Dress to impress on your next interview


You applied for your dream job and scored an interview. Congrats! Now it’s time to show your future employer that you mean business. While it may be tempting to wear something quirky or unique, keep it professional with these vestments and accessories by Jewish designers and let your personality shine instead. Now go get ’em!

GENTS:

The hand-silkscreened microfiber LOOSE SCREW TIE ($40) from UncommonGoods (above), a company founded by David Bolotsky, pulls together your look and elevates it with a subtle yet playful design. ” target=”_blank”>rag-bone.com

Tip: Make sure it’s ironed — details matter when an interviewer has to make quick judgments. 

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Tip: When buying dress pants, make sure the pant legs break at the top of your shoes. 

LADIES:

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Tip: If you do carry a smartphone, turn it off during your interview. 

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Tip: When buying a blouse, make sure it doesn’t gap at the bust and the buttons don’t pull. Be mindful of anything that exposes more than your collarbone. 

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Tip: Pencil skirts (and similar styles) should hit the knee or 1 to 2 inches above. 

H&M: Your source for cheap & chic Jewish prayer shawls?


H&M is at it again — they’ve made a scarf that looks remarkably like a tallit, or Jewish prayer shawl.

Racked is reporting that the fast-fashion retailer is currently hawking a beige scarf with black stripes on its website for $17.99. “H&M even incorporated its own version of tzitzit, the knotted fringe you’ll find on every tallit,” the story notes.

The Stockholm-based chain also has a matching fringed poncho for $34.99.

This isn’t H&M’s first foray into prayer-shawl chic: In 2011, they issued a similarly-styled women’s poncho. (Three years later, the brand was accused of anti-Semitism when it issued a tank top with a skull superimposed atop a Star of David.)

H&M is hardly the only major fashion retailer to wade into Jewish (or anti-Semitic) territory. Notably, in the summer of 2014, the Spain-based chain Zara sold a children’s striped “sheriff” T-shirt that looked alarmingly like a concentration-camp uniform, complete with a six-pointed yellow star on the left breast.

Amidst a social media firestorm, the brand apologized and pulled the item from stores.

“Fashion changes, but style endures,” Coco Chanel famously once said. Clearly, observant Jews were onto something: In July 2015, Old Navy sold a  Women’s Handkerchief-Hem Open-Front Cardigan that strongly resembled a prayer shawl.

Sassy shirts fit Jewish hipsters to a ‘T’


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An optimistic entrepreneur earns his (Akiva) Stripes


While some people wear their hearts on their sleeves, Georgia native Cameron Alpert prefers the front of a T-shirt or a hoodie. That’s what led him to start Akiva Stripe, a Los Angeles-based and Jewish-inspired urban clothing line, with the hope that others will proudly do the same.

“I always thought about ways I could express my Jewish identity in a fashionable way, and I had not found anything in the marketplace that would allow me to do that,” Alpert recalled. “I began to create the shirts and hoodies as an outlet where I could express myself. However, when I started wearing them out in public, I found my friends liked the idea and rallied behind it. From there, I decided to extend my idea into a fully functioning brand.”

The designs for the men’s and women’s tops, developed by hand at a studio in Los Angeles and launched earlier this year, are inspired by various aspects of Jewish and Israeli history, from geographic locales to key events in Jewish history to Jewish iconography.

“For the initial run, I looked for symbols and images I had been exposed to during the course of my lifetime that really spoke to me as touchstones the Jewish wearer could relate to,” said Alpert, 26. “One of my favorite designs, and one of the most popular in sales, is the shirt with the Kohen hands. When I traced my family tree, I had discovered there were Kohen priests in my bloodlines, and the image of the hands themselves were emblematic as a Jewish reference.”

Other designs make use of the Star of David, the hamsa, a kabbalah-inspired Tree of Life, and an image of southern Israel paired with the words “Eretz Yisrael.” Another shirt, called “LAX>TLV,” features abstract artwork of the two cities. 

In his journey to embrace his Jewish identity during college, Alpert was a member of Jewish fraternity AEPi, participated in Hillel and Chabad, and staffed a Birthright trip for USC Hillel. However, the experiences that led him to create Akiva Stripe also had a lot to do with growing up in Georgia in a single-parent home and having mostly non-Jewish friends. He said developing the brand is an outgrowth of his continued desire to celebrate pride in his identity, especially after his move to Los Angeles and his activities during college.

As for the company name, it carries personal and biblical meaning.

“Akiva has always been my favorite Hebrew name, and it’s also a cognate of Jacob, my middle name,” said Alpert, who also works full time as an advertising consultant. 

Akiva means “protector” in Hebrew, and the phrase Akiva Stripe, he said, is intended to hark back to the Exodus, when the Hebrews marked the frames of their doors as protection from the plagues.

Alpert said the clothing emphasizes fit, high-quality fabrics and uses only biodegradable, water-based and discharge inks. Although Akiva Stripe is currently available only online (

10 Fitness tips for the New Year from “Body by Simone”


1. Diets don’t work.

Eating well and working out does. Approach weight loss as a lifestyle change, not a diet. Unless you’re going to be on a diet for the rest of your life, you’re just going to go back to your former way of eating and likely gain back any weight you’ve lost. Eating whole, nutritious foods has to become a daily habit.

2. Graze like a cow!

Think of it like this: your metabolism is a fire, and when you put more wood on it, it burns hotter. If you deprive it of wood, it dies out. Continually supplying your metabolism with fuel by eating four to six small meals a day means it's always burning hot, incinerating fat and burning calories.

3. Start your workout with Mirror Minutes.

Stand about a foot away from a mirror and look into your eyes. No, not the floor, or the coffee table, or the mole on your cheek—your eyes. Spend some time here. See yourself for who you are right now.

Mentally list your attributes. Do you like your lips? Your collarbones? Your booty? Your abs? Give yourself some positive credit. Be patient and kind to yourself. Your emotional state has a lot to do with shedding pounds. A good mind-set is key to a good workout!

4. Pick a mantra.

When you’re struggling with Mirror Minutes or with any other exercise, repeating a mantra in your head can give you strength to push through fear and doubt. Some of my favorites are: Confidence, strength, beauty or This time is mine.

5. Make a playlist!

The right music can make a workout inspiring and uplifting, and motivate you to keep going. Faster music can help pump you up for cardio, while chiller tunes are great for toning and sculpting. Set a playlist you know you have to get through entirely before you finish your workout. When it’s your favorite music, you can get lost in it, and before you know it the hour is up!

6. Keep a food and exercise journal.

This allows you to reflect on the day—maybe see where that extra cookie or glass of wine could be avoided. It also gives you a chance to set goals and track your progress so you can see just how far you’ve come. Just like any other to-do list, it’s very satisfying to write down your accomplishments at the end of the day.

7. Take selfies.

I have absolutely no idea how much I weigh, and I don’t particularly care. Your weight is nothing more than a measure of how hard gravity is working to pull your body toward the center of the earth. It does not take into account your muscle mass, your fat mass, how much you ate that day, or how much water you’re retaining. Most of us take selfies all the time. How about skipping the scale and putting that technology to use for your health and snapping a few photos of your body in the here and now? Take a candid look at these photos—no negative talk allowed—to check in as you progress and see how your body is changing.

8. Dress for success.

Wear clothes that make you feel good about yourself. If you love your arms, wear a sports tank. If you adore your calves, get some capri pants. As you make progress, allow yourself to splurge on a new top or bottom to show off your sexy new muscles. Not only will this help to keep you motivated, but paying attention to your clothing’s fit is a much better way to gauge weight loss than a scale.

9. Know that strength training is a must.

Many women fear the words “strength training,” but it's absolutely essential for women of all ages. Not only does it help you get in shape by building muscle and burning fat, it also helps to increase bone density and defend against osteoporosis. Plus, a great strength-training session is the perfect way to manage stress and let off some steam.

10. Work out with a girlfriend.

Tons of research suggests that exercising with a friend increases adherence to a program since workout partners provide motivation as well as accountability. I highly recommend buddying up with a friend or two and having a real Girlfriend Workout. Both of you will get into shape and have fun doing it!

Syms clothing company, and its affiliate Filene’s Basement, files for bankruptcy


Syms clothing company and its affiliate, Filene’s Basement, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“This has been a challenging time for Syms and Filene’s Basement,” said Syms Corp. CEO Marcy Sims Wednesday announcing the bankruptcy. “We have been faced with increased competition from large department stores that now offer the same brands as our stores at similar discounts.”

Well-known Jewish philanthropist Sy Syms founded Syms clothing company in 1958, gearing his store’s merchandise and service to “educated consumers.” He also established Yeshiva University’s Syms School of Business in 1987.

Filene’s Basement was founded in 1909 by Edward Filene. This will be the second time the fashion retailer filed for bankruptcy. The first time was in 2009, when Filene’s Basement was sold to Syms Corp. in a resuscitation effort.

Nationwide, there are 25 Syms and 21 Filene’s Basement stores. Both chains plan to go out of business by the end of January.

Shop for you, shop for the world


Consumerism is often dubbed the antithesis of all that is good, but that doesn’t have to be so. More and more, businesses are adopting ethical labor practices, Earth-friendly materials and altruistic causes. We found a few ways for you to flex your consumer power — with a conscience.

Photos by Courtney Raney

1. Want to shop at a fabulous New York boutique from the comfort of your Valley home? Jewish-owned retailer Lonnys recently launched lonnys.com, where you can give back while browsing designer brands. Supporting charities is a large part of the company’s mission, and all proceeds from the Lonnys Denim Peace Bag ($20) are donated to Katz Women’s Hospital at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. lonnys.com

2. The local and Jewish-owned boutique, Green Denim Initiative, features products created with both fashion and the environment in mind. Tags, buttons and zippers are recycled, cold-water washing saves energy, natural fibers and vegetable dyes reduce chemical use, and the store partners with like-minded designers such as Alkemie Jewelry, which donates a portion of its online sales to a different charity each month. Handmade in Los Angeles and created with 100 percent reclaimed metal, Green Denim Initiatives’ newest featured item is this stylish Alkemie Six Shark Tooth Necklace ($209). greendeniminitiative.com

3. Who knew that building a miniature bonsai forest in your home could also help green Israel? At ababyatree.com, you can get this bonsai tree kit ($78), or any other gift, and the Jewish National Fund will plant a tree in Israel in honor of someone you love. The kit includes everything you need to maintain a healthy bonsai tree, and even the box and ribbon it’s wrapped in are made of recycled U.S. steel and plastic bottles. ababyatree.com

4. Jewish ceramicist Robert Siegel drew inspiration from his berry bowl-collecting bubbe when he created this limited-edition pink-and-white Baba’s Berry Bowl ($75) for breast cancer awareness. Twenty percent of the proceeds from this bowl will go to The Pink Agenda (thepinkagenda.org), a nonprofit breast cancer research and awareness organization. Available through December 2011, the bowl is hand crafted and made with lead-free porcelain. rshandmade.com

5. “How can we add a little ‘ooh-lah-lah’ to our cars?” asks Jewish entrepreneur and physician Dr. Beth Ricanati, who runs carlahlah.com, a sustainable family business creating car magnets with messages of peace and love. Using only local manufacturers, each magnet purchased ($8.99) will offset 20 miles of carbon emissions from your car. carlahlah.com

6. Famously founded by a German-Jewish immigrant in 1853, Levi Strauss & Co. has recently pioneered a way to produce the same fabulous jeans while conserving water. With Water

levi.com/waterless

Hugo Boss apologizes for its forced labor under Nazis


The German fashion house Hugo Boss has apologized for mistreating forced labor at a uniform factory during World War II.

