percent growth in its Jewish population, to 25,013. Conversely, the city of Manchester itself lost 463 Jews. It is home to Britain’s second largest Jewish population after London, where most of the country’s 250,000 Jews live.

In Manchester, as elsewhere in Western Europe, Jewish families that once lived in middle- and working-class areas of the city have moved into the suburbs, partly to improve their quality of life. Another reason for moving has been the arrival of poorer African and Arab immigrants to neighborhoods that often saw an uptick in crime and, more recently, anti-Semitic harassment.

“I chose Manchester because I’m from South Africa,” said Dianna Schwartz, an observant mother of four. She immigrated five years ago to Prestwich from Cape Town because of what she described as “a deteriorating security situation after 1994,” the year apartheid ended.

“I can’t live in a London apartment, I need space and green. That’s how I grew up,” she said. “But getting that in a part of London that is near a proper Jewish school is just impossible for us.”

Manchester’s Jewish influx has left its 12 or so Jewish schools and kindergartens in need of more space and staff, which has helped generate work, particularly for women.

“When I first moved here, people immediately assumed I was a teacher,” said Myers, the newspaper office worker. “They’d ask me straight away where I teach.”

While Manchester remains significantly cheaper than London, the influx is nonetheless driving up prices and creating a housing shortage in the city’s heavily Jewish areas.

“You’re already seeing new Jewish presence in areas around Prestwich, which used to have no Jews in the past,” Myers said.

Manchester is not the only affordable city in northern Britain with an active Jewish community; Liverpool, Leeds and Bristol all have them. Yet Manchester emerged as the largest because it retained an observant and haredi nucleus, which over time produced community institutions that cemented it as the epicenter of Jewish life outside London, according to Rabbi Hillel Royde of the Manchester Beth Din, or rabbinical court.

Thus Manchester is the only city in northern England with a large haredi school. Myers and her siblings attended school in Manchester for that reason even when they were living in Liverpool, she said.

British lawmaker Luciana Berger meeting members of the Jewish Representative Council of the Manchester area, May 8, 2016. (Courtesy of the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region)

This inbound traffic is “creating some problems that are nice to have, but they are nonetheless problems,” Royde said.

His rabbinical court is one of the community’s main tools for solving those problems. Established in 1902, when heavy industry attracted thousands of Jewish immigrants from Europe to the area, the court served 30 butcher shops, supervising ritual slaughter across the region.

Over time it has taken over kashrut supervision for the large food producers in the Manchester area, including the cereal giant Kellogg’s. Supervision fees from such companies are invested back into the community and used to open new schools and fund projects that make Manchester even more attractive for observant Jews — like setting up eruvs, symbolic boundaries that allow observant Jews to carry objects on Shabbat.

In 2014, the Manchester suburbs became the site of Britain’s largest eruv, a 13-mile perimeter that includes Prestwich, Crumpsall and Higher Broughton. Without an eruv, haredi families with children would effectively go into weekend curfews. But setting them up is an expensive and complex process that requires city permits and installing braces, strings and poles to discreetly cordon off the area. Work is ongoing on another eruv in the Manchester suburb of Hale.

These improvements have made life easier for thousands of haredi Jews and are attracting thousands more. And that is changing the nature of a community that, according to Myers, is losing its middle ground.

“Nowadays it’s either you’re very observant or almost not at all,” she said. “It didn’t used to be like that.”

YULA grad pioneers new way to move money to Israel


Joseph Sokol is used to reactions of disbelief when he sits down with technology industry bigwigs to pitch his startup, OlehPay, a payments website that enables users to inexpensively transfer dollars to Israeli bank accounts in the form of shekels.

“So you work for them?” they ask the lanky, yarmulke-clad 20-year-old. “You’re an intern? What’s your role? Who runs it?”

Sokol simply grins at their incredulity and informs them that it is, in fact, he who runs the startup, essentially by himself.

The company was born in March out of a problem Sokol himself faced. After graduating from YULA Boys High School on West Pico Boulevard, he moved to Jerusalem to study at a yeshiva, Machon Meir. After being “packed like sardines” into a single bedroom with five other students, he said he and a roommate decided to move out, but found that he couldn’t pay his rent without withdrawing a wad of cash from an ATM at a lousy exchange rate. 

No service seemed to exist that solved the problem for him, a fact he attributes to a de facto oligopoly on banking in Israel.

Sokol thought if he was having this issue, there must be plenty of American olim — immigrants to Israel — dealing with the same thing. OlehPay (olehpay.co.il) seeks to solve that problem.

Here’s how it works: After creating an account with your email and password, you enter the amount you want to pay in shekels, followed by your billing information and the bank account number of the recipient, along with his or her name and bank branch. 

Press a button, and the order is placed: The appropriate dollar amount is drawn from your bank account or credit card and shows up in the recipient’s account in shekels. The service charges a 1.99 percent fee on credit card transactions but is free for debit cards and never charges recipients.

Sokol alleges to be able to beat the individual rate consumers get from financial institutions. The front page of the OlehPay website offers a calculator for how much users can save against the bank rate by using it.

Nowadays, Sokol bounces back and forth between Los Angeles and Jerusalem, where he works out of the office of Forex Israel, the payments company that processes OlehPay transactions. He speaks conversational Hebrew and fluent startup-ese, gracefully conjugating terms of the trade, such as “use case” and “API” (application program interface). 

The company is his foot in the door of what he says is a growth industry — online payments — pointing to a number of companies that have blossomed in that space, including PayPal and Square, a mobile device plug-in that takes credit card payments. As a sign of the ascendancy of the financial technology space, even Facebook has crafted a feature enabling users to pay one another via its messaging service.

So far, nearly $80,000 has passed through Sokol’s service from about 150 user accounts. While much of that sum comes from the types of use he imagined — large, recurring payments such as rent or mortgage — some people have begun using OlehPay to contract with Israeli professionals, like lawyers or software developers, from the United States, he said.

Sokol said that although he’s already received requests to branch out to pounds and other currencies, he won’t be expanding until he feels the service is on solid footing.

Part of the formula of his success is that by looking at the company’s slick website, one would be hard-pressed to finger OlehPay as the brainchild of a 20-year-old who went AWOL from college — after studying a year in Israel, Sokol spent a semester at UC Santa Barbara before deciding it wasn’t his scene. (“I like to think I’m autodidactic,” he explained.)

The web interface is sleek and touts a partnership with the popular Israeli online messaging board for English-speaking services, Janglo.net, where users can pay for work using OlehPay. 

Despite his youth, Sokol is not an amateur in the world of entrepreneurship. At 14, he started a woodworking camp in his backyard in Beverlywood, where he says he taught more than a dozen teenagers how to use a hammer. 

Then, before starting OlehPay, he and a partner he met in yeshiva sold a Hebrew learning application for $15,000, an experience he said provided him with the enthusiasm, connections and starting capital to launch his current venture.

Likewise, he sees OlehPay as a launching pad for bigger and better things. 

“This is absolutely not where I’m going to stop,” he said. “Especially since I sort of gave up my college education for this.”

Mark Zuckerberg is the world’s richest member of the tribe


Mark Zuckerberg is the sixth richest person in the world, and the richest Jew, after accumulating more wealth than anyone else in the past year.

Eleven of the 50 richest people in the world are Jewish, according to the 30th annual Forbes billionaires list released Tuesday. The list features five Jews in the top 15 and seven in the top 25.

Zuckerberg, 31, added $11.2 billion to his net wealth, giving him a total fortune of $44.6 billion and moving him up to No. 6 on the list from No. 16 last year. The surge sends the Facebook founder past last year’s richest Jew, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, and runner-up, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Ellison is the seventh richest person overall with a net worth of $43.6 billion, and Bloomberg is No. 8 with $40 billion. Ellison’s net worth dropped over $10 billion, from $54.2 billion last year, while Bloomberg’s wealth increased from about $35.5 billion.

Zuckerberg, who is still one of the youngest billionaires, announced last December that he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, will donate 99 percent of their shares in the social media company over the course of their lifetimes.

Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are Nos. 12 and 13 on the list with $35.2 billion and $34.4 billion, respectively.

Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and influential Republican donor, saw his wealth drop to $25.2 billion from $31.4 billion last year, falling to No. 22 on the list.

Hedge fund manager George Soros ($24.9 billion), Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell ($19.8 billion), Brazilian-Jewish banker Joseph Safra ($17.2 billion), investor Carl Icahn ($17 billion) and hedge fund manager James Simons ($15.5 billion) are the other Jews in the top 50.

While Jewish women are far outnumbered by their male counterparts, several are billionaires, including Israeli businesswoman Shari Arison ($3.9 billion), Pritzker family scion Karen Pritzker ($3.8 billion), Lynn Schusterman ($3.4 billion), Joan Tisch ($3.3 billion) and Gap co-founder Doris Fisher ($2.6 billion).

Sheryl Sandberg makes the cut with a net worth of $1.2 billion. The influential Facebook COO and “Lean In” author donated about $31 million of Facebook stock to multiple charities earlier this year.

The non-Jewish Bill Gates remains at the top of the list — where he has been for the past three years, and 17 of the past 22 — with a net worth of $75 billion.

Forbes found 1,810 billionaires worldwide, down from the 1,826 a year ago.

A millennial in the modern business world


While still in her 20s, L.A. native Elana Joelle Hendler had already fulfilled one of her dreams: She created a successful luxury lifestyle business, EJH Brands, based on her artwork. Hendler produces candles, home décor accessories and wildlife-themed art prints that have drawn accolades from Forbes (“10 Companies Crushing it in Art and Fashion”), Los Angeles Business Journal (“20 in their 20s”), FOX News and other media outlets.

The starting point for Hendler, now 30, was her longstanding passion for making art. The Milken Community Schools alumna creates her images in striking black and white. “My art has never been about color. … [A]rt started for me as a child doodling shapes in my notebook with pencil or pen,” she said. “I think I was subconsciously exploring how shapes relate to each other [on] a two-dimensional surface and finding a sense of movement between those shapes. Art was always a personal exploration for me.”

Although some of the animals depicted on her canvases are not native to Southern California, Hendler said they are nonetheless inspired by her “experience of growing up in Southern California.” From her many visits to the San Diego Zoo to family trips to the beach, Palm Springs and Arrowhead, she was inspired by the variety of landscapes and wildlife she encountered, as well as learning about culture at local institutions such as LACMA and The Getty.

“There’s something eternally fresh and inspiring about learning to appreciate art and nature in Southern California,” Hendler said. “I try to reflect that in my work, which extends to the eco-friendly materials used in my products. … I like to think there is a natural flow of the artwork into the texture of the materials. My collection is an extension of my exploring what it means to be a Californian.”

Chimp Decorative Throw Pillow 

Hendler said her family and Jewish upbringing helped her find her path from among her many interests, which included acting, music and, later, art history, in which she earned her degree. 

“All of my upbringing has influenced my identity as an artist as well as my identity as a woman, a Jew and a Californian,” she said. “My mother’s parents — who are of European descent and immigrated first to Mexico and then to Los Angeles in the 1950s — brought their cultural heritage with them. My [maternal] grandmother, a concert pianist in the 1940s, brought music. My [maternal] grandfather, an engineer, entrepreneur and religious Jew, brought education and a love for learning. These roots, emphasizing bettering yourself through knowledge and asking many questions, [were] bolstered by the nurturing influence of my mother, who studied design at UCLA.”  

Hendler’s family encouraged her natural curiosity; she described her younger self as a creative, expressive person who could do many things. But, she said, it was difficult for her to “pick one specific thing, in fear of isolating or losing track of the other skills.” At 24, like many other millennials, she asked herself, “Now what?”

“I come from a very entrepreneurial family. Following my grandfather’s lead, I asked myself … if I could pull together my interests and talent to create something that is mine. I then realized I still very much love to draw and write, and those interests transitioned into creating my own brand.”

Signature Collection Eucalyptus & Mint Sage Candle.

Hendler knew that building her own business would not be easy. “It was a moment when I had to be brave, and I just went for it,” she said. “This meant allowing myself to be vulnerable, learn, try and make lots of mistakes. One of my biggest challenges was learning how to work with manufacturers. It’s not always easy for a friendly, eager 24-year-old to work with older, more experienced manufacturers, especially men. I am sure I was taken advantage of in areas like pricing, but I was sort of expecting that to happen.”

