Puff, the magic (Kosher) pastry

The cupcake. The macaron. And now the nuage cake. 

The public embraces dessert trends with an intense — and sometimes fleeting — passion. Fortunately for those who observe the laws of kashrut, the latest sweet treat to appear on the L.A. scene happens to be certified kosher. 

Supervised by Rabbi Jonathan Benzaquen of Kosher LA, the trés chic Bo Nuage shop, located on Melrose Avenue just west of Fairfax Avenue, is the first L.A. business to specialize in the whipped cream and egg white-based confection. Pieces of meringue are filled with layers of cream, and then swathed in a creamy exterior. The round pastry is covered in shaved chocolate to make a featherweight — yet satisfying — sweet treat. In tune with other dietary concerns, these “cloud cakes” are gluten-free, and Bo Nuage offers a version of their cakes made without dairy.

A 120-square-foot jewel box of a shop that’s decked out in a modern black-and-white color scheme designed by Jessica Marx of J. Marx Atelier (who also oversaw the design of Wexler’s Deli, which recently opened in Grand Central Market downtown) and glamorous chandelier lighting, the contemporary pastry retailer feels like a bit of Paris in L.A. The nuage cakes come in two sizes and in 15 flavors, including chocolate, vanilla, mocha, raspberry, passion fruit, hazelnut and lemon. Bo Nuage — which translates as “beautiful cloud” —  also makes a larger nuage cake, as well as a strawberry and meringue Pavlova (or variations with other fresh fruits), and individual simple meringues. 

“We decided to be kosher because I am a part of this Jewish community, and it was important for me to share my passion for this meringue treat with my community, too,” said Audrey Achcar, a Paris native who owns Bo Nuage with her husband, Pascal. 

Pascal Achcar, also a Paris native, had initially come to baking via the commercial flour business, and then established a successful wholesale baking business and training school in Mali in 2006. Social and political upheaval, however, meant the Achcars had to give up their business (Audrey had joined him there) and leave Africa in early 2012. After spending time with Audrey’s family in Los Angeles — her mother founded Lette Macarons here in 2007 — the couple eventually relocated to Southern California. In the process, they decided to establish an artisanal food business centered on the delicate northern French meringue cakes they had come to love in Paris.

Also specializing in the cream-and-meringue pastry niche is Le Mervetty in Beverly Hills, where Israeli-born and raised pastry chef Etty Benhamou specializes in similar meringue and cream cakes known as merveilleux. (Le Mervetty’s goods are not, however, certified kosher.)

The Achcars’ embrace of life in Los Angeles can be attributed, in large part, to a factor echoed by many transplants, especially those who hail from colder climes. “L.A. has the best weather in the world,” Audrey said. “It’s great when you have children to be surrounded by beaches and mountains.” 

Plus, the nuage suits the palates of Angelenos who crave culinary novelty, yet want to temper dietary indulgences with treats that shy away from the more intense end of the decadence spectrum. (Or at least those that seem to; it’s hard to separate heavy cream from Bo Nuage’s raison d’etre, after all.) “When our customers try our cloud cakes, they all have the same reaction,” Audrey said. “They first are surprised by its lightness and its taste that is at the same time crispy and soft because of the meringue and the whipped cream. When they first see the petit nuage, they think they won’t finish it, but their spoon always comes back to it.”

All night with God: Picturing revelation

In a City of Angels, with murals and figures of the agents of heaven fluttering everywhere, as we approach Shavuot and the time of Matan Torah — the receiving of the Torah — you would think that finding a place to have a revelatory moment would be as easy as stepping outside.

There are angel sculptures in the Farmers Market on Fairfax Boulevard, and there is one painted several stories high on a building across from the Greek Orthodox cathedral on Pico Boulevard; there is even a pair of wings on the side of a Oaxacan restaurant on Olympic Boulevard, ready for you to just step inside and, presumably, fly away. There are also angels’ wings in Union Station downtown, sheltering us on our journeys.

In anticipation of Shavuot, all these wings seem to beat the air with a question: Are we ready, like Israel in the Bible, to receive the Torah?

On Robertson Boulevard, a few blocks south of Pico Boulevard, and at the center of a large swath of Los Angeles’ observant community, there’s even an “Angel Wall” of a more contemporary sort. Artist Barbara Mendes has painted Whitney Houston, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix, as well as her own daughter Oma “Annie” Kunstler, who died in 2006, on a pulsating mural on a street-facing wall of a corner building that houses her artist’s studio. Radiating from one area, surrounded by a brightly colored wing-suggesting form, is an image predating pop culture: a personification of the Shechinah — the feminine attributes of God — painted with a smiling face and welcoming arms.

Recently, Mendes, standing on a gold-colored ladder, was touching up her mural, readying it for a commercial that will use the image as a backdrop. In L.A., even the Shechinah gets a close-up.

The image “is a metaphor,” said Mendes, who identifies as Orthodox. “Women need to experience spirituality as full-fledged creations of God.” Mendes became deeply religious at age 45 when, by chance, someone at the Pinto Torah Center on Pico Boulevard asked her to paint the synagogue’s courtyard. 

When asked if Shavuot was in her mural, she responded by climbing down from her ladder, walking over to one side of the work and pointing up to a man in a striped caftan climbing a blue, pink and orange mountain. “It’s Moses at Sinai,” she said.

On the night of June 3, many Jews here will celebrate the first night of Shavuot by traveling to their own Mount Sinais, climbing a metaphorical mountain of ideas, impressions and words that will be presented to help them imagine what it means to receive the Torah. 

Some will attend specially written plays, others a full-on sermon-slam. All over the city, Jews will stay up all night at study sessions called Tikkun leil Shavuot — repairing the night of Shavuot — seeking if not a high, then a perspective that will allow them to look out over the vastness of Jewish learning.

According to a midrash, the Jewish people slept the entire night before receiving the Torah. “God had to come in the morning and wake them up to tell them, ‘Hey! I’m giving the Torah,” said Moshe Hildeshaim, who came to Los Angles five months ago from Crown Heights in Brooklyn to open a Chabad in the Carthay Circle area, northeast of Pico-Robertson. “To rectify the fact that the Jewish people prepared themselves by sleeping, we stay up all night and learn Torah,” Hildeshaim said.

“There are different customs — some people stay up and hang out with people. Our custom is that we learn a little bit of every parasha [weekly Torah portion], a little bit of Mishnah, a little bit of the Talmud and little bit of the Zohar, kabbalah,” said Hildeshaim, who will be hosting an all-nighter.

Within the history of Judaism, Tikkun leil Shavuot is a relatively recent development. Jewish history records that the first all-night Shavuot study session happened in Ottoman Thessalonica in 1533, a “kabbalist paradise and a flourishing city, where Jews exiled from Spain and Portugal found a safe haven,” wrote Mor Altshuler, a scholar of Jewish mysticism.

