The top 7 perks of being Jewish in December


Growing up, ours was the only house on the block with a menorah glowing in the window. This should have put me on the fast track to Christmas envy, but it didn’t. I respected Christmas but was never jealous of those who celebrated. In fact, watching my neighbors actually gave me a deeper appreciation for the simpler joys of Chanukah. Here’s why:

Early-bird shopping 

Celebrating Chanukah means I usually have an earlier gift-buying deadline to meet than my counterparts. I have to get myself in gear way before Christmas shopping madness descends on the rest of the world. By Thanksgiving, I’m usually done. I spend most Black Fridays sipping spiced cider and recovering from a turkey-induced coma. Being Jewish means never having to freeze my tuchis off in a parking lot waiting for a “Midnight Door Buster” sale.

Decorating ease

The town where I spent my childhood could probably be seen from space. Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, the neighborhood dads would hang Christmas decorations. They could all be found precariously perched on their roofs, stringing lights across the rain gutters. Plastic Santas and their reindeer would be dragged two stories into the air and then somehow fastened to shingles. I watched the scene, year after year, relieved we didn’t have to do the same. My dad + wires + heights = certain doom. The expectations for Chanukah decor are less labor-intensive. We plug in an electric menorah and park it on the windowsill. Done.

Time for fun

My non-Jewish friends have to find time for their kids, spouses, siblings, parents, cousins, in-laws and their great-aunt Shirley who flies in from Nebraska once a year, all within 24 hours. I get eight days to fill with lots of family togetherness. Eight. Long. Days.

The food 

Chanukah is the holiday of deep-fried everything. And chocolate gelt. 

’Nuf said.

No tall tales 

I am grateful that I don’t have to remember to hide an “Elf on the Shelf” in a new spot each day. And I don’t have to make up stories to tell my daughters about how a jolly fellow actually gets around the world in one night, or explain how a reindeer’s nose can glow in the dark. Instead, I get to teach them the dreidel game while we snack on latkes.

The music 

Only kidding. This is a category where I can’t honestly come up with a perk for the Jews; there just isn’t as much Chanukah music. Let’s see, we’ve got “I Have a Little Dreidel” and, um, what else? Seriously, what did suburban Jewish kids listen to before Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song”?

Holiday spirit 

Whether families are making Christmas cookies or sufganiyot, the whole month of December is dusted with powdered sugar and scented with vanilla. Everyone’s mood seems to lift. People are kinder and more forgiving. It’s easier to believe that miracles can — and do — happen. This holiday season, I wish everyone peace, joy and magic.

Chag sameach!

Chanukah gift guide 2015


Marmol Radziner Architects, one of the city’s leading architecture firms in both new construction and historic restorations, also creates furniture, home accessories and jewelry. Marmol Radziner’s Menorah ($140) channels a streamlined, modern sensibility into this ritual object made in L.A. out of walnut wood and brass. marmolradzinerjewelry.com

Bring some elegant warmth into your home for the holiday with Menorah Matches from Hudson Grace. The blue-tipped matches are 4 inches, and come in a 4 1/2-inch square, screen-printed box made in England ($12). hudsongracesf.com

Ben Medansky, part of L.A.’s ceramics renaissance, makes distinctive utilitarian objects in his downtown L.A. workshop. His Blue Band Cup ($48) is the perfect texture and size for cradling a hot beverage during the winter months. benmedansky.com

Liza Shtromberg’s Western Wall Jewelry celebrates Jewish life and Israel, and many are emblazoned with Hebrew symbols and phrases. Since 2000, Shtromberg has maintained a retail shop on Hillhurst Avenue in Los Feliz; her Beverly Hills boutique is open by appointment only. jewishjewelrylizashtromberg.com

Jaffa Dolls embody an ideal do-good-while-shopping effort. The eco-friendly, machine-washable creations are handmade by Jewish and Arab artisans as part of the Arous el-Bahar (Bride of the Sea) Association for Women in Jaffa. These colorful, compact dolls ($34) — each emblazoned with a heart — promise endless cuddles and hope. jaffadolls.com

From abstract motifs to company logos, architect Gregory Roth of Burbank-based Modern Bite baking company applies show-stopping designs to kosher-certified shortbread cookies. Come Chanukah, the Modern Bite Festival of Lights Cookie Gift Box ($30) is a sure bet for anyone who enjoys a beautiful and sweet treat. modernbite.com

Your foodie friends will be thrilled to receive kosher La Fenêtre Wines. Under his Santa Maria-based label, winemaker Joshua Klapper offers three kosher options: pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, as well as a kosher blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petit verdot that evokes a classic Bordeaux ($40 per bottle, plus shipping). lafenetrewines.com

