The role of L.A.’s Jewish electorate is changing


What do the recent city elections that saw Jews step into the three top citywide offices — mayor, city attorney and city controller — mean for the role of the Jewish community in Los Angeles?

The remarkable political success of Jews in Los Angeles since the election in 1953 of Roz Wiener (later Wyman) to the City Council stands in contrast to the complete absence of Jews in local offices here during the half century before. The rise in Jewish pols came in tandem with the overall progressive surge in Los Angeles. But even more important, Jews, with their high voter turnout, have had a disproportionate impact on a city electorate marked by lower and lower turnout. Despite a declining Jewish share of the population, Jewish candidates continue to do well.

Only one City Council district, the 5th, is almost always certain to elect a Jewish member (although Paul Koretz’s election in 2009 was quite close). Yet, in the new council, Jews will still hold three of the 15 council seats, with Koretz joined by two Valley members, Mitch Englander (12th District) and Bob Blumenfield (3rd). While three is below the high point of Jewish membership on the council of some decades ago, it is far from the collapse of Jewish office holding that some feared.

The citywide wins of Eric Garcetti for mayor, Mike Feuer for city attorney and Ron Galperin for city controller, however, are a new high for the Jewish community. Garcetti is the first Jewish candidate to win election as mayor. (Starting with Ira Reiner’s election in 1977, three Jews have held the controller’s office.)

The strength of Jewish women as a political force here is an untold story in the rise of Jewish office holding in Los Angeles, as their political activism is one of the distinctive features of the Jewish community. (I will be speaking at the Autry National Center on Nov. 17 as part of a panel on this topic.) To date, six Jewish women have served on the Los Angeles City Council, and one of them, Laura Chick, went on to be elected city controller. Wendy Greuel, who also served on the council and then as controller, is not Jewish, but she is married to a Jewish activist and they are raising their son as a Jew. California’s two U.S. Senate seats are held by Jewish women, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. The current decline of women’s representation on the council is a real loss to all communities, but is especially surprising among Jews.

Los Angeles’ politics are changing in ways that have altered the role of the Jewish community. For decades, Jews served as the glue that linked a dominant and at times resistant white majority to a rising minority community. With the increased political mobilization of minority groups, communities of color have less need of that mediator role. They have the numbers and the confidence to speak for themselves. It still matters that the majority of Jews are likely to vote in tandem with minority communities in state and national elections, but Jewish support is no longer a necessity for minority access to political leadership at the local level. (One exception is the absence of Asian-American elected officials at Los Angeles city hall, an issue that might generate fruitful dialogue between these two groups.)

While there was much concern about the dullness of this spring’s mayoral race, I see a silver lining in the blurring of racial and ethnic lines that helped keep the turnout down. None of the candidates, except Jan Perry, had a solid hold on one of the city’s racial and ethnic blocs. Strong support from one group — such as Perry got from the black community — often creates greater incentives for voter turnout than an election in which the major candidates go around the city trying to build a core base of support. 

If a runoff between two well-liked and capable candidates without firm racial or ethnic bases lacked a certain spark, how about two well-known candidates with strong and conflicting bases? Had Zev Yaroslavsky run, he would have been the Jewish candidate and, by extension, perhaps the white candidate. He might have faced a well-known Latino candidate, perhaps Alex Padilla. If you want to know how that might have looked, even in the likely event that neither candidate would want it to play out that way, check out the race in the Valley in 1998 between Richard Katz and Richard Alarcon for the California State Senate that took on overtones of Latino-Jewish conflict.

So what is the Jewish role in Los Angeles politics now? The continuation of the role of a Democratic-leaning (if not always down-the-line liberal) white constituency in a diverse city remains important. Perhaps the next civic role of the Jewish community will be to help the city develop a more participatory and involved electorate. Jews have always stood for political reform and have voted in large numbers. The city needs continuing electoral reform, and a group that opposes the inertia and cynicism that so cripples our democratic system can continue to make a major contribution to Los Angeles.

In Detroit, Jewish resurgence led by young aims to transform city


Blair Nosan grew up in the Detroit suburb of West Bloomfield, attended the University of Michigan and then, like thousands of other young Jews from the beleaguered state, moved away.

Though she grew up in a heavily Jewish area, Nosan, 26, had felt disconnected both from her Jewish identity and the nearby city, which was undergoing its own debilitating population drain. Over the last decade, 25 percent of Detroit’s residents have taken flight. Some 5,000 young Jews left Michigan between 2005 and 2010, according to a 2010 survey by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

But then Nosan came back.

In 2009, she moved to Detroit to work in its burgeoning urban agriculture scene, eventually starting her own pickling company, Suddenly Sauer.

Nosan was startled to learn that she was part of a significant migration of young Jews to the Motor City —a young Jewish renaissance that has been as unexpected as it has been successful. It’s evident not just in numbers but in a resurgence of Jewish activity and vitality in the heart of Detroit, including among Jews who had never been Jewishly active.

“I did not expect to find a Jewish community at all,” Nosan told JTA, echoing the sentiments of many of Detroit’s new Jewish residents. “Most of the Jews were living in Detroit as participants in the Jewish community, but with their Jewish identity in mind were trying to fill in the blanks of this long history we had had in the city but weren’t raised with.”

Over the last few years, a slew of new programs from the institutional to the grass roots and from suburb to city have blossomed in the Detroit area.

Detroit’s first Moishe House opened in June in midtown, and its occupants—five from the suburbs of Detroit and one from Los Angeles—have been holding five or six Jewish events a month. The most recent was a sauerkraut workshop taught by Nosan that attracted 16 people.

At a bar in Royal Oak, a suburb near Detroit, Rabbi Leiby Burnham began a weekly program in 2007 called Torah on Tap to talk about Judaism in a bar setting, with the drinks paid for by an anonymous donor. Starting with seven people, the event now draws as many as 100 per week.

The most striking example of the transformation of Jewish life in Detroit is at the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, the last remaining synagogue in the city. Detroit once was a major hub of Jewish life, with 44 synagogues. But after race riots in the 1960s and economic decline, most of the city’s whites—Jews included—left for the northern suburbs, repeating a pattern taking place in cities across America.

In 2008, the 90-year old conservative shul was in dire straits—open only once a week, often unable to assemble a minyan and without a rabbi (the last one had died in 2003). The board was considering packing it in and selling the historic four-story building.

“Some didn’t think we had a future,” said David Powell, who has attended Isaac Agree for decades. “We continued to plod along until reinforcements came.”

Starting a few years ago, those reinforcements began to come in the form of young social activists and entrepreneurs who were drawn to the city by its growing arts scene and revitalization programs that offered subsidized rent and unique employment opportunities for social justice work. Many of the Jews among them came to the synagogue, in the process changing it. They began running services, serving on the board and organizing events of the sort that the old shul had never seen: Israeli film screenings, potluck dinners, Israeli folk dancing. Community activists also used it as a gathering place.

“The synagogue wasn’t meeting the needs of the city, and it was struggling,” said Oren Goldenberg, a filmmaker and prominent activist in the community. “It needed to adapt.”

Isaac Agree became more and more popular. Services were held three days a week rather than one. Events were organized to celebrate all the holidays. The synagogue started offering Hebrew lessons and even conversion classes. And now every Friday night it hosts a Shabbat dinner.

“I liked Isaac Agree because it stayed; it’s been here the whole time,” Nosan said. “That’s a poignant point of entry for the community—what’s already here and been here, and figuring out new energy that’s being brought to the table.”

In the past few years, Isaac Agree has more than tripled its membership households, becoming the only conservative synagogue in Michigan not to suffer a decline, according to the 2010 federation survey.

“There are definitely more Jews here then there were a year ago,” said Goldenberg while having coffee in Avalon International Breads, a bakery co-founded by Jackie Vicks, a 20-year resident of the city who joined the synagogue last year. “I live here. When things change, I know it.”

Some of the new Jewish revitalization programs, including Torah on Tap and Detroit’s Moishe House, are receiving support from CommunityNext, a program started by one Detroit returnee based on the idea that creating cultural activities and a strong cultural center is as important as jobs to retaining and attracting young adults to Detroit.

“Young Jews are not going to move to suburbs, they’re going to move to cities,” said Jordan Wolfe, the Detroit native who launched the program in 2010 after returning to the area in 2007 following a stint in California’s high-tech sector. “They’re willing to take jobs as a waiter if there’s something to do.”

CommunityNext’s strategy is to support both Jewish culture and Detroit’s revitalization.

The program, which was funded in the first year by $60,000 from two anonymous donors and another $40,000 from Detroit’s Jewish federation, organizes Jewish events and offers Jewish entrepreneurs small business loans and free office space. CommunityNext also supports nonsectarian Detroit revitalization projects such as Come Play Detroit, which helps organize intramural sports leagues. In its first year, Come Play Detroit created 27 leagues in nine sports involving 4,500 people.

“We’re building community, but the larger agenda is Detroit,” said Rachel Lachover, CommunityNext’s associate director. “People are moving back. People are talking about Detroit.”

In August, the federation teamed up with Come Play Detroit to set up fundraising sports tournaments across the country, raising $100,000 for 25 rent subsidies to help people move to Detroit on the condition that they hold community events once a month—the Moishe House model.

“I’ve enjoyed becoming part of the Detroit Jewish community,” said Allie Gross, an L.A. native now living at Moishe House. “It’s changing as a lot as young people move back in. There’s a sense of urgency. People are excited about what Detroit’s offering. It’s very exciting.”

[UPDATE] Sound of blast reported in Iran’s Isfahan City, home to key nuclear facility


The sound of an apparent explosion was heard from Iran’s Isfahan city on Monday afternoon, the head of the judiciary in the province said, but the province’s deputy governor denied that there had been a big blast.

“In the afternoon, there was a noise like an explosion, but we don’t have any information from security forces on the source of the noise,” provincial judiciary head Gholamreza Ansari was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency.

However, Mehr news agency quoted Deputy Governor Mohammad Mehdi Ismaili as saying: “So far no report of a major explosion has been heard from any government body in Isfahan.”

State run Press TV, also citing Ismaili, said the report of an explosion was “completely baseless and fabricated.”

An important Iranian nuclear facility involved in processing uranium is located near Isfahan city, although Iranian media reports of the incident did not refer to it.

International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman Gill Tudor said the U.N. watchdog was aware of the media reports but had no further information.

Iranian media provided contradictory information about the incident, which came less that three weeks after a massive explosion at a military base near Tehran that killed more than a dozen members of the Revolutionary Guard including the head of its missile forces.

The Fars news agency reported a large blast in the province but later removed the report from its website. Fars was not immediately available to comment on the withdrawn report.

The Mehr news agency cited other Iranian news media, which it did not identify, as reporting that a blast had taken place at a petrol station at a town near Isfahan city.

Several residents of the city contacted by Reuters by telephone said they heard nothing.

On November 12, Iran said a massive explosion at a military base 45 km west of Tehran killed 17 Revolutionary Guards, including the head of the elite force’s missile program. Iran said that explosion, which could be heard as far away as the capital, was caused by an accident while weapons were being moved.

Monday’s report of the apparent blast near Isfahan was the lead story on evening TV news broadcasts in Israel, although these did not include comment from Israeli officials or provide details beyond those given by Iranian agencies. An Israeli military spokeswoman reached by telephone declined to comment.

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization operates several nuclear facilities east of Isfahan, according to the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a leading Washington-based think tank.

They include the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF), which began operating in 2006 and is able to produce uranium hexafluoride gas, the feed material that Iran uses to make refined uranium at its Natanz nuclear enrichment site.

“These things are well protected, some of them underground. Basically they have stocked all the raw material for quite some time. I think most of the material is stored in Isfahan,” said Olli Heinonen, former head of IAEA safeguards inspections worldwide and now a senior fellow at Harvard University.

Israel and the West are concerned about Iranian processing of uranium, because they believe that it could be used to make a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.

Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna; Writing by Peter Graff and Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Jon Boyle

U.S. Supreme Court to hear arguments in Jerusalem passport case


The U.S. Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments in a case that would allow American citizens born in Jerusalem to have their birthplace listed as Israel on their passports.

Arguments in the case of Zivotofsky v. Clinton were set to be heard Monday. The case involves 9-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky, whose American-Israeli parents, Ari and Naomi, want the birth country on his passport listed as Israel. They cite a law passed by Congress in 2002 that directs the secretary of state, “upon the request of the citizen or the citizen’s legal guardian, [to] record the place of birth as Israel.”

The George W. Bush and Obama administrations have ignored the law and the State Department manual allows that the passports of American citizens born in Jerusalem must say “Jerusalem” as the place of birth and not include Israel, reflecting official U.S. government policy regarding the unresolved status of Jerusalem.

Eleven major Jewish American groups in August filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Zivotofsky’s request. Last month, Americans for Peace Now filed a brief supporting the secretary of state.

The American Jewish Committee has opted not to weigh in, in part because it does not regard the Supreme Court as the appropriate forum to decide foreign policy.

A chosen rail line?


In a city where nothing ever seems to come easy, the arrival this summer of Jerusalem’s long-delayed light-rail Red Line was seen by some as nothing short of a miracle. At many points over the past 10-plus years of construction, it looked as though the Messiah would pass through the Old City’s Golden Gate before the train might arrive. And like many good land-use battles in Jerusalem, this one featured national political aspirations, terrorism concerns and the secular-religious divide, as well as conflicting views of fiscal and corporate accountability and arguments over the best transit solutions for a culturally and religiously diverse city of 800,000.

Still, as I saw on a recent trip, the Holy City somehow achieved the opening of its first light-rail line a lot sooner than Los Angeles is realizing a subway to its Westside. Though I came too early to witness the line’s opening, during my visit I watched the train being tested, and I even stepped aboard a car before being shooed off by a grumpy conductor.

Being in the place that is home to three of the world’s great religions, I got to thinking about how conflict and different world views can stand in the way of public transit improvements like Jerusalem’s Red Line and L.A.’s Westside subway extension. Though I am no expert on Jerusalem, the sight of the train crawling down Jaffa Road left me wondering what parallels there might be between Jerusalem’s and Los Angeles’ struggles to bring rail to these cities.