That night was organized by the famous author of the Shulchan Aruch, Joseph Karo, and was attended by Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz (author of “Lecha Dodi”), who later wrote about the night in a detailed iggeret (epistle).

“Karo and Alkabetz envisioned themselves as Moses the prophet and Aaron the priest, and their kabbalist flock as the Israelites leaving Egypt,” Altshuler wrote. “That Shavuot evening in 1533 presented an opportunity to recreate the revelation on Mount Sinai, when the heavens opened and the entire people heard the voice of God.”

It was a night of text study and singing “so wondrous that the angels fell silent and an invisible wall of fire encircled its members,” Altshuler wrote. Then, at midnight the group heard a voice speaking out of Karo’s mouth, which they took to be the voice of Torah-Shechinah. “It was a loud voice with letters clearly enunciated. It was an exceedingly pleasant voice, becoming increasingly strong.”  

“We all fell upon our faces and none of us had any spirit left in him,” Altshuler wrote, quoting Alkabetz.

Karo and Alkabetz soon moved to Safed, in what is now northern Israel, and their night “became a model for the kabbalists of Safed, including Rabbi Isaac Luria (the Ari) and his disciples,” Altshuler wrote.

Though he did not have an “otherly” voice coming from his mouth, Mark Rothman, who lives in the Pico-Fairfax area, recounted what he calls a “transformative moment,” at a Shavuot leil Tikkun, held at YULA (Yeshiva University High School) several years ago. “I had never been to a Tikkun, and I decided I wanted to stay up all night,” Rothman said.

Throughout the night, he went from study table to table. “There were all these guys lecturing. They would open a page of the Talmud and start reading in Aramaic, then translate into English,” said the former director the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, who currently serves as director of the U.S. Campaign for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation.

Then, sitting at one table, he heard a story that he recalled his grandfather had told him — “the story about the old man who planted a carob tree,” Rothman said, adding, “I never knew where the story had come from.” 

In it, a holy man approaches an old man planting a carob tree. Puzzled, he asks: “Old man, why are you planting this tree, when you know you will never see the fruit?”

The old man responded: “My ancestors planted for me, knowing they would never see the fruit. Now I, too, am planting for future generations.”

“It was amazing,” Rothman said. “My grandfather had planted a seed in me that took 20 years to grow, and the experience helped compel me to be more religious,” said Rothman, who attends the Modern Orthodox Congregation B’nai David-Judea in Pico-Robertson.

As if taking a cue from Mendes, on the first night of Shavuot, the Conservative Temple Beth Am will offer an opportunity to experience how revelation may be reflected through art in a program called “Revelation Is Art Is Revelation … Is Art!” 

“Here, Torah can be experienced,” said Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, Beth Am’s senior rabbi.

“Some people need to experience what wakes them up so that their souls can wake up,” said Kligfeld, whose synagogue is co-sponsoring the evening along with the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University (AJU); Pico Egal, an independent congregation; and Reboot, an organization that aims to revitalize Jewish practice.

That evening, to “wake the soul up” a photographer will use images to ask, “What is revelation?” and a Zumba presentation will show another approach “to what it means to bring Torah into your life,” said Kligfeld, who is calling for a night of “soul-ignited Torah.”

“We’re trying to deliver meaning in an interactive way,” said Kligfeld, who also said there will be a session on “Chevruta [one-to-one study] as a spectator sport.”

The plan includes a “SermonSlam” and other sessions lasting until 4:30 a.m., with Shacharit on the roof, said Kligfeld, who himself experienced a revelatory Shavuot Shacharit while a rabbinic student in Israel:

“We were up all night studying in our apartment and at the Hartman Institute [in Jerusalem], and then we went to the Kotel [Western Wall] for morning prayers,” Kligfeld said. The year was 1998, and the group that went included both men and women. The experience was “revelatory in another way,” Kligfeld said.

Although the group stood far back from the wall, a group of ultra-Orthodox surrounded them and began to shout and throw things at them.

“If you receive the Torah with too much certainty and absolutes, then there are some pretty ugly things that can be done in the name of that revelation,” Kligfeld said.

At Sinai Temple, where a giant Torah sculpture dominates a corner of the Wilshire Boulevard façade, a different approach is being taken to the Tikkun leil Shavuot, as well. According to the synagogue’s Atid [young adult] coordinator, Ariela Emery, in a program called “Unscrolled,” adapted from a book of Torah interpretations put together by Reboot, actors “will perform a stage reading of three parashiyot: Bo, Balak and Vayera.” 

“The ways that we experience culture are not what they used to be,” said Emery, who mentioned that the author for the portion “Bo” is Steve Bodow, the executive producer and a former head writer of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” 

Rabbi Elazar Muskin aims to spark curiosity with his lecture, “Fact or Fiction: Is the Menorah in the Vatican?” during a Shavuot leil Tikkun at Young Israel of Century City (YICC). “There have always been rumors,” Muskin said of the disappearance of the menorah from the Second Temple, which is depicted being carried off on the famous Arch of Titus in Rome. “Is the Menorah in the Vatican?” asked Muskin, who plans to explore talmudic passages for clues.

And, in a presentation also at YICC, Rabbi Zev Goldberg will address a question that on Shavuot night will be asked by other late-nighters: “How much was revealed at Revelation?”

“There’s just an energy of Torah learning that’s palatable,” Muskin said.

In terms of revelation, Muskin said “Matan Torah” is the essence of the holiday, and Shavuot celebrates the “centrality of Torah in our lives.”

For those interested in something more intimate, such as home study, either in groups or solo, Rabbi Patricia Fenton, manager of Judaica and Public Services in the Ostrow Library at AJU, as well as a teacher of Talmud at the Ziegler School, has a few books in mind. She suggested “The Book of Legends” edited by Hayim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky, which includes sections on Shavuot, as well as the “Shavuot Anthology,” by Philip Goodman. Also, “There’s ‘Sammy Spider’s First Shavuot,’ ” she added, half-jokingly.

The first night of Shavuot is, she said, “an important time to come together without a lot of guidelines. Shavuot is a moment of revelation and receiving a great gift.” She recalled one Shavuot evening she attended at the Movable Minyan, “where people were encouraged to share their own ‘first fruits,’ ” poetry, songs, things that they had been working on.

Mendes has been sharing for years, bringing the Torah to life with her paintings and murals — book by book.

Hanging on a wall in her studio is a 16-foot-by-6-foot mural of Vayikra (Leviticus). Divided into 10 weekly portions, each containing even the smallest of details, if one is looking for a place to lose themselves in the text, this is it.

The artist, who in the 1960s worked in the underground comix movement, has shown this work to innumerable young school kids, Orthodox students and high-school kids from Hamilton High School, and more. Recently, another guest, filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, who was attracted by the mural on the outside wall, came to call, as well.