Revelations about how company founder Hugo Boss employed forced workers at his clothing factory, which was contracted to make Nazi uniforms, have appeared in a book about the history of the company during the Hitler years.

The book, which was financed by the fashion house, makes clear that Boss was a loyal Nazi. Orders for uniforms from the National Socialist Party after Boss joined in 1931 saved the factory from bankruptcy. Boss died in 1948.

The factory used 140 Polish and 40 French forced workers; most were women.

“Hugo Boss, 1924-1945: A Clothing Factory During the Weimar Republic and Third Reich” was written by Roman Koester, an economic historian at the Bundeswehr University in Munich.

The company said in a statement on its website that it expressed “profound regret” to the forced workers who suffered while working at the factory during the war.

The skin under skinny jeans


Those once-coveted outfits in your closet now elicit sighs of “I have nothing to wear” as last year’s trends take their inevitable plunge. While you’re hunting for the hottest fall fashions this month, remember also to invest in what will never go out of style: soft skin, silky hair, well-groomed nails and a radiant face. These products highlight the most gorgeous accessory you’ll ever own: you!

1. If you don’t get your fill of apples and honey during the New Year, add a little to your bath with SpaMitzvah’s Applebaum Bath Drizzle ($48). Soak in the skin-softening honey while the scent of apples and cinnamon lifts you away from the stress of your day. spamitzvah.com

2. Those perfect, non-crunchy curls you envy on models in fashion mags only seemed possible via Photoshop, until the Mixed Chicks strutted onto the scene. The Canoga Park-based line offers a No Frizz Trio of Shampoo, Conditioner and a Leave-In ($39.33) that beautifully defines curls on girls of every cultural background. mixedchicks.net

3. Bring some of fall’s bright hues to your fingertips with OPI nail lacquer in Hot and Spicy (from $2). The pumpkin hue gives a shout-out to the season and is much more fun than your routine clear coat. opi.com and local salons

4. Relaxing skin treatments are all the more soothing when you can feel good about how they’re made. Containing only natural, environmentally friendly ingredients made in Israel and never tested on animals, AVANI’s Mineral Body Scrub ($39.99) exfoliates and moisturizes with Dead Sea minerals, jojoba oil and vitamin E. avani-deadsea.com

5. Want poutier lips without the needles? Micabeauty Cosmetics’ Lip Plumper in bronze ($29.95) uses the organic compound niacin (a B vitamin) to plump your kissers while other all-natural ingredients moisturize and shine. micabeauty.com

6. Everyone from salon pros to frizzy-haired seventh-graders has been buzzing about Moroccanoil hair products — and for good reason! Moroccanoil’s original Oil Treatment ($40) leaves your locks so visibly glossy and touchably soft that you don’t have to explain why you can’t stop running your fingers through your hair. moroccanoilproducts.com

YMI


David Vered’s jeans are his daughter’s jeans.

The Israeli native co-founded YMI Jeanswear in 2000, specializing in junior denim. His 12-year-old daughter is now part of his target client base.

YMI is a take on the phrase “Why am I …?” As a junior brand, the company resonates with girls transitioning into teenage and womanhood.

“They’re discovering themselves,” Vered said. “[Clothes] are a way for them to express their individuality.”

Vered, 45, started his fashion career 24 years ago working in retail stores and at swap meets. He then opened a wholesale distribution company in downtown Los Angeles with industry friend Moshe Zaga, buying and selling apparel, specializing in jeans.

“One of the suppliers said, ‘You’re very good at what you do. You should sell your own brand.’ That sounded interesting,” Vered recalled, so he, Zaga and Mike Godigian partnered up.

Within the first year, YMI took off in department and specialty stores nationwide and is now stocked in some 1,000 stores. The company has also enjoyed great press, and celebrities have strutted down the red carpet wearing YMI.

In the past two years, the company has expanded into sportswear, outerwear, intimates, footwear and accessories. To accommodate the expansion, YMI also invested $18 million in a new 110,000-square-foot eco-friendly facility in Boyle Heights.

“My dream always was to see downtown,” says Vered, who commutes daily from his home in Calabasas to his second-floor office, with its stunning view of L.A.’s skyline. It’s also a great location for exposure: “Everyone on the freeways sees the YMI building.”

And everyone is who Vered is targeting. He boasts lines that are fashionable yet affordable, and the 2 percent Spandex in the jeanswear ensures a comfortable fit for all sizes, Vered said. The variety of styles, washes and treatments make for many variations on the signature five-pocket design chosen “best everyday jeans” by Seventeen magazine readers this year.

The father of four — his eldest son, Adir, was killed in a car accident in February 2010 — was recently honored alongside his wife of 20 years, Esther, as Kadima school’s “People of the Year.”

Vered is proud of his family and his fashions, and finds it gratifying when they intersect.

“When we see people wearing our stuff,” he said, “including my daughter and wife, it makes me very happy, very proud.”

Gypsy 05


Inside the waiting area of Gypsy05’s solar-powered plant in downtown L.A., walls are decorated with brightly colored dresses and T-shirts alongside decorative hamsas, fashion magazine clippings, a “blessing of the business” in Hebrew, a picture of the Rebbe and certificates of recognition from American Solar Energy Solutions.

The display reflects Gypsy05’s values: Israeli entrepreneurship, Jewish idealism, environmental awareness, American and Israeli patriotism, and a love of comfort and glamour.

Gypsy05 grew out of sabra Dotan Shoham’s dye company, Pacific Blue, which he founded not long after coming to the United States 16 years ago with just a few hundred dollars in his pocket. Starting out in the garment business, he used his knack for chemistry to experiment with dying techniques that were considerably more eco-friendly than traditional techniques. 

“I care about the environment,” Dotan said. “Maybe it’s important for me because I surf, and I go to the ocean a lot, and I see what goes back into the ocean, so it’s important for me to be careful.”

His sister, Osi, joined Dotan’s dye house in 2002 with an MBA under her belt and a pent-up love for fashion. Together, they created Gypsy05 in 2005. Today, the brand, whose colorful, airy cotton and silk dresses and T-shirts evoke a connection to earth and water, have been worn by starlets Zoe Saldana, Ashley Tisdale, Nicky Hilton, Nikki Reed and others. Gypsy05 billboards appear on L.A.’s trendiest boulevards.

“It was always my true passion because I was always enamored with fashion,” Osi said. “But we were Jewish kids so we were always encouraged to do something practical.”

Their Jewish upbringing inspires the company’s social awareness. Still very much connected to their homeland, the siblings are supporters of the Israeli Leadership Council and the Israel Film Festival.

“The more we’ll grow and achieve and be successful,” Dotan said, “the more we’ll be able to contribute to our surroundings.” 

Israeli, Jewish Clothing Designers Highlight FIDF Fashion Show [VIDEO]


Flanked by two large flags — one Israeli and the other American — fashion models strutted down a long, white catwalk, showing off versatile fashions by local Israeli and Jewish designers during a fashion show at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel on May 12, held in celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut.

“What a wonderful, fashionable way to celebrate Israel’s 63rd birthday,” said Illana Shoshan, a former Miss Israel who emceed the event along with actress Shirly Brener.

Organized by Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), an international nonprofit that provides educational, cultural, social and recreational support for soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and their families, the fashion show highlighted the IDF’s struggles in defending Israel and their role in humanitarian efforts, including disaster relief in the aftermath of the recent Japan earthquake.

The invitation-only show featured 34 models wearing dresses by 10 Los Angeles-based designers, all either Israeli American or Jewish, including Bar-el, Gypsy 05 and Natalia Romano. Approximately 350 people attended the show.

Of the nearly three dozen models featured, the majority were women. They were escorted down the runway by some 10 men wearing IDF uniforms.

In addition to celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut, which took place May 10, the fashion show marked the launch of a new T-shirt campaign by FIDF, the IDF Humanitarian World Tour Tee, with the slogan “Make a Difference,” for $36. The shirts are available on the FIDF Web site, and proceeds will help raise additional funds for FIDF.

“We want to communicate to IDF, ‘Let’s all of us make a difference for the IDF soldiers, because they make a difference every day for us,” Richard Mahan, deputy director of the FIDF Western region, said. “And they make a difference every day for people around the world through all the humanitarian efforts that they undertake, as evidenced [by] Japan, Haiti, Kosovo and many, many more [places],” he added.

Mahan was in attendance at the fashion show, along with Miri Nash, executive director of the FIDF Western region. Four IDF soldiers, currently active, were also at the show, flown to Los Angeles by FIDF for the event.

Of the many dresses and fashions featured, one new dress was created by each designer specifically for the show and inspired by the blue and white of Israel’s flag.

“It’s a great reason — Israel, independence,” Bar-el said of why she participated in the show. “I mean, what else could we do for the community? Come on!”

Schools go to war with Nazi-insignia clothing company


Will T-shirts and other items bearing logos and designs resembling World War II Nazi insignia become the latest fashion trend in an Inland Empire school district?

Clothes by the Irvine company Metal Mulisha are currently banned by the Murrieta Valley Unified School District, but the company wants back in.

This won’t happen if Rabbi Barry Ulrych, a child of Holocaust survivors, can prevent it. His 80-family synagogue, B’nai Chaim of Murrieta, was founded in the 1970s by Jews living near Murrieta Hot Springs, many of them Holocaust survivors. The congregation is located in the middle of the school district, and many of the congregation’s children attend district schools.

Designs on the clothing line, including shirts, caps and belts, show, among other things, a human skull wearing a helmet resembling those worn by German soldiers during World War II.

On the company’s logo, the “S” in “Mulisha is represented graphically by a lightning bolt that resembles the double lighting bolts insignia of the German Schutzstaffel, the “SS.”

“People say it’s just a fashion — it’s more than that — it’s an identity,” Ulyrch said. “These symbols are not as neutral as one might think. Symbols can hurt, and some symbols are intimidating.

“With this symbolism, they are glorifying the Nazi past. You can’t go through life being ignorant of symbols,” he added.

According to Karen Parris, a school district representative, in September the district received a letter threatening a lawsuit from lawyers representing MM Compound Inc., the licensee for Metal Mulisha.

In the letter, the company claims the ban to be a violation of its Constitutional rights of freedom of speech and expression and strongly urges the “schools to revoke the applicable provision of the dress code.”

The letter goes on to say that on an individual level, “Metal Mulish founders and riders are devout Christians, espousing those values prized in the religious community … Metal Mulisha members and apparel stand as positive reinforcement to students interested in motocross …”

However, Parris cited the district’s responsibility to create a “safe place for students to learn” as the rationale for Murrieta’s dress code policy.