Sassy shirts fit Jewish hipsters to a ‘T’


Shiran Teitelbaum was out running errands recently when a random guy stopped her.

“He asked, ‘Are you Jewish?’ And he said he is, too,” she recalled.

Teitelbaum shouldn’t have been surprised, given that, at the time, she was wearing a white sleeveless top with the words “Shvitz It Out” written in bold, black letters.

It’s one of a series of T-shirts she has created with her friend Alice Blastorah as part of their clothing business, Unkosher Market. Other edgy designs that mix Yiddish with a dash of sass include “Kiss My Tuchis” and “Matzah Ballin.’ ”

“I feel like the shirts are cheeky and transgressive,” Teitelbaum said. “There’s something about it that’s not kosher. It’s straddling a line.” 

The shirts were inspired when one of her closest friends converted to Judaism last summer, and Teitelbaum threw her what she called a “Jewchella” party. Unlike Coachella, the epic music festival in Indio, this was a small affair: a half-dozen girlfriends and a menu of bagels and cream cheese. Teitelbaum and Blastorah also brought handmade T-shirts for all of the guests, each with a unique Jewish message, such as “Not in the Tribe But Dig the Vibe.” The shirts were so popular that the pair thought they might be on to something.

Teitelbaum, 29, who is Jewish and grew up in Agoura Hills, and Blastorah, 27, a Toronto native who recently moved to Los Angeles and is not Jewish, weren’t necessarily looking to start a business. They both have full-time jobs on the Westside with a large advertising agency, where the two are creative partners — Teitelbaum is a copy editor, Blastorah is an art director.

But according to Teitelbaum, “In advertising, everyone has a side project. And if they don’t have a side project, they are thinking about side projects. In the end, it makes you a better creative.” 

In fact, she and Blastorah had tossed around ideas in the past, such as funny wine labels. But when the Jewchella party guests — all in their 20s and dressed in white muscle shirts with hand-cut sleeves — posted pictures of themselves on social media, people started asking where they could get the shirts. It was too much enthusiasm to ignore.

Shortly after, Unkosher Market opened a shop on Etsy, the online retailer specializing in artisan clothing and gifts, adding new slogans,  including “Vodka + Latkes ” and “Totes Koshe,” as in, totally kosher.

“[The shirts] did well,” Teitelbaum said. “Every week I would sell a handful of them.” 

But the shirts weren’t premade, and fulfilling orders was a pain. Plus, the pair thought they could improve on the shirts’ design and quality. So they closed the Etsy shop and reconvened. 

They found a local private label vendor who would produce the shirts in Los Angeles exactly as they wanted them, in prewashed jersey cotton. (The company’s website boasts that the fabric is “sewn in Los Angeles with 100% cotton and 100% chutzpah.”) They also took on a third partner, Glenn Feldman, 60, a Toronto-based attorney who happens to be close friends with Teitelbaum’s dad, former journalist Sheldon Teitelbaum, and who was an early fan of the designs.

Now that Unkosher Market has been relaunched, it has about 1,400 followers on Instagram, and the number is growing. Teitelbaum tries to keep the page fresh with new tag lines like, “WWLDD What Would Larry David Do?” and “You Are The Bamba To My Bissli.” The latter refers to two popular Israeli snack foods and is immediately familiar to anyone who has spent time in the Holy Land. (Teitelbaum, whose mom is Israeli, spent many summers as a kid with relatives in Holon, near Tel Aviv.) 

According to Teitelbaum, orders are coming in from New York, Indianapolis and Texas, to name a few. At $48 a pop, the shirts aren’t cheap, but having them made locally means paying a bit more, Teitelbaum explained. And they arrive in the mail ready for gifting, wrapped in crisp black tissue paper with an Unkosher Market thank-you note insert.

Right now, the only place to purchase the shirts is online at unkoshermarket.com, but
Teitelbaum and Blastorah are talking to several boutiques in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto about carrying them. 

They’re also planning designs for new audiences. “Next is baby,” Teitelbaum said. Think matching shirts for mother and child or, for example, “Snip Snip Hooray” for the bris boy.  

Teitelbaum even reported getting requests for designs with three-quarter-length sleeves from some potential Orthodox customers. Sweaters are a more likely possibility that could satisfy that fan base in the future, she said.

Ultimately, Teitelbaum said, the business is trying to target people who, like her, identify as cultural Jews. 

“For me, [Judaism] is being raised in a Jewish family,” she said. “It’s not going to synagogue. It’s not a religious thing at all.” 

So when, for example, you click on the “Totes Koshe” design on the website, you get this message: “It’s Shabbat. You’ve decided to stay in and pig out on challah while binge watching Larry David. Now that’s Totes Koshe.” 

The shirts are “loud and proud,” she said. “But they are funny, which makes them seem like you are being sassy a bit. We are trying to make shirts that younger Jews identify with and show that they are proud of their heritage. Because there are not a lot of brands that do it in a way that’s cool.”

Krazy for Kosher Kurls


Davida Lampkin Tydings knows hair. She likes to boast, “Hair has been a passion of mine since I was born. I tell people I cut my own umbilical cord because that’s the art that God gave me.” 

A licensed hairdresser in New York and Los Angeles who worked in film and television for years, she channeled that love five years ago into a business venture: Kosher Kurls, a company based in Vernon that sells sulfate-free shampoo, everyday deep conditioner and leave-in conditioner (“schmear”). Lampkin Tydings said she got the idea after a friend started a hair-care-products company for biracial people. 

Despite the name and the Hebrew-style lettering on the packaging, Kosher Kurls is good for all hairstyles — curly and straight, according to Lampkin Tydings, 63. She said it can be used on payot and sheitels, too.

The bottles go a step further, claiming the products are for “Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Chassidic, Reconstructionist, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Black or White Jews,” and that it “leaves your hair looking and feeling like a Mensch!” 

Lampkin Tydings of Encino said she uses the product on her own locks. “This takes my waves, and the more you smush it, the more it curls,” she said.

But she stressed the product is not only for her people. 

“I say you don’t have to be Jewish to love Kosher Kurls. People who are Italian, Catholic, etc., say they use it,” said Lampkin Tydings, who tells a joke a minute, throwing in Yiddish words and Jewish puns whenever possible.

Some don’t even care how the products work on their hair; they buy it for the kitsch value. “Some people read the bottle, and they go, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so funny. I have to have it, and I don’t even care if it works.’ I say to them that I hope it does work,” Lampkin Tydings said.

The hair products can be found in several grocery stores, including Ralphs, Cambridge Farms and Western Kosher, as well as the Karen Michelle boutique in Pico-Robertson. 

Lampkin Tydings said that, unlike hairspray or certain kinds of mousse, Kosher Kurls doesn’t give hair a crunchy feel. “What makes our product different from the others is it’s soft to the touch. It controls the frizz and defines the curls. When you touch your hair after using Kosher Kurls, it’s nice and soft. Mousse and hairspray make it stiff.”

“I like my latkes crispy, but I like my hair soft,” she added.

Maxine Berger, a hairdresser of 38 years who works at the Butterfly Loft in Encino, said she uses Kosher Kurls on her clients. “It’s good for styling and blowdrying, and it makes the curls curl nicer. It smoothes the hair, too,” she said.

Kosher Kurls is not Lampkin Tydings’ first entrepreneurial venture. She’s also the brain behind the Matzahman doll, a Passover toy that sings and dances. Thirty-five years ago, she established Davida Aprons, which sells the doll, along with other Judaism-centric housewares, apparel and religious items. There are kippot covered in bagels, hats that say, “Chai is good” and a baby bib with the phrase, “Future Mah Jongg Player.” Matzahmania, the collection of matzah-emblazoned merchandise that she sells, includes everything from yarmulkes to boxer shorts.

“People have labeled me the queen of Judaica,” Lampkin Tydings said. 

She ran Davida Aprons for many years with her mother, Pauline S. Lampkin, before she died, as well as her sister, Sybil Lampkin Rubin. Her mother is forever immortalized in the Matzahman — it plays a recording of her 93-year-old voice singing an original Craig Taubman song to the melody of “Dayenu.” 

Gene Simmons: Rock god turned business tycoon


Gene Simmons has made a career out of doing a lot with a little. 

His band, KISS, featured members with little or no formal musical training but went on to become one of the nation’s biggest rock acts. Growing up in Haifa, he sold cactus fruit to workers at a local bus stop to help his struggling mother.  And, more recently, the mundane everyday activities of his family were at the center of a reality show, “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” which had a six-season run. 

Now, Simmons has taken a simple concept — namely, work hard — and turned it into a book. “Me, Inc.: Build an Army of One, Unleash Your Inner Rock God, Win in Life, and Business” is a brash guide for the budding entrepreneur from a man whose band has sold more than “100 million CDs and DVDs worldwide and manages over 3,000 licensed merchandise items,” according to publicity materials, and who is worth, according to various websites, an estimated $300 million. 

The book, which was published in October by Dey Street Books, targets the wannabe Generation Y entrepreneur who is looking for guidance from an accessible voice. It is also for the casual reader who may not be interested in business advice but wants insight into the mind of an entertainment icon. Either way, the book is an enjoyable, if slightly redundant read, and it shows how Simmons is the embodiment of the classic American immigrant success story.

“Though I was born in Israel, I can tell you that it’s America that has become the Promised Land,” Simmons, 65, writes in the book’s preface. 

Simmons, born Chaim Witz, emigrated from Israel to the United States at the age of 8. He learned the language, worked a variety of jobs and eventually changed his name when he decided his ambition was to be in a rock band, noticing there were very few in that field with the last name Witz.   

“I didn’t take it personally. I recognized the facts. I realized that Robert Zimmerman had turned himself into Bob Dylan. That Marc Bolan from T. Rex had been born Mark Feld. And that Leslie West from Mountain had originally been known as Leslie Weinstein,” he writes. “They all reinvented themselves, changing their names, and their images along the way.” 

Equipped with just a bass guitar and a genius business instinct, Simmons, with the help of Paul Stanley, who is also Jewish, founded KISS in 1973. The band made the decision to manage itself and, although the members didn’t have the chops of, say, The Beatles, they had larger-than-life ambition and outside-the-box ideas: They wore elaborate face makeup on stage, oversaw a KISS movie (“Detroit Rock City”), and inspired action figures, comic books and more. 

Simmons, who lives in Los Angeles, relays all this as he blends advice with memoir. He describes his 1980s courtship with Shannon Tweed, a model-actress who became his wife in 2011. He fell hard for her, he writes, after dating the likes of Cher at the age of 29, and later, Diana Ross. (Cher was Simmons’ first girlfriend because, as Simmons advises his reader, success should come before love.) 

His relationship with Tweed has been a source of some of Simmons’ few failures — at least, as he tells it. Simmons admits he was not always faithful to Tweed, and berates himself in the book for his infidelities. 

Nonetheless, the book is mostly filled with Simmons’ glories. In addition to his Hall of Fame music career, Simmons also has a restaurant chain, an Arena Football League team (the L.A. Kiss), a record company and more. 

For a man worth so much money, Simmons proves surprisingly in sync with the everyman. In one chapter, he writes about the benefits of working at home and how cutting down on commute times is an important part of the journey toward realizing one’s dreams.  

Other tips are more brutal and discomfiting. At one point, he advises his reader to have self-confidence so extreme that it verges on the delusional, such as to only be friends with more successful people, and to avoid vacation days and down times at all costs. He cites the likes of Steve Jobs, Donald Trump and Richard Branson as people who are among his role models in the business world.

“Have a killer instinct,” he writes. “I still do. And I don’t have to. I would, arguably, make a living without trying very hard at this point. My bills are paid. I don’t have to write this book, or be in a rock band, or be partners in all the companies I’ve mentioned. Why do it? 

“Because I’m a champion. I pride myself not only on what I’ve achieved, but on what I dream of achieving. I refuse to sit on my thumb all day and talk about yesterday. That’s for wimps. I’m a today and tomorrow person … YOU first. Everyone else second.”   

Simmons makes it clear early on that what he says is only his opinion and the reader can take it or leave it. But there is enough here, especially Simmons’ words for recent college graduates — or, perhaps, for Simmons’ own two children, Nick and Sophie, who are in their 20s — that rings poignant and true:

“In the real world, once you grow up and Mom or Dad isn’t there to bail you out of trouble, there is no one there to help. And there will be no one there to force YOU to lead a smart life. And an economical life. And have a lifelong business plan,” he writes. “YOU will have to do that for yourself. But here’s the good news: YOU will get all the rewards. And take heed, regardless of your age: it’s never too late to get started. It’s never too late to get started NOW.” 

