Web Development Changing the Climate of Web Design

Just like the fashion industry, web development goes through trends, which in turn affect the world of web design. Every year, new trends and technologies emerge that web developers and designers should keep up with.

Besides that of new technologies, web companies have to be on the curve in order to adapt to the changing climate. A leading web design Victoria Company has pointed out in order to gain more customers you have to ensure a great design aspect within the navigation, wording, and color.

In light of this, web design has been changing every single day since JavaScript was invented. Today, we have responsive web design, much of which is powered by content management systems that you can easily implement even if you don’t have tangible experience in coding.

However, what should you expect after responsive web design? In that light, we explore some web development trends that are revolutionizing the climate of web design.

Card-Based Web Design


Card-based designs are becoming increasingly popular in web design. These designs are responsive and ideal for mobile devices. A card is also referred to as a tile, a module, or a portrait. Card-based designs are already being used by leading tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Machine Learning


With the development of open-source programs, such as Google’s TensorFlow, machine learning will quickly become an integral component of web design. In fact, you can use machine learning for a wide range of purposes, the layout of a website being just one of them.

In the world of web development, machine learning-powered multivariant testing will have the ability to automatically test and optimize a site at a customer level. What does this mean?

Each customer will see a website specifically designed and personalized for them, from the language used to the web pages’ layout.

Static Website Generators


With a static website generator, you can create a website from plain text, normally stored in files as opposed to databases. In some cases, websites created by generators allow for several advantages, which include increased website speed, enhanced security, and ease of deployment and management of traffic surges.

It is worth noting, however, that such websites have no real-time content or user content, which have become an integral element in today’s websites.

As APIs and Content Delivery Networks are increasingly becoming the in thing in the world of web, making it easier for templates and content to be distributed, many web developers think static website generators could be an interesting area to watch in the next couple of years.

Virtual Reality


Virtual reality is another hot topic when it comes to talking about how web development trends are changing the climate of web design. This technology is already taking over the gaming industry. Namely, the Vive and the Oculus Rift present the gaming industry some new and fascinating possibilities. And you should expect more in the coming years.

Tech leaders such as Google and Mozilla are already working on APIs to facilitate the transition of Virtual Reality to the web. In fact, as standards develop, you should expect an increasing number of VR-driven applications to be developed.

The web is an exciting place in that nothing remains stagnant for too long. Everything is always changing and the techniques we use to implement the changes will always evolve as well. The above web development trends serve as insight to how web development changes the climate of web design.

Creating the Perfect Bedroom For Car Enthusiasts

In case you are a car enthusiast, creating a bedroom that follows a car theme is an excellent idea. In this way, you will not only increase the visual attractiveness of your bedroom, but you will also feel much more comfortable whenever you go to bed. Cars are the favorite thing of people of all ages and genders!

The simplest way to make the team is to get an attractive car bed. That’s right – there are many manufacturers that make beds that resemble muscle cars or ordinary cars. At the same time, you can find matching pillows, comforters, and beddings too. Don’t forget the bed is the focal point of every bedroom and the most used piece of furniture. This means that you must be careful about the quality. In addition, remember that you don’t have to spend a small fortune for a bed like this. Even if you can’t afford a pre-made bed like this, you can apply the DIY approach and make your existing bed look more like a beautiful car.

Obviously, the bed is just one of the things that can help you decorate your bedroom like a true gearhead. If you are interested in a less expensive solution that is almost equally effective, you can also opt for a special rug. The rug can bear the logo of your favorite car manufacturer or your team. In some cases, it is sufficient to buy a rug that has the colors of your favorite NASCAR or F1 team. The good news is that it is very easy and simple to buy a rug online. Online stores like Roth Rugs have hundreds of different high-quality rugs to choose from. We are sure that you’ll find the perfect rug easily.

At the same time, it’s worth mentioning that you can make the wardrobes in a similar color shade and even add some decorations with gadgets that are typical for car fans like race tracks, logos, and car deals. If you take some time to do research, we are sure that you’ll find adequate car lamps too. Obviously, racing memorabilia including photos and flags are ideal for a decoration like this.

According to many expert interior designers, the use of wallpapers and wall paint can bring a significant difference in the appearance of any room including the bedroom. So, if you want to show your love and passion for cars, you should look for matching wallpapers and/or wall paint. There is no simpler way to improve the overall appearance and style of the bedroom especially when it comes to car themes. It would be smart to use just two colors. One of the colors should cover a small portion of the wall (starting from the ground). Feel free to use borders to separate the colors. If you or the painter you’ve hired is able to perform shading that would be ideal. When it comes to car race themes, blue and red colors are the ones that are used the most. If you are prepared for something bolder, you can paint a race track on the walls too.

With the help of a car bed, matching furniture, suitable rugs, and other accessories, you will be able to turn your bedroom into a shrine where you can find peace and satisfaction.

Web Design Tips for an Auto Parts Website

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to website design. Whilst some strategies, like link building and content marketing are applicable to all industries, it’s important to adopt a holistic approach to website design if you are marketing a niche business. Here are some tips to help you design the perfect website for an auto parts business.

Anyone can build a simple website. Content management systems like WordPress and Magento are easy to use and once you have a basic framework in place, you can play around the layout using a drag and drop interface. However, if your business depends on website traffic, it’s sensible to look into website design Melbourne, as a professional website designer will be able to advise you on SEO and the more technical aspects of web design. But if you already have a website and you just want to tweak the design, check out the following tips.

Mobile Friendly

Businesses can’t afford to ignore the importance of mobile-friendly web design these days. More people than ever before are using mobile devices to search online. This is especially true in the auto parts industry, where customers need parts quickly and are often outdoors, or away from a computer.

Google likes mobile-friendly websites, so if you don’t take steps to make your website suitable for mobile devices, it could harm your position in the search engine rankings. It will also make it harder for customers to find the auto parts they need.

Easy Navigation

How easy is it for customers to find the auto parts they need on your website? The harder it is, the more likely they are to click away and use a different website. Since you probably have a vast catalog of different auto parts, it is essential that you catalog them in an intuitive manner. Look closely at your navigation links. The more steps a customer has to take to find the part they need, the more annoyed they will be. Install a search facility on your site to make it nice and easy for customers to find the part they are looking for.

Eye-Catching Design

Auto parts are not very sexy, so you should try to make your website as easy to the eye as possible. Try to avoid using too much text on the homepage, as this is less appealing. Use professional photos, preferably images that are unique to your business. However, check how long pages take to load once you have images installed, as slow load times are damaging to your SEO.

Business Branding

Use branding to set your website apart from those of your competitors. Do you have a company logo? If so, incorporate it into your website design, along with any colors you use.

Local Information

Do you have a bricks and mortar auto parts store? If so, place your contact details in a prominent location on the site. Having a landline number on a website establishes your business as a trustworthy partner.

Don’t forget to include social buttons on every page, so customers can share information about auto parts with their friends.

Love and Judaism are built into couple’s distinctive home

There is divine justice in the fact that the daughter of a survivor of Auschwitz now lives in a beautiful home wrapped in a metal sheath pierced with Hebrew letters and filled with Judaica.

Meyer Wiesel, who died in 1987, survived the Holocaust — the only member of his family to do so. And now, the Jewish heritage of that boy from the Czechoslovakian town of Topolčany — who would later become Michael Morris of Denver — plays out daily in the most public fashion possible in the Cheviot Hills home of his daughter, Maxine Morris, and her husband, Bob Hale.

“It is like a giant mezuzah,” Morris said with a laugh during a recent afternoon interview at the house. 

Indeed, like the V’ahavta prayer of love hidden inside every mezuzah’s decorative casing, this home is a 5,000-square-foot, three-story declaration of ahavah — love — with the word repeated in hundreds of perforations across the corrugated aluminum that encases its structure. The design is an expression of gratitude and deep affection between the two people who built the house, with the Hebrew letters inscribed both forward and backward, becoming, as well as an expression of their Judaism, an abstract, decorative pattern allowing light and shadow to seep through into the private spaces inside. 

The “Beit Ha-Ahava” — “House of Love,” as it has become known — was, of course, a very personal project. In 2008, Morris, director of research finance operations at the Rand Corp., met Hale, a highly regarded architect and principal at the Los Angeles firm of Rios Clementi Hale Studios. (Hale has also been a vice president at Universal Studios and a principal architect for Frank O. Gehry Associates, including working on, among many projects, the landmark Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.)  Morris and Hale fell in love and decided to marry. Both lived on the Westside, and when they thought about designing and building a new home for a life together, they found they had very compatible tastes in modern design. 

“I was the architect, Max was the client,” Hale said. “She had a lot to say about it.”

They married in 2010, but had bought the property while engaged (the house wasn’t completed until 2012). Hale said he had always envisioned wrapping the exterior with perforated corrugated aluminum, but, at least at first, he’d simply thought of a pattern of holes. 

Bob Hale and Maxine Morris at their Cheviot Hills home. Photo by Trevor Tondro

“I said, ‘Just holes?’ ” Morris remembers. “Sounded not so interesting.” 

Morris had been collecting images of objects she liked, and one day she came across a lamp in the graceful, turning shape of the Hebrew letter lamed

“I was staring at it, and it just struck me: Hebrew letters are so beautiful,” she said. “So I said to him, ‘Can we do something with Hebrew letters?’ He said, ‘Sure, why not?’ And then it became, well, what letters?”

They quickly settled on an expression of their love. “And it was perfect,” Hale said. “It was concise, and it allowed us to make a pattern, and, as Max said, if you know the letters, you can make it out, and if you don’t, it just reads as a pattern.”

The house is set back enough from the street to allow for privacy, and the metal, while a prominent feature, encases only the top floor of the house. Throughout, large sliding windows open onto terraces that take advantage of the Southern California climate and allow for a fluid openness between inside and out. Upstairs, the metal-enclosed bedrooms and office spaces are lit both day and night by light flowing through the lettering, which marks the rooms with shadows of ahavah across every surface — walls, windows and ceilings. 

“It’s really cool in the middle of the night,” Morris said. 

“The streetlights and the moon create the light coming through,” Hale explained. “And in the morning, the eastern light comes this way,” he said, pointing to their bedroom window, “and rakes across here, and sometimes it seems like it’s on fire. I have to say, it exceeded my expectations of how nice it could be.

“I made it so we can actually open it up and have a completely open view,” Hale added. “But we almost never do.” 

The home’s furnishings and décor are colorful, including shelves throughout displaying a host of menorahs, Shabbat candleholders and dreidels, as well as other toys and collectibles. On the walls are many vivid paintings by Hale’s late first wife, Anne Greenwald, an accomplished artist and children’s book author-illustrator. Hale said he converted to Judaism at the time of his first marriage, and the Jewish connection continues with Morris. 

Together Morris and Hale traveled to Topolčany, to rediscover Morris’ lost paternal heritage, and today they proudly announce their own Jewish connection for all the world to see.

“This isn’t a very busy street, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people outside pointing and looking,” Hale said. “And sometimes I’ll go out there, and they’ll ask me, ‘What’s it say?’ ”

“People will ask, ‘Is it a word, or just letters?’ ” Morris added. “And some people know it’s Hebrew; some people know ahavah. It’s the whole spectrum.”

It’s not hard to notice that their joyous, public display of their Judaism is the absolute opposite of what young Meyer Wiesel would have experienced when he was carted off to Auschwitz at age 12. 

“One of my Jewish architecture friends, Michael Lehrer, when he saw the house, he wrote me an email and called it, ‘The House of an Optimist,’ ” Hale said. “He’s right, I am an optimist. We’re open to the street, and we say who we are.”

Morris stressed that the never-ending commitment to Judaism her father  passed on to her is essential to who she is, and to making this architecture possible.

“He kept his love of Judaism. And I hold onto that — it’s a part of him. It’s who he was.”

A millennial in the modern business world

While still in her 20s, L.A. native Elana Joelle Hendler had already fulfilled one of her dreams: She created a successful luxury lifestyle business, EJH Brands, based on her artwork. Hendler produces candles, home décor accessories and wildlife-themed art prints that have drawn accolades from Forbes (“10 Companies Crushing it in Art and Fashion”), Los Angeles Business Journal (“20 in their 20s”), FOX News and other media outlets.

The starting point for Hendler, now 30, was her longstanding passion for making art. The Milken Community Schools alumna creates her images in striking black and white. “My art has never been about color. … [A]rt started for me as a child doodling shapes in my notebook with pencil or pen,” she said. “I think I was subconsciously exploring how shapes relate to each other [on] a two-dimensional surface and finding a sense of movement between those shapes. Art was always a personal exploration for me.”

