Iran says sanctions to fail, repeats Hormuz threat


Iranian politicians said on Tuesday they expected the European Union to backtrack on its oil embargo and repeated a threat to close the vital Strait of Hormuz shipping lane if the West succeeds in preventing Tehran from exporting crude.

A day after the EU slapped a ban on Iranian oil, Iran’s tone appeared defiant, even skeptical, with Tehran insisting that, with the EU faced with its own economic crisis, it needs Iran’s oil more than Iran needs its business.

The ban is expected to take full effect within six months.

“The West’s ineffective sanctions against the Islamic state are not a threat to us. They are opportunities and have already brought lots of benefits to the country,” Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi told the official IRNA news agency.

Speaking in London, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britain Prince Mohammad Bin Nawaf said the region was witnessing “a very difficult and a very tense situation”.

“We are seeing every day an escalation in the rhetoric and this definitely does not help in stabilizing the area,” he told a briefing.

“I think the next couple of weeks will be very critical for the whole region. Hopefully, Iran will adhere to the proposals presented to them.”

He said Iran’s threats to block the strait of Hormuz would have grave consequences on the Islamic Republic and the region.

“It will be very difficult to maintain such a blockade against the export of oil but the ramifications of such a decision would be very grave and definitely would escalate the whole situation and God knows where it would lead.

“Definitely the Iranians will pay a very heavy price if they gamble and take such a decision,” the Saudi envoy said.

The EU wants to press Iran into curbing its contested nuclear program and engage in talks with six world powers.

“The global economic situation is not one in which a country can be destroyed by imposing sanctions,” Moslehi said.

A spokesman for the oil ministry said Iran had had plenty of time to prepare for the sanctions and would find alternative customers for the 18 percent of its exports that up to now have gone to the 27-nation European bloc.

“The first phase of this (sanctions action) is propaganda, only then it will enter the implementation phase. That is why they put in this six months period, to study the market,” Alireza Nikzad Rahbar said, predicting the embargo could be rescinded before it takes force completely.

“This market will harm them because oil is getting more expensive and when oil gets more expensive it will harm the people of Europe,” state TV quoted him as saying. “We hope that in these six months they will choose the right path.”

EMBARGO PLANS

The embargo will not kick in completely until July 1 because the bloc’s foreign ministers who agreed the ban at a meeting in Brussels were anxious not to penalize the ailing economies of Greece, Italy and others to whom Iran is a major oil supplier.

The strategy will be reviewed in May to see if it should proceed.

Iran, which denies international suspicions that it is trying to design atomic bombs behind the facade of a declared civilian atomic energy program, has scoffed at efforts to bar its oil exports as Asia lines up to buy what Europe rejects.

Iran’s foreign ministry summoned the Danish ambassador on Tuesday to complain about the EU’s “illogical decision”, accusing Europe of doing the bidding of the United States.

Emad Hosseini, spokesman for parliament’s energy committee, said that if Iran encountered any problem selling its oil, it would store it, adding Tehran retained its threat to shut the Gulf to shipping.

The United States, which sailed an aircraft carrier through the strait into the Gulf accompanied by British and French warships on Sunday, has said it would not tolerate the closure of the world’s most important oil shipping gateway.

Fitch Ratings issued an assessment of the embargo’s market impact saying it would likely cause an oil price increase.

“However, prices may not necessarily increase markedly from current levels as some of the risks related to the EU ban on Iranian oil appear factored in already,” it said.

The embargo decision had no discernible impact on oil prices as it was a move that had been flagged well in advance and the threat to close Hormuz seemed remote. Brent crude down slightly at $110 per barrel on Tuesday.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday that the EU sanctions underlined the strength of the international community’s commitment to “addressing the serious threat” presented by Iran’s nuclear program.

“The United States will continue to impose new sanctions to increase the pressure on Iran,” he said in a statement.

Washington applied its own sanctions to Iran’s oil trade and central bank on December 31 and on Monday extended them to the third largest Iranian bank, state-owned Bank Tejarat, and a Belarus-based affiliate for allegedly helping Tehran’s nuclear advance.