A realtor with Knack


Sharona Alperin “sold” her first home while still in her late teens. 

At the time, Alperin was several years away from gaining her Realtor’s license, and both the circumstances and the client were a bit unique. Doug Fieger, the lead singer of the rock group the Knack, was looking for a home base in Los Angeles. While actual Realtors searched for listings, Alperin was the one who showed more than a dozen properties. 

She had what might be considered a stronger-than-average interest in this process. Alperin was Fieger’s girlfriend, and they were planning on living in it together. (That never happened — there were issues with the house and then they ended up breaking up — but she is that Sharona, the one immortalized in the Knack’s 1979 No. 1 song, “My Sharona.”)

Picture, then, a young woman in denim, sunglasses and a black motorcycle jacket being picked up by real estate professionals and driven around to million-dollar homes. Even as a teenager, the yeshiva-educated Alperin had a talent for going room to room and conveying a property’s possibilities.

“I grew up in sales,” said Alperin, who now lives by Hancock Park. “I was in my father’s furniture showroom when I was 13 and 14. I sold clothes [on Third Street as a high-schooler]. And it wasn’t just that I had the art of selling. I think I had an affinity for architecture, for a house being a home.”

The Realtors who accompanied her noticed Alperin’s skill and urged her to consider home sales as a career. She agreed, eventually falling under the mentorship of Alan Long, founding partner of Dalton, Brown & Long Realtors, which later became DBL Realtors. More than two decades later, she is routinely one of the top-selling agents for Sotheby’s International Realty, which acquired DBL in 2004. A few times a year, she teaches a training class titled “Sharona’s Street Smarts.”

“Everything has changed,” she said, “except the true soul of real estate, which is finding a home.”   

One of the basic tenets of being a successful Realtor, she says, is the ability to listen to your clients, to hear what they want rather than to impose your vision upon them. 

“Sometimes as an agent, we’re there to facilitate and to open their minds to possibilities, but we need to hear what they’re really asking for, what they’re identifying with and what’s really important,” she said.

When not out in the field, she can be found at Sotheby’s Sunset Strip office or through the Web site mysharona.com. Not only was she the namesake of the hit written by Fieger and Knack guitarist Berton Averre, but her image — wearing a white tank-top and jeans and clutching the album “Get the Knack” — adorns the single’s cover. Through the song’s longevity, her name has become her professional calling card. 

“I want to say 90 percent of my life over the last 30 plus years, when I say my name, someone says, ‘Oh like ‘My Sharona’? Even if they don’t say it, I can tell in my head that they’re humming it,” Alperin said. “I don’t always say, ‘Yes, that’s me. I’m “My Sharona.” ’ I don’t always engage, but many, many times, of course, I do.”

Many of Alperin’s clients are celebrities, and her experience with Fieger and in the rock world helped her get in tune with the unique needs of her clientele. Perhaps a client may need a special media room, a secluded backyard or extensive space for entertaining. Privacy can be needed as well. 

“We can have paparazzi issues,” Alperin said. “I could be showing a property on the Sunset Strip, and in the final moments, security comes up and points out a building on Sunset that could be looking into the bedroom or yard and it nixes the whole thing. Some very famous clients may need an egress gate in the back or a way of getting from their garage into their house without having to walk through the front door. They all have different needs, and not just the stars.”

The daughter of Marvin and Miriam Alperin, she grew up near the Fairfax District. Educated at Hillel Hebrew Academy, she jokes that she followed the usual path of a young Jewish girl, going from yeshiva to sites around the world for four years with a rock ’n’ roll band.   

Now married to Jason Aizenberg and the mother of 14-year old Eden and 10-year-old Adam, Alperin still loves to travel, but maintains, “I live and breathe real estate.”

Is Israel pulling down the shutters for business?


High-tech entrepreneur Eyal Waldman decided he had had enough of Israeli investors when they told him to choose between his titles of chairman and chief executive at the company he co-founded, Mellanox Technologies.

So in August, Waldman delisted the chip designer – Tel Aviv Stock Exchange's sixth-largest company, with a market value at the time of 6 billion shekels ($1.7 billion) – dealing a heavy blow to an ailing bourse that had already seen its chief executive and chairman resign a month earlier.

Waldman said the attitude of Israeli institutional investors, who had been empowered by changes to the Securities Law, was suffocating.

“Mellanox is not an impulsive company. (Delisting) is something we were thinking of, that we saw build up. This was not our place any more,” he told Reuters.

Since Mellanox delisted, a handful of Tel Aviv's largest companies have threatened to follow suit unless Israel becomes more business friendly.

The problem is the result of both more regulation and less.

Over the past decade, Israel has relaxed rules on overseas investments. Previously, Israeli pensions had to invest nearly 100 percent at home; now they can invest without limitation abroad. At the same time, over the past year the government has introduced securities regulations that Israeli companies complain make doing business far harder, including more stringent reporting requirements, pushing even more money out of the country.

The new regulations and other measures were an effort to help consumers and protect investors. Competition was subdued by the domination of a handful of conglomerates in the mobile phone, retail, construction and petrol distribution sectors, and consumers were struggling to keep up with bills.

In 2011, hundreds of young Israelis, angry they could not afford housing and bitter about the high price of groceries, set up a tent city in the heart of Tel Aviv's financial district and for weeks refused to move. This culminated in the largest demonstration in Israel's history, with 400,000 people demanding a more affordable cost of living.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted with a plan to break up the conglomerates that controlled vast swathes of the economy, opened up markets to competition and forced service providers to cut consumer fees.

The new regulations have brought consumers some relief – lower cell-phone bills and banking fees – but many investors and businesses say it is at a cost of dwindling profits and depressed share prices.

What upset Waldman most were amendments to the Securities Law that he could not have foreseen when he listed his company on TASE in 2007, several months after its offering on Nasdaq.

He was troubled by the empowerment of minority institutional investors, who previously had little influence at the companies in which they invested. New rules require majority approval by minority shareholders for issues such as executive salaries.

WILL OTHERS FOLLOW?

Officials at some of Israel's biggest firms have said that, like Mellanox, they are nearing a tipping point.

Potash producer Israel Chemicals (ICL), the most traded company on TASE, is seeking to list overseas. Though it has no intention at present to delist from Tel Aviv, CEO Stefan Borgas said in a conference call: “ICL must act seriously and take into account a situation of an additional worsening in the business climate of the Tel Aviv bourse.”

The same goes for Nice Systems, whose products analyze video and big data.

“It makes much more sense for us to trade only on Nasdaq,” CEO Zeevi Bregman told the Globes financial newspaper, but made clear a delisting was not on the agenda at this time.

Such talk has scared off investors. Daily trading volume on TASE averages around 1 billion shekels, 47 percent of the level in 2010. Other markets have had more moderate drops; since 2010 trade in London has fallen to 80 percent, on Nasdaq to 77 percent and Tokyo to 79 percent.

Only three small IPOs have taken place in Tel Aviv since late 2011, while about 100 firms, roughly 15 percent, have delisted since the end of 2009.

Investors are not pleased; one public relations firm, on behalf of clients, has launched a Facebook page called SaveTASE, blaming Israel's securities regulator, Shmuel Hauser, for the bourse's woes.

Part of the drop in volume followed a 2011 upgrade in Israel's status on the MSCI index from emerging market to developed. The move led to an exodus of passive money from foreign investors tied to the emerging market index.

Foreigners now account for only about 15 percent of trade on TASE in 2013, compared with up to 25 percent in 2010.

But the real drain has been the money that Israeli institutions have withdrawn as restrictions on overseas investments were lifted over the past decade.

“We are in the process of increasing our investment out of Israel, and this process … still has, in my opinion, a long way to go,” said Amir Hessel, chief investment officer of Harel Insurance and Finance, Israel's third-largest insurer.

Harel's pension, provident and life insurance funds have invested 34 percent of their 102 billion shekels in assets under management and 60 percent of their equities portfolio abroad, up from zero a decade ago.

Nir Moroz, CEO of Clal Amitim pension fund, said as much as 30 percent of his fund's assets were abroad, and that could hit 40-50 percent in the next few years due to a dearth of new local issuance.

Bank of Israel data shows pension funds hold 22 percent of their assets abroad, nearly double the level of 2009, while insurance funds hold 27 percent overseas.

FLOOD OF REGULATION

The protests of 2011 ushered in a flood of regulation that hurt profits in almost every sector – from cellular operators and food makers to institutional investors and gas producers.

Israel's three top mobile phone operators posted an average drop of 71 percent in net profit in the second quarter of 2013 compared with three years earlier, before new regulation and competition kicked in.

“There is a big risk of making business and investing in Israeli companies because of regulation,” said one investment manager who asked not to be named.

Hauser disputes that regulations alone have harmed the markets. Much of the regulation, he told Reuters, was aimed at curbing abuse of power by large stakeholders in companies at the expense of minority holders.

However, he said “the wave of regulation since the 2008 crisis may have gone too far”. He has proposed lowering the capital gains tax to 15 percent from 25, reducing fees for trading and clearing, and trading foreign currency.

With the public's cause taken up by the media, Hauser said it has become “illegitimate” to be rich these days, adding: “We have to stop with this populist atmosphere.”

Among the hardest hit by the new environment has been Israel Chemicals, which has made controlling shareholder Idan Ofer one of Israel's richest people.

ICL, which has an exclusive permit to extract minerals from the Dead Sea, paid 1.2 billion shekels in 2012 in taxes and royalties. A year after ICL reached a deal to double royalty payments to 10 percent, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, a former TV personality who rode the social protest to political power, set up a panel to review once more the level of royalties paid.

CEO Borgas said ICL was worried about the “extraordinary level of uncertainty” in the business environment that the committee's appointment has created.

“Our international shareholders acknowledge this at every encounter,” Borgas told Reuters in an email, adding that this was reflected in ICL's share price, which fell over 15 percent in reaction to the committee's establishment.

Its shares were also hit when Canada's Potash Corp in April abandoned efforts to take over ICL because of strong political opposition in Israel.

Borgas, a former CEO of Swiss chemicals group Lonza, said he was concerned by the scope of regulation and the way it was conducted in what seems to be a response to populism.

“In the current situation we have a negative incentive to invest in Israel,” he said.

Israel's economy relies heavily on foreign investment and, like many countries, it provides grants and tax breaks to attract companies.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Israel's largest company and the world's biggest generic drugmaker, reaped close to 12 billion shekels in tax breaks between 2006 and 2011, according to the Tax Authority. It has come under huge pressure in recent weeks to review plans to shed 10 percent of its global workforce as part of a cost-cutting plan.

ICL was next at 2.2 billion shekels, followed By Check Point Software at 1.65 billion.

When these figures were published by the media in July, the public response was scathing.

Lapid has said he would reexamine the policy, but companies say the benefits are dwarfed by the jobs they provide and the money they contribute to the economy.

“Without this policy a lot of companies would have less business here and would pay less taxes,” Check Point CEO Gil Shwed told reporters in July.

Editing by Will Waterman

Comverse in Israel has new round of layoffs


Comverse let go of dozens of workers in Israel in a new round of layoffs.

The layoffs this week were announced a month ago. Hundreds of workers had been let go previously by Comverse, according to Ynet.

The company, which develops and markets telecommunications software, was founded in Israel and is now based in the United States.

Several leading companies in Israel, notably Teva and Gottex, announced sizable layoffs in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, the Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva said it was layingof f  5,000 employees worldwide, including 800 in Israel. The Israel layoffs were  frozen pending an agreement between the company and the Histadrut labor federation.

Israel provides Teva with major tax breaks, which were threatened by the layoffs.

Gottex, a fashion and swimwear manufacturer, is laying off dozens of employees as part of an announced restructuring, according to Ynet.

Haifa-based Oil Refineries said last week that it will let go of  nearly 250 employees and ECI began laying off up to 300 workers — one quarter of its staff in Israel — in September, Ynet reported.

Tel Aviv eyeing way to let businesses open on Sabbath


The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality is working to change a city by-law that bans businesses from opening on the Jewish Sabbath.