Although some of the animals depicted on her canvases are not native to Southern California, Hendler said they are nonetheless inspired by her “experience of growing up in Southern California.” From her many visits to the San Diego Zoo to family trips to the beach, Palm Springs and Arrowhead, she was inspired by the variety of landscapes and wildlife she encountered, as well as learning about culture at local institutions such as LACMA and The Getty.

“There’s something eternally fresh and inspiring about learning to appreciate art and nature in Southern California,” Hendler said. “I try to reflect that in my work, which extends to the eco-friendly materials used in my products. … I like to think there is a natural flow of the artwork into the texture of the materials. My collection is an extension of my exploring what it means to be a Californian.”

Chimp Decorative Throw Pillow 

Hendler said her family and Jewish upbringing helped her find her path from among her many interests, which included acting, music and, later, art history, in which she earned her degree. 

“All of my upbringing has influenced my identity as an artist as well as my identity as a woman, a Jew and a Californian,” she said. “My mother’s parents — who are of European descent and immigrated first to Mexico and then to Los Angeles in the 1950s — brought their cultural heritage with them. My [maternal] grandmother, a concert pianist in the 1940s, brought music. My [maternal] grandfather, an engineer, entrepreneur and religious Jew, brought education and a love for learning. These roots, emphasizing bettering yourself through knowledge and asking many questions, [were] bolstered by the nurturing influence of my mother, who studied design at UCLA.”  

Hendler’s family encouraged her natural curiosity; she described her younger self as a creative, expressive person who could do many things. But, she said, it was difficult for her to “pick one specific thing, in fear of isolating or losing track of the other skills.” At 24, like many other millennials, she asked herself, “Now what?”

“I come from a very entrepreneurial family. Following my grandfather’s lead, I asked myself … if I could pull together my interests and talent to create something that is mine. I then realized I still very much love to draw and write, and those interests transitioned into creating my own brand.”

Signature Collection Eucalyptus & Mint Sage Candle.

Hendler knew that building her own business would not be easy. “It was a moment when I had to be brave, and I just went for it,” she said. “This meant allowing myself to be vulnerable, learn, try and make lots of mistakes. One of my biggest challenges was learning how to work with manufacturers. It’s not always easy for a friendly, eager 24-year-old to work with older, more experienced manufacturers, especially men. I am sure I was taken advantage of in areas like pricing, but I was sort of expecting that to happen.”

Meet Lady Gaga’s Israeli shoe designer

Shoe designer Kobi Levi was working in his design studio in 2011 when he got an email that he was sure couldn’t be real.

It was from a studio executive working on Lady Gaga’s newest video — a raunchy, otherworldly clip to accompany her pop anthem “Born This Way.” The studio wanted to order several pairs of Levi’s custom-made “double” boots for the singer to wear in the video, a request that Levi — once he determined that the email was indeed real and not a practical joke from his friends — was happy to oblige.

But there was one problem: Levi had no idea how much to charge for the shoes. That’s because, despite spending the past 14 years furiously designing and executing fantastical footwear in a side room of his snug apartment here, he had never sold a single pair.

A lot has changed since then.

Levi, 40, has now sold plenty of pairs of his outlandish high heels. And though he won’t disclose sales figures and still teaches design classes to augment his income, he says it’s enough to make a living.

His creations are less shoes than they are wearable works of warped and dreamy art: divinely twisted flamingos, their crossed stiletto legs masquerading as sleek spiked heels; a curved porcelain coffee pitcher, its arched handle welcoming the foot and a splash of free-flowing coffee anchoring it to the ground; a convoluted sex doll, complete with a plastic air stopper and a seductive “mouth” at the toe, its heel mimicking the seductive yet sterile shape of plastic inflated legs.

“I like to blend the line between art and design,” Levi said over coffee at the legendary gay bar Shpagat on Tel Aviv’s artsy Nachalat Binyamin Street. By day, the crowds at this ultimate hipster hotspot are thin and he has come here for some quiet to escape drumming construction underneath his nearby apartment. “Artists can say my shoes aren’t art because they are a wearable product, and designers can say they’re not design because they don’t follow trends and they don’t serve customers. And I can say to them, you’re both right. You can fight about it or not, and I don’t care.”

Tel Aviv-based shoe designer Kobi Levi includes Lady Gaga among his clients.

In person, Levi belies his penchant for fabulously freakish design; he looks younger than his years and dresses simply in jeans and a plain V-neck T-shirt. When we meet, he is tired but bubbly — he has just welcomed a baby girl with a good friend, a single woman who also wanted a child. They plan to co-parent her.

For years, Levi says, he used his own feet as guides when making his fabulous heels — but outside the studio, his footwear of choice is a generic male walking shoe. He says he doesn’t know why he was drawn to creating shoes, but even as a young kid, he was already sketching them.

“The shapes were interesting and I loved the fact that you can also wear it,” he said. “It’s not just an object lying around, collecting dust.”

Levi is unabashedly modest about his success, admitting, “I never imagined that somebody would want to buy these shoes. I never thought about the things you’re supposed to think about, like what the customer needs or how you give them what they’re looking for. I don’t design thinking ‘this is a shoe for work’ or ‘this is a shoe for a wedding.’ I just do it for myself.”

Nevertheless, a quiet buzz has been building around Levi ever since Gaga offered her stamp of approval. His designs have earned him coverage in publications such as Marie Claire and Glamour. CNN called his creations “shoe creatures” and “wearable sculptures” in an extensive interview, and Babble.com, the popular parenting portal, lifted an entry from Levi’s blog to pay tribute to his special line of designs mimicking Disney villains.

Levi — who still works solo out of that same room in his apartment — makes every pair by hand and keeps no inventory in stock. His studio is obsessively clean and organized to surgical precision: Bolts of fabric ranging from chartreuse vinyl to flashy purple leather fill the far wall, sorted in order of the rainbow. Foot molds, standing at attention in descending size, are stacked on shelves across the room, and an archaic leather press and an old-school sewing machine wait on the other side.

Levi’s Stork stilettos, which retail for $1,960.

He has learned to price his creations; each of his designs offered on his website cost $800 to $3,000. It’s a stiff price tag, he admits, but because each shoe constitutes several weeks’ worth of painstaking handiwork, he believes the cost is fair.

“The crazier the shoe, the more it costs,” he explained, “because it requires more time, and you buy it for the art and the design. The more shoeish it is, the less it costs.”

So his “Sing” heels, where the foot sits propped up on a microphone-shaped heel and the clever slingback evokes an open, lipstick-slicked mouth? Those go for $950 because the body of the shoe is a simple nude pump with a rounded toe. But his “Chewing Gum” shoes, one of the most whimsical pairs on offer, whose shape presents a retro walking shoe perched on a stretched pink “heel” of unfortunately stuck bubble gum? They cost a cool $2,240, thanks to their intricate structure, materials and design.

Levi has dreamed up shoes that are birds, shoes that are fruit and shoes that are the head of Madonna herself, wrapped around the foot with a facial microphone and a platinum blonde wig. No design is too fantastic, he says, but there is one unifying element across all of his creations: style.

“It’s not supposed to be comfortable,” he said. “It’s supposed to be beautiful. You don’t wear them to jog. You wear them to look great.”

Local nonprofits work to turn veteran houses into homes

They say it’s what’s inside that counts. Heidi Bendetson knows this better than most.

As founder of the nonprofit interior design company Designed From the Heart, the Marina Del Rey native recently led a project to furnish 73 subsidized homes in San Pedro for homeless female veterans with children. 

The housing complex, known as Blue Butterfly Village and developed by Volunteers of America (VOA), attracted a group of political heavyweights May 5 to commemorate its opening. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was joined by City Councilmember Joe Buscaino, Reps. Ted Lieu and Janice Hahn, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald — and Bendetson, of course.

“Heidi took it to another level,” said Nicole Pratt, director of VOA Los Angeles. “She really made these homes rich and beautiful and special.”

Bendetson and her nonprofit took $4,200 in funding per home from VOA — enough to provide only the bare necessities — and found a way to equip each home with kitchenware, small appliances and functional home décor, in addition to furnishings.

“We had a very small budget, nothing extravagant whatsoever,” Bendetson said. “We had specifics that we needed, and then we went above and beyond because we really related to this community.”

Bendetson said each home has at least $10,000 worth of furnishings and accessories. 

“They came in with this base budget, they were able to get donations from friends and family and corporations, and they built on that tremendously,” Pratt said. “It became a beautiful community of individualized homes instead of just transition housing.”

Pratt said she reached out to Bendetson two years ago after hearing about her 2011 redesign of Culver City’s Beit T’Shuvah addiction treatment facility. Beit T’Shuvah did not give Bendetson any money, but she still raised over $500,000 and oversaw the redesign of 43 rooms. 

Pratt said she hoped Bendetson would be ready to expand the scope of her philanthropy.

“I had been working on this project for a while,” Pratt said. “When I met with her, she had never done anything of this scale, so it was very pioneering for the two of us. It was the perfect fit.”

One of the first things Bendetson said she did when she signed on to the project was call around to get people to donate their time and design a home. She ended up getting more than 125 volunteer decorators. 

“Most of them are not professional designers,” she said. “They are people like myself who aren’t designers by accreditation. I knew that most of these people have very good taste and have made homes for their families, and I knew they would be up to the task.”

Annette Shapiro is one of the volunteers who worked with Bendetson. She said she cherished the opportunity to provide a home for someone who served in the military. She added that while everyone worked hard on their assigned home, Bendetson is the one responsible for the whole project coming together. 

“If it wasn’t for her, these houses would never have been decorated the way they were,” Shapiro said. “It’s unbelievable. It is really unbelievable. She worked very, very hard.”

Bendetson admitted she and many of the volunteers didn’t know a population of homeless veteran mothers existed until they started this project. But she credited the people who helped her design homes with creating a positive energy around the project.

“They heard there was a call, they found the situation absolutely appalling, and the community of volunteers snowballed because everyone wanted to be a part of this,” she said. 

Blue Butterfly Village was completed in February, but so far the only families who have moved in are the four families who moved in on May 5, according to Pratt and Bendetson. Pratt said multiple government agencies are making it complicated to move families into the homes, but she expects to have the majority of the homes occupied by the end of July. 

Bendetson said she is frustrated by the red tape and wants her homes to be filled as soon as possible.

“These people are in dire straits,” she said. “A lot of these people feel very forgotten by our population, and we made them not invisible. We tried to make them realize that people care.” 

Making the sukkah beautiful

I built my first sukkah three years ago. It was your typical sukkah in a kit — a metal pole and tarp structure, stark white and generic. As I decorated it, I realized that no matter how many plastic fruits and vegetables I hung from the sides and ceiling, they seemed to get lost in the space. The big white tarps were just too visually dominant. 

This year, I was honored to decorate a sukkah in an outside plaza adjacent to the new home of the Jewish Journal, as well as the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, and Bet Tzedek Legal Services. All three organizations will share the sukkah throughout the week of Sukkot. Based on my earlier experience, I approached this sukkah with a strategy: to create dramatic, simple and inexpensive decorative elements that would break up all that whiteness. After all, no one has ever sung, “I’m Dreaming of a White Sukkot.”

Even if you don’t incorporate these specific projects in your own sukkah, I hope that the ideas inspire you to get creative. Let’s think outside the big white box.

(For more on the value of beauty in Judaism and on Sukkot, read David Suissa’s column here)


I started by covering much of the white tarp with curtain panels from IKEA. At $9.99 for two panels, they were a low-cost decorating solution, so I bought seven pairs. For curtain tiebacks, I decided to make my own grapes out of pingpong balls, which are available at the 99 Cents Only store.

Using a hot-glue gun, attach pingpong balls to one another, one at a time. Cluster them into a V shape so they look like a bunch of grapes rather than a science project. I used about 15 pingpong balls per bunch.

After spray painting the grape bunches a burgundy red color, hot-glue a twig to the top of each bunch. The twig actually adds a lot of realism to the grapes, so warn the kids — and spouse – not to eat them.

Tie one or two bunches of the pingpong grapes to each curtain panel with some fishing line or string. Then frame the grapes in some burlap ribbon and silk autumn leaves.


I love hanging branches over the dining table. They add such drama while staying within the harvest theme. Before hanging the branches from the ceiling, I attached paper roses made from dictionary pages.

Fold two dictionary pages (or any two sheets of paper) lengthwise, so you now have four skinny pages held together by the bottom fold. Then tear each page at 1- to 2-inch intervals, being careful not to tear the page all the way to the fold.

Place a strip of double-stick tape across the bottom at the fold.

Roll the pages loosely while pinching the bottom where the tape is. The double-stick tape will keep the rose together.

Unfurl the petals, which you created when you tore the paper.

Hot-glue several flowers to a tree branch.