The two transit battles both pit those who view their city as ill suited to trains against those who feel trains must have a place in growing cities. Also common to both battles are vocal adversaries of public transportation who don’t ride the buses and trains that they rail against. One certainty in such projects is that by the time the work is completed, few residents of either stripe are happy about the costs, delays and disruption caused by the construction. As if on cue, Jerusalem’s infant rail system has already seen its first strike by operators seeking pay equity with bus drivers. The 30-hour strike, which came during the busy period of Sukkot, has since ended with an agreement between the workers and the consortium that runs the rail service.

Jerusalem’s eight-mile light rail line, which opened Aug. 19, runs from the Jewish settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev, in East Jerusalem, through the Palestinian neighborhoods of Beit Hanina and Shu’afat to downtown and Mount Herzl in the West. This means it passes through land that came under Israeli jurisdiction as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War. Further complicating the process, there have also been efforts by the city’s ultra-Orthodox Jews to create cars separating men and women. And for many, the Jerusalem project confirmed some fears that the disruptive construction process would be fatal to businesses along Jaffa Road, the narrow thoroughfare that runs through the mostly Jewish West Jerusalem to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate.

In Los Angeles, some have kvetched and even sued over the use of an established rail right-of-way running through Cheviot Hills for the new Expo Line, which is nearing completion, yet Los Angeles’ battles pale in comparison to Jerusalem’s. Even the vocal battle over tunneling under Beverly Hills High School, a plan that got the backing of a panel of engineers and seismic experts on Oct. 19, has been muted by comparison with a project that runs through neighborhoods some residents do not recognize as Israeli.

So, is Jerusalem’s Red Line a cursed effort at improving mobility in a traffic-choked city? Or will the project bring good things to all residents of East and West Jerusalem? Or could there have been a better, more cost-effective alternative?

In Jerusalem, some have complained that the Red Line should have run from Mount Scopus to Givat Ram, the main campus of the Hebrew University, where it might have attracted more riders than the current route, including many students and those visiting the city’s major hospitals. Indeed, West Jerusalem resident Ilan Jospe argues that the line mostly benefits people who live near the route. The train also took lanes of traffic from narrow roads that were hard to navigate to begin with.  

Ahmad Fahoum, an East Jerusalem resident, is not enthusiastic about the train. He questions the cost, the political message sent by the route, and whether Jewish and Arab residents used to riding Egged (Israeli) and Arab buses as well as sherutim (shared shuttle vans), taxis and private cars around the city will embrace the limited service of a single line, which is a slow train, for now — the Red Line’s trip from end to end takes 65 minutes rather than the originally scheduled 42 minutes, though that will change with improvements. He also wonders who got rich off the project, which was built by an international consortium of companies. Like others, Fahoum noted the lower cost of offering bus service, including dedicated-lane bus rapid transit (BRT) to speed commuters through congested parts of the divided city. And, one need not go far in Jerusalem to find proof that BRTs can be built faster and cheaper than rail. Jerusalem’s first BRT line, a north/south project, was completed some time ago to act as a feeder connection to the Red Line.

In an Aug. 17 article in The Guardian newspaper, critics claimed the project was “part of a deliberate plan to link the East Jerusalem settlement [of Pisgat Ze’ev] to the city centre, [to] consolidate Israel’s grip on the eastern part of the city that Palestinians want as a capital of their future state, and present Jerusalem as an undivided city.”

As for construction of a second line, dubbed the Blue Line, both Jospe and Fahoum hope it will never happen, given that the Red Line took more than 10 years to build and reportedly cost the municipality $1.1 billion. Nevertheless, Jerusalem has plans to build eight light rail and BRT lines, with the first new service planned for Ein Kerem (serving Hadassah Hospital) in the southwest and Neve Ya’akov in the northeast. Other lines serving Neve Ya’akov, Kiryat Menachem, and the Hebrew University campuses at Givat Ram and Mount Scopus are also planned.

L.A. Sukkah sit-in shows Jews’ passion for politics


As I stopped at the sukkah in the Occupy L.A. encampment outside City Hall, I thought of the Jews’ role in the upcoming presidential election, which will be taking place amid a recession and doubts about President Barack Obama’s attitude toward Israel.

The sukkah was an excellent counterpoint to the anti-Semitic drivel coming from a fired Los Angeles substitute teacher and a couple of sign holders on the other side of City Hall.  I ran into Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his young daughter and son at the sukkah.  They offered me a piece of an excellent honey cake, made by his wife that morning.  Occupy L.A., he told me, was “tapping into the Jewish mission of redemption.  In our society, there is a lot of inequality and injustice, and by them [the protesters] being there, they are bringing attention to these social problems in the most visible way in my lifetime,” he said. At 42, the rabbi noted that he missed the anti-Vietnam war movement.

The presence of one sukkah here is no more solid a tipoff to Jewish political sentiment than the Occupy L.A. encampment is to the electorate at large.  But both are signs of something going on, of unhappiness over joblessness and the injustice of financial institutions that have escaped blame for the recession and prospered during hard times, thanks to the bailout.  Some people have criticized the Occupy movement for being fuzzy about its goals. But what is striking to me is the staying power of the occupiers. And, on the other ideological side, the Tea Party — also anger based — has also shown the same ability to stick around.

A stronger indication of Jewish community sentiment is the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Survey of American Jewish Opinion, released in September. It found that the Jewish community shares other voters’ strong discontent with Obama’s handling of the economy. Just 37 percent of those polled approved of the president’s economic performance. That’s just about the same figure as for all Americans.  And it’s a sharp drop-off from the year before, when 55 percent of Jews supported Obama on the economy, compared to 45 percent of all Americans.

What’s unclear is the personal impact.  How many Jews are unemployed? How many have lost their businesses or are just hanging on? These are what will determine political choices as next November’s election draws near.  The hardship felt by people who are suffering can also radiate outward to family and friends, also shaping their voting behavior.

The number of such people isn’t known. Pini Herman, co-author of The Jewish Journal’s Demographic Duo blog, estimates that there are 25,000 Jewish unemployed in Los Angeles County.  But he also said this is just an educated guess, based on out-of-date population statistics.

Jewish Journal reporters, including myself, have found strong signs of economic hardship in the Jewish community as the recession wears on.  Workers in social service agencies described to me how long-term unemployment has hit Jews who have never before been out of work.  All through last year and into this year, public school administrators have told me of Jewish families returning to the Los Angeles Unified School District because they can’t afford private schools.

Whether they will blame Obama or the Republicans for their plight will be determined by the long campaign ahead and by events yet to occur.  Obama is attacking the Republicans in a populist way that, to a mild extent, echoes what can be heard at the Occupy encampments, as he pushes for passage of the various elements of his jobs bill.  The Republican alternatives—deregulation, more oil drilling, protecting the wealthy from tax increases — may catch on with this disenchanted electorate, but so far there’s been no sign of it.  Polling numbers for Congress, including the Republican House, are worse than Obama’s.

Israel, of course, will be the other factor impacting the Jewish vote.

In 2008, Obama received about 78 percent of the Jewish vote. Lawrence Grossman, in a JTA op-ed on the AJC survey, wrote that “among Orthodox Jews, who make up 9 percent of the sample, disapproval is much higher, 72 percent.”  Evidence of that came earlier this year, when Orthodox Jews helped elect a Republican in a New York congressional district that is one-third Jewish and had not sent a Republican to Congress in 90 years.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a big help to the Republicans, as a persistent critic of Obama on Israel.  Netanyahu’s speech to Congress last spring reminded me of a Republican political rally.  The Israeli newspaper Haaretz put it well in a headline: “Is Obama’s Problem That Netanyahu Is a Republican at Heart?”

Whether it is Netanyahu’s love of market-based conservative economics or his distrust of Obama on Israel, the Republicans see Netanyahu and his stand on the settlements as an opportunity. The New York Times reported that the Republican National Committee plans to target several Democratic-held districts where it believes Jewish voters could help them win.  Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner is speaking to Jewish groups.

Republicans have tried this before without much success, but this year Israel is a more polarizing issue.

How decisive an issue Israel will be in November likely will depend on the economy and how angry and insecure voters react to what Obama and the Republicans say about that.  The lesson of the Occupy movement — and the Tea Party — is that people are staying mad and are ready to act on their anger.

Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for The Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Tel Aviv is Lonely Planet top 10 city


Tel Aviv is among the world’s top 10 cities for 2011 listed by the popular Lonely Planet travel guide website.

Lonely Planet puts Tel Aviv in third place behind Tangier, Morocco, in second and New York in first.

“Tel Aviv is the total flipside of Jerusalem, a modern Sin City on the sea rather than an ancient Holy City on a hill,” Lonely Planet writes of of Tel Aviv. “Hedonism is the one religion that unites its inhabitants. There are more bars than synagogues, God is a DJ and everyone’s body is a temple.

“Yet, scratch underneath the surface and Tel Aviv, or TLV, reveals itself as a truly diverse 21st-century Mediterranean hub. By far the most international city in Israel, Tel Aviv is also home to a large gay community, a kind of San Francisco in the Middle East. Thanks to its university and museums, it is also the greenhouse for Israel’s growing art, film and music scenes.”

The other cities on the list are Wellington, New Zealand; Valencia, Spain; Iquitos, Peru; Ghent, Belgium; Delhi, India; Newcastle, England; and Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Lonely Planet also selected its top 10 countries for 2011, ranking Syria in ninth place.

Rabbi Freehling’s pet project


Daylong synagogue attendance is rare among most Reform Jews. It’s even rarer for their dogs.

For almost 12 years, Lucy traveled each day to University Synagogue in Brentwood with her owner, Rabbi Allen I. Freehling, then the synagogue’s senior rabbi. The golden retriever mix soon became one of the most popular members of the Reform congregation.

“The kids coming in for Hebrew school used to arrive early, come to the rabbi’s study, and hope that they would be the ones to take Lucy for a walk before going to class,” Freehling recalled. “She was delighted to spend the whole day in my office. If there wasn’t someone to pay attention to her, she would usually just sleep under my desk.”

Freehling, now the executive director of the City’s Human Relations Commission, found Lucy at a city-run animal shelter in the San Fernando Valley. Through a series of community workshops he is helping to facilitate for Los Angeles Animal Services, Freehling is urging other local residents to seek pets from city shelters, too.

L.A. Animal Services has been sponsoring its “Humane L.A.” workshops — a series of 11 free, public panel discussions — every other week since August to educate Angelenos about what they can do to help make the city a “no-kill” haven. The workshops, which will continue through mid-December, focus on different facets of the agency’s “no-kill equation,” such as low-cost spay and neuter, rescue groups, foster care and adoption programs. Common-sense factors like these, the agency believes, can, in time, reduce the number of unwanted animals euthanized at city shelters.

“We do have a responsibility in terms of taking good care of the animals that are a part of our population,” said Freehling, who is sharing the role of facilitator with three other members of the Human Relations Commission. “Spay and neuter has to become something that is accepted by everyone, because the only way to curtail the population of animals is if they are not reproducing on a regular basis. For people who wish to have animals, for them to consider adopting as opposed to purchasing would also be a step.”

The senior rabbi at University Synagogue for 30 years, Freehling and his wife, Lori, adopted Lucy with social interaction in mind.

“Not wanting to leave Lucy home by herself, we purposely found an animal that would be good with adults and children,” he said. “An animal is a marvelous provider of comfort. That was the role that she played at the synagogue. Being greeted by her was, more often than not, a comforting experience.”

Lucy eventually died of cancer, and the Freehlings adopted Pearl, a black lab and pit bull mix, from an animal rescuer in Riverside. Pearl hasn’t had the same opportunity to follow Freehling to work since he was appointed to the commission in 2002.

“Here at City Hall it’s less likely that someone would bring an animal to the office on a regular basis,” he said.

Asked if it’s possible to make Los Angeles a no-kill city, the Chicago native does not hesitate before saying, “Yes.” But profound changes must first occur in the local population’s attitude toward its four-legged neighbors.

“I hope people will begin to understand what a no-kill city is all about and what our responsibilities are as part of that community, and not simply leave it up to a particular department within the city to solve the problem by euthanizing an extraordinary number of animals,” Freehling said. “It’s something we’re all in together.”

For dates and locations of the remaining “Humane L.A.” workshops, visit

Mayor: Building inspectors need better training, sensitivity to block another Yom Kippur showdown


One year after an emotional incident in which city building inspectors sought to halt Kol Nidrei services for Orthodox worshippers at a Hancock Park service, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has followed up with a report with recommendations designed to increase sensitivity and prevent future problems.

The confrontation at the Yavneh Hebrew Academy in the Hancock Park area outraged the Orthodox community and its political supporters.

Triggering the incident was a series of anonymous phone calls from a neighbor of Yavneh, alerting the city Department of Building and Safety (DBS) to a probable violation, on Yom Kippur, of restriction governing the hours that Yavneh could use the facilities.

At 8 p.m., while Rabbi Daniel Korobkin was conducting Kol Nidrei services for some 200 worshippers, two inspectors walked into the lobby and told startled congregants that they had to vacate the premises immediately.

When told that worshippers would leave only if carried out by force, the inspectors left and the services continued.

The roots of the incident lay in a contentious nine-year feud between some residents of the upscale Hancock Park neighborhood and an influx of strict Orthodox families.

Villaraigosa, together with city councilmen, felt the heat from both sides and the mayor asked the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom “to independently review, pro bono, the events that occurred on Sept. 21, 2007…and to make recommendations.”

In a letter yesterday (Sept. 23) to DBS general manager Andrew A. Adelman, obtained exclusively by The Journal, Villaraigosa cited 12 findings and recommendations by the law firm and asked for a response by Nov. 7.

In general, the report found that DBS had not singled out the Orthodox community as such, but called for an improved inspection process within DBS, and better communications with the city planning department and with institutions, such as Yavneh, operating with certain restrictions under a conditional use permit.

Specifically, the report recommended continued “awareness seminars” for inspectors at the Museum of Tolerance, supplemented by a “cultural diversity” program, in addition to the following points.

Training to avoid conflicts while conducting building inspections.

Review of the policy under which DBS accepts anonymous complaints.

Avoid interrupting cultural or religious events.

Institutions operating under conditional use permits to appoint community liaisons, who would be notified of complaints before city officials take action.

Korobkin, the Yavneh spiritual leader, said he was very pleased with the mayor’s recommendations and that the fault for last year’s incident lay mainly in the way DBS was structured, as well as a certain lack ofsensitivity.

There is no chance that last year’s incident will be repeated, he said. For one, Kol Nidrei falls on a weekday this year, which allows for extended operating hours.