Israeli-born chef Tal Ronnen has been attracting kosher-style eaters at Crossroads restaurant on Melrose Avenue not because of any strict adherence to kashrut, but as a result of his wildly inventive haute vegan dishes. Now his recipes, techniques and plant-food-centric insights are available in a cookbook, “Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes From the Restaurant That Is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine” (Artisan, $35). crossroadskitchen.com

Chanukah shopping: Revisiting some classics


Take time this holiday season to slow down and catch up on your pleasure reading. We’ve gathered a list of classic books to suit everyone’s taste  — from spine-chilling science fiction to classic modern novels. Whether you’re looking for a humorous Sunday afternoon read, an enchanting novel or the perfect bedtime story for your kids, these selections should offer ideas for your Chanukah gift-giving needs.


1.”STORIES FROM THE TWILIGHT ZONE” by Rod Serling ($8.99)

Genre: Short fiction

Summary: This is a collection of stories adapted from scripts of the successful sci-fi television series “The Twilight Zone.”

Best-suited for: Anyone who can quote Serling’s speech from “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”

Shopping: Gelty pleasures


Make sure your Chanukah accoutrements are up to snuff this year. We’ve got fair-trade gelt, dreidels for a cause, and ultra-modern menorahs for your 2013 festival of lights. So sit back, enjoy the latkes, drink some wine, and light the candles. L’chaim!

1. The BLUE BEL AIR MENORAH ($198), designed by Jonathan Adler, adds a touch of modern style to your Chanukah decor. The light from the candles will sparkle on this menorah, made from sapphire-blue  Lucite and chromed steel. The 11 1/2- inch-long candelabrum was designed with celebration in mind. store.thecjm.org

In defense of acquiring material things


Every year around Christmas and Chanukah time, writers, commentators, pundits and many rabbis, priests and ministers exhort Americans against spending money on things. We are too materialistic, we are told every year. Happiness, not to mention a meaningful life, depends on our having non-material things, not material things.

Thus, Americans are told to spend little or nothing on holiday gifts. Give your children love and time, we are told, not train sets (are they still given?), dolls or electronic devices.

The problem is, this advice is built on platitudes. And as is always the case with platitudes — or they wouldn’t be platitudes — the words sound nice but mean very little.

Before defending material things, let me make clear where I do agree with the joy-deniers. First, there is no question that no material thing can compete with love, religion, music, reading, health and other precious non-material things. And second, experiences contribute more to happiness than things do. If you only have x amount of money to spend on yourself, traveling to new places is usually more contributive to happiness than a better car. When I had almost no money through my early 30s, I still traveled abroad every year — which meant that I could only afford an inexpensive car. I have now visited a hundred countries, and that has given me more meaning and happiness than a luxury car or any other material thing.

But having said all that, material things matter. They can contribute a great deal to a happier and more meaningful life.

A grandmother once called in to my radio show to tell me that instead of giving her grandchildren Christmas gifts, she wrote each of them a special poem. I respectfully suggested to the obviously sweet woman that I could not imagine any normal child preferring a poem to a material gift.

With all my love of family, of friends, of music and of the life of the mind, I have always loved material things, too. On any happiness scale, it would be difficult to overstate how much joy my stereo equipment has given me since high school. I so love music that I periodically conduct orchestras in Southern California. And I now own a system that is so good that its offerings sound only a bit less real than what I hear from the conductor’s podium. I bless the engineers and others who design stereo products, and it is my joy to help support their noble quest of reproducing great music in people’s homes.

Since high school, too, I have written only with fountain pens. Buying new pens and trying out new inks are among the little joys of life that contribute as much — and sometimes more — to one’s happiness than the “big” things. There is incomparable joy at attending a child’s bar mitzvah or wedding. But those great events last a day. I write with a beloved fountain pen every day, listen to music every day, smoke a pleasure-giving cigar or pipe every day (except Shabbat, for the halachically curious). I love these things. What a colorless world it would be without them. So, too, I love my house. And I love the artwork and furniture and library that help to make it beautiful.

Sure, I could write with a 29-cent Bic. Yes, I could hear great music on a $50 radio. Of course I could give up cigars. Certainly, I didn’t have to buy the 5,000 books and 3,000 classical music CDs I own, and I understand that I don’t need to live in a house when my “needs” could have been met in an apartment a third its size.

But, thank God, most Americans don’t think that way. We like things. And liking things doesn’t mean you love less or read less or appreciate sunsets less. Life isn’t a zero-sum game between free joys and purchased joys. Moreover, the American economy and that of most other nations depend on our buying considerably more than our minimum needs.

Can people overdo purchasing things? Of course they can. People can also overdo taking vitamins, exercising and even reading books or studying Talmud.