The district’s policy covers “clothes that have any offensive content, hate or defiance, and garments that students may find intimidating or offensive, including Nazi or neo-Nazi symbols,” Parris said.

“Even if a student is unaware that what they are wearing is Nazi or neo-Nazi, it could still cause a fight,” she added.

Metal Mulisha officials did not respond to multiple attempts for comment. The company’s legal representatives maintain in their letter that the district’s “implied association” of their name with “neo-Nazism or racism” is “unfounded and defamatory.”

According to the First Amendment Center’s Web site, “Many school districts have turned to dress codes and uniforms to promote a better learning environment. They argue that these policies decrease tensions, reduce socio-economic differences and enhance safety.”

The company’s letter presented that Metal Mulisha’s apparel “does not interfere with the schools’ work or the rights of other students to be secure and to be left alone.”

“The district should be able to ban certain fashions or dress that could hurt feelings,” Ulrych said. “There are grandchildren of Holocaust survivors in the school district.” 

The apparel line got its start in 1999, inspired by a free-style motocross team, some of whose members have medaled in the X Games; it describes itself on its Web site as speaking “the language of nonconformity with distinctive apparel.”

The clothing and licensed products are sold at PacSun, Sport Chalet and Toys R Us, including locations in Los Angeles.

Since the story was reported in the Los Angeles Times, Parris said, the district “has received e-mails and phone calls in support of its position.”

Nevertheless, Parris said, “Faced with a potentially expensive lawsuit, the district lawyers are now negotiating with the manufacturer in an attempt to resolve the issue.”

At a time when the district is facing major budget cuts, “It could cost hundreds of thousands to defend this in court,” she said. 

“Some of the images might touch a nerve,” said Joanna Mendelson, California investigative researcher for the Anti-Defamation League, who has seen Metal Mulisha’s line. “The images are not replicas, though they are edgy, and one might perceive them as promoting Nazi imagery.”

Adding to the sensitivity toward the imagery is the area’s recent history.

“Murrieta has had a history of white supremacist activities,” Mendelson said, “and the Inland Empire in general is a hotbed for hate.”

“We see references to Metal Mulisha online on white supremacist message boards, as well as tattoos,” she said.

Ulrych noted the good quality of the area’s school system and the increasing number of young families who have moved to the area in recent years.

“A school should not take lightly the symbols that walk its grounds,” he added.

Which came first: the building or the dress?


A model at a Parisian fashion show sports an enormous collar that almost hides her head in an aureole of stiff, folded cloth. So stiff does the cloth appear, in fact, that it could almost be mistaken for concrete. Meanwhile, in Yokohama, Japan, architects have covered the ceiling of a port terminal with a folded material that looks very much like pleated fabric. Are these chance coincidences, or signs of some odd convergence between fashion and architecture?

“Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture,” opening Nov. 19 at the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown, proposes that building design and haute couture have increasingly begun to overlap and borrow ideas from one another. Even if the premise seems thin, the show’s parallel images of buildings and clothing suggest that meaningful connections can be found between these two very different kinds of design. Indeed, “Skin + Bones” turns out to have much to say about the current practice of both building design and fashion design, not all of it positive.

Skepticism is a legitimate starting point. Clothing and shelter have different purposes, different materials and different methods of assembly. Why should they be compared? Well, for starters, because designers are always searching for fresh ideas, and architects and fashion designers apparently check each other out on a regular basis.

In an essay for the show’s catalog, Brooke Hodge, MOCA’s Curator of Architecture and Design, who has previously organized shows on the architecture of Frank O. Gehry and Peter Eisenman, as well as the fashion designs of Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, identifies some obvious and not-so-obvious commonalties between the two mediums.

“A vocabulary derived from architecture has been applied to garments, describing them as ‘architectonic,’ ‘constructed,’ ‘sculptural,'” she writes. Architects, on the other hand, have borrowed some “sartorial strategies,” such as “draping, wrapping, weaving, folding, printing and pleating architectural surfaces and materials.”

Although Santa Monica-based Gehry may not be a “dedicated follower of fashion,” to quote the Kinks, he has undoubtedly boosted the cross-pollination between construction and tailoring with the biomorphic curves of buildings like the Disney Concert Hall, referencing to the human body and other natural forms. Gehry, Eisenman and Preston Scott Cohen are among the Jewish American architects who have contributed work to this international collection of design.

The complementary opposite would be clothing that looks hard and structural, such as a tulle dress from the spring/summer 2000 collection of Hussein Chalayan that appears to be a rigid structure, inflating by four or five sizes the shape of the woman who wears it.

Another structural-looking garment, this one from Chalayan’s autumn/winter 1999 collection, is the “Aeroplane Dress,” which appears to be a smooth, hard shell. A portion of its form seems to be slipping away, like a panel of airplane fuselage that has not been properly bolted, revealing the wearer’s navel and a seductive slice of abdomen.

Some architects are interested in exploring fabric-like materials, sometimes called extreme textiles. The “Carbon Tower,” an unbuilt project by Los Angeles-based architects Peter Testa and Devyn Weiser would be built with a lightweight carbon-based material that curves and bends much like fabric. Although the method of construction on the building is not visible from the images in the show, some so-called “technical textiles” can be woven or sewn together.

The “Inside Out 2way Dress” from the spring 2004 collection of Yoshiki Hishinuma, for its part, seems inspired by the glass “curtain walls” of high-rise buildings. The garment is a tight-fitting transparent tunic (think glass) held in place by a white band (think steel structure) wrapped in a crisscrossing band of cloth around the model’s body.

The relationship between buildings and clothing is not new, according to Hodge. In her catalog essay, she identifies some parallels, both ancient and modern. In ancient Greece, the flutings of classical columns may have been suggested by the folds in the chiton, a garment worn by both men and women. In the Middle Ages, the “propensity for extreme verticality” can be found in the “sharply pointed shoes, sleeves and hennins [conical headdress]” that seem directly related to the “ogival arches and soaring vertical spaces of Gothic architecture.”

Not all of Hodge’s examples are equally convincing, however, such as the analogies to fashion design in the soft curves of the landscape elements of the Yokohama International Port Terminal by Foreign Office Architects. Or the comically oversized collar of folded and feather-like white fabric from Junya Watanabe’s fall/winter collection for 2000/2001.

What is convincing, however, is the degree to which architectural style has become as attention seeking, and in many cases, as short-lived as fashion design. Here the commonality between architecture and couture is the quest for spectacular display. While display as a value in itself is not new, the degree of importance placed on display — so that buildings can make an impression in two-dimensional media such as magazines, newspapers and the Web — has undoubtedly increased.

If the result of fashion design dipping into architecture is not profound, neither does it seem harmful, because couture is ephemeral, fading away quickly into the next sensation. Architecture, however, is about permanence (or relative permanence), and most buildings are expected to last for decades and to serve many different users. Building design that is guided by momentary fashion, can lose sight of its purpose in search of the values of celebrity culture. “Skin + Bones” hints at the degree to which the runway mentality has influenced architecture for the worse.

“Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture,” Nov. 19-March 5, Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 90012. (213) 626-6222.

Morris Newman has written about architecture and other subjects for many publications, including the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

Can Artwork Mend Fences?


Before the Beirut airport closed during Israel’s recent war with Hezbollah, a shipment of pillows, shawls and jackets sewn by Palestinian women living in Beirut refugee camps was sent off to Los Angeles’ Craft and Folk Art Museum.

These objects, all exquisitely ornamented, were destined to become part of the exhibition, “Sovereign Threads: A History of Palestinian Embroidery,” where they would share space with richly decorated fare dating from 1830 to the 1940s. The show opened last month as Israel fought Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas near the Gaza Strip border.

While images of bombed cities and wounded and suffering victims on all sides dominated the news, “Threads” offered a different window into the region: a rare opportunity to view Palestinian embroidery, considered among the finest in the world, in what is perhaps the first show of its kind in Los Angeles.

On display are gowns embellished with vivid crimsons and detailed geometrical designs, symbolizing a girl’s maturation and readiness for marriage (muted clothing is reserved for matrons).

A married woman’s headdress from 1930s Bethlehem sports a tall, conical cap studded with Ottoman coins, coral beads and silken embroidery — all connected to the delicate silver jewelry that was intended to hang over her dress.

Other gowns glow with wide swathes of multicolored, iridescent silk or cotton cloth, covered with stitching so vibrant it appears to undulate. The colors include magentas, oranges, reds and golds; the meticulous patterns resemble Cyprus trees, double-edged combs or acanthus leaves and cups (symbolizing health and happiness), among other designs. Five circles on chest pieces from the once-Christian city of Ramallah represent Jesus and the four Apostles.

Additional new works are for sale in the museum’s gift shop, with all proceeds to go toward human services in Palestinian refugee camps, museum director Maryna Hrushetska told The Journal.

“Threads” (which closes on Oct. 8) has proven so popular, she added, that museum attendance is up more than 25 percent. It’s the latest success for an official who has helped put her once-imperiled institution on the map on Wilshire Boulevard’s Museum Row, with well-received exhibitions, such as the current “Tigers and Jaguars: L.A.’s Asian-Latino Art Phenomenon” (through Oct. 29), which burst stereotypes about folk art. “Sovereign Threads” follows suit — but it weaves a story that may raise eyebrows for some in the Jewish community.While the show does not overtly refer to the recent fighting near the Gaza Strip, or to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general, it subtly but unmistakably depicts the conflict from the Palestinian point of view.

The exhibition begins with a map of the region that makes no mention of Israel (it notes “Palestinian subdivisions according to the British Mandate,” 1917-1948). A timeline in the show does not mention the ancient Israelite kingdoms, or the subsequent (and significant) Jewish presence in the Holy Land. Nor does it describe Arab offensives that precipitated at least two wars, as described by an analyst for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The omissions are significant, several analysts explained.

“All this effectively deligitimizes the historical Jewish presence in the land of Israel,” said Yehudit Barsky, director of the division on the Middle East and international terrorism for the American Jewish Committee.

Barsky added that one exhibition sponsor, the A.M. Qattan Foundation also funds organizations such as the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee and Orient House, “the symbol of Palestinian aspirations for autonomy and solidarity in Israeli Occupied Jerusalem,” according to the Web site, orienthouse.org.Even the title of the exhibition — and Hrushetska’s take on it — suggests it crosses cultural boundaries into the realm of advocacy for the Palestinians and their cause.

“The term ‘sovereign’ describes self-rule, autonomy, and independence — all still painfully absent for Palestinians in the political sphere,” Hrushetska wrote in the “Threads” brochure. “However, from a cultural perspective, the term takes on a more comprehensive meaning…. The costumes and embroidery on display are living records of Palestinian ‘cultural sovereignty’…. As they revive a culture in peril, the Palestinian women who create contemporary embroidery in refugee camps are also preserving their own imperiled dignity.”

When asked whether the show is biased, Hrushetska doesn’t entirely say no. She ties “Threads” to a continuing debate among curators over what has come to be called “the politics of representation”: Just who gets to tell a people’s story?The debate emerged in sharp focus when museums attempted to describe Native American history from a United States perspective some years ago, Hrushetska said.