Korobkin also asserted that relations between Yavneh and its neighbors had improved over the last 12 months and that complaints came mainly from a hard core of seven to eight residents.

But future relations between Yavneh and the Hancock Park Homeowners Association, which includes a fair number of Jewish families, will bear watching.

No spokesperson for the homeowners was immediately available, but in the past they have persistently accused Yavneh of violating the terms of its conditional use permit and have initiated a number of court actions.

Although Yavneh is not located within his district, City Councilman Jack Weiss has been a vocal champion of the religious school.

He said that in the dispute, “justice is on the side of Yavneh – it’s not even close.”



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‘Nighthawks’ Scribe Brings Hopper Painting to Life


Based upon Edward Hopper’s famous painting of a late-night coffee shop on a desolate city street corner, Douglas Steinberg’s new play, “Nighthawks,” which is having its world premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theater, features a painter who says only one word in the entire first act. The word is “coffee,” an apposite line of dialogue for a silent character spending significant stage time sitting at a counter.

This painter, known as the Customer, rarely speaks, and the other characters do not speak to each other so much as interrupt, disregard and talk past one another, the kind of miscommunication virtually always suggested by the subjects in Hopper’s paintings. They rattle off dialogue like it’s coming out of a Gatling gun and speak in a streetwise idiom right out of the New York ghettos.

Steinberg knows he is treading familiar ground here, ground previously traversed by Warner Bros. screenwriters from the 1930s and ’40s, playwright Clifford Odets and novelist Daniel Fuchs in his Williamsburg trilogy. Steinberg knows that the reputations of Odets and Fuchs have suffered in recent years and that their dialogue, endlessly recycled, has become a cliche. To Steinberg’s credit, he makes his dialogue sing.

“It’s kind of poetic in its absurd, poor grammar, flowing in a vile, vulgar sort of way like ‘Deadwood,'” he says, referring to David Milch’s highly acclaimed HBO series.

Beyond the staccato lyricism of his language, Steinberg has also come up with a grand conceit in extrapolating a story line from Hopper’s painting, a famous study in urban anomie. About 20 years ago, Steinberg’s wife, the painter and actress Sarah Torgov, bought him a poster of “Nighthawks,” which he placed above his desk. Soon afterwards, “the characters started whispering to each other,” he says, and he began writing his play, which won an National Endowment for the Arts grant.

Despite being a playwright in residence at the South Coast Repertory Theater and a member of the Los Angeles Theatre Center Playwrights for more than 10 years, Steinberg could not get the play staged.

At the time he wrote “Nighthawks,” he says, the painting was just starting to become part of popular culture, whereas “now, it’s like a McDonald’s sign.”

Indeed, it has been co-opted by big business whose poster and tchotchke merchandisers have transformed it into Hollywood kitsch, changing the four unknown characters in the late-night diner into a roster of postwar entertainment icons, including Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.

Steinberg, however, imagines the four principals the way Hopper did, as anonymous city dwellers. Mae, a one-time looker, is the waitress/owner of the diner; Quig, her underfinanced husband and cook; Sam, a polio-ridden friend and bellhop at a nearby hotel; and the Customer, the man with no name, who secretly or not-so-secretly paints the three others.

Steinberg grew up in a Conservative Jewish household, although none of his characters are supposed to be Jewish. “It would be chauvinistic of me to take this man’s painting and apply my own interest,” he says in explaining his characters’ nondescript ethnicity. The exception is Jimmy Nickels, an Irish gangster. Still, they all have what Steinberg calls a Jewish “sensibility” in that they “rail against injustice.”

In bemoaning their fates, Mae, Quig and Sam question the Customer’s motivation. Like the character in the painting who keeps his back to the viewer, long thought to be a model for Hopper himself, the Customer is a painter, but he may have more in common with fiction writers in that he devotes much of his time to observing others while giving away little of himself.

The play deftly questions the nature of the relationship between painter and subject. The Customer grapples internally with whether or not he is responsible to people whose lives he has entered, perhaps even intruded upon.

Although the Customer rarely speaks, he influences everyone in the play, many of whom subconsciously emulate him. Nickels, the neighborhood wiseguy, keeps his back to us, just as the painter does. Clive, the young hustler, seems always to enter just as the Customer exits. Lucy, Mae’s niece and an aspiring dancer, echoes the painter in her one-word request, “Coffee.” And there is even the dead carcass, black-market meat that takes the Customer’s place on his favorite stool. Sam and Quig wrap it up, so that it will be mistaken for a drunk.

This doubling reminds us of the longstanding link between art and theater, which is particularly acute at a proscenium arch theater like the Kirk Douglas, where each scene can be framed like a painting. This is best illustrated in the so-called silent scene suggested in the script. Like a closed-window episode in an Ernst Lubitsch movie, the silent scene in the play freezes the principals in time as in a work of art. The silence is finally broken when, appropriately enough, the painter exclaims, “Coffee,” as if telling his models that they can take a break after hours of holding a pose.

The play concludes with what Steinberg calls “a Solomon story,” where one of the characters must choose which loved one to sacrifice. It is also a variation on an O. Henry ending, in that a good intention goes awry, but the result is far from benign.

Hopper, whose work inspired Hitchcock’s “Psycho” as well as the after-hours theme of Turner Classic Movies’ promotional spots, understood a life of compromise. As Quig says of Sam, who has endangered the group, but for whom he has a soft spot, “What other man but Sam knows the night like I do? Huh? What other man has cared to share a smoke, a laugh?”

“Nighthawks” has its world premiere on Sept. 6 and runs through Sept. 24 at the Kirk Douglas Theater, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. For tickets and information, call (213) 628-2772.

Shul’s Stormy Saga


With its prominent location at one of Hancock Park’s busiest intersections, at Third Street and Highland Avenue, Congregation Etz Chaim’s boxy, domed building constantly reminds area residents of a decade of ongoing tensions.

The current focus of the dispute is a lawsuit that has reached the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Neighbors sued in 2003, saying the congregation skirted due process and violated local zoning laws when it razed a 3,600-square-foot home and built an 8,200-square-foot structure with a main sanctuary, a library and a mikvah (ritual bath) in the basement.

But the conflict has even deeper roots, to when the congregation still met at the June Street home of Rabbi Chaim Rubin. Even then, neighbors contended that the daily and Shabbat services violated residential zoning laws. Then, in 1995, Congregation Etz Chaim moved from Rubin’s house, where it had been meeting for 30 years, since his father founded the congregation, to the house on Highland Avenue. In 1996, after the city, at the behest of the neighbors, tried to prevent the congregants from holding services on Highland Avenue, Etz Chaim sued the city in federal court for violating its religious freedom.

The zoning board, city council and federal court all ruled against Etz Chaim. But the shul got an 11th-hour reprieve by citing a federal law, enacted in 2000, that exempts religious institutions from local zoning. The city and Etz Chaim then entered into a settlement, permitting worshippers in the building. The pact also allowed for limited renovations that would retain the structure’s residential look.

In 2002, the congregation razed the 3,600-square-foot home. The city obtained a temporary stop-work order, saying the demolition and new construction violated the settlement, but courts later lifted that order. The congregation moved forward with the $1 million project, erecting its 8,200-square-foot structure, which its leaders say was designed to blend in with other homes – a claim some neighbors find laughable.

That brings matters to the current lawsuit, which is awaiting a trial date before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2003, the League of Residential Neighborhood Associations, composed of area residents, formed to sue Etz Chaim and the city. In the suit, residents assert that the settlement itself was illegal – that it went around city procedures designed to include neighbors in such decisions, since zoning laws should have forbidden the congregation from meeting in that location.

Meanwhile, the city also sued the congregation, saying the new construction violated the settlement agreement. That suit is also before the Ninth Circuit.

Etz Chaim, for its part, is arguing that the settlement is valid, that it did not violate the settlement and, that, in any case, federal law exempts it from zoning regulations.

 

Russian City Gets New JCC


At a time when Jewish Community Centers in the West frequently struggle to survive in prosperous communities with lots of Jews, the small Russian port city of Arkhangelsk near the Arctic Circle is on the verge of getting a brand-new JCC. A local businessman had pledged to build and fund the facility for a Jewish community of fewer than 2,000 people.

The current JCC building is located on the edge of town — one floor above a blood transfusion clinic. It is tiny and in disrepair; building materials and a few wheelchairs dusty from neglect clutter a hallway connecting its five small rooms. This space houses a library that doubles as a kitchen, two offices and a meeting room.

Anatoly Obermeister, a local Jewish businessman, decided to improve the situation. “We need something that we can call our own and a place where we know we will always be able to stay,” he said.

Obermeister, president of the construction and development firm ASTRA, plans to offer the ground floor — about 6,000 square feet — of a new housing project in the center of town for use as a Jewish community center that could include a restaurant, clinic, school and other social services.

Nothing is left of the two synagogues that were built after the arrival of Jewish merchants and soldiers in the army during the 19th century. The wooden buildings fell into ruin and were scrapped after their closures during communist times.

Outside funding assistance for the new JCC would be welcomed for consideration, but Obermeister prefers that the community should not have to rely on outside sources to support itself — something that rarely happens in Jewish communities anywhere in Russia, where Jewish life still largely relies on the generosity of foreign donors.

In recent years, the Arkhangelsk Jewish community has seen an involvement of international Jewish organizations. Like almost everywhere across the region, Chabad, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel have all assumed some role in this remote Russian Jewish community.

This involvement means an increase in Jewish social support and cultural life for Arkhangelsk’s Jews. However, the increase in Jewish identification also has led many local Jews to emigrate.

Since the Jewish Agency first opened a center here in 1998, the community has seen a heavy flow of Jews moving to Israel, said Lilya Martinova, coordinator for the St. Petersburg department of the Jewish Agency, which handles communities in northwestern Russia.

“Ten to 15 people make aliyah to Israel every year from the Arkhangelsk area,” said Igor Prober, director of the local Hesed Avraham welfare center.

For a community the size of Arkhangelsk, that is a considerable number.

The Arkhangelsk Jewish community is a branch of the Federation of Jewish Communities — a Chabad-sponsored organization. It, along with the JDC and local donors, helps fund various educational and social programs, including a tiny Sunday school of about 15 participants and a youth club.

Although the JDC-operated Hesed Avraham is thriving in its work of assisting the elderly, local Jewish leaders don’t think the future of the small Jewish community has much of a chance.

Yet, though Jewish activity should be declining, it may, in fact, be gaining momentum. Many Jews are leaving, but many are also coming out of the woodwork. Those with some Jewish heritage are finding their way to the evolving community and are becoming active participants.

“When they become interested in their identity, the half- and quarter-Jews become very active in Jewish cultural life — usually much more active than the full-blooded Jews,” Prober said.

 

Zagat for Dating


“Where do you want to meet?” I ask my blind date on the phone for our last-minute get-together. I find it’s best to set up these things in haste, on the fly, soon after a phone call, so expectations are kept to the barest minimum. (And yet, somehow, no matter how low hopes seem to be, disappointment always seems possible.)

“How about the Coffee Bean on Wilshire?” he says. It’s a nice place, actually, for a Coffee Bean. With a fire pit outside and the cool ocean air wafting in from the water a dozen blocks away, it’s reminiscent of a perpetual fall night with chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But suddenly an image of my last date there pops into my mind. He was a very confident (read: obnoxious) Israeli, who confused our heated political debate for passion rather than loathing.

“You must like me,” the Israeli said after a time.

“Why’s that?” I wondered aloud, because I certainly did not.

“Because you’re still sitting here,” he concluded.

In his estimation, because the date had lasted longer than an hour, and I hadn’t fled like other women before me, I was smitten. So when he persisted in talking about politics despite my attempts to steer the conversation somewhere less conflicted, I considered throwing him in the fire pit next to us, but decided I’d not be able to lift his 200-pound frame. So I got up to leave.

“You said I could,” I explained over my shoulder on my way out.

So I tell my soon-to-be date, “Let’s not go to the Coffee Bean.”

When it comes to dating, much has been written about territorial acquisitions: How you should never date someone in your neighborhood because who will acquire the local hangouts after the breakup. (My last boyfriend was from the east side — way east — and when I saw him after the breakup at the Sunday Santa Monica market I wanted to shout, “Mine! This is my neighborhood! My territory! My settlement in the breakup proceedings!”)

Here in Los Angeles, our services are more important than our dates. (I learned this the hard way by dating my mechanic’s assistant — a budding screenwriter — and soon had to find a new mechanic. Not worth it.)

Maybe it sounds silly, but consider this: I am a woman who left New York City — a giant metropolis of millions of people and millions of square miles — just because it reminded me too much of my ex-boyfriend: That street in Times Square where he first surprised me and kissed me; that restaurant on 14th Street where he told me he needed some space; the green chess bench on the Lower East Side where he kissed me one last time and told me he wanted me back; that club on the Upper West Side, where, years later, after a broken engagement (his), he drunkenly confessed he still loved me; that cafe in the Village the next day where he denied it all and blamed it on the wine. In the end, it had seemed like the whole city was a backdrop — scenery created solely for our relationship — so when that was over, I fled. I just couldn’t bear it.

One of the beauties of Los Angeles is that it’s so big. (Come to think of it, I’ve almost never run into a former date here; I wonder if they were just imported here for that one evening with me…?) I don’t feel in danger of this city being ruined for me because of a relationship. But dating, that’s a different story. Do I really want to slowly but surely taint every restaurant and cafe in the city with a scene from my one-hit-wonders?

There are alternate strategies: You can inundate a place with so many dates that a particular bad one no longer stands out. Still, I can’t go to Casa Del Mar for a drink now because the ghosts of Dubious Gay Guy, Argumentative Man, This Was a Bad Idea Man and many more haunt the cavernous, beautiful room.

I’m not so cynical to say that all places are tainted by bad dates. Great dates can take a place out of the running, too: That awesome night at Canter’s where he and I stayed up till 3, 4, 5 a.m.? Who knows. I fell in love, I think, somewhere between the coleslaw and the kasha varnishkes, or maybe laughing at the ancient, bored waitress or out in the parking lot in front of a mural depicting the history of Jewish Los Angeles. I can’t go to Canter’s on a date anymore — or any of the other places I’ve left pieces of my heart — because of sweet nostalgia.

Am I too sentimental? Do I take mistake the background for the foreground? Humphrey Bogart said it best in “Casablanca:” “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine….”