The EU sanctions were also welcomed by Israel, which has warned it might attack Iran if sanctions do not deflect Tehran from a course that some analysts say could potentially give Iran the means to build a nuclear bomb next year.

Additional reporting by Samia Nakhoul in London

Israeli embassies threatened, may close


Four Israeli embassies may be closed after receiving serious threats.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that security at the embassies, which it did not identify, had increased to the maximum level. Security at all Israeli embassies has been increased as well, according to reports.

The ministry said in Tuesday’s statement that “a number of irregular incidents targeting Israeli destinations were recorded in the past few days.”

“At this point we estimate that a threat exists against the locations and it is being dealt with,” said the statement. “The relevant Israeli authorities are in contact with the relevant authorities in the countries in question.”

The threats coincide with the third anniversary of the death of Hezbollah senior official Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in Damascus by a car bomb that the terrorist organization blames on Israel. Hezbollah has vowed to avenge his death.

Also out of concern following threats of revenge kidnappings, Israel’s Counter Terrorism Bureau issued a warning late last week to Israeli travelers urging them to avoid certain destinations, including Egypt, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritania and Venezuela.

Even up close, Minkin’s illusions are magical


If you closed your eyes, it sounded like soft rain falling in the dimly lit wine cellar. The sound gradually grew in intensity as two-dozen hands rubbing against one another switched to rapid snapping, then to clapping, creating the auditory illusion of a rainstorm.

David Minkin then turned the illusion into reality — he conjured water out of thin air, standing a few feet away from his awestruck audience.

It took Minkin, an accomplished close-up magician, four years to develop this signature piece. The rain trick was inspired by a Temple Ahavat Shalom weekend retreat, where the 12-year-old Minkin sat among other Jewish adolescents and learned to mimic the sound of water falling from the sky with his hands.

“The sound was magical,” said Minkin. “And it always stayed with me.”

The rain trick, more complex and wondrous than can be adequately described in words, is the grand finale of Minkin’s mesmerizing magic performance, “Evening of Enchantment,” which he will reprise at Malibu’s Beau Rivage restaurant on Aug. 24. The evening combines wine tasting and magic in an intimate setting where seating is limited to 28 guests per show, an ideal venue for the magician to perform his highly personal and nuanced repertoire of close-up magic tricks.

The soft-spoken, self-assured Minkin plunged into the world of magic relatively late in life but has already succeeded in levitating to the top of the field, winning first place in the International Brotherhood of Magicians’ Gold Cups Competition in 2007 and a gold medal in the Magic Castle’s Strolling Olympics in 2002. He was in the midst of earning a master’s degree in physical therapy at Cal State Northridge in 1997 when a classmate and part-time magician awed him with a Chop Cup routine and inspired him to hit the books — well, the magic books.

Minkin learned the craft the old-fashioned way, from titles such as “The Mark Wilson Course in Magic” and “The Royal Road to Card Magic,” and fine-tuned his inherent knack for creating illusions by practicing them anywhere he was permitted, and not permitted. He once strolled into a Chili’s restaurant unannounced and rehearsed a new coin trick on table after table until he finally had it perfected.

“Twelve years of college education down the drain,” joked Gary Minkin, the magician’s doting father and an avid fan, at a recent Sunday evening performance at Beau Rivage. In addition to physical therapy, Minkin also studied music and business and took up real estate for several years before turning his growing passion for magic into a full-time career.

“I’m unusual, and lucky,” said Minkin, dressed in an elegant black suit and sipping a mojito. “I had to develop social skills before I learned magic.” Many magicians and amateur hobbyists get into magic as young boys, he explained, perhaps even using their hobby as an outlet for their social awkwardness. Hence the stereotype of magic enthusiasts being shy, reclusive and even nerdy.