So, then, when do we need to control our buying things?
a) When it becomes a compulsion — when one cannot stop buying things because the buying gives more pleasure than the things that are bought.
b) When the primary purpose of the purchase is to impress others with one’s wealth.
c) When one cannot afford what one is buying.

But beyond those caveats, don’t let the killjoys get you down. “Work hard and play hard,” my father always said (and still does at 93). When he bought a new Oldsmobile every few years, the family stepped outside the house to marvel at it — and even as kids we understood this was his reward for working all day and many evenings six days a week.

May your holidays be filled with lovely gift receiving and giving and may your New Year be filled with both wonderful experiences and wonderful things. Both contribute to a fuller and happier life.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project
is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Shopping malls get in Chanukah spirit


Westfield, the world’s largest shopping mall empire founded by Holocaust survivor Frank Lowy, will welcome in Chanukah on three continents.

Shopping malls in America, the United Kingdom and Australia, where the company is headquartered, will unveil menorahs, a spokesperson for the company said this week.

Individual shopping malls will be working closely with local Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis to bring the Festival of Lights to a wider audience. Rabbi Levi Wolff of Sydney’s Central Synagogue, where the Lowy family is a member, will coordinate the project with other Chabad rabbis.

Wolff said Westfield is bringing awareness to tens of thousands of Jews and raising interest in the non-Jewish community.

The Westfield spokesperson said the final number of malls involved could not yet be confirmed. Westfield has more than 120 shopping centers in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom and Brazil.

Lowy was born in Czechoslovakia and survived the Holocaust before immigrating to prestate Israel. His father died at Auschwitz.

Splurge-tastic Chanukah gifts


The great gifting season is upon us, so why not treat our loved ones (and ourselves) to something outrageous, something splurge-tastic that will be treasured, and remembered, for years to come. Whether you’re a natural big spender or someone who is looking to make a statement with an unexpectedly lavish gift, we have the luxe Chanukah gift guide to fill your holiday dreams.

1. Whether you’re heading out to a decadent New Year’s Eve soiree or your best friend’s annual Chanukah latke fest, carry all your essentials in timeless style with the Donna Karan Spazzolato Evening Dowel Frame Clutch ($995). The petite purse, made in Italy, is an elegant moonstone color and is ideal for carrying your smartphone, lipstick and car keys. donnakaran.com

2. Sometimes, the best gift you can give is the gift of relaxation and escape from this hectic world. The Mrs. Godfrey Chair ($1,495) by Jonathan Adler is just what your mother or bubbe needs to curl up with a good book and let the stress melt away. jonathanadler.com

3. Don’t forget to wrap the hand-loomed alpaca Sybil Throw ($595) around her shoulders while she delves into that novel. This plush blue blanket is best used in conjunction with a warm mug of cocoa. jonathanadler.com

4. The weather outside may be dreary, but your honey can stay warm and toasty in the stylish Mangus Sweater ($120) by Civil Society. No one will be able to tell that this handsome herringbone sweater, with three front pockets and a tiny sleeve pocket, didn’t come with a handsome price tag to match. civilsocietyclothing.com

5. Just imagine the glow on your beloved’s face when you present her with the exquisite Graduated Aquamarine Necklace ($750). This unique, handmade necklace features natural gemstones and sterling silver beads, and has a delicate hue that will complement any woman’s skin tone. etsy.com

6. For a modern take on the holiday kippah, go for something sleek, silver and sophisticated with the Gunmetal Yarmulke Crown ($1,285) from haute couture jewelry line young&ng. It’s a dazzling gift for anyone celebrating a major milestone in their life.  youngandng.com

Has your gift list got game?


With Chanukah gift shopping well underway, three video game systems are jockeying for the top position on teen wish lists. Demand for PlayStation 3 and Nintendo’s Wii is outstripping the available supply, and analysts predict the shortage could lead to increased demand for Microsoft’s Xbox 360.

But how will you know which system is the right fit for your family?

Arena Interactive Lounge has recently added a couple PlayStation 3 and Wii consoles to the 50-inch HDTV DLP flat-screen televisions that populate its 3,000-square-foot gaming center in West Los Angeles. For $12 an hour, you can test drive one of the two in-demand systems, or for $6 per hour you can give the year-old Xbox 360 a shot.

Arena is the brainchild of 28-year-old Ron Rosenberg, an observant Jew who grew up in Pico-Robertson and attended Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy and Yeshiva University High School. The USC grad opened his modern lounge last year, around the same time as the release of the Xbox 360. Sound-system-embedded Pyramat couches add to Arena’s living-room-away-from-home vibe, and game reviewer Scot Rubin hosts his weekday radio show, “All Games Interactive,” from this 21st century take on the arcade.