But listen: a girl has got to dine out. So tonight after running through my Dating Zagat’s (Starbuck’s on Main Street, 22: Good lighting but “tedious conversationalist,” in the “nice outfit” was “mean to waitress” and “put me to sleep” despite “triple latte/no foam.”)

So I pick a sweet little cafe for writers and daters in Santa Monica with couches and cute little lamps and funny drinks like Creamsicles and Fudgesickles — in other words, a place I’d never need to go to again in case things don’t work out.

But go figure. My date is cute and he’s sweet and he’s hard to pin down into one neat little box — i.e., he’s an actual person, not just some bad date to sum up in a rating — and who knows what will happen in the future for us?

This sweet little cafe could become our place — or at least the place where we had our first date.

Oh brother, here we go again.

 

Bike the Big Apple


Chasidic Williamsburg, Roosevelt Island and Long Island City are easily navigable by bicycle, but given New York’s frenetic pace, you might prefer an expert take you there.

Bronx native Joel Seidenstein stands ready at the handlebars.

After 33 years teaching social studies in the city public schools, Seidenstein launched Bike the Big Apple bicycle tours as a second career. His professional experience and Borscht Belt one-liners make this Teaneck, N.J. resident a charming guide.

On a recent Friday, I joined Seidenstein, a second guide and eight tourists for the “Back to the Old Country — The Ethnic Apple Tour.” For five hours and 18 miles we cycled over bridges and waterways, dodging traffic jams, potholes and hazards by taking “quieter” streets. (This is New York, after all.) It was a great alternative to explore the city’s ethnic diversity and visit one of its most interesting Jewish areas: Williamsburg.

Our tour began on Second Avenue as we picked up our bikes at the Pedal Pusher Bike Shop on the Upper East Side. Equipped with helmets and Velcroed ankle ties to keep pants from getting caught in bike chains, we headed south, single file, to 60th Street. We schlepped our bikes up a flight of stairs and wheeled them on to a massive tram for a ride over the East River. Featured in the smash film “Spider-Man,” this Swiss-made ski tram was installed about 30 years ago. It is one of the few of its kind operating in an urban setting. Surrounded by windows on all sides, the 360-degree view was spectacular.

Within minutes we landed on Roosevelt Island. While we stopped and admired the views, Seidenstein explained how the island evolved into a “city within the city” as a refuge for smallpox victims, the insane and criminals. Once known as Welfare Island, it was filled with institutions and “undesirables” from the bigger city just across the river.

Seidenstein led us on our bikes across the island, pointing out landmarks along the way. When we reached the northern tip of the island facing Hell’s Gate, Gracie Mansion and the Triborough Bridge, Seidenstein read to us from Charles Dickens, who visited the island 150 years ago and described the “ugly nakedness of these houses of hell.”

To leave the island, we pedaled up the 59th Street Bridge to Queens, then past the former Pepsi-Cola plant to Long Island City, where we stopped at a small park at the end of the railroad tracks. With the beautiful backdrop of the city behind him, Seidenstein recalled the history of the neighborhood and how barges met trains delivering goods destined for the city.

As we made our way into the heart of the neighborhood, Seidenstein pointed out the ethnic mix of the area. Examples were everywhere. A Spanish bodega called Los Amigos Deli stood in the shadow of the Italian Manetta Ristorante.

Soon after we were in Greenpoint, a Polish-Russian neighborhood that also has an Islamic presence. Mosques and Orthodox churches stand practically side by side. While the rest of our group, which wasn’t Jewish, went on to eat in a non-kosher Thai restaurant, I continued on to Williamsburg, with the plan that our group would join me there after lunch.

I had a great time exploring this Chasidic neighborhood on bike, meandering down the streets and into a few shops. An estimated 60,000 Satmars call Williamsburg home, and I found myself amid the Sabbath eve bustle. I felt a bit out of place as a modern woman with a bicycle in tow, but knowing that I was soon to be joining their pre-Shabbat rush, I also felt a certain kinship and an appreciation for their traditional way of life and the preservation of many important Jewish values.

When the rest of the tour group rejoined me soon after, Seidenstein asked me to translate Hebrew writing spray-painted on the sidewalk that encouraged the observance of the “holy Shabbos.” As we stood there discussing the Satmar way of life, the local bus rolled by, the words “Williamsburg Trolley” spelled out above the windshield in Hebrew letters.

From Williamsburg we continued onward past a few other sites, including the old Navy Yard, where director Steven Spielberg has purchased property to build a “Hollywood of the East.”

Leaving Brooklyn, the Friday traffic was heavy, but the view of Lower Manhattan was well worth it. Our ascent onto the Brooklyn Bridge was the perfect finale. The expansive skyline unfolded to our left and right. Once we reached the halfway point, Seidenstein wowed us with more historic details about the fascinating construction of this architectural masterpiece.

For more information, call (877) 865-0078 or visit

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A foursome was tramping the fairway toward the seventh hole at Hillcrest Country Club last Saturday when two coyotes appeared from out of the shrubs. The golfers were close enough to see that one animal was female and the other clearly male. That’s how close they were.

Every creature froze: the men gripping their seven irons; the coyotes watching, waiting for someone to do something stupid.

The thing about this encounter is that Hillcrest is about as urban as courses get. The wildlife corridor of the Santa Monica Mountains comes to a screeching halt at Sunset, five miles and who knows how many stoplights, intersections, animal control officers and speeding cars north. To the south are more homes, Interstate 10, more sprawl.

Hillcrest is a mid-city oasis. Acres of grass and trees and lawn sprinklers, with all the squirrels a wild dog could eat and the occasional Arnold Palmer left out on the patio to sip from. But I couldn’t imagine how any wild animal without wings could get there.

It turns out that in 2004 there were 1,100 coyote sightings in metropolitan Los Angeles and 955 for the Valley. There were 12 sightings in Beverly Hills — up from four the year before — and several on the UCLA campus. Amazing how much ground a creature can cover when it’s not stuck in Westside traffic.

There are a lot of places you can go –metaphorically — with these coyotes.

“The Sopranos” on HBO has developed a leitmotif out of wild things coming in and out of mob boss Tony’s life: a bear on the back lawn, waterfowl in the pool, a talking sea bass on his boat. Animals bring out the humanity in Tony, like for when he beat a guy senseless for sitting on a poodle.

You could also remark on how fitting it is that among the movers and shakers at Hillcrest, there are not a few who would meet their match in this animal.

“It’s not enough to be clever,” a wealthy and successful friend of mine tells me. “You also have to be lucky.”

Mark Twain called coyotes, “the most friendless of God’s creatures,” but clever and lucky works just as well.

And that’s the metaphor I’m sticking with here, on the eve of the New Year.

We learned four years ago, on Sept. 11, that the world is not a safe place. But evidently one lesson was not enough for it to sink in. If Sept. 11 showed that life can change in an instant, this entire year demonstrated that life’s very essence is unpredictable, ever-changing, unknowable.

Hurricanes, floods, terror attacks, terror threats — all around us we witnessed the ever-present danger and uncertainty that for most people, through most of human history, has defined human existence. Here today, wiped out tomorrow.

It took awhile, but the realization seems to have taken hold.

“I suppose after Sept. 11 some were a little Pollyanna-ish,” Fifth District Councilman Jack Weiss told me. “That is, some seemed to believe we could deal with this problem and it would go away. Some also believed that it couldn’t happen here again.”

If the raw fear has ebbed, the feeling of invincibility, of safety, has never fully returned.

Every year since Sept. 11, the High Holidays have brought heightened security concerns and more elaborate precautions, but this year even more so. An LAPD closed-door security briefing for synagogues at ths Simon Wiesenthal Center organized by Weiss’ office was better attended than in past years, and the questions were more direct, more palpably fearful.

Never in history have Jews been as economically, culturally and politically free and powerful. Yet our places of worship feel more vulnerable as ever. We have the freedom of prayer — behind security cameras and armed guards.

And just when we believe we have the hatches battened against man-made terror, here come the natural disasters to remind us that man plans and God laughs.

“Who shall live and who shall die?” we read in the High Holiday liturgy. “Who by fire? Who by water?”

We needn’t be resigned to our fates — or the fates others might wish upon us — but we may want to step back and acknowledge, for once, just how much of life is not ours to control. We can only do our best to protect ourselves and fulfill our promise, knowing all the while the hour is late, the future is uncertain and the coyote is at the door.

Happy New Year.

 

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, October 1

Ditch the stuffy fundraising dinners in favor of two benefits this weekend that actually sound fun. Today’s “Hugs for Ari” is a carnival-style dinner-dance at the Santa Monica Pier. Huge auction prizes like tickets to Pearl Jam in Buenos Aires, plus roaming magicians and clowns and free rides on the giant carousel make the event adult and kid-friendly, all while helping the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. (See Sunday’s listing for our other benefit “pick.”)

6:30 p.m. $125 (adults), $50 (children). Santa Monica Pier Carousel, Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (323) 655-8525.

Sunday, October 2

The Los Angeles Conservancy makes the bold attempt of “turning Los Angeles into a living museum,” starting today with “Curating the City: Wilshire Boulevard.” The one-day, self-guided architectural tour of L.A.’s historic street includes docent-led tour sites along the route, including one at Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

$12.50-$35. (213) 623-2849. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Monday, October 3

A timely CD for the High Holidays recently released by the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music is an all-Leonard Bernstein recording of “Kaddish, Symphony No. 3,” a deeply personal and reflective work that is the last version of several Bernstein rewrote over the years, and “Chichester Psalms,” a setting of Psalm texts performed by chorus, boy soloist and orchestra.

$5.99. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Tuesday, October 4

Your favorite red-headed “hard-knock life” orphan returns to Los Angeles for just two weeks beginning tonight. “Annie” runs through Oct. 16 at the Pantages, starring the miraculously still ticking and working Mackenzie Phillips as Lily St. Regis. The show also features a new song by original songwriters Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse, “Why Should I Change a Thing?”

$25-$68. 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500.

Wednesday, October 5

For those who never quite got what all the fuss was about with classical music, Robert Kapilow is here to answer, “What Makes It Great?” Hallowed for his Leonard Bernstein-esque ability to make classical music accessible to the masses, Kapilow dissects Mozart this evening at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, with the help of the New Hollywood String Quartet.

7:30 p.m. $18. 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. (562) 916-8510. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Thursday, October 6

Jew and Latino find a meeting place at the Casa del Mexicano, a Boyle Heights synagogue-cum-Latino community center, thanks to Collage Dance Theatre’s latest production, “The Entire World Is a Narrow Bridge.” The site-specific dance performance explores the history of the Boyle Heights neighborhood.

$40. Oct. 6-9, and 21-23. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Friday, October 7

Her name is Allois+. (Yep, there’s a plus sign in there.) And as intriguing as the plus sign, for which we’ve been given no explanation, is her art, for which we have. To quote the quixotic artist on her figurative paintings, “Painting is like breathing to me, an escape from reality to my own private world. I imagine this world like a small submarine, my Nautilus, where I am captain. I stake everything on the unusual and on surpassing the real,…” “Allois, Works on Metal, Canvas and Paper” runs through Oct. 15 at Lev Moross Gallery.

962 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 512-0151.

Wild Ride With Wildlife in Miami


 

Stretching along the popular beachfront area of Miami, approximately 650,000 Jewish residents support more than 100 synagogues, several Jewish community centers and abundant kosher restaurants, including authentic Thai food. The South Florida city even employs a full-time kashrut supervision department.

So on a recent trip to Miami, I indulged in Thai food and a few other favorites. Along with spotting baby alligators in the wild, viewing ancient art and other treasures, that meal was one of many memorable highlights.

We couldn’t skip the Everglades, one of the most well-known sites in Florida. Since we were on limited time over a long weekend, a friend and I opted for an airboat ride in the Everglades Alligator Farm.

With 10 other passengers, our craft launched from a canal filled with adult and adolescent alligators swimming just feet away. Their amphibious compadres, soft-shelled turtles, resemble snakes swimming with their heads above water.

As we took off, the boat’s engine roared so loudly that our driver instructed us to stuff our ears with complimentary cotton balls. We floated along as he pointed out the wildlife, alligator tracks and a breeding den. He spoke so loud, we could hear him even with the cotton.

When we neared an expansive glade he warned us to hold on. Suddenly, as if levitating on a flying carpet, we were airborne. The sensation was remarkable; the moment magical. We were weightless, skimming along gentle curves, skirting above the water and the abundant grasses. As far as the eye could see, there were only the Everglades: a clear blue sky, water and grasses spreading in every direction.

Then suddenly, the driver changed course, taking us in a 180-degree turn. He immediately accelerated again, then spun us in full circle. After a handful of more wild spins that created giant splashes and left us laughing for more, we headed back to an open stretch that led to the mainland.

There we took in a snake show, where we handled a magnificent albino python with striking yellow and white skin that was cool to the touch. We also toured the breeding ponds on a nature trail. Covered with a bright green moss, the alligators lay still, many of them just visible with their scales skimming the surface and their beady eyes staring above the water.

On our return trip, we dropped anchor at Robert Is Here, which specializes in exotic fruits. With delicacies such as monstera deliciosa, which looks like a giant green ear of corn but tastes like banana-pineapple pudding, you could easily say the blessing for tasting new fruits again and again. Mamey, atemoya, longan, canestel, anon, sapodilla, sapote and many other natural treats all qualify at this “Shehecheyanu store.”

Our next unique destination was Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, a majestic bay-front villa established between 1914 and 1916 by American farm equipment manufacturer James Deering as his winter home. Designed in the style of Italian Renaissance villas, the estate originally spanned 180 acres and resembled a typical northern Italian village with a dairy, poultry house, mule stable, greenhouse, machine shop, paint and carpentry workshop and staff residences.

The fully restored mansion was made to look as if a family had lived in it for 400 years, adding its own period furnishings, neoclassical, rococo and much more. As a result, Vizcaya contains one of the finest collections of European decorative arts from the 16th through 19th centuries. Vizcaya was purchased by Miami-Dade County in 1952 and now functions as an art house museum.

We capped off our Florida adventure at Thai Treat & Sushi, located just a few minutes drive from The Shul at Bal Harbour, where we spent Shabbat. Opened two years ago by a Thai and Indian couple, June and Naresh Choudhury, the kosher restaurant’s extensive menu features truly authentic Thai specialties.