“Do you have a picture of Noah?” the director of the blockbuster movie of that story asked Mendes, who, fortunately, had been painting scenes from Genesis.

“I remind people of their pintele yid (Jewish spark)” she said.

In 10 minutes, the artist, pointer in hand, fervently took this reporter on a journey through the 859 verses in Leviticus, revealing in the text and, through her imagery, a different way of studying Torah.

“God has a special word balloon” she began, explaining how she used a simple illustrative device to delineate which drawings are directly inspired by God’s words.

Defined by balloons, but rushing out of them, are sacrifices, laws of kashrut, and cloves and hooves and scales and fishes; birds that are tamei (unclean) and four cartoony — but somehow elegant — grasshoppers that “the Jewish people can eat.” There is a cure for house disease, Tzaraat: “Two live birds, living water, cedar, hyssop and red thread.” And in the portion Kedoshim, she reminds us that “you gotta be holy because God is holy.” Then she revealed a stack of showbreads that never grew stale. “A miracle,” she said. Pointing at the shekels she had drawn for Vayikra’s last portion, B’Chukotai, she asked: “How much is an individual worth?”

“God gave us the Torah and we are really excited about learning it and sharing it. Everyone can connect with God,” said Mendes, connecting with the intention of the coming holiday. 

“The angels would be singing.”

Chai time for a new location

For the past eight years, the Chai Center has been holding High Holy Days services at the Writers Guild of America (WGA) Theater in Beverly Hills. This year, however, just weeks before Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz received a call from the WGA indicating that, because of construction, the theater space would not be available. 

Scrambling for a space large enough to hold all the attendees, Schwartz enlisted help. “I had three people making multiple calls for weeks — we came up with nothing,” he said. “Finally, in the final hour, I ‘bumped’ into a location just two blocks from my home.”

Hi Point Studios, a sound stage on Pico near Fairfax, is an 18,000-square-foot facility that will become The Chai Center’s new locale for High Holy Days services. “My solution was not to give up, lest our … members not have a location to pray this year,” he said. “The benefit is that we are still in the heart of the city with plenty of space in their large studio room, which can seat 700 people.”

Transforming the venue requires renting a stage, seats and a white top tent and table to hold the center’s annual free New Year’s Eve Singles Party following services. “Many people just show up for the party,” Schwartz said. “Got to love our Jews.” 

As it turned out, rental of the new location costs less than the WGA, and half of the center’s holiday budget is underwritten by Stanley Black, a former Chai Center honoree. “Our friend and supporter was happy to hear that we found a location for this year,” Schwartz said. “He was optimistic about our new location and has continued to underwrite half our High Holy Days budget — the rest comes from individual donors and the attendees that mail in a donation.”

The Chasidic Reform services—all the prayers are in English with traditional Chasidic songs—will be led by Schwartz, and the post-service party will offer up 10 cases of wine, 700 apples with honey and seven sheet cakes. 

“With, thank God, 16,000 Chai Center subscribers, our staff is busy, at full throttle during the holiday season.” Schwartz said. “It’s like Christmas for Santa Claus right now—mucho busy now.”

Ralphs adds kosher mart

At 8 a.m. on Feb. 6, a sizable space inside the enormous and newly remodeled Ralphs at Third Street and La Brea Avenue became the Hancock Park-La Brea neighborhood’s newest kosher market. As the Los Angeles High School Marching Band played, speeches were made ,and checks were presented to neighborhood schools, including Fairfax High School, John Burroughs Middle School and Yeshiva Aharon Yaakov Ohr Eliyahu. Meanwhile, men in kippot and women in sheitels (wigs), berets and scarves appeared proud, excited — and a little anxious. 

The new Ralphs Kosher Experience is an expansive store within a store offering a kosher deli, bakery and butcher, all overseen 24 hours a day by a mashgiach (a person, usually an Orthodox Jew, who inspects and makes sure all laws of kashrut are followed). Early-morning Orthodox shoppers on this day were thrilled by the number of products offered, as well as the easily accessible parking and, especially, the store hours — but they also worried about smaller kosher markets in the neighborhood, where the owners know their customers well and freely recommend what’s best and offer special deals. 

“It’s what everyone’s talking about,” said Sandy Kalinsky, wife of Rabbi Alan Kalinsky of the Orthodox Union, who supervised the Ralphs project. She lives in the Pico-Union area where, she says, there are plenty of customers for larger and smaller stores. 

“At Western Kosher, they’re friendly and they talk to you, give you recipes,” said a woman named Naomi, who, like the other women, declined to give her last name. “But here, they’re open 24 hours.” 

To be sure, the neighborhood markets are pointing to their own strengths. At the back entrance to Western Kosher on Fairfax, store manager David Eskenazi, while supervising the morning deliveries, affirmed that his store’s focus, beyond “fantastic products” is “impeccable service.” After 25 years in business, they know their customers, he said, making sure they have what customers want and following up, even calling to let people know when things become available. Eskenazi hadn’t been to the new Ralphs but he graciously welcomed every new enterprise to the neighborhood. 

At La Brea Market, store manager Jackie Hasidim stood near a cash register, where hand-written notes to the community are posted and no ID is required for a busy mother who is a regular customer to cash a check. Hasidim noted the Ralphs might be a good source for prepared kosher foods, but for staples from carefully vetted suppliers, she hopes customers will continue to rely on her market. 

In both of these smaller stores, there is a sense of friendliness and community that the Ralphs will have to work hard to replicate. At the opening, Naomi’s friend Sara said she plans to try shopping at both the Ralphs and the smaller stores. Like others at the event, she expressed her hope that the Hancock Park and surrounding observant community is now large enough to support both kinds of businesses.

The footprint of this store, known as Ralphs 39, is 50,000 square feet. Since the store opened in 1961, it has been expanded and moved several times; this remodel added a complete second story. Moving food prep and offices upstairs  is what made room for the Kosher Experience, as well as for a large selection of organic and local produce, bulk organic grains, nonkosher prepared foods and a pharmacy. 

On opening day, the store could have been bigger yet. When the doors opened, people streamed in, and the aisles of the Kosher Experience were lined with special blue-and-white shopping bags containing free gifts of kosher apple juice, organic peanut butter and sweets. Coupons in each bag offered further discounts.  

Smartly dressed young women pushed strollers and shopping carts through the aisles while young husbands gathered into little groups to talk business or check out the variety of kosher wines. Older men accompanied their wives, as well, looking into the prices of the deli chicken and bakery cakes, and everyone exclaimed over the prepared sushi. Rabbis from local shuls who had served as advisers to the creators of the Kosher Experience, helped shoppers check for hekshers (certificates of kashrut) while pleased Ralphs employees looked on.  