Rosenberg said gamers have expressed disappointment with the launch of PlayStation 3, equating its hype to last summer’s film, “Snakes on a Plane.”

“Sony came out with a product that wasn’t ready. There’s maybe three titles worth playing, but then again, there’s no multiplayer format,” he said.

Critics like New York Times gaming columnist Seth Schiesel have faulted Sony’s rush to get the PS3 to market for the holidays, citing the example that its much-vaunted Blu-Ray movie feature requires high-definition cables that are sold separately.

Mounting negative reviews and a glut of consoles on the resale market have weakened enthusiasm for the product since its violence-plagued launch on Nov. 17. A drop-off in demand for the PS3, which retails for $499 to $599, saw Thanksgiving weekend sales on eBay drop from a high of $1,500 to a near-retail low of $650.

Rosenberg believes that savvy consumers will ignore holiday hype and wait for PlayStation 3 to work out the bugs before a larger rollout in the spring.

“In a year the PS3 will be rocking,” he said.

According to a recent ZDNet poll, readers said they would prefer Nintendo’s Wii as a gift over the PS3 or Xbox 360.

“The Wii is a dark horse,” Rosenberg said. “It is fun. I could see my wife, who never touches a video game, and me playing this for two hours together.”

He said that industry insiders initially laughed at the wireless Wii Remote earlier this year at E3, the annual video game trade show held in Los Angeles, but added that few are laughing now.

The Wii’s intuitive controllers shy away from the rows of buttons found on the PlayStation and Xbox controllers. Instead, the Wii Remote — along with the analog joystick add-on, the Nunchuk unit — senses its own position in a three-dimensional space, allowing players to swing it like a golf club or fishing pole and have its motion replicated on screen.

Rosenberg said he broke a sweat as he played “Wii Sports,” one of 34 titles available this month. Building on the popularity of titles that demand more physical activity, like “Dance Dance Revolution,” the Wii is designed to break with the coach-potato status quo and get players up and moving.

“Everybody in the family can get into this,” he said.

Wii retails for $250, and Nintendo is hoping weekly shipments through December will keep pace with holiday demand.

But Rosenberg said that consumers shouldn’t count out the Xbox 360, especially in a market where demand for its competing systems, peripherals and games will keep prices at a premium.
The Xbox 360, which launched Nov. 22, 2005, features more than 100 titles and retails between about $300 and $400.

Rosenberg predicts Xbox 360 will continue to reign supreme at Arena Interactive Lounge until at least next spring due to its plethora of titles and the quality of game play.

“Every game coming out on the 360, which is an inferior machine to the PS3 power wise, looks much better,” he said. “They’ve had time to work with the system. But in a year, the PlayStation 3 will kick the 360’s butt.”

For more information about Arena Interactive Lounge and “All Games Interactive,” visit www.arenalounge.com.

A Funny Present Happened Here


Lighten up your Chanukah without striking a match. Yes, we fought, we won, we ate — but we can also laugh. While gift-buying is sometimes lumped in the same category as root canals and traffic on the 101, the humorous books, music and DVDs below will make the whole process a lot more fun.

Even better, every item below is available via the Internet. So stay home, put your feet up, crack open some foil-wrapped gelt and get ready for myriad thank-yous from your friends and family, who are so glad you didn’t give them socks — again.

Nap time is Shluffy Girl’s favorite time of the day…. Unfortunately, Shluffy Girl’s love for sleep sometimes gets her into trouble.” While most of us have been there, done that, there are lessons to be learned from Shluffy Girl, the newest character in Anne-Marie Asner’s Yiddish-titled Matzah Ball Books series (Gingerbread houses might be nice — but nothing beats a gingerbread menorah. The Popcorn Factory’s (Make 2006 go by just a bit funnier with “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Presents America”: The Calendar — now with August (Warner Books, $11.95). Based on the book of the same name, the desk calendar comes with instructions on how to assemble the darn thing (it’s really difficult).

Keep an eye out for the nods to the MOTs, such as on Rosh Hashanah, where the Timeline of Democracy notes that in 1,300 B.C.E., God gives the Ten Commandments — “and nothing bad ever happens to the Jews again.”

You think your family is bad this time of year? What about Holistic New Age Aunt, Uncle Speedo and Child Who Was in a National TV Commercial? All the freaky relations are gathered together in Justin Racz’s new book, “50 Relatives Worse Than Yours” (Bloomsbury, $14.95).

Each relative comes with a profile, gift idea, motto, home, benefits and drawbacks. But even if you can’t relate, literally and figuratively, to Uncle Speedo, fear not — Jewish Mother is at No. 23 (and there is room in the back to add in other odd branches of your family tree).