We were sold on two superb dishes. Rich and flavorful Tom Kha Kai soup featured chicken in coconut milk, fresh mushrooms, lemongrass and lime juice. The exceptional Thai Basil Special featured chicken (or tofu or beef) sauteed with bell peppers, mushrooms and onions, chili paste and fresh herbs.

We were so taken by the captivating Thai flavors, we gave the sushi only a taste. The yummy vegetable combo, like all the sushi platters and bento boxes, was beautifully presented (and available with brown rice instead of white). We washed it all down with refreshing Thai iced tea.

The chef also recommended chicken and beef satay, montod — fries made from sweet potato and coconut — and spring rolls. We were far too stuffed for more. At least we know what we’ll try when we return — as if we really needed a reason.

Thai Treat & Sushi. Sans Souci Plaza, 2176 N.E. 123rd St., North Miami. (305) 892-1118.

The Everglades Alligator Farm. 40351 S.W. 192 Ave., Homestead. (305) 247-2628; everglades.com.

Robert Is Here. 19200 S.W. 344th St., Homestead. (305) 246-1592; www.robertishere.com.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. 3251 S. Miami Ave., Miami. (305) 250-9133; vizcayamuseum.org.

 

A Hard Rain


 

In the winter of 1861-1862, the skies in California let loose, unleashing torrents of water around the state. In Los Angeles, rain fell for 28 straight days, pushing the Los Angeles River higher and higher until a waist-high wall of water jumped its banks, ripping away everything in its path.

My great-great-grandfather, Isaias Hellman, who was 19 at the time, got caught in the turgid waters. He had arrived from Bavaria three years earlier — part of a group of Jews who left their small town in Reckendorf — to work as a clerk in a dry-goods store owned by his two older cousins. The store was set in a row of shops in Bell’s Row, a two-story block-long commercial building on the southeast corner of Aliso and Los Angeles streets. The Row had long been the favored location for the pueblo’s sizable group of Jewish merchants. Many early settlers who would later play crucial roles in transforming the small town into a modern American city had their first stores there, including Isaiah and Samuel Hellman, Solomon Lazard, Philip Sichel, Wolf Kalisher, Henry Wartenberg and others.

The surging waters from the Los Angeles River rushed through the small downtown, carrying driftwood, mud and sand as it enveloped the row of shops. Hellman, who not long before had made his home in the store’s back room, rushed with his two cousins to salvage any goods they could. As the three men started to grab shoes, books, tobacco and other goods, the saturated adobe walls started to crumble and they were forced to flee.

When the floodwaters receded, Los Angeles had been transformed. The façade of the Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, which had stood sentinel in the Plaza for 40 years, melted away, its straw and mud bricks unable to withstand the water’s onslaught. The cascading river ripped out thousands of grapevines. Sand lay a foot thick over once-fertile orchards. Roads became so impassable that Los Angeles went without mail for five consecutive weeks.

The entire state suffered that year. From early November to the end of January, 37 inches of rain fell in San Francisco. Rain and melting snow turned the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys into an inland sea, 250-300 miles long and 20-60 miles wide. When the rain stopped, it made the news: “On Tuesday last the sun made its appearance,” The Los Angeles Star noted. “The phenomenon lasted several minutes and was witnessed by a great number of persons.”

The heavy rains were followed by two years of drought, years of sun and wind so relentless the grasses that covered the valleys and gentle hills running from Los Angeles to the ocean 20 miles away turned a brittle brown. Most of the cattle that roamed the hills began to die and travelers taking the stage from the port of San Pedro to Los Angeles saw hills heaped with decaying carcasses. The number of cows in the county dropped from 70,000 to 20,000.

Weather has always been an important determinant in Los Angeles’ history. The twin effects of floods and drought from 1861-1864 completely finished off whatever remained of the rancho way of life, where dons reigned over thousands of acres of land and huge herds of cattle. Many of the Spanish Californios were forced to sell their land to stay solvent, opening the way for the rise of the Yankee economy. The disasters also ruined many small businesses, including that of Hellman’s cousins. It changed the city’s architecture as businessmen replaced adobe buildings with brick structures.

But those living in Southern California regarded the disasters as aberrant and moved quickly to repair the damage. The Hellman cousins and other affected merchants relocated their businesses and learned an important lesson about frontier life: to succeed, one had to be flexible and change with the ever-evolving economy. Soon boosters began promoting the region as a place like no other, blessed by sun and fertile soil and ease of life. The rains hit hard again in 1884, when more than 38 inches caused widespread flooding, but by that time most of America thought of Los Angeles as a Mediterranean paradise. Trainloads of settlers poured in, lured by the promise of a golden life. By 1890, more than 50,000 people lived in the city.

By that time my great-great-grandfather had spent 31 years in Los Angeles and had watched it transform from a dusty pueblo where fewer than 300 people spoke English to a bustling city. As the city grew, he prospered, eventually becoming one of the region’s largest landowners and a major investor in the city’s water and gas companies. He was president of the Farmers and Merchants Bank for 45 years, lending funds to Harrison Gray Otis to buy the Los Angeles Times and to Henry Huntington to build the trolley cars that eventually crisscrossed Los Angeles. He helped build the city’s first temple, B’nai B’rith.

But from the time of the 1862 rains, he always kept a close eye on the weather, frequently noting it in his letters and diaries. He knew that living in Los Angeles meant floods and droughts and even earthquakes, but he didn’t let those threats defeat him. California had become his home and he refused to let nature push him away.

Frances Dinkelspiel has been delving into the history of Jews in California for the past few years as part of her biography of Isaias W. Hellman. A former reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, Dinkelspiel’s freel-ance work has appeared in the New York Times, People, San Francisco Magazine and other venues. She can be reached at FDinkelspiel@yahoo.com.

 

The Grand Old Jews of York


 

In 1773, when Capt. Alexander Graydon visited York, Pa., it was a married Jewish hostess who captured his attention.

“[T]here was but a single house in which I found that sort of reception which invited me to repeat my visit; and this was the house of a Jew,” he wrote of Shinah [Shaynah] Etting in his memoirs.

“In this I could conceive myself at home, being always received with ease, with cheerfulness, and cordiality,” he continued. “Those who have known York, at the period I am speaking of, cannot fail to recollect the sprightly and engaging Mrs. E., the life of all the gaiety that could be mustered in the village; always in spirits, full of frolic and glee and possessing the talent of singing agreeable, she was an indispensable ingredient in the little parties of pleasure which sometime took place.”

Shaynah and her merchant husband, Elijah, considered the first Jewish residents of York, also were among the country’s Jews of record. And their story is among the handful of surprising Jewish connections in York, the country’s first legal capital, where the Continental Congress adopted the Articles of the Confederation on Nov. 15, 1777.

Visitors to this charming industrial center, which describes itself as the “Factory Tour Capital of the World,” can choose from an eclectic mix of attractions. York also hosts fascinating Colonial buildings such as the Golden Plough Tavern. In the adjacent home, complete with pots hanging over the hearth and an authentic spinning wheel, a bonneted tour guide introduced a reporter to the story of the Ettings.

I found out still more from “Never to Be Forgotten” by James McClure, historian and managing editor of the York Daily Record. The book is sold for about $14 at the York County Heritage Trust gift shop in the downtown visitors center.

The Ettings’ most prominent son, Solomon, who moved with Shaynah to Baltimore after her husband died, went on to lead the efforts to pass the “Jew Bill,” which allowed Jews to become elected officials in Maryland. After its enactment in 1826, Solomon Etting would become one of the first Jews in that state to hold office.

Another son, Reuben, was enlisted during the Revolutionary War despite the customary exclusion of Jews. Reuben, after a brilliant military career in which he reached the rank of captain, was then appointed by Thomas Jefferson to be the U.S. marshal for the District of Maryland.

A tour of nearby downtown streets reveals one of York’s most honored modern-day heroes, Rabbi Alexander Goode. His visage looks down upon York from a large outdoor mural, one of a popular downtown series, which depicts the blue beauty of dawn at sea.

The former spiritual leader of the Reform Temple Beth Israel was aboard the USS Dorchester during World War II when it was struck by a torpedo off the coast of Greenland. In the ensuing panic, Goode gave his gloves to a Coast Guard officer, enabling him to cling to a lifeboat for hours before rescue. Goode, who also forfeited his lifejacket and seat in a lifeboat, joined arms with three fellow chaplains and lifted his voice in prayer as the ship took them to their death.

The U.S. Senate awarded “The Four Chaplains” Medals of Heroism. An interfaith chapel dedicated to their memory stands at Valley Forge. And a York elementary school, which contains another mural, is named in Goode’s memory.

Just outside the city of York, the local Jewish Community Center (JCC) receives the support of a Jewish community estimated at 500 to 900 families, depending on the source. The JCC houses a striking Holocaust memorial wall sculpture.

In an unusual piece of Jewish trivia, one of the world’s leading motorcycle makers based here reportedly also has Jewish roots. The Davidson half of the legendary Harley-Davidson company, which began operating in York in 1903, is presumed to have been Jewish.

I stayed at The Yorktowne Hotel, a national historic landmark, which opened in 1925. The hotel, at 48 E. Market St., is located near many tourist sites. For reservations and more information contact (800) 233-9324 or visit www.yorktowne.com.

For more information on tours and exhibits throughout York County, call (888) 858-9675 or visit www.yorkpa.org. Printed walking tour guides are available for a nominal fee.

“The Four Chaplains” mural is located on Market Street near Pershing Avenue, east of the visitors’ center. The “Harley-Davidson Tradition,” the first mural of the series, is located nearby on West Market Street between Newberry Street and Pershing Avenue.

The York JCC is at 2000 Hollywood Drive, (717) 843-0918. Two local congregations are the Reform Temple Beth Israel, 2090 Hollywood Drive (next door to the JCC), (717) 843-2676 and the Conservative Ohev Sholom Congregation, 2251 Eastern Blvd., (717) 755-2714.

For information on Harley-Davidson tours in York as well as Wauwatosa, Wis., and Kansas City, Mo., call (877) 883-1450 or visit

Yeladim


This week’s portion is named for Moses’ father-in-law, Yitro. Moses is exhausted because he spends the whole day talking to anyone who needs counseling or judgment. Yitro, who is visiting him, says: “You’ll kill yourself if you keep up at this pace. Get some people to help you.” And that’s exactly what Moses does.
Do your parents ever seem too exhausted to pay any attention to you? The best way you can help your parents out is by telling them you understand, that you know how much they love you and you know that they will give you the attention you need as soon as they are able.

Moses took care of 600,000 Jews. Today, there are 13.2 million of us in the whole world. That’s still not very many.
Here is a list of a few Jewish populations around the world.
Can you match the city or country to the amount of Jews who live there?
Send your answer to abbygilad@yahoo.com.

Israel   5,000,000
Los Angeles   600,000
India   120
France   360,000
Canada   2,000,000
New York   6,000
Tahiti   600,000

A Jewish Memory
Here is a story written by a sixth-grader.

A few years ago, my dad took me to visit my grandma, Helen, at the nursing home. She was 92, and had had a stroke four years earlier. No one could talk to her much because she was always sleeping. Through the years, she just got worse and worse until she couldn’t even open an eyelid.
When we got there, it was kind of a shock to me, since I hadn’t been there for so long. We finally found Grandma in a wheelchair in the patio. As usual, she was fast asleep. With her pale face and thinning hair, she did not look like the beloved grandmother I used to know. My father told me to talk to her. I tried but she didn’t move. I told jokes, laughed, whistled; I even acted out something funny that I had recently seen on TV, but my grandmother stayed still as a rock.
My dad saw my impatience, and said sympathetically: “Come on, honey, we can leave now,” he said.
But I didn’t budge. I felt I had a goal to attain, so I wouldn’t just let go.
“Let me try one last time,” I answered. I thought and thought, and just when I couldn’t think anymore, I remembered I knew a little Yiddish.
A few months ago had been Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. I, together with the rest of my class had sang many Holocaust songs including, “Zog Nit Keyn Mol.” I knew Grandma grew up speaking Yiddish with her five sisters in New York, so I gave it one more shot. I sang the song. Surprisingly, it worked. Grandma opened her eyes and smiled. And even though it was only for a brief second, I knew I would treasure that moment forever. I did.
Grandma died on Oct. 26, 2003.

How the Maccabees Reshaped Jerusalem


 

The Maccabees are celebrated throughout the Jewish world for recapturing Jerusalem for the Jews, rededicating the Temple and lighting lamps with a day’s supply of oil that miraculously lasted for eight days.

Less well-known, according to a leading Israeli archaeologist, is that the Maccabees also were major builders who transformed the face of Jerusalem and restored the centrality of the Temple in Jewish life.

“The problem is that Herod the Great built so thoroughly that many remains of the Maccabeans have almost disappeared,” said Dan Bahat, a senior lecturer at Bar-Ilan University who is spending the academic year lecturing at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto.

The Maccabeans, who founded the Hasmonean dynasty, likely inspired King Herod’s vision of the Temple, said Bahat, whose specialty is Jerusalem of the Second Temple period.

In recent years, the former chief archaeologist of Jerusalem has supervised the excavations of the Western Wall tunnel, the ancient subterranean passage that extends along the western perimeter of the Temple Mount.

A large water channel that was discovered in the tunnel has been accepted by many archaeologists as a Maccabean-built aqueduct and, according to Bahat, almost certainly is the most visible Maccabean relic in the Old City.

“This is the most important remain of Hasmonean Jerusalem today,” he said. “It’s an enormous ditch that was excavated from the surface in order to supply water to the fortress named Baris, which was the seat of the Maccabean family before they moved to a place in the area of today’s Jewish Quarter.”

The apocryphal Book of the Maccabees offers ample evidence that the legendary leaders of the Jewish revolt against the Greeks were great builders. As further evidence, Bahat cites the fine mosaics and frescoes excavated in various Maccabean palaces in Jericho.

But the Maccabees’ architectural footprint was almost fully erased in Jerusalem, especially on the Temple Mount, by King Herod’s massive construction projects.

Although the Book of the Maccabees relates that its heroes undertook projects to heighten the Temple Mount walls and remove a hill as a protective measure against the Greeks, there’s little chance of discovering even the slightest physical trace of these efforts, according to Bahat.

Without archaeological evidence, “it’s very difficult for us to decipher what exactly they have done,” he said. “But there’s no doubt the Maccabees greatly contributed” to the national “consciousness of the importance of the Temple. After the Maccabean period, there’s no question that the Temple was the center of Jewish life in all respects.”