Tie some fishing line around the branch, and tie the other end of the fishing line to the bamboo in the ceiling. Secure two ends of the branch for balance and security.



Paper leaves strung together and suspended from the ceiling create a magical effect, and they complement the hanging branches so well. I’ve also used this technique with silk rose petals at various events.

Cut leaves out of paper. You can do this by hand, making simple oval leaf shapes. I actually used a die-cutting machine, so the leaves were more intricate. I then sprayed the leaves with some glimmer mist, which I bought at the crafts store, to give them some color.

Using a needle and thread, create strands of three to five leaves spaced a few inches apart. The more strands you make, the more it will look like leaves are falling from the heavens.

Where the thread meets each leaf, apply a dab of craft glue so that the leaf stays in place. Tie one end of each strand to the bamboo at the top of the ceiling. If the leaves tangle, don’t worry. From a distance, it still looks like the leaves are falling.


To decorate the sukkah, kids often make garlands out of construction paper loops. Here is an idea that takes that simple technique and turbo charges it. These aren’t just garlands — they’re modern art pieces.

Cut poster or construction paper into long strips that are about 2 inches wide.

Create loops with the strips, and hold them together with paper clips. Also, cut other strips to make smaller loops, and attach them to the larger loops with the paper clips. Connect several loops together to form a long garland. By using paper clips, you can keep changing your pattern before committing to the final design.

When you’re happy with how the garland looks, permanently attach loops to each other with a stapler, and remove the paper clips. Hang the garlands on the sukkah wall with some fishing line.


I found bunches of long palm leaves at IKEA and thought they would make stylish starbursts to accentuate the sukkah entrance. They also would make beautiful room decorations when Sukkot is over. 

Form a starburst pattern with the palm leaves, securing them in the middle with a hot-glue gun.

Tie some string around the spokes of the starburst to make sure the leaves don’t come apart. The string will also be useful later for hanging.

Cover the string with a paper rose like the ones made for the hanging branches. Tie some fishing line to the string to hang it from the metal poles.

Decorating and crafts expert Jonathan Fong hosts the Web series “Style With a Smile” and DisneyFamily.com’s “He Made, She Made.” He also recently designed the new offices of the Jewish Journal. You can find more of his inspirational ideas at jonathanfongstyle.com.

Hail, Caesarstone!

As California’s real estate market continues its recovery and spring remodeling season is poised to start, many homeowners are once again looking for enduring ways to rejuvenate their living spaces and add value to their homes. Not surprisingly, the rooms that get the most use — kitchens and bathrooms — are often the first to command attention.

More unexpected is where the materials come from that many are choosing for their stone countertops and vanities: Israel.

Since 1987, an Israeli company called Caesarstone has been a pioneer of the natural quartz surfaces market, producing countertops that forge function and fashion. The firm is owned by Kibbutz Sdot Yam on the Mediterranean Sea, just south of the ancient city of Caesarea, but its U.S. operations are based closer to home, in Van Nuys. 

“It’s not just the stone itself that consumers respond to,” said Sagi Cohen, CEO of Caesarstone U.S., who was born in Israel. “People also appreciate the fact that it is a totally Israeli product, from development of the technology that makes the countertops worth the investment to the state-of-the-art production line, to the fact that it is an Israeli company Americans can get behind in their overall support of Israel.”

In the quarter-century since its inception, the company has come a long way. In the early days, according to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Caesarstone nearly drowned in production problems. Now its products are sold in more than 40 countries, including most of Europe and Australia. Nine months ago, Caesarstone experienced a financial milestone by becoming the first stone company to be publicly traded on the NASDAQ.

Don’t think of its products as simple pieces of rock. Moshe Narkis, of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, is credited with developing a proprietary formula and process for treating these quartz slabs, paving the way for a new generation of harder, impermeable, stain-resistant counters. 

One result is that Caesarstone became one of the first stone companies to certify its countertop materials as kosher. This is possible because the manufacturing process eliminates natural stone imperfections while preventing chipping, cracking and discoloration from heavy use. The quartz is combined with high-quality polymer resins and pigments and compacted under intense vibration, vacuum and pressure. The final product is a surface that resists damage from heat, cold, food, acids, caustic wine spills and knife scratches, which could store bacteria and compromise the preparation and purity of kosher food, Cohen said. 

Today, the company boasts more than 50 colors of slabs from which to choose, along with a variety of unusual textures and patterns. Some of the most cutting-edge textures include crocodile and lace-embossed designs, while some of the most striking hues in the collection (Ruby Reflections, Chocolate Truffle and Starry Night) are fashioned from recycled stone.

Maggie Amir, Caesarstone’s brand manager, is also the company’s arbiter of style in guiding consumers and designers in how to achieve looks for kitchens and vanities that are at once trendsetting and timeless. She leans toward bright, vibrant décor schemes incorporating surfaces that enliven and enlarge a room’s visual scope.

“A lot of families spend a good amount of time in the kitchen, and cooking itself is an uplifting activity,” Amir said. “Therefore, you want to surround yourself in an environment that is uplifting and encourages conversation. … From my perspective, the countertop colors we offer have a lot to do with creating the illusion of space. To open out the kitchen’s look, look to lighter colors to make the impression the room is bigger than it actually is.”

Dan Brunn, a Los Angeles-based architect and Caesarstone customer, said the company’s product allows him to express himself freely in form, color and texture.

“Every one of my projects has elements born from Caesarstone, from my first restaurant, Yojisan Sushi, to high-end private beach homes,” he said. “I can call upon Caesarstone to help in trying out new applications or techniques.”

In terms of its environmental commitment, Caesarstone was the first stone company to receive ISO 14001 certification, a global standard specifically for environmental protection. From recycling 97 percent of the water used in manufacturing to collecting dust from shipping, handling, production and processing, Caesarstone has earned high marks.  

Cohen, the CEO of Caesarstone U.S., said the company contributes to other causes, too.

“We are fortunate to have been involved in both Jewish organizations and general causes the public can relate to,” he said.

One philanthropic effort in which the company is participating is Coasters for the Cause, set up to raise money for the American Red Cross to aid those affected by Hurricane Sandy. One-of-a-kind artist-designed coasters retailing for $10 are being sold online at caesarstoneus.com, and the company has announced it will match sales up to $10,000.  

Cohen said that the company is a supporter of Larger Than Life, raising money for children with cancer as well as funding trips enabling Israeli children with cancer to visit the United States. Caesarstone also is an active member of the Israeli Leadership Council.

“Jewish consumers look for good products with proven benefits, value proposition and getting what you pay for,” Cohen said.  “Even in advertisements for rentals and home sales, a lot of the real estate people drop the Caesarstone name in the advertising to the point where the name is becoming a generic term synonymous for quality. We also want this important value attached to our name to carry over into our philanthropic efforts.”

Eco-friendly home reveals ‘greener’ pastures ahead [SLIDESHOW]

As scientists continue to warn us that our over-consumption of natural resources is putting too great a strain on our planet, the idea of sustainability — of reducing one’s carbon footprint, recycling and finding a cleaner, greener future — has never been more popular. And while the green trend has been picking up steam in the home-building world, there aren’t many places where it’s been more evident than at the new Vision House in Pacific Palisades, and in the work of its interior designer, Jill Wolff.

The Vision House is a concept of Green Builder Media, a leading national North American media company focused on green building and sustainable development, who previously constructed Vision Houses — state-of-the-art, environmentally conscious dwellings — in cities such as Orlando, Fla., and Aspen, Colo. Two years ago, Robert Kleiman, one of the co-founders of Los Angeles-based Structure Home, was looking to become more green in his own home designs. He noticed Green Builder’s leadership in the area and contacted the firm for help.

“It’s easy to learn individually how to build green,” said Kleiman, speaking by phone from his offices, “but it’s hard to teach a whole culture.” Kleiman knew that with Green Builder’s help, Structure Home could learn from the best, and so the Vision House Los Angeles was born. 

Wolff, the owner and founder of Jill Wolff Interior Design, has worked on more than 300 homes in the Los Angeles area over the past 25 years. The Vision House, however, presented a new challenge for her, and a learning experience. “I learned so much about green design and sustainability on this project,” Wolff said. 

Touring the home, which sits on a gently sloping residential street in Pacific Palisades, offers a master class in the use of space. The house sits on a long, narrow lot that “was actually the swimming pool for the house next door,” according to Wolff, who tailored much of her design, in concert with the architects, to make “it feel like it’s not just a skinny, narrow, bowling alley kind of house.”

The main entrance is at the center of the home, leading on one side into a spacious living and dining area with tall, movable glass walls that open onto a carefully landscaped back yard. On the other side, a downstairs office sports huge glass doors that let in ample natural light. Nothing about the home feels cramped or narrow. 

“From the exterior you have an anticipation of what it’s going to be,” Wolff said. “But when you walk through the door and you see the comfort level and the coziness and the warmth of the materials that are used, it takes you on a different trip.” Much of the home’s colorful and often-whimsical art was made by graduates of Otis College of Art and Design.

Wolff said she got her start in design at an early age. “I decided that I wanted to be an interior designer when I was 8 years old,” she said, laughing. “I decided that because my mom’s best friend was an interior decorator, and she had decorated our house, and I had loved the whole process of it. I thought it was so fun and so creative.”

After high school, she studied at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. “I was lucky enough to intern with a big-time Hollywood designer named Barbara Lockhart, and that just clinched the whole deal,” Wolff said. “I had all these great women that influenced me in my career, and I’ve been working ever since.”

The Vision House was an unusual project for Wolff, she said. “Since it’s a spec house, and I didn’t really have clients, I created a faux family … a kind of fantasy of who the family is going to be.” The house abounds with recycled materials, including a wagon wheel that has been turned into a mirror and corrugated cardboard shaped into surprisingly beautiful light fixtures.

The home also showcases technology such as hydronic radiant heating, solar panels and a gray-water system with ultraviolet disinfection. “The Vision House has the latest in technology, but I want people to see that if they’re clever and if they think about it, they can bring a level of sustainability into their own homes,” said Wolff. “Anything is a start.”

Most of all, Wolff shows that green living can be fun and fashionable: “I really want people to see that it can be comfortable, it can be cozy … and it can be unexpected,” Wolff said. “It’s not just green to be green. It’s green to create a better life for someone.”

Design yourself

I was inspired to create a fashion issue because I look at personal style as a shortcut to becoming whoever I want to be. Often, when I stand in front of my closet, I think to myself, “Who do I want to be today? What do I want to convey to the world?”

Sometimes I want to be fun and easygoing, like when I’m meeting up with my sister and her two kids for a play date with my son. Then, I put on jean shorts and a flowery top. When I drive to the TRIBE offices in the city, which I do only a couple of times a month because I work mostly out of my home, it’s an occasion to dress up. I want to convey a sense of elegance and style befitting the editor of a magazine. Days at the office call for skirts and a belted waist, necklaces and fun accessories. And makeup!

And when I have those rare nights out, I want to be a woman, not a mom and not a business person, and not even a wife. A tight-fitting dress and heels say to the world, “I am young, I am sexy, and I am confident.”

I can change who I am from day to day, from situation to situation, with a simple change of wardrobe. That, I think, is the allure of fashion.

I haven’t always seen the power of fashion as an expression of self. I used to just put on whatever was comfortable, available and affordable. Sure, I liked nice clothes like any young woman, and I wanted to look good, but it didn’t dawn on me until I became an adult that style is a tool, not just a function of how much money you have. 

Expensive brand names and seasonal trends once seemed to me a frivolous luxury for my wealthy college classmates (I did go to USC).

And even later, in the workplace, I continued to dress like a fresh-out-of-college kid— often jeans and a USC sweat shirt. At the time, I felt inexperienced and insignificant, for the most part, so I dressed accordingly. Or was it that I dressed so casually that it affected how I felt about myself and my job—and how others perceived me? The chicken or the egg?

Somewhere along the way, I began to see the wisdom behind the cliché “Dress for Success.” And I decided to apply it everywhere in my life: Dress for Love, Dress for Fun, Dress for Respect. The beauty of this is that it can work on any budget. My husband is very fond of telling his mom — a super-shopper who always arrives from Israel with one suitcase and leaves with three — that he has to cajole and convince me to go shopping for myself.

I do like to shop, carefully and with much thought—but I don’t buy anything unless I absolutely love it, and I usually go shopping with a specific item in mind. And, my style is not a result of an abundant wardrobe. It’s a reflection of my own creativity, of mixing and matching new and old pieces, accessorizing and experimenting with new trends. I enjoy clothes, and I think it shows.

Some haute couture, such as Dina Bar-El’s luxurious gowns (Page 17), may not be accessible to us all, while other popular fashions are, like YMI’s smoking form-fitting jeans (Page 19), but the inspiration behind fashion design is always a fascinating read, it’s a designer’s gift to allow us our own self-expression, and that can be empowering. The sheer fun of looking great invariably leaves us feeling just as great.

So, the next time you’re standing in front of your closet, why not ask yourself, “Who do I want to be today?” And dress accordingly.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dina Bar-El

If you’ve seen Kate Hudson’s stunning yellow gown in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,”  then you are already acquainted with the work of Los Angeles-based Israeli designer Dina Bar-El.

Although Hudson’s gown is Bar-El’s major claim to fame, her repertoire does not end there. Bar-El has designed dresses for Victoria Beckham, Nancy O’Dell and “American Idol” finalist Katharine McPhee, as well as for television shows such as “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and “Dancing With the Stars.”

Born in Germany and raised in Israel until the age of 18, Bar-El knew from the age of 6 that she would one day become a fashion designer. She began her now multimillion-dollar company on her living room floor in the 1970s, with a focus on designing leather. Since then, her clothing line has evolved from knits to sportswear, and for the past 13 years, her sole focus has been evening wear.

Working out of a 5,000-square-foot warehouse in downtown L.A., Bar-El prides herself on the fact that all of her dresses are made exclusively in the United States.

Bar-El’s high-glamour dresses are sold in stores from Moscow to the Middle East. Her collections consist of both formal gowns and cocktail dresses. She explains that she targets the “after 5” market, designing dresses for red carpet events, cocktail parties or even the opera.

After more than 30 years in the business, Bar-El still remains excited about designing.

“There is so much passion in a dress,” Bar-El said. “As women, we see a dress and we feel that we have got to have it. There’s something sentimental about it. We fall in love.”

Each season brings different inspiration, but for Bar-El, glamour is always the ultimate goal.

Tal Sheyn

Tal Sheyn likes to say she built her fashion career “from Z to A.”

“I didn’t start out with a business plan or any kind of marketing strategy,” Sheyn said. “Instead, I got all these clients, and I had to very quickly figure the rest out.”

Clearly, she succeeded — the Israeli-born designer has forged a high-profile reputation creating sumptuous apparel for an impressive celebrity clientele. A three-time exhibitor at L.A. Fashion Week, Sheyn has presented styles ranging from high-end casual to red carpet couture. Her signature lies in each garment’s luxurious details.

Fabric is her inspiration, the raven-haired designer admits — especially lace. She has a penchant for festooning her couture mesh gowns with delicate, meticulously placed lace appliqués.

Sheyn walked away from a 12-year career as a makeup artist in Israel and Europe and relocated to Los Angeles in 2002 with a blank fashion résumé. 

“My heart told me to come here and try something new and make my dream come true,” she said. “I love fashion and beauty. It’s who I am. I love to make people feel good about themselves.”

After a several-year stint designing costumes for dancers, Sheyn’s big break came when she was asked to produce the 2008 Israel Independence Day Festival at Woodley Park for Israel’s 60th birthday. She hand-sewed more than 40 extravagant outfits for the entertainers, and, within days, custom orders began pouring in.

Sheyn outgrew her living room headquarters and moved into her Hollywood studio in 2009. Since then, her clothes have appeared on “The Young and the Restless,” “90210” and “The Real Housewives of Orange County.” In fact, Sheyn launched an upscale consumer line last year with “Real Housewives” star Alexis Bellino featuring the trendy tunics and dresses Bellino favors on the show.

“I’m so full of creativity, full of passion, full of love,” said Sheyn, whose work is available by custom order, and in boutiques in Beverly Hills, Newport Beach, Las Vegas and Israel. “In clothes, there’s no limit to what you can create.” 

Gypsy 05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fashion & Beauty: Highlighting the hottest local Israeli designers

Some of the top names in fashion today are Jewish: Donna Karan, Anne Klein, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors. And that’s just the Ks on what is a long list of designers who have shaped the American fashion industry since its beginnings in the textile factories of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and other urban centers. Jewish immigrants started out as tailors and factory workers and parlayed their skills into opportunities to climb the social ladder. “Jewish immigrants had another advantage — a talent for reinventing themselves and a sensitivity to image,” wrote Johanna Neuman in a brief history of Jews in fashion, “From Ghetto to Glamour.”

In this issue, we take a look at a new breed of Jewish immigrants — Israelis — who are making their mark on American fashion. From Gypsy05’s flowing, eco-conscious line of casual wear to Tal Sheyn’s high glamour evening gowns, and from YMI’s figure-hugging jeans for young women to Dina Bar-El’s luxurious dresses, these four SoCal designers are continuing the legacy of Jews who have translated their own personal aesthetics and passionate self-expression into fashion we can all appreciate and enjoy.

Sacred spaces

Ever catch yourself on Rosh Hashanah flipping through the remaining pages of the prayer book, mentally calculating how much longer you’ll be there? How about counting the number of tiles in the ceiling? To pray, an individual has to push his thoughts beyond mere material things, which is why thoughtful architects and designers often try to shape synagogues in a way that’s meant to be pleasing but not distracting. These synagogues, however, are worth a longer look. The spaces are too beautiful, too unique or just too clever to ignore. So go ahead and sneak a peek — before you start praying.

Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue

Photo courtesy of malibu jewish center & synagogue    

More than most houses of worship, the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue blurs the boundary between interior and exterior space, almost to the point of nonexistence. The building’s modern, arcing roof lets sunlight filter in through hardwood slats and sweeps out far beyond the glass walls that define the sanctuary. Before the new building opened in early 2006, congregants had to convene in a temporary air-conditioned tent every year on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Now, on High Holy Days, the doors at the base of those glass walls slide completely away, allowing the Reconstructionist congregation to double in size without moving an inch.

Temple Adat Elohim

Rising from the top of Temple Adat Elohim’s ark is a single giant Hebrew letter, a shin. The first letter of one of God’s names (Shaddai) and of Judaism’s central declaration of faith (the Shema), the shin serves as the focal point of this Reform sanctuary. Clearly modeled on the handwritten letters found in torah scrolls, this shin also feels plantlike, like an Art Nouveau motif. The large table and twin wooden podiums at this Thousand Oaks synagogue all have thick, brown, botanical-looking legs — perhaps an additional homage to that late-19th century European artistic movement. The wooden trusses spanning the ceiling , meanwhile, recall the steeply pitched beams at the congregation’s original home.

Temple Ahavat Shalom

Visiting Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge can be a bit like going back to 1978 — to a time of rugged modernism, when cylindrical light fixtures could be deployed in even the most elegant rooms. The Reform temple’s walls are built of cinderblocks that have the rough finish of stone. This unrefined texture extends also to the metal-and-wood doors of the ark and to the eternal light that hangs above it, two interlocking pyramids that are more Auguste Rodin than M.C. Escher. Local Jewish textile artist Peachy Levy made the temple’s Torah covers and obviated the need for traditional silver breastplates. (They still hang in the ark, on the back wall.)

Shomrei Torah Synagogue

With its teal roof, Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills is hard to miss. That signature color is absent from the Conservative synagogue’s white, airy sanctuary, though. The room is relentlessly symmetrical: Two rows of orchids lean toward the ark’s partially frosted glass doors, which sit directly behind a central table, which itself has a strong central axis. One side of the room is a near-mirror image of the other, down to the two identical illuminated memorial cabinets installed in the walls flanking the bimah. The room’s lone unpaired feature: the 12 stained glass panels hanging in front of the sanctuary’s north-facing window, which came from the congregation’s previous building.

Temple Etz Chaim

Winged angels, commandment-inscribed tablets, a menorah, lions and all the notable produce of the Holy Land: This (and more) is portrayed on the sculptural tableau in Temple Etz Chaim’s sanctuary. Rabbi Shimon Paskow, rabbi emeritus at this Conservative synagogue in Thousand Oaks, designed the piece, a super-high relief that faces the congregation during services. (The sculptured panel may look like stone, but it’s closer in weight to styrofoam.) On Friday nights, when the weather is nice, services take place in a courtyard, facing an otherwise ordinary-looking cylindrical tower. But walk inside and look toward the ceiling: You’ll find an oversize Star of David made of white beams inscribed in that circular room. 

Photos by Courtney Raney and Jonah Lowenfeld

Sukkahs that captured a city’s imagination to go nationwide

It was a surprise hit on the cultural roster of a city that may be the most culturally busy city in the nation.

And even though the Sukkah City architectural competition in New York is being dismantled this week, look for Sukkah City next year in a town near you.

“Our goal is to fan it out across the nation next year to 15 cities,” said Roger Bennett, who put together the sukkah competition with writer Josh Foer.

More than 620 participants from 43 countries submitted designs for sukkahs, the outdoor booths Jews build on the Sukkot holiday. A dozen finalists, chosen by an expert panel, were constructed for two days in Manhattan’s Union Square Park. Thousands of visitors wandered through the sukkahs; more than 17,000 voters cast ballots for their favorite.

The winning design—“Fractured Bubble” by Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan, which one reporter described as an “exploding coconut”—was left up alone for the duration of the holiday ending Friday.

Who would have thought a bunch of wild and crazy huts would generate such attention?

The project became a media darling. Reporters from The Wall Street Journal to The Los Angeles Times gushed and cooed over the cutting-edge sukkahs, all of which had to conform to halachah, or Jewish law: more than two walls; a roof made of organic material that provides more shade than sun but allows for views of the stars; no taller than 20 cubits but higher than 10 handbreadths.

“I’m not surprised at the buzz,” said Jacob Wisse, director of the Yeshiva University Museum in lower Manhattan, where two of the 12 winning structures spent the past few days on display after they were taken down in Union Square on Sept. 20. “It reflects the natural interest in a contemporary understanding of traditional forms.”

Bennett, vice president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and co-founder of Reboot, a network for Jewish innovation, said one inspiration for the competition was to rescue Sukkot, one of the Bible’s three pilgrimage festivals, from its neglect by non-observant American Jews.

“We wanted to take Sukkot, a 21st century festival of meaning, and place it back on the pedestal where it belongs,” Bennett told JTA. “Themes of homelessness, of scarcity and abundance, of hospitality—there are few more important values embedded in a ritual than these.”

One of the finalist designs took the homeless theme literally. “Sukkah of the Signs,” conceived by an architectural firm in Oakland, Calif., utilized nearly 300 signs bought from homeless people in the San Francisco Bay area to illustrate the transient nature of the shelter provided by a sukkah.

In keeping with the theme, the wildly fanciful and elaborately constructed finalists themselves had short life spans.

Following their two-day presentation in the park, two were carted off to the Yeshiva University Museum, one went to the JCC in Manhattan and a couple were sold to private collectors, according to Bennett. Several ended up on the sidewalks of New York, cast off and abandoned.

New York Times writer Ariel Kaminer noticed that one runner-up sukkah, left by its creators on an Upper West Side sidewalk, was commandeered by a few local families. They “had run home and grabbed food, then reconvened under the stars,” moving with an alacrity Kaminer chalked up, at least partially, to “the lengths to which New Yorkers will go for outdoor seating.”

Sukkah City is inspiring other ventures.

The Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles already had commissioned a local firm to design its public sukkah; education director Sheri Bernstein said it “wasn’t inspired per se” by the New York contest.

“But we were inspired by the goals of the project, which tapped into something of interest not only to the Jewish community but the larger community: issues of shelter and caring for the earth and the world around us,” she said. “When we heard about Sukkah City, it confirmed that this is of interest to people. It’s a point where Jewish values can connect with issues of wider concern.”

L.A. Receives Emergency Grant, Sinai Head Appointed, Composer Wins Soup Contest

L.A. Receives Emergency Grant to Pay for Jewish Education

Five communities, including Los Angeles, will split an $11 million emergency grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation for day school and Jewish camp tuition assistance over the next two years. The San Francisco-based foundation will begin paying money out immediately to Jewish federations in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston and its neighboring North Shore, and the greater Washington, D.C., area.

“This is a critical economic time,” Jim Joseph Foundation President Alvin Levitt said, “and a critical response to an emergency situation. To the greatest extent possible, these grants are meant to make the difference between kids being able to afford to go to Jewish school and camp — and not going.”

The L.A. Federation will administer the grant of up to $2.5 million over the next two years to help families pay for Jewish day school and high school, residential summer camp and early childhood programs. The Federation is still working out the mechanism by which it will distribute the funds to the 10,000 kids in Jewish day and high schools in the Los Angeles area and thousands more in overnight camps and preschools.

L.A. Federation President John Fishel called the grant “an extraordinary gift,” but one that comes with challenges.

“The scope here is so vast, it’s going to take some extremely thoughtful people to really develop the criteria,” Fishel said. “This is a significant sum of money to get from a single body, but how you administer it in an equitable fashion, get it out as quickly as possible, get it out to the neediest people, and have it be really meaningful — that will be a big challenge for us.”

The Jim Joseph Foundation hopes the money will stabilize schools as well, since many institutions have seen ominous drops in registration for next year, and even some students dropping out this year. Fishel said a recent study revealed that the Los Angeles area’s 35 day schools and other community organizations have given out $28 million in tuition assistance this year.

This is the second tuition assistance grant the Jim Joseph Foundation has made in Los Angeles in recent months. Last December, the foundation announced a $12.7 million grant to the L.A. Federation and the Bureau of Jewish Education to help five high schools increase enrollment by paying for tuition subsidies for middle-income students over the next six years. Part of the $12.7 million pays for development directors, additional teachers for new students, and marketing, evaluation and administrative costs. The schools and the larger Jewish community are obligated to raise an additional $21.25 million within the next six years for a community endowment fund to pay for Jewish education into the future.

Like the $12.7 million grant, the new money is meant to provide scholarships on top of what schools are already offering; recipient schools may not replace their scholarship money with the Jim Joseph funds.

The Jim Joseph Foundation has given out $142 million since it was founded three years ago. In Los Angeles, it has funded Jewish camp initiatives and a study of alumni of Birthright Israel, a program that strengthens Jewish identity by sending young people on a free trip to Israel.

Levitt hopes the emergency grant will inspire other foundations — which themselves are hurting — to respond in this time of crisis.

“Private foundations have an obligation to step up — at least proportionally to their assets. But it doesn’t have to be in Jewish education, as we’ve done,” Levitt said. “It could be to help the elderly — or the poor. This is a critical time and people are in real need. If not now, when?”

Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer

Sinai Head of School Appointed to National Post

Sinai Akiba Academy’s head of school, Rabbi Laurence Scheindlin, has been appointed president of the Solomon Schechter Day School Association, an organization that develops tools and resources for professional and lay leaders in its 76 member schools. This is the first time a head of school, and someone from the West Coast, is leading the association, a part of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ).

“We think we have a unique role to play among the day school associations in that we have a lot of expertise in areas of curriculum and instruction,” said Scheindlin, who has spent more than 30 years at Sinai Akiba, the day school connected to Sinai Temple in Westwood.

Three years ago, the association adopted a strategic plan that for the first time put heads of school and educational professionals on the board, to serve along with Conservative day school lay leaders. The plan also yielded an emphasis on selling parents on the need for a day school experience, curriculum development and publications to help teachers and lay leaders. The association produced a curriculum on Bible that is used not only in Conservative schools, but also in other Jewish schools, and is currently finishing up a similar curriculum on rabbinics.

Scheindlin said he sees increased attention to students’ spiritual experience.

“Without diminishing the academic rigor of our Judaic studies programs, we are finding way to enhance spirituality on campus, so kids are not just learning about Judaism, but they are coming away with a feeling of Jewish life and inner life, and the ways in which we sense God’s presence around us.”

Scheindlin’s appointment is a one-year position, at the end of which a new governance structure will be implemented. Scheindlin is leaving open the possibility that his tenure will be extended.

“We are extremely pleased to have Rabbi Scheindlin serve as our board president,” said Elaine R. S. Cohen, associate director of USCJ’s department of education. “His extensive experience and insights are already a tremendous asset to our organization and integral to achieving our strategic priorities of promoting educational excellence, increasing advocacy and promoting synergies with partner institutions.”

Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer

L.A. Architect Wins Top Israel Prize

A Los Angeles architect has won two top prizes in Architecture of Israel Quarterly’s third annual Project of the Year Competition. Raquel Vert, principal at Raquel Vert Architects, won the building category and the Yuli Ofer Prize for Advancement of Architecture for her work on The Deichmann Center for Social Interaction and the Spitzer-Salant School of Social Work at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Vert shares the awards with Irit Axelrod and Yasha Grobman from Grobman-Axelrod Architects.

More than 300 works were submitted for prize consideration. Vert beat out four other finalists in the building category, and earned a first-place win for the Yuli Ofer Prize, which is awarded to the top three projects among the competition’s six categories (building, landscape, interior design, unbuilt projects, research and student).

Vert, a Tel Aviv native, lives in Encino and worked for several Southern California architects — including Frank Gehry — before setting up her own practice in Santa Monica. In 2004, Vert established a branch office in Israel and was commissioned to design the Spitzer-Salant Building and the Deichmann Building. The buildings are part of a complex at the entrance to Ben-Gurion University, which links the town of Beer-Sheva with the campus.

“The buildings’ form have a bold, playful and sculptural spirit, with a tilted concrete wall sitting in water holding a floating cubic structure and a curved metal wall penetrating the building through sheets of glass, all enforcing a sense of indoor-outdoors,” Vert said.

“Truly, as important as the prestige of these awards, is the knowledge that our design has succeeded in its goal of opening BGU to the city, linking the university’s academic life with the history of Beer-Sheva and establishing a cultural core for the entire community.”

Adam Wills, Senior Editor

Local Composer Wins Soup Contest

A Los Angeles amateur chef has won the 2009 “Better Than Your Bubby’s Chicken Soup Challenge” sponsored by the National Jewish Outreach Program.

Michael Cohen, 31, a Hollywood composer who scored “The Hebrew Hammer,” beat out four contestants in the final round of the nationwide search for the best chicken soup recipe. Cohen’s recipe, “Elat Chicken Soup,” named for the Pico Boulevard market where he buys his ingredients, features a mix of chickpeas, eggplant and Middle Eastern spices. 

Noted food experts, including kosher cookbook author Jamie Geller and syndicated columnist Lenore Skenazy, judged the finals, which were held on March 12 at Abigail’s on Broadway, a New York City kosher restaurant. 

Cohen received a round-trip ticket to Israel for his prize-winning recipe. He has won $40,000 in previous national cooking contests over the past four years.

To see the winning recipe, visit http://betterthanyourbubbys.blogspot.com.

Lisa Armony, Contributing Writer

L.A. bakers suggest ways to make picking your cake a little sweeter

In Los Angeles, with today’s foodie culture in full tilt, there is no “one-size-fits-all” option when it comes to choosing a bakery to create the perfect wedding cake. And since it is the bride who usually makes the cake decisions, she’ll soon realize that it can be as complex as finding (and fitting into) her perfect wedding dress.

In fact, there are so many cake trends coming from all directions it would even make Martha Stewart’s head spin. Patrick Hansen of Hansen Cakes, Julien Bohbot of Delice Bakery (the only French bakery in the United States that is certified kosher by Kehilla of Los Angeles), Leigh Grode of The Cake Divas and San Diego-based wedding planner Melissa Barrad, all have very different notions on what the “it” cakes are this year and how to go about getting the “right one.” However, they all insist couples consider the cake basics knowing your budget, your crowd and yourselves before committing. There is also one critical, often-overlooked step they all touch on repeatedly-being sure ahead of time your venue of choice will allow you to bring in food from your caterers and bakery since rules vary from hotel to hotel and venue to venue.

“Doing different-flavored tiers offers your guests options, especially if the wedding cake is going to be your only dessert,” advised The Cake Divas’ Grode on the importance of offering something for everybody. “We usually suggest picking two flavors so the guests will have even amounts of each choice and won’t run out of either flavor. It is usually best to offer one chocolate choice and one non-chocolate choice.”

Grode notes that for many couples, classic white-on-white cakes are not only traditional, but also traditionally crowd-pleasing because of their simplicity. That being said, she notes that this year’s bridal customers are approaching her with such hot-button flavors as caramel, Meyer lemon and almond. Although she says buttercream frosting is beloved from a flavor standpoint, there are times when, based on the shape and design of the cake, the fondants (hard, sheet-like frosting), dark chocolate or whipped cream may be preferable. For strictly kosher clients, meanwhile, her bakery offers several good common sense alternatives.

“For kosher clients, we can create a pareve cake, or we can create a faux cake for display and the ceremonial cutting and then allow the client to provide sheet cakes from their favorite kosher bakery,” Grode said. “You can have a smaller cake for the strictly kosher guests, or have the entire cake made kosher.”

In terms of what will be, well, the icing on the cake, Grode observes that black-and-white designs within the frosting and cake toppers are making a comeback. Couples are further personalizing their cakes by replacing the familiar bride/groom topper with sleek monogram designs, crystals and family heirlooms. She also notes that creating cake layers with different shapes for a modern look is often requested.

Although Hansen’s Cakes has been a Fairfax Avenue fixture for decades, the favorite destinations of celebrities and studios still stands as one of the most trend-setting cake studios in town so much so that there are also Beverly Hills and Tarzana locations to meet the heavy demand. Perhaps, then, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this all-things-to-all-people bakery has actually had a kosher kitchen (certified by Kosher Overseers Associates of America) from the very beginning.

The soft-spoken Hansen, who recently assumed the helm from father Gary, notes that the all-time wedding cake classics white cake with white buttercream and chocolate chocolate chip aren’t going anywhere. However, he says what’s new and exciting in wedding cakes are cake fillings (ranging from cream cheese-based preparations to custards and mousses) as well as cakes with a decidedly healthy twist.

“People are becoming more inventive with sauces used on and inside the cakes,” Hansen said. “Yet the most exciting new trend we’re seeing is the demand for cakes that are gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan and with no trans fat. The market is definitely shifting toward healthier alternatives.”

Although Hansen’s Cakes offers a full complement of frosting styles, Hansen says their fresh-made buttercream is the hands-down winner. Frosting style notwithstanding, he says couples need to come into the store fully prepared.

“If couples come to us ready with their dietary issues to the number of guests to what they have in their budget, to what hotels, synagogues and venues will allow them to bring in our products, we will be flexible and be able to work with them as well as their rabbi, if needed, on a very personalized level,” he said.

While Patrick Hansen’s particularly sweet on buttercream, Delice Bakery founder Julien Bohbot’s all about taking on the hard stuff marzipan, fondant and icing as they have their practical side as well as an adherence to authentic French dessert preparations.

“I do marzipan, fondants and icing styles of frosting because the cakes will hold up better, both during the delivery process from bakery to venue and during the dinner itself,” Bohbot affirms. “The look is sleek and smooth, verses buttercream, which often needs to be touched up every time it hits another object. Our cakes remain beautiful all night long. While other bakeries offer sponge cakes and cream, we can guarantee that what customers sample and order in our store will be what they get on their wedding day. If you want a cake that will be remembered for its elegance, less is more.”

Pico-Robertson’s Delice Bakery features a distinctively European experience, with such options as Opera, Tiramisu or Mont Blanc Cake, all with recipes true to their origins. Although customers can request multilayer cakes in different flavors, multiflavor cakes will cost much more from an ingredients and labor standpoint at Delice. However, as Delice is also noted for its diverse array of sweet table options, Bohbot suggests one way to approach offering guests a choice is to substitute one traditional cake with customized individual cakes for each guest who has confirmed attendance.

Wedding planner Barrad, of I Do …Weddings!, says she has observed myriad trends from different bakeries from satellite cakes (ensuring kosher layers will not be touching non-kosher layers) to couples ordering cakes made with fresh seasonal fruits. However, as dancing always follows the wedding dinner, she recommends fresh, lighter alternatives to deep dark chocolates, such as lemon and citrus-based cakes for summer and heartier flavors like pear/spice for fall and winter.

When it comes to the tradition of saving a slice for the first anniversary, some controversy remains. Based on her own personal and professional experience, Barrad does not recommend the practice. Instead, she suggests approaching your bakery about doing a small reproduction of the cake for the first anniversary and notes many bakeries she’s worked with will do that service for free or a small, reasonable charge.

Hansen and Bohbot can produce a mini-anniversary cake for a fee, but they also say cake preservation can be done as long as you wrap the cake pieces securely with plastic and foil over that. Bohbot says storing wrapped cake pieces in a bakery box also helps. But everybody can agree on one thing cake is best enjoyed on the big day.

Recycling on the fashion runway

Ever since the nonprofit organization Earth Pledge teamed up with Barney’s in 2005 during New York’s renowned fashion week to demonstrate that sustainable fashion and style can coexist, eco-fashion activists have been quipping that “green is the new black.” Almost overnight, environmentally conscious designs shed their reputation of looking like burlap sacks made for hippies and were transformed into stylish, chic and fashionable clothes.

On the New York runway, Richie Rich’s striking yellow-and-pink skirt, made out of corn fiber, was topped off with a flashy silver bustier made from recycled polyester. And Linda Loudermilk’s luxury eco line has an express goal of giving eco-glamour “a fabulous look and a slammin’ attitude that stops traffic and shouts the message: Eco can be edgy, loud, fun, playful, feminine (or not) and hyper-cool.”