This is not Ralphs’ first expanded kosher venture. The chain’s initial Kosher Experience is located in La Jolla, where it is doing quite well, according to its manager, Steve Wright. Employees, (called “members” at Ralphs) came up from the La Jolla Ralphs to help the newly trained kosher deli and bakery members. Wright said the Hancock Park store carries more product lines than does the La Jolla location. Hope Brown, who trains service deli members, said she is reading up on the rules of kashrut in anticipation of yet another Kosher Experience, on Ventura Boulevard in Encino, expected to open sometime this summer. 

Because food is prepared on-site at Kosher Experience, a mashgiach will be present to supervise food preparation 24 hours a day, at least for the first two weeks. After the store determines traffic flow, the deli, bakery and butcher may close at night. In the La Jolla store, they are closed from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. 

For Shabbat, the deli, bakery and butcher will close in winter at 1 p.m. on Friday and reopen at 6 a.m. on Sunday. In summer, closing time for Shabbat will be 2 p.m. The rest of the kosher area will remain open, and there is a good selection of challah and baked goods available for people who might not be shomer Shabbat but are looking for tasty additions to a traditional Shabbat meal. 

Bet Tzedek moves east

Ever since Bet Tzedek’s inception in 1974, the free legal-services firm has mostly been housed in the heavily Jewish Fairfax district, with additional offices in the San Fernando Valley and the Mid-Wilshire area. In August, it consolidated all three into a single headquarters in Koreatown and will officially celebrate the move this week.

There are many advantages to this change, according to Bet Tzedek officials. 

Its new, larger space at Wilshire Boulevard and Vermont Avenue will better serve the organization’s clients, said David Bubis, vice president for development at Bet Tzedek. In the past, when clients arrived with more than one legal problem, they often had to visit multiple Bet Tzedek sites. Now they can receive all the services in one place, which also allows Bet Tzedek to work more collaboratively.

The offices include intake offices, staff offices, a multipurpose room and a calling center. At the previous location, some employees worked out of closets. Bubis said the new larger space accommodates not just Bet Tzedek’s 70 staff members, but also the flood of attorneys, paralegals and students who volunteer at the organization. 

“It really is much more professional. It looks like a law firm now, which is the way it should look,” he said.

The move makes sense in terms of clients’ demographics, as well. When Bet Tzedek was founded in the 1970s, it exclusively served the elderly Jewish community, for which Fairfax was a hub. Now Bet Tzedek serves Jews and non-Jews.

The move came out of necessity. Bet Tzedek could not afford to enter into a new lease at its former site: The neighborhood’s rent has risen as Fairfax became trendier, Bubis said. Bet Tzedek has signed a 10-year lease for the new location, which includes the entire 13th floor as well as three-quarters of the 14th floor of a 22-story office building at 3250 Wilshire Blvd. 

David Wilstein, a leader in the Jewish community, owns the building, and was instrumental in convincing Bet Tzedek to make the move. 

The organization has come a long way since its founding, when a group of 18 friends came together to start it, each pledging $5 per month to pay for a storefront office on Fairfax Avenue.

“We’re all very happy in the new offices,” Bubis said.

Candidate Adeena

If you want to really annoy Adeena Bleich, just ask her what it feels like to be a young Orthodox woman running for City Council. I know, because when we satdown recently for lunch at Shiloh’s, the first thing I asked her is what it felt like to be a young Orthodox woman running for City Council.

She rolled her eyes like my teenage daughter Shanni does when I show off my knowledge of the latest music.

It’s clear that Bleich is leery of being stereotyped, or worse, becoming some kind of political curiosity whose main calling card is her youth (she just turned 31), gender and Orthodox religion.

What she is, she says, is something a lot less dramatic: A hard-working individual who knows how local politics work and who wants to bring a new, practical attitude to serving the people.

All the people, of course.

Although she estimates that nearly half of the registered voters in her 5th District (which cuts a wide swath from West Los Angeles through Westwood, Pico-Robertson, the Fairfax area and right up to Sherman Oaks) are Jewish, she’s savvy enough to realize that Jews alone won’t carry her to victory. So Bleich, who is single and belongs to three Modern Orthodox shuls in Pico-Robertson (Young Israel of Century City, Beth Jacob Congregation and B’nai David Judea) wants to reach out.

She’s not exactly a novice at this game. She spent years as City Council Deputy to Councilman Jack Weiss— and was knee-deep in the local dramas of neighborhood groups, pro-business groups and the maze of City Hall politics. She was also in the trenches with former Speaker of the California Assembly Bob Hertzberg when he ran for mayor of Los Angeles.

So she knows the lingo, and she also knows that she’s up against some serious competition — from, among others, former city councilman Paul Koretz and neighborhood activist Ron Galperin. But she has no qualms about asking for your vote, because, as she says, she’s got some great things cooking for your district and your neighborhood.

But wait. Haven’t we seen this movie before? Isn’t that what they all say?

The truth is, I’m probably the worst guy to do a story on politicians, because as a rule, I can’t stand them. Politicians remind me of one of my least favorite traits in people: When someone over-promises and under-delivers. (I once consulted with a politician in the heat of an election race, and I recommended that he be upfront with the voters and tell them what they should not expect from either him or the government. I never heard back from him.)

Candidate Adeena Bleich, earnest charm and all, overflows with promises. She says the Council Office should be the “Nordstrom of customer service” for the city — nothing should be “too big or too small to do, or to help find the resource to redirect to”.

She believes the council staff should be more proactive in the community and less reactive (“engage the community before they even call”); they should create public safety and community programs (example: free self-defense classes for teenagers and women with local karate studios), and education eco-programs in the schools where “volunteers teach and lead recycling and gardening and create clean-up and tree-planting teams for the neighborhood from both public and private school kids in the district.”

She wants to set up an online community service guide, which includes “nonprofit, government and other local organization resources all in one place”; a mentoring/intern program between the local schools and local business people; innovative solutions “to get people out of their cars and increase public transportation”; a program to engage business owners to “make business corridors more vibrant and neighborhood friendly”; and so on.

As I listened, over three long sessions, to this litany of perfectly balanced promises, I was torn between admiration for the idealism of an aspiring young politician and my innate cynicism about politicians getting anything done.

I admit, however, that one thing cracked some of that cynicism: In the thousands of words Bleich shared with me about her dream political journey, she never dwelled on the notion of actually winning. In fact, there was hardly any talk of strategy or tactics. Instead, she talked mostly about ideas — the ideas she wanted to implement as Council member.

Her campaign strategy seems to be embedded in those very ideas, which she plans to disseminate on her Web site (Adeena2009.com), and as she knocks on 10,000 neighborhood doors (not an exaggeration, she says) over the next several months.

When I asked her mother (a lifelong Orthodox Jew who lives in Connecticut) whether she could remember a story from her daughter’s childhood that would give us a sense of what kind of politician she might be, she told me several, but one stood out.