He added, “The Maccabees made the Temple the most important thing in Jerusalem.”

In rebuilding the Temple, King Herod was guided by the measurements listed in the Book of Kings, but went beyond any scriptural references when it came to the Temple’s beautification.

“My question is, when he did all these works, where did he learn it from? What did he take it from? It must have been from the Maccabees,” Bahat said.

Born in 1938, Bahat grew up in the pre-state Yishuv at a time when Jewish access to the Old City of Jerusalem seemed a far-away dream. It was Professor Michael Ave-Yonah’s famous model of ancient Jerusalem in the Holy Land Hotel that first inspired him to study all available scriptures and texts about the Old City.

“I thought, ‘If he can do it, so can I,’ ” Bahat recalled. “I never imagined that I would ever really be in the Old City of Jerusalem, so I thought that at least theoretically, I could get to know it very well.”

He chose to specialize in the Second Temple period because the era marked “the apex of Jerusalem as a Jewish city,” he said. “Remember the saying, ‘The one who hasn’t seen Jerusalem hasn’t seen a beautiful city in his life.’ Or the other saying, ‘Of the 10 parts of beauty in the world, Jerusalem took nine.'”

When Bahat attained his bachelor’s degree from Hebrew University in 1964, Jerusalem still was divided and there was a paucity of literature in Hebrew about the Old City.

“Most of the study of Jerusalem was done by non-Jews, mainly by Christians interested in the city where Jesus walked,” he recalled.

The restoration of Jewish sovereignty over the Old City in 1967 prompted an unprecedented boom of Jewish-led archaeological investigations.

“The result of that is that today our knowledge of Jerusalem has increased immensely,” Bahat said. “We can’t compare our knowledge of Jerusalem in 1967 to what we know today.”

Possibly the only authority anywhere on the topography of Jerusalem in the Middle Ages, Bahat is a fervent nationalist and lover of history who knows many passages of scripture by heart but says he is not religiously observant.

Bahat has lectured to Christian groups around the world on Jerusalem in the time of Jesus and once was invited by Pope John Paul II to do so at the Vatican. He seems equally versed on Jerusalem in the eyes of Islam, and did his doctoral thesis on Jerusalem in the Crusader period.

During his 40 years as an archaeologist, Bahat has produced dozens of books and papers, including the well-known “Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem” and a popular illustrated volume two years ago on the Western Wall tunnel.

Although his specialty is Jerusalem, Bahat also has worked on many major archaeological digs in Israel, including the ancient synagogue in Beit Shean and the mountaintop fortress at Masada. It was at Masada that he made one of his most remarkable finds: a group of shards with Hebrew names on them, dating from the moment of the dramatic fall of the Jewish stronghold to the Romans in 73 C.E.

But Bahat continues to focus most of his scholarly attention on the city to which he has devoted much of his career.

“All my life is based on studying Jerusalem,” he said. “It’s a lifetime job, it’s not a simple thing. It’s a multifaceted city. The field is so complex and so complicated, but so interesting. So I’m kind of addicted to Jerusalem.”

 

Billion-Dollar Plan on Line in Fight for 11th


 

Quick geography quiz: In the past half century, which region has seen only a handful of leaders, and today is focused on a controversial multibillion-dollar reconstruction project?

No, it’s not Iraq. Welcome to the Westside — or more specifically, the 11th City Council District.

In March, City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski will be termed out of office. Two well-connected front-runners, Bill Rosendahl and Flora Gil Krisiloff, are already battling for the prize of representing the quarter-million people — including the sizable Jewish communities in places like Brentwood and Pacific Palisades.

From the LAX expansion to the Skirball and the Getty, from the Pacific to the Ballona Wetlands, there is a lot at stake, and both candidates know it. At first glance, they actually seem to have a lot in common.

Both are tired of gridlock, especially near the airport. Both want more responsible development. Both are longtime L.A. residents with a passion for public policy. And neither has ever been a politician.

“The transportation traffic headaches have turned into gridlock. Regional issues haven’t been worked on regionally,” Rosendahl said in an appeal to Southern California unity. “The 88 cities in L.A. County have to work together to solve these problems. An L.A. problem is also a Santa Monica problem, a West Hollywood and a Culver City problem.”

Rosendahl said he would push for a regional summit on transportation and a light rail line from downtown to the coast.

On the issue of gridlock, Krisiloff notes one of her proudest accomplishments: The work of the San Vicente Design Review Board. “That’s a four-lane highway that’s ended up being very pedestrian friendly,” Krisiloff told The Journal. “We were ahead of the curve 20 years ago in having a vision for that street.”

Crucially, both Krisiloff and Rosendahl also oppose Miscikowski’s deal with Mayor James Hahn on the expansion of LAX — a plan that calls for a major overhaul, including moving passenger check-in to a new structure in Manchester Square and tearing down three existing terminals at a cost of $11 billion.

Rosendahl, in his usual style, advocates the regional approach. “When I looked at LAX, I thought of the three airports that serve the New York area. But for some reason in Los Angeles, it’s all at LAX on the Westside,” he said.

He said he would support modernization of LAX, but only up to the 78 million-passengers-per-year mark (the current promised expansion limit). He said Los Angeles needs to provide incentives for airlines to fly nonstop from Ontario Airport to take the pressure off of LAX and the Westside.

Krisiloff bristles at the thought of another broken LAX promise. “With the [Miscikowski] LAX master plan, there’s no constraint that will honor what all the mayoral candidates pledged three years ago that growth would be held at 78 million passengers per year.”

“It’s all about trust,” Krisiloff said. She spoke of the hazards of unchecked LAX expansion for the communities in that area in terms of rising health risks and traffic.

But, similar policies aside, Krisiloff and Rosendahl have very different perspectives on how politics work.

Rosendahl has a background in media, and mass communication is his metaphor. “We are a megalopolis of some 15 [million] to 18 million people that has no center pulling together the community,” he said. “Our television and our radios and our newspapers are the way that people interact.” Rosendahl used his media expertise to produce numerous public-affairs TV shows on issues ranging from Los Angeles politics to the Middle East peace process, including an interview with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Even today he educates others as a professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills, teaching such courses as Media & Politics and Public Affairs Television.

But despite his laudable emphasis on public awareness through the media, he still faces association with his maligned former employer: Adelphia Communications. That fraud-ridden media corporation has no part in any politician’s ideal resume.

“I’m a victim of Adelphia’s corruption,” Rosendahl explained. “I lost my job in a layoff, I lost all my stock value.”

“I’m not a yes man, and I stood up to these corporate people,” Rosendahl said of his campaign to increase wages for his workers while at Adelphia. “In my last two years at Adelphia, I produced my [public-affairs] shows and had no operating responsibilities,” he added.

Krisiloff’s background is rooted in the nonprofit and community organizations of West Los Angeles, such as the Los Angeles West Area Planning Commission and the Brentwood Community Council.

“I come from the neighborhoods, the community, from the trenches,” Krisiloff said.

She said her experience with West Los Angeles has taught her to take the public’s concerns on development especially seriously. One of Krisiloff’s best known battles took place in Washington, D.C., as she lobbied to save the Veterans Administration buildings near Brentwood from commercial development.

“I was working with [Rep. Henry] Waxman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Barbara Boxer, with the mayor, with Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky,” Krisiloff said. “The process was really flawed and I demanded a new master plan. They told me it would never happen. Well, a couple months ago we were told by the secretary of Veteran’s Affairs that we will get it.”

On the question of garnering Jewish support, Rosendahl has more well-known ties to the community, including friend Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, Western regional director of the American Jewish Committee. One of his many television programs, “Mideast Perspective,” was focused on that most emotional of issues to many American Jews.

Rosendahl’s base of support, as a matter of fact, is its own unique story. Candidates in Los Angeles must disclose their campaign contributors. Rosendahl has been funded by such varied figures as Peter Camejo (Ralph Nader’s 2004 vice presidential running mate), Bush/Cheney 2004 Jewish liaison Bruce Bialosky, California Democratic Party Chair Art Torres and, perhaps expectedly, the Adelphia Political Action Committee.

Those names certainly give merit to Rosendahl’s claim of bringing together people of all political inclinations, a skill he says he learned from hosting guests on public-affairs TV.

But Krisiloff is not worried. “I always say the difference is not what we’re promising or what we’re identifying now as problems, because in the end we’re all going to sound alike in terms of the rhetoric,” she said. “So how do you differentiate? I have a 20-year track record of leadership in West Los Angeles.”

Clearly, the fight for the 11th has been a long time coming. It promises not to disappoint in 2005.

 

Wilshire: Boulevard of Sanctuaries


Wilshire Boulevard’s stature as the grand concourse of Los Angeles is due in part to its many architecturally distinct synagogues and churches. Those located in the Wilshire Center district, between LaFayette Park and about Western Avenue, are some of the most notable and serve some of the city’s oldest congregations.

The boulevard in the 1920s was the natural place for the institutions and their members to relocate. They saw that, in the future, downtown’s narrow, congested streets would no longer be the center of the community. Los Angeles was turning into a driving city, and Wilshire became the nation’s first Automobile Age thoroughfare. Religious establishments that wished to be part of the exciting future moved to Wilshire Boulevard.

On the boulevard of big dreams they constructed edifices on a grand scale to suit the surroundings. It was in the same era that architects gave Los Angeles proud, new symbols of aspiration, such as the marvelous City Hall and the museum-quality Bullock’s Wilshire department store. The new houses of worship also aspired to greatness. Their membership typically numbered in the thousands, and the pews were filled with mayors, judges, publishers and other movers.

Congregations didn’t need to advertise their addresses, just the corners: Wilshire at Berendo Street for Immanuel Presbyterian, Wilshire at Harvard Boulevard for St. Basil’s Catholic Church, Wilshire at St. Andrews Place for St. James Episcopal. They formed a community that crossed denomination lines. During the years around World War II, the Christian churches joined for an annual procession on Easter Sunday. At the conclusion of services, worshippers would jam the sidewalks to watch cars promenade along Wilshire.

Neighbors took care of one another. The congregation at Wilshire Boulevard Temple welcomed offers to hold High Holy Days services in the larger sanctuary at Immanuel Presbyterian, a few blocks to the east. The temple also held services inside the gorgeous Wilshire Christian Church, built at Normandie Avenue on land donated by the Chapman family, for whom Chapman University is named.

Likewise, when the original St. Basil’s burned down, Wilshire Boulevard Temple invited parishioners to worship in its sanctuary until a new Catholic church was finished. At the dedication of new St. Basil’s in 1969, Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin sat as an honored guest at Mass alongside John Francis Cardinal McIntyre.

Congregation B’nai B’rith had been the leading downtown synagogue at the time its members voted to relocate at Wilshire and Hobart boulevards. The new Wilshire Boulevard Temple served some of the city’s most respected and influential Jews.

At the dedication in 1929, banker Marco Hellman presented the ark, and Jack Warner, one of the studio-owning Warner brothers, bestowed colorful murals depicting the history of the Hebrew people painted by Hugo Ballin. The artist, whose work also decorates Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles and the lobby of the Los Angeles Times Building, painted on canvas in his Santa Monica studio, then mounted the murals around the 100-foot-high, mosaic-inlaid dome in the octagonal sanctuary.

Placing such prominent artwork in the synagogue was not typical of the time. But Rabbi Magnin hoped it would add warmth and an element of mysticism to the surroundings. The temple’s architecture by David Allison and Abraham Edelman is regarded as a work of art in itself. With Italian and Belgian marble, carved mahogany and inlaid gold, it is the only Wilshire Center religious home listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Allison was the Wilshire architect of choice in the 1920s. He is credited with designing the cathedral-like First Congregational Church on Commonwealth Street, across from LaFayette Park, the similarly regal Wilshire United Methodist near Windsor Square and the imposing First Baptist Church off the boulevard behind Bullock’s Wilshire. Allison also contributed the design for several of the original Italianate buildings at UCLA, including the stunning Royce Hall.

Like Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Immanuel Presbyterian opened in 1929. The acquisition of the land five years earlier had stirred up controversy among the members. Some opposed the idea of giving up the prestige of being downtown to start over as a country church. Today, Immanuel Presbyterian is the most Gothic-looking structure found along Wilshire, dark and brooding with a soaring bell tower and windows by the historic Judson Studios and Dixon Art Glass Co. Gothic chandeliers hang inside the massive sanctuary, capable of seating 2,000 worshippers.

These days, the congregations in mid-Wilshire are not as large as at the district’s peak. But their establishments all stand as important monuments to the dreamers who saw where Los Angeles was headed and knew how to get there.

Adapted from “Wilshire Boulevard” by Kevin Roderick, to be published next year.

Image and Reality in L.A.


Critics say Los Angeles is all image. The city, they claim, presents an illusion to the world much like the movies Hollywood projects on its big screens. The myth goes that it’s a city of facades, with the favored tools are the editor’s airbrush or the plastic surgeon’s scalpel. There are no friendships here, only contacts and connections, they say.

After five years on “extended vacation” in Southern California, I have found these statements far more superficial than the city they decry. As a permanent resident of the tormented Middle East, my time here has left me in awe of the wide variety of religions, colors, languages and life philosophies that intermingle in Los Angeles. To be a minority is to be in the majority in Los Angeles, and despite its fragmented sprawl, coexistence is real, with each community adding to the flavor of the city.

That is not to say, however, there aren’t absurd aspects about life in Los Angeles. There is, for example, the infatuation with cars and the impossibly tangled web of freeways. When we bump into people, it is likely in the most literal sense — a fender bender on the 405.

It is little wonder that I learned one of Los Angeles’ more important lessons with the help of my car. Traveling alone on the 10 Freeway opened my eyes to the multitude of faces, languages, cuisines and cultures that run into each other here. Starting in Venice, stereotypical images of Los Angeles abound — from beach bums soaking in the sun to fitness fanatics pumping iron at Muscle Beach. Moving east, the Jewish neighborhood of the Pico corridor became a second home for me. On my way downtown, I stopped in Koreatown, historic Adams and eventually East Los Angeles, making friends in each community: each group diverse, each group proud, each group American.

I traveled this freeway and others often during my tenure here, visiting a variety of communities along the way. What I have learned here has given me a “Thomas Guide” of sorts to maneuver and navigate through our differences to arrive ultimately at our similarities.