Levi’s recently released a line of “green” jeans made from 100 percent organic cotton and fashion icons such as Oscar de la Renta and Proenza Schouler hail the use of sustainable materials. Even celebrities are taking part in the growing global trend; Bono launched a new line of eco-fashion titled “Edun.”

New, organic raw materials that are both sustainable and grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides or insecticides are more widely available too. Far beyond just organic cotton and hemp, contemporary eco-fashion designers can now choose between bamboo, soy and corn fibers, cottagora, eco-fleece, organic wool, linen, silk, tencel and ecospun — to name just a few. Eco-friendly, low-impact dyes and responsible manufacturing processes (employing people in good working conditions with fair wages close to home) are also part of the “reuse, recycle and renew” philosophy that define eco-fashion, according to the Sustainable Technology Education Project (STEP).

The widespread international movement has not escaped fashion designers in Israel, more and more of who are starting to incorporate eco-friendly principles into their own creative, unique styles.

But there have been bumps in the road. Organic fabrics are almost impossible to find in Israel and have to be imported at great expense. But for some young Israeli designers, this is an opportunity rather than a detriment. Instead of bringing in costly fabrics from abroad, they look for ways to use inexpensive materials that already exist at home.

For Irit Vilensky, the fabric of choice is plastic. By recycling the ubiquitous plastic bags that litter Israeli beaches and parks, she makes an uber-chic, colorful line of accessories called: Satik.

“I wanted to create something beautiful out of what everyone already has at home, so I decided to make things out of plastic bags,” she said.

Each one-of-a-kind bracelet, wallet and purse is handmade, and Vilensky says that the concept of using noxious non-biodegradable plastic bags, already banned in many countries due to their widespread damage to the environment, serves two purposes: to reuse waste and to rid the world’s landfills of a few more plastic bags.

Elanit Neutra was heavily influenced by environmental concerns in Toronto, where she studied film production. Two years ago she began using the inner tubes of black rubber tires to make her stylish, soft leather-like accessories.

“I have always been a collector, taking things from the street to make new things, and when I saw the tires, I decided to try and make something nice from the raw material,” she said.

Although the process of finding material and cleaning the rubber is long and difficult, Neutra said part of what makes her work original is that she maintains the texture and any imperfections.

“Each piece is handmade, and I spend a lot of time looking for the right composition and shaping the rubber into something elegant,” Neutra said.

Gili Ben-Ami makes brightly colored necklaces by stringing together car fuses, and Ayala Froindlich recycles comic books, inflatable pool floats and even encyclopedias to make her eco-friendly handbags. Artist Ossi Yalon paints new scenes on vintage clothing in order to refurbish the old.

“Today’s society, especially women, is obsessed with buying new clothing all the time and throwing everything away,” she said. “I am trying to point out that the same therapeutic endeavor can be accomplished by recycling the old and rejuvenating it.”

Recycled plastic bottles filled with colored water are crushed into funky toothbrush holders, mugs and vases in Doron Sar-Shalom’s designs for the home, and Zohar Yarom puts leftover sofa fabric samples to good use in her unique handbags.

“Each bag is reversible and designed to last for many years,” she said. “Part of the unique thinking in Israel requires reinventing ourselves and using what we have available, because importing is not as good for the environment, and materials from abroad are more expensive.”

Despite the greater challenges that pro-environmentalists face in Israel, such as the Israeli government’s lackadaisical interest in efforts to be more environmentally friendly in the fashion industry, some stores are still finding ways to create eco-fashion.

Cotton is an eco-friendly clothing chain in Israel founded in 1992 that now has 12 branches across the country. It is owned by fashion designer Galit Broyde and her husband Erez Moded, and Broyde designs all of Cotton’s stylish and comfortable clothing out of organic materials that are easy to clean and durable. The company adheres to environmentally friendly local production, sells reusable shopping bags, and tries to promote education in Israel.

“For us, green fashion is not a trend; it’s a lifestyle. It’s something that we always did at home, but we started to do more in Cotton in recent years,” Broyde said. “We do everything we can, but no one is ever 100 percent green. For that, we’d all have to go back to caves.”

According to Nirit Sternberg, the owner of Le’ela, a design store that sells exclusively Israeli creations, the number of designers exhibiting eco-friendly work in the store has seen a tremendous increase in recent years — so much so that she was able to put on an eco-design exhibit with more than 35 creators this February. Nevertheless, she points out that it’s still not as popular in Israel as one might expect: “Eco-fashion is still just beginning here. The awareness is not there yet.”

British immigrant and organic baby clothing designer Sohpie O’Hana agrees. She started her own line, called Tinok Yarok (green baby), about a year ago, after searching futilely in Israel for eco-friendly baby clothing.

Floating fashions are totally tubular

Forget cotton, Lycra and leather. Israeli balloon twister Ori Livney has a new material that could put a real bounce in your gown: rubber.

“The air is the expensive part,” says Ori Livney, grinning from behind a pile of colorful rubber balloons. “But it’s not as complicated as it sounds. I can make just about any regular dress out of balloons. The challenge is to make it a perfect custom fit.”

Two years ago, after a six-month internship at Balloon Utopia in San Diego, Livney created his first balloon fashion dress for the annual Millennium Jam Balloon Convention in Belgium. Since then, his repertoire of stylish balloon dresses has greatly improved.

Last year Livney created a theme dress using the colors of the Israeli flag at a fashion event in Beijing. He was even able to twist in a row of small Stars of David that were suspended from the bottom half of the balloon skirt with un-inflated balloons, weighting the dress’ bottom edge with water-filled balloons to add that extra spring.

In order to make sure the dress fits perfectly, Livney first measures the model and then builds the dress on a mannequin, inflating the balloons one at a time with a digital machine that allows him to control the size and length of each balloon with great precision.

Livney says the possibilities for balloon dresses are endless. If it’s to make a big splash at an event, it could be flattering and elegant. If it’s for a costume party, Livney says he can interweave fantastic creatures into the dress itself. As an example, he points to a picture of a fiery red balloon dress called ‘The Dragon Within’ that has a golden dragon head and tail woven into the background of the dress. The wild-looking dragon completely encircles the red dress, its ferocious head resting on the model’s shoulder like a favorite pet snake.

“Wearing a balloon dress certainly makes a statement. When you walk into a room dressed entirely in balloons, people take a second look. It says a lot to wear such an unusual outfit.” At a recent fashion event, Livney created a stunning white balloon dress with a delicate silver inlay fit for a bride.

“That specific dress was sexy and tight, which makes it very flattering on the body,” Livney said.

But if you’re thinking of a custom-fit balloon dress for your next bat mitzvah, prom or wedding, there is one more caveat. Although twisting long balloons into simple shapes can be done very quickly, Livney says it takes hours to make a dress — especially if it involves complicated patterns — and the air has to be fresh. Of course, there is always the danger of the balloons popping, too, although Livney says the dresses, if fitted properly, are extremely robust.

“You can sit down, but make sure it’s on a soft cushion and not on a cactus.” Non-smoking events are definitely safer.

“I’m available for private events anywhere in the world,” Livney adds with another big smile. “My air is in great shape.”

For more information, visit For more information, visit

Prefab housing gets ‘fab’

“I try not to drive on Shabbos, except, of course, to go to open houses,” explained a woman of a certain age and uncertain religious persuasion.

Maybe the curiosity was whetted when wandering in the desert for 40 years, in the ancient past, looking for a place to put down roots and build a temple, or perhaps in the last decade, wandering over the Westside looking at houses for sale.

Whatever, the fact is that the preoccupation with real estate in Southern California for many Jews, as well as others of every belief and culture enraptured with the American dream, has taken on something akin to the search for the Holy Grail.

Flavoring this quest is a growing awareness of the aesthetics of architecture and interior design, not only for how it might enhance the value of select properties, but also for how it might heighten the level of casual conversation about everyone’s favorite topic — real estate.

With this interest in mind, you might want to check out an exhibit at the Pacific Design Center’s extension of the Museum of Contemporary Art, titled, “Some Assembly Required: Contemporary Prefabricated Houses.” It opens Feb. 28 and runs through May 13.

The show has been making the rounds across the country — to critical acclaim — for more than a year, and it spotlights the creations and conceits of several designers, including the local architecture firm of Marmol Radziner and Associates.

They, as well as other architects scattered around the country, have been struggling with how to make prefabricated homes look less like container boxes or house trailers and instead be more flexible, artfully modern, reasonably priced, and ecologically friendly.

Prefab indeed has the potential to lend itself to being “green” by using materials more efficiently, wasting less space, and generally creating structures that are lower maintenance. Think the frugal Prius in the land of lumbering SUVs.

The exhibition features eight varied projects, displayed through an appropriate mélange of video, photographs, drawings, renderings, material samples and scale models. Singled out for a full-scale mock-up is the so-called FlatPak House, designed by the Lazor Office of Minneapolis, which offers various choices in materials and layouts, thereby providing maximum flexibility for potential clients.

Offering choices is a key goal in this new wave of prefabricated design: The designers obviously are trying to downplay the down-scale reputation of factory-built homes, emphasizing customization and craftsmanship in order to appeal to more sophisticated, up-scale buyers.

“The overall dimensions and sections are simple enough that people can easily customize to make it their own,” said architect Michelle Kaufman, in an interview with Dwell magazine, describing her Glidehouse design. “There is a range of plan options as well.

All have the same basic box configuration and details to maintain the benefit of mass production, but depending on how you put the boxes together, you can have an L-shape, or a courtyard U-shape, or a long plan for a lot with views. There is quite a bit of flexibility so the house can be configured to fit the site and the way the owner lives.”

Kaufman concluded: “People are starting to see the benefits of both green living and modular building construction. When you put those together, it is a great combination.”

Yes, but at what price? More customization equals higher costs, negating one of the major appeals of prefab and the hope of its past innovators. Through its long history, dating back to the middle of the 18th century, the allure of prefab housing included the promise of lower costs through efficiency of materials and labor, as well as the ability to accelerate and streamline construction.

To be sure, the range of prefabs on display in this exhibition indicate some cost saving, but when all the adds-ons are calculated and the total cost is projected, the savings are not particularly impressive or encouraging.

Also to be considered are the persistent problems that have plagued such efforts in the past, including antiquated and inconsistent municipal codes and the reluctance of financial institutions to finance “manufactured” housing. However, exhibitions such as “Some Assembly Required” — along with the pressing need for less expensive, green housing — no doubt will help overcome institutional and government resistance. Or so we hope.

Unfortunately, not included in the exhibition, because it was not completed when the show was being organized, is the so-called “Living Home.” It was designed by the venerable architect and venerated founder of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, Ray Kappe, who has been experimenting with prefab systems for nearly half a century.

The house features an array of green materials and a solar power system, which prompted the design to win a coveted environmental award. It can be seen in situ at 2914 Highland Avenue, tucked away in the southeast corner of Santa Monica.

Please don’t disturb the residents.

“Some Assembly Required: Contemporary Prefabricated Houses” opens Feb. 28 at MOCA at the Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Avenue, Design Plaza G102,
West Hollywood, CA 90069. Admission is free.

For information call: (310) 289-5223.
Web link: IFF: Engaging in disengagement — five horrible days in Gaza

American-style retirement for Israel’s seniors

The photos in the brochures and on Web sites are all different yet somehow similar: A group or a pair of elegantly dressed older men and women sit or stand against a backdrop of flowers or greenery, their graying hair carefully coiffed, their faces clear-eyed and smiling, their teeth white and perfect. These are portrayals of the world of retirement homes or, as many prefer to call themselves, senior citizens’ residences, in which — at least according to the pictures — happy seniors live out their autumn years playing bridge or billiards, strolling through gardens and sipping coffee in the company of vivacious friends.

Although old-age homes have always existed in Israel for those who cannot care for themselves, it is only in recent years that the American idea of retiring to a comfortable community of seniors has taken off here. Over the past 20 years, retirement homes have sprung up all over Israel, and each seems to be trying to outdo the next in the level of luxury, services and amenities offered.

“There are now more people over 65 in Israel than there are under 25,” said David Ditch, CEO of the Ad 120 chain. “The population is getting older, but physically they’re still young because medicine has advanced so much. The standard of living has gone up, and the elderly population has a lot of free time and is looking for ways to fill it.”

Official government figures bear this out. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, there were 670,000 people age 65 or over in Israel in 2003, comprising almost 10 percent of the population. This proportion was more than double the 4.8 percent in 1955 and is expected to reach 12.7 percent, or 1.2 million people, by 2025. Life expectancy in Israel has risen to 77.5 for men and 81.5 for women, more than five years higher than it was in 1980.

But with increasingly long lives come other challenges. Fully 25 percent of Israel’s elderly live alone, and while their health may be good, loneliness and boredom can eat away at their days. Retirement homes promise a range of social and cultural activities in a supervised setting. But before rushing out to book a place for grandma, there are some factors to take into consideration.

“When someone comes to us and says they want to put dad in a home, the first question we ask is, ‘Why?’ and the first thing we do is meet the person to see what they want,” said David Danhai, who set up and runs Yad Lakashish, a free advisory service for the elderly. “If the children say dad is lonely, we look at why he’s lonely. He may already live in an apartment but shut himself off from his neighbors because that’s his personality. A closed-off person will be just as closed off living in a home. Or he may be lonely because he doesn’t know where to go to find activities and meet people his own age. We show such people how to use the resources they already have in their area, such as the local day center for the elderly, golden-age club or public gardens. It is no small matter for an elderly person to move out of the home where he has lived for most of his life. It’s traumatic and drastic, and a step that shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

There are two types of retirement housing in Israel, and the differences between them are significant. First are old-age homes (batei avot), which are licensed and supervised by the Ministry of Social Affairs. While many people think these are only for the feeble and bed-ridden, in fact many of them are designed for the independent senior who wants to be taken care of.

Ministry conditions dictate that these homes must provide three meals a day (and two snacks) in a dining room, have a certain ratio of staff to residents, clean residents’ rooms daily, keep strict hygiene in the home’s laundry, among other stipulations. An old-age home might have a greater or lesser range of activities for residents, and medical supervision is ever-present. Residents generally live in one- or two-room apartments, which may have an electric kettle but no cooking or laundry facilities. All apartments have emergency call buttons, and staff check in on residents if they do not show up for a meal.

Residents pay an entry fee of NIS 130,000 to NIS 220,000 (approximately $31,160-$52,745), as well as monthly maintenance fees of NIS 5,000 to NIS 7,500 (about $1,200-$1,800). This entry fee depreciates to nothing within three to five years. The ministry’s Web site (www.molsa.gov.il) lists some 190 licensed old-age homes across Israel.

The second type of retirement housing is sheltered housing (diur mugan). This category is unlicensed and unregulated, but that does not mean it falls short. On the contrary, it is into this category that luxurious retirement residences such as Ad 120 fall. And it is this category that has grown so dramatically over the past two decades.

Sheltered housing buildings are essentially private apartment buildings for seniors with some — or a lot of — extras. Residents live in one-, two- or three-room apartments which, unlike old-age homes, have a kitchenette and cooking facilities and in some cases space for a washing machine. Apartments are cleaned weekly and have emergency call buttons, but daily checkups on residents are not necessarily made. Sheltered housing buildings usually have swimming pools, gymnasiums, game rooms and libraries and offer a wide variety of activities, including arts and crafts, exercise classes, concerts and lectures. In some homes, lunch in the dining room is included; in others it is extra. Some add coffee and cake in the afternoon.

Residents pay a deposit of NIS 530,000 to NIS 1.8 million (around $127,000-$431,000) for their apartments, as well as a monthly maintenance fee that can range from NIS 3,000 to NIS 5,000 (approximately $720-$1,200). The deposit depreciates by 2 percent to 4 percent annually for 10 to 12 years, and what is left is given to the residents’ heirs.
Each sheltered housing or old-age facility has a separately run Ministry of Health licensed nursing division for residents who need chronic care.

Rainbow-haired couturier takes fashion fun seriously

Her natural hair color is brown, but Nony Tochterman hasn’t shown her roots in about 20 years. These days it’s a bubblegum pink, and in the past she’s tressed herself in Skittles hues, including green, blonde, orange, purple, fuchsia and lavender.
Color, after all, is a lot of what the 40-year-old fashion designer is about. Her line is called House of Petro Zillia. Named after the Hebrew word for parsley, it is a perfect moniker for her design aesthetic, which takes fun seriously.

“I’m a colorful person,” Tochterman said. “I like color; I like texture; I like mixing things together. I think my customer is a sophisticated, ageless, confident woman.”

Such women have found Tochterman’s clothing in upscale boutiques since the company’s inception in 1996, but Tochterman says a store of her own “has been in my head for years.” This month, she and her husband and business partner, Yosi Drori, celebrate the grand opening of a flagship store in the trendy strip of West Third Street, between La Cienega Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.

“The store is not just about my clothes,” Tochterman said, “but about everything that I love — furniture, knickknacks.”
Tochterman is known in the industry for her whimsical feminine pieces, bold designs and unexpected color combinations, as well as a penchant for knits and vintage-inspired looks. The fashion of Petro Zillia is eclectic. It encompasses a retro sky blue cashmere sweater, with a rainbow and hearts on the front, but also a subtler, but still quirky navy silk wrap dress trimmed with pompoms, and a serious gray tweed flare skirt.

Her new store’s interior reflects this point of view. Shoppers enter into an open space subtly divided into three sections.
Up front, the feel is midcentury, with walls decked in mod orange and green wallpaper. Through the center, the mood changes to neoromantic. Tripartite walls are painted crackle pink on top, lime green in a center ribbon trimmed with gold-gilt molding and papered in a blue floral on the bottom. From the ceiling hangs a sizable chandelier that Tochterman says her husband found at “like a JCC donation center or something.” (Drori is responsible for most of the interior design.) In the back is a shift to ’70s psychedelic, complete with facing lime green loveseats: one tweed, one plastic.

Tochterman and Drori hope to make the location a hangout, in addition to a shopping destination. There are plans for a garden in the back under a big magnolia tree left by the previous tenant, the Shambhala Meditation Center. Next door to the store is a space the couple is converting into Tochterman’s design studio — one arena that has never felt foreign to her.
Tochterman grew up in Tel Aviv with a fashion pedigree. Her mother had a chic boutique, and Tochterman said, “I used to go to her studio, and she allowed me to work on the overlock machine.” By the time she was 7, Tochterman had learned how to knit, sew and cut fabric, and she eventually sold some of her pieces in her mom’s store.

At 14, Tochterman moved to Los Angeles with her parents and siblings, but she had trouble adjusting and moved back to Israel after a year and a half, living with her grandmother while she finished school there.

She returned to Los Angeles after she graduated. Soon after, she moved to New York to work in the fashion industry. Capitalizing on a huge late ’80s trend by making clip-on button covers, Tochterman founded a successful accessories line, Nony New York, with Drori in 1986.

They made the most of it while it lasted, but the trend was dead by 1995, and they closed the business. They traveled, had a brief stint as owners of a Caribbean hotel on Saint Martin and eventually found themselves back in Los Angeles with their infant son, Etai, living with Tochterman’s parents.

Petro Zillia was born soon after — an accessories line that quickly morphed into a full ready-to-wear collection. Some 10 years later, her designs have been featured in Vogue and W Magazine and worn by trendsetters like Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz and Madonna.

Tochterman and Drori continue to work together on the business and personal life they share. The birth of Etai was followed four years later by a girl, Romie. The kids are now 11 and 7 years old, and in February the couple will celebrate their 20th anniversary.

Tochterman’s open personality translates into her life as well as her work. In her identity, she feels herself more American than Israeli. But she’s still “Eema” to the kids, and Drori is “Abba.”

Religion, too, is a relaxed thing. They celebrate Jewish holidays with the extended family but do not observe much at home. In terms of religious school, Tochterman and Drori have not made it a priority. The kids attend a secular private school in Santa Monica, where they live.

One could say her diverse fashion sense applies to her worldview, as well.

“The way we see it, we want to raise good people, religion blind, color blind, sexual-orientation blind — citizens of the world,” Tochterman said. “I like looking at the spectrum of their friends. Indian, Jewish, Italian — it represents the world better.”

Designing woman preserves observatory’s past for future

Brenda Levin sometimes said that she wishes her original architectural designs would get as much attention as her historic-preservation efforts, such as the restoration she’s just completed of the Griffith Observatory. If so, there is no detectible ambivalence in her voice on this bright, if hazy, morning in Griffith Park. As the architect recites a list of materials and techniques she used in bringing back to life the stately, white, beaux arts-style building, which now looks as bright and sharp-edged as it did when completed in 1935, it’s clear that Levin’s warm, approachable manner belies a core of strong will and clarity of purpose. The observatory has personal attachment for her.

“It’s practically in my backyard,” said the Los Feliz resident, adding that she and her family have been hiking in the nearby trails of Griffith Park for more than two decades.

The observatory, which this weekend celebrates its reopening after a $93 million renovation and expansion, is one of the best-known structures in Los Angeles. For decades, it has been a pilgrimage site for visitors, not least for its unparalleled vista of the L.A. basin, which flows downward from its site like an immense green checkerboard, intersecting with the spiked spine of tall buildings along Wilshire Boulevard.

“Of the 2 million people who visited the observatory before it closed,” she wonders aloud, “how many came here for the view alone?”
Levin is decidedly not ambivalent in acknowledging that 2006 will be a landmark year for her practice, which she opened in 1980 in the Fine Arts Building in downtown Los Angeles. Not only are her years of painstaking work on the Griffith Observatory coming to fruition — “we have been over every inch of this building,” she said firmly — but another long-awaited, long-delayed project, the Barnsdall House by Frank Lloyd Wright, is set to reopen nearby, in a radically redesigned Barnsdall Park in Hollywood.

Further, Levin is discussing plans to rehabilitate and enlarge another notable project: Wilshire Boulevard Temple, the ornate synagogue built by Harry and Jack Warner in the 1930s. (She and her husband, David Abel, a political consultant and school construction advocate, are longtime members of that congregation. Her son, Elliot, celebrated his bar mitzvah at the temple’s Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu.)

Even without being a member, it would be hard to imagine that Levin would not be on the short list as the temple’s architect. She is the reigning historic-preservation architect in the city, and few other people in the design profession can boast comparable credentials. (Disclosure: This writer wrote the introduction to Levin’s 2001 monograph and remains a friend.)

Levin’s preservation work, in part, reflects a lifelong interest in cities, she said, having grown up in suburbs outside New York and spent much of her early youth exploring that city on foot. After completing studies at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design in the 1970s, the newly married Levin decamped to Los Angeles, where she briefly worked for John Lautner, a Wright disciple who built a series of boldly engineered houses in Los Angeles. Her own home, which she designed in the 1970s, has some of the geometrical purity and quirky planning of the older architect.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, she helped spark the revival of downtown Los Angeles — a firecracker with a 30-year fuse — by acting as the architect for developers Wayne Ratkovich, on the renovation of the Oviatt Building (and later the Pellissier Building-Wiltern Theater) and the late Ira Levin, who was responsible for reviving the Bradbury Building and the Grand Central Market. Although architects and developers are often adversarial in their dealings, both developers had lifelong friendships with Levin.

The downtown projects were widely published, and Levin became pigeonholed, possibly unfairly, as a historic-preservation specialist. She likes to point out the volume of original architectural designs she has built, including the sensitively scaled music, dance and athletic center and math and science building at Oakwood School’s upper-school campus in North Hollywood. Among her current nonhistorical projects are a new student center at Whittier College, a new civic park in the Grand Avenue mixed-use development in downtown Los Angeles and the outdoor Ballona Discovery Center planned at Playa Vista.

This morning, however, belongs to the observatory, the master plan of which was a collaboration between Levin and Pfeiffer Associates, which was responsible for the newly designed portions of the building, while Levin focused on preserving and updating the observatory building itself.

For a 71-year-old building that had not undergone any major repair, she said, the observatory was in relatively good shape, in large part because of the quality of the original materials, including concrete on the exteriors with domes covered in copper and marble and travertine on the interior. According to legend, the materials in the observatory are particularly fine, because the cost of those materials plummeted during the Depression years.

Levin’s preservation and updating work on the observatory includes a number of new spaces and details that she emphasizes are compatible with the historic originals. One of her most elaborate efforts was to re-cover the central planetarium dome with new copper panels. This delicate task required construction of an elaborate scaffolding — a design feat in itself — that encircled the observatory dome without touching it at any point.

Characteristic of Levin’s concern for improving the quality of public life in her buildings, a number of rooftop spaces at the observatory that were formerly closed to the public have become viewing platforms. “This building is now accessible from all four directions, just as it was originally intended to be,” she said.

The Griffith Observatory and Wilshire Boulevard Temple, have some design features in common, Levin points out. Both buildings are topped with enormous round “drums” supporting domes, reminiscent of early 19th century German architecture. The observatory, built of concrete, was originally intended to have a skin of terra-cotta ornament, much like the temple has today. Given the local history of earthquakes, however, Levin quickly adds that the observatory was probably better off without the brittle clay ornament.

Her design for Wilshire Boulevard Temple remains preliminary and subject to change, Levin said, but she said officials there are considering the conversion of the east-facing parking lot into an outdoor event plaza, the addition of a new school building and a new parking structure, among other new spaces, as well as historic preservation.