While it’s Chanukah at your house, it can be “Springtime for Hitler,” as the musical film version of the musical stage version of the nonmusical film, “The Producers,” releases its soundtrack (Sony, $18.98). Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Gary Beech and Wisteria Lane’s favorite pharmacist, Roger Bart, reprise their roles in Mel Brooks’ Tony Award-winning show. The veterans are joined in absurdity by Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman, who actually sings. No, really.

What if you hit your head and woke up in Menorahville — where everything is bought and sold in gelt, every female is Jewish and single and almost no guy wants to get married? OK, Los Angeles right now isn’t too far off, but this stuff is fiction.

Author Laurie Graff takes us to the crazy world of dating in “Eight Dates of Hanukkah,” one of the three stories in “Scenes From a Holiday” (Red Dress Ink, $12.95). When singles events planner (and slight commitmentphobe) Nikki Heller lands in a “Chanukoma,” it may take more than a miracle to help her find her way out of an endless cycle of the Festival of Lights.

Forget The Wiggles. If you’re getting songs stuck in your head, they might as well be Jewish ones from “OyBaby 2” (

Skip the Tsuris of Chanukah Shopping


With Chanukah coinciding with the rush for the “other holiday,” why spend unnecessary time hunting for parking at the mall or waiting in line? We’ve surveyed some of the hottest catalogs and Web sites for eight nights of creative gifts. Best of all, you can order in a hurry online or by phone.

For Kids

Busy little ones with activity books, postcards and more all packed in a box of 101+ Things to Do on Chanukah. Or just keep it simple with a roll of 168 Chanukah stickers, $4+, ” target=”_blank”>Kosher.com or (866) 567-4379.

Keep kids in touch with walkie-talkie wristwatches within a range of 400 feet ($30 for two). ” target=”_blank”>NormThompson.com or (800) 547-1160.

For Her

Warm her up with stylish sweaters and an Oprah favorite: shearling lace-up Uggs ($180). NormThompson.com. For casual times at home, comfort her with ultrasoft Wooby sweats, hoodies, hats and more ($14.50+). ” target=”_blank”>NormThompson.com.

Tummy control knit pants ($59) and a “wearable art” Mirror Lake silk shirt make for easy wash and wear ($69). ” target=”_blank”>NormThompson.com.

Treat him to sand-washed silk or silky microfiber shirts ($60 each). And splurge on high-tech, moisture-wicking Ex Officio’s knit boxers that double as travel gear by drying within two to four hours ($25). ” target=”_blank”>Sahalie.com.

For Travelers

Gift a friend with IOU a Trip, complete with leather world travel atlas and a “let’s take a trip” postcard. Your friend fills out the postcard with a date and time for your future get-together and then mails it back to you ($55), ” target=”_blank”>TravelSmith.com

Can’t sleep in-flight? Convert your coach seat into a much more comfortable ride with a remarkable, inflatable seat cushion. It really works! ($40). ” target=”_blank”>Brookstone.com or (800) 846-3000.

Never stub feet again with rubber reinforced toes and unparalleled comfort soles from Keen Footwear ($80+). ” target=”_blank”>Sahalie.com.

Capture time worldwide via radio signals with the self-adjusting Atomic Travel Alarm Clock ($39). ” target=”_blank”>Brookstone.com

For Home and Hearth

Grow Israel-inspired Inbal paper-white flowers ($35), burn a romantic bouquet of carved waxed poppies ($20) or cultivate a wish with “magic beans” that grow imprinted with inspirational messages, such as “heal,” “faith” and “love” ($15). ” target=”_blank”>Bathtopia.com or (888) 717-2284.

Lavender-scented eye masks and hot/cold heart-shaped pillows filled with whole buckwheat seeds ease tensions ($18+).

Gifts for Your Honey Too Large to Wrap


Those eight crazy nights are coming up fast. Still stumped what to get your sweetie? Think outside the giftbox and give your loved one a gift certificate for an experience. Whether it’s a pampering, an adventure, or just some much needed help, Los Angeles is loaded with services that will make your Chanukah honey happy.

Eight Gift Certificates for Him:

The Shave

Help your man show off his punim with an old-fashioned straight razor shave (starting at $45) at The Shave of Beverly Hills (230 S. Beverly Drive). This barbershop retreat for the urban man offers up hot towels, ESPN, shoe shines, and a shot of whiskey. ” target=”_blank”>www.concierge.com or (323) 468-9395.