“As a curatorial policy, if I’m going to show somebody’s culture, I will show it from their perspective — that’s the only authentic way,” Hrushetska said. “If we did a history of Israeli embroidery, how would the Jewish community feel if Palestinians narrated it?”

Hrushetska, who grew up in Chicago and is in her late 30s, is quick to acknowledge that she is an unconventional museum director. Her background is in international relations, not art history or museum management. She believes that most people mistakenly view folk art as “quaint, nostalgic or something their grandparents used to do.”

She wishes to help reframe traditional art in a contemporary, relevant light, while promoting cross-cultural understanding in Los Angeles and around the globe.

Yet such issues were far from her mind when she caught her first glimpse of Palestinian textiles 18 months ago, around the time she arrived at the museum. The setting was the ultramodern Venice home of 75-year-old artist Huguette Caland — daughter of Lebanon’s first president, Bishara al Khuri — who is known for her own artwork, as well as for opening her home to salons frequented by Los Angeles’ cultural community. In a corner of Caland’s vast studio, Hrushetska spotted a brown velvet chaise lounge covered with pillows embroidered by Palestinian women in Beirut refugee camps.

Hrushetska, a Ukrainian American who grew up in a house filled with her grandmother’s embroidery, immediately assumed the pillows were Ukrainian.”Even though I consider myself a globalist, I defaulted to my own heritage,” she said.

But she learned that her connection wasn’t completely off mark: Eastern Orthodox Christians (including Ukrainians) reportedly made pilgrimages to Bethlehem, via Ramallah, from the 15th century onward. Some purchased embroidery samples as souvenirs of the Holy Land, which later entered the visual language of Ukrainian decor.

Caland told Hrushetska her pillows were created in workshops sponsored by the Association for the Development of Palestinian Camps (best known by its Arabic language acronym, INAASH), a United Nations non-governmental organization co-founded by Caland in 1969. INAASH provides refugee women with embroidery materials so they can supplement their incomes through international sale of their handiwork, Caland said.

“Because I’m very sensitive to the plight of women in conflict and war, I decided we need to show this work,'” Hrushetska told The Journal. She believes the work deserves to be shown, as well, because “Palestinian embroidery and costumes are known as some of the most beautiful in the folk art world.”

Through Caland and other Arab American contacts, Hrushetska obtained funding for the exhibition (she declines to name the amount) and a curator, Hanan Karaman Munayyer, who has studied and collected Palestinian costumes (along with her husband, Farah) since 1987.

The exhibition concludes with a video depicting women sewing in an INAASH workshop: “Our financial situation is hardly bearable, that’s why we are working,” one participant says on camera.

“After six or seven hours, I can hardly hold the needle,” another woman says.The museum gift shop has already sold almost $15,000 worth of their handiwork, Hrushetska said; a number of items remain for sale, although the embroiderers ceased working during the recent fighting and were unable to send additional fare while the Beirut airport was closed. (It has now reopened.)

So how can prospective buyers be sure their money will not fund anti-Israel causes? Hrushetska responds that INAASH is recognized as a U.N.-sanctioned organization. (The group did sign onto a letter calling for the Palestinian right of return, according to the Web site administered by Al-Awda — The Palestinian Right of Return Coalition.)

When asked if “Threads” could be perceived as unfair, even irresponsible during a time when Israel is at war with Hamas and Hezbollah, Hrushetska emphasized that the show was conceived long before the current crisis.

“But enough of this,” she added. “I know the history of the region, and this and that U.N. resolution, and I’m tired of it. These conflicts will only diminish when we start to humanize each other…. I think that this is an important exhibition for people to see so they start to humanize Palestinians.

“This show is not about the history of blame,” she added. “It’s about recognizing the dire situation that these women are in, not making a judgment on how they got there. It’s saying, ‘These women deserve to be recognized, because they’ve created something beautiful and relevant.'”

A panel discussion, “Culture, Conflict and Identity,” in conjunction with the “Threads” exhibition, will take place Sept. 17 at the Goethe-Institute, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 100, Los Angeles. (323) 937-4230.

Gear Up for an Israel Vacation


With summer travel to Israel around the corner, now’s the time to plan your packing strategy. From new high-tech gadgets to easy-care clothing, from hybrid shoes to crushable sun hats, there’s plenty to choose from as gifts for loved ones and must-haves for your own comfort. We’ve identified select products to help with common travel dilemmas. Peruse our list for solutions to help you pack light, avoid sunburns, save on batteries and more. An added bonus: nearly everything — except for new prescription contact lenses — is available online or by phone.

Threads
Women visiting Meah Shearim and other religious sites need cool clothes for modest cover-ups. The hip, Pack-N-Go Cotton Crinkle Skirt ($59) stores in its own pouch and welcomes wrinkles; ” target=”_blank”>Sahalie.com, (800) 547-1160.

A convenient handbag is a woman’s travel must. The Space Saver Bag ($29.50) offers plenty of pockets to tuck it away with outdoor style; Sahalie. A microfiber Convertible Bag ($50) doubles as a compact backpack; Travelsmith.

For him, a Pre-Wrinkled Shirt ($45) works for daily and Shabbat wear; Sahalie. Cotton Kenya Convertible Pants ($69.50) double as shorts by zipping off the lower portion; Travelsmith. And the Intrepid Travel Hat ($52), a lightweight fedora, breathes, bends and repels water. Wrap it into itself for travel and then pop it back into shape upon arrival; Travelsmith.

For him and her, breathable CoolMax blended with cotton wicks away moisture while providing sun protection. A variety of styles, polos, tees, long sleeve shirts and undies, are available. Travelsmith ($40 and up). Avoid insect bites and sunburns with Buzz Off Convertible Pants with UV30+ protection for him or her ($79); Sahalie.

Footwear
Multipurpose sandals for hiking, touring and synagogue are the ticket. Chacos offer great support (even for those who usually wear orthotics) and come in a variety of designs. New thin-strap styles better conform to your foot. Lug soles offer great traction; ” target=”_blank”>REI.com ($60 and up).

Cool Mesh Low Quarter Socks ($9) keep tootsies cooler, drier and blister-free; Sahalie. And for shower wear and beach duty, Adidas ClimaCool Slides ($30) offer air mesh screening underfoot. Ventilated running shoes, warm weather sports tops and other products in the ClimaCool line are also available; ” target=”_blank”>Magellans.com, (800) 962-4943. And prevent carry-on security problems by packing the TSA-approved Personal Travel Kit ($70); Sharper Image.

For in-flight comfort, consider collapsible MP3-Enhanced Headphones ($35) and the ultra-cozy Nap Travel U-Pillow with Eye Mask ($25); Brookstone. Breathe in cleaner, fresher air with a personal Ionic Breeze Air Purifier ($30); Sharper Image. To relieve motion sickness, the watch-like ReliefBand ($89) sends gentle electrical pulses to interfere with nausea messages from the brain. Flight Spray ($15) helps relieve nasal dryness. And for bad backs and skinny tushies, select specially designed pillows and pads; Magellan’s.

In Israel, cool off Aussie-style with a Cobber Neck Cooler ($15), which features lightweight nontoxic crystals that stay cool for up to three days; Travelsmith. A Mini Misting Fan ($13) simulates playing in sprinklers — even in the back of the bus. The even larger Personal Cooling System ($30) fans the neck; Sharper Image.

Forget the need for constant batteries with electronic devices that you can crank up by hand. You “churn on” the Freeplay EyeMax Radio/Flashlight ($50) or juice up its solar cells in the sun; Sharper Image.Volunteering on kibbutz or studying abroad? Tune in with the AM/FM Grundig Emergency Hand Crank Radio ($50), complete with built-in flashlight and cell phone charger. ” target=”_blank”>rhythmfusion.zoovy.com, (831) 423-2048. Bird-watch with Micro-Zoom Binoculars ($99); Magellan’s. And take home memories with the Canon Powershot SD600 ($349), an economical solution for super high resolution in one tiny package.

Iranian Colored Band Report Discredited


When the renowned exiled Iranian journalist Amir Taheri reported in a Canadian newspaper last week that Iran had just passed a law requiring Jews to wear yellow bands on their clothing, the world reacted with shock. The story, which also outlined required colored bands for Christians and Zoroastrians, was immediately picked up by major newspapers in Israel, and the word spread quickly. The purpose of the law according to Taheri’s article, was to set a standard dress code for Muslims and also for Iranian Muslims “to easily recognize non-Muslims so that they can avoid shaking hands with them by mistake and thus becoming najis [unclean]”.

The story seemed credible, given that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been making anti-Semitic and anti-Israel proclamations for months. But, as it turned out, Taheri was wrong. No such law had been passed.

Nevertheless, Taheri’s report set in motion a media frenzy, with checks and balances of rumor control that illustrate how on edge — and careful — the Iranian exile community is these days. Local Iranian Jewish leaders were bombarded with requests for comments from the international media on the reported legislation, but they held back from responding until they had received solid confirmation from their sources in Iran.

“To the best of my knowledge the final version of the law does not demand any identifying marks by the religious minority groups,” Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Los Angeles-based Iranian American Jewish Federation said in a press release. “I am not aware of what was said by whom, but it is possible that some ideas might have been thrown around.”

Kermanian also said that while Iran’s Islamic officials have in the past put out ideas in the media to gauge international reaction, there was no specific information about this instance.

The report stemmed from new legislation geared to making women in Iran dress more conservatively and avoid Western fashions, Iranian legislator Emad Afroogh Afroogh who sponsored the Islamic Dress Code bill told the Associated Press on Friday. Allegations that new rules affecting religious minorities were not part of the new regulations, he said.

“It’s a sheer lie. The rumors about this are worthless,” Afroogh said. “There is no mention of religious minorities and their clothing in the bill.”

Morris Motamed, the Jewish representative in the Iranian Parliament also denied the existence of any bills designed to segregate Jews in the country with special insignia on their clothes.

“Such a plan has never been proposed or discussed in the parliament,” Motamed said. “Such news, which appeared abroad, is an insult to religious minorities here.”

Rumors of anti-Semitic laws in Iran have disturbed local Iranian Jews who have been increasingly concerned for the safety of roughly 25,000 Jews still living in Iran since Ahmadinejad denied the existence of the Holocaust and called for Israel to “wiped off the map” late last year.

“The mere fact that such possibilities are considered to be plausible is a reflection of the sad state of affairs of the religious minority groups in Iran,” Kermanian said in his press release.

According to a 2004 report prepared by Frank Nikbakht, a local Iranian Jewish activist who tracks anti-Semitism in Iran, the Jewish community lives in constant fear for its security amid threats from militant Islamic factions in the country. Since 1979, at least 14 Jews were murdered or assassinated by the regime’s agents, 11 Jews have disappeared after being arrested, at least two Jews died while in custody and 11 Jews have been officially executed by the regime. In 1999, Feizollah Mekhoubad, a 78-year-old cantor of the popular Yousefabad synagogue in Tehran, was the last Jew to be officially executed by the regime, stated the report.