City officials told the Israeli Supreme Court late Tuesday night that the municipality would not fine businesses that until now have opened consistently on Saturday.

In June, the court ordered the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality to enforce a by-law that bans its businesses from opening on Saturday.

On Tuesday, the municipality said it would fine new businesses that open on Saturday in contravention of the law. The by-law also will be enforced against businesses that disturb the public order.

At the same time, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai asked the city’s attorney to create an amendment to the by-law that “enables the existence of a day of rest alongside each resident’s freedom to enjoy it as he or she sees fit,” Haaretz reported.

The high court justices ruled in June that the municipality and two large supermarket chains violated the municipal bylaw against opening on the Jewish Sabbath. The court suggested the city could change the by-law to allow businesses to remain open on Saturday.

The owners of the small shops claimed they were losing customers to the chains that could afford to remain open on Saturday and absorb the modest fines levied for their transgression.

The justices also suggested that the municipality continuously violated the by-law in order to collect the fines.

Google buys Israel’s Waze to protect mobile maps lead


Google Inc bought Israeli mapping startup Waze on Tuesday for an undisclosed sum, acquiring an online real-time mapping service to safeguard its own lead in one of the most crucial aspects of smartphone usage.

A source close to the matter told Reuters on Monday that the Internet search leader was putting the finishing touches on a deal to take over the company for $1.3 billion. Google said in a Tuesday blog post that it had closed the deal and now planned on using Waze's service to enhance its own Maps product, but did not say how much it paid.

Maps and navigation services have become vital for technology companies as consumers adopt smartphones and other mobile devices. Waze uses satellite signals from members' smartphones to generate maps and traffic data, which it then shares with other users, offering real-time traffic info.

Waze's product development team will remain in Israel and operate separately for now, Google said. Eventually, its service will enhance the U.S. company's Maps app, while the core Waze product itself will benefit from integrating Google-search capabilities.

“Imagine if you could see real-time traffic updates from friends and fellow travelers ahead of you, calling out 'fender bender…totally stuck in left lane! and showing faster routes that others are taking,” Google Geo Vice President Brian McClendon wrote in his blogpost.

Four-year-old Waze, which has 47 million users, has raised $67 million in funding to date from firms including: Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Blue Run Ventures and semiconductor company Qualcomm Inc. Facebook Inc was, at one point, an interested buyer, according to media reports.

Reporting by Edwin Chan; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Leslie Gevirtz

PartyWorks Interactive Eric Elkaim’s party line


In a world of cutthroat businesses, Eric Elkaim still believes the “more you give, the more you receive.”

As the founder of Los Angeles-based party vendor PartyWorks Interactive, which rents out premium rides, games, entertainment and attractions to companies and individuals hosting special events, Elkaim has put that conviction into practice for nearly 20 years. 

Some of Elkaim’s high-profile clients include Vans Shoes, Virgin Airlines and Six Flags theme parks, as well as venues such as the Rose Bowl and Santa Anita Park. PartyWorks provides inflatable rides, sports courts, stages, live bands, arcade games, rock-climbing walls and much more for everything from corporate parties to conventions to premieres. Ditto for families throwing large-scale bar or bat mitzvahs. 

When PartyWorks isn’t supplying equipment to lavish events, the company is often working pro-bono for organizations that don’t have the resources of PartyWorks’ big-name clients. 

Foothill Unity Center, a Monrovia community organization that distributes food and provides services to very low-income families, is one of the recipients of Elkaim’s generosity. 

Throughout the year, the organization sponsors community events, including a Thanksgiving food distribution, a holiday food drive and a back-to-school drive. Thousands of people attend these events, and PartyWorks helps Foothill Unity make these events fun and exciting for attendees, donating tables, staging, lighting, giant menorahs, oversized chairs for Santa, and dance floors. 

PartyWorks also provides supplies and services that are less flashy, but just as important, such as a bouncer to help with line control as well as air-conditioning units. 

“Money’s not everything, and to seek a smile and give something at no cost, something they can’t afford, is an amazing feeling,” said Elkaim, 49.

Elkaim has been donating party and event supplies to Foothill Unity for more than 15 years and he never asks for compensation, “just because it’s a good cause.” He calls Foothill Unity one of the most important organizations that he assists, but there are many others. 

Elkaim’s PartyWorks began as a single popcorn-making machine. He founded the company in 1989 after years spent as a teenage performer around Los Angeles, working as a magician who incorporated comedy into his act during gigs at the Magic Castle, a nightclub for magicians and magic enthusiasts. Soon the people booking him asked if he could hire another magician to join him. 

Sure, he said. He could do that. 

Soon they were asking if he could bring along a face painter or a clown. Again, he said that he could.

Before he knew it, people were calling Elkaim to book entertainment for their events, including carnival booths and rides. He purchased his first popcorn machine and hasn’t looked back since.

A resident of Glendora, he isn’t your typical corporate head. In many ways, he still behaves like an entertainer. In fact, his professional title at PartyWorks is “director of all things outrageous!” 

True to his roots, Elkaim combines comedy with his professional life. In 2010, when he organized Mitzvahs and More, a bar mitzvah trade show that the Jewish Journal sponsored, he had radio station KLOS 95.5 FM air a humorous and Jewy plug for the event:

“At…the world’s largest bar and bat mitzvah expo, you’ll learn everything you need to know in order to party until you plotz.”

But perhaps more important to him than having fun is developing relationships — not just because these relationships are good business but because they come in handy for giving back to the community. 

Elkaim said he is particularly interested in helping soldiers and children. That is why PartyWorks donates resources to Soldiers’ Angels, which provides aid and comfort to members of the U.S. military, veterans and their families. 

In 2008, Elkaim used his connections in the entertainment industry to bring popular alternative rock band Angels and Airwaves to perform at a party that Soldiers’ Angels threw for wounded American soldiers who were recovering at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. And motivated by research that shows that playing guitar can help wounded soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder improve their memory, he worked with Gibson guitars to provide free instruments to wounded warriors.

Echoes of Hope, which provides assistance to at-risk and emancipated foster youth, is another beneficiary of PartyWorks’ goodwill. Founded by retired Los Angeles Kings hockey player Luc Robitaille, the nonprofit hosts annual celebrity no-limit Texas Hold’em tournaments to raise money and awareness for the plight of the youths it serves. Elkaim happily donates poker tables and other casino supplies to these tournaments. 

Other acts of generosity are more spontaneous. Sometimes, community organizations and nonprofits hosting events call to inquire how much it would cost to rent certain party equipment, and Elkaim simply offers it for free. 

A lot of his desire to be altruistic comes from being Jewish, he said. 

As he has gotten older, he said, “I started to believe in the Jewish way of thinking in giving anonymously. A true giver is somebody who doesn’t give to get their name on stuff as a sponsor. We do it because we want to.”

Israeli entrepreneur’s FreshBiz board game could sharpen your business skills


Starting a company can sometimes be likened to a game of chance. Coming up with the right idea at the right time, when the market is neither saturated nor in financial free-fall, isn’t always under the business owner’s control, no matter how crack the team.

Ronen Gafni aims to enable entrepreneurs to surmount the vicissitudes of chance by turning the startup game into a real board game. FreshBiz is the result of eight years of development by Gafni, an entrepreneur who is taking his biggest gamble yet with a product that looks like the fabled Game of Life, but is far more practical.

FreshBiz players move through various business stages, from starting a new company to trading on the stock market. Dice throws and “business opportunity” cards help them advance toward the winner’s slot.

Instead of earning $200 by passing Go, players pay “toll passages” along the way. And you have only 90 minutes to do it. The game aims to simulate the world of business and to improve business behavior and industry acumen.

Unlike typical board games, competition is secondary to collaboration. “There can be more than one winner,” Gafni explained. “So it’s not about beating other people. It’s about finding creative ways to make enough money to get to the winner’s block. And if you collaborate, the chances are higher that everyone is going to get there.”

As players move around the board, they can start new businesses whenever they land on an empty lot. It may cost $2 million to open a business, but if you pay attention, you may have the opportunity to start a company for half price — if you find a partner. Similarly, you may be able to trade stocks more profitably if you team up with someone else.

Game translates across cultures

Sounds like you’d need an MBA to succeed in FreshBiz, but Gafni insists that “you’ll pick it up very fast. From the second game on, you’ll be more creative about how you play.”

You can buy the physical game for $50 or download an iPad version of FreshBiz for $7 so you can play against a maximum of four players in your living room or on the Web. But perhaps the best way is to join a FreshBiz workshop.

This is what Gafni has been doing for the last 18 months — running tests with real people around the world, to see how the game works and whether cultural differences matter. He has 30 facilitators (each person pays $700 to buy a kit, after which he or she can run as many workshops as desired) and has played the game in Israel, New York, Spain and Singapore; at banks and financial firms; and with professors and MBA graduates at New York University’s entrepreneurship program.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are very few differences in game play across cultures. That’s because “it’s a game about our core beliefs,” Gafni said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in India or Italy; we all go through the same experiences. In Israel, people might scream more, while in Europe the game might be quieter. But our insights are very much the same.”

Where is Gafni’s favorite place to play FreshBiz? “Madrid,” he said. “I don’t know Spanish, but I can see how the game is going by the movements made by these top executives.”

The game has, so far, been translated into Spanish, Russian and Hebrew, in addition to English, of course. Gafni estimates 3,000 people have played the game already in more than 100 sessions.

Tel Aviv ‘world tour’

FreshBiz officially hit Israel in July, when Gafni held a workshop with 200 entrepreneurs and business owners at the ZOA building in Tel Aviv.

The cost to join a FreshBiz workshop varies depending on the length, from NIS (new Israeli shekel) 150 (about $38) for a short session, up to NIS 2,000 (a little more than $500) for a whole weekend per person. Gafni hopes that organizations will pick up the tab for their top team members.

A workshop can include anywhere from 20 to 150 players. The facilitator does some lecturing with an overhead projector, but it’s mostly about sitting (or jumping) around the board.

Gafni’s goal is to have 1 million FreshBiz’ers in three years. The iPad app is key, he says, and it will comprise more than just the game. “There will be an entire community for entrepreneurial thinkers, where they can share knowledge and opportunities. They can create events and parties” outside of the digital realm.

His own entrepreneurial path started when he began trading stocks while serving in the Israel Defense Forces. He built a stock portfolio worth hundreds of thousands of shekels until the global financial meltdown. “It was a heavy blow for a young guy like me who was just getting started,” Gafni said. “But it also taught me the philosophy of recovery from a financial crisis.”

He and his wife later worked together in their own marketing consulting and branding company, where he saw “so many owners are stuck playing an old game of life and business. The world is changing around them, with technology, the economy, globalization, society — it’s not the same as it used to be — but they don’t know how to adapt themselves to this new game.”

Gafni, 39, was inspired to create FreshBiz after he realized the new world of business looked nothing like the landscape his parents knew. “They both worked in a bank for 30 years and then got their pensions,” he said. “I knew from the age of 10 that I wouldn’t do that. Knowing how much I’ll earn at the end of the month is boring. It’s cooler not knowing!” 

Don’t launch a startup till you play this game


Starting a company can sometimes be likened to a game of chance. Coming up with the right idea at the right time, when the market is neither saturated nor in financial free-fall, isn’t always under the business owner’s control, no matter how crack the team.

Ronen Gafni aims to enable entrepreneurs to surmount the vicissitudes of chance by turning the startup game into a real board game. FreshBiz is the result of eight years of development by Gafni, an entrepreneur who is taking his biggest gamble yet with a product that looks like the fabled Game of Life, but is far more practical.

FreshBiz players move through various business stages, from starting a new company to trading on the stock market. Dice throws and “business opportunity” cards help them advance toward the winner’s slot.

Instead of earning $200 by passing Go, players pay “toll passages” along the way. And you have only 90 minutes to do it. The game aims to simulate the world of business and to improve business behavior and industry acumen.

Unlike typical board games, competition is secondary to collaboration. “There can be more than one winner,” Gafni explained. “So it’s not about beating other people. It’s about finding creative ways to make enough money to get to the winner’s block. And if you collaborate, the chances are higher that everyone is going to get there.”

As players move around the board, they can start new businesses whenever they land on an empty lot. It may cost $2 million to open a business, but if you pay attention, you may have the opportunity to start a company for half price — if you find a partner. Similarly, you may be able to trade stocks more profitably if you team up with someone else.