Sports Package

He’s gonna watch sports whether you like it or not, so make yourself look like the most amazing babe and buy his sports for him. DirecTV offers an NBA Pass, MLB Extra Innings, ESPN’s NCAA Full Court, even a Mega March Madness Package. Starting at $109, these packages will make you his MVP. ” target=”_blank”>www.nitespa.com or (323) 465-7148.

Race Car Lessons

Does he feel the need for speed? Give him a day at Performance Race Training Center in Irwindale. Classroom instruction is followed by NASCAR-style stock car driving on a half-mile banked-oval speedway. Put your honey in the driver’s seat for $199. ” target=”_blank”>www.chefjoanna.com or
213-393-9661.

Eight Gift Certificates for Her:

Closet Organizer

How many times have you heard your wife say “I can’t find my black purse!” or “Have you seen my red jacket?” Give a gift certificate to In Perfect Order. They’ll organize her closet, clean her garage or assemble her photo albums. “We embrace all aspects of clutter,” owner Jessica Duquette says. ” target=”_blank”>www.chateaumarmutt.com. For gift certificates, call (323) 653-2062.

Handyman

Could she use help assembling furniture, installing an appliance or hanging a picture? Call on Mr. Handyman. No project is too small — a service technician will arrive at her home and take care of all her home maintenance and repair needs. A gift certificate will come in handy when those stressful, unexpected home repairs pop up throughout the year. ” target=”_blank”>www.lushspa.com or (818) 506-7848.

Straighten Her Out

Jewish girls got curls, but sometimes we like to wear our hair straight. Give her the gift of smooth, shiny locks at Umberto Salon (1772 S. Robertson Blvd.) Straight Blow-Dries range from $18-$37 depending on the stylist and the length of her hair. It’s a gift she’ll use to look hot for you on a special night. (310) 204-4995.

Tech Support

Has she ever called you crying because her computer crashed and her thesis paper/production report/script draft is due? Geek Squad to the rescue. The squad is an elite tactical unit of highly trained and highly mobile agents, who seek out and destroy villainous computer activity. They even make house calls. Geek Squads are located inside Best Buy stores (West Hollywood, Los Angeles, West Los Angeles, Glendale) and there’s a freestanding store in Santa Monica (2800 Wilshire Blvd.).

A Jewish Spin On Gift-Giving


Everyone has the same shopping countdown this year: Dec. 25th is also the first night of Chanukah. With holiday-season commercialism rising exponentially each year, the plethora of items for purchase can be blindingly confusing for even the savviest shopper. Whether it’s finding something for your non-Jewish co-worker or your husband’s Tanta Miriam, the pressure’s on.

Easing the strain of finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list, however, are products like The Box of Questions. These boxes come in four varieties — Thanksgiving, Shabbat, Christmas and Chanukah — and are attractively decorated to suit their respective themes. Each contains a set of 35 thought-provoking questions about its event, like, “What does the Christmas spirit mean to you?” and “If you could invite anyone in the world to your home for Shabbat, who would it be?” There are also little prizes, such as a dreidel, thrown in.

The boxes come with instructions, but these are more like suggestions on how to facilitate the discussion.

The ladies behind the boxes, Heidi Haddad and Cece Feiler, were searching for a way to entertain their families during an indelibly long wait for their orders to arrive. They came up with round after round of challenging questions about what makes family so important or what values people cherish the most and why. The activity was a big hit, so Cece and Heidi decided to share their method for having great family discussions by taking the trivial out of the pursuit.

Now known as The Box Girls, Haddad and Feiler donate all proceeds from the sale of the boxes to various charities. The boxes are sold at high-end retailers, such as Saks and Fred Segal’s, for $19.95 and are also available online, at www.theboxgirls.com. — Staff Report

The martini on the cover of “The Hanukkah Lounge: Instrumental Jew Age Music” (Craig N’ Co, $14.98) should give you some idea of what to expect from the songs inside — it has a blue olive with a Star of David toothpick sticking out of it.

The entire CD should help turn any Chanukah party into the most swinging event of the season. Craig Taubman’s version of “Maoz Tsur” is as smooth as a gob of sour cream on a latke, with a drumbeat and clarinet background that will definitely get your head moving.

The chimes in Scott Leader’s “Hanukkah o Hanukkah” make the song sound like something one might hear at a day spa during a massage. Don’t be surprised if your guests get up and dance a little salsa to the Afro-Semitic Experience’s “Descarga Ocho Kandelikas.” Even the simplistic “I Have a Little Dreidl” gets a grown-up treatment — it sounds almost dreamlike. And, of course, what Chanukah CD would be complete without the candle blessing?

