A Jewish commune and lessons of sharing


One of the hardest lessons to teach a young child is the value of sharing. How do you explain to your son or daughter that they should hand off their cherished teddy bear or toy truck to another child? The word “mine” is one of the first words to come out of a toddler’s mouth, and children see their toys as extensions of themselves.

Artist Joel Tauber, 43, ran into this dilemma while raising his 5-year-old son Zeke and 3-year-old son Ozzie. If Tauber wasn’t willing to let others borrow his expensive video equipment, why should Zeke have to share his prized toy guitar with a friend?

The challenge of teaching the value of sharing led to “The Sharing Project,” a 15-channel video installation at the University Art Museum at California State University, Long Beach, up now through July 19. Visitors will see a room full of screens, featuring 15 short films as well as 21 interviews with experts in fields ranging from evolutionary biology, psychology, anthropology, history, philosophy, and education. Through these experts, Tauber tries to get at the root of why humans choose to compete or cooperate.

“We applaud selfishness in so many ways. Probably the dominant narrative in our culture is, get as much stuff as you can. We’re bombarded by all this advertisement all the time, telling us to get more and more stuff,” Tauber said.

“It troubles me, seeing how we’ve become a really selfish culture. I don’t think that’s good for us as a whole. I try not to be that way. I’m conflicted just like everyone else though. There’s a part of me that wants good things for myself and for my kids and for my wife, and for us to live an easy life. But then I’m also really troubled by all this inequity.”

At the museum, Tauber encourages visitors to bring in toys to share and arrange in the space. When the project concludes, visitors are invited to take a toy with them and give it to whomever they’d like.

While investigating the idea of sharing, Tauber and his son Zeke turned to the forgotten Socialist Jewish commune of Happyville in South Carolina. Established in 1905 and disbanded in 1908, Tauber sought out the remains of the utopian community, hoping some of the mysteries of sharing would be buried in the ruins.

The central video in the installation tells the story of Happyville. The video features long shots of birds chirping, green leaves quivering and ripples spreading across a lake. Its tranquility seems to mask the incredible experiment that took place deep within its wooded folds.

In 1905, Jewish immigrant Charles Weintraub and other Eastern European families purchased a 2,200-acre plantation in Aiken County. They bought livestock, equipment and the buildings that were on the land. They cleared the sandy soil into pasture, and set about constructing a grist mill, saw mill and cotton gin.

But the colonists were beset by troubles. First, the Russian and Polish immigrants had little knowledge and experience in farming. Heavy rains washed out the fields and the dam built to power the ginnery. And most significantly, they incurred a heavy debt and were unable to attract patrons. In 1908, the 50 settlers living in Happyville auctioned off their equipment and livestock and sold the farmland, and left town. All that remains are an ancient tractor, a horse carriage and some crumbling foundations.

When he discovered the story of Happyville, he felt a kinship with the socialist pioneers. In Tauber’s video, he and Zeke (who was then 3 years old) use the boy’s brightly-colored plastic tools to “fix” the rusted tractor and a decaying house, a poetic metaphor for the concept of “tikkun olam” and for the desire to repair whatever caused Happyville to disintegrate.

“You’re doing a really good job,” Tauber tells the boy, with his mop of curly brown hair and his rain boots, as he attacks the spokes of a wagon wheel with his yellow plastic wrench. “We’re fixing a special place,” Tauber tells Zeke, as the boy bangs against a rusted door.

Tauber's son, Zeke, 'fixing' the door with his plastic tools

Tauber left Los Angeles in 2011 to develop a video art program at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was startled by the economic inequality he saw in his new home. Census data shows that 23 percent of the city’s residents live below the poverty level.

“It turns out that Winston-Salem might have the most childhood poverty in the whole country, and that’s while there’s all these really wealthy people there,” Tauber said.

Tauber brought Zeke to protests in Winston-Salem against unemployment and funding cuts to social programs, and filmed their participation in the protests as yet another lesson in sharing.

Tauber was raised as an Orthodox Jew in Boston and as a boy showed promise as a scholar of Talmud. But at 18, instead of continuing on to a yeshiva, he opted to spend a summer at Tirat Zvi, a religious kibbutz in Israel’s Beit She'an Valley, where he picked carrots and worked in a salami factory. That experience made him think a lot about communal living. He had planned to become a doctor, but decided to study art at Yale University and then at Art Center College of Design.

Another of Tauber’s projects is called “Sick-Amour,” in which he adopted and maintained a sycamore tree growing in the middle of a giant parking lot at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

“It was getting hit by cars, starved for water and oxygen, and eventually asphalt was removed, boulders were placed around it, then that started happening for other trees,” Tauber said. “Taking care of that tree, which is really ongoing, taught me how to love, how to become a husband, how to be a father.”

Tauber and volunteers planted seeds from the sycamore around the region. He estimates there are about 200 “tree babies” now growing from those seeds. He and his wife, Alison, even got married at the tree. “I think of the tree as part of my family,” he said. “It’s part of our family.”

All of his art projects revolve around ethical issues, Tauber said, whether it’s saving a tree or uncovering the roots of altruism. He traces it back to his Jewish education.

“I’m a secular man. We live a secular life. I’m happy that I had an education that encouraged me to think about ethics,” he said. “I’ve made all of my work about ethics. That’s what I’ve devoted my career and my life to. So as a parent, also, I feel that my responsibility is to help my children struggle with the idea of how to be a good person.”

Joel Tauber’s “The Sharing Project” is on display at the University Art Museum at California State University, Long Beach, through July 19, 2015. An opening reception will be held on Saturday, June 20, 6-8 pm, with a performance by Earth Like Planets. More information at

Iranians unlikely to compete against Israelis in Olympics


Despite a statement from the head of the Iranian Olympic committee asserting that Iranian athletes can compete against Israelis in the London Olympic Games, it is unlikely to occur.

Bahram Afsharzadeh, the head of the Iranian Olympic Mission, said on July 23 that his athletes will compete against Israeli athletes in the Games that start on July 27. But the Iranian team left for London on July 22 without judo champion Javad Mahjoob, the only Iranian athlete who had a possibility to compete against an Israeli, the Washington Post reported.

Iranian officials are quoted as saying that Mahjoob is suffering from a “critical digestive system infection” and will not be able to travel to the Games. Others are skeptical that Mahjoob is ailing and believe it is more likely that it is an excuse to keep him from facing off against Ariel “Arik” Ze’evi in the 100-kilogram weight class.

Iranian athletes withdrew from events against Israelis at the 2004 Athens Games and 2008 Beijing Games.

The official Iranian government Fars news agency said that the Olympic chairman’s words were taken out of context, as he said that Iranian athletes would compete against all athletes and did not name Israel specifically.

Israeli-built robots shoot for U.S. competition


Forward Omri Casspi made the leap from Israel to the National Basketball Association in 2009, but the latest Israeli hoopsters seeking to compete on American soil aren’t human.

Earlier this month, several thousand spectators watched student-built robots from across Israel square off for two days on a custom-sized basketball court at Tel Aviv’s Nokia Arena.

Dozens of high school teams built their own robots for a chance to represent Israel in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) World Championship, to be held at St. Louis’s Edward Jones Convention Center from April 25-28. This year’s St. Louis-bound teams include Team Elysium from Maccabim-Reut-Modiin’s Mor High School, Team Orbit from Binyamina’s ORT High School, and Raptor Force Engineering from Jim Elliot High School in Lodi, Calif.

FIRST is a worldwide non-profit that encourages students to explore and develop their abilities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) disciplines in a fun and supportive environment. Founded in 1989 by technologist and Segway inventor Dean Kamen, FIRST currently has branches in five countries—Brazil, Canada, Israel, Mexico and the U.S.—with over 250,000 school-age children and 68,000 adult team mentors participating annually in competitive events.

Six weeks ahead of the regional final in Tel Aviv, 46 teams of high school students and their adult mentors were tasked with using their knowledge of science and engineering principles to build game-play robots. The student-built robots were required to have the following basketball-related capabilities: shooting free-throws; gathering rebounds to convert field goals; and attempting to balance between one and three robots on seesaws placed in the middle of the court.

During the season-ending playoffs, teams had to take things one step further and forge alliances with two partner teams—a process that resembled a schoolyard kickball draft.

Kamen—whose father, well-known American Jewish comic illustrator Jack Kamen, designed the FIRST logo—was a highly visible figure in this year’s regional competition in Israel. Wearing a bright red Hawaiian shirt, the younger Kamen served as a referee and an English-language game announcer during the two-day event.

Among the robots at the competition, one standout presence was a bright pink robot developed by an all-girls team called “Ladies FIRST,” from Beersheba’s Ulpana Amit religious high school. Sponsored by Beersheba Municipality and Ben-Gurion University’s jointly run INBAL Project (which encourages teenage girls to pursue studies and careers in science and engineering), the team of plucky young women from the Negev were excited to make the final round.

“We are the first and only all-girls team to the join the competition,” said team captain Tal-Or Wartzmann, amidst the raucous cheers of her teammates. “We girls set up the team through our own efforts. The girls came together, and we found corporate sponsors and got [Beersheba] city hall and Ben-Gurion University to join the effort.”

Not all of the fun belonged to the teenagers. Also attending the two-day event were local political figures and business leaders in both Israeli and American industry, including Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai, Bank Hapoalim Chairman Yair Serussi and FIRST Israel co-founder Josh Weston.

“The mayor views the scientific disciplines as an important field of study and [believes] that any initiative that succeeds in challenging the youth and developing their capacity for advanced thought is an interesting and welcome initiative,” Huldai’s office wrote in an email to JointMedia News Service.

Tel Aviv City Hall, Huldai added, is “pushing forward a strategic effort towards solidifying its standing as the Silicon Valley for firms outside of the United States.”

FIRST Israel certainly has appeared on the radar of young technology aficionados outside the country. Two U.S.-based teams from Christian high schools located in Lodi, Calif., and Marshall, Va., chose to compete in this year’s regional championship.

“Our team mentor has been talking about coming to this competition a couple years now and this is the first time we’ve actually had enough money to make the trip,” said 17-year-old Fresta Valley High School senior Christian Berryman. “We are, like, famous here because we are one of two teams from America. Everyone comes up and shakes our hands. It’s very cool!”

Queens College group takes Jewish a cappella competition [VIDEO]


A group from Queens College won the inaugural Jewish collegiate a cappella competition and its $1,500 prize.

Tizmoret was named the best of the nine groups from seven U.S. campuses competing last weekend in the Kol HaOlam National Jewish Collegiate A Capella Competition in Washington, D.C. Along with the monetary prize, the New York group won a consultation with JDub Records.

Kol Sasson of the University of Maryland finished second. The third-place finisher, the Shabbatones of the University of Pennsylvania, received the audience favorite award that was determined by text voting immediately after the performances.

Other groups that performed were Chutzpah of Georgetown University; Jewish Fella A Capella of Brandeis University; Staam of Washington University in St. Louis; Kaskeset of Binghamton University; and Kol Sasson, Rak Shalom and Mezumenet, all from the University of Maryland’s College Park campus.

The judges included Jordan Gorfinkel, founder of the Jewish a capella group Beat’achon; Jason Diamond, editor in chief of Jewcy.com; Wayne Firestone, president of Hillel International; Cantor Jeffrey Weber of Adas Israel, the host synagogue; and Mike Boxer, also the master of ceremonies, who hosts KolCast, the monthly podcast dedicated to Jewish a cappella.

Tizmoret performs “Im Eshkachech” at their annual winter show (2010)

Video courtesy of TizmoretTube.

Mock trial team wins merely by competing


The record book will say that the Maimonides School finished 20th out of 40 teams at the National High School Mock Trial Championship in Atlanta, winning two trials and losing two.

But that doesn’t include the team’s huge victory even before last weekend’s competition had started allowing the suburban Boston Jewish day school just to participate.

After repeatedly rejecting requests to alter the tournament schedule so the Maimonides team would not have to compete on Shabbat, tournament officials were finally forced to relent less than two days before the competition began thanks to a small group of determined activists working 20 hours a day over the past few weeks—as well as a Maimonides team that was prepared to forfeit its chance at a championship rather than compromise its beliefs.