Minkin, however, is hardly a geek. Nicknamed the “rock star of magic” by fellow illusionists at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Minkin is in his late 30s, handsome and exudes a subtle confidence in and out of the spotlight. He injects his performances with an easy-going charisma. His sleight-of-hand coin and card tricks are interspersed with witty banter, personal anecdotes and playful interaction with audience members.

“Until an audience likes you, they’re not going anywhere with you,” he said. Minkin takes audiences time traveling, using a marble that he turns into an hourglass filled with sugar; into a world of lucid dreams, where driver’s licenses become butterflies flitting through the air, or through summer rainstorms in the middle of a cozy wine cellar.

Minkin’s theory is that there is a hierarchy to magic — a puzzle is at the very bottom, then a trick, a mystery, and finally transcendence. A magic routine that reaches transcendence reflects the human experience, touching upon concepts such as the passing of time, immortality and dreams.

“I want to make people think and feel a range of emotions — wonder, surprise, nostalgia, delight,” said Minkin, who strives to create a one-of-a-kind experience for each audience by improvising, playing off their unique energy and using their differing reactions to change the flow of the show.

Minkin prefers the face-to-face contact of close-up magic and cozy settings such as Beau Rivage’s cramped wine cellar or the Magic Castle’s intimate close-up theater. He says he doesn’t aspire to perform in the cavernous theaters of Las Vegas or marketing himself to achieve superstar status.

“I really just want to focus on performing,” said Minkin, who has been invited to appear in upcoming conventions in Italy, Sweden, England and Israel. His audience has included Hollywood celebrities such as Johnny Depp and Rob Reiner, politicians, Fortune 500 executives and even one Saudi Arabian prince.

Minkin got a taste for working in television in 2007 as a writer and performer on the MTV horror-prank show, “Room 401.” In the first episode, Minkin brought an unwitting crime-scene cleaner to tears as he rose, ghostlike, from a murder victim’s body. Minkin is hoping to pitch a series of television specials featuring original magic done on location with real people and everyday objects.

Whatever the medium, Minkin strives to elevate his magic to an art form that is both entertaining and enlightening. He is constantly reworking his act, developing new material and putting his theories about magic on paper, which he hopes to develop into a book. For Minkin, magic is an ancient and noble craft that is in danger of losing its luster in an age where people don’t believe in much of anything anymore.

“Regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen in reality,” he said, “the effect on people is magical.”

The next “Evening of Enchantment” is Aug. 24 at Beau Rivage, 26025 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu.

Time for the last dance at folk dancing venue


This week marks the closing of Café Danssa, a mecca for folk dancers in Los Angeles for 41 years. For much of that time, Danssa was a slice of Israel, or on some nights a slice of Greece, the Balkans or Brazil. In its early years, it was a pilgrimage point for dance aficionados and amateurs alike; in later years, it was a pickup joint for singles or a destination for anyone who just wanted to pick up their feet and move for joy.

Danssa’s founder, Dani Dassa, envisioned the business as an international meeting place, where people could enjoy each other’s culture without thinking about their differences.

“Through dance, people of differing cultures and politics were united with their hands and feet,” Dassa, 78, said in an interview this week.

The renowned Israeli folk dance teacher and choreographer moved to Los Angeles with an entrepreneurial spirit to get others involved in the medium he cherished.

But the Dassas are but half the story. My family, the Blumes, have run Café Danssa for the last 31 years — a decent span by any reckoning. And our family place of business has been Los Angeles’ most prominent and, by far, the longest lasting folk dance cafe.

For most of this time, Danssa’s formula for success was the product of the dynamic relationship between the club’s founder and its later owner, my father, Dave Blume. Dassa used his charm, dance talent and dark, lean and handsome looks to make folk enthusiasts clamor for a dancing place they could call their own.

Dad was his complement, with his Buddha-like placidity and hostility to any form of physical exertion. Dassa instantly recognized the virtues of Dad’s solid business sense and ever-present sense of humor. The two remained close until Dad’s death last March.