In 2000, the local Iranian Jewish community was at the forefront of an international human rights campaign to save the lives of 13 Jews in Shiraz. They were facing imminent execution after being arrested on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel and the United States. Ultimately, the Shiraz Jews were not executed but sentenced to prison terms and have since been released.

Both Jews and Muslims of Iranian origins living in Southern California have been closely collaborating to raise public awareness of Ahmadinejad’s comments. Nearly 2,000 Iranians of various faiths gathered at a pro-Israel rally in Westwood last November to condemn Ahmadinejad’s calls for Israel’s destruction.

“We wanted to show the world that we are against such comments made by Mr. Ahmadinejad and that his comments are not representative of the Iranian people,” said Assadollah Morovati, owner of KRSI “Radio Sedaye Iran,” a Persian language satellite radio station based in Beverly Hills that broadcasts news around the world. “Iranians are not the type to want the destruction of another people. We respect the Jewish people and only wish success for the State of Israel.”

 

525,600 Minutes


I was sitting in the AMC theater in Woodland Hills, a captive of a dull series of pre-movie advertisements, when I started to think about my next column. I considered writing about fasting (argue that a tall Starbucks latte might be an acceptable fasting exception, compared to a venti latte which is clearly a fasting faux pas); sitting with your kids in the adult service (discuss pros and cons of having children with shpilkes join you in the main sanctuary); and High Holiday attire (assert that Macy’s should have a High Holiday clothing department comprised of conservative yet fashionable clothes that come in textures appropriate for 100 F temperatures, but in fabrics that say “fall”).

These thoughts were interrupted by a preview for the movie version of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, “Rent.” A bunch of hip, actors and actresses with soaring voices and dazzling smiles appeared on the screen singing the opening lines to “Seasons of Love”: “525,600 minutes; 525,000 moments so dear; 525,600 minutes; how do you measure, measure a year?”

I mentally deleted my other potential topics and began thinking how as Americans and Jews we take stock of those 525,600 minutes in two very different ways. As Americans, we anticipate the upcoming 525,600 minutes with unbridled optimism, making big, bold resolutions. As Jews, we examine the year that has just passed, searching those 525,600 minutes for wrongs that we may have caused, or mistakes that could have been avoided.

But the differences in the Jewish approach and the secular approach to marking a new year aren’t just philosophical.

On New Year’s Eve 2005, we will make a slew of resolutions that will be kept for a week or two, dress in party clothes that rarely see the light of day, drink like Prohibition might make a comeback and eat like the calories are on hiatus. The most that many of us will contemplate on New Year’s Day, the first day of 2006, are the instructions on the child-proof cap guarding the Tylenol.

For Rosh Hashanah, we will dress conservatively, visit our synagogues in huge numbers, and eat our meals at home. It is a time for introspection, not partying.

What is the best way to move toward a new year? The Jewish method that calls for an intense review of the past year, or the American approach of entering each new year with a sort of reckless optimism oblivious to what has come before? It seems that the answer depends on whether or not one is a parent.

If you have children, you need to approach each and every new year with one eye on the past and the other eye on the future. To look only backward ignores the reality that our children are constantly changing: the baby that was just on our lap is now a toddler painting pictures; the kindergartener who raided our lipstick to play dress up is now a middle-school kid asking for makeup of her own. The child who screamed at us to stay when we dropped them off at preschool now screams at us to leave them alone when their friends are around.

But even though our children are constantly moving forward toward adulthood and a life of their own, we still must look back and consider our past parenting errors, and figure out how to fix them. The punishment for failing to look at our past parenting mistakes is to make them again; the punishment for failing to make plans for our parenting future is to parent a child that no longer exists. We must face each year with the optimism of New Year’s Eve, and the introspection of Rosh Hashanah.

During the Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah and end with Yom Kippur, I will consider how I spent last year’s 525,600 parenting minutes. Was I too lenient, or too strict? Did I try to shape my child into my image, or was I respectful of my child’s attempts, however shaky, to design her own identity? Did my child spend more time with me, or with his GameBoy? Did I cheer as loud when he did a random act of kindness as when he scored the game-winning point in basketball?

But I will also consider the gift of a new 525,600 minutes, minutes that are fresh and untouched. How will I respond when my daughter begs for a cellphone, asks for a razor to shave her legs or is dumped by a friend? How many minutes a day should she be allowed to IM? What will I do when she finally talks back? How will I make time every day to actively listen to my son and daughter when so many other things seem to get in the way?

The song from “Rent” continues with this verse: “525,600 minutes; 525,600 journeys to plan.”

This year, lets plan our parenting journeys with the exuberance and optimism with which we approach the American New Year, but with the thoughtfulness with which we approach the Jewish New Year. Let’s keep one eye on our parenting past, and the other eye focused on our parenting future so that we may experience 525,600 minutes of Awe.

L’Shanah Tovah.

Wendy Jaffe can be reached at wjaffewrite@aol.com.

You Are What You Wear


 

Have you ever read in an advertisement inviting you to buy an overpriced suit or necktie that “It’s true, clothes do make the man”?

Do clothes make the man or woman? On the one hand, we’d like to think that people aren’t affected by something as superficial as clothing. But on the other hand, it does make a big difference when people are appropriately dressed. For example, an undertaker must wear conservative clothing in order to achieve the desired effect. Can you imagine Chuckles, the Mortician Clown, bedecked in red nose and floppy shoes officiating at a funeral? He probably wouldn’t stay in business too long (although, this is California).

And today, even many public schools (yes, public schools) around the country have adopted school uniforms. I think it’s a great idea. For one thing, being the one in charge of waking up my children for school in the morning, I know what it’s like for my kids to first think about what they’re going to wear for the coming day, and then to begin the scavenger hunt of actually finding the blue sweatshirt that goes with the designer khaki pants. Life would be a lot easier if they knew every morning exactly what they were going to wear.

But there’s another reason why uniforms make sense, which relates back to Chuckles the Mortician. Clothes do affect us; not only the way others look at us, but also the way we feel about ourselves. I feel a big difference when I’m wearing a tie, rather than when I’m not wearing one. I just don’t feel official — or rabbinical — without a tie, and I believe it affects my ability to be rabbinical when I’m tie-less.

Our children’s attitudes are also affected greatly by their attire. When I see two kids wearing what passes for casual clothes these days — low-rider torn jeans (the ones that allow you to see the polka-dot boxers underneath) — my mind conjures the jargon of, “Yo! Wassup?” Whereas, when I see a young man with his white turtleneck speaking to a young lady wearing a plaid wool skirt, I imagine something like this:

“Hello, Priscilla, what did you think of our homework reading from Chaucer?”

“Oh, the pathos of it all was just so powerful.”

Children, too, will have different attitudes about themselves and their studies if they are surrounded by a somewhat more formal environment.

What does the Torah have to say about clothes? In the book of Exodus, we learn about the special priestly garments that all priests (Kohanim) are supposed to wear when working in the Temple. The Torah declares that these special clothes are to be for “honor and glory.” Among other things, these clothes include a special tunic, turban and breeches. A regular Kohen wears four special garments, and the high priest wears eight. If a Kohen attempts to bring an offering in the Temple without any one of his special garments, his service is rendered invalid. The commentaries offer several reasons for this.

First, a Kohen working in the Temple is a public servant, almost like a soldier or policeman, with a specific duty to perform. Just as a soldier must wear his uniform while on duty to make it “official,” so must the Kohen. Others explain that the priestly garments are a sign of royalty, since the Kohanim are of aristocratic stock. Others explain that clothes are what distinguish human beings from animals, and so the right clothes accentuate man’s ascendancy over the beast.

Still others explain that one’s attitude, one’s approach to the issue at hand, is deeply affected by what he or she is wearing. Before the Kohen can embark on the holiest of activities, his entire environment must be aligned with that mindset of holiness; hence, he needs clothing that is appropriate for this holy calling.

As a teacher and a parent, I know how much children are affected by their environments. Friends, parents and the media all weigh very heavily upon their development. But some of the smaller things that we take for granted also have profound effects. Clothing is one of those things, which is why, even though sometimes my children resent it, I am glad that their school has an official uniform.

On the other hand, low-rider jeans do look comfortable.

Rabbi Daniel N. Korobkin is spiritual leader of Kehillat Yavneh.

 

From Jew to Jewcy


Last year was a big one for Jewish cool. Articles in The Forward; Time Out New York; conservative Candian newspaper, The National Post; and staid British dailies, The Times and The Observer all trumpeted the reinvention of Jewishness as hip and cool. Amalgamate the headlines of those articles and you get something like: “It’s Hip to Be Hebrew: Edgy Jewish Chic Gets a Jewcy Makeover.”

The articles hype the worldly, self-assured, secular Jew. This 30-something urbanite articulates newfound Jewish pride through unlikely vehicles: He’Brew, The Chosen Beer; tight T-shirts bearing slogans like “Jewcy” and “Shalom Motherf–er”; insolent magazines like Heeb; and tongue-in-cheek movies, such as blaxploitation parody “The Hebrew Hammer” and the mockumentary “Schmelvis: Searching for the King’s Jewish Roots.”

Many observers, particularly those not raised in North America, are perplexed and confused by the sudden arrival of Jewish cool. Others are downright offended that anti-Semitic slurs and irreverent irony, combined with sex and profanity, are being touted as the Diaspora’s answer to religion dogged by intermarriage, shrinking synagogue membership and the Chanukah bush.

But all of this begs the most important question: Do these trends mark the stirrings of a Jewish revival, or are they so much marketing detritus, the repackaging of Jewish culture as a fleeting lifestyle fad?

To understand this phenomenon, it’s important to understand the origins of those who embrace it. The people making and wearing Jewcy products are members of a generation that grew up immersed in the glow of the TV and computer monitor. They grew up in a world of two parents in the workplace, rising divorce rates, shrinking birthrates and mass influxes of consumer goods. Most importantly, they witnessed the arrival of an all-encompassing pop culture that would create, at once, a global lingua franca of on-screen moments and a world of fragmented niches encompassing every possible pop kink.

By the time we became teenagers, our relationship to tradition was tenuous. I use we here because I am not only profiling the Jewcy Jew, but also, in many ways, an entire generation of middle-class suburban Jews (such as myself) who spent far more time in the world of pop culture than we did in shul, Hebrew school, and listening to bubby talk about the old days combined. Jews of this generation were taught about the Holocaust at Jewish private school or Jewish Sunday school via filmstrips and frail guest speakers. Pop culture taught us that each of us is a special, unique individual with the capacity for success, reinvention and total freedom. Seize the day, just do it, you’re a superstar! Judaism taught us the importance of repetition — the Amidah, “Hatikvah” — and emphasized a tradition and history marked mostly by seeming failure and recurrent destruction. After school, personal computers, VCRs and cable watched over us while our parents worked late — pulled into a booming early ’80s Reaganomics that, a decade later, would founder into debt and recession.