Game translates across cultures

Sounds like you’d need an MBA to succeed in FreshBiz, but Gafni insists that “you’ll pick it up very fast. From the second game on, you’ll be more creative about how you play.”

You can buy the physical game for $50 or download an iPad version of FreshBiz for $7 so you can play against a maximum of four players in your living room or on the Web. But perhaps the best way is to join a FreshBiz workshop.

This is what Gafni has been doing for the last 18 months — running tests with real people around the world, to see how the game works and whether cultural differences matter. He has 30 facilitators (each person pays $700 to buy a kit, after which he or she can run as many workshops as desired) and has played the game in Israel, New York, Spain and Singapore; at banks and financial firms; and with professors and MBA graduates at New York University’s entrepreneurship program.

FreshBiz

Perhaps surprisingly, there are very few differences in game play across cultures. That’s because “it’s a game about our core beliefs,” Gafni said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in India or Italy; we all go through the same experiences. In Israel, people might scream more, while in Europe the game might be quieter. But our insights are very much the same.”

Where is Gafni’s favorite place to play FreshBiz? “Madrid,” he said. “I don’t know Spanish, but I can see how the game is going by the movements made by these top executives.”

The game has, so far, been translated into Spanish, Russian and Hebrew, in addition to English, of course. Gafni estimates 3,000 people have played the game already in more than 100 sessions.

Tel Aviv ‘world tour’

FreshBiz officially hit Israel in July, when Gafni held a workshop with 200 entrepreneurs and business owners at the ZOA building in Tel Aviv.

The cost to join a FreshBiz workshop varies depending on the length, from NIS (new Israeli shekel) 150 (about $38) for a short session, up to NIS 2,000 (a little more than $500) for a whole weekend per person. Gafni hopes that organizations will pick up the tab for their top team members.

A workshop can include anywhere from 20 to 150 players. The facilitator does some lecturing with an overhead projector, but it’s mostly about sitting (or jumping) around the board.

Gafni’s goal is to have 1 million FreshBiz’ers in three years. The iPad app is key, he says, and it will comprise more than just the game. “There will be an entire community for entrepreneurial thinkers, where they can share knowledge and opportunities. They can create events and parties” outside of the digital realm.

His own entrepreneurial path started when he began trading stocks while serving in the Israel Defense Forces. He built a stock portfolio worth hundreds of thousands of shekels until the global financial meltdown. “It was a heavy blow for a young guy like me who was just getting started,” Gafni said. “But it also taught me the philosophy of recovery from a financial crisis.”

He and his wife later worked together in their own marketing consulting and branding company, where he saw “so many owners are stuck playing an old game of life and business. The world is changing around them, with technology, the economy, globalization, society — it’s not the same as it used to be — but they don’t know how to adapt themselves to this new game.”

Gafni, 39, was inspired to create FreshBiz after he realized the new world of business looked nothing like the landscape his parents knew. “They both worked in a bank for 30 years and then got their pensions,” he said. “I knew from the age of 10 that I wouldn’t do that. Knowing how much I’ll earn at the end of the month is boring. It’s cooler not knowing!”

Scraping the sky in upscale Tel Aviv


As Yigal Zemah, CEO of Berggruen Residential, stands on the seventh floor of the new Meier-on-Rothschild skyscraper set in the epicenter of Tel Aviv at 36 Rothschild Blvd., a wide smile crosses his face. The luxurious new building slated for completion in 2014 will be the tallest residential tower in the city and, Zemah says with pride, of the absolute highest building and luxury standards currently available inside and out. Although the project represents the tallest residential building in Tel Aviv, Zemah says the original guidelines in the business plan were simple: to build only the best.

“We wanted to do something different and in order to do that we wanted to build something of the highest quality possible with the most sought-after architects in the best location and with the nicest interiors,” he explains. As soon as internationally acclaimed architect Richard Meier agreed to design the building, potential buyers began to call.

As of late summer, 60 percent of the building has already been sold with a ratio of about half foreign and half Israeli buyers. Among the high-profile first investors are financier Nathaniel Rothschild; Eyal Waldman, co-founder and CEO of Mellanox; Lior Reitblatt, CEO of Super-Pharm; and advertising agency executives and partners Mickey Bar and Shoni Reuveni. Although foreign investors are attracted to the project for its unique design and luxurious living standards (a rarity in Tel Aviv until recent years), for many of the ultra-wealthy Israelis who will make this their primary residence, it will be seen in popular culture as the ultimate status symbol.

The grass-roots social justice movement within Israel that is currently fighting against this kind of development sees this luxury tower as one more foot in the grave for Tel Aviv’s middle class. Despite some speculation that the real-estate bubble will eventually burst here just as it has elsewhere in the world, so far it has grown only larger. Towers near the beach such as the Opera and Basel are selling for approximately $550 per square foot. New apartments with a view of the sea are going for as much as $1,455 per square foot and many speculators expect the prices to just keep rising. According to professor Elinoar Barzacchi, the former head of the school of architecture at Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv is rapidly becoming a place for the very rich and the very poor. Luxury towers exacerbate this problem because rather than providing more affordable housing to a market desperately in need, a smaller number of units is sold for top dollar. 

Zemah shrugs when asked about the Meier-on-Rothschild tower in relation to the current social controversy. 

“This isn’t happening just in Tel Aviv,” he explains. “This is a worldwide phenomena that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. We are just another small drop in the bucket.”

There is no doubt that this new residential tower will attract only the wealthiest buyers who can afford not only the steep purchase prices — the penthouse of the building on floors 38 and 39 is, at $45 million, the most expensive apartment ever on the Tel Aviv market — but also the exorbitant maintenance costs for the pool, spa, Jacuzzi, sauna, a 24-hour concierge, gardens, cleaning services and habitual repairs. 

According to Zemah, the building was designed with the most environmentally friendly technology available today in order to lower these monthly maintenance fees. Features include Israeli water-saving technology; pneumatic waste collection to maximize recycling; blinds and shading designed for the local climate to reduce air-conditioning use; windows and glazing to optimize light within the building; and locally sourced building materials to reduce the impact of transportation.  

Upon completion, the sleek-looking, white Modernist tower will stand 590 feet tall. In a nod to his architectural predecessors best known for the functionality and minimalism inherent in their Bauhaus signatures, Meier’s goal was to use the natural light and create a seamless integration with the surroundings. Although one could hardly say that this chic, white tower will even remotely resemble the block buildings at its feet, it will certainly be an impressive icon in the city’s skyline — one that symbolizes the future and celebrates how far this municipality has come since its turbulent beginnings.

Although this is Meier’s first project in Israel, he notes that he has been fascinated by Israel since his first visit to the country 50 years ago. 

“At this point in my life, to be able to give something to this extraordinary city, Tel Aviv, this unique building and wonderful place to live, is the fulfillment of a lifetime dream,” he says. 

Perhaps its most attractive feature, however, is the stunning perspective it will provide to residents. At the edge of a model terrace replete with wooden floors and glass walls to enhance visibility, Zemah notes that even from the seventh floor, the building has spectacular views. 

In the distance, the Mediterranean forms a subtle, azure line between the city’s relatively low skyline and the clear, blue air. Less than 10 minutes away by foot lies the charming neighborhood of Neve Tzedek, the Habima national theater and opera house, Charles Clore Park and a slew of art galleries, open-terraced cafes, restaurants offices, banks, stores and shops. From this height, one can also clearly see the city’s first skyscraper, Shalom Tower, as well as the handful of other towers that rise along the horizon. 

“If you compare it to New York, it’s like being on 59th and Fifth streets,” Zemah says with satisfaction. 

For those who see this tower as another eyesore against the city’s largely low buildings, it is far too late to stop construction now. And for those who can afford it — and the trend shows that many Israelis who can are rapidly making central Tel Aviv their home — these apartments will doubtlessly be akin to living in a museum. 

Tackling the Job Search


After some 40 years in the business world, Gordon Steen never thought his morning would start outdoors with hyenas, elephants and monkeys.

But that was more than six years ago, before he had closed his 17-year-old shipping-and-packing business. While contemplating his next career move, he became a customer-service representative at the Baltimore Zoo.

“That was a tough job, being out in the sun all day long,” Steen, now 65, said of the seasonal work that ended with winter’s onset. “But I thought it would be interesting, and it was — and the economy hadn’t tanked yet.”

But in the late summer of 2008, the country plunged into a deep economic recession, and Steen soon found himself doing jobs he had never considered as he searched for an elusive full-time position. In the past few years, he has worked part time as a writer, researcher, photographer and leasing consultant.

Struggling senior adults are just part of the national unemployment picture.

In August, the country’s unemployment rate stood at 8.1 percent, or about 12.5 million people, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Economists often accompany such statistics with comments about the uncounted “under-employed,” or those who have stopped searching. Among Americans ages 65 and older, there were 493,000 unemployed people seeking work, up from 480,000 a year earlier, according to the Department of Labor.

Those seniors face some challenges specific to older adults. Although age discrimination is illegal, prospective employers are put off by what they perceive as the seniors’ potential skill deficits, fears about higher health-care costs and concern about longevity in the position. 

“With so many of the jobs I am applying for, they involve technology and the people applying are in their 20s and are three times faster,” Steen said. “At the same time, I am very adaptive to learning, and in fact, my ability to learn is a lot better than I thought it would be.”

Jeffrey Davidson, 67, understands what Steen is up against. The online LinkedIn profile of the Los Angeles-area professional exudes skills and experience — “Professional Consultant/Public Speaker/Trainer specializing in PowerPoint, Excel, Word & WordPerfect at PC Consultants” — but it’s still been an uphill battle.

“There are 4,000 people looking for four jobs in any given vocation,” Davidson said. “I will honestly say that right now I’m not trying as hard as I was. It’s a combination of frustration — what I’m looking for isn’t available, I don’t know who to contact. I’m trying to put the word out, nothing’s happening.”

After seeing his consulting work dwindle in recent years, Davidson turned to Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) of Los Angeles for moral support among like-minded people at a weekly group.

“Prior to the onset of the recession at the end of 2008, I don’t think even 5 percent of the individuals seeking services with our agency were over 65,” said Jay Soloway, training and education director for JVS Los Angeles. Today it’s between 15 to 20 percent, he said.

For Jewish vocational service agencies across the United States, the challenges facing seniors have not gone unnoticed. Some JVS operations have seen increases as high as 20 to 30 percent in the senior category, according to Genie Cohen, CEO of the International Association of Jewish Vocational Services. Her operation provides technical, informational and communications support to 28 JVS operations in Canada, Israel and the United States.

“Everybody is struggling to find help and programs for this part of the community,” Cohen said.

Jewish Family Services in Columbus, Ohio, has a “2 Young 2 Retire” program that focuses on financial needs, staying healthy and “encore career choices with the goal of discovering work on your own terms related to personal values, passions and aspirations.” Jewish Vocational Service of Metro-
West in New Jersey runs the Center for Creative Maturity, which covers people older than 45 and targets subgroups such as those with disabilities ages 55 and older, older refugees and immigrants, and even nursing home residents. In Louisville, Ky., the Mature Work program of Jewish Family & Career Services covers assistance with returning to the workforce and developing strategies to enter new careers.

In Los Angeles, JVS started Mature Ability, a program aimed at people 55 and older. The agency also created the eight-week Bank Work$ program, which guides people toward jobs in banking, often as tellers.

“We get into issues of the realities of working today with younger supervisors and maintaining self-esteem,” Soloway said. He is concerned that some people will not take such jobs as they look for something more lucrative and prestigious, which in turn prolongs the job search.

Other issues abound, points out Tracey Paliath, economic services director of Baltimore’s Jewish Community Services. Even one’s e-mail address — or lack thereof — can be a detriment.

“You have to explain to them that they have to apply online and that paper is sort of past,” she said. “And if they have an e-mail that’s aol.com, that sends up a red flag” because some see it as an outdated system.

The challenge is not just teaching people the new methods of job hunting — the Internet did not exist the last time some older Americans were job hunting — but the reality that works in their fields may not return.

Paliath says that about 40 percent of her colleagues’ clients are 50 and older. “We have had people in their 70s and even a couple in their 80s,” she said.

Not everyone is working to recapture what once were retirement funds, she added. Some people are picking up a mortgage or health-care costs for children and grandchildren in difficult economic straits.

Despite the subtle and overt roadblocks, Steen, who has an adult son living at home — “but at least he’s got a job” — is not giving up.

“They talk about the hidden job market, which is people you know who know someone else,” Steen said. “That’s kind of what’s hidden behind the green door, and it takes some imagination to open it.” 

‘Like’ this Israeli site for jobs


Here’s a dirty little secret in the job-recruiting business: All those Web sites that help employers and potential employees match up don’t really work that well. Despite all the bells and whistles, the automatic résumé builders and the ability to search on keywords for specific skills and expertise, the best way to find the right candidate hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years. Word of mouth is still king, especially when a cash reward is offered.

Israeli startup Zao aims to bring the recruitment business into the 21st century. The company has built a “social recruiting” system that allows HR departments to get the word out virally about open positions and track the results from a single user-friendly dashboard (goodbye Excel) with all the analytics you’d expect in the age of Google.

Very often, the best source of referrals comes from a company’s vendors and business partners. Using Zao, companies can reach beyond their own staff and automatically pay the lucky referrers that cash bonus, even if they work for a third-party supplier.

Here’s how it works. If an employee doesn’t know someone who fits the job description, he or she can post it on Facebook or LinkedIn. If a friend or colleague makes a successful referral, both parties split the cash bonus. If a friend of a friend finds the right person for the job, everyone takes a piece. Zao handles the entire process, from e-mail to pay-out. Zao makes money by charging the employer an added 30 percent.

Founder and CEO Ziv Eliraz said he conceived of Zao after having the same troubles while recruiting for an Israeli company whose U.S. office he was managing. Job boards, external recruiters and even Craigslist were generating too many junk résumés. How about utilizing the power of the crowd? Eliraz thought.

“We all know hundreds of people,” he said. “But there was no good tool to get to them, no way to expand the circle beyond a company’s employees.”

 

Targeted recommendations

On Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, it’s considered good manners to let your friends and colleagues know about a job opening via a generic blast to everyone you know at once. To incentivize someone to target the message, the cash bonuses come in handy.

“They’re not a must,” Eliraz said. “But they increase engagement. And they’re respectful of people’s time. If you send a request to 20 people to forward a job listing, without a reward, maybe two out of those 20 will respond. With a reward, it might jump to five out of the 20.”

One more goodie: Once you let Zao access your Facebook or LinkedIn friends, Zao can scan their résumés and recommend to whom you should forward the job posting.

Eliraz, 42, was born in Israel but worked for 10 years in the United States for Israeli companies including InfoLink, Hotbar, Emblaze and Amobee — the latter of which was sold to Singapore Telecom for $320 million (Eliraz was VP of strategic alliances at the time). Zao is his first startup. He’s been programming since he was 12 but became a lawyer. After working for a big Tel Aviv law firm, he found he missed tech too much.

Zao recently announced financing of $1.3 million from Oren Zeev, the founding partner at Orens Capital and a former general partner at Apax, a venture capital firm. Other investors include executives from Audible and Time Warner.

Zao is not without competition, Jobvite being the most formidable. But that company doesn’t offer the cash rewards and bonus-splitting functionality that Zao does (at least not yet). If that’s important to a customer, Zao is the go-to address for juicing up the referral process.

Israeli water power that doesn’t give a dam


You don’t have to build dams to get hydroelectricity from water flowing through municipal pipes, says Dr. Daniel Farb, the Los Angeles immigrant who previously shook up the Israeli clean-tech power scene with his Leviathan Energy company’s award-winning Wind Tulip.

The ecologically conscious physician recently unveiled his latest brainchild, a turbine that turns excess pressure inside existing underground water pipes into energy for the electric grid.

The Negev-based Leviathan team is still fine-tuning the invention at its new testing site rented from Kibbutz Re’im. The Negev kibbutz’s Isralaser industry is fabricating many of the parts for the turbine, dubbed “Benkatina” in tribute to Second Temple High Priest Ben Katin, who made a machine to lower and raise the ancient Temple’s laver to and from the water table.

The modern version based on Farb’s vision was engineered by Avner Farkash, Leviathan’s vice president for research and development.

 

New, eco-friendly energy market

The Benkatina beta model already has been implemented in pilot areas by Israel’s national water carrier Mekorot as well as in the South Philippines. An Italian partner is lined up next, and Farb met recently with a power company in Mumbai that is interested in doing business.

He says that the invention is creating an international buzz because it opens a new energy market using existing infrastructure and even solves a problem in that infrastructure.

“Managers of water systems already know where there is excess pressure, and often they put pressure breakers in those locations to prevent leaks from forming. One of the great things about what we’re doing is that we are battling the water and energy shortage at the same time,” Farb said “An estimated $14 billion worth of water is wasted each year through leakage, and decreased pressure means decreased leaks.”

The company received a grant from the chief scientist of the Israeli Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor under the Eureka program to develop the technology, as well as a grant from the Ness Fund for business development in the Negev.

Farb is optimistic that thousands of potential installation sites in Israel could start adding several more megawatts of power to the seriously overtaxed electricity grid by next summer.

A smaller version of the Benkatina turbine could provide off-grid electricity in remote areas of the world in need of moderate amounts of power, as long as there are nearby water pipes. This would be more consistently reliable than either solar or wind energy, Farb said.

And if a proposed Dead Sea canal ever gets built, the Leviathan technology could play a role.

“I can foresee desalinated water coming from the Gulf of Eilat or from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea through pipes, and taking off some of the extra pressure in many points along the way to use for hydroelectricity,” Farb said.

Leviathan’s Benkatina turbine in use in the Philippines.

Radically different approach

The device is groundbreaking, according to Farb, because it is radically different from the way hydroelectric power has been accomplished for the last two centuries.

“In the past, they used a dam, used up all the pressure, worked in an environment of stable flow and used turbines that could be exposed to the air. In-pipe conditions are different, so there is no dam, which makes it more ecologically viable. Only the excess pressure is used so the integrity of the piping system can be maintained; the flow is variable; and it functions in a difficult, closed-system environment with splashing water,” he said.

The turbine would only be installed in parts of the piping known to have extra pressure. “We don’t want you to turn on the tap and have nothing come out,” Farb said.

He’s a firm believer in the need for a mix of wind, wave, water and solar energy alternatives.

“We’re in an energy crisis that will last at least 100 years, and we have to provide solutions in more than just one area,” he said. “Leviathan has provided a series of solutions that, when fully implemented with the right financial and bureaucratic support, can make a serious difference in the world we live in.”

Harvesting solar power in Negev Desert


Yosef Abramowitz is running out of time. 

With only minutes to go until he has to speak to a group of donors at the Jewish National Fund (JNF), Abramowitz looks like he just finished a workout. He’s wearing sneakers, shorts and a white T-shirt featuring an outline of David Ben-Gurion’s head superimposed on the picture of a sun. 

He excuses himself from the table at a Tel Aviv cafe and jogs to the bathroom to change into his “costume,” which includes slacks and a clean, ironed shirt. Immediately after the donor meeting, he flies to the United States for a few weeks to court more donors. 

Abramowitz, 48, is fundraising for the Arava Power Co. (APC), which aims ultimately to provide 10 percent of Israel’s energy needs through solar power. The company now has a 4.9-megawatt field up and running in the Negev Desert and is building a 40-megawatt field nearby. 

It’s an unlikely mission for the Boston-raised Abramowitz: His background is in human rights activism and journalism, not science and technology. 

“Isn’t that crazy? It’s the craziest thing,” he said. “It’s not like you wake up one day and say, ‘I’m going to move to Israel and do solar.’ “

But as he tells it, that’s more or less what happened.

After success as a college student in the 1980s fighting for imprisoned Soviet Jewry activists in Russia and against apartheid in South Africa, Abramowitz served in the Israel Defense Forces and earned a graduate degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. Abramowitz, whose activism has rankled the organized Jewish world for years, then spent the 1990s and early 2000s writing for a handful of Jewish publications. His journalism career included writing a 1996 series of articles that called into question JNF’s finances.

In 2006, looking for a quiet lifestyle, he and his wife moved with their children — they have five, including two adopted from Ethiopia — to Kibbutz Ketura, near Israel’s southern tip, where Abramowitz had volunteered following high school. The plan was to spend the year writing, but Abramowitz scrapped that almost immediately upon arriving at the kibbutz.

“We got there on Aug. 24 at the end of the day, and this hot rush of air just hits you, and you go,‘Oh my God,’ and the sun is setting and it’s burning my skin,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m sure the whole place works on solar power.’ ”

It didn’t, because no commercial solar power existed in Israel. Hoping to change that, Abramowitz partnered with Ed Hofland, an investor who lived on the kibbutz, and David Rosenblatt, an investor based in New Jersey, to found the Arava company.

From left: Ed Hofland, David Rosenblatt and Yosef Abramowitz, co-founders of the Arava Power Co. Photo courtesy of Arava Power Co.

Since then, Abramowitz laments the “100 regulatory battles” he says he’s had to fight against the Israeli government to build the 4.9-megawatt field, which began running last year, and to launch several other solar energy projects.

Officials from the Public Utilities Authority, which administers Israel’s energy infrastructure, did not respond to several calls for comment. 

For Abramowitz, the process is grating. While he has launched ventures and organized campaigns before, and while he understands budgets and bills, he speaks the language of a social justice organizer, not a businessman. He calls his work “Zionist activism” and likens himself to Don Quixote “slaying dragons and tilting at windmills.” 

Abramowitz’s analogy for APC’s success is the story of the Soviet Jewry movement, not the achievements of other solar companies. 

“My point of view was, I can get a Prisoner of Zion out of solitary in the gulag and we can’t change the laws in our own country?” he said. “It was just clear as day that it was doable.”

To Abramowitz’s employees, his idealistic attitude is both an inspiration and, at times, a hindrance. Engineer Ram Duani calls Abramowitz the dream “of every engineer: He has the vision, he has the money, and he wants to invest in something new.”

Hannah Schafer, APC’s director of communications, notes that Abramowitz’s ambitions don’t always consider the company’s logistical limitations. 

“There are two opposite ends of the spectrum,” she said. “Yosef is the dreamer. Yosef likes to run off, and sometimes you have to pull him back in on a leash.”

Despite decades in the Jewish community’s public eye, and as much as he sees himself as a visionary, Abramowitz projects himself as a colorful character as well as an entrepreneur. After he left the Tel Aviv cafe to address the JNF donors, his publicist sent out two links at his request: One was to an article about Abramowitz’s near obsession with Madonna — he has traveled across continents to watch her perform. 

The other was to “Scissor Sheldon,” a video that urges billionaire Sheldon Adelson to donate his money to President Barack Obama in exchange for a sexual favor from comedian Sarah Silverman — whose sister, Susan, is Abramowitz’s wife.

While his daring personality has pushed him to dream beyond the company’s limits, it also has given him the confidence to start a solar company with no experience in the field. Schafer said that when launching APC, Abramowitz and his partners realized that all they needed to do was “look like we know what we’re talking about.”

So instead of spending years researching solar power, APC’s founders managed to install one solar panel at Ketura, which they would show investors as a model of their larger concept. 

If he is a dreamer, Abramowitz is relentlessly focused on one dream. APC’s official goal is to provide one-tenth of Israel’s power; Abramowitz dreams of a country run entirely on solar energy. He sees APC as one part social action, one part Zionism, one part Jewish values and one part business. 

Abramowitz, for example, decided that APC would donate the profits from the solar field’s corner panels to four nonprofits, in accordance with the Jewish commandment of pe’ah, which mandates that farmers leave the corners of their fields for the poor. 

He has a grandiose vision for his small company — one that is less about revenues and expenses than about values and ideals. Abramowitz sees solar energy as the key to lowering Israel’s high energy costs, cutting pollution and fulfilling Ben-Gurion’s vision of making Israel’s desert bloom. 

“I feel like we’re out of time,” he said. “That’s why I’m always on three hours’ sleep. I’m in a rush. The whole planet should be in a rush. The Jewish people should be in
a rush.”

Rami Levy: Israel’s new grocery store king


The corporate offices of Rami Levy, Israel’s nouveau riche supermarket mogul, sit atop one of his grocery stores in southern Jerusalem. It’s not a busy neighborhood, nor is it easily accessible by public transit. But once the building comes into view, there’s no mistaking that it’s his.