Café Danssa opened for business in December 1965 on a nondescript block of West Los Angeles on Pico Boulevard. The name of the business was a morphing of the first three letters of Dani Dassa’s first name and the last three letters of his last name.

Dassa, a native Israeli who’d fought in the War for Independence and the 1956 Sinai campaign, and who was at heart a dancer, aspired to bring the art of dance to the masses, especially to Jews in America.

A front page story in the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times proclaimed Café Danssa’s arrival, and soon after, the entire second-floor space was packed to the brim with elaborately clad traditionalist folk dancers and a bunch of out-of-place Beverly Hills socialites in fur coats.

The ethnic music blared and bounced off the cinder-block walls, one of which was painted with three shadow-like images of Dassa line dancing and the other depicting the biblical scene of Rachel at the well. The décor never got complicated; Dassa hung strawberry pots upside-down as light fixtures. They’re still there.

Dassa offered Israeli, international and Greek nights, occasionally working with other teachers/partners. Because the kitchen was unable to keep up with the demand for the homemade falafel and hummus, he bought property less than two blocks from Café Danssa in hopes of opening a space that could house both an Israeli nightclub for live music acts and a restaurant.

But his new partner backed out of the deal, leaving the Dassas with the burden of keeping two businesses going. It was too much, so Dassa sold Café Danssa to a customer named Lori Anderson to pay off the debt accrued from the construction of the new building. Then his new business, Jericho, was gravely undermined by the 1973 war in Israel, which dried up much of the cross-cultural commerce.

The new Café Danssa owners did not last, and soon the business was up for sale again. On Dec. 31, 1975, my parents, Dave Blume and Carolyn Hester, became the new owners. They had plans to turn it into a nightclub to feature their own musical endeavors.

Dad was a jazz pianist and Grammy-nominated composer, best known for writing the hit pop tune, “Turn Down Day.” My mother was a central figure among the folk music scenesters who emerged from Greenwich Village in New York in the late ’50s and early ’60s. She’s also known for helping launch Bob Dylan’s career by hiring him to play harmonica on one of her albums.

The Blumes were not folk dancers. But then, as my mother said, they also never had it in them to make people feel bad: “David kept saying, we’ll make the change in six weeks, but then that became six months, then a year.”

The customers warmed to the new ownership, and business began to pick up. Dad quickly concluded that Dassa should be invited back to Danssa. The Israeli dance equivalent of a rock star, Dassa to this day still has the magnetism to make women swoon.

Dad on the other hand, was a master of puns and a formidable manager of egos, and he took a laid-back approach to handling the desires of the customers, as well as the competitive squabbles among dance instructors. Dad would tell us not to take it personally when people would try to get in without paying admission, because as customers, “it was their duty to try to sneak in as much as it was our duty not to let them.”

My brother, Howard Blume, recalls that, “on some nights, people would literally be lined up outside the back office waiting for an audience with Dad either to seek his advice, tell him their troubles or just commune.”

Dad, a nondrinker otherwise, kept a bottle of cognac in his desk, which was consumed only as part of a friendship ritual between him and Dassa. The cognac bottle is still there today, only now Dassa has inscribed his own name as well as, Dad’s, Mom’s, mine and my sister Amy’s on the bottle in Hebrew.

For years, Dassa and two of his children, David and Dorite, each taught Israeli dance at Café Danssa. Although Israeli dancing remained the breadwinner for the nightclub, Balkan and Greek nights continued through the early ’80s. Café Danssa continued its reputation as “the first stop for Israeli immigrants when they land at LAX,” and the crowd was a mix of tan, Israeli men in tight pants trying to woo beautiful California girls.

Invest in Your Community


It has been one year since a financial crisis engulfed the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA). In response to this crisis, JCCGLA was forced to close facilities, cut services and lay off scores of staff. Programs that served more than 1,000 people were discontinued. It was a very difficult year — but we survived.

In a city that is divided by geography, class, denomination and national origin, every Jewish institution questions its mission. In a time when assimilation, the economy and security issues consume us, every Jewish institution questions its relevance. Surviving the crisis helped JCCGLA appreciate the central role it plays in addressing critical issues affecting the L.A. Jewish community.