In university, those who were to become the proprietors and consumers of Jewish cool studied psychology, literature, feminist studies — ignoring history, religion and any politics save those of the personal. They did drugs, drank heavily, applied for unpaid internships. Their 20s passed in a blur of constant reinvention — one minute they were gay activists, the next indie filmmakers, the next nascent entrepreneurs. Many of the new Jew cool creators attended liberal arts-style colleges situated in or near big cities. Their education prepared them to be a generation of cultural producers taking advantage of the profusion of newly minted professions in marketing, communications, public relations, production, design, editing and journalism, not to mention the vast array of precarious permanently part-time endeavors that gave parents no end of sleepless nights: the performance artists, painters, stand-up comics, actors, novelists, punk rockers they insisted they were meant to be. “You want me to be like you?” they sneered at their lawyer, doctor, businessperson parents.

Of course, many of the new Jewcy Jews did end up joining their more restrained counterparts (who went to Harvard and Cornell instead of Brown and Bard) in pursuing careers as lawyers, doctors, business types. Even those who stuck with careers in the arts and media gradually discovered that business always creeps in. Regardless of chosen career path, we — an entire generation of career-minded, pop saturated, nonpracticing Jews — all discovered around the same time that, despite being adorned with careers, roomy apartments, relationships, even kids of our own, something was missing. We were getting older, and Luke Skywalker’s admonition to use the force could not help us deal with the disappointments of modern life. Lacking a vital ongoing belief system and living in a society that looked down on religious conviction, we felt adrift, alone.

Which brings us back to the present. Outwardly self-confident, inwardly insecure and guilt-ridden, a new generation of Jews is realizing that meaning can’t be solely constructed through lists of favorite albums. Pop-savvy hipsters also need community, seek guidance, structure, continuity and a sense of deeper purpose — all those things that modern society seems unable to provide. And yet, we’ve grown up steeped in the profound uncoolness of Jewishness. Even once “hip” Jewish culture seems somehow emasculated: the nattering insecurity of Woody Allen; the sweaty-palmed mamma’s boy, Portnoy; the potty-mouthed ranting Lenny Bruce. Compared to the culture of pop and its myth of individuality, inscrutability, rebellion and cool, both Jewish culture and practice seem as boring and irrelevant as ever.

And so we began to search for other ways to connect to those things that religion provides. We want to have a shared sense of who we are and where we come from, but in a way that speaks of the world we know and understand intimately: the irreverent, self-referential, irony-steeped world of pop culture. Yearning for meaningful connection becomes a T-shirt and a B-movie parody. Since we’ve always identified with each other through our pop fetishes — he’s a goth, she’s a punk — creating a subculture of pop that hipster Jews can relate to and speak to each other through comes naturally.

This is a generation without community as many understand it. We are connected through networks, friendships and entertainment interests, not neighbors, family, nationality or religion. We pick and choose our relationships as part of the ongoing process of personal invention. In many ways, pop culture is our community, it’s what links us to our friends and — for the large numbers of Jews of this generation who work as cultural communicators — it is our source of income, what we do, as they used to say, for a living. Call it liberating or sad, but there’s no denying that the new Jewish-influenced pop culture is a way to communicate a sense of some communal yearning for deeper meaning and more intimate connection. This we do the only way we know how: by forming pop culture communities.

But, of course, pop culture community is not real community. It is transitory, does not impose any kind of substantive obligations on its members, and lacks a shared value system. As a result, trying to reconnect to Jewish community by forming pop culture communities seems paradoxical. Can we use the language of pop culture to transcend our world of ephemeral style symbols and form deeper and more meaningful Jewish communities?

One such attempt at a new kind of Jewish community is run by Mireille Silcoff in Toronto, a lively cosmopolitan city with a large Jewish population. Founded in 2003, Silcoff presides over a monthly salon that meets at her apartment. Much liquid courage is provided for the hesitant, and discussions of Israel and anti-Semitism are explicitly banned. Attendance has been steadily growing to the point where Silcoff is moving the gathering out of her apartment and into a just-opened trendy bar in a rapidly gentrifying downtown area. The attendees are primarily young secular Jews in early adulthood, many of whom are working in the fields of arts and communication. The goal of the salon, according to Silcoff, is to reconnect a living, breathing Jewish culture to the mainstream of these young lives.

“Judaism has become a kind of invalid culture,” Silcoff explained, “we don’t consider it real, we don’t feel like it has anything to do with our lives now.”

Silcoff is, in many ways, a prototypical new-cool Jew. She wrote two books about drugs and rave culture in her 20s. She changed her last name, concerned that an association with nerdy Jewishness would hamper her credibility to chronicle youth underground. Now she’s changed her name back and no longer feels like the “Jewish thing” is an impediment to her career.

“We’ve all grown up with a rich cultural background as Jews,” she said. “We’re lucky to have this Jewish thing — so many people are walking around like empty vessels, looking for something to belong to.”

So why can’t young Jews belong to synagogue or other traditional forms of Jewish social groups in the community? Why do they have to gather at a hipster party, as laid back and noncommittal as a cocktail?

“There are about four people who attend the salon who also go to synagogue,” she said. “We just aren’t coming from that turgid Jewish institution…. Not the JCC, not B’nai Brith, not attached to a synagogue. We’re coming from a new place…. More emphasis on the concrete over the spiritual, on culture over religion. Thirty Jews getting together in a room, that’s spiritual for me.”

The laissez-faire “hey, let’s just get together and talk” approach to Judaism — combined with the arrival of explicitly Jewish pop creations — began as a largely grass-roots, unconscious articulation of a sense of something lost. But it has since been deliberately encouraged.

Silcoff’s transition from disconnected and embarrassed to proactive and prideful was fostered by an organization called Reboot. Founded in 2002, Reboot is a nonprofit that describes itself as “aiming to bring about a cultural renaissance among young Jews, stimulating them to express their unfolding sense of Jewish identity, value and heritage.” Reboot recruited Silcoff after she began to make a name for herself as an insightful chronicler of youth culture. She was invited to their annual weekend gathering in Park City, Utah. Silcoff reluctantly attended, and describes what ensued as “life changing.” By immersing herself in a gathering of creative individuals who were all likewise “feeling Jewish, but also feeling disconnected,” Silcoff found that she was able to leave behind her “guilt about not belonging.”

The idea of Reboot is to gather these young, influential, culturally savvy Jews and then disperse them back into their communities. “It’s sort of a peer-to-peer marketing project,” explains Silcoff, who was encouraged to start her salon by the Reboot organization. “If you want to put it in a very cold, weird way.”

Reboot isn’t the only nonprofit organization deliberately trying to foster a new identity for Judaism. Indeed, as an organization funded by the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation, Reboot is just the best organized and most established of a burgeoning number of such groups. Another notable entity is the Joshua Venture, a San Francisco-based group that funds off-kilter young Jewish entrepreneurs. It has backed the magazine Heeb, as well as StorahTelling, a traveling theater group described as “a fusion of storytelling, Torah, and contemporary performance art.”

Unable to reach young Jewish adults through usual outreach, traditional Jewish groups concerned about the steady erosion of Judaism in America are picking up on what is already happening and giving it a helping hand. Many of the people who cringe when they see Heeb on the newsstand or a T-shirt like “Shalom Motherf–er” might have even contributed to these projects through their annual donation to an established Jewish organization. There has been little mainstream debate about this new way of wooing young Jews back to their religion. Few, if any, articles on this subject have wondered: If Judaism becomes a T-shirt and an attitude, what will be left of the religion for these young people to return to?

The articles in the newspapers and magazines are all ridiculously upbeat about “Jewish chic.” Naomi Wolf crows in London’s Sunday Times: “For young gentiles it’s cool to be mistaken for a Jew and to greet each other with the words shalom and mazel tov.” Wolf’s article and others emphasize that this new trend is about self-respect and community empowerment. But a closer examination of the culture from which it emerges suggests that this isn’t always the case. Jewsweek.com’s gossip on Jews in Hollywood and pictures of Gov. Arnie dancing the hora may attract younger viewers, but spending time there feels more like watching “Entertainment Tonight” than it does like “reconnecting.”

Pop culture rarely fosters real community or individuality. Pop promises such attributes, but delivers merely passive engagement — identity without individuality, community without commitment. It remains to be seen whether the new pop Jew trend can circumvent that trap. After all, we live in an age where pseudo-difference is celebrated, difference that comes from body piercings or appearances on “American Idol.” But real difference — like being committed to an ideology or religion — is ignored if not mocked. Style-infused depictions of Judaism cannot elude pop’s legacy of breaking down community and instilling a new kind of “everyone’s special for being who they are” attitude. As Douglas Rushkoff said about the new alterna-Jew experience, “This culture seems to promoting not values but the surface conventions of MTV and hip hop.”

But Rushkoff’s comments don’t apply across the board.

A monthly salon is different from a line of clothing. Clothing can only ever be surface; regular gatherings can lead to substantive changes of attitude, new friendships, an accepting of responsibilities — in other words, community. There is a big difference between, say, John Zorn’s Masada — new wave jazz reinterpreting the klezmer musical tradition — and any number of Jewish pop and rap bands that merely insert bagels and lox into their otherwise formulaic songs. Which is to say that a generation of culture-savvy ironic stylemeisters linked by Jewishness can contribute to the life and legacy of Judaism while fostering new communities that speak to the alienated.

But it is difficult to accept, as Wolf apparently does, that Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song” and “young gentiles” high-fiving each other in Yiddish will lead to anything more than further dissolution and confusion. If Jewishness becomes just another way to be cool, then Judaism will ultimately be replaced in North America by yet another clever marketing campaign. If, on the other hand, cool can be reclaimed for Judaism, then an entire demographic of wandering pop nomads may finally return to the tribe.

Quit Staring at My Chest


Sure, your bubbie always said you had a shayna punim, but now there’s a T-shirt to help you pronounce it proudly to the world. Recently launched Rabbi’s Daughters is one of the latest Los Angeles-based clothing lines to jump on the baby-T bandwagon. But in this case, the ubiquitous tops usually emblazoned with girl-power identifiers such as “flirt,” “tomboy,” “princess” or “boy toy,” get an updated, irreverent Jewish twist. Rabbi’s Daughters T-shirts and “wife beater” tank tops are printed with choice Yiddish words and phrases in Hebrew-style graphics, like “Yenta,” “Kosher” and “Goy Toy.” They’re the brainchild of Creative Arts Temple’s Rabbi Jerry Cutler’s three daughters.

“It came to us probably within a moment,” Daniella Zax, the youngest Cutler daughter, told The Journal. “We thought it was a great idea to put our heritage into fun, sexy little T-shirts.”

Three months later, the shirts are being plucked off shelves of stores all around Los Angeles, including Fred Segal, Zero Minus Plus and M. Fredric.

But, Zax was quick to note, “It’s not just sticking Yiddish words on T-shirts. There’s meaning in it for us. It’s about our family tradition. We come from people who spoke the language.”

Their mother, for one, is a Holocaust survivor who speaks five languages, Yiddish being one of them.

“When we first thought of the idea, my dad was on the phone with us every day going through his Yiddish books with us,” Zax said. “Our mom speaks fluent Yiddish, so whenever we have questions she’s kind of like our dictionary.”