Plastered across the side wall in bold letters on a yellow background are the words Rami Levy Hashikma Market. The company name appears at least six more times elsewhere on the building.

Meet the new Israeli mogul – with a net worth about $1 billion, according to Haaretz – whom many Jews outside Israel do not yet recognize, but who is emerging as a champion of the country’s economically struggling families.

Levy, 57, is the owner of the third largest grocery store chain in Israel, with 24 stores across the country en route to the goal of 50. Other competitors have much larger chains, but Levy has gained attention in part by cultivating the persona of a poor boy who made good and now is passing along the benefits to his customers. The benefits include sales and special deals for Jewish holidays, like low prices on matzah for Passover.

Last week, as the cost of bread in Israel rose 6 1/2 percent, Levy’s stores said they would not raise their prices until after Sukkot. Levy’s larger competitors will raise their bread prices after Rosh Hashanah, according to Israeli reports.

“I want the consumer to be happy,” said Levy, a man of few words who sticks to his message. “You want to kill two birds with one stone—to do business so that it’ll be good for the consumer.”

Levy grew up in the crowded Jerusalem neighborhood of Nachlaot, near the open market of Mahane Yehuda. He decided to open his first store when he witnessed a nasty interaction between his grandmother and a shop owner there during one of his furloughs from the Israeli army.

“He didn’t talk to her nicely and it troubled her,” Levy said. He thought, “I’ll get out of the army and I’ll open a store.”

His grandfather owned a small warehouse down the block from the shop owner, on Hashikma Street, a side road in the market that would give his chain its name. In 1977, Levy cleaned, painted and converted the warehouse into a grocery store. He attracted customers by selling food at the same price as his wholesalers.

After three months he connected directly with the companies that supplied his wholesalers and began to buy directly from them, which allowed him to turn a small profit and later to expand his chain.

Levy has since launched an insurance company and a cell phone provider, both of which bear his name. The Israeli business publication Calcalist reported two weeks ago that Levy’s cell phone provider now serves 66,000 customers, compared to several recently launched providers with more than 100,000 customers.

Below his corporate office, attached to the store, customers can also eat at Hashikma Pizza or Hashikma Burger. Levy said he would enter any industry “where I can do well for my customers, sell at low prices and make sure my customers can have good service.”

Customers at the store said they shop there for the low prices, but some other potential buyers prefer the supermarket across the street—a branch of the larger Super-Sal chain. They said they chose to forgo Levy’s deals because his shops are too crowded.

“He wants every meter,” said Moshe Zaken, 29. “You can’t turn the corner. You bump into people.”

Store owners on Hashikma Street, where he began, say he hasn’t changed from the days when they knew him as a friendly and generous grocer.

“He was a nice guy, a regular guy,” said Aviezer Zaken (no relation to Moshe), who runs a fish and poultry shop that like Levy’s chain is named for its owner. “We didn’t expect him to become a billionaire.”

Like a few others, Aviezer Zaken attributed Levy’s success to “the blessing of God. Just the blessing of God.”

Shop owners recalled that although Levy gave free matzah to needy people before Passover, he never gave himself a break.

“What free time? He worked 24 hours a day,” said Yaakov Gazit, who used to own a Turkish restaurant on the corner of Hashikma, near Levy’s store.

Even so, Gazit remembered a night years ago when he was stuck on the other side of Jerusalem with a flat tire and Levy came to assist him at 3 a.m.

“You’re stuck, so I’m helping you,” Gazit recalled Levy saying after Gazit had called for help.

Levy still maintains a storefront on Hashikma whose sign offers food for “cheaper than cheap.” Shop owners there say he comes by every few months, but the interior of the store is empty and some shelves need repairs. Passers-by said it hardly ever opens. The number advertised on the sign does not take incoming calls.

Whether or not God’s hand is guiding Levy’s success, religiously themed pictures of Jerusalem hang in his office and Levy has remained Sabbath observant. Beyond the time he spends that day with his family, his wife—whom he calls “my right hand”—and three of his four children, all adults, work for him. He also has three grandchildren.

“There’s less time one on one because everyone is busy, but we see each other during the day,” he said.

While Levy focuses on his business, he also has become entangled in political controversy. After his West Bank locations in Sha’ar Binyamin and Mishor Adumim began attracting Palestinian customers due to their low prices, the Palestinian Authority discouraged Palestinians from buying there. The PA claimed that patronizing the stores helped the economy of Israel’s settlements, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Still, Levy said, “The people kept buying. I serve my customers regardless of race or nationality.”

He also doesn’t discriminate between Jews and Palestinians when hiring.

“We have a lot of Jews in the Diaspora,” Levy said, so he hopes his hiring practices will prevent people from outside Israel saying to prospective employees, “You are a Jew; I won’t hire you.”

After he expands to 50 stores, Levy said he will have to stop because any additional branches would make his current cost structure unsustainable. Although he “can’t serve all of Israel,” he said he likes to see the larger chains imitate his tactics.

“The moment you blaze a trail and your trail does well for people, and your competitors are doing the same thing, I’m happy,” he said.

Perhaps the opening day of the 50th store will be when Levy takes respite from his never-ending work. What will he do then?

Levy is not talking about retiring, but his former colleague, Aviezer Zaken, said, “He’ll sit on the beach and fish.”

Cookies for a Koz: How mom’s cookies made a difference


Audrey Koz was a pharmacist, but her best medicine was the love she baked into her chocolate chip cookies.

“The cookies pack my mom’s magic in every bite,” said her daughter, Roberta Koz Wilson.

They were so good, Audrey Koz credited her cookies for launching the musical career of her son, Grammy Award-nominated saxophonist Dave Koz. When he started out in the jazz world, she sent cookies with him to every meeting and performance, and Capitol Records even took her — and her goodies — to meet record executives.

“We would send my mom in with batches of cookies to grease the way,” Dave Koz said.

When Audrey Koz died suddenly in 2005, Wilson decided that she needed a way to impact people like her mother did. She already had left her role as longtime vice president for affiliate sales and marketing at MTV Networks in search of a new challenge.

After tinkering with other small-business ideas, Wilson started baking her mother’s cookies for her daughter’s elementary school holiday boutique. Her success there gave her an idea, and with no previous experience in baking or starting a business — aside from her background in sales and marketing — Wilson launched Cookies for a Koz in 2008.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “I learned everything I could.”

Wilson created a Web site and moved into a West Valley commercial kitchen as demand increased. When clients asked for different flavors, she introduced oatmeal raisin, white chocolate raspberry, snickerdoodle and red velvet. Seasonal specialties developed, too, such as pumpkin chocolate chip for Thanksgiving and apple pie cookies for Mother’s Day.

“I try very hard not to eat too many cookies while I’m baking them,” said Wilson, a Calabasas resident whose favorite cookie is shortbread.

To honor her mother, Wilson donates 10 percent of retail purchases to Starlight Children’s Foundation, Audrey Koz’s favorite charity. The organization, for which Dave Koz is a global ambassador, works to improve the quality of life for seriously ill children through entertainment, education and family activities.

“Anything that anyone can do on any level to make the world a little bit better for those in need is tikkun olam (repairing the world), and working with an organization like Starlight lets us see a tangible impact that we make on the lives of others,” Wilson said.

So far, her company has donated more than $30,000 to the foundation, but that’s not all that keeps her going.

“The greatest joy, by far, has been that it has kept me feeling connected to my beloved mom,” Wilson said. “I know this was her dream, and I feel like I am helping to fulfill that for her.”

Wilson’s brother, who is also her best customer, said there is something that sets his mother’s cookies above the rest.

“It’s like the way someone sings that takes your breath away. It’s not definable,” Dave Koz said. “When I tasted the cookies, there was a secret ingredient of love — a big, huge helping of it that sets them apart from other cookies.”

Hollywood has noticed. The cookies have been featured on the “Rachael Ray Show” and “The Bonnie Hunt Show,” and they have been included in gift bags for nominees and presenters at the Academy Awards and at numerous celebrity events.

With efforts to grow the business, Wilson hired a food consultant who shared the cookies at meetings across the country, and, in November, Cookies for a Koz hit the shelves of 375 HomeGoods stores. More recently, they were introduced at T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, resulting in a total of 2,200 stores across the United States and Canada that will sell a dry mix and cookie assortment.

Wilson said this is especially satisfying because Marshalls was her mother’s favorite store to shop at for bargains. Now its shelves feature packages with Audrey Koz’s photo and story.

“The fact that her cookies are at Marshalls truly gives me the chills,” said Wilson, a mother of two teenagers who she hopes will one day run the growing enterprise.

Her brother, who is the owner of Koz Wine, donates proceeds of his sales to the Starlight Children’s Foundation as well. Now the two are working to expand their brand as a socially conscious food company known as Koz Kitchen. Once again, their inspiration is their mother, whose kitchen was home to a steady stream of friends, family and love.

“My mom had the ability to make everyone in her presence feel like they were the most important person in the world,” Wilson said. “And it was all truly genuine.”

The siblings recently paired up on Dave Koz’s tour aboard a Royal Caribbean Mediterranean cruise. Wilson was on board to teach cooking school.

“The great irony is that when she started out, she was really lousy,” he said of his sister. “Over the years, she has become a really great chef.

Romney: U.S. ‘not a kibbutz’


America is not a kibbutz, Mitt Romney said in a bid to underscore his commitment to individual liberties.

“It’s individuals and their entrepreneurship which have driven America,” the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said at a Chicago fundraiser Tuesday in remarks first reported by BuzzFeed. “What America is not (is) a collective where we all work in a kibbutz or we’re all in some little entity. Instead it’s individuals pursuing their dreams and building successful enterprises which employ others, and they become inspired as they see what has happened in the place they work and go off and start their own enterprises.”

Romney returned from a visit to Israel last week and praised the country’s culture as a critical element in boosting its economy.

Kibbutzim, although internally adhering to varying degrees of collective principles, long ago adjusted to interacting with Israel’s free-market economy.

Israel’s whiz kids


Mickey Haslavsky of Holon is only 18, but he’s already on his second startup.

“When I began my first startup at 16, I thought I was the only one creating Web sites at this age, but I was amazed to discover a huge community between [the ages of] 10 and 18 around the world, and I know of about 10 startups by Israelis my age,” Haslavsky said.

By invitation of Israeli high-tech godfather Yossi Vardi, Haslavsky recently gave a TEDx Youth@Holon presentation, “Teenage Nation,” about how he founded an online youth magazine.

One thousand people registered the day Haslavsky launched his second site, Machbesa (Laundry), this past spring. It’s a viral scheme for racking up genuine “Likes” on Facebook, pluses in Google Plus and views on YouTube.

“I want to bring the system to Brazil next because it has 51 million Facebook users and it’s spreading all the time,” said Haslavsky, who needs to find someone to run his enterprises come November, when he gets drafted for military service.

That shouldn’t be hard, as he is at the older end of the spectrum of Israeli teens helming a surprising number of high-tech ventures.

Mickey Haslavsky, 18, presenting at TEDx Youth@Holon.

Tal Hoffman of Haifa says Israel’s designation as the “Startup Nation” has encouraged young business developers. “Israel’s entrepreneur community is really big among my age,” said the 15-year-old founder of Itimdi, a not-yet-launched site where teens can meet and interact based on their interests.

Another 15-year-old, Gal Harth of Herzliya, was interviewed at TechCrunch Disrupt last year in San Francisco about his Doweet Web site (motto: “So, what do you want to do?”), described as “a fun and easy way to create activities with your friends.”

Harth said he founded Doweet with his pal Nir Ohayon in reaction to all their friends playing Xbox and PlayStation instead of engaging in social and physical activities. “This is a way to get together easily to go to the gym, go swimming, play soccer. It’s an app that links everyone in one spot.”

Harth and Ohayon got initial funding from Israel’s Rhodium, the first venture capital firm they approached.

“My passion is startups,” Harth said. “My passion is to change the world.”

Nurturing whiz kids

Enterprising Israeli teenagers have plenty of role models. Gil Schwed, founder of Israel’s Check Point Software Technologies and one of the world’s youngest billionaires, is a prime example. Schwed was taking computer courses at the Hebrew University before graduating high school. Drawing on experience gained in the Israel Defense Forces’ Unit 8200 intelligence corps, he invented the modern firewall at just 26.

Many up-and-coming entrepreneurs are eager to follow the same path, knowing that their military service can pave the way to successful careers. It’s no coincidence that many Israeli startups are co-founded by former army buddies.