The collection is part of the Celebrate Series (” target=”_blank”>www.sarahdavid.com. — SL

Web Links Your Wallet to Gifts From Israel


 

With Chanukah fast approaching, you might want to look to the east for the best gifts. Presents from the Holy Land have resonance for both the recipient and for Israel, whose economy could use a little boost from American consumers. Since most people can’t just run to Jerusalem for holiday shopping, consider these Web sites as outlets for gift items you can’t get anywhere else.

” target=”_blank”>israeliproducts.com

Buy a jar of honey from the actual Land of Milk and Honey. Or create a unique and original gift basket from this site, which includes cookies and pastries, spices and olive oil. And if you spend more than $100, then Linda Katz, owner of the site, will pay all of the shipping charges. Hers is a shop based out of Maryland, dedicated to paying all the overhead costs of importing Israeli goods. The two-year-old Internet company donates 100 percent of its modest profit to charities in Israel. According to Katz, her small staff takes no salaries and they all have other jobs. She said the main goal of her business is to distribute Israeli products in the United States.

” target=”_blank”>israelrose.com

A couple years ago, Flori Rosenthal of Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel visited some family in New England. She was greeted with warm smiles and fragrant roses upon her arrival. When she asked where the beautiful roses came from, she was surprised to learn they came all the way from the Negev Desert in Israel. Since, she has arranged fundraisers for her temple by purchasing the roses in bulk and selling them to congregants and community members. The roses grow in a computerized climate-controlled greenhouse and come in eight varieties. Two types of mixed dozens are also available. The roses are freeze-dried and need hydration upon arrival. Instructions are included with the package. According to Flori, the hydrated roses last up to two weeks. The only catch for these beautiful desert blooms is you have to purchase a minimum of four dozen so they can be sent in bulk. Four-dozen roses cost $70 — that’s only $17.50 per dozen, shipping included. The deadline to order roses for arrival by the start of Chanukah may already have passed by the time this article goes to print, but if you hurry, you may be able to receive your roses before the eighth night.

” target=”_blank”>mavrikjewelry.com

This site brings beautiful custom-made jewelry found only in boutiques directly to your doorstep. Internationally acclaimed artisans such as Michal Negrin and others fashion breathtaking adornments from precious metals and stones, as well as other materials, inspired in the heart of the Holy Land. The pink, green, blue and gold crystals in Negrin’s rings surround a delicate flower set in a ring of brass. The rings, bracelets, earrings and necklaces capture light and attention wherever they go. Another favorite set by an unnamed artist is a fiery blue opal set in a sterling silver square — a bargain at $49.95. While you’re at it, why not splurge on the earrings, too? Only $45 more. Oh, wait. We’re shopping for others, right?

 

Perfect Gadgets for Jetsetter, Homebody


When it comes Chanukah, you’ve got eight nights to get your gift giving right. Our Gift Guide points you toward a cornucopia of categories for every evening of the Festival of Lights. From low- to high-ticket pricing, we’ve got your loved ones covered, including frequent fliers, adventurers, techies and homebodies of all ages. Last-minute shoppers never fear. With online and phone-in orders, you won’t have to battle holiday traffic.

Bon Voyage

Breathe right with the ionic 1.5 oz. Ultra-Mini Air Supply ($125). Bless your car with a compact version of “Baruch HaCar” ($20), the traveler’s prayer. Surprise your favorite road warrior with a collapsible flashing orange Pack-A-Cone ($25). And supply travelers with Eagle Creek’s astonishing Pack-It Compressors, Two-Sided Cube and other well-priced, smart ideas, such as the Flat Pack Organizer, Jewelry CarryAll and waterproof Splash Caddy ($10 and up). Magellans.com, (800) 962-4943.

Streamline laptop travel with an action-packed lightweight Vertical Computer bag ($85). Awesome convertibility, with a removable computer sleeve for quick getaways. REI.com, (800) 426-4840.

Retrieve luggage with the Victorinox’s astonishing Global Track I.D. Tag ($15). You lose it, they send it back — gratis. SonomaOutfitters.com, (800) 290-1920.

Lux

Cuddle up with a scrumptious F horseshoe head pillow ($25), Brookstone.com, (866) 576-7337.

Eshave’s rich shaving creams, in floral for her and cucumber for him, complement a his/her kit with pink and blue Lucite-handle razors ($195). The picture is complete with a T-shaped chrome stand. Plumparty.com, (800) 227-0314.

Top-of-the-line, foldable “noise canceling” stereo headphones are pricey. Save with NoiseBuster ($69) from Pro Tech Communications.com. Amazon.com (free shipping).

Brew full-bodied gourmet coffee or tea anywhere in the unbreakable, portable Bonjour French Press Carafe ($15). Add romance with a totally flat, packable plastic WonderVase (three for $15) that you mold under warm water. Or create ambiance with a flickering, battery-operated CandleSafe made of real wax ($25). Magellan’s.