The sisters, all in their 30s, divide duties — with Zax employing her 10 years as a buyer for a women’s boutique to steer them through the ins and outs of the shmatte business. The eldest, Nina Bush, is an architect-turned-stay-at-home mom, while Myla Fraser, the middle sister, does freelance production work for music videos and television. For them this has become a second career, while for Zax, who left her job as a buyer, getting the entire Rabbi’s Daughters line into stores is now a full-time gig.

In addition to T-shirts and tanks for women for a double-chai price ($36), the line offers tees for kids and babies in blue, pink, white and gray, with options like “Pisher,” “Bubeleh” and “Kvetch” running $28-$30. There are future plans for long-sleeve t-shirts, Zax said, “Our wheels are constantly turning. We’re all always thinking about the next step.”

Meanwhile, those looking for the perfect Christmas present for their token non-Jewish friends can consider the now available “Shiksa” shirt, while Jewish J-Los can shake it in pricey $18 “Tush” panties.

To see the line, visit

Janet’s Retro Planet


It could have been a scene aboard the deck of the Titanic –before that pesky iceberg hit.

As the live band performed tunes from the early 1900s,couples swing danced on the black-and-white checkered floor of an elegant artdeco venue. In between songs, Cherry Tartes, burlesque strippers dressed inskimpy raincoats, strategically folded and unfurled their umbrellas to reveal,conceal and tease the supper club crowd.

While it may have felt like the turn of the 20th century,the supper club was in the Fenix Room of the Argyle Hotel on Sunset Boulevard.

In the center of it all was the self-proclaimed “ukulelechanteuse” Janet Klein — a svelte woman with bright eyes, a brunette bob and along gown that might place her as a contemporary of Theda Bara and Clara Bow.On a winter Monday night, she belted out vintage numbers such as “HollywoodParty,” “You Keep Me Living in Sin” and “Nasty Man,” with her backup band, TheParlor Boys.

“I like to say that I was born in 1908,” said Klein, whocoyly describes her age as “30-ish.”

Born sometime after that in Los Angeles, Klein grew up inthe San Bernadino foothills, with her parents, UCLA-educated educators with anEastern European heritage.

“I always thought I had the soul of an old lady,” Kleinsaid. “I was always very close to the older people in my family. I loved thestuff they had in their houses.”

Klein’s ancestors were Polish leather-workers, and she hasheld on to their handmade, knitted, sequined gowns.

“I had a vision of me in a long gown with a candelabra,”said Klein, who now dresses in these family heirlooms when she performs.

Even as a teen attending Pacific High School and TempleEmanuel, Klein cherished the 1910s, ’20s and ’30s.

“This period has been poorly stereotyped,” said Klein of thedecade maligned by visions of Betty Boop and the Charleston, when, in reality,”it’s blessed by some of the greatest ever music produced by immigrants andblacks.”

Brad Kay, the Parlor Boy on piano and coronet who hooked upwith Klein in 1998, agrees that there is relatively little appreciation for themusic.

“Our tendency in our culture to completely trash the past,”Kay said. “Americans especially are prone to dismiss anything that’s older than20 minutes, which is completely opposite of the rest of the world.”

A trained classical pianist, Klein first picked up theukulele in 1995. Within months, she went up to Santa Cruz to patronize a notedluthier, who created Klein’s customized black lacquer ukulele — adorned withcherry blossoms, a “Coeur de Jeanette” logo mugged from a French cologne labeland birdseed fret marks.

Lori Brooks, who works at Hi De Ho Comics in Santa Monica,brought down the staff of her shop to the Argyle show. She also caught Klein atFais Do Do in November when a building code violation bust — teeming withpeople dressed in period clothing — enhanced that evening’s allure.

“It really had this 1920s Prohibition feel to it,” saidBrooks, 24. “At the strike of midnight, the fire department showed up. Thebartenders was quickly getting out of there. It seemed like all of LAPD was outthere.”

Klein finds the vaudeville-era tunes, a lot of them writtenby Jewish songwriters, “lively and clever and heartwarming.”

Parlor Boys’ ukulele and accordion player, Ian Whitcomb(whose “You Turn Me On” was a pop hit during the British Invasion), observedthat Tin Pan Alley was a natural outlet for the East European Jews passingthrough Ellis Island.

“The professions, such as banking, were closed to them,”said Whitcomb, who recently scored Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Cat’s Meow.” “Sothey entered rogue businesses, such as cinema and Tin Pan Alley.”

These Jews developed an ear for the genre’s urbanvernacular, he said. “Being outsiders, they could see American mass culturemuch more objectively….In a way we can thank the czars for the pogroms [thatchased from Russia] Al Jolson, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin and the like.”

Klein even tosses Jewish numbers into her sets, such as”Yiddish Hula Boy” and “Rebecca from Mecca.”

“Yiddish gives me a kick,” she said.

Kay said Klein excels at what she does because “she hasgreat respect for this music.”

“It’s not kitsch to any of us,” he continued. “It’s justmusic.”

Janet Klein will perform at McCabe’s on Feb. 7; at the Silent Movie Theatre on Feb. 14 ; and at the Argyle Hotel on March 3. For information, visit www.silentmovietheatre.com or www.janetklein.com . p>

Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve


Tired of wearing designer clothes and lining the pockets of fashionistas?
These days, clothing companies are banking on Jewish pride and charity as the
impetus for their labels.

Jewcy and Jewish Jeans are both joining a growing clique of
edgy Jewish enterprises, such as Heeb magazine and JDub Records that deliver
secular Jewish culture in pop culture formats.

Jewish Jeans (www.jewishjeans.com) donates a portion of its
sales to victims of suicide bombing attacks in Israel.  It offers shirts embroidered
with “Nice Jewish Boy” and “Single Jewish Girl,” and political messages such as
“Pursue Peace” and “Support Israel.”

“Whether you want to make a statement about your social
status or your political views, Jewish Jeans delivers powerful messages in a
stylish and fun way,” the Web site asserts.

The company was founded by Columbus, Ohio residents, Steven
Verona, 34, a successful inventor, and Daniel Wolt, 36, owner of a home
remodeling company who recently resigned his post as social director of the
Young Jewish Community of Columbus to work on the project.

Verona said he became involved in Jewish Jeans in an effort
to combat anti-Semitic sentiment and promote a positive Jewish image.

“Jewish Jeans allows you to make a statement of pride in
your heritage … proudly wear your Jewish Jeans clothing knowing that you
helping to make the world a better place,” the site promises.

Another label, Jewcy, is selling T-shirts, hats and
underwear branded with the bold “Jewcy” logo, in which the “W” is actually the
Hebrew letter shin.

“We did it purely to amuse ourselves, but it’s touching a
chord and that’s gratifying,” said theater producer Jenny Wiener, 34, who
conceived of Jewcy with her husband and business partner, Jon Steingart, 35;
Jason Saft, 25; and Saft’s boss, Craig Karpel, 36.

Although they don’t define themselves as actively religious,
the Jewcy people are proud of their heritage and believe there are enough
likeminded Jews out there to sustain a line of clothing, as well as what they
plan to be regularly scheduled live events.

According to the Jewcy.com Web site, being Jewcy means being
“pro-Manischewitz, pro-Jewfro, pro-Barneys Warehouse sale. It’s knishes with a knasty
attitude.”

Kabbalah Fashion Statement


David Shamouelian believes he has tapped into what he thinks
is a sure-fire marketing tool: 4,000 years of Jewish mysticism.

“How do you explain this? You walk into the store and want
to buy a blouse for yourself, but you end up buying a dress. Why? Because there
is internal energy in the clothes,” said Shamouelian, whose clothing company, Sharagano,
has signed an exclusive deal with the Los-Angeles-based Kabbalah Center to
market clothes using the once-sacred symbols of the Kabbalah.

“The product is drawing you to it, not the other way
around,” he said. “That is what we learned from the Kabbalah 4,000 years ago at
the time of Abraham.”

Shamouelian, 24, hopes that supernatural forces will draw
shoppers straight to his new clothing line inspired by the 72 names of God and
the teachings of the Kabbalah Center, which offers courses in Jewish mysticism
and spirituality.

He has already released the first of a series of designs:
T-shirts inscribed with the Hebrew letters lamed, alef and vav, one of the 72
divine names in Kabbalistic teachings. The shirts, retailing from $32 to $40,
will be available through SharaganoParis.com and 72namesofGod.com, with all
proceeds going to the Kabbalah Center.

The center teaches that “these three letters give you the
power to conquer your ego…. Simply focus your eyes on the letters, then
visualize destroying your ego,” says an advertisement for a white baby-T tank
top.

The creative spark for the clothing line came from a video
made by the one superstar who in so many ways defines the word ego — Madonna.

The singer has studied at the Kabbalah Centre for six years,
and in the video for “Die Another Day” — the title song for the latest James
Bond movie — she has lamed, alef and vav tattooed on her arm

Rabbi Yehuda Berg, who is author of the book, “The Power of
Kabbalah,” said he hopes that Kabbalah is going to have an even “wider reach”
as a result of the new clothing line.

We want to “bring it out to the masses,” said Shamouelian,
who was born in Iran but moved to New York when he was 2. He became involved
with the Kabbalah Centre 14 years ago. The center’s other famous participants
include Sandra Bernhard, Naomi Campbell and Guy Ritchie.

The center has already done well with another fashion
statement, the Red String, sometimes called Rachel’s String.

A spokeswoman for the center said the string has been
wrapped around Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem and is purportedly imbued with the
biblical matriarch’s energy, protecting the wearer against the negative
influences of the evil eye. The Kabbalah Center sells a packet of six strings
for $26.

Celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Rosie O’Donnell,
Roseanne and, of course, Madonna have been known to wear the bracelet — an
attempt to ward off the evil lens of paparazzi, perhaps? — Mica Rosenberg,
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Tzedakah for Chanukah


The Chanukah wish lists of six needy local Jewish families
will be filled by generous families from Rancho Santa Margarita’s Morasha
Jewish Day School.

“These families have been financially disadvantaged for a
long time,” said Charlene Edwards, social services director for Jewish Family
Service of Orange County. “They asked for things our children take for
granted.”

On Dec. 4, in time for Chanukah, Edwards was scheduled to
collect gift baskets filled with wrapped toys and clothing, along with gift
certificates for groceries, movie tickets and haircuts. The cumulative
contributions from students, parents and faculty likely tallies $1,500, said
Robin S. Hoffman, the school’s Jewish studies coordinator. “We’ve been
inundated in the last week.”

The Chanukah effort is one of the first outcomes of
Morasha’s involvement with a three-year national research project of Hebrew
Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Its Rhea Hirsch
School of Education selected eight schools to participate in Jewish Day Schools
for the 21st Century, a project to demonstrate how schools can serve as a
Jewish learning catalyst for an entire community, said Eve Fein, Morasha’s
director.

As part of the project, a 25-parent panel, which has met
regularly over the last year, settled on enhancing certain Jewish values.
Morasha’s parents chose tzedakah (charity).

“So often, kids never see the end result,” said Kathleen A.
Canter, of Aliso Viejo, a panel participant who has two children in the school.
“We wanted the whole school community involved. It’s powerful when it’s visible
to all.”

Clothes Call


There was a time when the retail clothing industry was thriving.