“You always wonder what’s going to happen if religiousness gets in the way” of something you want to do, said team co-captain Michael Kosowsky, 17. But “we weren’t talking at all about violating Shabbat. We were pretty strong in our principles.”

“This educates the public,” said fellow co-captain Leah Sarna, 17. “Shabbat is not at all voluntary and not something you can compromise on.”

The 27-member Maimonides team, of which eight competed last weekend, learned about the Shabbat conflict in early April, not long after it won the Massachusetts state mock trial championship qualifying them for the national event.

Maimonides hoped that instead of having to compete in the customary two trials on Friday and two trials on Saturday, the mock trial organization would make an exception for the school and move its Saturday trials to Thursday, when all the competitors already are in attendance and practicing at the competition site, or add additional trials for Maimonides on Friday.

The organization argued that altering the schedule affected the fairness of the competition because matchups in later rounds are determined by the results from earlier rounds. The results, its officials said, cannot be utilized properly if Maimonides is participating in its fourth trial while nearly all the other squads have participated in only two.

There was precedent for the request: In 2005, the local sponsoring organization for the competition, the North Carolina Trial Lawyers Association, made a similar rescheduling to accommodate a New Jersey Jewish day school, the Torah Academy of Bergen County. Pressured by the lawyers’ group, the mock trial organization acquiesced after initially refusing the request, then passed a resolution saying it would not allow similar accommodations for Sabbath observers in the future.

As a result of that decision, the New Jersey and North Carolina mock trial groups resigned from the national organization and formed their own group that does not hold competitions on Shabbat.

So Jeff Kosowsky, Michael’s father, and Daniel Edelman, a Maimonides alumnus who was familiar with the issue because his wife is an English teacher at the Torah Academy of Bergen County, enlisted Washington lawyers Nathan and Alyza Lewin, who specialize in religious discrimination cases.

Working pro bono, the Lewins got the Justice Department to issue a letter to the administrator of the Georgia courts, warning that entities that receive federal funds cannot administer programs which discriminate on the basis of religion. The competition was scheduled to be held in the Fulton County Courthouse, which receives federal funds.

The Lewins, Kosowsky and Edelman also tried to convince the local host sponsor, the Georgia Bar Association, to take action, but the assocation said that while it was sympathetic, claimed its contract with the national mock trial organization tied its hands.

The Maimonides’ backers also alerted the media, with articles appearing on the situation in a major Atlanta legal publication and The New York Times.

It worked.

On May 6, after one member of the Georgia Bar had resigned in protest, Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Doris Downs told event organizers that they would not be able to use the Fulton County Courthouse for the competition unless they made accommodations for the Maimonides team. The organizers then decided to schedule a Thursday trial and three Friday trials for the Bostonians.

Michael Kosowsky said the three trials on Friday were “a little tiring,” but the team was pleased where it finished, considering it was its first trip to the national championship.

The schedule change was popular among the other teams in Atlanta, as well.

Michael Kosowsky said that on the day the Maimonides team arrived, a number of competitors noticed their kipot and told them, “We’re really hopeful you get the accommodations.”

The other teams were “very, very supportive,” Sarna said. “It really meant a lot to us.”

Both said it made perfect sense that their fellow mock trial competitors would be so interested in their plight.

“It’s a competition about the legal system,” Sarna said. “They’re the type of people who would care about this.”

Those involved in the mock trial effort say they hope that the mock trial organization will make a permanent Shabbat accommodation policy, either by changing the days of the week that the tournament is held or, minimally, having a rescheduling option when Sabbath observers—Jewish or Muslim—qualify for the competition.

The mock trial group doesn’t appear ready to change: On its Web site, the 20th-place finish of Maimonides is accompanied by an asterisk that notes the team’s “deviation from typical team advancement.”

The Making of ‘The Chosen Dish’


Prior to becoming a food writer and restaurant reviewer for The Jerusalem Post, I always thought of kosher food as limited and bland. But Israel demands competitive kosher cuisine — hotels generally adhere to kashrut laws; corporate lunch meetings must often accommodate observant clientele alongside secular counterparts who’d prefer a Tel Aviv bistro serving sautéed shrimp. This is true even though, at the same time, at the heart of Israeli culture are Jews who, no matter how much they like to think of themselves as the new Hebrews, still fondly recall their grandmother’s traditional kosher Jewish specialties.

In America, however, kosher restaurants seem stuck. The smaller size of their target clientele and the expense of sustaining kosher standards — with the high cost of meat and on-site kosher supervision — can lead to compromises in creativity. And because FFBs (the acronym for “Frum (religious) From Birth”) usually have limited basis for comparison, they don’t know how much better a steak grilled to perfection with butter really tastes. Though Jewish cooks often create culinary wonders in their own kitchens, sadly, the high standards of homemade food have yet to become the norm in the common kosher marketplace.

The explosion of food competitions, from “Iron Chef” to “Top Chef,” inspired me to wonder what a Jewish food competition might offer. This led me to conceive “The Chosen Dish,” an online kosher cooking competition produced in conjunction with jewishjournal.com. And what better way to launch a program challenging chefs and home cooks to redeem kosher foods from their unsavory stigma than by having them recreate the iconic Jewish food: matzah ball soup.

Together with The Journal’s VideoJew Jay Firestone, I visited the kitchens of two local chefs and one home cook who agreed to step up to the seder plate with their own recipes.

Mexican Japanese Katsuji Tanabe, executive chef of Shiloh’s kosher steakhouse, had no tradition to fall back on — he only recently discovered his Mexican mother’s Jewish roots; her ancestors left Spain during the Inquisition, only to assimilate later. Caterer Hilit Gilat from Israel created matzah balls inspired by her mother-in-law, served in an elaborately prepared beef and chicken consommé. Michelle Chaim adapted her mother’s recipe to create a homey herb-and-garlic-infused matzah ball soup. For the final taste test, we gathered them at the state-of-the-art kosher kitchen at the beautiful Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, where “The Chosen Dish” was determined by a panel of judges.

But I’d rather you watch the chefs at work rather than read about them. Check out the series on www.jewishjournal.com/thechosendish on April 1 for your Passover viewing pleasure and find out whose matzah ball soup will be “The Chosen Dish.”


Participants of The Chosen Dish were asked to abide by the Ten Commandments of The Chosen Dish. The rest was left to divine inspiration.

1.    This is The Chosen Dish who has commanded you to make matzah ball soup.

2.    You shall have no unkosher food before us

3.    You shall not make for yourself a matzah ball from a package

4.    Thou shall honor thy judges and hosts

5.    Observe the Passover seder by making enough food to feed a family of six and two guests

6.    Thou shall not kill your dish by overcooking it

7.    Thou shall not commit adulteration of your soup

8.    Thou shall not steal your mother’s recipe, only adapt it

9.    Thou shall not bear false witness against your competitors’ dish

10.    Thou shall not covet the other chef’s matzah ball

 

Has Anyone in Israel Asked Why the Swedes Hate Us?


Was it a coincidence? The day after Israel’s Davis Cup tennis match in Sweden, played in a practically empty arena this week, a brief item appeared on the Haaretz Web site: Historians have discovered that Sweden, former tennis superpower, aided the Nazi war machine by extending credit to German industrial plants.

Coincidence or not, neutral in 1941 or not, 68 years later, public opinion in Sweden is definitely not neutral: Thousands demonstrated there against Israel, which was forced to wield its racket like a leper, with no audience in attendance. Did anyone in Israel even ask why it was considered a pariah in Sweden? No one dared question whether the war in the Gaza Strip was worth the price we’re paying now, from Ankara to Malmo. It’s enough to recall that the Swedes were always against us. The fact that there were times when they were awash in love for Israel was erased from our consciousness. Click here to read the rest of the article at haaretz.com.

Counselors in demand as college applications soar


High school seniors don’t have it easy during this year’s college application season, which is expected to be the most applied-to year on record.

Just ask Jeremy Friedman, who is juggling 12 applications in addition to his class work and a part-time job.

“I didn’t think applying would be this stressful and difficult. I didn’t realize how many essays I’d have to write, how much organization it takes, how much research there is to do,” said Friedman, 18, a Beverly Hills High School student who is applying to Northwestern, Georgetown and University of Pennsylvania, to name a few. “You want to try to get an edge on everyone, because you really never know what the schools are looking for.”

To gain that elusive edge, Friedman worked hard for solid grades and strong test scores, and got help forming his college list from his school’s guidance department. But that’s not all — he and his family also hired two independent college consultants to make sure nothing was overlooked.

“I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing any schools that would be of interest to me,” he said. “I had already done a lot of research, but maybe they had other ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of before.”

Friedman isn’t the only one looking beyond the confines of his school building this fall for extra help getting into the right college. A growing number of families are turning to private consultants to allay the competition that marks modern college admissions, local consultants and school officials say. And in the class of ’09 — which the U.S. Census Bureau predicts will be the largest graduating high school class on record — some students are looking for all the edge they can get.

“Putting together an application is a very complicated process. We help demystify it,” said educational consultant Jeannie Borin, founder and president of the Los Angeles-based consulting firm College Connections. “People use personal trainers to motivate them to stay in shape. Singers might hire a voice coach to reach the high notes. Coaching is common in countless fields. So it’s not such a crazy thought — if you’re going to make such a large financial investment as going to college, you want to get it right.”

Consultants cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on whom you use, and for what.

According to U.S Census Bureau statistics, college enrollment rose 17 percent from 2000 to 2006. As the applicant pool grows, so do students’ fears of being turned away from the school of their choice. This translates to students sending out more applications than ever — often as many as 12 or 15, Borin said.

“It used to be the case that when someone was qualified to go to a college, they knew they would get in,” she said. “Astonishing candidates are now being turned away. It’s somewhat of a crapshoot. Students are covering their bases and applying to more schools — that’s one of the factors that’s making this more competitive.”

Borin, formerly the admissions director at Valley Beth Shalom Day School, helps college hopefuls compile a list of appropriate schools, offers interview tips and aids in the process of honing the all-important — and much-dreaded — college essay. Students come to College Connections as early as their freshman or sophomore years to discuss their classes and extracurricular activities, so Borin can begin making recommendations based on their interests.

But do all students need another level of supervision as they select and apply to colleges? Not necessarily, say some high school guidance counselors. It just depends on what each family needs to feel safe.

“We’re finding that more and more, even the ninth- and 10th-grade parents are so worried about the college process they see coming a couple of years down the line,” said Leanne Domnitz, head guidance counselor at Beverly Hills High School. “We have over 600 seniors going through this process. Some of them are self-contained, they’re right on top of it, and they’re fine. At the other end of the spectrum are kids who are completely overwhelmed by this process and need their hands held. I understand that for some families, it’s just too much.”

Guidance counselors handle about 300 students each at Beverly Hills High, Domnitz said, so they don’t have hours on end to spend with students who need lots of one-on-one help.

Students, particularly in the public schools, often can’t get time from their overburdened high school guidance departments, said Mark Sklarow, executive director of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), based in Fairfax, Va. Rising demand for experts who can devote more time to students has fueled a striking growth spurt in the consulting industry: The number of educational consultants in the United States. has doubled in the last five years, and Sklarow expects it to double again in the next five years.

“In an average public school in America, there are 600 students for every counselor,” he said. “It’s worse in California than in any other state. Counselors are simply playing triage — they give a student what they can, but it’s often not very much.”

That isn’t the case at some of Los Angeles’ private Jewish schools, according to the guidance departments at Milken Community High School and New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS). At NCJHS, for instance, guidance counselors only handle 50 students each and can give kids more of the in-depth help that some seek, said Celeste Morgan, director of college guidance at the West Hills school.

“We really work with students on brainstorming topics for their essays, helping them edit them and making sure their college lists are balanced so they have as many options as possible in the spring,” said Morgan, who previously worked in the admissions office at the University of Pennsylvania and read as many as 23,000 college applications during her time there.

She doesn’t believe her students stand to gain anything from a private college consultant that New Jew’s guidance department doesn’t already offer. “At smaller, independent schools, where they have resources like our department available, that’s all they really need,” she said.