Oprah loves a shimmery lime and powder blue silk throw ($100). Will you? PlumParty.com, (800) 227-0314.

Washable suede shirts, sweater jackets and “cashnear” knits are equally yummy ($89 and up). Travelsmith.com.

Techno

Save money and the planet with a Dual-Voltage Battery Recharger ($35). Complete with four AA NiMH batteries, this practical gift runs on both 110 or 220 volt current. Magellan’s.

Shape up with a digital pedometer ($30), loaded with a panic alarm and calorie counter. Or tune in with Orion’s AudioView AM/FM radio binoculars ($90). Travelsmith.

Navigate 20 reversible routes with a wrist-mounted GPS receiver/personal navigator from Garmin Foretrex ($130 to $170). In under three ounces, compute speed, track trips and calculate distances, all while telling time. REI.

Countdown

The flip-top, analog Dakota Mini Travel Clock ($35), features sleek stainless steel in a charming wooden box. Or keep time here and in Israel with easy-to-set dual-time tank style watches ($79 each) for him and her. Magellan’s.

Wake up to shortwave with Grundig’s ultra-compact Mini Radio ($40). Draws in seven bands of shortwave signals, plus AM, FM. With a digital clock, sleep timer and earphones, it’s good to go. Or indulge and download news, weather and calendar dates on the Suunto Web Watch ($299). Includes stopwatch, alarm and date. Subscribe to MSN Direct for stock quotes, sport scores and more. Travelsmith.

Call of the Wild

Prepare for all-weather winter adventure with outdoor gear. Add breathable warmth with soft, moisture-wicking Performance Wool separates ($95 and up). Fast drying and machine washable. Bundle up with 650-fill-power goose down jacket ($99) with a water-repellent, breathable finish that resists light moisture. Doubles as a zip-in liner for REI parkas and packs small for the space conscious. And hydrate with the REI Runoff Pack ($60 and up). The women’s version boasts super comfortable shoulder straps for women-specific contouring. REI.

The ultimate camping mat, the self-inflating Therm-A-Rest Dreamtime Sleeping Pad ($199) includes a cushy pillow top and washable fleece cover. Campmor.com, (800) 525-4784.

His

The classic calfskin Taxi Wallet ($49) or the Cash InCase key ring ($20) stash cash for all occasions. Magellan’s.

Gift gentlemen with the English Butler Shoe Shine kit ($80), includes a distinctive leather case. Delight amateur astronomers with the Night Navigator digital electronic compass ($99). And help Zayde fight off chills and spills with a stylish “Teflon” Stain-Free Cardigan ($99). Travelsmith.

The Gerber Nautilus Flashlight Tool ($69) packs a four-mode LED light with Fiskars scissors, a fine-blade knife, Phillips and flathead screwdrivers, with a bottle opener. REI. Or cut loose with Leatherman’s “high-wattage” Charger Ti multitool. It boasts interchangeable bits, perks galore and lightweight titanium handles. Cabelas.com, $100.

Hers

Classic equestrian-style boots ($160) combine comfort and fashion. Bornshoes.com. Or prep her for wet weather with a 100 percent waterproof, packable microfiber Balmacaan raincoat ($179), optional lightweight liner ($70) and plenty of rain-worthy boots ($89 and up). Travelsmith.

For the perfect shoulder bag on the road or at home, Hobo’s women-designed, microfiber Essential Traveler ($69) hides travel documents and organizes pens, travel guides and more. Attach a handsome leather phone tote ($25) that doubles as an eyeglass case. Magellan’s.

Wrap her in a cultural souvenir from the Himalayan region of Kashmir. This black merino wool shawl ($89) features colorful hand-embroidered flowers. ShopNationalGeographic.com, (800) 437-5521.

Kids

Wooly mammoths and saber-toothed cats, hornless rhinos and giant sloths hold court in NatGeo’s Prehistoric Mammals book ($30). Ages 8 and up.

Or explore the “Atlas of the World,” eighth edition ($125). Hard copy purchases include online access to customized maps, satellite imagery and downloadable updates. National Geographic.

Little ones beam in super-bright blue light with a tiny Microbeam flashlight keychain ($20). Brookstone.

A responsible teen ready for a pocketknife? A miniature Jewish version of Victronix’s “Star of David” model ($15) features a bright blue case and white Magen David. SwissArmyExpress.com, (877) 289-2769.

Little Robosapien ($100), a carefree “pet,” combines robot technology with personality. Command Robo with a remote or speech to fetch books and perform 65 other functions. Ages 6 and up. SharperImage.com, (800) 344-5555.

Lisa Alcalay Klug is a former staff writer for The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times.