“In the ’80s, my customers spent almost 8 percent of their disposable income on clothing,” said David Sacks, owner of Sacks SFO apparel stores.

However, time and a change in consumer habits have eroded this reality. Over the last decade, Sacks, 53, has had to close several of his outlets. He watched his retail miniempire dwindle from 20 stores nationwide to two local outlets: one in Studio City (12021 Ventura Blvd.) and a new location in Culver City (9608 Venice Blvd.).

“We’re going back to our roots,” Sacks said. From the onset, Sacks’ intention was accessibility.

“My mission goal is to provide people who work for common jobs to dress in uncommon wardrobe,” Sacks said. “To make a guy who makes $30,000 dress like a guy who makes $100,000. I’m very value-driven, not label-driven. I don’t care what labels I stock, as long as they look good and are of good value for my customers.”

That accessibility is not only found in the merchandise sold. It also extends to Sacks himself, who runs a hands-on business, where he enjoys schmoozing with his customers at his stores.

“I’ve never been in it for the money,” he said. “I didn’t want to work for someone else, but I don’t want to lose money. My employees will see a raise before I do.”

Sacks retreated into a back office, where he offered what he jokingly calls “my Horatio Algerstein story” — the origins of a hometown boy who grew up in a Conservative kosher home in Cheviot Hills and attended Hamilton High School and UCLA.

Sacks’ parents met at Indiana University. His mother, of Lithuanian descent, came from a well-to-do family that ran a department store in Terre Haute, Ind. His father, of Romanian and Ukrainian heritage, put himself through medical school selling sandwiches. He moved his wife to Los Angeles, where he became a prominent pathologist and later built the pathology department laboratory at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Sacks was something of a rebel during his school days.

“I went before the principal for buying candy and selling it on campus,” Sacks said.

That was in the second grade. A few years later, when the new pennies were released in 1959, Sacks made some pocket money selling two pennies for a nickel. By the fifth grade, he was winning poker games.

“I didn’t need an allowance again,” Sacks said. “I was lending money to my brother [Phillip Sacks, now practicing general dentistry in Woodland Hills].”

During the 1960s, Sacks continued hustling.

“I sold unreleased Bob Dylan recordings before bootleg tapes were deemed illegal.”

Then Sacks became a phlebotomist, one who draws blood for transfusions.

“That was rather boring,” he said.

The boredom ended the day when he accompanied his bridge partner downtown to the garment district. Sacks convinced a supplier to give him a dozen items to sell. Sacks sold them off his arm in office buildings.

“I was originally thinking of calling it ‘Lost on Horizon,'” Sacks said, referring to the original Horizon Street location of his first store, next to the Sidewalk Cafe on the Venice Beach boardwalk.

But instead, he called his clothing outlet Sacks Fifth Off, and Saks Fifth Avenue didn’t share his amusement. After two years of legal wrangling, an agreement was reached between the two parties, and the chain’s current moniker, Sacks SFO, was born.

Twenty-five years later, Sacks now resides with his wife, Nikki, in Cheviot Hills. He has two grown children — Anthony, 26, a technical theater apprentice, and Andrew, 24, a substitute teacher.

A few years back, Sacks started a Giver’s Club, giving customers a 10-percent discount off of store items in exchange for clean clothing donations. The donated clothing goes to shelters that help battered women and AIDS hospices.

Sacks takes the clothing business in stride.

“I never had the foresight or the money to buy the buildings. My last big downsize came after the Northridge earthquake,” said Sacks, who had already been stung by the Los Angeles riots.

Despite its ups and downs, Sacks wouldn’t trade his experience for anything.

“The best part is that I’ve made friends with people all around the world,” Sacks said. “It’s an immigrant’s business. People are very bright, but may not have formal education. I’ve met people from every continent, and every religion.”

Blackwell Knows Best


Do not envy Anne Robinson.

When Richard Blackwell (ne Richard Selzer), the fashion critic of the rich and famous, released his 42nd annual lists of apparel achievers and fashion faux pas on Jan. 8, the pretentiously garbed British game show host topped his Worst Dressed Woman of 2001 list.

"Anne Robinson, you are fashion’s Weakest Link," declared Blackwell. "Harry Potter in Drag — a Hogwarts horror!"

Juliette Binoche, Destiny’s Child, and Bjork, whose infamous white swan gown boggled the minds of everyone who saw last year’s Academy Awards, also made Worst Dressed. On the sunny side, actresses Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Penelope Cruz, and Renee Zellweger were among 2001’s Fabulous Fashion Independents.

Blackwell told Up Front that his criticisms are "tongue in cheek with a very strong truth behind them. I don’t believe in vicious personal attacks of what they’re wearing. It’s an impression of how it hits me."

He has even pulled some punches.

"One year, the day before my list came out, Judy Garland took sick," says Blackwell, who knew and adored Garland from his child actor days. "I begged the press not to run her name. The entire press, to my knowledge, regarded what I wanted."

One misstep occurred when Carol Burnett made his Worst Dressed roster.

"We all thought she had a sense of humor," Blackwell says. "Instead, she broke down and cried, which really bothered me. I would never have done it had I known that she would take it that way."

Blackwell, who pins his age as "over 60 and under 100," grew up in Brooklyn. He says he has a Russian-Turkish heritage that descends from the Cohen tribe.

When Blackwell signed on at RKO under his real name, the studio’s chief, gave him a moniker makeover.

"Howard Hughes said that Richard Selzer would never do," says Blackwell, who remembers the legendary billionaire for "his concern, his caring."

Blackwell’s famous fashion do’s and don’t’s originated in a 1960 American Weekly article. Yet he never proclaimed himself the last word on fashion.

"The public did," Blackwell insists. "I just did the list, and their feeling was that I’m honest, direct and outspoken."

Lana Turner, Audrey Hepburn and Catherine Deneuve complete Blackwell’s holy trinity of haute couture. Madonna, on the other hand, is a perennial Worst Dressed fixture, save for her 1990s "Dick Tracy"/"Evita" phase.

Jewish entertainers have not escaped Blackwell’s radar either.

"She’s come a long way and is looking great now," reports Blackwell of Barbra Streisand, once dubbed "Yentl goes mental."

Another Jewish chanteuse, Bette Midler, also ranks favorably, after shedding wardrobe Blackwell once called "Hawaiian bat mitzvah."

Fran Drescher also made Worst Dressed. Never fazed her.

"Oh, Fran loved it," Blackwell says. "We became best friends."

Ditto Whoopi Goldberg, who sent him flowers.

But Phyllis Diller was miffed when she fell off Worst Dressed.

Says Blackwell, "She asked me, ‘Where did I go right?’"

A Helping Hand


“Where’s the jelly? I need five jellies.”

“Hand me 18 fruit rolls, will you?”

“I love your skirt, where did you get it?”

The scene: A typical Thursday evening at Tomchei Shabbos’ warehouse, at 353 1/2 N. La Brea Ave., where a team of fast-working, quick-talking volunteers gathers to pack overflowing food boxes for needy families in Los Angeles.

The small warehouse, lined with shelves filled with staples such as rice, oil, matzos, gefilte fish, mayonnaise, peanut butter, jam, rice, noodles and Shabbat candles, is bustling. Volunteers step over neat rows of crates of packaged salad greens, bags of produce, challas, noodle kugels and apple pies, as they stock their boxes.

Tomchei Shabbos, meaning “supporters of the Sabbath,” was founded 22 years ago to help six needy families put food on their tables for Shabbat. Today the organization sponsors a clothing gemach (charity), distributes used furniture and appliances to the needy, and on a budget of no more than $10,000 per week, sends food to as many as 200 families on a weekly basis. More than 300 families receive food supplies for holidays.

High Holiday food deliveries include extra fare, such as meat and ingredients for stew. Passover packages include kosher spices, aluminum foil, detergent and seder foods “from soup to nuts.”

Rabbi Yonah Landau, the director of Tomchei Shabbos for the past 19 years, walks briskly throughout the warehouse, supervising incoming deliveries of frozen chickens and gallons of milk. He, like everyone else with the organization, is a volunteer. When not working long hours for Tomchei Shabbos, he runs an insurance agency.

Michelle Lehrer manages a medical office. Steve Berger trades Israeli bonds. They team up together on Thursday evenings as the Tomchei Shabbos warehouse managers. Lehrer and Berger make sure that each family receives its allotment, determined by the number of children and any special needs. Their lists and the boxes marked for each family are all in code. For example, the box marked “MAR” is slated to go to a family that has not one of those letters in its name. The recipient families’ identities are guarded jealously.

Although some families welcome the delivery crew with greetings and thank yous, most deliveries are left at the door. Some are left with a neighbor, or another third party, such as relatives or friends. Some families, despite dire straits, are too embarrassed to take food, Landau says. In these cases Tomchei Shabbos arranges for a credit at the local market.

“These are working families,” Landau explains. “They’ve run into trouble.” He recalls stories of lost jobs, illness and large families who just don’t earn enough to make ends meet. “Here’s a father of four, who works in the flower business,” Landau says. “He had surgery and was laid up for a month. He didn’t have food for the children.”

“Here’s a contractor with three kids, who didn’t have enough work,” Landau continues. “He got a three-day [eviction] notice. I told him that in 15 minutes someone would deliver a check to pay for three months rent.”

Landau relates story after story of families who fall on hard times, and elderly recipients whose social security payments are only slightly more than their rent. He notes that Tomchei Shabbos volunteers try to help families get out of difficult situations. “I know of a man who made $250,000,” Landau says. “He lost his job, depleted his savings, had no money for food. No one knew he had no money. Then he lost his house. We helped with rent money many times. Then we found his wife a job.”

Tomchei Shabbos’ network stretches throughout the city and into the Valley. One volunteer who came to the warehouse Thursday with her five children says, “I see a lot of local businessmen here. They give of their money and their time.”

The businessmen work side-by-side with the high school students, yeshiva boys and assorted younger and older adults. Tsvi and Betty Ryzman have sponsored this week’s entire shipment in honor of their son Elie’s marriage to his wife, Adina, and a number of the extended Ryzman clan, including the bride and groom, came to pack food.

“It’s a wonderful thing for young people who are raised with everything to see this,” says Betty Ryzman, whose family also sponsored the week’s Tomchei Shabbos shipment after her daughter’s wedding. “There’s a big flamboyant wedding, then this (packing food for the needy).” She notes that her family’s post-wedding custom is a variation on the theme of an old custom from Europe. The day before a wedding the families would sponsor a seudat ani’im, a meal for the poor.

A UCLA student crosses Ryzman’s path with a box of cans. “Give everyone a can of tomato sauce,” she instructs a team of two yeshiva students and a lawyer. Tomato sauce in place, the boxes begin their exodus out of the warehouse as a line of mostly elderly recipients begins to form outside.

Next week the scene will be repeated. And the next week. And the next holiday. Although Tomchei Shabbos organizers and volunteers hope for the day that there will be no need for their services, they recognize the biblical statement (Deuteronomy 15:11), “For the poor shall never cease out of the land; therefore I command you saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor, and to your needy in your land.'”

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