Dorothy Parker once described Los Angeles as “72 suburbs in search of a city,” but I sometimes wonder how badly they really want to find it. The communities I passed on my drive down the 10 didn’t seem to be looking for it; they already appeared to be perfectly at home and at peace as Angelenos. On July 4, for instance, people from all over this city simply don’t appear interested to gather en masse at some civic center, but prefer neighborhood parades, local fireworks displays and backyard barbeques.

Despite this geographic disconnection, the people of Los Angeles are nonetheless remarkably united. They share the same debates about Kobe vs. Shaq, the same frustrations with the traffic, the same concerns about schools and public safety, the same appreciation for the amazing beauty and vibrant cultural life that Los Angeles has to offer. Most importantly, the diverse population of this city shares a truly laudable spirit of respect and tolerance for “the other.” There have been, of course, many tough times. However, friendships and relationships that transcend ethnicity and religion are the norm here. By and large, people relate to each other as individuals — not as groups, not as categories, not as stereotypes. As coming from the Middle East, where ethnic divisions have paralyzed us, I am in awe of the positive cross-cultural interaction between the people of Los Angeles.

It is easy to see the problems from the inside — social and economic inequality, tensions that sometimes bubble to the surface, the challenge of educating 750,000 children who collectively speak more than 80 languages. It would be easy to focus on the chaotic events that have marked my time here: the energy crisis, wildfires, earthquakes and the recall election.

Yet, for an outsider, Los Angeles is something of a miracle. At the end of the day, you see millions of people from every background imaginable living side by side, working together and forging a future under the bright California sun. In today’s world, where terrorism, prejudice and hatred widen the already existing gaps between peoples, this is an inspiration. As I return to my own homeland, I carry with me the hope and promise that Los Angeles offers to the future — a fitting going-away present from the city of dreams.


Ambassador Yuval Rotem served as consul general of Israel in Los Angeles from September 1999 to August 2004.

A New Relationship


A relationship with a new city is like a relationship with a new guy. At first, you compare a lot — my ex had better nicknames for me; he made the bed in the morning. My ex was the one for me, and now I’m just marking time before becoming that old lady in line at the bagel shop who talks to her slippers.

You feel in your bones the sudden drop in comfort level with this new entity. You have to close the door when you pee. You have to explain who people are when you’re gossiping about them. You have to take it from the top. It’s a tedious process. And you wonder why we all know one of those couples who should have broken up a long time ago before they got in a rut and furnished it at IKEA.

Now, as for my comparison, settling into a new city can be similarly jarring. I’m not sure which I’ve done more of, but I know I’m not the only one with a trail of broken leases as long as her trail of broken relationships.

I’ve dug up and planted and dug up and replanted more roots than an obsessive-compulsive gardener.

And now I’m at it again, trying to make a go of it with this slick Pat Riley of a city called Manhattan. And as always, the relationship got off to a rough start, and I wanted nothing more than to go home. And my new therapist gave me her home number. And I didn’t know if I had lost my ability to start over.

It’s been six months since I relocated for work, "taking a break" from the love of my life, Los Angeles.

I didn’t want to love again, but it turns out we’re adaptable creatures. The other day, someone asked where to get a good cheesecake, and out of my mouth, smooth as ricotta, came "Junior’s in Brooklyn has the best. And they ship." And I let myself feel pretty good for knowing this, and for passing as a local more often than not, and for saying "Brooklyn" like I could tell you how to get there on the 4.

This city has won me over like a guy you go on a mercy date with but end up marrying because he remembers how you take your coffee and what size shoe you wear. It’s the little things that slowly weasel their way into your heart, that make you feel at home.

I have the name of a Chinese delivery place in my cellphone and need only speed dial my way to a dumpling delivery.

I hail a cab as easily as I used to parallel park.

I could tell you what cast members have been replaced in "Hairspray" on Broadway. I can find Broadway by foot.

Now I love my Lakers like Shaq loves his Escalade. Still, there’s something about finding your seat at Madison Square Garden that makes you feel like you’ve got this town wired. Sadly, you have to watch the Knicks once you get there, but if I can learn to love this city, maybe I can at least duty date its basketball team.

On the right night, I can climb out of my 400-square-foot apartment and sit on my fire escape and look down the block at doormen leaning on awning posts. I can watch little doggies in little sweaters strolling the Upper East Side, a neighborhood immortalized not only by "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" but also by famous fictional resident, Carrie Bradshaw.

I know how to describe a location as being "on 67 between one and two," instead of saying "on 67th Street between First and Second avenues." I know that Central Park starts on 59. Like I said, these are small things, but like the small apartments and small grocery store aisles here in the Big Apple, they grow on you.

Maybe that’s the only way to fall for a place as hard and humid and expensive and compressed as this one. You endure the hard parts so you can experience the simple pleasure of saying Brooklyn like you mean it.

How do you go from wanting to hurl yourself off the Staten Island Ferry to thinking you might just want to dock here for awhile? You let yourself. And having done so, I’m starting to think it might just be that simple with relationships, too. And here is the most deeply buried lead in the history of singles columns: I’ve got what some might call a "new boyfriend" in this new city (and by "some" I mean people without a crippling fear of commitment).

And that’s how I can tell you relocation is something that happens inside. It happens when you make up your mind to stop expecting a parade down Fifth Avenue and just let yourself stop and smell the toasted nuts on the corner.


Teresa Strasser writes from Manhattan where she is a feature reporter for Fox’s “Good Day Live.” She’s on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com.

Tel Aviv Emerges From Capital’s Shadow


Why aren’t you living in Jerusalem?”

I used to date a guy from Tel Aviv, and whenever we’d spend the weekends in my city, the capital of Israel, he’d get this question thrown at him every place we went.

“Are you a student?” people would ask, bemused. My Anglo immigrant friends could not understand why anyone would move to Israel and choose to live in Tel Aviv instead of the capital.

So many American Jews — from the ones that live in Israel to those who visit occasionally — love Jerusalem but know nothing about Tel Aviv, which is a sister city to Los Angeles.

“It’s just like New York, and if I want New York I’ll stay home,” they say, ignorantly.

Tel Aviv is one of the hippest cities in the world. Unfortunately, probably the only people who know this happen to live there. Tel Avivians are a breed unto themselves: cosmopolitan, fashionable, absurdist and cynical, these hipsters are so phat they make cool seem outdated. They are a new category of Israeli stereotype, different from the ones we are with: the kibbutznik, the Chasid, the settler, the soldier, etc.

Israel has always been somewhat of a stereotype or ideal to those who don’t live there. And Jerusalem — its capital status not always recognized by the rest of the world — is the epitome of that ideal. With its religious icons like the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and its sparkling white architecture of Jerusalem stone, in history, appearance and political importance it has outshined for years its sister city of Tel Aviv.

But now Tel Aviv’s second-tier status may change, as UNESCO — The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — will inaugurate Tel Aviv as a World Heritage Site on June 6, 2004, for its treasure of Bauhaus architecture.

Tel Aviv includes 4,000 buildings representative of the modern movement — a synthesis of architectural styles popular in Europe during the early 20th century, heavily influenced by the Bauhaus School of Art and Design. These buildings, built between 1931-1948, were designed by immigrant architects trained in Europe, who adapted the modern style to suit Tel Aviv’s culture and climate.

Bauhaus, which is also called International Style, is typified in Tel Aviv by right angles, flat roofs, stilt columns, balconies and asymmetry. Tel Aviv, which was established as a suburban alternative to Jaffa in 1909, with Jaffa becoming part in 1949, adapted Bauhaus because of the emphasis on practicality over style, and its stress on the social aspects, like housing for workers. Bauhaus was also quicker and cheaper to build; in addition, 17 Bauhaus architects lived in Tel Aviv. The buildings were painted white, giving Tel Aviv the nickname “The White City.”

The city was constructed based on an urban plan by Sir Patrick Geddes. Today, though, many of the buildings have fallen into disrepair. With its new designation as a World Heritage site, some might be restored. As part of the World Heritage Convention treaty adopted by UNESCO in 1972, the organization works to protect and preserve cultural and natural sites around the world considered of outstanding value to humanity.

“In these challenging times, receiving this extraordinary honor from UNESCO not only helps preserve our rich architectural heritage, but also reaffirms Tel Aviv’s place on the map as a choice cultural destination,” said Ron Huldai, mayor of Tel Aviv, prior to the June 6-8 celebration, which will include photography and urban planning exhibits, an architectural conference, a folk-song singalong, a party at the Tel Aviv Port and a boat race from Jaffa to Herzliya.

Tel Aviv is also the business capital of Israel. With more than 50 percent of Israel’s jobs in banking and finance, the city provides an overall source of employment for 14 percent of Israel’s workforce. Tel Aviv-Yafo is home to 400,000 residents, spread over an area of 50 square kilometers. That’s what gives the city its hustle — and at times pretentiousness: we are important people, with important ad campaigns/diamond deals/stock trades/TV shows to get done.

But Tel Aviv is really not like New York. In contrast to the more “uptight” Jerusalemites — as Tel Avivians call the politically charged city residents — Tel Aviv really has the most laid back people in the world.

It’s easy to see this combination of business and pleasure, for example, at the strip of hotels on Hayarkon Street. The Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel & Towers, named the best business hotel in Tel Aviv by Travel & Leisure, September 2002 edition, overlooks the sparkling Mediterranean and the lively promenade, not too far from Old Jaffa.

Just across the street from the Sheraton, modestly hidden behind a small storefront, is Israel’s top hairdresser, Shai Greenberg, who has won awards around the world for his innovation. But his real claim to fame is in North Tel Aviv, at Spa2b, one of the country’s first “day spas.” While Israel has long had spas at the Dead Sea, and two new ones up north, Spa2b represents the latest trend in Israeli health/wealth/fitness, the one-stop-shop day spa.

“We try to be first, the best in everything,” says Sharon Epstein, chair and marketing director of the spa, which offers hair, nail, waxing, massage and beauty treatments, a unique concept for the Israeli market.

Some of the latest and unique treatments include a Euyurveda Water treatment: After you change and robe yourself up in plush terry and slippers, you enter a small, softly lit room and lay on a hot marble slab. A masseuse scrubs you down with hot water and soap for five minutes. Then you step into a small rectangular mikvah-like station and submerge in hot water as a torrential outpouring covers your head, like a waterfall. The final five-minute station is a shower with dozens of hot-spraying jets. The procedures are designed to open pores, for whatever your main treatment is. Package prices run the gamut from about $80 to $400.

Spas, in a way, are about creating a market for Israelis, who only in the past few decades have acquired wealth and the habits of the wealthy. While there are now a number of day spas in Tel Aviv, it’s less about competition, Epstein says, than introducing to Israel the concept of pampering yourself.

“We’re trying to teach clients to understand that [to get treated] on a regular basis that changes everything,” Epstein said.

In these trying times, with the second intifada coming up to its fourth year, even the generally business-oriented, politically removed Tel Avivians feel terror’s toll.

“I’ll tell you something: during the hardest times of the pigua,” Epstein says, using the Hebrew word for terror attack, “we were in our peak. There’s something contrary — the worse things are, the more they’ll run away to a spa.”

For more information contact on Spa2b, visit
www.spa2b.com or call 011-972-3-644.0090. For more information on Tel Aviv
celebrations, visit www.white-city.co.il. For information on
booking a Bauhaus tour, contact either the Association for Tourism in Tel
Aviv-Jaffa 011-972-3516-6188, or the Bauhaus Center, 011-972- 3-522-0249. For
more information on the Sheraton Tel Aviv visit www.sheraton-telaviv.com .

Clarinetist Finds His Klezmer Voice


"I came to klezmer quite by accident," said virtuoso clarinetist David Krakauer.

He was a noted classical musician around 1987 when a chance encounter on a Manhattan bus changed the direction of his career.

Seated nearby was the accordionist from a klezmer band that played in front of Zabar’s, across the street from Krakauer’s 10th-floor apartment on the Upper West Side.

"The music used to waft up through my windows," he said. "Suddenly, I realized it had made an impression."

The son of a psychiatrist and a violinist, Krakauer had known little about Jewish music or culture growing up in an assimilated home in Manhattan. Yiddish was the language his grandparents had used when they did not want younger relatives to understand their conversation. At Juilliard, Krakauer assumed he would embark on a career of playing Brahms and Mahler with perhaps some jazz on the side. He did so while making a name for himself as a member of the Aspen Wind Quintet, by performing with new music groups such as Continuum and teaching at Vassar and the Manhattan School.

But Jewish music crept up on Krakauer, 42, who’ll perform his unique brand of nouveau klezmer at the Skirball Cultural Center March 21. Around 1978, he said, he attended a concert by the then-elderly clarinetist, David Tarras, who had merged klezmer and swing in the 1920s.

"He didn’t play so well anymore … but there was just something about his sound that gave me the shivers," Krakauer said. "[It] was the rhythm, the cadence, the way the sounds went up and down. It reminded me of my Belorussian grandmother’s voice, when she said things like ‘David, so nu?’"

Krakauer’s own gravely voice crackled with excitement as he recalled meeting that klezmer accordionist on the 104 bus headed uptown in the late 1980s.

"She asked me to recommend a clarinetist who could play with her band, and I think she assumed I’d name a student," he said. "Instead, the words spontaneously flew out of my mouth: ‘I’ll do it.’ It was as if I instinctively realized, ‘I know nothing about being Jewish, but I want to connect.’ I felt like klezmer could be my connection, through sounds, notes and music."

So Krakauer began studying old recordings, learning the proper ornaments and the lilting or frenetic technique required to perform traditional dances such as the doina or freylach. He played weddings and bar mitzvahs, assuming the endeavor would become a musical hobby, not a career.

But then he was invited to play with The Klezmatics, an American band spurring the exuberant klezmer revival of the 1980s. When he traveled to Germany with that group around 1989, he performed in front of thousands of dancing, cheering non-Jews. The same thing happened throughout Eastern Europe and especially in Poland, where Krakauer returned more than seven times to teach and perform. While coaching a group of young musicians in a ramshackle barn off a dirt road in Sejny, he recalled, even a dour farmer paused to tap his feet in the adjacent field.

Of the continuing non-Jewish obsession with klezmer, Krakauer said, "I think enough time has passed, since the Holocaust, for Europeans to wonder, ‘What Jewish culture have we been missing?’ We klezmorim are viewed as representatives of that part of the Eastern European soul that was destroyed in the Shoah."