In her early teens, Bleich was on her school’s relay swim team. During one race against another school, the other team was way ahead of Bleich’s team. By the time Bleich, who was swimming the last leg, got her turn, something improbable —and embarrassing — had happened: The other team had already finished the race. Oblivious to any humiliation, Bleich dove in and eagerly swam the last leg. Without any second thoughts, her mother adds.

It appears, then, that Bleich’s passion is in the doing. You start a job and you finish it. You make a promise and you keep it. You don’t shy away from details. You knock on 10,000 doors if you have to. You keep your head on at all times. You fight for the little guy. And then, when your work is done, you let God worry about the winning and the losing.

If you ask me, it all sounds very Jewish. But shhhh, don’t tell anyone.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

VIDEO: Mind of Mencia — cultural explorer Carlos goes to Fairfax to visit the Jews

<a href="http://www.comedycentral.com/" target="_blank">Mind of Mencia: Cultural Explorer &#8211; Jews</a>

Official Comedy Central Video: The Mind of Mencia—cultural explorer Carlos goes to visit the Jews

Best street for a J-cation? Fairfax!

In a summer of rising airfares and gas prices, you need to take a trip that is close by, low cost, in town and that will fill you with Jewish stories.

The best place to do that? Fairfax Avenue.

That’s right, become a Jewish cultural tourist, not in New York, Venice or Seville, but right here in Los Angeles. The area’s sidewalks, walls and parks remain populated with monuments, plaques, murals and statues of Jewish cultural and spiritual significance.

Take a local J-cation!

People bemoan the passing of Jewish life on Fairfax — and, certainly, some of what was here is gone. But what remains is a truly cosmopolitan representation of Jewish life from all over the world: Iraq, Iran, Russia, Yemen, Germany and Israel. It’s still a place to buy a set of Talmud or tefillin, but now you can also buy a samovar, finjan, or hipster Jewish T-shirt or hat. Hey, there are still four places in a two-block area where you can buy a black-and-white cookie. That’s not bad.

You can usually find metered parking on Fairfax near the high school (south of Melrose Avenue). On Sundays, parking there is tight due to the Sunday flea market, so you might want to park near Pan Pacific Park and begin there. On Shabbat many of the points of interest will be closed.

Give yourself about two hours to make the loop. Think about lunch. There are plenty of places to either dine along the way or pick up a nosh for a picnic at the park.

1. National Council of Jewish Women Building, 543 N. Fairfax Ave.
On the northern wall (corner of Clinton Street and Fairfax Avenue) in a vivid, almost folk-art style, is a mural by artist Daryl E. Wells that depicts women of human and civil rights, justice and courage. Many of them are Jewish. There’s activist Betty, and the poet (“Eli, Eli”) and World War II rescuer Hannah Senesh. Notice the challah and candlesticks in the middle. That’s playwright Lillian Hellman (“The Little Foxes”) holding the Kiddush cup. L’chaim!

2. Sami-Makolet, 513 N. Fairfax
Fellow talmidim (students), at Sami-Makolet (Sami’s market) we can not only find our favorite Israeli foods, but practice our Ivrit (Hebrew) as well. Many of the package labels are in Hebrew. When it’s time to check out with your Hashahar chocolate spread (don’t forget the challah), above the checkout is a Hebrew sign for “cashier.”

3. Solomon’s Book Store, 447 N. Fairfax
ALTTEXTThis store has supplied generations with haftarah booklets and seder plates. But the reason to go is for the biggest wall of art about rabbis in Los Angeles. On the southern wall is an eclectic collection of paintings and prints of rabbis and scholars done in every style on every material, from canvas to velvet. Stern, blissful, angelic, they kind of stare back.

4. Canter’s Delicatessen, 419 N. Fairfax
A slice of L.A. Jewish history on rye. Everyone seems to know about Canter’s — how it followed L.A.’s Jewish migration westward, settling in on Fairfax, Kibbitz Room and all. Stop in for a sandwich, knish or blintz. Need a suggestion? Just ask — the waitresses know all. Be sure to go upstairs and view the framed, headlined stories. Check out the 1955 menu — pastrami and hot corned beef, 75 cents.

5. Canter’s Parking Lot, Fairfax Community Mural (one storefront south)


On a parking lot wall, a mural painted from historic photos is a megillah of L.A. Jewish history. Created by Art Mortimer, with artists Stephen Raul Anaya, Peri Fleischman, coordinating artist Sandra B. Moss and a crew of adults and teens, it’s a seven-panel panorama. Highlights include, from left, Congregation B’nai B’rith, circa 1862, which later moved and became Wilshire Boulevard Temple. A Victorian house that in 1902 opened as the Hebrew Benevolent Society, a hospital to treat tuberculosis, which eventually became Cedars-Sinai. The film biz and its Jewish beginnings are captured by an image of Al Jolson in the “Jazz Singer,” and that man firing a fastball — that’s dandy Sandy Koufax. Holding the Torah is Laura Geller, third woman ordained as a Reform rabbi in America (now senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills).

Directions to the next destination, the L.A. Holocaust Monument:
Walk south on Fairfax to Beverly Boulevard. Cross Beverly, then cross Fairfax (by turning left, heading east). You are now at the corner of CBS Studios. If it’s a weekday, you might see audience members for “The Price Is Right.” Continue walking east, past the light at Grove Drive, the Post Office, and then turn right, into the parking lot for Pan Pacific Park. Walk to the back of the lot, bearing to the right. Follow the concrete path down. Directly on the right is the monument’s entrance.

6. Los Angeles Holocaust Monument,Pan Pacific Park
Located in the heart of the Los Angeles Holocaust survivor community, overlooking a flood-control basin, stands a circular grouping of black stone pillars, evoking in its six-pointed form a Mogen David and the Six Million. Inscribed on the pillars are key Holocaust dates, beginning with Nazification of Germany in 1933 and concluding with liberation in 1945. Circumscribing the pillars is a ring with nations and the corresponding numbers of Jews who perished. A new Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust is slated to be built adjacent to this site.

Directions to Haym Salomon Statue:
From the entrance of the monument, take the curving concrete path down through the center of the park. Continue past the covered bench and table areas, bearing left and up the hill. Continue bearing left, following the path uphill and around to the southeast corner of the park.

7. Haym Salomon, corner of Third and Gardner streetsALTTEXTGazing eastward, almost as a greeter and guardian of the Fairfax area, sits the financier of the American Revolution — Haym Salomon. As you will gather from the plaque at its base, this statue of Haym has been around, moving westward along with L.A.’s Jews. The irony here is that during the Revolutionary War, Lord Thomas Fairfax, after whom Fairfax High and the area are named, had his lands confiscated.


Taps for Hatikvah

It has been sad indeed to see the slow death of all things Jewish along our Fairfax stretch over the last few years (“Fairfax Shops Feel the Squeeze,” Oct. 21).