Although synagogue architecture is a new undertaking for Levin, she said the dignity of sacred architecture is not essentially different from what she describes as the spirituality of all great architecture.

“Whether it is the Disney Concert Hall or the Griffith Observatory, beauty and inspiration and spirituality are part of the things you hope to achieve as an architect,” she said.

Which came first: the building or the dress?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Days in the Arts

Saturday, July 8
The Hollywood Palladium’s got the beat tonight. Head there for ’80s retro fun wrapped up in a good cause. Bet Tzedek — The House of Justice presents its annual Justice Ball benefit with headliners The Go-Go’s.

8:30 p.m. $75-$150. Hollywood Palladium, 6215 Sunset Blvd. (323) 656-9069. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>


Sunday, July 9
A midsummer night’s edutainment comes courtesy of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony. Tonight, they perform “Ahava: From Israel with Love” at the Ford Amphitheatre, with Chen Zimbalista on marimba and Alon Reuven on French horn. Explanatory introductions of each piece will be given by conductor Noreen Green.

7:30 p.m. $12-$36. 2850 Cahuenga Blvd., East, Hollywood. (323) 461-3673.

Monday, July 10
TV gets some artistic recognition, thanks to Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM). Today FIDM opens its new exhibition, “The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design,” which continues through Sept. 9. On display are highlights from 40 years of television costuming, including clothes worn by Sonny and Cher, Barry Manilow and Carol Burnett, on their shows and specials.

10 a.m.-4 p.m. (daily, except Sundays). Free. FIDM Museum and Galleries on the Park, 919 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 624-1200, ext. 2224.


Tuesday, July 11
The sound of music drifts through the air, mixing with that signature zoo scent, this evening. The Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association kicks off the first of two “Music in the Zoo” nights. Tonight, hear the Masanga Marimba Ensemble of Zimbabwe, the Scottish Wicked Tinkers, the Mediterranean music of Shaya and Rafi and the Irish Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder. Plus, the animals get a later bedtime of 8 p.m. and “Club Med Circus Performers” monkey around.

Tues., July 11 and 25, 6-9 p.m. Free (children 5 and under), $7-$16. Los Angeles Zoo, Griffith Park. (323) 644-6042. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Wednesday, July 12
Invisible friends get revenge in “Bunbury: A Serious Play for Trivial People.” The play by Tom Jacobson features the never-seen characters of Bunbury (of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”) and Rosaline (of “Romeo and Juliet”), teaming up to sabotage classic literary works. It is performed at the Skirball Cultural Center, and recorded to air on L.A. Theatre Works’ radio theater series, The Play’s the Thing, which broadcasts weekly on public and satellite radio, including 89.3 KPCC.

8 p.m. (July 12-14), 3 pm. (July 15), 4 p.m. (July 16). $25-$45. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P.,
(310) 827-0889.

Thursday, July 13
July gets a little hotter with Stephen Cohen Gallery’s “Summer Skin” exhibition. The group show features nude works, some naughty, some nice, by artists like Diane Arbus, Anthony Friedkin and Horace Bristo. The raciest stuff, by guys like David Levinthal, Larry Clark and Robert Mapplethorpe, can be seen in a separate viewing room.

July 7-Aug. 26. Free. 7358 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 937-5525.


Friday, July 14
Literature takes center stage with The New Short Fiction Series, a host of evenings in which actors read from a published work of fiction. This year’s first featured writer is author and poet Carol Schwalberg, whose “The Midnight Lover and Other Stories” will be performed, tonight.

8 p.m. $10. Beverly Hills Public Library Auditorium, 444 N. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-2220.

Brain-Busting Doc, Eight Letters

The cult status of The New York Times Crossword puzzle is the subject of “Wordplay,” an uneven but entertaining documentary by director Patrick Creadon about the people who design the fiendishly difficult crossword puzzles for The Times and the gifted eccentrics who devote their lives to puzzle solving and who compete against each other with all the fury and devotion of Olympic athletes.

Before we go further in discussing “Wordplay,” there is one question that needs to be dealt with, in the context of this publication: Is the Times crossword somehow a Jewish thing? The short answer is, well, yes and no.

Although the Gray Lady, as some media critics dub The Times, is published in one of the largest Jewish communities in the world, “Wordplay” does not convey the sense that there is any Jewish preponderance among the crossword-puzzle community. Judging from the range of competitors in the 2005 national annual crossword in Stamford, Ct. documented in the film, both the enthusiasts and the winners are reassuringly rainbow.

Champions of the annual event have included both men and women, including the winsome Ellen Ripstein, a self-described “48-year-old nerd girl” who looks like your sixth-grade math teacher and who can solve a Friday Times crossword puzzle in two minutes flat, give or take a couple of seconds. (Advice to movie goers: If you have any ego investment in your ability to do The Times crossword, you would be better off seeing “X-Men: The Last Stand.”)

If there is nothing intrinsically Jewish about the crossword puzzle, then, there may be something deeply Jewish about the way some Jews respond to this arcane verbal puzzle. As the proverbial People of the Book, there is a vein of Jewish culture about verbal ability and problem solving. The extremely compressed sentences of the Babylonian Talmud might be described as a kind of puzzle to be decoded as much as read.

Maybe The Times crossword is Jewish friendly because my family has been addicted to this obnoxious word game for at least three generations.

My grandfather, largely self-educated and boastful about being a reader of Proust, insisted on doing it in pen, the macho way where there is no turning back. My mother uses pencil, and my father used a pen. I used pencil before the electronic version arrived, usually leaving at least one hole in the newsprint where I erased one time too many. In a family that has not handed over a great deal in Jewish oral tradition, the notion of the Sunday crossword puzzle, accompanied by slabs of Nova lox and very strong coffee, and maybe some choral music on the radio, became its own kind of tradition.

There is perhaps another aspect about The Times puzzle, which may relate to some Jewish people, and a great many other people as well, and that is wit and humor. The Times crossword is both funny as well as a teasing. The people who solve it must have not only a great stock of general knowledge and unusual English words, but also a sense of fun.

More to the point, perhaps, The Times crossword, more than any other word puzzle, takes full advantage of ambiguity, particularly employing words with multiple meanings. Take “jar,” as a random example. Is it a noun or a verb? Is the solution “amphora” or “disrupt”?

Puzzle solvers must also know beforehand not to be misled by easy clues. If the crossword offers an obvious giveaway for a word that fits into the space provided, you can be assured that is the wrong answer.

One of the strongest moments of the movie shows a discussion between a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a 20-year-old student who is a contender for the national championship. The two wonder whether computers could ever be programmed to solve The Times crossword — the student says no, that computers cannot handle the ambiguity inherent in the wordplay because they lack the ability to judge different scenarios of meaning for a single word in order to choose the one that has best chance of fitting into an elegant geometric pattern with other carefully chosen words.

In other words, Times crossword puzzles are a subset of language as an enormous puzzle. And, although crossword puzzles cannot be described as literature, a good crossword can be a mind-expanding exploration of the many weird offshoots contained within the big tent of the English language, probably the most compendious language, in the number of words, in the world.

As a film, “Wordplay” follows a very conventional form. The filmmaker interviews the top contestants in each of their homes or daily environments — Ripstein is shown in a diner — and follows them on their breathless way into the competition, with the thrill, the agony and the like. So conventional is “Wordplay’s” form and direction that at times we think we are watching outtakes of a Christopher Guest movie like “Best in Show.”

One particularly strong sequence, however, shows a kind of symmetry between a man constructing a crossword puzzle and a group of people — including comedian Jon Stewart, former President Bill Clinton, film maker Ken Burns and indy rockers the Indigo Girls — all solving the same clue, each in his or her own fashion. Another strong moment is when the filmmakers provide a large-scale diagram that shows how quickly the competing crossword masters fill out the page.

All of them seemed a little stumped at a clue asking for a “novelistic quality,” with the bizarre answer of “Zolaesque,” in honor of Emile Zola, the French realist writer. This is the kind of clue that generates hate mail to Times puzzlemaker Will Shortz (“you are sick, sick, sick!”) from puzzle devotees.

Like many similar documentaries, “Wordplay” is an inquiry into a community of gifted people with a strong drive to make themselves champions, even if they are drab and underachieving in the other areas of life. Even people who have no attraction to crossword puzzles may find themselves involved with the notion of a society that uncovers the subtle genius of otherwise unremarkable people. And certain Jewish people may feel a hankering for the escape of spending a leisurely morning, with music and food, in the company of the world’s most maddening and enchanting word puzzle.


Shlub to Hero: Film Sketches Gehry Life

“He starts out with that,” says Barry Diller, alluding to a squiggle-like drawing in the new documentary, “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” and “he ends up with this,” pointing to a model of the InterActive Corp. (IAC) Building, currently under construction in Manhattan. Although made completely of glass, a material that likes to be flat, Gehry has molded the glass walls to resemble a row of sailboats billowing in the wind.

Even to the architect’s detractors — and there are many — buildings like the IAC offer something new and unexpected, even if a lot of looking is needed sometimes to wrap one’s mind around these edifices. In short, the IAC Building aspires to be a work of architecture that is simultaneously and unapologetically a work of art.

There’s an implicit question in the comments of Diller, the chairman of Expedia and Gehry’s client for the IAC Building: How did that blankety-blank squiggle turn into a really good building?

The film, a rare departure into documentary by Sidney Pollack, director of “Tootsie” and “Out of Africa,” assays the mystery of Gehry, an outwardly aw-shucks guy, who regularly produces some of the world’s most aggressive and attention-getting buildings.

While it is interesting to hear Gehry, 77, describe his formative influences — building blocks during childhood, the images of fish, the architecture of Finnish master Alvar Aalto — this kind of museum-docent talk does not bring us close to the core of Gehry’s creativity. Pollack’s film is strongest when filling in the human, rather than theoretical, background.

The real question here is: How did this lower-middle-class Jew from Toronto become the most celebrated architect in the world, and one of the rare people in the profession, outside of Frank Lloyd Wright, to become a household name? (What other architect is well-known enough to be spoofed on “The Simpsons”?)

Pollack, with his skill in developing character, locates the Freudian threads in Gehry’s life story. A Canadian in Southern California, the young Gehry, then known as Goldberg, struggled in architecture school, believing himself victimized by anti-Semitism in a largely all-WASP profession.

He has the outsider’s simultaneous rejection of, and reverence for, authority, here symbolized by the architectural profession, with its weighty baggage of uptight, exclusionary, backward-looking rules. The young Gehry wonders why architecture must be so authoritarian and rule-bound, as opposed to something akin to the delight he experienced as a child, building imaginary cities on the floor of his aunt’s apartment.

Gehry’s creative solution — his psychoanalytic victory — was to embrace the delight of free-form design, while making sure that his buildings met the needs of his clients. His freedom in designing what appear to be purely sculptural objects that subsequently win rapturous praise must make him the envy of all architects who secretly wish they could find such willing clients. Gehry seems to embody the myth of the artist-hero, a symbol of personal attainment and untrammeled freedom of expression.

Yet self-doubt remains. On the eve of his greatest popular triumph, the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, five years ago, the architect recalls walking around the spectacular complex, shortly to become the most photographed and discussed building of the past 50 years, asking himself, “What have I done?” It is the most touching moment in the film.

That kind of vulnerability and introspection makes “Sketches of Frank Gehry” at times resemble a Woody Allen movie. The plotline certainly sounds a lot like Allen: A sad sack, Jewish shlub who feels excluded from the country club set of architects, turns out to be the designer of amazing buildings that turn the world of architecture on its ear. Meanwhile, the hero, in all innocence, says things like, “Gee, did I really do that?”

Adding to the Allen-like texture of the film is a series of celebrity talking heads — Diller, ex-Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, actor Dennis Hopper, rock musician Bob Geldof, ex-talent agency director Michael Ovitz, artist Julian Schnabel, the late architect Philip Johnson — each expressing his admiration for cher maitre.

And in the archetypally Allen moment, we meet Gehry’s psychoanalyst of 35 years, who acknowledges with a coy smile that “Frank has made me famous,” while adding that he refuses services to other architects seeking to emulate Gehry’s inner transformation. (Question for Gideon Kanner: Is there a statute of limitations on physician confidentiality?)

This enjoyable, undemanding film from the hand of a master director holds no terrors for nonarchitects and others who feel flummoxed by the mystique and technical complexity of the profession. This very much reflects the attitude of Gehry, who seems intent on puncturing a certain kind of architectural snobbery.

What the film does not do is help us understand the process through which a scribbled drawing turns into a finished building. For all the accessibility of Gehry the man, Gehry the creative personality remains a mystery.