But Krakauer, like The Klezmatics, wasn’t content just to perform traditional pieces in a straightforward style. In the mid-1990s, he formed his own band, Klezmer Madness!, which weds classic Jewish music with contemporary forms such as jazz, rock and hip-hop. Today, he is part of a wave of musicians who are continuing to push the klezmer envelope, according to Yale Strom, author of 2003’s "The Book of Klezmer." Such bands include the world fusion-infused Flying Bulgars and Strom’s Afro-Cuban Klazzj.

Krakauer’s latest forward-thinking CD is "Live in Krakow," which he recorded last year in the city that bears his name. The energetic album features samples and beatbox by DJ Socalled; it also includes Krakauer’s original composition, "Klezmer a la Bechet," based on an imaginary 1920s meeting between black New Orleans jazz clarinetist Sidney Bechet and the Ukrainian Jewish clarinetist Naftule Brandwein. Another track, "Love Song for Lemberg/Lvov," combines a waltzy melody with atonal sounds mimicking "screams of the Jewish dead," said Krakauer, who is still prominent in classical music circles.

But even as he stretches the genre, he still wants klezmer to sound like klezmer. It has to remind Krakauer of the music he heard wafting in through his windows back in 1987: "It has to suggest my grandmother’s voice," he said.

For information about the Skirball concert, call (310) 440-4500. For tickets, call (323) 655-8587.

Purim Briefs


Run and Deliver

Unless you are actually running the Los Angeles Marathon, the marathon and the myriad street closures are likely to inconvenience you. This year, as the marathon falls on Purim (March 7), it may inconvenience Jews delivering mishloach manot, or food packages traditionally delivered to friends and family.

The city has found a way for Purim revellers to run around the marathon. Adeena Bleich, the Jewish community liaison for City Councilman Jack Weiss, organized access through “soft closures” — not the actual marathon route, but close by — which will allow people delivering shalach manot to go through. The main street closures are going to be staggered from 4:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., so deliveries could be times for after 2 p.m.

Copies of the marathon map and street closure times were sent out to area synagogues to ensure limited interruptions in shalach manot giving.

For more information about street closures in your area,call Adeena Bleich at (310) 289-0353 or send e-mail to ableich@council.lacity.org . — Gaby Wenig, Staff Writer

Megillah for the Deaf

It is a mitzvah on Purim to hear the reading of Megillat Esther, the scroll that tells the holiday’s story. In fact, some rabbis say that if you miss hearing one word of the megillah, then you have not fulfilled your obligation.

Certainly, deaf people would have a hard time fulfilling this mitzvah. The Orthodox Union has responded with a way that deaf people can “hear” the megillah.

The Orthodox Union’s National Jewish Council for the Disabled (NJCD) came up with the “PowerPoint Megillat Esther Program,” a CD-ROM that can be loaded into a computer and then projected to the front of the synagogue. A hearing person operates the equipment, following along with the cantor and pointing out the words being read using the mouse of the computer, which are the highlighted, karaoke-style, on the screen. Every time the name Haman comes up, the word is clicked and a graphic of stamping appears on the screen to simulate what should be going on in the synagogue at that moment.

Frank Duchoeny, the Montreal coordinator of Our Way for the Jewish Deaf, a division of the NJCD, developed the program two years ago. This year the CD-ROM, which is available to synagogues for $100, comes with a number of additional features.

“This year’s version has new graphics for Haman and the blessings recited before and after the megillah reading, and it also highlights the psukim [verses] that are recited by entire congregation,” said Batya Jacobs, Our Way’s program director. “The mitzvah of hearing Megillat Esther is a requirement for every Jew. Using our PowerPoint program will facilitate the inclusion of our fellow Jews who are deaf or hard of hearing within the community in this mitzvah.”

For more information or to place an order, call (212)613-8127 or send e-mail to arielib@ou.org . — GW

The Comic Esther

Think your kids watch too many cartoons with no educational value? Have them check out “The Queen of Persia,” a feature-length animated video about the story of Purim, and a graphic novel of the same title based on the video’s screenplay. The novel reads something like a Purim version of the “Asterix” comics — a guilty pleasure with a lot of humor and color on every page.

Shazak Productions, a Chicago-based media company, produced the Purim media to teach children in a fun way, said Rabbi Moshe Moscowitz, the company’s founder. A teacher for two decades, Moscowitz wants the book to spice up classroom learning, and therefore kept the book and video faithful to the authentic biblical sources.

“I want to give teachers new tools that really excite students,” he said. “Whenever learning material is presented in an exciting way, people will learn better. Our goal is to capture the fancy of everyone. Everybody, regardless of background, could pick up [‘The Queen of Persia’] and have a blast.”

For more information or to order “The Queen of Persia”CD, book or video, go to www.shazak.com or e-mail njpmail@mindspring.com . — GW

Shalom Y’All


"Shalom Y’all" sounds suspiciously like a slogan designed to sell souvenirs to Jewish visitors in the American South, and indeed the phrase adorns T-shirts, mugs and other paraphernalia in the gift shop of Charleston’s Beth Elohim Synagogue.

But the drawled greeting is also common parlance amongst the Jews of South Carolina, who have enjoyed 300 years of virtually uninterrupted prominence and prosperity in this unexpectedly rich corner of the Diaspora.

Unexpected indeed is what the community of refugees preoccupied itself with after flocking to these shores in the 17th century. It was not only non-Jews who profited from rice and cotton plantations, kept slaves, presided over grand antebellum mansions, dueled with pearl-handled swords and engaged in a futile fight to defend the Confederate flag. Ex-Londoner Francis Salvador, elected to the South Carolina Congress in 1774, became not only America’s first Jew elected to high office but the first to die liberating his colony from British rule.

What brought the first, mainly Sephardic, Jews to Charleston was its remarkable religious tolerance, not to mention the economic prospects elevating them to a new aristocracy to which their Ashkenazi kinsmen who followed greedily aspired. Thus the shameful lust for slaves, the choice accessory of the period even for Jews paying annual lip service to their own release from slavery in Egypt. However, it was a high-principled Jewish grocer who redeemed the community by refusing to segregate his black customers in the dark days before civil rights prevailed.

As well as the exhibits celebrating Jewish life at the excellent Gibbes Museum of Art, there is much to delight the visitor to Charleston, whose beautiful and historic homes, churches and public buildings have been preserved in aspic by poverty. For more than a century after the Civil War, there was no money for urban renewal, though now the city is enjoying a boom, new buildings are creeping in and the slow pace of life associated with the South is confined in this city to Battery Park, where magnificent colonnaded mansions line streets lined with cobblestones brought from England. A plethora of horse-drawn carriages and trolleys tour the streets of the historic district, but the only way to get into the side streets and alleys, where so much of Charleston’s elegant residential life is played out, is to take a walking tour.

Ruth Miller covers Jewish history as well as all the general sights in her Charleston strolls, including handsome Beth Elohim, built in Greek-revival style in 1840 to serve a congregation already a century old. Against the trend of European synagogues designed for Ashkenazim but now used by larger, younger Sephardic congregations, this one has evolved in the opposite direction. It comes as a shock to find that while there is no separation of worshippers at Beth Elohim, where America’s Reform movement was founded in 1824, there is a gallery in place down the road at St. Michel’s Church, designed to separate not men and women but whites from blacks "and other strangers" in the bad old days.

You don’t need a tour guide to get into the handsome church or many of the town’s historic homes and gardens, since local groups — from august preservation societies to the flamboyant Hat Ladies of Charleston — are falling over themselves to open their doors to visitors. Away from the "Gone With the Wind" opulence of the townhouses — notably the 1818 Aiken-Rhett House, where antebellum urban life is faithfully showcased, Drayton Hall documents plantation life warts and all, and the Charleston Museum’s Heyward-Washington house offers a glimpse of the neighborhood that inspired the setting for "Porgy and Bess." When it comes to accommodations, there is an embarrassment of choices in Charleston, choc-a-bloc with historic inns. Opting for a modern red-brick hotel seems on the face of it bizarre, but Orient Express endowed its award-winning Charleston Place property with the kind of luxurious and festive atmosphere that must have prevailed in the heady, prosperous years of the Confederacy. Rooms are large and opulent, and the hotel’s grill room, presided over by double-Michelin-starred Bob Waggoner, offers a sumptuous dining experience.

But perhaps the finest food in the state is to be found at the Beaufort Inn, a favorite haunt of Tom Hanks, who filmed "Forrest Gump" in this delightful little seaside town, an hour’s drive south of Charleston. Like Charleston, Beaufort boasts a plethora of historic mansions but is a lot sleepier. One of its greatest charms is access to the marshy sea islands where the world’s finest cotton was once grown. Since the abolition of slavery the area has become a hotbed of African American culture; check out the acres of colorful and highly collectible folk art on view at the Red Piano Too gallery on St. Helena Island before continuing to Hunting Island State Park with its primeval jungle, wild beach and lighthouse. Lazybones might never get beyond the verandah of the beautifully appointed Beaufort Inn or the delightfully indolent urban pursuits — browsing excellent bookshops, fressing sundaes in the old-fashioned ice cream parlor or taking a slow Carolina horse-drawn buggy ride round town.

Golfers and serious shoppers are lavishly catered to nearby on swanky Hilton Head Island, with its pricey top-end resorts, championship courses and designer malls, but there is less specialized and more affordable seaside entertainment on offer a couple of hours’ drive north at Myrtle Beach, which must be America’s largest and most economically democratic resort. The Grand Strand, a fabulous stretch of wild, wide white beach stretches 60 miles from Shag, where the young and funky crowd hang out, all the way down to much posher Pawley’s Island. This may be the pleasantest place to stay, thanks to the Litchfield Plantation Inn, which offers period rooms, contemporary cottage and haute cuisine. Many guests never get beyond their private deck beside a creek lined with live oaks dripping Spanish moss, the state’s most evocative attribute. But it’s worth a 35-minute drive to seek out the high-quality live entertainment for which Myrtle Beach is famous, including top-class variety with a country twist at the Carolina Opry, Dolly Parton’s hokey North-vs.-South Dixie Stampede, tribute bands at Legends, and top rock and R&B acts at the House of Blues, where live music is served up free to outdoor diners and the folk art collection alone demands a trip. Culture vultures will enjoy the sculpture trail at nearby Brookgreen Gardens, where some magnificent 19th and 20th century pieces are displayed in a verdant setting.

Note that travel into the Carolinas is painless now with the opening of Charlotte as a gateway, its airport compact, efficient and a fine introduction to southern friendliness.

Courtesy of featurewell.com.

A Desert High in Palm Springs


While nearby flatlands warm under perfect 60-degree winter weather, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway transports visitors to a pristine snow-covered forest. In just 10 minutes, this aerial tram carries passengers nearly 6,000 feet. The beautiful 14,000 acres of Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness area are among the most visit-worthy in this heavily tourist destination.

As you ride in the world’s largest rotating cars of the Aerial Tramway, the flora and fauna include everything one would see driving from the hot Sonora Desert of Mexico to the Transitional (alpine) Zone of Alaska. The highlights read like entries from a naturalist guide. From the main road nearest the tram, Highway 111, to the tram station, this green cienega, or Spanish marsh, nurtures cottonwood, sycamore, wild grape, mesquite and native Washingtonia filifera palm trees. Barrel cactus, cholla, prickly pear and yucca grow amid springtime wildflowers, including lupine, Canterbury bells and sunflowers.

Desert bighorn sheep, kit and gray foxes, bobcats, coyotes and ringtail raccoons also make their home here. As the tram climbs, wild apricot trees stand amid metamorphic rock, gneisses and schists. Deer and mountain lion roam among chaparral. And as the elevation rises, evergreens, firs and oaks thin as the peak approaches.

At the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, there are a host of trails — including a three-quarters of a mile loop through picturesque Long Valley, just behind the Mountain Station that introduces visitors to regional plants and animals. A much longer path, at 5.5 miles, leads to the peak of Mount San Jacinto, the second-tallest mountain in Southern California at 10,834 feet.

The ideal tram departure time is just before sunset. The reversible 80-passenger cars revolve slowly from within, making two rotations and offering spectacular views. One popular option: capping off the day with a drink in the Top of the Tram Restaurant and the Elevations Restaurant while admiring the city lights below.

Erected in 1963, nearly 30 years after its inception, the tramway was named an engineering “wonder of the world” for its ingenious use of helicopters in erecting four of five support towers; 23,000 flight missions were required to carry workers, supplies and materials for the towers and the Mountain Station.

During the summer, the mercury reaches well into the 100s in Palm Springs, but the mountain offers more than 54 miles of hiking trails, camping and guided nature walks, at almost 40 degrees cooler.

Another day, my father and I opted to hike closer to sea level at nearby Palm Canyons. This ancient home of the band of Cahuilla (Agua Caliente) Indians boasts palms that are 200 years old, many of them with the natural foliage skirts that are removed on commercial palms. These layers of dried branches encircle the trunk-like structure of these trees, which technically are massive grasses rather than trees.

We learned these facts and more by joining a guided tour with Rocky, a native Hawaiian who turned tribal ranger after serving 20 years in the Marine Corps and 10 volunteering with the San Bernadino Police Department as a rescue tracker. His desert survival skills make him a perfect guide. Rocky showed us all the edibles and how the native peoples prepared acorns, made their homes and harvested the sweet date palm fruit growing high overhead.

We wandered amid giant palms, verdant grasses and a warm, picturesque creek that smelled of sulfur due to a high mineral content. Rocky pointed out one tiny, creek-side impression where a native family would have once ground their acorns (five such mini-ditches appear in rocks throughout the canyon).

In contrast to our inspiring, mellow days of hiking, one evening we attended the raucous “Palm Springs Follies,” a Rockette-style music and dance of the 1930s and ’40s with performers old enough to have lived it. Amazingly youthful seniors age 56 to 86 strut their stuff in between international vaudeville acts from November through May.

Jewish impresario Riff Markowitz, a former television producer, serves as emcee for this three-hour extravaganza, leading the audience through a show peppered with Jewish jokes — even a few relating to travel.

At one point he turned his attention to the holiday of Thanksgiving, saying no Jews were aboard the Mayflower.

“Do you know why?” he asked. “There were no first-class seats.”

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is located at One Tramway
Road. The cost is about $20. Tramcars depart every half hour from 10 a.m. to 8
p.m. For more information, call (888) 515-TRAM or visit “>www.psfollies.com .