Joe Blassberg, director of college guidance at Milken, agreed. “The process that we take our students through gives them the tools they need to make the right choices about where they should be applying,” he said. “Certainly, if my skill set or experience doesn’t match what the student’s needs are, then I’d be happy to help that student find additional support services. But I haven’t run into that situation yet.”

Milken senior Jonathan York, 17, said he’s taking full advantage of his guidance counselor’s support as he works on his stack of 15 applications. “It’s not rare for me to stop into my counselor’s office every other day, if only to ask a quick question,” the Stanford hopeful said.

With all the aid he’s getting from Milken, York hasn’t felt the need to seek extra guidance from an independent consultant — but he admitted that he will be asking family members to read over his essays.

“Every kid doesn’t need an educational consultant,” said Sklarow, director of the IECA. “The best reason to hire a consultant is to cast a wide net. You’re looking not just for a college, but for a place where you’re going to grow up over the next four years. An educational consultant will help you make that match more effectively.”

IECA members must visit at least 50 campuses a year, so they have a wealth of first-hand knowledge that many high school guidance counselors lack.

This knowledge extends to Jewish life on different campuses, according to Borin of College Connections — how large the Jewish population is at a given school, whether the students sustain a thriving Hillel and whether it’s viable to keep kosher on campus.

Alexandra Dumas Rhodes, founder of Santa Monica-based Rhodes Educational Consulting, also considers it an asset that she can work with clients during the summer before senior year, when many students have limited access to their school’s counseling department.

But the cost of hiring a college consultant bars many families from doing so, said Mary Charlton, a guidance counselor at Van Nuys High School.

“If a student needs to be walked through the process, and you can afford to do that, great. But if you’re strapped for cash and can get good guidance from your school counselors, it’s superfluous,” Charlton said.

Ultimately, most agreed, what students need most is a level head and a realistic approach to the application process. If students focused more on themselves and less on the competition, said Morgan of NCJHS, the fall season might lose some of its frenzy.

“They don’t need to frame the process as something where it’s them against more students than have ever applied before,” she said. “What they need to look at is: have I done my best?”

Milken students win first high school X PRIZE


Milken Community High School students joined the space race this week when two seniors won the first-ever X PRIZE competition for high schoolers. On Sunday, Michael Hakimi and Talia Nour-Omid took home the first Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Award for their concept of developing bio-monitoring sunglasses to keep space travelers healthy during civilian spaceflight. The Conrad Award, named for the third man to walk on the moon, is sponsored by the same foundation that awarded Burt Rutan and his SpaceShipOne $10 million in 2004 for becoming the first privately developed rocket to carry humans to space.

The X PRIZE foundation challenged students to “develop a new, innovative concept to benefit the personal spaceflight industry within the next 50 years.” Hakimi and Nour-Omid developed a business plan, graphic model and technical paper on goggles that would non-invasively monitor and project a space traveler’s vital signs during flight. While NASA astronauts generally are wired to numerous monitoring systems, such machinery is too weighty and expensive to be practical for commercial spaceflight.

Hakimi and Nour-Omid’s mock prototype and video display won the most votes from the tens of thousands of attendees at the Wirefly X PRIZE Cup and Holloman Air & Space Expo in New Mexico, where the team was among 10 finalists from across the country. The team takes home a $5,000 prize, and will have their design and trophy displayed at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. A traveling display and trophy will make stops at science centers across the world, and Hakimi and Nour-Omid will get a trophy to take home as well.

“It’s a big deal for the school, and we’re happy we can bring it back to the school and bring pride to the Jewish community in Los Angeles, to let everyone know that there are Jews out there who want to benefit society through space, or business or whatever means possible,” said Hakimi, a Bel Air resident who, like Nour-Omid, has been at Stephen S. Wise schools since the elementary grades.

The award was presented by Nancy Conrad, wife of the late Apollo astronaut Pete Conrad and creator of the prize, and Erik Lindbergh, great-grandson of Charles Lindbergh and designer and sculptor of the first prize trophy.

“For Talia and Michael to be recognized as the first winners of such a prestigious science and innovation award shows us that the work we are doing here may contribute to the changing landscape of our world,” Milken head of school Rennie Wrubel said.

Roger Kassebaum, director of Milken’s Mitchell Academy for Science and Technology, alerted his students to the opportunity in late August, and Hakimi and Nour-Omid, along with one other team, were able to submit their entry by the early September deadline.

The other team, sophomore Nathan Schloss and junior Jonathan Hekmat, developed a plan to allow people on earth to rent time on remote-controlled photographic equipment aboard the spacecraft. Schloss and Hekmat accompanied the team to New Mexico, and Hakimi says they were invaluable in setting up the technical display that attendees judged. Hekmat built the booth, while Schloss — who Kassebaum calls a computer genius — got the display working.

The goggles were hooked up to a temperature monitor and other monitors that simulated measurable vital signs, such as blood pressure, red blood cell count, blood sugar level and pulse. Those signs appeared on virtual-reality-type goggles, as well as on television monitors.

“I think these glasses might have a market, and if someone takes the time someone can make a profit off of these,” Hakimi said, noting they could be useful in space as well as on earth, such as when people leave hospitals.

Kassebaum and Hakimi are looking into legally protecting the idea, even though Hakimi says the necessary technology is in development now and probably won’t be marketable for about 15 years.

Kassebaum believes the students were ready to move so quickly because as members of the Mitchell Academy for Science and Technology, founded at Milken in 2003, they conduct a two-year research project with local universities and professors. Some students have had papers published and several have placed at other science competitions, such as the Intel Talent Search, a young epidemiologists competition and an Israeli physics competition.

Nour-Omid herself placed first in a regional civil engineering competition. Her winning design, a bridge constructed of one pound of unbroken Popsicle sticks and white glue, withstood pressure of 1,060 pounds.

“I try to remove any hurdles for anyone who has a special interest in science,” Kassebaum said.

Through the Mitchell Academy, Nour-Omid is working on cancer research with a lab at UC San Diego, and Hakimi has a paper about to be published on the economic impact of international terrorism on the Dow Jones.

The Conrad Award is the first X PRIZE for high schoolers.

Team Gad Astro from Northbrook, Ill., won the $2,500 second place award with their concept of a self-healing material that would rapidly fix any punctures, maintaining safety in space. Team Penguin Education from Friendswood, Tex., won the $1,500 third place award with their idea for a company that works with private and public schools to provide a high level of space education.

The X PRIZE Foundation is an educational nonprofit institute whose mission is to create radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. In 2004, the foundation awarded Burt Rutan and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE for the world’s first private vehicle to travel to space twice in two weeks. The foundation has since expanded its mission beyond space exploration to offer new prizes for breakthroughs in the areas of life improvement, equity of opportunity and sustainability. Last year the X PRIZE Foundation announced the $10 million Archon X PRIZE for genomics, which will reward the first private effort to map 100 human genomes in 10 days. It is also developing a prize for a super-efficient, mass-producible car.

For more information, visit milkenschool.org or xprize.org.

IFF: Tinseltown opens arms and wallets to Israel counterparts


When it started, the Israel Film Festival was a New York-based institution showing strictly feature films. With executive offices off Wilshire Boulevard near Fairfax Avenue, the festival is now a multicity event that this year will pack in 10 to 11 features, 12 documentaries, eight TV films and six student shorts. The 22nd edition of the festival will begin its Los Angeles leg on March 7 before moving on to Miami and New York.

The Israel Film Festival has faced competition over the years from local Jewish-themed film festivals, as well as film festivals around the world — the 57th Berlin International Film Festival is showing “Beaufort,” a film focusing on the last Israeli soldiers to withdraw from Lebanon, and Sundance recently screened “Sweet Mud,” Israel’s Oscar entry for the best foreign-language film derby.

With Israeli films finding greater acceptance in the United States and abroad, as evidenced by the decision of the Cannes Film Festival to hold a first-ever Israel day on the Croisette last year, the Israel Film Festival is bringing back an event it hasn’t featured in more than 15 years — an opening-night gala dinner, which will be held this year at the Beverly Hilton on March 6. Meir Fenigstein, the festival’s founder and executive director, said the last dinner to encourage Israeli and American co-productions was held in New York, but the first intifada and the first Gulf War put a crimp on those cooperative efforts. This year’s dinner will serve “first as a fundraiser” and also “for networking purposes,” he said.

The honorees will be Amy Pascal, co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Gila Almagor, Israel’s first lady of film.

Selecting a Tinseltown power broker like Pascal is a savvy move. In addition to her long career as head of studios like Turner, Columbia and Sony, Pascal is also an ardent Zionist, said Fenigstein, who added that the Israeli consulate contacted him to recommend her for the honor.

Ehud Danoch, Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, said that Pascal is “very dear to us” and that “we are very proud” to honor her, given “her support for Israel and being a tremendous success in entertainment.”

Danoch and the Israeli government have made a concerted effort in the past few years to reach out to Hollywood. Last year, the consulate obtained more than 80 signatures from industry players like Rupert Murdoch and Sumner Redstone for a full-page ad in the L.A. Times, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter that condemned the terrorist activities of Hezbollah and Hamas. More recently, Israeli Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson met with production chiefs in town to discuss providing “economic incentives,” such as tax breaks to encourage U.S. studios to film in Israel.

The upcoming Israel Film Festival represents the culmination of the consulate’s developing ties with Hollywood. The opening-night dinner will be a red-carpet affair attended by well-known American actors and executives, who will get a chance to see not only Pascal but also Almagor, whose career transcends film.

Almagor is not only an award-winning stage and screen actress but also is active in humanitarian concerns and is a recipient of the Israel Award, what Fenigstein referred to as Israel’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. She stars in two of the films at the Israel Film Festival this year, “Three Mothers,” a tale of Egyptian-born triplets who go on a journey of discovery about their past, and “Tied Hands,” about a mother who searches for marijuana for her dying son. Almagor had a brief role in Steven Spielberg’s “Munich.”

This year’s crop of films also includes “Storm of Emotion,” a film short-listed for the foreign-language Oscar that deals with disengagement from Gaza (see story above); “Aviva My Love,” which won six Ophirs, Israel’s Academy Awards, including best picture (see story, Page 32); and “Little Heroes,” one of several films aimed at teenagers.

At press time, Fenigstein was still in negotiations to screen the kibbutz saga, “Sweet Mud,” which won the World Jury Cinema Prize for best drama at Sundance but failed to nab an Oscar nomination.

“I’m competing with distributors,” he said, without having to mention that they may fear overexposure or may simply want to be very selective about where they screen a film before its release.

While he has sought “Sweet Mud,” Fenigstein professes less interest in “Hot House,” winner of Sundance’s documentary competition, which depicts the conditions in Israeli prisons and how they can become breeding grounds for terrorists.

“It’s tough…. We can show controversial films, but there is a limit to how we go,” he said, pointing out that by airing “too much dirty laundry,” the Israel Film Festival might jeopardize its relationship with sponsors and attendees.

He might not be screening some of the most popular and provocative Israeli films, but Fenigstein praised the current state of Israeli cinema, which he said is “burgeoning” and attracting money from many European sources, particularly European television.

“You can shoot in Germany and get money,” he said, explaining that a project with a budget of $800,000 can become a $2 million film.
Due to the co-productions, the Israeli film industry has improved in both quality and quantity, which is reflected in the festival’s lineup. Fenigstein will open with Israeli box-office champ, “Aviva My Love,” at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the first time an Israeli film has been shown there.

Fenigstein seeks a diverse audience for the festival this year, as opposed to previous years when it primarily drew Israelis. He is targeting the Russian community with “Children of the C.C.C.P.,” filmed primarily in the Russian language. He hopes to reach children with “Little Heroes” and “Love and Dance,” and he is working on a plan to bring filmmakers to schools like Milken Community High School.

Fenigstein also intends to set up a panel discussion to follow “Storm of Emotion.” The details are still being worked out at the 11th hour, but he is used to that.

Come dive with me — Israeli skydivers training in SoCal


You do it … you can never go back,” Israeli Sharon Har-noy said recently of her passion for the sport of skydiving. She and teammate Adi Freid met with a reporter during a break from training at Perris Valley Skydiving, about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

Har-noy and Freid make up the only all-female Israeli skydive team in the advanced category, which includes just six teams. They came to Perris to prepare for their nationals, set for April 2007, and hopefully the world competition in Australia to follow. Their U.S. training tour, sponsored by Israeli American Dr. Avraham Kadar and his company, BrainPOP.com, included stops at Skydive Cross Keys in New Jersey, Skydive Arizona Eloy, as well as Perris, before they returned to Israel Oct. 19.

The team’s home drop zone, Paradive, at Habonim Beach, between Haifa and Tel Aviv, is only open four days a week, and it lacks the opportunities available in the United States. At Perris, they trained seven days a week on faster planes that could carry more people, and they utilized a wind tunnel that simulated skydiving. The teammates said that during one week of training at Perris, they got in 70 jumps and made progress that would have taken them at least three months in Israel.

In Israel, the pair train on the weekends. During the week, Freid is a senior psychology major at Tel Aviv University and Har-noy produces animated films for BrainPOP.com, an education service.

The pair, both now 24, met about 3 1/2 years ago at Paradive and became quick friends. They had both done diving before — Har-noy took her first jump at the drop zone after high school and continued on weekend breaks from the army, while Freid’s first skydiving experience was in New Zealand, during her post-military travels in 2002.

“Two girls in the drop zone, we had to get together and start jumping,” Freid said.

About a year ago, while on a trip to Perris, they met manager Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, a world champion diver who is also Jewish, suggested they team up and start competing.

“To be a good skydiver you have to jump with someone good, and if there is no good people in the drop zone, then nobody can get ahead,” Har-noy said.

Among those helping them prepare is coach David Gershfeld.

“They have that finesse that … drive and energy … to get better and actively progress,” Gershfeld said.

Freid and Har-noy say the sport is safe, more so, they argue, than driving a car.And while Paradive closed for a month during the recent war, both women say they didn’t feel threatened.

“Maybe it’s easier to skydive in Israel because you are used to being afraid, or used to being in dangerous situations. Skydiving really isn’t that dangerous,” Freid said.

— Sara Bakhshian, Contributing Writer

Un-bee-lievable Spellings


Of the viewers who watched ABC’s broadcast of the 79th National Spelling Bee on June 1, how many would have spelled the word meaning “kosher approval” the way the judges did? The Round 8 word trumped the young lady who had to spell it, too.

When Saryn Hooks spelled it H-E-C-H-S-H-E-R, the judges dinged her out. According to them, the word should be spelled H-E-C-H-S-C-H-E-R. But that is not the spelling used in many Jewish newspapers and magazines, which is heksher. Luckily, the judges caught their mistake, and Hooks retuned to the competition to become the third-place finisher. She was luckier than Kavya Shivashankar who lost, misspelling the Hebrew word G-E-M-A-T-R-I-A-L (she spelled it with an O).

Second-place finisher Finola Mei Hwa Hackett, asked to spell K-N-A-I-D-E-L, however, got it right (it was an ironic follow-up to her Round 6 word: K-A-D-D-I-S-H). During Round 10, Ragiv Tarigopula received the “we didn’t think it was that hard to spell” word of the night: Y-I-Z-K-O-R (he spelled it correctly).

Earlier in the E.W. Scripps Co-sponsored bee, during the off-air Round 5, one child was asked to spell M-O-L-O-C-H (you might know it as melech).

The larger question is: Why should anyone be asked for a single correct spelling of a transliterated word? Is that fair when even the larger Jewish society can’t agree on a spelling for Chanukah (or is it Hanukkah)? Well, at least uber smart participants didn’t have to worry about spelling the Yiddish term for untalented loser: S-H-M-E-G-G-E-G-G-E.

 

Songs of the South


It appears Fox TV’s “American Idol” has a Jewish contestant heading to the finals. Twenty-seven-year-old Elliott Yamin from Virginia, auditioned for the pop star search and singing competition in Boston, and has gone on to make it into the top 24, and then, on March 9, into the top 12.

With eliminations weekly, it’s still open how much farther Yamin will go. As of press time, he remains in the game, however eliminations now take place weekly on Wednesdays, with the public voting by telephone Tuesday evenings to determine who moves on to the next round.

If commentary by judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell are any indication, Yamin should continue to do well. Their remarks have been almost unanimously favorable, and even notoriously harsh Cowell strongly praised Yamin in two out of three recent performances. After Yamin’s performance of Stevie Wonder’s “If You Really Love Me,” Cowell went so far as to tell him, “I think potentially you are the best male vocalist we’ve ever had.”

Yamin has never had any formal vocal training, but keeping up on American Idol isn’t the first hurdle he’s faced in his life. The young singer is open about his struggle with juvenile diabetes, for which he wears an insulin pump. He also recently revealed on the air that he is 90 percent deaf in one ear.

Regardless of the final outcome, however, Yamin said in an interview on the show’s Web site he feels “a total sense of pride and accomplishment” for making it this far.

Defy Gravity


Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld and I shook hands 20 minutes before we were to jump out of an airplane together at 12,500 feet. It would be my first solo jump. Dan has made some 23,000 — he’s stopped counting except by the thousands.

alt text
Brodsky-Chenfeld smiling as the author falls to earth.

 

I came to the Perris Skydiving Center, at the eastern end of Riverside County, for two reasons. A publicist for the center had contacted me to promote the National Skydiving Championships, to be held there over Labor Day.

“What,” I asked, “does that have to do with The Jewish Journal?”

“Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld,” the publicist said.

The other reason I came to the skydiving center was to do something I’d always wanted to do: jump.

The chance to make my first jump under the guidance of Brodsky-Chenfeld, who happens to be Jewish, was worth challenging my wife’s strict no-skydiving-while-still-a-father rule. Brodsky-Chenfeld has won 16 national and eight international championships. In a sport that demands athleticism and death-defying cool, Brodsky-Chenfeld is world-renowned. In the skydiving world, he’s known as Dan B.C.

“He draws the best competitors from all over the world,” said Larry Bagley, who oversees competition for the United States Parachutist Association. “You think: Dan B.C. is the person I want to be when I grow up, if I ever grow up.”

That Dan B.C. is Jewish has to be counterintuitive. Take away the short, illustrious history of Israeli combat paratroopers, and you won’t find many Jews jumping out of airplanes. History has taught us that danger will find us soon enough without our having to chase it.

“My parents,” he told me as we walked toward the small, waiting airplane, “yeah, they probably prefer I did something else.”

Family lore has it that Brodsky-Chenfeld, who is 43, was jumping off his bunk bed as a 5-year-old growing up in Columbus, Ohio, using his pillowcase as a parachute. He got his first real opportunity at 18, at Ohio State University, and he was hooked. Soon he was running a nearby drop zone, working his way up the ranks of divers in the nascent sport of skydiving.

Competitive skydiving looks like daredevilry, but Brodsky-Chenfeld and others are out to prove it is a demanding competition, as deserving of Olympic status as skiing or gymnastics.

“All people usually see are the stunts,” Brodsky-Chenfeld said. “They never see the sport.”

Divers exit the plane going 90-100 m.p.h. at 12,000 feet. As their bodies reach terminal velocity, 120 m.p.h., they begin a series of timed maneuvers, building human formations of four to 16 divers in a required sequence. Plummeting toward the ground at 200 feet per second, they guide their bodies into place with tremendous delicacy and discipline. They must do all this in 35-50 seconds — then separate, pull their ripcords and land.

A photographer, who is part of the jump team, records the formation for the judges, who determine winners on a point system. At the Labor Day weekend competition at Perris Valley Skydiving, visitors can watch 750 skydivers compete in 26 events — the largest national event in history.

“You can fly up there,” Brodsky-Chenfeld said. “You can go forward, backward, spin around. You surf the air like you surf water.”

The sport involves rigorous physical conditioning combined with meditation. Since divers get very little actual airtime to practice, they rehearse on the ground and push themselves to visualize linking sequences in their minds. Brodsky-Chenfeld, who is general manager of the skydiving center, also trains teams from around the world, including Israel.

He’s proud of that, and of the Star of David configuration he organized at the Los Angeles Jewish Festival in 1996 — 48 skydivers jumping from three planes. Until last year, he also held the record for organizing the world’s largest link-up: 300 divers from 14 planes.

But the challenge of the sport itself is his primary passion, and Brodsky-Chenfeld combines an athlete’s well-muscled frame with a calm, confident Zen-master demeanor.

As he walks me toward the waiting airplane, I look down and notice he is wearing sandals.

My skydiving instruction — which the skydiving center paid for — began in front of a video monitor in a small room. On screen, a lawyer with no discernable personality –“I represent the skydiving school. I am not your lawyer” — informed me that skydiving can lead to serious injury or death. By signing the eight-page waiver, he said, I cannot sue, and if I do sue, I most likely will not recover damages, and that, if I am able to win damages, I must understand the school is not insured.

“Now that I’ve covered all the grim legal aspects,” the lawyer concludes, “why don’t you go and have some fun and be safe.”

You can do a tandem dive harnessed to an instructor, or you can take a four-hour course, then jump accompanied by, but not attached to, two jumpmasters. I chose the latter, and paid very, very careful attention.

“The ground can come up on you very fast,” instructor Josh Hall said. “Skydivers think a lot about the ground.”

Landings, though, are soft, thanks to a new generation of glider-like parachutes. Those old mushroom shaped ones, Hall explained, created nothing but “human lawn darts.”

Brodsky-Chenfeld and my other jumpmaster, Kai Wolf, told me the key is to breathe and relax. They smiled a lot and took deep, exaggerated breaths. Other than the fact that I was wearing a jumpsuit and a parachute pack in an airplane whose side door slid wide open at 8,000 feet, it was just like a Pilates class.

I’d done my research and knew, rationally, that skydiving was somewhat safer than general aviation, but certainly less safe than not skydiving.

“Think about it,” Larry Bagley said later. “There’s a slim chance that it’s his turn and your turn to go at the same time.”

On April 22, 1992, Brodsky-Chenfeld and 22 other skydivers climbed into a de Havilland Twin Otter at Perris Valley, ready for another round of practice. At 700 feet, water in the fuel supply stalled the engine and the plane plummeted nose first into the ground. The pilot and 15 skydivers died — one of the worst aircraft accidents in skydiving history.

Brodsky-Chenfeld was pulled from the wreckage. He suffered a broken neck, a collapsed lung, numerous broken bones and internal injuries. His close friend James Layne, sitting across from him in the airplane, died instantly.

Brodsky-Chenfeld spent six weeks in a coma, and has no recollection of the crash.

In the hospital he’d lost 40 pounds, and wore a halo screwed into his skull to limit his movements while his broken back tried to heal. A wrong move or a fall could have paralyzed him for life, let alone jumping again out of an airplane.

“There was never any doubt in my mind that if I could physically do it, I would,” he said. “It’s the job I love.”

Just months later, Brodsky-Chenfeld, still in a neck brace, began competing. His team, Arizona Airspeed, took the bronze in the November 1992 Nationals. In 1995, Airspeed beat its trans-Atlantic archrivals, the French Excaliburs, to win an international gold medal.

If it sounds like the movie “Rocky,” it reads like it, too — a screenplay of Brodsky-Chenfeld’s ordeal has begun circulating through town.

Brodsky-Chenfeld said the accident didn’t change his view of skydiving, but of living.

“I understood how fragile it all is,” he said. “I woke up in a different world than the one I passed out in. There were people gone whom I was close to. So you learn to make sure you get the most out of each moment, and make sure the people who mean the most to you know they do.”

Brodsky-Chenfeld met his wife, Kristi, when she came to him for skydiving lessons She went on to make more than 300 jumps, but left the sport when she became pregnant with their first child. He carts around his two children, ages 10 and 6, in a white Volvo station wagon.

“It’s a safe car,” he explained.

I have two children, too, and they’re the last images in my mind before I leap out between Brodsky-Chenfeld and Wolf, into the air.

The feeling is indescribable — a sensation of flying, not falling. My mind frizzes between sensory overload, sheer terror, and wonder.

A videographer, Mike Kindsvater, is circling me with a camera. When I watch later, I’ll see my lips frozen in fear, and Brodsky-Chenfeld, smiling broadly.

At 5,000 feet I wave the instructors away, pull my cord and swing upward, suspended by my thankfully perfect chute. I spend the five-minute float down uttering prayers of thanksgiving, curses and exultations.

When I land, I want to take the next plane up and do it again.

I told this to Dan B.C.

“Yeah,” he said. “You have to get up there to understand.”

The USPA National Skydiving Championships will be held Aug. 23-Sept. 11. For more information, visit www.skydiveperris.com or call (800) 759-3483.

 

Nachas From Noggins


El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills has once again given Los Angeles something to kvell about. The school claimed top honors at this year’s national Academic Decathlon, the annual contest of intellectual prowess.

Three of the nine team members generated special pride for the Jewish community: Lindsey Cohen and Linsday Gibbs are both affiliated with Shomrei Torah, while Kevin Rosenberg attends Temple Aliyah.

“I got enormous support from my parents, from my temple [Shomrei Torah] and from my friends,” Gibbs said. “After we won state, the rabbi sent me a letter and the cantor called me…. They didn’t know what I got on each test or how I did medal-wise, and yet, they were all so supportive and welcoming and congratulatory when I got back.”

Team members began preparing for the April contest last summer, gradually increasing hours until December, when they started staying at school until 10 p.m. The competition challenges students in 10 different categories, including art, economics and science, and each nine-member team must include an equal number of A, B and C students.

“The questions were incredibly detailed,” said team member Kevin Rosenberg, who answered correctly when asked to name the 15 nations captured by Hammurabi. (He was the king of Babylon in the 18th century B.C.E. — but you knew that, didn’t you?) Rosenberg said a fellow teammate put the group’s study material on a scale and it came to 61 pounds.

Besides the studying, all three students cited the camaraderie and cohesiveness of the group as part of their success.

“The team chemistry put us over the top,” Cohen said.

Tryouts for next year’s team are already under way, and more than 80 students have indicated interest. Zol zein mit mazel (Lots of luck to you all)

 

Yeladim


 

Art From the Heart

Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom HaShoah, fell this year on Thursday, May 5. Did your school honor the day? Quartz Hill High School, in the Antelope Valley, honors the Holocaust every year by putting on a competition for the best creative work.

Train of Thought

This train has 75 spaces. Answer the questions and then place the answers in the correct spaces.
(Hint: Each word starts with the last letter of the word before it.)

[ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

[ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

[ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

[ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

• One of the more well-known concentration camps was: A_________
• “The night of broken glass” was called K_________
• The Final Solution called for the E__________ of the Jews.
• In 1948, the country of I________ was born.
• The German Air Force was called the L_________.
• Israel was established because of the ideal of Z___________.
• This camp in Eastern Poland is pronounced Maidanek, but is spelled M_________.
• The war spread over the continent of E__________
• Abbreviation of “National Socialist”: N_____
• The museum of T___________ speaks of many different Holocausts around the world.

 

Prices Too Low to Be Kosher


 

Illyse Zesch likes to start her Passover shopping early. So it isn’t surprising that, two weeks before the holiday, she made a trip with her fiancé — Rabbi Steve Conn of Santa Clarita’s Temple Beth Shalom — to the Kosher Club on Pico near La Brea, the largest kosher market in Los Angeles.

Among other things, the couple bought several bottles of kosher wine, some fresh lox, a variety of cheeses and a package of frozen gefilte fish. What they didn’t buy, however, was also noteworthy: no cake mix, macaroons, matzah or Passover candies.

Why?

“Those things we’re not getting here,” said Zesch, a 39-year-old attorney, “because we can get them cheaper at Ralphs or Albertsons.”

It happens every year, said Daryl Schwarz — who opened this 100 percent-kosher market in 1989 — only lately it’s been getting worse. Large supermarket and discount chains are able to undersell kosher specialty markets on the very products that, traditionally, have been the Jewish stores’ lifeblood. The chains can offer lower prices because they get volume discounts from kosher distributors. Or they can decide to forgo profit entirely on small-ticket kosher items, using below-cost discounts as a lure for shoppers, expected to buy more. Making money off kosher items is not essential to Ralphs; to Schwarz and other kosher merchants it’s a matter of survival.

Kosher products make up an astonishing percentage of the nation’s grocery bill — about $180 billion of a $500 billion total — though many consumers probably have no idea they are buying kosher. One supplier alone, Empire Kosher Poultry, processes 100,000 kosher birds (chickens and turkeys) per day for U.S. consumption. The kosher products industry is growing at a fairly steady rate of about 15 percent a year, said Menachem Lubinsky, editor of Kosher Today, an industry newsletter, with about 70 percent of the sales taking place through supermarkets or large chains. Competition from those chains, Lubinsky said, “is an issue that is now common in many different cities. The smaller markets, in a way, have to reinvent themselves to compete.”

Schwarz, of the Kosher Club, estimates that there are 20 to 30 small, independent kosher markets in greater Los Angeles. He believes that the number has shrunk slightly over the last five years, although he could identify only one market that had specifically shut down. Still, he insisted, the markets have had to scramble to survive.

Schwarz, for instance, has been forced to reshuffle his product mix by dropping or reducing the stock of items that customers are more likely to buy at lower prices elsewhere. One result is that some of his most loyal patrons are sometimes inconvenienced. But Schwarz has an even greater worry. “If the trend continues,” he said, “it will put the kosher markets out of business.”

He offers examples to illustrate his point. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Southern California, he said, produces a certified kosher-for-Passover version of its soft drink, made with sugar instead of corn syrup. But, based on volume and various other marketing considerations, the product is offered at a major discount to big grocery chains. Which is why in this Passover season, Schwarz contends, Kosher Club customers can choose between buying kosher Coke from him at $1.29 a bottle or walking across the street to Ralphs where the price is just 99 cents.

“How can I compete with that?” Schwarz lamented.

Bob Phillips, a spokesman for Coca-Cola in Los Angeles, said pricing depends on an array of factors including volume, advertising, display, brand recognition and positioning. “We sell to about 225 outlets, including small, medium and large ones,” Phillips said, “and we are glad to do so. There is lots of availability.”

Schwarz also noted that he pays $11 a pound for handmade shmura matzah; customers can buy it at Ralphs for just $9 a pound. “They lose money on it,” he said of his across-the-street competitor. “They use it as loss leader to get kosher customers into the store.”

Last year, according to the Jewish grocer, the resulting shuffling of products ended up causing major headaches for Passover procrastinators after, anticipating a drop in demand for their own more expensive matzah, Schwarz and other kosher merchants significantly decreased their orders from distributors. But Ralphs — perhaps underestimating the same demand — ran out of shmura matzah two weeks before Passover. So observant Los Angeles Jews had to spend extravagant last-minute sums shipping the specialty item in by Federal Express from New York.

And finally, Schwarz says, comes the case of the chicken. Kosher Club buys it from Empire Kosher Poultry of Mifflintown, Pa., the largest purveyor of kosher poultry in the nation. And the store sells it too, at $9.99 for a large bag of breasts. The only problem is that Costco, buoyed by lower prices based on high volume and willing to sell the product at near cost, offers the identical bag of chicken for $6.99, the same price Schwarz pays to get it.

A large chain can get a better deal from suppliers said Elie Rosenfeld, an Empire spokesman. Beyond that, he said, the manufacturer bears little responsibility for what happens to its chicken at the store. “The profit margin and revenue stream that determines what a Costco or Albertsons charges,” he said, “is not something we can control. Running a larger operation allows them to price things the way they feel comfortable, whereas smaller markets need to create the margins they need.”

The bottom line, he said, is that “if Costco wants to put our product at a certain price, there’s not much we can do about it.”

Unlike Schwarz, however, the chicken purveyor isn’t overly concerned. “I don’t think the little markets are in trouble at all,” Rosenfeld said. “They have done an excellent job of serving the consumer market and there is always going to be a place for them…. There’s a difference between going into a neighborhood grocery that offers more personal-type attention, and going into a larger store like Costco or Albertsons that serves the community in a different way.”

Yet there’s little doubt, industry insiders attest, that big chains are going after kosher consumers in big ways. A prime example is Ralphs markets, which has about 250 stores in Southern California. “We’ve been offering kosher items since 1986,” spokesman Terry O’Neil said, “and over the last several years the company has really expanded its offerings outside just those stores that serve Jewish neighborhoods. What we’ve found is that a lot of people who are not Jewish, for health or other reasons, are choosing to eat kosher.”

O’Neil declined to attach a dollar value to these sales, but the company, whose kosher offerings are overseen by several rabbis, has greatly increased the number of approved items it carries. During Passover and other holiday seasons, Ralphs stores stock literally thousands of such items.

“Our kosher customers,” O’Neil said, “are among our top customers in loyalty. We have studies showing that they spend significantly more than our other customers.”

Which is why Ralphs goes to such lengths to attract them. Among other things, O’Neil said, the company organizes several rabbi-led tours of selected facilities in the weeks preceding Passover. The tours are promoted in flyers placed in the stores as well as by mailings to 20,000 kosher customers and by advertisements in the Jewish press. The 15 tours this year each attracted 50-150 people, compared to 20-30 last year.

“This year,” O’Neil said, “has seen, by far, the most successful kosher tours and we’ve expanded them to more stores than ever before.”

And what about the fate of the smaller kosher market?

“I won’t comment on the competition,” O’Neil said without apology, “but I will tell you that it is our intention to be the supermarket of choice for the diversity that is Southern California. Whether that is the kosher customer or our Hispanic customers or our African American customers, we strive to have something in our supermarkets for everyone.”

All of which offends the sensibilities of some kosher merchants.

“The community should not rely on companies outside the community that aren’t committed,” said David Eskenazi, manager at the Kosher Club. “If you put all the kosher butchers out of business because they can’t compete with Ralphs, what do you do when Ralphs changes its policy, because it decides that it’s more interested in the Hispanic community?”

Carmela Geil, the Kosher Club’s controller added: “They can never do it as well as we can because we have the background. They’re very commercial, but it’s not the real McCoy.”

Many customers patronize the chains and the kosher markets, seeing value in each. Karen Avrech, of Los Angeles, said she’d just dropped $200 at Ralphs for a sundry of Passover items. But she completed her shopping at Kosher Club, Avrech said, because “they have a big selection” including some items she could find nowhere else. “Most people have to go to Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Ralphs and the kosher markets,” she said. “It’s not just one-stop shopping.”

Added Zesch, Rabbi Conn’s fiancé: “You have to mix and match.”

Then came Jon Hambourger, surely God’s gift to a place like Kosher Club. “We do most of our shopping here,” the Los Angeles resident said, “because they have a good selection and good meat at good prices.”

But couldn’t he do better at Ralphs?

Hambourger wouldn’t know, he admitted, “Because I haven’t been in a supermarket in years. My perspective is that, as a community, we have an obligation to support Jewish merchants.”

His bottom line?

“Even if it means paying more,” he said, “I’d prefer shopping here.”

 

Briefs


$10 Million Offered for Information on Missing Flier

Israeli emissary Uri Chen of the Born to Freedom Foundation visited Los Angeles last month, not to ask for money but to offer $10 million.

The money has been put up as a reward to anyone “providing proven and reliable information” on the whereabouts or fate of Israeli Air Force officer Ron Arad. Arad’s plane was hit over Lebanon in 1986, and the then 28-year-old navigator was captured by Amal, an Iranian-backed Shiite group.

The last contact with him was in September 1987. Since then, there have been occasional reports that Arad was being passed from one Iranian-backed terrorist group to another, or that he was being held in an Iranian prison.

“Israel has unsuccessfully exerted every diplomatic and military effort to find and free Arad,” Chen said. “We are working on the assumption that he is still alive, and the $10 million offer may be our last chance.”

Arad, who will be 47 in May, was married shortly before his capture and has a 19-year-old daughter, Yuval.

Chen, a former official in the prime minister’s office, is CEO of the foundation, which, he said, has collected the money through a government grant and private donations in Israel.

The Born to Freedom Foundation has set up an office and Web site, which can process tips and leads in English, Arabic, Farsi and Russian. Since launching the campaign in December, the foundation has received about 1,000 calls and e-mails, which analysts are now examining.

“We take each tip seriously and are leaving no stone unturned,” Chen said.

He has placed ads in international publications and aired commercials on television networks and has had surprising success in dealing with the Arab media.

“We have been interviewed by Hezbollah TV and Al-Jazeera and have had large newspaper ads in Egypt and Lebanon,” Chen reported.

By contrast, his requests for commercial airtime were rejected by CNN as “too political” and by the BBC and Eurosport network without explanation.

While in Los Angeles, Chen met with Jewish and Muslim leaders of the large Iranian expatriate community here and with managers of about 10 Farsi-language television and radio stations with large audiences in Iran.

The foundation is focusing on Arad but intends to also investigate the fates of other Israeli soldiers and airmen missing in action.

“It is written in Jeremiah that ‘the sons shall return to their own border,'” Chen said. “That is not just a slogan, that is our flag.”

For additional information, visit www.10million.org. – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Courts Act on Two Cases Involving Nazi-Looted Art

In two closely watched cases on Nazi-looted art, actress Elizabeth Taylor has retained a prized Vincent van Gogh painting, while in another case, descendants of Holocaust-era German Jews advanced their claims to works by Pablo Picasso and Camille Pissarro.

At stake in the Taylor case is Van Gogh’s “View of the Asylum and Chapel at Saint-Remy,” which the actress bought 41 years ago for $257,000, but which is now believed to be worth between $10-$15 million.

Her ownership has been contested by Canadian attorney Andrew Orkin, who claims that the painting had been confiscated by the Hitler regime from his great-grandmother, Margarete Mauthner, then a Berlin resident who later emigrated to South Africa.

In a decision announced Feb. 8, U.S. District Court Judge Gary Klausner in Los Angeles ruled against Orkin, because the applicable statute of limitations had been exceeded.

Orkin said he had been advised not to comment on the case, but his attorney, Tom Hamilton, issued a statement claiming judicial errors and announcing a possible appeal.

The second case has been met with even greater interest in the legal and art worlds, because of a ruling that an art dealer or gallery owner can be sued for his proceeds in selling Nazi-looted paintings.

Although the case involves two different families and two different paintings, the pleadings were combined, because they involved the same art dealer and identical issues, said Los Angeles attorney E. Randol Schoenberg. The art dealer is Stephen Hahn, a gallery owner formerly in New York and now in Santa Barbara.

According to court records, in 1975 Hahn sold Picasso’s “Femme en Blanc” (Woman in White) to Marilyn Alsdorf, a private Chicago collector.

In 2002, Thomas Bennigson, a University of California law student who lives Oakland, tracked down the painting’s provenance, which showed that the Picasso had belonged to his grandmother, Carlota Landsberg of Berlin, before being taken forcibly by the Nazis.

In 1976, Hahn sold Pissarro’s “Rue de Saint Honore Apres Midi, Effet de Pluie” to Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen, whose family allegedly had close ties to Hitler. Recently, Claude Cassirer of San Diego spotted a picture of the painting in a catalog of the Thyssen collection.

Cassirer’s grandmother, Lilly Neubauer-Cassirer, of a German-Jewish family, had been forced to sell the Pissarro for a fraction of its value under Nazi pressure.

In her ruling, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Denise deBellefeuille found that the use of a “constructive trust” on the sale proceeds of the two paintings was a proper remedy, when a person earns compensation from the sale of property belonging to another.

Schoenberg noted that “this is the first time, that I know of, that someone has tried to sue downstream to recover from a dealer who sold Nazi-looted paintings.”

However, he acknowledged that many Nazi-looted art cases represented a “Solomonic problem,” pitting heirs of the original owners against someone who might have purchased the painting later in good faith.

“But you can’t cut the painting in half,” he said, “So under American law, the original owner gets back the property.” – TT

Center Seeks End to Warning on Israel Travel

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is urging the U.S. State Department to remove its warning on travel to Israel, in light of the improving security situation in the country.

In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, wrote that besides the economic effect on the Israel’s tourism industry, the travel warning has led some U.S. insurance companies to deny coverage to Americans who frequently travel to Israel.

Cooper added that “now is the time to encourage Americans of all faiths to visit the holy sights in Israel, for students to take advantage of schools of higher learning and for families and friends to reconnect after years of fear and frustration.” – TT

Milken Student Earns Science Contest Honor

Josh Skrzypek’s explanation of plasma physics sounds like an excerpt from a doctorate dissertation. It’s no wonder that the Milken Community High School senior was recently chosen as one of the 300 semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS), America’s oldest and most highly regarded precollege science competition. The honor, which until 1998 was sponsored by Westinghouse, is often referred to as the “junior Nobel prize.”

“I enjoy the discovery of different things,” said Skrzypek, 17. “Even if it’s something that somebody already knows, figuring it out for myself is an incredible high.”

The Pacific Palisades resident has been figuring things out for himself at the UCLA plasma physics research lab for high school students, where he has worked and studied since his ninth-grade year at Milken. Skrzypek’s lab experiences set the groundwork for his Intel competition entry, a report detailing his discoveries in launching radio waves into plasma (a gas).

Skrzypek’s access to college-level research is linked to the Mitchell Academy of Science and Technology, Milken’s unique science education program. In Skrzypek’s junior year at Milken, the academy created the Science Research Institute, a three-year science research elective that prepares students to publish science research at graduate school levels and prepare for prestigious competitions.

Headed by science chairman Roger Kassebaum, the academy allows students to work in an intern capacity with research scientists at university and industry locations.

While Skrzypek was not enrolled in the program (it didn’t exist when he was an underclassman), Kassebaum allowed the motivated student to incorporate elements of the institute into his studies, which led to his Intel STS entry.

Skrzypek plans to study physics in college and hopes to become a university physics professor.

“It’s a big thrill when a concept just clicks, but what’s even more invigorating for me is to be able to teach it,” the young scientist said.

He is already getting some mentor experience by helping a new generation of plasma physics students in the UCLA lab.

While the competition is over, Skrzypek is far from finished with his research and is already planning a follow-up experiment to his Intel project as he decides where he will attend college next year.

Over the past six decades, Intel STS alumni have received more than 100 of the worlds’ most coveted science and math honors, including Nobel Prizes, national Medals of Science and MacArthur Foundation Fellowships. – Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Contributing Writer

The ‘Boys’ at the Front


 

Werner Angress was attached to a U.S. paratroop platoon winging behind German lines on D-Day, when the sergeant told him he’d be the first to jump.

“But I’ve never jumped before in my life,” Angress protested.

“That’s OK,” the sergeant said, “the newest guy always goes first.”

Angress was one of “The Ritchie Boys,” a special Army unit made up mainly of young Jewish refugees from Germany, whose World War II exploits have been recorded for the first time in a documentary by German filmmaker Christian Bauer.

The German-Canadian co-production is one of 12 documentaries still in competition for Academy Award honors.

The Ritchie Boys got their names from Camp Ritchie in Maryland, where the ex-refugees reported for duty at the Military Intelligence Training Camp.

From the beaches of Normandy until the end of the war, the men served on and behind the front lines as interrogators, psychological warriors, authors of anti-Nazi leaflets and broadcasts, experts on the inner workings of the German war machine and liberators of concentration camps.

Urging German soldiers to surrender from trucks equipped with loudspeakers, they became a favorite target of enemy artillery, but they encountered their greatest danger in the Battle of the Bulge.

During a last desperate push, the Wehrmacht infiltrated English-speaking German soldiers in GI uniforms into the U.S. lines. The infiltrators often spoke English with the same German accent as the boys.

In the heat of the battle, the Ritchie boys were likely to be shot by their fellow GIs or, worse, by the Germans.

Ten of the Ritchie veterans, now mostly in their 80s, recall their experiences in the 90-minute film,

Not all the recollections are grim. With the fall of Berlin, some of the boys concocted a story that they had captured Hitler’s personal toilet and latrine orderly, which made headlines across the world.

“The Ritchie Boys” documentary adds a little known chapter to the story of Jewish service in the fight against Nazi tyranny.

For more information, visit www.ritchieboys.com.

 

Iceberg Sinks ‘Race’ Menches


Eleven teams. Thirty days. One-million dollars. Zero bagels. That is what 32-year-olds Avi Scheier and Joe Rashbaum tried to face as one of the teams on the sixth season of the around-the-world reality show “The Amazing Race.”

“Race” teams are given clues telling them where to go and what tasks they must perform. At the end of each episode, the last team to reach the “pit stop” is eliminated — the first team to cross the finish line at the end wins $1 million.

This season, Rashbaum had a goal beyond the money — he planned to be the first kosher guy in reality TV history: “I’m committed to staying kosher even in these foreign lands under these extreme conditions.”

Scheier, who teaches in Brooklyn, and Rashbaum, an ad man who lives in Ventura, have similar upbringings, brains, logic and physical ability. The makings of a great team.

Unfortunately, Rashbaum will never find out if kugel is served in Karachi — the “high school buddies” were eliminated in the first leg (which took teams from Chicago to Iceland) after choosing to search a 7 miles of icebergs for a small buoy and getting turned around on the way to the pit stop.

One team that chose the other option — scaling a wall of ice — were L.A. personal trainers Adam Malis, 27, and Rebecca Cardon, 29, who landed in seventh place.

The formerly dating couple met at a spinning class (she thought he was gay) and say they are complete opposites. While Cardon is social, outgoing and spontaneous, Malis, who sported a faded Jewish singles cruise T-shirt in the first episode, isn’t.

“My biggest fear is that Adam and I will kill each other and will not be able to finish the race because we will be dead,” Cardon said.

Let’s hope this team doesn’t need to communicate with the natives too much.

“[I speak] a little Hebrew, but somehow I don’t think that will come in very handy on this race,” Cardon said.

“The Amazing Race” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.

Twin Triathletes Go for the Gold


The U.S. may have the Hamm brothers, but Israel has the Alterman brothers. Like their American counterparts, these 24-year-old twins have their eyes on Olympic gold.

Ran and Dan Alterman are Israel’s reigning triathlon champions. For the past four years, they have dominated the sport in their native land. Now, they look to bring their success to the international arena.

To qualify for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Altermans must compete in six races abroad annually. On Sept. 12, they will bring their speed and power to the Los Angeles Triathlon.

“It’s very exciting to come to Los Angeles and represent Israel in the race. And to know that people here are so proud of Israel that they wanted to help us make the trip, that’s just great,” said Ran Alterman, who along with his brother, had his trip to Los Angeles sponsored by Factor’s Deli owner Marvin Markowitz, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. The brothers, who were born in Tel Aviv and grew up in Netanya and Even Yehuda, began competing in triathlons at 13. A decade later, the brothers have a healthy competition going between themselves.

“Racing against Ran is like racing against myself. We have the same training schedule, diet and ability, so to beat him is to better my own performance,” said Dan Alterman, who as the Israel Triathlon Association’s youth chairman, helps run camps, clinics and a boarding high school for young triathletes in training.

When it comes to major races, the Altermans run against each other but also pull for each other.

“It’s most important for the family to come in first and second. As to which of us comes in first, it depends on the day,” said Ran Alterman, who, with his brother, is enrolled at the college of management at Rishon LeZion.

While both Altermans served in the Israeli army, they believe it’s through their sport that they contribute most to their country.

“There will always be good Israeli soldiers, but there aren’t many great Israeli sportsmen,” Ran Alterman said. “We’ve been given the chance to travel the world, talk to people and show them that Israel is about more than war, and that Israelis are strong.”

The Los Angeles Triathlon will be held on Sunday, Sept.
12. For more information, go to

Pico’s Familiar Slice


The balabus is back.

Howard Weiss, who opened Los Angeles’s first kosher pizza shop in the mid 1970s, has reopened his famed Kosher Nostra, and he’s looking to reclaim the glory days of over-sized slices and relentless puns that made the first Kosher Nostra a community institution.

The new Nostra is a tiny storefront on Pico Boulevard east of La Cienega Boulevard, just a block or two outside the beaten path of kosher establishments on Pico.