Before we are relegated to yet another historical reference on the Canter’s mural, let’s hope the community mobilizes to at least make enough of an effort to slow down the gentrification of the area.

The latest casualty appears to be the imminent demise of the Hatikvah Music store. Hatikvah Music goes back to the ’50s. It was the only Jewish music store I knew where many aspiring pop artists entered the music business as part-time sales helpers when Fairfax High was on holiday.

Lately, it had become the only store you could visit in person to get the greatest selection of Jewish music in the West (perhaps in the whole country).

Sad, sad indeed,

Ed Marzola
Los Angeles

I am one of the artists whose CDs have been sold by Hatikvah. This is one of the few places left that specialize in the promotion of grass-roots groups like ours in a menschlikhkeit and heartfelt way.

If in fact the rent increases prohibit the existence of this wonderful shop, I question the priorities of the landowner. It is a shame to lose the most important venue left for the distribution of cultural heritage on the West Coast. I’m very sorry for this development.

Josh Horowitz
Founding Member
Veretski Pass

Inappropriate Cover

Please choose titles for The Journal that we can be proud of. Your choice of covers is often embarrassing and hurtful, and could lead to anti-Semitic responses from people. “An-Jew-Linos,” the title of the Sept. 30 paper, was not appropriate and quite offensive.

We don’t want letter carriers, postmen, store owners, patrons at the library, non-Jewish readers and anti-Semites reading disgusting titles like that. We don’t want people calling Angelenos, “An-Jew-Linos.” What were you thinking? Are you trying to create problems for our community?

Be very careful what you write on the covers of The Journal. It is seen and read by many people, not just Jewish people.

Anna Kleinman

Nostra Aetate

Thank you for Michael Berenbaum and Jane Ulman’s comprehensive and thoughtful coverage of the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate (“Nostra Aetate” and “What Happened When Jews Stopped Being Jesus’ Killers,” Oct. 21). The story of Los Angeles’ role in developing Catholic-Jewish dialogue deserves to be known more widely.

The reality is that Catholics have spent a great deal more time and effort learning about Jews and Judaism than Jews have in learning about Catholics and Catholicism, let alone Christianity in general. Our community’s conversion fears must not remain stumbling blocks to knowledge and understanding.

Leadership must come not only from organizations like the American Jewish Committee but also from our educational institutions and spiritual leaders. Here in Los Angeles, for example, Milken Community High School and the University of Judaism’s undergraduate college have made progress in teaching not only Christianity, but also Islam and Asian religions.

Still, of the major rabbinical seminaries across the United States, only Philadelphia’s Reconstructionist Rabbinical College requires a comparative religion course of its graduates — and some still don’t even offer them as electives. But every priest in formation has to study the Tanakh — in Hebrew.

It is said that he who knows one religion knows none. Ignorance of the other is no excuse.

Shawn Landres
Research Director
Synagogue 3000

Valley Cities Thriving

I read your article about the West Valley JCC with keen interest. However, your statement about Valley Cities JCC gave the impression that we are just barely existing (“Milken JCC Thrives With Dollars, Sense,” Oct. 21).

I would like to inform you that Valley Cities has a thriving Early Childhoom program, and an after-school program that services 10 public schools; an LAUSD education program two days a week; Israeli and ballroom dancing; a teen center; an exercise program for seniors; play readings, bagel brunches with excellent speakers; and a kosher kitchen.

Valley Cities JCC services the East Valley community in the same way as our companion West Valley JCC services the West Valley community. For all your readers in the East Valley, come by and partake of our services as they are there for your use and enjoyment.

Marcia Mirkin
Vice President
Friends of Valley Cities JCC

‘Painful Holidays’

At the end of her article, “The Painful Holidays” (Oct. 7), Michele Herenstein bravely writes what I’ve only thought about saying to the Jewish community. As a Jewishly involved 30-something single myself, invitations to join others for Shabbat and holiday meals are painfully few and far between.

I can’t help but feel that, all too often, the community at large and specifically the synagogue-going community easily loses sight of those of us who have not yet made our own families, just when we need them the most.

Like Herenstein, I ask the community to keep your eyes out for those of us who are single. In your planning, please consider those of us single men and women who may not have anywhere else to return to after shul, except for an empty apartment.

Ellen Kiss
Los Angeles

False Use

Constantly accusing all critics of Israel and Zionism as anti-Semitic is the false use of the race card meant to silence dissent (“Teacher Class on Mideast Stirs Doubt,” Oct. 7). Accusing organizations like the American Friends Service Committee of anti-Semitism risks isolating the Jewish community from the larger human rights discourse.

The Anti-Defamation League should stop monitoring human rights organizations and instead enter into real dialogue based on universal principles of social justice. There are well-meaning people who have serious, legitimate concerns with Israeli policy and Zionism, with no malice toward the Jewish people, these concerns stemming from a global understanding of the principles of justice and human rights that should be applied to everyone. To have a different policy toward Israel would be hypocritical and indefensible.

Your article raised concern regarding conference coordinator Linda Tubach’s affiliation with Cafe Intifada, which, as you correctly reported, supports Palestinian cultural programs, such as arts, educational, labor, community and human rights organizations, all essential parts of any dynamic democracy which Israel and its defenders claim it to be. Why then, the concern with our organization?

You incorrectly reported that Tubach no longer serves on our advisory board and that it has been disbanded. It is the pen pal program that has been discontinued, not our advisory board. We are grateful for Linda’s continued participation.

Emma Rosenthal
Executive Producer
Andy Griggs
Advisory Board Member
Cafe Intifada

Major Problem — Women

I read with interest Rob Eshman’s editorial (“The Conversation,” Oct. 21). Had I been along for the ride to Colorado, I would have said that one major problem in the Jewish community is that many women are not satisfied with their roles in Judaism.

This is most likely because they do not understand that they are not required to put on tefillin, have a quorum (minyan), wear tallisim, etc. So they use their secular-oriented mentalities and vie for opportunities to participate as men, “equal rights.”

This notion of equal opportunities is irrelevant to real Judaism. In fact, it is this lack of understanding and a lack of acceptance by more secular, assimilated Jews that gave rise to the perverse concept of women “rabbis.”

What do such women dismiss as irrelevant laws that they permit themselves to touch the Torah during times of their individual menses cycle, for example? Looking for halachic loopholes for women to carry the Torah as is done at B’nai David-Judea (Orthodox), undermines women converts to Orthodox Judaism who are satisfied with their specific obligations and do not need to vie with men for such newly created opportunities.

This is the demise of real Judaism! The advent of an era of new and perverted religions that are an offshoot of Judaism, albeit embracing many other Jewish ideals and reaching out to embrace like minds who need a religion of convenience.