As highlighted by the recent National Jewish Population Survey, American Jews are profoundly concerned by evidence that our Jewish community is fractured and in decline. Whether the discussion focuses on the survival of Israel, interfaith marriage, our aging population or divisions among the denominations, people are searching for meaningful connections with others. In Los Angeles, this dialogue takes place in a region that is physically vast — compounding the difficulty of creating a sense of community.

JCCs address many issues raised by this dialogue. We provide Jewish continuity and cohesion. We are open to the entire Jewish community — Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, unaffiliated, intermarried or agnostic, fifth-generation American or recent immigrant. We offer programs for young children, teenagers, families, single adults and seniors. The range of programs is impressive: from the Celebrity Sunday Staged Play series and Israeli dancing to basketball leagues and the Zimmer Children’s Museum. JCCs are gathering points for the entire community.

According to the 1997 Los Angeles Jewish Population Survey, 41 percent of L.A. Jews who married during the previous five years married non-Jews. Some 66 percent of Jewish households in Los Angeles are not affiliated with a synagogue. JCCs serve as the bridge to Judaism for a significant portion of the L.A. Jewish population. In many instances, the programs run by JCCs are the single most important link to these at-risk Jews.

I often joke that my family is the poster family for the role JCCs play in Jewish life. I was not raised in a religious household. We were cultural Jews, unaffiliated with a temple but unquestioning in our knowledge that we were Jewish. I met, fell in love with and married a wonderful woman from Maine — no, she isn’t Jewish. We established our home in Los Angeles, far from family and tradition.

When our daughter reached preschool age, I hesitated to suggest the Westside JCC — although it was only six blocks from our home and operated a well-regarded preschool. I didn’t want to impose my religious background on our interfaith family. My wife recommended that we visit the school and when we saw the happy children, the decision to attend was simple and obvious.

Westside JCC was welcoming and supportive. The Shabbat dinners, holiday festivals and Judaic curriculum, educated and enriched our family and provided a warm sense of community. Summer day camp at Camp Chai followed preschool. We established lifelong friendships. I became involved in center leadership.

Today, our family often lights candles to celebrate Shabbat. We attend High Holiday services at a local temple and my daughter looks forward to attending her religious class on Sundays. I have no doubt that Westside JCC made all this possible.

This past year confirmed that Los Angeles’ JCCs were taken for granted for too long. Years of neglecting the aging facilities and the failure to address long-term financial stability took their toll. The facilities must be renovated, highly trained staff professionals must be hired, programs of excellence must be reestablished and expanded.

The challenges ahead are significant. These goals will be accomplished only if the community financially supports the renewal of the L.A. JCC movement. The issue of funding this renewal in Los Angeles is sensitive. Los Angeles is home to more than 500,000 Jews. Despite these resources, The Jewish Federation’s annual campaign is disproportionately smaller than campaigns of cities with significantly fewer Jews (i.e., Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and Cleveland). Clearly L.A. Jewish organizations must do a better job of engaging the community.

The financial investment is worth it. A visit to the thriving new JCCs on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, La Jolla or Scottsdale, Ariz., confirm that state-of-the-art facilities with sufficient programming staff are central hubs of Jewish life.

Westside JCC has raised more than $5 million for its capital campaign to renovate its aging campus. The capital campaign’s goal is $14 million. While we are well on our way, moments of opportunity are fleeting and must be seized. After Westside JCC is rebuilt, other JCCs in Los Angeles must renovate their facilities. State-of-the-art buildings must open to serve new communities.

If the L.A. JCC movement is to succeed, the L.A. Jewish community must recognize the important mission played by JCCs and support this renewal with significant investments. Failure to recognize and support this mission is an opportunity lost to build a stronger more cohesive L.A. Jewish community.


Michael J. Kaminsky is president of the Westside Jewish Community Center advisory board and a member of the board of directors of Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles.