Courtesy of Ben Cooper, Inc.

Meet The Coopers: The Jewish Family Responsible for Halloween

Ah! The trusty costume-in-a-bag. The fail-safe last-minute resort. Enter any Halloween store today and you’ll see walls stocked with costumes in cellophane bags. But in 1937, two Jewish brothers saw potential in an untapped market, when Halloween was a little-known holiday, a speck on the calendar.

They’d go on to create Ben Cooper, Inc. and revolutionize the Halloween costume industry. If you were born before the ’90s, chances are you probably sported one of their budget-friendly vinyl costumes. Their company reportedly owned nearly 80% of the Halloween market in the ‘60s, moving a remarkable 2.5 million units in 1963.

Ben and Nat Cooper in costume showroom (Courtesy of Ira Cooper)

Ben and Nat Cooper were the products of Ellis Island Jewry, raised on the Lower East Side. Their father was a fairly successful restaurateur, but Ben and Nat both yearned for something of their own.

“They wanted to assimilate,” Ira Cooper, Nat’s son, told the Journal. This was the groundwork that inspired two Jewish brothers to pursue the shmatteh business and dominate a Pagan holiday.

Maybe this “otherness,” their desire to assimilate, allowed them to observe cultural trends from an outsider’s perspective. Maybe their Jewish roots equipped them with the resources and acumen to revolutionize a holiday that wasn’t even theirs.

For Ira, growing up under the Halloween legacy wasn’t a big deal in the household. “We polished the silver for Passover, we didn’t polish it for Halloween,” he told the Journal.

What made Ben Cooper, Inc. so successful, besides the affordable price point, was their character licensing. Rather than offer generic costumes of ghouls and goblins, the Coopers took it a step further. In 1937, Disney released their first animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

“They took the train out to California and met with Walt [Disney],” said Ira. On that trip, the brothers got a license to start manufacturing Snow White costumes. Simple as that. “It was a handshake deal,” Ira said.

Soon after, the brothers went on a licensing spree. Of course, other costume manufacturers followed suit, but Cooper, Inc. was ahead of the curve, securing licenses for comic books like Batman and Superman, nabbing licenses for TV shows like Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days. They even licensed Star Wars.

In the 1950s, they started producing lines of their own made-up superhero concoctions (and trademarking the word “Super-Hero” along the way). They had a Snake Man, a Bug Man, and, yes, a Spider Man (circa 1954)- eight years before Stan Lee and Steve Ditko would publish their Peter Parker franchise. Now, a Ben Cooper, Inc. Spider Man costume goes for a whopping $20,000.

“It was one of those serendipitous things that happened at the same time,” Ira said about the Spider Man fluke.

In 1991, Ben Cooper, Inc. filed for bankruptcy and was eventually bought by their competitor Rubie’s Costume Co. However, the company has since celebrated a homecoming, and Ben Cooper, Inc. is now Ben Cooper, LLC, run by Ira Cooper and Jon Miller.

When asked if he would dress up for Halloween, Ira responded, “God, no!”

Bar Refaeli’s Purim costume: Fashionable Tiger

And the runner up to our celebrity Purim costume contest is…Bar Refaeli. We love that the Israeli supermodel chose adorable over sexy with this “stylish tiger” outfit.

How does one imbue a tiger with style, you ask? Three words: Yellow Chanel bag. Here it is, straight from her Instagram.

Hikind apologizes for Purim blackface

Dov Hikind apologized after coming under criticism for dressing up in blackface for Purim.

“I'm sorry people were offended,” Hikind said Monday at a press conference outside his Flatbush home, according to the New York Daily News. “In hindsight, I should have picked something else. It never crossed my mind for a split second that I was doing something wrong.”

A photo of Hikind dressed in a black wig and wearing dark makeup had been posted on Facebook. He is flanked by his wife, dressed as a demon, and son, who is sporting yin-yang facial makeup.

“I am deeply shocked and outraged by the insensitive actions of Assemblyman Hikind, to dress as a black basketball player complete with tanned skin and an Afro wig,” said Hikind's fellow Brooklyn Democratic Assemblyman Karim Camara, the chairman of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, in a statement picked up by various New York media. 

The Anti-Defamation League blasted Hikind's costume as showing “terrible judgement.”

“There are so many myriad costumes available to Jewish kids and adults during Purim, but putting on blackface should not be one of them,” Abraham Foxman, ADL's national director, said in a statement. “This is especially true for a politician living in an environment where ridicule and prejudice of African-Americans has a long and sad history.”

Also questioning the photo was Deborah Glick, an assemblywoman from Manhattan, who was quoted by the New York Times as saying the photo was “beyond offensive.”

Earlier, Hikind wrote on his blog that the criticism was “political correctness to the absurd.”

Hikind is a leading pro-Israel Democrat in New York who has at times sided with Republicans and slammed President Obama on Israel policy.

Last week, he slammed fashion designer John Galliano, who had apologized for past anti-Semitic outbursts, for “mocking” hasidic Jews when he was photographed in Manhattan wearing a fedora and a long coat.

Purim in Israel [SLIDESHOW]

Israelis celebrate Purim in full costume throughout Israel. 


Refaeli ripped for donning Santa suit

Bar Refaeli is getting heat again — this time for a picture showing the Israeli model in a Santa suit.

Refaeli posted the photo last week on her Instagram account with the caption “Good Morning Santa,” according to Shalom Life. The hat is drawn over her eyes; Shalom Life said “it’s safe to assume that she has a hangover, is drunk, or is exhausted from a photo shoot.”

Twitter followers berated Refaeli for wearing a Santa suit since she is Jewish, even telling her that she is “betraying Israel,” according to Shalom Life.

Refaeli was ripped by Israeli followers during last month's Operation Pillar of Defense for tweeting that she is “praying for the safety of citizens on both sides.” Many Israelis called her “unpatriotic” and accused Eefaeli of not caring enough about Israel.

Bar Santa

Girls’ faces blurred in toy store ad in Beit Shemesh

The faces of young girls modeling Purim costumes in a toy store ad were blurred in a haredi Orthodox newspaper in Beit Shemesh.

The Red Pirate toy store chain said the ads in the Hadash BeBeit Shemeh newspaper were altered without its knowledge, Ynet reported. The faces of boys in costume were not altered.

The chain issued a statement saying that the newspaper’s kashrut supervisor decided to blur the ad. The statement also apologized to anyone who was offended by the ad, according to Ynet.

Hadash BeBeit Shemeh responded with a statement saying that “This is not a case of women’s exclusion or girls’ exclusion. The ads were blurred by the advertising company, at our request, out of respect to our readers—both men and women—who want to receive a paper which matches their worldview and lifestyle. The attempts made by people who are not part of the haredi public to meddle in the desires of a different public are pathetic and doomed to fail, as haredi readers will not bring an unclean newspaper into their home.”

In response, some Beit Shemesh residents upset by the ad have urged consumers to boycott Red Pirate stores, Ynet reported.

Beit Shemesh, a Jerusalem suburb of 80,000, has been the site of intense conflict over gender separation and female modesty issues.

Trick or tweet: Anthony Weiner and Bernie Madoff Halloween masks

Are Halloween masks of Jews in the news a trick or just a new treatment?

With a new latex mask of disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner now selling alongside that of convicted swindler Bernie Madoff, I wonder: In some weird way, have American Jews entered a new era of awful acceptance?

What will people think if a Weiner or Madoff shows up at their door on Halloween? Will they identify these masks first by religion or indiscretion? Are these pop culture masks good for the Jews?

Through rubbery eye holes, they do allow a more evolved view.

Unlike other eras of American products, such as 19th century racially offensive castiron toy banks, today there is no exaggeration of features or ethnicity, the threesome’s noses are not elongated or hooked. They simply stare back at us as a new kind of pumpkin head, hollow objects of ridicule who happen to be Jewish.

OK, so they’re not bad for the Jews. But are these masks goods for the Jews? Would a Jewish person in particular want to wear them? On Purim, we still dress as Mordechai or Esther—the heroes. But in an era about three posts past irony, would we now choose instead to masquerade as a villain who is Jewish?

For a darkside Jewish mask, there is no need to revise characters from an ancient scroll—say, a leery-eyed Mordechai, or a wet T-shirt contest winner Esther—when we can look to Jewish personalities pulled from the book of today.

The Weiner costume—produced by Ricky’s, a costume superstore chain in New York that also sells online—includes a mask and an optional pair of boxers from which a pair of latex testicles hang out. Kirsten Slotten, who works for a publicity firm representing Ricky’s, tells JTA that the Weiner get-up “is one of the most popular costumes.” The company is marketing the costume along with versions of Charlie Sheen and Arnold Schwarzenegger as a trio dubbed “The New Stooges.”

Costume dealers say that sales of Bernie Madoff masks are way down in 2011.

The Weiner costume is “quite controversial,” says Marc Beige, whose 60-year-old competing costume company, Rubie’s, took a pass on the outfit.

“We sell to mainstream America like Wal-Mart,” Beige said. “We did not feel that it would be that popular.”

Noting that some New Yorkers still feel that Weiner was an effective congressman, Beige added, “Nobody’s perfect. He’s a human being.”

Rubie’s, along with Ricky’s and other companies, are also marketing a Charlie Sheen costume. The mask—a good-enough likeness of the former “Two and a Half Men” star in the Ricky’s version—comes with an optional T-shirt emblazoned with words and phrases Sheen made infamous, including “winner” and “tiger’s blood.”

Not included: Sheen’s “goddesses.”

In attempting to deflect claims of anti-Semitism, the Hollywood meltdown warlock claimed to have Jewish roots on his mother’s side. So can we count his costume along with the Weiner and the Madoff?

Either way, Beige said, “religion never comes up” when the staff at Rubie’s discusses the appropriateness of a potential costume.

As for mask sales of the tragic Madoff, “That’s pretty much over,” he said.

Wondering about the Jewish identity of the people behind the masks, I asked Beige (who is Jewish) if any of his friends ever thought it odd that he was in the Halloween business.

“No, that’s never come up. I think over 50 percent are Jewish,” said Beige, noting that the company also has a branch and catalog in Israel.

“When you think about it,” he adds, “this business is one part Hollywood, one part garment business, one part toys—all businesses where you find a lot of Jews.”

Anthony Weiner mask ($24.99, from Ricky’s), “Just hanging around” boxers ($19.99, from Ricky’s)

Madoff mask ($22-$30 from various online vendors)

Charlie Sheen adult costume kit, shirt and mask ($20 from Rubies, adult sizes only)

Know of a product that might be good for “Goods for the Jews”? Please send to Edmon Rodman at

Purim Calendar


Spotlight: Purim museum tour
Sat. 1 p.m. and Sun 1 p.m. Free (does not include museum admission). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Purim Pandemonium 2011
Sat. 4:30-10 p.m.  $25 (children’s wristband), $20 (adults, includes two drink tickets). University Synagogue, 11960 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 472-1255.

Westside Shpiel, a Purim parody of “Westside Story.”
Sat. 5 p.m. Free. Temple Emanuel, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-3737.

Celebrate Purim in psychedelic Beatles fashion with Rabbi Ed Feinstein during Sgt. Feinstein’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Megillah Reading.
Sat. 6:30 p.m. Free. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6600.

Purim for Adults Only party, featuring Megillah reading, “Purim Film Fest” and live music.
Sat. 7 p.m. $20. Leo Baeck Temple, 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 476-2861.

Adult Purim Carnival, featuring an open bar, inflatable sports games and more for young professionals (21-39).
Presented by Valley Ruach. Sat. 8-11:45 p.m. $20 (advance), $25 (door). Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 835-2139.

Cirque du Purim, featuring Megilla rap, dancing, DJ and live performance by the Shimmy Sisters.
Presented by Young Leadership Division of Jewish Federation & Family Service of Orange County. Sat. 8:30 p.m. (Megillah rap), 9:15 p.m. (dancing and entertainment). Andrei’s, 2607 Main St., Irvine. (949) 435-3484.

What Happens in Shushan Stays in Shushan
IKAR’s adults-only Purim Justice Carnival. Sat. 8:15 p.m. (Megillah and shpiel), 10 p.m. (carnival). $20 (IKAR members), 25 (general). Westside Jewish Community Center, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 634-1870.

Purimpalooza VIII: Purim Confidential.
Sponsored by ATID-LA, JconnectLA, Birthright NEXT, Jewish Federation and the W Group. Sat. 9:30 p.m.-2 a.m. $30 (advance), $36 (door). Music Box Theatre, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (310) 481-3244.

Purim in the City adults-only party.
Sponsored by Kesher and SOLA. Sat. 10 p.m.-4 a.m. $10. Chabad of SOLA, 1627 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. thepurimafterparty2011.


Rock ’N’ Roll Purim shpiel and carnival.
Sun. 10-11 a.m. (shpiel). 11 a.m.-2 p.m (carnival). Free. Beth Shir Shalom, 1827 California Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 453-3361.

Temple Judea’s Purim Carnival, featuring food truck festival.
Sun. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. $20 (10 ride tickets), $25 (presale wristbands, good for all rides). Carnival at former Michael’s parking lot, corner of Lindley Avenue and Ventura Boulevard. (818) 758-3800.

Purim Carnival
10 a.m.- 5 p.m. $45. Temple Aliyah, 6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 346-3545.

Wise Purim Carnival.
Sun. 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. $40 (kids, ages 3 and over, includes all rides and attractions), free (adults). Stephen S. Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 889-2234.

Purim Carnival
Sun. 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. $40 (unlimited rides). Temple Beth Hillel, 12326 Riverside Drive, Los Valley Village. (818) 763-9148.

Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center’s Purim Carnival.
Noon-3 p.m. Free (not including rides, games or food tickets). Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, 1434 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena. (626) 798-1161.

Chabad of the Conejo’s Purim Carnival.
Sun. 1-4 p.m. Free. Conejo Jewish Academy, Willow Elementary School. 29026 Laro Drive, Agoura Hills. (805) 494-7217.

Merry Masks of Purim: Mask making and food drive at the Zimmer Children’s Museum
Sun. 2:30-4 p.m. Free (members), $3 (general, not including $8 entrance fee for adults, $5 entrance fee for children). Goldsmith Jewish Federation Building, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8998.

Purim Under the Sea, feast and concert for families with special-needs children.
Sponsored by Friendship Circle. Sun. 4:30-6:30 p.m. Free. Bais Chaya Mushka, 9051 W. Pico Blvd, Fourth Floor. (310) 277-3252.

For more Purim events, visit

Purim in the produce section

YeLAdim recently stumbled across an airing of the 2000 “VeggieTales” film “Esther … The Girl Who Became Queen” (Big Idea, $14.99). In one scene, a grape thwarts two peas trying to drop a piano on a pickle. Well, it makes sense if you think back to the story of Purim. Mordechai overhears a plot to assassinate King Ahasuerus (called Xerxes in the movie). Esther’s story translates amazingly well to produce. With funny and thoughtful songs, plus a brief homage to “The Godfather” films, you can enjoy learning about the courageous efforts of a young green onion named Esther. Can she save her people from being banished to the “The Island of Perpetual Tickling” by the wicked fedora-wearing Haman?

Book ‘Em!

Ever feel like being part of something big? Now is your chance. On Monday, March 3, the National Education Association, in partnership with the California Teachers Association, will sponsor Read Across America. The idea is to get kids all over the country, from preschool to 12th grade, excited about the world of books. Events like reading challenges, breakfast read-ins and book drives are all helping to celebrate this year’s theme: “Go Books, Go.”

As a start, check out some of these books by Jewish authors from the list of “Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know” compiled by the California School Library Association:

Preschool to Second Grade: “Hanukkah at Valley Forge” by Stephen Krensky (Dutton, 2006)

Third to Fifth Grade: “Dad, Jackie and Me” by Myron Uhlberg (Peachtree, 2006)

Sixth to Eighth Grade: “Julia’s Kitchen” by Brenda Ferber (Farrar, 2006)

Ninth to 12th Grade: “The Book Thief” by Markus Zuzak (Knopf, 2006)

You can read to a younger sibling or a grandparent; take turns reading a book with a friend — or many friends, or ask a parent, rabbi or teacher to read to you. Remember: Books can take you anywhere you want to go without having to pack a suitcase.

For more information, visit


“Beware the beautiful masked woman on Purim.”

I texted a young friend after midnight on Saturday night, before my carriage turned into a Purim
pumpkin. Because when he saw me, he didn’t know it was me.

I suppose I couldn’t blame him: My hair was blown out straight and silky, I was wearing a fancy lace strapless number because I’d been at a wedding that day and, for the occasion of Purim, I donned an extravagant purple-feathered eye mask.

I didn’t exactly mean to go incognito, but when my friend Ben didn’t recognize me — even after chatting with me for a minute at the noisy Purim carnival — I realized I was onto something: I could be anyone.

Don’t get me wrong, I like myself. I “really, really like me.” Most of the time, anyway. But there are scant opportunities in life to observe other people at their most boisterous and maintain anonymity — unless you count watching reality television. This was my chance to actually interact with people who were being completely and totally themselves, albeit dressed up as something other than themselves.

Costumes have a way of doing that for a person; paradoxically, by shifting their persona, they can shine and be their best selves.

This is probably why I have always loved “fancy dress” parties. Growing up religious, Purim was one of my only opportunities for wearing a costume, aside from theme parties (preppie/nerd, literary characters, etc.). In the last few years I’ve added Halloween to my repertoire, but here in Los Angeles a costume party seems to be an excuse to dress as sluttily as possible — which, in principle, I’m not necessarily against — but bearing one’s belly button, to my mind, defies the whole notion of not revealing oneself.

For me, just dressing up is not enough. On Thursday, at a Purim party at Pearl’s, sponsored by Atid, Stephen S. Wise and Taglit/Birthright, I was a flapper in a white shimmying dress, white stole and long cigarette (I didn’t inhale). It was glam and fun (I won a prize! Although I came in behind “Jews for Cheeses”).

But at Saturday night’s Ikar social justice carnival I realized what I really want from a costume party: To be masked. Concealed. Hidden. Veiled. I suppose I could have gone in a burka (topical, yet modest!), but I think my dramatic streak has always yearned for masquerade balls of old — women swathed in layers of satin, bewigged in piles of curls, corseted in laces that squeezed the lifeblood out of them, ensconced behind bejeweled masks — identities so subsumed they could lose themselves for the night.

And so it came to pass, in the Time of the New Millennia in the land of Angels … at J-Connect’s party on Sunday night, I went completely undercover. To match my purple mask, I wore a purple lace vintage dress (wire stays instead of corset) and the most mysterious smile I could muster. Because, apparently, it’s not the eyes that are the window to the soul, but the smile.

“Is that Amy Klein?” said my friend Avi, who had overlooked me in a group conversation until I grinned.

“You should write more because I want to read about someone who feels as miserable as I do,” he said.

I quickly pulled my mask down as I made my way around the room, eavesdropping, conversing, listening and flirting.

Meeting people in costume is a double-edged sword: It’s mysteriously alluring, but what if the man under the sufi hat has no hair?

“What if your cheeks are as fuzzy as your mask?” one suitor asked, begging for a peek. Since it was only my eyes, I lifted the mask for a moment, to assuage him that I wasn’t Chewbacca.

“Do I know you?” others said. I shook my head, no, with a smile.

Tonight I didn’t want to be known. Amid the sea of costumes, from the store-bought (policeman, red riding hood, etc.) to the topical (a dead-on mustachioed Borat) and the minimalist (cowboy/girl, pirate, kitten) and a scantily clad belly dancer or two (see: Halloween), I was one of the few to remain faceless.

What does that say about me? Am I secretly afraid to reveal my truest self? And what does it say about those who don’t dress up at all? Are they so unabashedly themselves they don’t need to hide behind a costume? Or are they just afraid to let go? Do they not know the beauty of the Purim commandment, to get drunk enough so you don’t know the difference between “Cursed Haman” and “Blessed Mordechai?” (Do they even know who Haman and Mordechai are?) Do they not know that Purim is a time to shake it up a bit; be someone you normally aren’t — or at least different from how others may see you?

That was what my costume afforded me: the ability to escape others’ perception of me for the evening. Yes, behind the mask, it was still me in there, intermittently wondering things like, what am I doing here? Why can’t I be lying on my couch reading the Sunday New York Times? Does red wine stain? But no one knew it was me, and that allowed me to mostly escape myself. My sometimes fabulous, sometimes neurotic, multifaceted, misunderstood self.

So yes, t’was I behind the purple plumed feathers. Sorry if I didn’t say hello.

But heads-up for next Purim: I think I’ll be wearing a burka.

New UJ ‘Tradition’ Starts

Tevye, Tzeitel, Golde and all the other memorable characters of "Fiddler on the Roof" graced the big screen at the University of Judaism (UJ) on Sunday, April 25, but it was the audience who stole the show.

Five-hundred people — some bold enough to come in costume — sang along with the memorable songs of "Tradition," "If I Were a Rich Man" and other classic "Fiddler" tunes. The UJ singalong event capitalizes on the popularity of participatory shows, such as "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," "Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding" and "Grandma Sylvia’s Funeral."

UJ staff passed out kitschy props highlighting key points in the film — ring pops for "Matchmaker" and boxes of gilded chocolate coins for "If I Were A Rich Man." When the sun set on Friday evening at Tevye’s house, the audience munched on mini challahs.

Participants, drawn into the excitement of the production, led performances of their own. During the graveyard scene of the film, Sandy Erkus, dressed as the ghostly Fruma Sarah, ran about the theater in her tattered wedding gown, reviving the role of Lazar Wolf’s dead wife. Erkus said she didn’t plan to steal the spotlight, but fellow audience members coaxed her to get up and play the part. "Me, being a ham and a half — wait that’s not kosher is it? — I went up," she recalled with a laugh.

At intermission, timed with the wedding of Motel and Tzeitel, Tevye’s oldest daughter, the UJ treated the audience to a mock wedding reception with sliced wedding cake, champagne and even a fiddler playing in the background.

Sandy Kanan, wearing a shawl over her head and a long cloak-like dress, enjoyed coming out and dressing up like Yente the Matchmaker.

"I love getting into it," said Kanan, who finds the program an entertaining lesson in Jewish tradition.

"This is so important; this is our culture; this is our heritage," she said. "There is a lot of truth in it."

The next "Fiddler" singalong has been set for March 20, 2005. A "Grease" singalong is also being planned. For more information, call the UJ’s Department of Continuing Education at (310) 440-1246.