Since he opened a couple months ago, Weiss said, he’s been living in something of a time warp. The kids whose fingers he used to slap off the counters come in with their own little ones. Teenagers who bore the brunt of Weiss’ temper when they piled into the place after a Saturday night YULA basketball game now come in as staid 30-somethings, awash in nostalgia (and with more money in their wallets).

But Weiss will need more than nostalgia to succeed in today’s kosher market.

When he opened 25 years ago, there were maybe five or six kosher restaurants around, including Pico Kosher Deli (est. 1968), Nosh N’ Rye and a couple of others, according to the Southern California Jewish Historical Society. By 1982, there were 15 kosher restaurants, marking the beginning of the growth spurt that would bring us to close 100 kosher eateries in Los Angeles and the Valley today.

At 71, Weiss, a Tevye lookalike with tired blue eyes and a bushy beard encroaching on his face, says he’s ready to work hard to compete, but the heavy sigh and the slow shrug that accompany his determination say otherwise.

His decade in Israel in the 1990’s hasn’t fully erased the pain of the collapse of his original kosher empire, which included Peking Tam, Pepe Tam and China on Rye, with branches in the city and the Valley. That expansion and an accompanying partnership went sour in 1990. The site of the old Kosher Nostra at Fairfax Avenue near Third Street became Pizza World, owned by Darren Melamed, Weiss’ longtime manager.

The new locale is decidedly more cramped, and Weiss is still working on the décor, but some things haven’t changed. As always, Weiss has staked out a corner table where he does crosswords and assaults diners with deadpan humor, although he’s taken "Marijuana Pizza: $45" off the new menu. Above him hangs the beaten-copper miniature storefront with the "Mikveh in Rear" sign and just to the right of the counter hangs Weiss’ own answers to FAQs — the original framed poster which he printed not on a computer long before there was such a thing as FAQs (and before the words "Kosher Nostra" Googled up an anti-Semitic email-propagated rumor).

It’s too early to say whether he’ll make it. This incarnation of Kosher Nostra might turn out to be just a historical hiccup. But in a kosher community that after 25 years of growth is just now reaching an age of maturity, there might be room for a bit of nostalgia, a bad Jewish mother joke and a slice of pizza that, even with all the competition, still holds its own.

Krayzelburg to Defend Record in Athens


Swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg will go to the Athens Olympic Games, thanks to placing second in his race during the U.S. qualifying trials, a feat greeted with greater acclaim and emotion than his three gold medals in Sydney four years ago.

The Jewish immigrant from Odessa had the media, 10,000 spectators and even his rivals cheering as he finished the finals of the 100-meter backstroke in 54.06 seconds, behind world champion Aaron Peirsol.

With only the top two in every race assured a berth on the U.S. Olympic team, Krayzelburg beat third place Peter Marshall by four-hundredth of a second.

When the results were announced, Krayzelburg’s father Oleg, who brought his family to the United States in 1989, triumphantly waved a tambourine, while the stadium in Long Beach erupted into a noisy celebration.

To qualify, Krayzelburg had to overcome a series of handicaps that would have stopped a less-determined competitor.

For one, he is close to 29, considered ancient in a sport mostly dominated by teenagers. Even worse, he wasn’t sure whether he had fully recovered from a knee surgery and two shoulder operations.

A product of the intense Soviet training system for promising young athletes, Krayzelburg had difficult realizing his potential after his parents decided to leave Odessa for Los Angeles to escape Soviet anti-Semitism and the prospect that their only son would be drafted into the army.

The 14-year-old newcomer enrolled at Fairfax High School, which had no swimming team, and even taking a job at the Westside Jewish Community Center allowed him little chance for professional practice.

Ultimately, a swimming coach at Santa Monica College rediscovered Krayzelburg’s talent, got him a scholarship at the University of Southern California, and his career took off.

Although he has had no Jewish education and attends synagogue only on Yom Kippur, Krayzelburg is conscious of his roots, telling reporters: “Being Jewish is part of me, it’s part of my culture.”

After setting Olympic records in the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke, and spurring the U.S. 4×100-meter medley relay team to a world record at the 2000 Games, Krayzelburg participated the following year at the Maccabiah in Israel, proudly carrying the Stars and Stripes into the stadium.

Standing 6-foot-2, with blond hair, blue eyes and a sculpted body, Krayzelburg has been a crowd favorite as much for his modest behavior as his good looks.

Following his feat last week, he easily stole the headlines from America’s current swimming sensations, Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin.

Also on hand at the stadium was a graying but fit Mark Spitz, who won a never-equaled seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympics swimming competition.

Phelps, the new American hope, is aiming to equal, or even surpass, Spitz’s record and, on Saturday, the 54-year-old Spitz symbolically passed the torch after the 19-year-old Phelps won his third gold of the trials in the 200-meter butterfly.

Spitz put the medal around Phelps’s neck on the victory stand, then raised the young swimmer’s arm in a victory salute, after promising to be in the stands in Athens to cheer on Phelps’s assault on his own 1972 record.

Also heading for Athens is another top Jewish swimmer, Jason Lezak of Irvine, who won the 100-meter freestyle on Sunday, after setting a new American record of 48.17 seconds a day earlier in the semifinals.

Mayoral Evolution


With former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg’s entry into the 2005 mayoral race, the odds of a competitive battle for the city’s top political job have increased.

The combination of Hertzberg, former Police Chief Bernard Parks (considered extremely likely to run), state Sen. Richard Alarcón, and possibly L.A. City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa means that incumbent Mayor James K. Hahn may be forced into a runoff election. He would have to win more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary to avoid a runoff, a high bar with several strong candidates on the ballot.

Jewish voters will be crucial to the outcome. While white voters are declining as a percentage of the Los Angeles electorate, Jews are not. According to Los Angeles Times exit polls, in 1993, whites cast 72 percent of all votes, including 18 percent cast by Jews. In 2001, whites cast only 52 percent of all votes, including 18 percent cast by Jews. In other words, Jews are holding their share of the vote while non-Jewish whites are declining. The gap created by the decline of white non-Jewish voters is being filled by Latinos, whose share of the vote increased from 10 percent in 1993 to 22 percent in 2001.

The politics of the new Los Angeles make it harder than in the past to predict how Jews will vote. Los Angeles Jewish voters tend to be Democrats, and these days so are most mayoral candidates. When Los Angeles was a more conservative city, Jews were critical players in the rise of the Tom Bradley coalition. Bradley brought Democrats, liberals, minorities and Jews into city politics. He harvested awesome percentages of the Jewish vote. But Bradley’s very success in building a progressive, biracial Democratic coalition in Los Angeles has meant that each of the mayoral candidates, all Democrats, can claim to inherit a piece of Bradley’s mantle and thereby some Jewish support.

As the incumbent pro-labor mayor with a strong record on public safety, Hahn will get a positive hearing in the Jewish community. He won a majority of Jewish voters in the 2001 runoff election against Villaraigosa, after a middling performance among Jews in the primary. Overall, he did better among Valley Jews than on the Westside. But he will have competition for Jewish voters.

Hertzberg will benefit from his Valley base and from the tendency of Jewish voters, all other things being equal, to provide extra support for Jewish candidates. In both the 1993 and 2001 primary elections, Jewish candidates who did not make the runoff won significant Jewish support in the primaries. Alarcón and Parks will also appeal to Jewish voters by connecting their campaigns to the cross-racial alliances of the Bradley era. If Villaraigosa runs, he can challenge Hahn on the liberal Westside, looking for Jewish voters who backed him in 2001.

Because Jewish voters have so many strong candidates from whom to choose in the primary, including the mayor, the impact of the Jewish vote may be greater in a possible runoff election. The multileveled competition of mayoral candidates will then give way to a clear choice between two. For many Jewish voters, Bradley’s coalition is a distant memory, and the final candidates will be unlikely to break down in the simple pattern of liberal vs. conservative that marked the Bradley years.

Candidates who wish to win Jewish votes will find an alert, connected community that is very concerned about such issues as ethics in government, public safety, racial harmony, and moderate progressive change. Valley Jews have many of these concerns but also vote on the issues that characterize Valley residents as whole — concerns about neighborhood development and land use, and a desire for a responsive city hall.

In 2001, we saw the first real post-Bradley election with new competing coalitions: Hahn’s alliance of African Americans, moderate Jews, and white Republicans, and Villaraigosa’s coalition of Latinos and liberal Jews. But Los Angeles politics is still evolving.

If there is a runoff, the final two candidates will be competing to create yet another Los Angeles coalition out of the now scattered pieces of the Los Angeles politics that characterized the Bradley years: African Americans, Jews, Republicans, Latinos, Asian Americans. Whoever can bind Jews to their coalition will have a great advantage in winning the race to the majority.


Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton, is the author of “Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles” (Princeton U. Press, 1993).

A Triangle of ‘Talking’


At one point in the Taper Forum play "The Talking Cure," Sigmund Freud warns the young Carl Gustav Jung not to needlessly stir up the enemies of psychoanalytic theory.

"One difficulty is that all in my circle are Jews," Freud explains.

"I don’t see what difference that makes," the non-Jewish Jung says.

Observes Freud, dryly, "That is a distinctly Protestant remark."

The Viennese Freud and the Swiss Jung, whose close relationship evolves from prophet and disciple to mutual competition and antagonism, are two sides of the triangle in Christopher Hampton’s drama.

Linking the two sides is Sabina Spielrein, a brilliantly neurotic young Russian Jew, whom we meet first as Jung’s patient, then his lover, later a patient of Freud and finally a doctor and psychoanalyst herself.

Spielrein was murdered by the Nazis in 1942, a fate she foresees in a brief flash forward during a love scene with Jung.

The triangular relationship is set in the decade between 1904 and 1913, when anti-Semitism was certainly rife in Europe, but that is a minor subtext of the play.

True to its title, "The Talking Cure" is heavy on dialogue, much of it weighty, but hardly boring.

The early evolution of psychiatry and psychoanalysis — which has had a profound impact on our thinking, perceptions and everyday vocabulary — is pretty gripping stuff, even for the layman or skeptic.

Add the intellectual infighting between two towering personalities and the sexual ardor of Spielrein, and one can accept the often lengthy and sometimes oversimplified expositions and the rather serious tone of the proceedings.

Fortunately, there is a brief appearance by one Otto Gross, a fascinating footnote in the history of psychoanalysis, who advocated, with equal conviction and flippancy, sex, drugs and

anarchy.

Director Gordon Davidson draws nuanced performances from actors Abby Brammell as Spielrein, Sam Robards as Jung, Harris Yulin as Freud, and Henri Lubatti as Gross.

Only toward the end are there prophetic hints of the fate awaiting the world 25 years later. Freud warns Spielrein, "Put not your trust in Aryans. We are Jews and Jews we will always be."

"The Talking Cure," in its American premiere, runs through May 23 at the Taper Forum. For ticket information, call (213) 628-2772.

Get Your Creative Jews Flowing


Calling all creative kids. If you have a way with words or an aptitude for art, you can use your unique talents by entering the first annual Jews for Judaism Jewish Students’ Creative Writing & Art Contest.

Working with the theme "I Love Judaism," future scribes and artists can express their feelings about their young Jewish lives by writing original poems, songs or short stories or creating a piece of artwork. The competition, which is divided into three age groups, is open to Southern California Jews in first through 12th grade.

The contest is sponsored by Jews for Judaism, an international organization that provides a wide variety of counseling services, along with education and outreach programs, that enable Jews of all ages to rediscover and strengthen their Jewish heritage. The group is also the Jewish community’s leading response to the multimillion-dollar efforts of cults and Evangelical Christians who target Jews for conversion.

"We wanted a proactive approach toward keeping Jewish kids involved in Judaism," said Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, Los Angeles director of Jews for Judaism. "In addition to being a responsive program — most of what [the organization] does is reactive — we want to emphasize that Judaism needs to be proactive and fun."

A team of professional writers and artists will select nine contest winners who will be awarded prizes.

For more information or to enter the contest, visit www.jewsforjudaism.org or call (310) 556-3344. The entry deadline is Dec. 31.