Zvi-Hersch Blum
Los Angeles

‘Useful Idiot’

What do you call a “useful idiot” a whole generation later? You would think after the Venona files were released and documented that the people who were prosecuted under the “red scare” were prosecuted for what they did, not what they thought, that objections to McCarthy would wane (“Ed Murrow: What’s in a Name,” Oct. 21).

Today, the parallels are clear. If the Cold War is over and Edward Rampell is still on the wrong side, why should we trust him about the war on terror?

Janet and Albert Fuchs
via e-mail


Remembering Tibor

As Shavuot approaches, I can’t help but remember the afternoon of the first day of Shavuot two years ago when my neighborsand I stood outside our homes and wondered whether terrorists had struck again, as the sound of sirens permeated the air and an army of helicopters circled the smoke-filled sky above the Fairfax area. We soon learned that a small airplane had crashed into an apartment building, killing the four people on board, as well as one apartment resident, 78-year-old Holocaust survivor, Tibor Reis.

Since that day, I have thought a lot about Tibor and learned much about this kind and humble man. Tibor had been studying at his beloved shul, Young Israel of Los Angeles, until 2 a.m. on the first night of Shavuot. Before attending services early the next morning, he changed his regular routine and went to the mikvah, the ritual bath. (This act would take on a much greater significance after his death because his body was too charred to perform taharah — the ritual pre-burial washing.)

Tibor had been a member of Young Israel for more than 30 years. During that time, he had never recited the haftorah. He always deferred, saying they should give the honor to someone more worthy. At the synagogue that morning, the gabbai told him that no one was more deserving and so, on the last day of his life, Tibor had the last aliyah and chanted the haftorah for the first time. The haftorah described an esoteric view of Heaven with such verses as: “The heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.”

After shul, he had planned to go to a friend’s house for lunch, however he made the fateful decision to go home and get some much-needed rest. At 4 p.m., as he slept, the plane plummeted into the building. Everything in his apartment was destroyed by the fire — with the exception of his tallit and his kittel. He was buried in Israel, wearing those garments.

Tibor was born in Czechoslovakia and grew up in the city of Komoren, on the Hungarian-Czechoslovakian border. He was liberated from Mauthausen concentration camp, where he helped his father survive. His mother and two brothers perished, while two other brothers, one now living in New York, the other in Israel, survived.

After the war, while living in Komoren under a very oppressive regime, Tibor was caught helping Jews escape to Austria, and was put into a Russian prison for three years. Although he was tortured, he never revealed the names of those working with him.

He was finally freed after brilliantly pleading his case before a judge. After his acquittal, a kind non-Jewish stranger helped him escape to West Berlin. He eventually made his way to America, and lived in Los Angeles for more than 30 years. He lived alone and had never married; his shul was the center of his life.

Young Israel’s Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz found special significance in Tibor’s Hebrew name, Moshe Yehuda. He said King David, who was a member of the Yehuda Tribe, also died on Shavuot; and that Moshe, who gave us the Torah on Shavuot, was considered our most humble Jew. Tibor was a serious scholar who studied every day; he spoke six languages. Young Israel is in the process of creating a library in Tibor’s memory.

Tibor took the bus downtown every day, where he repaired watches in the jewelry district. He had modest means but always gave tzedakah and tried to help others. He visited homebound people in the neighborhood on a regular basis and often sent money to his brothers and their families.

Tibor enjoyed cooking for himself and told everyone at the shul what he prepared for Shabbat, or about a great soup he made. He frequently shopped on Fairfax Avenue, and was somewhat of an institution to everyone. He walked all over and loved to schmooze along the way. People often helped carry his packages or gave him a ride home.

Those familiar with Tibor’s death ask the same question: Why did this good and decent man, who survived concentration camps and a Russian prison, die in such a horrible, violent manner? Unfortunately, we will never know the answer to this cruelest of ironies.

However, we can honor Tibor’s memory by making a special effort to reach out to those who are alone; and during Yizkor this Shavuot, we can take an extra moment to think of Tibor, as well as those who died who have no one to remember them.

Despite innumerable hardships, Tibor maintained a positive outlook and accomplished many things during his lifetime. Nothing exemplifies this more profoundly than the touching scene that took place after his memorial service at Young Israel before his body was sent to Israel for burial.

As the casket was carried down the street to his apartment building and the awaiting hearse, the sidewalks on both sides of the street were lined with an eclectic mix of Fairfax area residents. Many people cried as they stood quietly and respectfully, honoring Tibor one last time.

Rest in peace Tibor.

To contribute to the library, make checks payable to: Young Israel of L.A.-Tibor Reis Library Fund, 660 N. Spaulding Ave., L.A., CA 90036.

Gloria Baran develops social action and community service programs for children, including a variety of tzedakah projects for Camp Ramah.


Pico’s Familiar Slice

The balabus is back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Faces Behind Fairfax

Ask Boris Dralyuk about his student days at Fairfax High School and the impish young man with startlingly blue eyes will mockingly compare himself to one of the great anti-heroes of literature. “I know about the experiences of Saul Bellow’s Augie March and the little Jewish kids growing up in tough urban areas, but Los Angeles is not one of those places. There is very little in common between the Lower East Side and Los Angeles. It’s not a battle to grow up here. It is not a struggle.”

While he may not have to brave New York winters in Los Angeles, Dralyuk has seen a fair amount of struggle in his time. He came from Odessa, Russia, in 1991 with his mother, Anna Glazer, while his father went to Israel where he eventually died of heart failure brought on by alcoholism.

Dralyuk’s experience at Fairfax was especially unique, as he was selected to be one of 12 students profiled in the PBS documentary series “Senior Year.” David Zeiger, the creator of the series, and a Fairfax alumnus himself, chose Dralyuk less because of the student’s Judaism than because he was an immigrant.

“It was very important for us to follow a really smart, driven kid in public school,” Zeiger said.

“He had come from Russia and it was kind of interesting to me that he had picked up English and become an intellectual with tremendous range,” Zeiger explained. “Boris reflected a big reality. My agenda in ‘Senior Year,’ was to show public school in a positive light in the diversity it provides its students, and Fairfax is one of the most diverse places in the country. You can’t have that diversity of kids outside of a public school situation. It’s a real strength of Fairfax.”

The students were followed by filmmakers who were USC and UCLA graduate students and not too far removed from their subjects ages.

Zeiger came back to his alma matter for the 1999-2000 school year to see what had changed in the neighborhood. While Zeiger found that the classic dramas of adolescence have remained the same, the background against which those dramas are played out against has changed dramatically. When Zeiger graduated in 1967, he estimates the school was 98 percent middle-class Jews. “I think we had two African American students in the entire place.” Now only 13 percent of Fairfax’s 2,700 students are classified as white, non-Hispanic — nearly 90 percent of whom are Eastern European Jewish immigrants, like Dralyuk.