However, programs to recruit high school students for high-tech military units focus on top achievers and tend to miss a considerable number of kids whose tech abilities far surpass their grades. Finding and cultivating these diamonds-in-the-rough has become a priority for StartupSeeds, a 1,300-member community for entrepreneurial Israeli teens founded in 2007 as a private philanthropy-supported project of the MadaTech-Israel National Museum of Science in Haifa.

One of its original members, Ido Tal, created a wildly popular Flash video game at the age of 14, but — perhaps because of his addiction to video games, he said — wasn’t exactly a model student. Likewise, Haslavsky, whose math teacher once told Haslavsky’s mother that the boy wasn’t going to amount to anything.

“From our research, nobody is dealing with this population of kids,” StartupSeeds Director Saar Cohen said. The organization is hoping to fill that gap by reaching out to parents of teens who show a talent for coding, Web design, video editing, animation, social media, security and other needed skills.

Through contacts in the military and academia, StartupSeeds brings these teens out from under the radar for the benefit of themselves and their country. “Everybody wants their kid in a special unit because if you get in, you’re set for life.”

This is just one of the organization’s programs devised to nurture and encourage Israeli whiz kids, with support from Israel’s high-tech industry and academia. In 2008, StartupSeeds was invited to lead a panel on entrepreneurial youth at the prestigious Israeli Presidential Conference.

“StartupSeeds promotes excellence, entrepreneurship and innovation among technological youth,” Cohen said. “We believe in strengthening their existing strengths by giving them tools and a platform for them to reach their potential. We help them make connections through an online community as well as physical forums.”

Every two weeks, StartupSeeds hosts meetings and lectures along with social activities. There are periodic regional conventions and field trips to army units and high-tech industries. Members get access to events such as TEDx, groups such as MIT Forum and competitions such as BigGeek, a live broadcast from the Microsoft R&D Center in Herzliya where four teams of techies scramble to develop a working application within 24 hours.

What is special about Israel that seems to encourage what Cohen calls a technological youth phenomenon?

“Everything here happens fast,” Cohen said. “Kids are encouraged from an early age to think on their feet, ask questions, be curious and not be afraid to try anything. The high-tech industry and the startup industry in Israel are very strong, and they take great pride in that, so it’s contagious. The army helps, too, because a large percentage of those in high-tech startups went to these special tech units.”

Boys and girls together

StartupSeeds, as well as Israel’s military, academic and industrial leaders, are eager to get more girls into the high-tech mix.

“Research shows there’s an early age at which kids decide what to go into, and everyone wants to get girls to choose technological fields,” Cohen said. “We recently decided to target this audience by starting an all-girls forum, offering meetings with female leaders in industry, to see if we can create a community. Our goal is to get to 30 percent girls [in our membership]. We think they are out there, and we are approaching them at the perfect age.”

For now, most teen entrepreneurs are boys, including recent immigrants such as Ben Lang, 18, who co-founded the Innovation Israel community for startups, entrepreneurs and investors; and, most recently, Mapped in Israel, a Web site pinpointing Israel’s many startups.

In March, Lang and three young colleagues ran a successful Hackathon Israel event, sponsored by Carmel Ventures and ROI Community; their stated vision was “to share the incredible high-tech scene in Israel with the entire world.”

“Because Israel is so small, it’s easy to create a startup and give life to an idea,” Haslavsky said. “In the media you see every day how startups sell their companies for millions of dollars, and that also encourages us. Every young entrepreneur wants to be a CEO. I think Israel is amazing in this field.”

Lauder to acquire control of Israeli news Web site


Ronald Lauder is expected to acquire complete control of an Israeli news Web site and has plans to establish a new English-language Web site about Israel.

The American businessman and philanthropist’s company JCS, which operates Jerusalem Capital Studios, has finalized a deal to acquire Nana 10, Haaretz reported. Lauder currently owns 24 percent of Nana 10, which features news from Israel’s Channel 10 and reportedly is the fourth most popular Hebrew language Web site in Israel.

Haaretz also reported that Lauder, who is president of the World Jewish Congress, has plans to establish, with other American Jewish businesspeople, a new Web site in English to present Israel’s position to Jews around the world.

Israel cited in Caterpillar’s delisting from influential investment index


The sale of Caterpillar tractors to Israel was a factor, but not the determining one, in the delisting of the company from an influential index that prioritizes good governance and human rights.The move, however, is poised to further complicate the difficult ongoing conversation about Israel taking place between American Jewish gruops and the Presbyterian Church (USA).

A senior official at MSCI-ESG, a subdivision of MSCI, Morgan Stanley’s investment advice arm, said Caterpillar already had a low rating before its delisting earlier this year, in part because of its association with the Israeli army’s use of the tractors in the West Bank and past use in the Gaza Strip. The role of Israel’s use of the tractors in the decision also suggests that a sustained campaign by pro-Palestinian groups has had some effect, although officials at MSGI-ESG and one of its clients, the TIAA-CREF pension fund, deny succumbing to direct pressure.

TIAA-CREF’s divestiture amounted to $72 million in funds, dwarfing previous divestitures by liberal religious groups such as Friends Fiduciary, a Quaker group that divested $900,000.

The news of the delisting comes ahead of the biennial general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), where divestment from Caterpillar and other companies selling products used by the Israeli army, will be considered.

Ethan Felson, the assistant executive director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and the Jewish community’s lead official in countering the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement aimed at Israel—known as BDS, said that news of the MSCI-ESG decision would cause “damage” just ahead of the Presbyterian colloquy.

He said that linking Caterpillar to Israeli practices was “nonsensical,” noting that it had no say in how the U.S. military resells the tractors, and that it could not legally turn down the U.S. military as a client.

The MSGI-ESG official told JTA on Friday that what drove Caterpillar off the index was the company’s decision in February to shutter a London, Ont. plant after a high-profile dispute with employees. However, the official acknowledged several factors played into it, including the association of CAT with Israeli army practices in the occupied territories.

The death in 2003 of Rachel Corrie, an American pro-Palestinian activist, while she was protesting such a demolition in Gaza, helped spur the BDS movement forward. Corrie’s parents and witnesses say she was caught beneath an armored tractor.  The army denies fault and maintains she was killed by debris.

MSCI-ESG – ESG stands for Environment, Social or Governance – has as its clients a number of progressive groups that base their investments in part on social justice issues, including care for the environment, the treatment and safety of employees, and involvement in human rights abuses.

MSCI-ESG’s decision, made in February and effective as of March 1, came to light this week because of claims by groups associated with the BDS movement that a decision by TIAA-CREF – a pension fund for teachers and other academics – to divest from Caterpillar was a result of their pressure.

“It’s long past time that TIAA-CREF began living up to its motto of ‘Financial Services for the Greater Good’ when it comes to the people of Israel and Palestine,” Rabbi Alissa Wise, the national coordinator for “We Divest,” a coalition of several groups, including Jewish Voice for Peace, where Wise is director of campaigns.

Caterpillar, in a statement released to Jewish groups, once again denied direct sales to Israel of the D-9 Track-Type tractors.

“This is how it works,” corporate spokesman Jim Dugan said. “Caterpillar sells equipment to the U.S. government, which then transfers the equipment to the Israeli government, which then transfers it to the Israeli military.  Israeli is one of about 150 countries that take part in the program, which supports U.S. allies. For the D9s, the protective armor plating, the bullet resistant glass and other modifications take place after the machine has been transferred to the Israeli government by the U.S. government.  These changes happen after the sale, not in our factories. We hope and wish for a peaceful resolution to the unrest in the Middle East, but that solution is a political matter to be worked out by the appropriate parties.  Caterpillar does not and should not have a role in that political process.”

The Jewish Federations of America’s Israel Action Network derided the haste with which pro-BDS groups claimed credit for the divestment.

“Pro-BDS groups have constructed the ‘Caterpillar Myth’ that insinuates a conflict between the machine and the Palestinian people,” Geri Palast, IAN’s managing director said in a statement. “It is designed to invoke dystopian images, link BDS to specific Israeli policies and appeal to fear.”

Officials of TIAA-CREF, however, denied such pressure was a factor and pointed JTA to established policy that devolves such decisions to its “social screen vendor,” in this case, MSCI-ESG.

And while the MSCI-ESG official, who spoke on background, affirmed that Israel’s use of the tractors was one of several factors in the decision, he also said that an established methodology determines which company is listed and which is not, and that decisions are not based on representations from interest groups. The official’s emphasis suggested that shuttering the Canadian factory had greater weight than Israel’s use of the tractors.

Rebecca Vilkomerson, the Jewish Voice for Peace spokswoman said she was “confident” that representations by the We Divest coalition and other groups both to MSCI-ESG and to TIAA-CREF played a role.

In any case, she said, activism by groups such as hers has resulted in a “consensus in the human rights community because of its role in human rights abuses in Palestine, Caterpillar is not an ethical actor.”

Pro-Palestinian groups have for a decade campaigned against the sale of the tractors to Israel. Caterpillar sells the tractors to the U.S. military for resale to allies. Caterpillar says it does not determine to which countries the tractors are resold and how they are refitted for military use.

The pro-Palestinian groups, backed by a number of human rights NGOs, say that Israel uses the tractors to destroy Palestinian homes as a means of inhibiting growth and as collective punishment. Israel says the tractors are used to destroy illegal structures, and in Gaza were used until 2005, when Israel pulled out, to destroy tunnels used by terrorists for smuggling purposes.

Google donating N.Y. office space to Cornell-Technion school


Google will donate office space to the new applied science graduate school of Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

Google CEO Larry Page and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the partnership Monday at a news conference at the company’s New York headquarters. Officials from Cornell and the Haifa-based Technion were on hand.

The high-tech firm will be providing 22,000 square feet of space in a temporary arrangement designed to help the school fulfill its promise of beginning classes this fall.

The CornellNYC Tech school, which was announced last December 2011, was the winning bid in an initiative announced by Bloomberg 18 months ago—also at Google headquarters—to foster collaboration between the public and private sectors here. The joint venture between Cornell and the Technion beat a bid by Stanford University, the alma mater of Page and Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

“This is a major step towards the fulfillment of Mayor Bloomberg’s vision to seed the city with entrepreneurs and start-ups,” said Technion president Peretz Lavie.

Citing Google, The New York Times reported that Cornell will be responsible for most of the costs of operating in the Google building and that the program has to be out by the fall of 2017, when the school’s state-of-the-art Roosevelt Island campus is scheduled to open.

Bloomberg noted in the news conference that New York University, IBM and Cisco are partnering on a similar initiative in Brooklyn.

Tokyo bank freezes Iranian assets


A Japanese bank has halted transactions by the Iranian government in response to a U.S. court ordering a $2.6 billion asset freeze over the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut.

A spokesman for the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UJF confirmed the move to the Agence France-Presse, on Thursday.

The court order reflects “the amount that the court in 2007 upheld for compensation demands by families of victims of the 1983 attacks on US forces in Beirut,” the spokesman said.

The bank lodged an appeal against the U.S. court order on Thursday, saying that the action is “problematic” under Japanese law. He would not reveal the amount of money involved or who held the assets. The spokesman, however, said the bank “handles a relatively large number of transactions for trade with Iran,” AFP reported.

The ruling stems from the Oct. 23, 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut, which killed 24 U.S. troops. Tehran has denied responsibility for the attacks, but Washington subsequently named Iran on a list of terrorism-supporting states. A 2007 court ruling in the United States ordered Iran to pay $2.65 billion to victims’ families.

JDC appoints Darrell Friedman interim CEO


The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee named Darrell Friedman as interim CEO following the abrupt resignation of longtime CEO Steven Schwager.

Schwager, who had been at the helm of the JDC for 10 years, announced last Friday that he’d be stepping down as CEO effective June 30.

Friedman, a Jewish organizational consultant, has been working with the JDC for the past nine years as an inhouse senior consultant to Schwager, according to the JDC. He will start his interim position on July 1. Friedman had served for 17 years as the CEO of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

“Darrell’s proven leadership and expertise, along with his years of experience with JDC, will be of great value to our organization over the coming months as we continue to address the critical challenges faced by Jews worldwide,” JDC’s president, Penny Blumenstein, said in a statement Tuesday.

Friedman also will serve as an adviser to the JDC board’s international search committee for a new CEO.