Where the End Justifies the Beans


Businessman Allen Gochnour is a regular at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on La Cienega Boulevard, and like many of the people who wait in the line that often stretches out the door, he’s not just there to grab a cup of java and run. Instead, the transplanted Pittsburgher hangs out to kibitz with the people behind the counter, who affectionately call him "customer of the year," answer the trivia question of the day and sip his Ultimate Ice Blended — a blended frozen slush of sweet milky coffee, before he continues with his day.

"This is what the world was intended for," said Gochnour, as he licks the whipped cream off his drink. "Kosher food, kosher coffee, a great place to sit down — Pittsburgh doesn’t have anything like this."

In fact, few cities do. In the battle of the bean, where chain stores like Starbucks and Peets compete to serve the strongest espressos and the frothiest cappuccinos to the hoards of caffeine addicts, Coffee Bean has distinguished itself — for the Jewish community at least — by its commitment to kashrut. Every drink, muffin, salad or sandwich is kosher.

Now, Coffee Bean is taking its relationship with the Jewish community one step further. In keeping with the company’s credo of opening community-friendly stores, the newest Coffee Bean store, in the heart of the Fairfax district, will be closed on Shabbat and will serve chalav yisrael milk (milk that has been supervised by a Jew) and pastries, to appeal to the ultra-Orthodox segment of the community.

Herbert Hyman opened the first Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Brentwood in 1963, which sold — coffee beans and tea leaves. Later on, as customers became more interested in the products, Hyman set up a beverage-sampling bar, and later on started serving a full line of beverages.

Hyman started opening more stores, and in the 1980s there were about eight Coffee Bean stores in Los Angeles. But it wasn’t until one Coffee Bean employee threw some coffee and ice into a blender in the mid 1980s that the store really started to become popular.

"That drink was responsible for the worldwide frappe craze," said Melvin Elias, Coffee Bean’s COO. "That is when the growth machine started. The Ice Blendeds became very popular and it made the [store] units profitable. It was an innovative drink, and it took a long time for an established player like Starbucks to realize that we were onto something."

By the late 1990s, there were 60 Coffee Bean stores, and Hyman sold the business to Debbie and Sonny Sassoon — Los Angeles-based Orthodox Jews. The Sassoons decided to invest in the brand on a more macro scale to set it up for more accelerated expansion. Now there are 240 Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf stores in California, Arizona, Nevada and in 10 different Asian and Middle Eastern countries. About a year after buying the business, the Sassoons also decided to make the products kosher.

Many in the community speculate that the Sassoons went kosher because they didn’t want to be responsible for Jews going into the stores and eating non-kosher products, although the Sassoons would only say it’s good for business.

"The market for kosher is growing tremendously," said Debbie Sassoon, who researches and develops the new drinks for the company. "Less than 50 percent of consumers for kosher products are Orthodox Jews. It’s because the kosher stamp means more supervision — a good housekeeping seal of approval, and [people think] that kosher is cleaner and purer. Also being that Los Angeles is the second-largest Jewish community in America, we thought that there would be a benefit to having kosher certification for our products."

However, experts disagree that selling kosher products has wider business benefits.

"I don’t think non-Jews think that kosher means healthier. I don’t think anyone really has a clue what it means," said Hal Sieling of Hal Sieling and Associates, a marketing company for the restaurant business. "There are obviously people who really care about kosher — but they are not gentiles."

Sieling thinks that the coffee craze has yet to reach its peak — he estimates that designer coffee drinking will continue to be popular until about 2010, and that Starbucks, a business with $4 billion in revenues and 7,000 stores (250 in Los Angeles), will carry on dominating the coffee store market, providing Coffee Bean with the staunchest competition.

"Starbucks is the biggest player by a long shot," Sieling said. "Nobody else is close."

Coffee Bean currently makes more than $100 million in sales, and while they are expanding into new neighborhoods, they say they are not interested in giving Starbucks a run for their money nationally.

"We have no plans to be No. 2; no plans to expand to the East Coast, although it might be a possibility since we have hundreds of customers that want us to do that," Elias said. "We focus mostly on the Southern California core market, and will continue to do so. We are born and brewed in California — that is our home."

The Beverly and Alta Vista Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf will have its grand opening on Nov. 2, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., at 7235 Beverly Blvd.

Kids Page


Links in the Chain

That is what our year is. The year is a circle from one Rosh Hashanah to another. Your birthday is a circle from one birthday to another. And on Simchat Torah, we celebrate the circle of the Torah. Every year we read through the whole Five books of Moses, and we close the circle on Simchat Torah, a holiday that means “the joy of Torah.” This year, Simchat Torah falls on Sunday, Oct. 19. We will dance in a circle around the Torah and read the last verses from the book of Deuteronomy (Devarim) and the first verses from the book of Genesis (Bereshit).

Torah in the Storah!

In this nonsense story, you will find words that sound like the English names of the Five Books of the Moses. Find them and send me the answers to win! (Clue: Some of the answers are made up of a few smaller words.)

Last time I went to the store, I met Jenny’s sis. She was in the vegetable section, looking for cucumbers. We couldn’t find them, so we asked the store manager, and he said: "Leave it to us, we’ll find them for you!" He took us to the back of the store and showed us the cucumber bin. "Do the astronomy," he said. We had no idea what he meant, but then we realized that the cucumbers had been next to us the whole time!

Slicing the Kosher Cheese Market


At a cheese plant in Compton, Rabbi Avraham Vogel, a mashgiach (kosher supervisor) from OK supervision, adds a bucket of culture to a 780-gallon bath of hot milk. A table nearby is spread with cheese curd, which a worker cuts and then puts through a cooker stretcher that bathes the curd in hot water and then stretches it to produce the stringiness endemic to mozzarella cheese. Another worker slowly dips a small plastic ladle into a giant vat of small lumpy curds swimming around in yellowish whey. These are curds of ricotta cheese, which is made from the milk after the mozzarella has been extracted. The smell of hot milk is overpowering and soporific.

This production will yield 12,000 pounds of cheese for a small company called Anderson International Foods (AIF) that is trying to carve out a portion of the kosher cheese market for itself.

Brigitte Mizrahi, a French woman who now lives in Los Angeles, co-founded AIF in 1995 with the aim of producing quality kosher cheeses in attractive packages. The company currently sells kosher cheese under four labels: Natural and Kosher, which makes Mozzarella and Ricotta cheese; Les Petits Fermier, which produces "everyday" cheese such as Colby and Monterey Jack; Monsey Dairy, a line of specialty cheese such as Swiss cheese and Havarti; and La Chèvre, which is a line of goat cheese made from the milk of Chilean goats. Although AIF distributes several millions of dollars worth of cheese every year to kosher markets, supermarkets, restaurants and industrial clients, making a real dent in the kosher cheese market is a task that faces several obstacles.

Unlike other foods, which only require kosher certification of the ingredients and machinery in order to be considered kosher, cheese needs an onsite mashgiach who supervises all aspects of the production and who participates in the cheesemaking process. In that sense, cheese is like wine. Although a wine can be made of all kosher ingredients, it will not be considered kosher if made by a non-Jew without Jewish supervision.

The apocryphal story is that cheese was invented 6,000 years ago after an unknown Arab took a walk across the desert carrying milk for the journey in a pouch made of the stomach lining of a cow. When he arrived at his destination, the milk had coagulated, leaving him with cheese curds and whey. The stomach lining of an animal — which contains a chemical known as rennet casein — has been used in cheesemaking ever since, and it was for this reason that the Talmudic rabbis prohibited eating hard cheese that was not made by Jews. The rabbis feared that unless properly supervised, the rennet would come from either a non-kosher animal or an incorrectly slaughtered animal, which would make it non-kosher. Today, although many cheeses are made without animal rennet (cheesemakers use a microbial rennet instead) the prohibition against eating products of non-Jewish cheese production still stands.

Kosher cheese is thus known as gvinas Yisroel (cheese made by a Jew). There are many Orthodox Jews who use a still stricter stringency when it comes to dairy products known as cholov Yisroel (Jewish milk), which requires all milk and milk products to be supervised by a Jew from the time of milking — again, to prevent drinking kosher milk that might have been contaminated by non-kosher milk. (Two AIF cheese lines — Natural and Kosher and Le Chevre — are cholov Yisroel in addition to being gvinas Yisroel.)

The kosher hard-cheese market — as opposed to soft cheese, such as cottage cheese or cream cheese — is valued at $50 million a year, and is increasing at a rate of 40 percent annually, according to Kosher Food Industry reports published in 2000. However, industry experts say it is unlikely that kosher cheese consumption will ever come close to mainstream cheese consumption, due to laws of kashrut dictating that consumers need to wait six hours after eating meat before they eat dairy, and many large Orthodox families are too price conscious to shell out for expensive specialty cheese items.

However, new companies like AIF face fierce competition from World Cheese, a Brooklyn-based company that experts say controls 70 percent of the kosher cheese market. World Cheese currently distributes Haolam, Migdal and Millers brand of cheese. Sholom Halpern, sales and marketing director of World Cheese said the company distributes 8,000 packets of cheese every week in California alone. Another spokesman for the company, who declined to be named, said they are unfazed by competition.

"We pride ourselves on fair pricing, and one of the reasons why many a competitor have had a hard time breaking into the market is that to undercut us they would be working at cost," he said. "And the market for kosher dairy is much smaller than you and I think."

But AIF has grown by 50 percent every year that the company has been operating, and they are planning to develop other lines of luxury cheese such as Camembert and Parmesan.

Although Goodis has no illusions about becoming the next Miller’s cheese, she is confident that her cheese is good enough to win over many kosher consumers.

"We are trying to make people realize that there is good kosher cheese," she said. "There is a market for kosher specialty cheese, and it is starting to develop more and more."

For the Kids


We Are All Kings

We are told in parshat Shelach to wear tzitzit, a fringed garment. This is so central to Jewish identity, that the white-and-blue tallit became the model for the Israeli flag. Wearing fringes on the edge of your garment was, in ancient times, a sign that you came from nobility. So, why are the Jews instructed to do this?

Everyone wears certain clothes based on where they are going or what they are doing, such as going to school, temple, parties or the beach. Jews who wear tzitzit always remember that they are like the holy priests, always striving to act like noble and generous kings and always remembering their relationship with God. You, too, can wear or imagine yourself wearing the holy fringes.

Over the next few weeks, we will be publishing essays and poems by children who won the San Fernando Valley fifth-grade writing contest. The theme of the contest was: My Special Friend. Awards were given out on Sun., May 25, at the Encino Community Center, by the California Writers’ Club. Here are a few excepts of a third-place essay by Jacob Rooks, 10, of Woodland Hills.

Happy, My Imaginary Stuffed Dog
Friend

My stuffed dog, Happy, is always going on adventures with me. For example, I remember the time Happy and I went to Shambam Waterfall (which is really the back of my bed). He almost fell off, but made it back in the end. Another time, we went to Hinkytwink Forest (which is under my bed). Cocoa Volcano is located near my night table and the Himper Pits are in front of my bed.

Happy is happy, energetic and playful. Sometimes, Happy gets lonely when I’m at school. Recently, I bought a stuffed tiger that I named Hobbes. Now Happy has someone to play with.

How did I get Happy? The neighbors gave him to me after their dog bit me! So now I have my very own dog, and he doesn’t bite!

I want to tell you what happened at Shambam Waterfall. We decided to visit the waterfall because the other stuffed animals said it was really pretty. Happy wanted to climb it. At first I said no, but in the end he talked me into letting him climb. When he got about halfway up, he found a cave behind the fall, where he sat for a few minutes. The he climbed all the way to the top. He tripped on a rock and fell, but I caught him.

I hope that soon Happy and I will go on another adventure!

Creating a Picture of Unity

Here is something exciting for all of us to participate in:

The Jewish Dream Network (JDN) would like Jewish children worldwide to send in Prayers for Peace, accompanied by a digital photo of themselves. These will become part of a photo mosaic, which will be sent to the Western Wall next Chanukah. It will also be housed online and reproduced as posters and cards. Tobey Herzog, founder of JDN, says that “this is a way to create a picture that shows that we [Jews] are a family, and we take care of one another.”

Please send your prayers and photos to: tobey@jewishdreamnetwork.org .