Dr. Carolee Bouge, Fairfax’s dean of students said, “In the ’60s, it was mostly white and the most diversity we had were the two Jewish populations — Ashkenazic and Sephardic. Now the school is really a microcosm of the world picture. We have over 62 countries represented at the school, and 35 languages spoken.”

So how did a school in the traditional heart of Jewish Los Angeles come to only have Jewish students who were immigrants? The flight of Jewish students from Los Angeles public schools has stepped up dramatically in the 1990s with 70 percent of Jewishly identified children in the Fairfax district attending private schools, both Jewish and non-Jewish. According to Bruce Phillips, a professor of sociology at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, “When L.A. High was destroyed in the 1971 earthquake, they shipped those kids over to Fairfax. No one was prepared for the influx, and that began to contribute to the decline of Fairfax as a neighborhood school.”

Seniors from Fairfax still excel, with two students attending Harvard from the graduating class last year, 22 going to UCLA, 15 to Berkeley and three to USC, according to Kay Ochi, the school’s college advisor. Thirty percent of the students do attend four-year colleges, and 55 percent attend two-year colleges. However, over 15 percent of the senior class still does not graduate.

The diversity of student accomplishments is perhaps a reflection of the various socio-economic groups the school pulls from, and may explain why a school that sends its graduates to the top universities in the country also qualifies as a Title 1 school.

Bouge tells stories of Korean children brought over by their parents and left alone to live in rented rooms in the district to give them an American education. “These kids obviously need a lot of support from their school,” Bouge said. If anything, the diversity of students and their academic accomplishments might be testimonial to how vivid the American dream is for many immigrants.

Dralyuk was able to navigate the tricky twists and turns at Fairfax and not only survive, but thrive. Currently a sophomore at UCLA where he is studying Russian Literature, Dralyuk clearly cherished his time at Fairfax. “What I took away from Fairfax was the value of having so many people coexisting together without becoming homogenous, and even celebrating their diversity by teaching one another who they really are.”

“Senior Year” airs every Friday night at 10 p.m. on
KCET. The series will be preempted March 1, 8 and 15, but returns Friday, March
22. For more information, visit the Web site at www.pbs.org/senioryear .

Transit Torment

It all began a minute past midnight on Sat., Sept. 16, with a negotiations breakdown between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and bus and rail operator unions. Hundreds of thousands of L.A. commuters, many of whom depend on city buses for their livelihood, were forced to find alternative methods of transportation. Among the nearly 450,000 bus passengers affected by the strike are members of the Jewish community, particularly some senior citizens for whom everyday life has been disrupted.

On Fairfax Avenue, a cursory poll of how seniors were coping with this strike revealed many who were either directly or indirectly inconvenienced.

“Absolutely,” says an older gentleman coming out of Fairfax Stationery, walking with the aid of a cane. “I have to walk around everywhere. I can’t get any place.”

Trembling with emotion, the man, who preferred not to be identified, says that he is dependent on the MTA system, particularly the Fairfax 217 and Melrose 10 lines, to do his weekly errands. While the limited DASH system has come in handy for many seeking transportation, in his case it is not as convenient as the city bus, since the DASH bus turns off at Third Street.

At agencies assisting lower-income Jews, viewpoints vary on the strike’s impact. Some organizations report a decline in activity.

“We have a meal site where they can come in for lunch five days a week,” reports Sandra Solomon, director of the Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center in the Fairfax district. “We’re getting less people than usual. The attendance there is down.”

Rosalie Fromberg, director of the Israel Levin Senior Adult Center on Venice’s Ocean Front Walk, confirms a similar situation.

“We have people who come on a regular basis for lunch and can’t get here,” says Fromberg. “They come down for lunch and activities as well.”

Solomon has been offering taxi vouchers for some seniors, but this is a temporary and finite solution for the center and its limited resources. “We’re helping with transportation as best we can,” she says.

At Israel Levin, many coming from the L.A. area depend on buses. Some are carpooling, but Fromberg says that “it’s hard when people don’t live in the same area. This center does not provide transportation, so it’s really difficult. People at the center are concerned that it’s really affecting the community. Our seniors don’t have to worry about going to work, but their contact with our center is very important to them.”

Margaret Dacey, director of the Valley Storefront Adult Day Health Care Center, says, “We’ve had a lot of people not being able to get where they’re going. A woman called a taxi that takes coupons, and when the driver came, he wouldn’t take the coupon and would only take her a quarter of the way home, as long as her cash would take her. She got a ride the rest of the way home from a good Samaritan.”

Dacey adds that long waits for cabs have complicated matters.

“With our staff it’s affected us in that quite a few people have been car pooling or getting rides from family,” said Shelly Ryan, chief of human resources for Jewish Home for the Aging. Out of the 650 people employed by the Home’s two sites, only one employee, who lives in the outskirts of Glendale, has been forced to stay home.

“Out of 650 people, to only have one employee be affected is a very good thing,” said Ryan, who also adds that the staff has been very diligent about finding transit solutions to the strike.

“It shows their dedication to coming in and being here,” she said.

Staff at other institutions say that the MTA strike has had little effect on their daily operations. According to Pamela Boro, director of the Silverlake Los Feliz JCC, the strike has not been an issue, nor has it caused stress for those utilizing Jewish Family Service of Santa Monica.

“I know that a lot of our clients do rely on buses to get to their appointments,” said Paul Castro, director of Jewish Family Service of Greater Los Angeles, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “I haven’t specifically heard any feedback from our facilities. I know that it’s got to be an issue, particularly for our senior clients.”

Si Frumkin, chairman of Southern California Council for Soviet Jews, says that he is not aware of people within L.A.’s Russian community whose lives have been disrupted by the strike. He speculates that most Russian seniors reside in close-knit circles where everything is in walking distance.

“Those who live in West Hollywood, their cultural life is Plummer Park and stores on Santa Monica Boulevard,” says Frumkin.

However, Alla Feldman, project coordinator of the Immigrant Department at The Jewish Federation, found that some Russian immigrants have experienced difficulty this holiday season.

“I had people who would come to pick up High Holiday tickets,” said Feldman. “I had to drop them back.”Feldman said that recent immigrants and senior citizens are the two groups within her Russian constituents that have been most directly sidelined by the strike. She even knows of one family that “refused to go to High Holiday services because bus line No. 4 doesn’t go there.”

Elliott Cavalier, the recently appointed director of Sephardic Educational Center, said that elderly members of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel’s sisterhood have often been grounded by the strike.

Meanwhile, back on Fairfax Ave., in the hours leading up to erev Rosh Hashanah, Diamond Bakery was packed with a kind of ebullient chaos. Yet amid the high spirits and high-strung kvetching for apple turnovers and raisin challah, there were those who looked especially weary of preholiday shopping.A 69-year-old lady – no. 44 in line to be served – said the strike since the strike began, she has had no choice but to drive across town to pick up her housekeeper herself.

“I really think it’s criminal,” the woman said as she exited the bakery.